Imagine audio and video bugs get better and better. Maybe in the form of tiny physical cameras, maybe as viruses that will eventually succeed in penetrating any computer, phone or similar device, maybe as some kind of broadcast or field. There is parallel progress in the science of searching through audio-visual records. Eventually every house, every room, every human body is bugged – saturated with bugs. Of course most of the time no one is interested in you. But if ever you become interesting, they can watch you, not just now, but at any time going back years. What you were doing on any given day. Every time you sang along to your ipod, had sex, mentioned the word “government”. But “they” is not just the government; it is anyone.
I could write for an hour on why this is logically unjustifiable, practically unenforceable, systemically corrupting, and morally wrong:
Northern Ireland ban on paying for sex is approved by Stormont assembly.
Then again, why bother? A brick wall is conveniently placed and sticking plasters are cheap.
There is an account in the Observer in which a Yazidi woman relates how she was sold into slavery by ISIS. The article adds:
ISIS said in an online article that it was reviving an ancient custom of enslaving enemies and forcing the women to become wives of victorious fighters.
“One should remember that enslaving the families of the [non-believers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the sharia, that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narrations of the prophet,” the article said, adding that mothers were not separated from their young children.”
In one sense the “ancient custom” of raping and enslaving women did not need to be revived. It had never died out. The aspect of ancient custom that had died out and has been revived by the Islamic State is of carrying out the rape and enslavement openly. That is a major change. Ever since World War II the tide of egalitarianism has been advancing; equality before the law in one place, equality at the verge of the mass grave in another, but everywhere the ideal of equality has been exalted.
Everywhere included the Islamic world. For the last half century whenever Muslims wrote about the inegalitarian aspects of Sharia they were usually at pains to describe the different treatment of women and men as being a deeper sort of equality, or as being an expression of special regard for women. Until recently even Al-Qaeda propaganda often had a slightly politically correct air.
No longer. Tides turn. Will this change add to the appeal of ISIS among Muslims, or decrease it? Will it add to the appeal of Islam among potential converts or decrease it? My impression is that, just as rape is sometimes more viscerally loathed than murder, the open practice of rape and slavery by Isis has repelled and embarrassed many Muslims more than the open practice of hostage-taking and murder by ISIS and its estranged parent Al Qaeda.
I know that to speak of the response “of Muslims” covers a vast spectrum of individuals ranging from very evil to very good. I believe, not without reason, that there is a majority who are repelled by both, albeit not the “overwhelming majority” that Western politicians pretend there is.
Bishop Hill has linked to what he calls a “magnificent” polemical book review by a man from the other camp, Martin W. Lewis, who speaks from the conviction that “anthropogenic climate change is a huge problem that demands determined action.”
Magnificent it is. Magnificently funny, as in the bit about the pussycat apocalypse; and magnificently right about what is wrong with The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.
Oreskes and Conway’s authoritarian inclinations are seemingly linked to their contempt for the West, which they identify with a dangerous devotion to personal freedom. The most telling passage to this effect is found in the authors’ interview, where Erik Conway states:
To me, [The Collapse of Western Civilization] is hopeful. There will be a future for humanity, even if one no longer dominated by “Western Culture.”
No matter that Oreskes and Conway see every last person in Africa perishing, they still apparently find such a scenario promising as long as Western Culture perishes in the process.
As noted at the beginning of this essay, tens of millions of people have reached the conclusion that anthropogenic climate change is a giant hoax perpetuated by corrupt scientific and journalistic establishments. In their previous book, Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes and Conway attribute such benighted views to the money and machinations of oil companies and other organizations with financial interests in the status quo. While I would not deny that such factors play a role, they do not provide a full account. Of particular significance are the writings of green extremists such as Oreskes and Conway themselves. By putting forth grotesque exaggerations, by engaging in misleading reportage, and by embracing authoritarian if not totalitarian politics, they discredit their own cause. The Collapse of Western Civilization, in short, reads as if it were part of a great conspiracy, one that that seemingly rests on an insincere approach to evidence and argumentation.
Martin Lewis also highlights an area of particular interest to me. Apparently Oreskes and Conway disapprove of those “overwhelmingly male” * physical scientists who concentrate on narrow “physical constituents and processes”, “to the neglect of biological and social realms.” Lewis quotes Oreskes and Conway as going so far as to regard statistical significance as an outmoded concept. Lewis writes further,
Although many of the key scientific questions of the day do indeed demand, as Oreskes and Conway write, an “understanding of the crucial interactions between physical, biological, and social realms,” it is equally imperative to recognize that most do not. Most of the issues addressed by chemists, physicists, and geologists have nothing to do with the social realm, and must be examined through a “reductionistic” lens if they are to be approached scientifically. To insist instead that they must be framed in a socio-biological context is to reject the methods of science at a fundamental level. Such a tactic risks reviving the intellectual atmosphere that led the Soviet Union to the disaster of ideologically contaminated research known as Lysenkoism. In the final analysis, the denial of science encountered in The Collapse of Western Civilization thus runs much deeper than that found among even the most determined climate-change skeptics, as it pivots on much more basic epistemological and methodological issues.
