In Douglas Adams famous non-fiction series on galactic economic history, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, we are presented with a description of the tragedy of the planet Frogstar B.
On Frogstar B, for a time shoe production increased faster than the rate of overall economic growth. As a result, with time, shoe production became a larger and larger fraction of the economy, until finally the Shoe Event Horizon was hit, at which point nothing but shoes could be manufactured, and lacking any other goods or services, their civilization collapsed.
Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” describes a similar tragedy that lies inevitably in our future, the point at which the only economic activity left is investment, all money is held by a tiny minority of wealthy people, and our civilization permanently ends.
Will we be wise enough to learn from the people of Frogstar B, and place a heavy tax on capital before our doom is reached?
I hope not, because of course Douglas Adams was writing comedy, not an economic history. Sadly, Piketty appears not to be a parodist, and presents the claim, in all seriousness, that something like a Shoe Event Horizon, in this case the Investment Event Horizon, could actually happen.
Normally, I would ignore such a book, but numerous commentators (all of whom, by strange coincidence, were already enthralled by the idea of expansions state power) have responded to Piketty’s call for heavy wealth and income taxation with rapturous reviews, driving Piketty’s work to the center of much of our current political discussion.
It is therefore, sadly, our duty to seriously to consider his arguments and the effects of his proposed remedies…
→ Continue reading: Piketty and the Shoe Event Horizon
In all the discussion about the Greek exit from the Euro I see a lot about wealth and poverty; about whether more damage would be done to the economies of Greece, Europe and the world by “austerity” within the Euro versus a default and a return to the drachma.
These are the questions of cost and benefit that it is respectable for world leaders to discuss. Discussion gets heated, I hear – voices are raised and cheeks flushed with anger. But the thing that really sends the blood rushing to a Prime Minister or a Chancellor’s cheek is pride, not money. Pride matters. Pride, shame and “face” in the oriental sense set billions of Euros coursing this way and that in a way that mere economics could never manage. Greek pride finds German diktats hard to bear – but not so unbearable as facing the fact that Greece did not join the Euro but rather was let in by condescending officials who turned a blind eye to obvious lies, like a university turning a blind eye to plagiarism in order to keep up the diversity quota. The Germans were proud of their Deutschmark, prouder still of their own nobility in giving it up for the greater good (with a little frisson of shame at the sinful pleasures of that export boom), and this is the thanks they get?
Bitterest of all is the wounded pride of the Eurocrats. Their sure touch was meant to gently shape history as the potter’s touch shapes the clay. Only the clay slid off-balance on the wheel and it has begun the trajectory that will end when it hits the wall with an almighty SPLAT.
Shapers of history really hate almighty splats. Hurts their pride, you see.
I really hate shapers of history.
A few weeks ago, we were having one of many conversations on this blog about the subject of climate change. In the comments, I said the following
The climate is clearly changing. There is nothing unusual about this. The climate is always changing. I’m happy to concede that the trend in recent decades has been to hotter temperatures. Again, nothing unprecedented about that. The world has hot periods and cold periods. The trend seems to have slowed or reversed over the last few years. This is not a short enough period of time to prove anything, but it does make you wonder how strong the trend is. Some of the data analysis that purports to show the trend has been presented in ways that deliberately or otherwise state the data in such ways that appear to indicate the trend is stronger than it is, and/or choose starting points and data series lengths that appear to show the trend as more abnormal than it is, in my opinion.
Again, with the impact of human activity, I am happy to concede an impact exists. There is a lot of human activity – it must have some impact on the climate. Whether it is a significant impact is another question.
Having those two thoughts, you look for a correlation, and find one between CO2 in the atmosphere and average temperature. One can be found, although it is not clear whether it is a causal relationship (CO2 levels vary historically before significant human activity existed, and a lot of the time CO2 increases seem to trail temperature changes rather than the other way round).
