We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Stephen Davies on Brexit and political realignment

Writing books about “current affairs” is tricky. If you write your book while whatever you are writing about is not yet over, you are liable to be wrong-footed by later events, especially if you thought it was over.

But if you wait until you are sure that whatever it is has finally finished, your book is liable to be lost in a throng of rival books on the same subject, written by people all of whom, like you, know that it’s now or never, and at a time when whatever happened is now pretty much obvious to all. But what if you are spot-on about what is happening while it is still happening, but you wait until the dust settles? Then you miss your chance to have been “prophetic”. “That’s what I said!” works far better if you actually did say it, loud and clear, before it all became obvious.

Stephen Davies latest book, entitled The Economics and Politics of Brexit: The Realignment of British Public Life, is a rather cunning answer to this dilemma.

Davies has written a book about a process which still has a way to go, but also about one of the consequences of this process which is already very clear. The larger process is the political realignment which Britain is now still in the thick of. But one of the many consequences of this realignment has now been pretty much settled.

→ Continue reading: Stephen Davies on Brexit and political realignment

Samizdata quote of the day

I didn’t look too closely when in 2015 a Conservative administration proposed changing the law on gender recognition. A few trans people want more easily to get official confirmation for the new gender they have become? Well, I thought, that’s probably OK. No skin off any part of me.

Then the issue appeared to morph into a different kind of conflict. It had clearly somewhere along the line become impermissible for those who thought that there was something ineluctable about biological sex to say so. It wasn’t whether they were correct or mistaken on the subject that was in question, but their right even to express their view.

A recognisably totalitarian declension seemed to be being imposed: if you said biological sex was real then you argued with the ability of someone who felt they should be the other sex to simply assert that uncontested. That meant you were denying their “existence” as the new sex. Which was tantamount to denying their existence as a human being. Which was close to saying you wanted them and everyone like them dead. Which is the kind of thing the Nazis did. So you’re a Nazi. And we can’t let Nazis publish Nazi thoughts in books. Or speak at universities, or sully our public spaces with their terrible prejudice.

Here I drew the line. I saw people I knew being bullied and harassed for having an opinion on biological sex (actually the majority opinion on biological sex), and even if I didn’t know whether I agreed with them, I knew that was wrong. …

David Aaronovitch in the Times (£), writing about this book by Helen Joyce, quoted by and commented upon by Mick Hartley (not £).

More photos of the London Covid demo last Saturday

Last Saturday a mate of mine dropped by to see me, having just been at the Covid demo
mentioned here
earlier. My mate brought photos with him. You can see most of those he gave me here and here.

But look at these, and you’ll get the picture:

I have very mixed feelings about demos. When they work is when people generally are surprised by the demo, either because they didn’t know about the issue in question until now, or because they had no idea people felt so strongly about it, or because they didn’t think enough people had the guts to complain about it in public. None of this applied to this demo. There’s been a Lockdown, which many consider to have been pointless, a cure worse than the disease, and even if it did once serve a purpose it should end now. And, here are some of those grumblers, gathering in a crowd in London, with signs. I can see why some genuinely don’t think this is big news. Although, despite gloomy prophecies of a news black-out, it was small news.

Another problem is that demos are awfully liable to put out mixed messages. It only needs a few off-message demonstrators to get in on the act, and the whole thing can be sabotaged. In this case, I recall some of the news coverage I caught saying that this was a demonstration against vaccines. Vaccines have been mostly very popular, are much touted now as one of the government’s few definite successes, and are in many anti-Lockdowner opinions a big reason why Lockdown should now stop, rather than part of it. There are no anti-vaccine signs to be seen in any of my mate’s photos, but a news team only needs one such to be bending the whole reporting of the event completely out of shape.