This passage describes one type of catastrophist error about science very well. I would like to point out, however, that it is not the only type. There are also catastrophists who propagate, some knowingly, some not, the opposite error. I refer to those who, rather than dismissing the Gradgrind-like definiteness of physics and chemistry, seek to borrow their reputation for precision and certainty in order to cloak the naked fact that no such certainty is even close to being achieved in the study and modelling of of climate systems.
*And boy, or rather girl, does that irrelevant slighting reference to the scientists’ presumed gender tell you nearly everything you need to know about Oreskes and Conway’s attitude to science.
Everyone is very, very cross. The welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, has caused outrage for saying that some disabled people are “not worth the minimum wage”.
Spoken without tact but with truth. Some of our fellow human beings are incapable of doing work that is worth anyone’s while to pay six pounds and fifty pence per hour to have done.
Freud had been responding to a question from David Scott, a Tory councillor from Tunbridge Wells. Scott had said: “The other area I’m really concerned about is obviously the disabled. I have a number of mentally damaged individuals, who to be quite frank aren’t worth the minimum wage, but want to work. And we have been trying to support them in work, but you can’t find people who are willing to pay the minimum wage.
While it is certainly true that many people with a disability also have abilities or dispositions that allow them equal or surpass as workers their able-bodied and able-minded colleagues – it is also certainly true that many others, sadly, don’t. This is particularly often the case for the mentally disabled. Long ago, I was a teacher. I saw some sad sights, few sadder than the dawning awareness in a child’s eyes that he or she would never be able to do all that “the others” could.
Still, people are resilient. Such a child might very well grow up to be quite capable of sharing and rejoicing in the dignity of work – real work for real employers, not charity – were it not illegal. Only those whose labour is worth more than £6.50 an hour are allowed to sell it. Those less able are compelled by law to be unemployed.
We have these spasms every few years. Allow me to recycle my post from the last one, in which the speaker of inconvenient truth was Philip Davies MP who said,
“Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”
And I said then and repeat now:
Within hours so much outraged commentary flowed out of newspaper columnists, charity representatives and politicians of all parties, including Mr Davies’ own, that you’d think there’d been an outbreak of indignation dysentery.
Not one response of all the many I read even tried to argue that Mr Davies was factually wrong. They were outraged, disgusted. They asserted what no one denies: that mentally disabled people are equal citizens and often prove to be hardworking employees, valued by their employers. But I could not find one article that argued that Davies’ description of the way things go when a person with an IQ of 60 or a history of insanity seeks a job was inaccurate, or gave reasons to believe his proposal would not increase their chances of landing one.
A quote from Charles Murray: “It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.”
Ever since Rob Fisher wrote this post saying he was almost starting to like Bono, I’ve been wanting to write a post called Pro Bono. And now I can.
From the Observer:
Bono: controversial tax laws have brought Ireland the only prosperity it’s ever known
U2 singer says capitalism and commerce play a vital role in lifting people out of poverty and that Ireland’s tax policies benefit the country’s economy
The comments are mostly against him. I’m pro him.
She doesn’t deserve to be saddled with it. Having shown real courage she does not deserve to be inducted into a club many of whose existing members are so grotesque that the blogger Jim Miller has for years called the Peace prize the “Nobel Reprimand”.
I also worry that seventeen is too young to be made into an icon. Maybe I worry too much. So far her response seemed to display a fortunate combination of groundedness and a pitch-perfect judgement for what to say to the press. I genuinely hope that her response includes quite a lot of calculation, because a person who can work the crowd is more likely than an ingénue to be fitted by temperament to thrive rather than wilt in a life spent on the world stage.
Twice in the last few days artworks projecting a self-consciously anti-racist message have been removed from show – on the grounds that they were racist.
Council removes Banksy artwork after complaints of racism
Barbican criticises protesters who forced Exhibit B cancellation
Some future historian, in search of a telling detail to exemplify the primitive superstition of early twenty-first century thought, will seize upon this:
“Savile Dr Who show removed by BBC chiefs,” reports the Times.
The BBC has withdrawn an episode of Doctor Who from its DVD collection because of a link with Jimmy Savile.