So how much are higher temperatures caused by higher CO2 levels, and how much of the increased CO2 level caused by human activity? The answer to the last question is clearly “quite a lot”, but that is not an answer to the question “How much?” Is it “70%? 90%? 100%? 120%? To be able to come up with a meaningful model, we have to have a good numerical answer, and we don’t remotely.
As to what impact increased CO2 levels have on average temperatures, there is much greater uncertainty. Basically you have to enter a fudge factor into your model, see how well it models the past, and hope you can then model the future successfully. A few people have created models that can just about model the past, but that doesn’t mean you have the mechanism right – it just means you have found a mathematical function that fits the points on your curve.
As it is, we have a few extremely crude mathematical / computer models that suppose mechanisms that go from human activity to CO2 release to global warming. They don’t agree with one another, and they are incredibly crude. (The Earth’s atmosphere is an extremely complex system. These models only have a tiny fraction of its complexity). They have a poor record of predicting the future.
The science of global warming ultimately boils down to saying that “The level of warming is unprecedented”. “Human releases of CO2 into the atmosphere are unprecedented”. “Therefore, the second causes the first”. This isn’t an inherently ridiculous thing to say. If climate change really is unprecedented then we would look for other unprecedented things as likely causes and human activity would be the likely one. We could then look for mechanisms and solutions, but we would largely be doing so with our eyes closed.
I will listen to somebody who more or less says this and that the risks of global warming are so great that we must do something about them, but somebody who simply states that the science is settled and beyond discussion is frankly not even worth arguing with.
In response, I received a mocking reply from a true believer, saying more or less that if I knew so much about it, why didn’t I publish papers in a refereed journal myself, and he was sure that a Nobel Prize would be beckoning. There was no attempt to address anything I said – merely an observation that what I was saying did not have the approval of the clique controlling the argument.
In a way this was odd, because I was not actually claiming to know anything about the workings of the climate: only about the likely limitations of the methodology of climate scientists.
As it happens, once, in another life, I was a research scientist. → Continue reading: A few thoughts on Climategate.
It’s been twenty years since my firm belief in a better way of life was vindicated. 17th November was the beginning of the end of an era shaped by collectivism, brutality and industrialised inhumanity. I have written about my experiences of communism on Samizdata before. Today I’ll use someone else’s words to describe the wasteland communism leaves behind.
In 1992, Peter Saint-Andre has written a disturbing, brilliant and accurate description of what communism does to the soul:
…the hunger that I found most disturbing was not of the body but of the soul. […] The socialist state cared nothing for the life of the individual, and this was driven home in innumerable ways.
Yet the overall effect was not merely physical — it was a deeply spiritual degradation. It is difficult to put that degradation into words. To me, the most striking sign of it was what I called “Eastern eyes”. I could see and feel the resignation, the defeat, the despair, in the eyes of people I knew. It was an all-too-rare occurrence to come upon a person with some spark of life in his or her eyes (the only exceptions were the children, who had yet to have the life beaten out of them). If it is true that the eyes are windows onto the soul, then the Czech soul under socialism went through life all but dead.
It is tough for me to come up with something to say 20 years on that is not tinged with bitterness and disappointment and if not for the significant anniversary, I would have left this memory unturned. Despite the amazing change 1989 and its aftermath brought to my life I feel no closure over the past and a sense of proportion in the way the fall of communism has been ‘handled’. Today we should be looking back at the last 20 years counting the many communists who died in prison or are still rotting there… I can only hope that future generations will revisit the past and will have far lower tolerance of collectivism and totalitarianism. It may be a futile hope as today’s teenagers have little knowledge of the world my generation grew up and my parents lived in. And so I am bitter and disappointed that people can say the word “communism” without spitting. → Continue reading: Looking back in anger
I was talking to a friend this evening who noted that a bank had sent him a letter promoting a loan; confounding the pessimists who think that the days of easy credit are completely dead. He observed that the letter contained the phrase “The mill that produced this paper supports sustainable forestation”.