Where demos, even of the most un-newsworthy sort, do have an impact is that those who attend them get to know each other and exchange ideas. I remember watching some Remain demos, long after Brexit had won the referendum, and even I think, after the voters had voted “Get Brexit Done” at the last general election, and thinking that this couldn’t change the decision, and I was right. These Remainers, only then, I now realise, were realising what they were about to lose. Until they finally lost, they thought they’d win. But these too-much-too-late demonstrators would, as I realised at the time, at least be influencing each other, forming networks and spreading ideas, and this might have consequences down the line. Perhaps one consequence will be a slight strengthening of any campaign in the future for Britain to rejoin the EU. I can’t see such a campaign succeeding, but if it gets its fangs into any major political party, it will surely damage that party, in the eyes of all those who voted Leave, and many more besides. “Move on.” “Get over it.” You can just hear the young besuited types trying to stop such talk, because they will surely know how it will damage the new arrangements that they are now busily contriving.

In the case of this London demo last Saturday, there is surely at least the possibility that libertarian ideas may spread amongst the demonstrators, from all those who already think this way, to all those who didn’t, but may now be starting to. I, of course, want to believe this. I also wonder what other consequence this demo, and all the others like it up and down the country, may have.

Thoughts provoked by a photo of Lenin

Earlier today, at the Historic Photos Twitter feed, I encountered this photo, of Lenin:

Here is how Historic Photos describes the state Lenin had arrived at, when this photo was taken:

What is believed to be the last photograph of Vladimir Lenin, taken in 1923 by which stage he had suffered three strokes and was paralyzed and completely mute. Next to him are his sister and his doctor. He died on January 21st 1924 aged 53.

I have read many things, including many books, about Lenin and his sayings and doings, yet I have never come across this photo until now. That could be me, just not having noticed it. But I think there’s a reason why this particular piece of Lenin imagery has not done much circulating.

There is still fierce disagreement about Lenin and his impact upon history. Many still revere him, as the man who set in motion the most serious attempt to overthrow capitalism that has so far happened on this planet, and many others detest the man for the same reason, and for the disgusting brutality with which he set about doing this. Some think Lenin (good) was “betrayed” by Stalin (bad). Others, such as I, think that Lenin (bad) started what Stalin (bad) carried on doing. But what all of us, on all sides of such debates, agree about is that Lenin was a very important and very consequential figure, who had a lot to say for himself and who did a lot to shape the course of history, for good or for bad.

However, in the above photo, we see Lenin in a state of utter impotence, looking downright comical.

And that’s surely why this photo doesn’t get out much. Either Lenin had immense power and did hugely important and noble things or he had immense power and did monstrously evil things, but whatever he was he was certainly not a joke. If those of us with things to say about Lenin, one way or the other or yet another, wish to decorate our judgments about Lenin with a photo of the man, the above photo is not going to be the one that any of us would choose.

To generalise, images of historic figures get circulated a lot, or not, depending on whether they illustrate how we already think of them. The world’s cameras spit out a daily torrent of portraits of the great, the good and the bad, and it is in the editorialising process, when the “best” images are selected and the rest put aside, that the camera is made to tell a particular sort of story. This is surely an important way that cameras lie, or at the very least mislead, although there are of course others.

Image googling confirmed my hunch. If you go here and keep scrolling down, you will scroll down in vain if you wish to see the above “historic” photo, or any others resembling it. No, all you will get are pictures and graphic recreations of Lenin being anything but “paralyzed and completely mute”.

Samizdata quote of the day

In Britain there is overwhelming popular support for the legalisation of cannabis, yet because recreational drugs are illegal, our cities are being ravaged by criminal turf wars over drug distribution. Taking the products out of the hands of criminals and into regulated markets would not only end the bloodshed, it would end the unnecessary criminalisation of thousands of young people. Drug addiction would be treated as a medical, not judicial problem. The war on drugs has failed and will always fail because humans like to alter their mental state. Voters should be allowed to enjoy drugs safely …

Guido Fawkes

Ever since I attended Essex University in the early 1970s I have been of the the opinion that cannabis can have a very bad effect on some people. I watched it turn a few relatively normal people into excessively placid and “pacific” people who, if you then verbally pressurised them even quite mildly, but in a way they couldn’t handle, were liable to turn on you like cornered rats, in ways that were wildly excessive compared to any rudeness you had subjected them to. In short, cannabis drove them mad. In particular, paranoid. All sense of proportionality in how they defended themselves in a vigorous but basically friendly conversation went out the window. That’s what I think I then saw. And ever since then, I’ve heard further anecdotage that confirms that prejudice.