The disgraced television presenter appeared in the introduction to a ten-minute special episode entitled A Fix with Sontarans and again at the end to interview Colin Baker, the sixth actor to portray the title character. BBC Worldwide, the BBC’s commercial arm, decided to remove the recording in its entirety rather than cut Savile’s appearance.
The unannounced removal of the episode from The Two Doctors, a DVD featuring episodes starring Baker and Patrick Troughton, means that it is the only Doctor Who story that is not officially available. All other episodes, including early ones for which only the audio recording survives, are currently on DVD release.
Tom Spilsbury, editor of Doctor Who magazine, said that the reissue of the DVD will irritate completist fans of the science fiction stories. “It doesn’t really include Jimmy Savile — he just introduces it and appears at the very end — so it would be very easy to just present it without the bits with Jimmy Savile. I don’t know why they’ve not tried to do it that way.”
For the unlettered among you, the heptarchy is a collective name for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, Dorne, the Kingdom of the Isles and Rivers, the Kingdom of Monuntain and Vale, the Kingdom of the North, the Westerlands or Kingdom of the Rock, the Kingdom of the Reach, and the Kingdom of the Stormlands …
The heptarchy is a collective name for “the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of south, east, and central England during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, conventionally identified as seven: Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Wessex. The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms eventually unified into the Kingdom of England.”
Like you care? You should. Following the vow made to the Scots by David Cameron in order to win the referendum of devo max to the limit of my credit card, the West Lothian question has come back to bite him.
The West Lothian question is easy to ask and almost impossible to answer. As posed in 1977 by Tam Dalyell, former MP for the Scottish constituency, it demands to know why MPs from Scotland (and now Wales and Northern Ireland) should be able to vote on issues such as health and education that affect England when English MPs have no power to vote on social and other policies that are devolved to the parliament in Edinburgh (and now also the assemblies in Cardiff and Belfast).
Because welfare issues are devolved, members of the Westminster parliament elected from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have no power to decide how these policies should affect their constituents; ironically, they can vote only on welfare issues as they affect constituencies in England.
One solution to this might be simply to have the same type of devolution for England as is already present for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. (Yes, I know that the arrangements for all three regions differ, but I’m just thinking in broad terms.) The trouble with that is that England has a population of 53 million as against Scotland’s five million, Wales’ three million and Northern Ireland’s 1.6 million. Quoting the same Guardian article by Joshua Rozenberg on the West Lothian question as above,
Vernon Bogdanor, research professor at the Institute of Contemporary British History at King’s College London, pointed out recently: “There is no federal system in the world in which one unit represents more than 80% of the population … Federations in which the largest unit dominated, such as the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, have not been successful.” He also points out that there would be little appetite for a new English parliament, separate from Westminster.
So maybe we could split England up into smaller electoral regions for the purpose of voting on English matters? It has been tried. Almost nobody wanted it. Only the proposed North East England Regional Assembly ever appeared to have anything like enough support for anyone even to bother putting it to a vote, and the proposal was decisively rejected. The main reason for that rejection was that voters saw it as just another layer of politicians and bureaucrats whose salaries and fancy offices would have to be paid for out of their taxes. A less well-articulated but still significant reason was the feeling that it was all a plot to Balkanize England hatched by the European Union and England’s oikophobic elite. Which it was, though probably not one made consciously. Yet another reason was that the proposed regions were cultivated in a petri dish and hatched from a test tube. Many have loved the north east of England but nobody has ever loved “North East England”. No poet has ever penned such stirring lyrics as “To arms, citizens! Will ye stand back when enemies imperil our Regional Unit?”
It is an attractive idea to bring back the traditional counties of England. It is also an attractive idea to dig up the body of the man who abolished them, Edward Heath, and stick his head on a pike, but that won’t happen either. The counties are just too small.
So if we are to have petty kingdoms, let them at least be kingdoms. Men have loved the Kingdom of Mercia. Men have died for the Kingdom of East Anglia – notably at the hands of men of Mercia, but there you go. Men of all the ancient nations of the Saxon have followed the greatest of the Kings of Wessex to glorious victory against the Vikings. Divide and conquer that, Eurocrats! Also it would serve the Vikings right for subjecting me to all those irritating pictorial instructions.
Sorry, Scotland, I’m afraid that the contemporary Kingdom of Strathclyde will not be restored to the full extent of its ancient holdings where they stretch into modern England. As in post-colonial Africa, for the avoidance of bloodshed the external borders established by the imperialism of the Kingdom of Alba must remain in place. Whether Scotland should restore its own ancient sub-kingdoms within its present borders is naturally a devolved matter.
All things considered, together we do pretty well in this very imperfect world.
Iain Connell and Robert Florence make a break for freedom here.