It is hard to believe that the bank really cared that much about the source of their paper, but banks, being creatures of the market, are sensitive to their customers, and make efforts to please them. The small but noisy minority of ‘environmentally friendly’ customers that would have approved of the bank’s effort to be eco-friendly would be appeased, and the rest of the client base would care not a jot.
But we are seeing more and more of these nods to the environment being enforced with the power of national governments. It is rather like what happened to ancient Rome in the Fourth Century. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, lifted restrictions on Christianity in 312, and Christianity backed by the power of the state made slow but steady gains at the expense of the old pagan faiths before the Vestal Virgins were disbanded by Imperial order in 394.
I am not sure what will really qualify as comparable milestones in the rise of environmentalism as the official faith of the West, but for those of us of a skeptical nature, I think it does rather have a feel of being like a Pagan in 4th Century Rome.
Sometimes it is worth plagiarising yourself.
I was asked in a pre-interview chat the other day, about 30 seconds from live TV, “Why is the government doing this? ‘Terrorism’ doesn’t seem to make sense; there has to be something more to it.” It’s hard to be snappy on the point even without crazy pressure, so mumbled something about my interlocutor going to Google and typing “Transformational Government”. I do recommend it, but I have a fairly neat explanation for why Transformational Government too. Just not quite neat enough to recall and pitch in 30 seconds on a GMTV sofa at 6:30 in the morning.
I actually wrote it about 3 years ago, in the days when I had time to think, as a comment on Phil Booth’s (whatever happened to him) blog, the Infinite Ideas Machine:
My answer arises from a pub conversation a while back with the post-Marxist commentator Joe Kaplinsky. He maintains “they” don’t know what they want the information for, they are just collecting it just in case it should ever come in useful, because that’s what bureaucrats do. There is much in that, but I think there’s slightly more.
The slightly more is a glimpse of bureaucratic fundamentalism to rival the more explicit fundamentalisms of religious and political fanatics. The administrative class (“class” in the cultural not economic sense) in Britain, but also in Europe more generally – and from which New Labour is almost exclusively drawn – holds it as self evident that the life and personality of an individual is a unitary object capable of being better managed if only there is enough information collected and enough “best practice” followed.
It is a fundamentalist faith in that if the world is out of line with the model, the world is wrong; that written rules and established methods are unquestionable from outside the tradition; and that forcing people to live within the categories determined by the faith is justifiable for a general and individual good that is evident to the elect.
It’s not that control is sought for its own sake, more that they yearn for the best well-ordered and coherent society, and believe this can be determined and imposed given sufficient expertise and information. Hence joined up government. They really do believe that efficiency is achieved by connecting everything to everything else in a giant bureaucratic system. It is the Soviet illusion, dressed up in “new technology” and market-friendly initiatives that co-opt corporate bureaucracies into the dream rather than setting them up as enemies.
The same people who claimed to have absorbed Hayek’s explanation of why 5-year plans can’t work during their turn away from Old Labour are too dull (or too intoxicated by the vision of the power to make a good society) to see that replacing some of the clerks with machines and the telegraph with the internet makes no difference to the basic proposition.
Will Smith has expressed his view that people are essentially good, they just do bad things as a consequence of following the logical train of thought from faulty premises.
Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today’,” said Will. “I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming. I wake up every day full of hope, positive that every day is going to be better than yesterday. And I’m looking to infect people with my positivity. I think I can start an epidemic.”
And this remark has sent the Jewish Defence League into a hissyfit of rage.
Smith’s comments are ignorant, detestable and offensive. They spit on the memory of every person murdered by the Nazis. His disgusting words stick a knife in the backs of every veteran who fought so valiantly to save the world from those aspirations of Adolf Hitler. Smith’s comments also cast the perpetrators of the Holocaust as misguided fellows rather than the repulsive villains of history they truly were. If people do not understand how idiotic and insensitive it was to make such a comment, it is like a Jew saying that James Earl Ray, the assassin of Rev. Martin Luther King, was basically a good person who did a “bad thing.”