Which does not mean that I favour cannabis being illegal, any more than I favour it being illegal to smoke, or to drink alcohol, or to borrow money unwisely, or to gamble, or to climb mountains, or to parachute out of airplanes, or to do anything dangerous merely because it is dangerous. Guido frames this as an argument about the right to do drugs safely. I prefer to think of it as the right to do unsafe things, to decide what risks you will take with your life, to make your own judgements about how to balance pleasure against danger.

Insofar as Guido merely implies that dangerous things which you can only get from criminals are a hell of a lot more dangerous than if they are legal, I wholly agree.

Cotswold Bloke: ‘No one would ever believe that world leaders would behave like that …’

Cotswold Bloke writes, in a series of tweets which I have merged together into a piece of writing with paragraphs and added punctuation and whatnot instead of it being divided up into tweets, this:

Got a great idea for a thriller – the plot will knock your socks off.

So there’s a shadowy Global Elite, yes? Davos, yachts, private jets. They used to need the masses to work in factories, till the fields, and do all the menial stuff, and, now and then, for an army.

In my fictional world, big standing armies are a thing of the past. There’s no appetite for invasions any more. Rapid advances in AI, robotics and mechanisation also mean that The Global Elites will soon no longer need peasants toiling away in the factories and fields, causing deforestation, extinctifying species etc. Plus they’re mostly fat, stupid and ugly. (Sounds like the real world here.)

My novel is set when the world population is 7 billion, but heading for 10 billion. Worse, those extra three billion people are not going to be three billion poor people living a subsistence life – they’re aware, through smart phones and the internet, of a better life, and their demand for food, for environment-destroying power generation, and for bling and cars and general ‘stuff’, is going to be a lot higher than was their parents’, thirty years ago.

In my novel, the imaginary Global Elites – many of whom have openly talked about the urgent need to depopulate the earth – start thinking. ‘Hmmm,’ they think. ‘Ten billion of them is going to really destroy the environment and kill all the snow leopards and the blue whales – who’ve done nothing to deserve any of this, and are after all just as intrinsically valuable as any human, and much more valuable than certain humans of the lumpen proletariat variety. ‘Anyway,’ they think, even if we didn’t hate them for killing the blue whales and being fat and stupid, there’s no way the world can support an essentially middle-class lifestyle for seven billion people, much less ten billion. ‘And where does that lead?’ they say. ‘Old-fashioned resource wars! So actually, if we could help five or six billion people shuffle off this mortal coil in a relatively peaceful way – as opposed to via decades of small nasty wars, or even one or two really big ones – we’d be doing them a favour, really. Not to mention, the snow leopards, the blue whales, and ourselves, obviously.’

In my novel, they start off by releasing a virus.

Now, obviously, they have to be careful. A real killer virus is unpredictable and chaotic, and it might get you and yours, or wipe out a disproportionate number of, e.g., tech nerds politicians, and top chefs, whom my main characters will need in future, while sparing too many fat old checkout workers and labourers, whom they won’t need, and the panic and chaos as millions of people start dropping dead in the street is going to have unforeseeable second-order effects in which my Global Elites might find themselves entangled. That’s what unpredictable and chaotic means, see. No, they need something controllable.

So they decide to release a virus that is just bad enough to terrify people – helped along with a major dose of propaganda from the news outlets, governments, supranational bodies and social media organisations that are controlled (in my fictional world) by my imaginary Global Elites.

And then they announce a vaccine. (Plot twist: they announce loads of them, even though it’s untried technology, created by supposedly competing companies. Too implausible? Not sure.) Despite this novelty, my plot cleverly has them scaring/boring people enough that they’re queueing up for jabs ‘to get to the pub’. Obviously they can’t nail them all with the vaccine – too big and sudden, with all that scary chaos and unpredictability – so what my characters do is they say, ‘There are lots of variants, and you will need regular re-ups with slightly adapted vaccines!’

I haven’t yet decided whether they then slip something in there at a later date, or release a new virus which reacts with the vaccines, but the key thing is they take out 10%, 20% or maybe (if I can make it plausible) 40% of the ‘herd’ – and the right 40%, because they’re controlling the vaccine distribution.

Obviously, my survivors wonder what’s going on, but they’re terrified, grieving and demoralised – I might have them starving, too? – so they can’t do much. In fact, they’re so grateful to have been spared to work in the remaining factories that they sing the praises of the Global Elites.

To create the fear needed to drive vaccination, the baddies lock loads of countries down – bit implausible, it’s never been done before, and goes against all the previous the advice on the WHO’s own website, which (in my novel) said ‘don’t lock up healthy people’, though (in my novel) it turns out they removed that advice just before the pandemic began and changed it to ‘do lock up healthy people’ hoping no-one would notice. The baddies force people to wear masks, stress the death figures every day – after inflating them beyond all logic, and they absolutely never mention that far more people recover. If anyone mentions recovery, they shout about ‘long virus’.

They demoralise people by banning them from attending their parents’ funerals. They close the pubs – where people might swap ideas and foment revolution. They arrest people for sitting on park benches (though they wave through anyone spray painting rude words on statues). Lots more of that. It’s all good stuff. Very dramatic.

They have to be careful though because locking down economies, even in novels, creates that chaos and panic which might spill over into their gated compounds. (My protagonists are guarded by armed police 24/7, and they go everywhere in armoured cars, but they’re still vulnerable if the balloon ever goes up.)

So to avoid that they introduce ‘furlough’ (in the US I have them mail big cheques to people, which might stretch the credulity of my readers a bit). Millions are starving in the third world but the journalists in my novel don’t notice or care (or ask questions about the thousands of cancer patients and others who will die because of the lockdowns in advanced economies), and – given that the whole plan is to eradicate unneeded people – they’re just a bonus anyway.

So my villains borrow (create) vast amounts of money – way too much to make any sense, like the kind of money you’d spend on a world war, not a virus that is taking my fictional UK back about a decade in the mortality stats – to spend on bullshit. ‘Doesn’t matter what’, they cry. (Temporary hospitals are one possibility I’m thinking of.)

‘All we need to do is keep the show on the road long enough! The money’s not going to be paid back, because the old days of an economy set up to keep a world of 7 to 10 billion people turning won’t be required when there aren’t 7 to 10 billion people any more.’

I must admit, I was struggling a bit with their motivation. Yes, they hate the people, and yes, they love the snow leopards. But why now? Well, turns out the tech isn’t all one way. The lumpen masses themselves are not far off being able to print their own plastic firearms and fly hordes of slaughter bots onto billionaires’ yachts in the harbour at Monaco, and livestream it, so my baddies have decided now is the time.

Was talking to my wife about this idea for a novel over lunch, and she thinks no-one would buy it.

‘There’s no hero,’ she said. ‘And no-one would ever believe that world leaders would behave like that. I mean, yes, a few have. But not ours. Who do you think you are? Tom Clancy?’

“Adam Smith was on the side of the angels …”

The following is the text of an email that I and all the many others on the Adam Smith Institute email list received today, from the ASI’s Eamonn Butler:

Today marks 245 years since the publication of The Wealth of Nations, one of the most important books ever written.

Smith revolutionised our understanding of commerce. He explained how trade enriches our lives and his works laid the foundations of a whole new field of study: economics.

Today though, Adam Smith’s legacy is under threat from those that would rewrite history.

Smith’s grave and statue have been linked to “slavery and colonialism,” according to Edinburgh City Council.

The grave and statue are being reviewed by the SNP-Labour Coalition Council’s Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group. Their claim rests upon a quote by Adam Smith that said “slavery was ubiquitous and inevitable but that it was not as profitable as free labour“.

This is an extraordinary mischaracterisation.

Smith not only argued that slavery was morally reprehensible, but also provided intellectual ammunition to the abolitionist movement. The link Adam Smith has to slavery was as one of the authors of that vile practice’s destruction.