Now that is a very dubious interpretation of Smith’s remarks, to put it mildly. I am not sure I agree with Smith that all people are essentially good, although I do think most people are capable of good. I think that absent a biological defect, we develop towards goodness or evil or, more usually, somewhere in the middle, through the exercise of our free will in accord or in conflict with our genetic predispositions, but all people are capable of both good and evil. Some are more predisposed to good, others to evil (and a disproportionate number of evil people are drawn to politics as a career as it offers such rich possibilities for doing just that), but I do not think we are inexorably forced down either path… and thus find it hard to entirely disagree with Smith.
However the theory that Will Smith is presenting is an entirely reasonable one to argue and using the example of a man not unjustly held to be the very epitome of evil seems a fair and relevant way to express his view of human nature. Without a doubt Smith is in excellent philosophical company on the issue of innate goodness and his position is a deeply Christian one.
When Hitler looked in the mirror, I am sure he did not see an evil man gazing back at him. Of course he did what he thought was ‘right’ within his world view, his meta-context, which was framed by the axioms of a collectivist racist drawing on a long history of collectivist and racist thought. To Hitler ‘right’ was whatever was good for the ‘herrenvolk’ which he perceived as being in perpetual conflict with other racial groups. As a consequence his concept of ‘right’ was always going to be monstrous (i.e. the “twisted, backwards logic” of which Smith speaks).
What Smith seems to be saying is that if someone had the chance to sit Hitler down and ‘unpick’ his ‘twisted, backwards logic’, then perhaps they might have been able to ‘reach’ his deeply buried innate goodness. Although I have serious doubts on that score, it is a far from unsupportable argument and in no way speaks to Hitler’s actual manifested goodness but rather the notion of an innate goodness being intrinsic in us all as a species. If you take that charitable view of humanity then of course Hitler (and Pol Pot, Stalin, Genghis Khan and Caligula) had an innate goodness buried somewhere in the deepest basement of their dark souls.
That the JDL feels that is an intolerable position to take rather than just an incorrect one, makes me deduce they are probably not worth the effort of debating, particularly given their preposterous characterisation of Smith’s remarks. And although as I have said, I do not entirely agree with Smith’s theory of innate goodness, if I was him my response to the JDL would be something along the lines of “Screw you, buddy” whilst proffering the Mighty Forks in their direction.
I do not know a great deal about the JDL but a brief trawl of the internet suggests to me that anyone not following certain ritual forms of abomination when discussing anything whatsoever relating to Hitler, is immediately branded as The Enemy Beyond The Pale. What an excellent way to make yourself look like a complete prat, not to mention wrapping yourself in the same psychological cloth as certain Islamofascist crazies who become unhinged at the sight of irreverent cartoons.
I have argued in the past that violent repression, gulags and mass murder are not in fact the defining characteristics for a state to be ‘totalitarian’. The defining characteristic is, as the word itself suggests, that control over people be pervasive and total… mass murderousness, goose-stepping troops, waving red (or whatever) flags are merely an incidental consequence and which can be better described in other ways (such as ‘tyrannical, murderous, dictatorial, brutal, national socialist, communist, islamo-fascist etc.).
As a result my view is that we in the west are already well on the way to a new form of post-modern totalitarian state (what Guy Herbert calls ‘soft fascism’) in which behaviour and opinions which are disapproved of by the political class are pathologised and then regulated by violence backed laws “for your own good” or “for the children” or “for the environment”.