Smith, writing in the 18th century, thought slavery would continue. He could not have foreseen humanity’s subsequent liberal turn.

But it is abundantly clear that Smith thought slavery was grotesque. Smith wrote, in no uncertain terms, that slave owners’ “brutality, and baseness, so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished.”

Smith also argued that slaves are inefficient workers, because they cannot keep the fruits of their labour. His arguments against slavery were used by abolitionists.

Smith was on the side of the angels, holding humanist views well ahead of his time.

The links, all in the original email, are well worth clicking on.

As Eamonn Butler says, it was liberals, which then meant people who prized liberty, who put slavery on the defensive. It never completely went away, and socialists, national and otherwise, gave it a whole new lease of life in the twentieth century, although lease of death might be a better phrase. And in doing this socialists provided several more mountains of evidence that Adam Smith was right about slavery’s inefficiency, as well as about its brutality and baseness.

Chris Tame (1949-2006): A personal memoir

In an earlier posting here just after Christmas, I solicited compliments, to cheer me up after I’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. Commenters on that posting said nice things about my blogging here over the years, and I thanked them. But older friends and acquaintances, who had been sent an email with the same news of my probably much shortened lifespan, remembered an earlier time in my life, from about 1980 to 2000, during which I was a libertarian activist and pamphleteer. Since this was before the arrival of the Internet, the key items of technology, in addition to the then still primitive but fast developing personal computer was, rather surprisingly, the photocopier. But there was another circumstance, mentioned by many friends, which was of far greater importance to me than any personal computer or photocopier. That circumstance was an individual human being, Chris Tame:

That is a photo of Chris Tame that I recently chanced upon in the vast accumulation of more or less meaningless paper that passes for my filing system.

Three years after Chris Tame died in 2006, I did a talk about his influence and legacy, about how much of a difference Chris Tame made, to all the libertarians whom he got in touch with and whom he put in touch with each other from his 1980s nerve centre at the Alternative Bookshop and then on into the 1990s. Here and now, I want to emphasise what a difference Chris made to me personally. Had it not been for Chris I would probably not have bothered being any sort of active libertarian at all, because without him that would have been just too difficult. Now that I am asking people to praise me, I realise that I want to praise Chris, publicly and in writing and at quite some length, far more than I have yet praised him before.

→ Continue reading: Chris Tame (1949-2006): A personal memoir

A quote from a Tim Worstall quotulation

Tim Worstall was recently quotulated, and from that quotulation I extracted this much smaller quote:

The entire point of any form of automation is to destroy jobs so as to free up that labour to do something else. The new technology doesn’t create jobs, it allows other jobs to be done.

Well it’s a snappy quote, but I disagree. The entire point? Surely, part of the point of automation is, often, to make certain sorts of product possible that otherwise wouldn’t be possible, many of which products make other sorts of work both necessary and possible. The point of automation, to use a well-worn metaphor, is not merely to break eggs, in the form of existing jobs that it destroys; it is also to create new kinds of omelette in the form of new products previously unmakeable and new jobs previously undoable, by creating inputs and materials for these new jobs that used not to exist. Oftentimes, new technology does create new jobs, and often this happens on purpose. An often, that’s at the very least part of the point of the exercise. The new technology does not merely allow other jobs, jobs in general, to be done by those it throws out of their existing jobs. It creates particular new jobs that people must then be hired to do.

I think I get where Worstall is coming from. The grand aim of economic life is to create a world that requires us all to do less work rather than merely to remain on progressively more elaborate treadmills and still slaving away at the same old pace for the same old number of hours, for the same old money. But, he overstates that case. The “purpose” of any particular enterprise can be whatever may reasonably be expected to result from it. That can indeed be more freed up labour, but it can also be particular new kinds of labour, which are more fun, more significant, and better remunerated.

Also, the first impact of new technology is often to destroy existing jobs. But that is often only the beginning of the story, as those unleashing the new technology are typically well aware.