And so we have force backed regulations setting out the minutia of a parent’s interactions with their own children, vast reams on what sort of speech or expression is and is not permitted in a workplace, rules forbidding a property owner allowing consenting adults from smoking in a place of business, what sorts of insults are permitted, rules covering almost every significant aspect of how you can or cannot build or modify your own house on your own property, moves to restrict what sort of foods can be sold, what kind of light bulbs are allowed, and the latest one, a move to require smokers to have a ‘licence to smoke‘. Every aspect of self-ownership is being removed and non-compliance criminalised and/or pathologised.
The person suggesting this latest delightfully totalitarian brick-in-the-wall, Professor Julian le Grand, says some very telling things:
“There is nothing evil about smoking as long as you are just hurting yourself. We have to try to help people stop smoking without encroaching on people’s liberties.” […] But he said requiring them to fill in forms, have photographs taken in order to apply for a permit would prove a more effective deterrent.
No doubt Julian le Grand thinks that makes him seem reasonable and sensible, because he does not want people to have their civil liberties encroached upon… and he then proceeds to describe how he would like to do precisely that in order to ‘deter’ you from doing what you really wanted to do.
The reason for this seemingly strange approach is simple to understand because to the totalitarian, something does not have to be ‘evil’ to warrant the use of force to discourage it, you merely have to have (a) coercive power (b) disapprove of another person’s choices regarding their own life. That is all the justification you need, simply the fact other people are not living the way you think they should, in your presumably infinite wisdom.
Notice how coercive actions imposed by state power are described as ‘helping’. We will force you to pay more, force you to go to a doctor…but we will throw your arse in gaol if you dare try to circumvent our unasked for ‘help’.
The ‘paleo-totalitarian’ simply uses force if you disobey, no messing about… however the post-modern totalitarian prefers to add a morally insulating intermediate step that allows his kind to talk about ‘civil liberties’: first he gives you a nice regulation to obey and only if you dare not comply with that do the Boys in Blue get sent to show you the error of your ways.
I can think of quite a few ways I would rather like to ‘help’ Julian le Grand and his ilk in order to mitigate their pathological need to interfere with other people’s lives. All for the greater good of society, you understand.
1. of or pertaining to a centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.
2. exercising control over the freedom, will, or thought of others; authoritarian; autocratic.
3. an adherent of totalitarianism.
Random House Unabridged Dictionary
But are those really the best definitions of totalitarian?
When someone uses the term ‘totalitarian’, we think of Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany or Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Mao’s China. Those were indisputably totalitarian states. We think of gulags and killing fields. We think of secret police and surveillance.
Yet I would argue that all those things can just as satisfactorily described as ‘tyranny’ of whatever political completion. The thing that makes a place ‘totalitarian’ is not the nastiness of it or even the repressiveness of it, but the totality of state control. The real defining characteristic of totalitarian seems obvious from the word itself.
And what is a total state? It is a state in which there is no civil society, just politically derived rules by which people may interact. And I would argue the key to that is removing the right to free association, usually on grounds of ‘fairness’ or ‘diversity’ and by declaring private property to be ‘public’.
Britain has no gulags, no killing fields, it has a relatively free press (though less so than it was), it has no internal passports (though they are working on that with ID cards and panoptic surveillance)… but every year we take more and more steps towards the destruction of a voluntary civil society of free interaction and its replacement with a state in which no aspect of life is not politically regulated. This is often described as making things ‘more democratic’… and in that the supporters of the total state are not being disingenuous, for democracy is just a type of politics after all.
We are headed for a different kind of totalitarianism than that of Stalin or Hitler or Mao, but a total state really is what a great many people have in mind for us all. They seek a sort of ‘smiley face fascism’ in which all interactions are regulated in the name of preventing sexism, promoting health, and defending the environment. The excuses will not invoke the Glory of the Nation or the Proletariat or the Volk or the King or the Flag or any of those old fashioned tools for tyrants, but rather it will be “for our own good”, “for the Planet”, “for the whales”, “for the children”, “for the disabled” or “for equality”.
But if they get their way it will be quite, quite totalitarian.