What Worstall says reminds me of that claim that you regularly hear that “the entire purpose of any business is to make profits”. Again, snappy, but again, in most cases, wrong. Any enterprise must stay solvent. One way or another, it must pay its bills. But the idea that all that matters to the people who run some particular enterprise is its profitability is, more often than not, just plain wrong. Often, what unites them is not the love of profit but the love of making whatever they make, doing whatever they do. They know that they must be profitable, and can’t be too wasteful, but that’s because that way they get to keep on serving up this stuff, stuff that they love to create for its own sake.

A land battle and a sea battle – in a book about Beethoven

I’ve been reading a three-volume fictionalised life of Beethoven, by, of all people, John Suchet, whom most people probably know only as a television newsreader.

The way Suchet tells the story, Beethoven was an oddball from the start. I recall doing a posting here about how Beethoven’s deafness prevented him from having a normal life, as a star pianist, but Suchet’s Beethoven was always set on getting shot of being merely a talented performer, and on becoming a great composer.

Beethoven’s friends and supporters had to put up with a lot at the hands of the irascible genius. They took all the angry insults and demands because, when it came to it, they shared Beethoven’s high opinion of his musical genius, and because they knew also what miseries Beethoven himself had to contend with.

Beethoven’s deafness was no mere inability to hear all the sounds he was surrounded by. It was also the presence of other often very loud sounds inside his own head, often painfully so.

And just to put a tin lid on everything, throughout a lot of Beethoven’s adult life, he had to contend with the consequences of war. Napoleon’s armies took possession of Beethoven’s city of birth, Bonn, and then of the city where Beethoven was based for most of his adult life, Vienna. Quite aside from the usual deaths and disruptions this inflicted upon the Viennese, this played havoc with Beethoven’s various plans to get rich and thereby achieve the freedom he yearned for to just compose his music.

In connection with some of this fighting, Suchet, like the journalist he is, quotes a couple of stories that the Wiener Zeitung published, on a particularly black day for Vienna, in October 1805.

The first concerned the disastrous battle of Ulm:

OUR BRAVE FORCES FACE IGNOMINY!

On 20th October 1805, outside the city of Ulm in southern Bavaria, some twenty thousand of our brave Imperial soldiers, fighting for the honour of His Imperial Majesty, stood and faced the forces of the French imposter Bonaparte, His Excellency General Mack von Leiberich in command.

By an entirely dishonourable manoeuvre, against all the rules of war, the French succeeded in surrounding the Imperial Austrian army.

It is our sad duty to report that General Mack was forced to surrender his army of twenty thousand to the French, handing over the illustrious colours of our brave forebears. The French have taken forty-nine thousand prisoners, whose release His Imperial Majesty is making strenuous efforts to secure.

The latest intelligence from the battle front is that the French are marching east towards our border.

We call on all able-bodied citizens to make preparations to resist the army of the French. The same Bastion which resisted the Turkish invader a century and a quarter ago is being made secure and our civil forces are drilling on the Glacis in readiness to repulse the invader.

John Suchet then adds that at the bottom of this one page, that being all that the Wiener Zeitung could manage on this particular day, there was, in considerably smaller print, a briefer item, which was, Suchet says, “largely ignored by the people of Vienna”. This concerned an insignificant sea battle, somewhere or other off the coast of Spain:

One day after the ignominy suffered by our forces at Ulm, a Franco-Spanish fleet was defeated by a British fleet under the command of His Lordship Nelson off the Cape of Trafalgar.

So, good news, surely. But the Wiener Zeitung cannot force itself to deceive its readers:

This victory for the allies, inglorious and shameful as it is for the enemy, will have no effect on the progress of the war on land.

There you have it. The Continental European attitude to the relative importance of sea power and land power. It took quite a while for that little sea battle to result in the undermining of Napoleon’s power, but it definitely had consequences.

The Samizdata world view is more than a mere preference for navies over armies. But that contrast is definitely part of the story.

I don’t think a German or Austrian author, writing about Beethoven, would have pointed up this particular contrast the way Suchet does. And does, I think you will agree, rather gleefully, despite him ending his chapter with that second quote.