A mailing from the Royal United Services Institute invites me to a conference in April:
The Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) is both the backbone and the lifeblood of the country. It comprises the assets, services and systems that support the economic, political and social life of the UK. Any disruption, damage or destruction to all or part of the CNI could result in grave consequences for the functioning of government, the economy and society. Clearly the CNI is vital to the country’s well-being but the planning and implementation of its security is a Byzantine process; the CNI is a complex and uneven environment with ownership and responsibility spread across the public and private sector.
The threats it confronts are myriad including terrorist attack, industrial accidents and natural disasters. As demonstrated during the July 7 bombings, the Buncefield Disaster, and the foot and mouth outbreak, the CNI is a labyrinthine web of interdependent vulnerabilities that requires a coordinated and coherent response across its entirety to ensure its effective security and resilience in the face of such threats.
Dangerous rubbish. This is an epitome of the statist miscomprehension of complex systems, of economies and ecologies. ‘It is messy; we must coordinate it,’ they say. There are vital things that can be identified in advance as such, and other things not necessary to the ‘backbone of the country’, they think.
But the connections in a natural web are flexible, or they don’t get established in the first place. “Interdependent vulnerabilities” are what make systems adapt, the source of resilience. In unmanaged, open, systems everything is important and everything is unimportant: all things contribute their part to everything else (and you can’t directly measure their contribution), but competition ensures they are all redundant and replaceable.
The response to 7 July was a demonstration of improvisation by thousands of separate actors – millions if you count all those who took simple decisions to get out and walk, rather than passively waiting to be evacuated by the authorities, which would have been the orderly, planned, way to do it. London was functioning again in a day, despite, not because of, the “strategic interventions” that restricted the recovery of traffic flow, and filled the streets with police.
Livestock farming in Britain almost didn’t survive the Deprtment for Rural Affairs’ “coordinated” response to the last “foot and mouth” outbreak. Fortunately at the time DEFRA lacked the powers to coordinate more farmers out of business. The department didn’t see it like that: Its plans were frustrated, and that’s why things were as bad as they were. The ‘defect’ has been eliminated by the Animal Health Act 2002 and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
Nobody in government had to tell Tesco’s dealers to buy up more petroleum in Rotterdam when the Buncefield depot caught fire. The state way is a ‘strategic reserve’ of petrol under armed guard somewhere, distributed eventually by rationing according to who is important enough to get it, after declaration of a suitable emergency. As it was, loss of 20% of the country’s stocks overnight caused scarcely a single car journey to be cancelled – apart from those of the people no longer commuting to the flattened industrial estate.
Those ex-commuters would not be comforted by the thought that distributing tiles or soft drinks is not “critical” and not to be guarded by the state. What they do matters to them and their customers. When I want petrol, petrol matters; when I want tiles, they matter. We are all equally made poorer by the unavailablilty of either, because we can’t predict what we will want. Nor can the state.
How dare the planners decide for me what it is I want, as they do implicitly when they define some workers, some structures, as “key”? Well there’s a confirmation bias at work. What the state can best monitor is important (invisible, uncontrollable processes couldn’t be); so those who work for it are. Chaos is bad. State plans are designed to control chaos; therefore they do, and any unfortunate or unforseen consequences are just the remnants of chaos uncontrolled. Bad things are not in the plan, so not of the plan. They are part of the failure to squeeze out doubt, never caused or exacerbated by wrong or unnecessary decisions by the authorities.
The misunderstanding at the heart of planning is a fundamentalist belief that order and simplicity are public goods. They aren’t. It may be good to have them in your own life – if you want them. It is probably necessary to have them in managing a task, running a business, playing a game; to make any well-defined single goal attainable. Clarity in shared procedural rules is highly desirable. But if we want to live in a world where the goals and threat aren’t well defined, where we have a choice, and where how we live is not vulnerable to simple shocks from unexpected angles, then universal order and simplicity are bad. Conflict and competition, difference and redundancy are good. The more disorder, uneveness, and complexity our society has, the richer our lives, and the better equipped we are collectively to meet disaster by routing around damage.