On the British National Health Service imbalance between lethargic diagnosis and really rather good actual treatment of serious medical conditions

Yesterday I sent out a mass email to a list of my nearest and dearest, as many of them whose names I could remember, telling them that, just before Christmas, I had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and you know, pass it on. I said how bad I thought it was, and it does indeed seem rather bad. And I said what they could all do to cheer me up. Basically, tell me and tell the world what a clever fellow I have been over the years, and what their favourite writings and activities of mine have been. This process is now well under way, and a very gratifying boost to my morale it has already been, morale when faced with cancer being, I surmise, a rather big deal, maybe even a life-saver. My thanks to all those who have already communicated with me along those lines, and long may that process continue.

I put the entire text of that email up at my personal blog, and should you now wish to, you can read it there.

What else to say? Many things, not least that this diagnosis has concentrated my mind wonderfully on what really matters to me. During the last few years, I have found myself writing more and more about trivia and esoterica, of the sort that intrigues me but lacks general appeal, at my various personal blogs, rather than trying to grab the world by the ears here at Samizdata. Although I promise nothing, I now feel that this is liable to change. My life now looks like being too short to be postponing the final bits of ear-grabbing that I now want to try to get done, before I depart. Famous last words are hard to contrive, but some rather more impressive ones than would have happened had I merely died suddenly now seem worth attempting.

I’ll make a start by writing about a phenomenon I have become very aware of during the last few days and weeks, which is the imbalance between the effectiveness of Britain’s National Health Service when it comes, on the one hand, to the diagnosis of a disease, and on the other hand, to the treating of it.

Basically, the NHS does the first very inefficiently and in particular very slowly. But, it does the second really rather well, often just as well or better than the private sector, and often with the exact same equipment and staff.

My understanding of this contrast may be distorted by the fact that I am now being treated, at the expense of the NHS, at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital in the Fulham Road, which has a global reputation for its cancer treatment. But, in not a few of the sympathetic emails I have received from friends and relatives, this same story has recurred, of slow and unsatisfactory NHS diagnosis, then followed by a vigorous, urgent and targetted response to the problem, once that problem was properly understood.

The email which explained this best came from my sister, who was an NHS General Practitioner for all of her working life until she retired.

The problem faced by the NHS in diagnosis is that the NHS is confronted on a daily basis with an ocean of complaints about aches, pains and general misfortunes which can be anything from very serious to hardly counting as real medical problems at all. NHS general practitioners provide a service which stretches all the way from trying to spot something like my lung cancer, to just lending a sympathetic ear to a person who is being tormented by her husband or children, or just generally feeling glum and run-down. The service is free at the point of use. If you are having a miserable life and could use some pills to take the worst of the sting out of that life, and if you would positively welcome waiting in the queue at the doctor’s, thereby enjoying a little moment of blessed relief from the disappointments or even torments of the rest of your life, well, you would visit your doctor, wouldn’t you?

The National Health Service doubles up as a sort of National Friendliness Service. At which point, how is the doctor supposed to decide who he or she should spend serious time with, in this vast and varied queue, and whom he or she should shove to the back of the queue? How is the doctor supposed to spot the serious medical cases, in among the vast throng of the merely unhappy and unfortunate? I’m not blaming these NHS doctors for their problem. They’re doing their best. It’s just that their best is liable not to be that good.

So it is that the NHS takes a huge amount of time to identify the serious cases, such as mine is. A pain in your pelvis, you say? Quite bad, you say? Well, I suppose you could have a test, towards the end of next month. Maybe an appointment with a bone doctor, in January? Would the 21st be convenient? Our budget is rather limited, as I am sure you realise, and time slots soon get taken.

Faced with this interminable process, while my aches and pains gradually got that little bit worse as the weeks went by, I eventually sought the informal help of medically expert friends. Who immediately advised me to go private to find out what the problem was. Sounds like it’s serious, they said. They recommended a trusted private sector GP, who talked my sufferings over with me on the phone within about one hour, and immediately steered me towards an esteemed colleague. I put myself in this colleague’s hands. I did not and still do not have any private medical insurance scheme. Nevertheless, for the price of a cheap second hand car, I then learned the bad news of what was happening to me in a matter of days. In no time at all, or so it now feels, I began to be treated at the Royal Marsden, for the immediate threat to my spine, which is just next to where the tumor is.