I came out of hospital yesterday. La Belle Dame is in America making money (one of us has to) so Dave picked me up and steered me home. I live quite close to the Chelsea & Westminster and needed some air to clear my head so we walked back. I felt surprisingly well considering I have been under a general anaesthetic and had quite a few squishy bits from inside lopped off me. In fact I felt amazingly well.
The journey back home was interesting. The colours were so very bright and someone seems to have turned up the contrast. Sometimes when I looked closely as the things written on the back of people’s tee-shirts whilst walking down King’s Road, the words seemed to suddenly zoom away from me towards some vanishing point.
Getting home and having a nice shower was a transcendent experience but the thing that really kept me captivated was the way the water fell down, coming from hundreds of feet above my head and travelling downwards towards the gleaming ceramic floor perhaps three yards below. I could feel the vibration of the water spiralling down the plughole and the strange flute-like sound it made.
I looked forward to getting some good food as being chopped up had not dented my appetite and the hospital food was moderately dreadful. When it came time to eat, for some reason Dave would not let me near the hot stove. The smell of bacon was almost erotic.
Dave and I work together and I had been struck by some really good creative ideas whilst pacing back and forth in the ward the night before last, waiting for the frigging painkillers to actually do something. The ideas kept pouring out of me and Dave just absorbed them like the 185 IQ colossus he is. For a while at least.
But then I noticed that I was having to force the ideas out through clenched teeth and they kept bouncing off Dave’s head rather than going in. To make matters worse although the bacon surrendered to me willingly, the sausages were staring at me with ill concealed contempt. I stabbed a couple to death as punishment and gave the rest to Dave.
Today I find the internet in front of me and deep throbbing pains from within. Be prepared from some bad tempered blogging over the next few days when I can drag my fingers to the mouse. Tramadol, Co-Codamol and Diclofenac are pallid impostors. Sister Morphine is a fickle lover and she would not come home with me.
I am feeling less of a lone loony than I did. After a decade of my saying the key thing wrong with the demon eyes campaign was that the slogan ought to have been: ‘New Labour: Old Danger’ because the electorate should not have the purported newness reinforced, more and more people in the chattering classes seem to be accepting that there is a danger. Even such fringe lefty agitators as Clifford Chance LLP have offered severe warnings about the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Too late?
The War on Liberty may never end, but it became a general action only in the 90s – just about the time, the Wall being down, and the net routing round borders and censorship, we free-lifers had begun to feel we were winning. Now I find I am doing my bit with NO2ID and we are gearing up for a ten-year campaign. Grand constitutionalist coalitions are being proposed left, right, and centre (which I’m sure are meritorious). The differences between Peter Hitchens and Mark Thomas begin to be indistinguishable when the establishment is of the extreme centre…
What worries me is that this ferment is still superficial, a speck of mould on Mr Blair’s Horlicks. It concerns the tiny minority of the population that reads the serious press, say 10% – and of those only the avid followers of politics, maybe a quarter of that. The readers and writers of blogs are fewer still, and more introrse.
The mass of the population of Britain is nescient, complacent, and has no interest in the abstractions of liberty, or the threats from power assumed only to be threats to others, to bad people. Many people are happy to claim the status of an ‘ordinary’ person, with “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” from officialdom, while being paradoxically susceptible to fears of everything else. Passively concerned with material welfare, security against virtual risks, and gossip, they graze and are milked as the livestock of the state.
This is Foucault’s concept of governmentality in action. Not, pace his fans on the left, a neo-liberal order, but a post-liberal order in which the foundational institutions of liberalism – liberty and individuality, rule of law, the separation of private and public life, a civil society and a political sphere distinct from one another – have ceased to have a meaning for even the bulk of the middle-classes.
Where is the cattle-prod that will change the public mood?