I soon realised that what I had paid for was not just a diagnostic expert, but also an advocate for me, within the NHS system. That advocate could lay out the evidence in front of the NHS. Look, this is serious. Treat this, and you won’t just be chucking money at nothing. You will be curing or at the very least seriously treating a serious condition.

I am not trying to make a partisan political point here. I know I know, NHS equals socialism, yah boo hiss. But I think the distinction is a bit more subtle than that. As I say, the serious treatment of serious conditions bit of the NHS seems, if my experience and that of other emailers to me in recent days is anything to go by, to work rather well.

I think the distinction concerns what in other contexts is referred to as “moral hazard”. It is one thing to exaggerate an ache or a pain in order to have a nice little conversation with a nice doctor and to get hold of a few prescription anti-depressants or some such thing, without having to part with any money you do not have because payday is not until tomorrow. But people don’t fake lung cancer merely to get the sympathetic attention of a doctor. I mean, how would you even do that?

I was persuaded by two dear friends in particular that there was almost certainly something or other seriously wrong with me, and I was willing and could afford to reinforce my question with a stash of quite serious cash. I bought my way to the front of the diagnosis queue, and I do not apologise for this one little bit. I bought my way past various merely unhappy and somewhat discomforted people, and well done me. I now have a fighting chance. It turned out that I did indeed need serious medical attention and I needed it fast. My one big regret now is that I did not start waving my money around sooner.

As I say, it was the way that this original surmise of mine was so strongly confirmed by the experiences of others that made me sure that this was something worth me writing about, at the internet outlet I have at my disposal that will reach the greatest number of potential readers. What I’m saying is: Learn from me about how to throw money, in particular, at the diagnosis stage of a potential illness. If your problem proves to be no big problem and is easily corrected, well, fine, you’ve checked it out. Panic over. But if it is a serious problem, chances are you don’t want to be wasting time, and if you have the money, you should spend it and save the time.

Another way of explaining this is to point out that testing for things like cancer can get decidedly expensive, if it is to be done well. Soon after consulting my private sector diagnostic expert, I had about three different tests, each of them costing well over a thousand quid each. It makes no sense to give tests like that to people who are merely unhappy with their lives and their lot in life, and are telling you they have a tummy ache merely to get a little bit of your attention.

Or to put it yet another way, I look forward fondly to the time when such tests get much, much cheaper. Cancer care itself, I have been learning, is massively better than it was even a few short years ago. Well, likewise and one day, I’d like to think that instead of spending half an hour on some unwieldy and expensive space age contraption at the Marsden, there will come a time when all those complaining of bodily misfortunes, however slight, can just step through a gadget no more complicated than an airport metal detector. If the hit rate for serious conditions is a mere one per two hundred, or some such number, well that’s fine. Cheap at the price.

And don’t get me started on Brunel, which is the Marsden’s even space-agier device which has been giving me my first doses of actual treatment. Brunel is really something.

Like I say, my treatment looks like it’s state-of-the-art.

If this blog post saves or merely prolongs just one life, then good. Mission more than accomplished. This has not been that important a posting, and I certainly claim no originality for it. I’m sure many others have noted the same things as I have just been noticing. But, maybe for just one reader or friend-of-a-reader, it just might be the straw, so to speak, that saves one human camel’s back, if you get my drift.

This posting has been written in some haste, hence its rather excessive length. Brevity tends to take longer, I find. Also, I dare say there’s the odd typo or two, which I will correct as and when I or anyone else spots them. But I am sure you understand my haste. I have lots more things I want to say here before I make my exit, and it looks now like I have far less time to waste than I had earlier been supposing.

Book news

Andrew Doyle reports:

Titania McGrath has written a book for children in order to teach them how to resist indoctrination and think exactly like her.

Doyle has done more than anyone else to publicise how wokery is at least as much a posh white girl thing as a downtrodden ethnics thing. Discuss.

Apparently there’s a chapter in it on Robin DiAngelo.