Full Circle

I suppose that, very roughly, the world in which I grew up was divided in two. On the one hand there was the democratic Free West, with the USA as primus inter pares. And on the other hand there were the one-party state-controlled Soviet Union and Communist China. An Iron Curtain divided the two. Proxy wars were continually fought, first in Korea, and then Vietnam, and elsewhere.

The political argument between the two sides was essentially between bottom-up free market capitalism and top-down state control. In Britain we had a compromise between the two, a “mixed economy” with nationalised state-controlled industries side by side with private enterprise. And there was a robust political debate between the statist Labour party and the free market Conservative party, which eventually resulted in the the Thatcher Conservative government in which most (but not all) state-owned enterprises were sold into private ownership, with the NHS as the principal state-controlled industry.

And at about the same time, the Soviet one-party state dissolved, and Russia became a free-market economy with multi-billionaire oligarchs. Something similar happened in China. After decades of top-down control, the Chinese economy began to boom. The Cold War came to an end. In both Russia and China there remained a remnant one-party state.

It now seems that the two sides may have simply changed places, and exchanged ideologies. For as Russia and China liberalised their economies, the formerly free-market West began to show more and more signs of becoming a top-down-controlled one-party state. For while Europe had long remained a family of democratic nation states, it now began  to metamorphose into something akin to a Soviet one-party state, with an unelected Central Committee issuing innumerable rules and regulations. The resulting sovietisation of Europe unsurprisingly began to stifle the European economy, which began to sink into a similar bureaucratic stagnation as the Soviet Union, with mounting unemployment.

Something similar seems to have happened in the USA, which also began to suffer from increasing state regulation under presidents who seemed to exercise greater and greater personal power, and experienced less and less restraint by the houses of Congress. And the US economy –  once the locomotive of the free world –  has become stagnant like the Soviet Union.

In Britain, the formerly robust debate between the parties gave way to an almost complete uniformity of opinion. The Labour and Conservative and Liberal parties all became slightly different flavours of The Party. You could still vote, but The Party would always be elected, whoever you voted for.  And the mainstream media – the BBC and all the other TV stations as well as the newspapers – all became mouthpieces of The Party.

Nothing expressed all this better than the 2007 UK smoking ban. This appeared as an overnight edict from on high, backed by a propaganda campaign in the mainstream media that Soviet propagandists of the Stalin era would have envied. Numerous other edicts followed, replacing perfectly serviceable incandescent light bulbs with dim and short-lived ones. Useless windmills appeared everywhere. Carbon dioxide was demonised. Gay marriage was rushed through by supposedly conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

And so we now have a world that has been turned completely upside down. The formerly free West has become replica of the Soviet Union, and the formerly one-party states of the Soviet Union and Communist China have become plausible replicas of the formerly free market West. It would seem that while the communist East was learning how to become capitalist, the capitalist West was learning how to become communist.

The current US election might best be understood as a power struggle inside the Soviet Union, with Donald Trump playing the role of Boris Yeltsin, and trying to overthrow a US Communist one-party state which, much like in Britain, comes in two flavours – Republican and Democrat.  If he wins the election, stifling top-down control will give way to deregulated free market capitalism, much as happened when the old Soviet Union disintegrated. If he doesn’t, stagnation and corruption will continue.

It may simply be that power always tends to become concentrated in the hands of single individuals, who may in different eras be despots or tyrants or kings or emperors or party chairmen or presidents or prime ministers. The absence of any restraining power on these individuals results in increasingly arbitrary and ill-considered and in many cases completely crackpot decisions. The resulting misgovernment eventually becomes unendurable, and the despot is overthrown, either in a bloody revolution or a bloodless election which hands power to a number of people, perhaps even the entire population. And with that, the cycle repeats itself, with power gradually becoming concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, until the next despot emerges.

In this respect, the Eastern and Western cycles are completely out of sync with each other. The Eastern world in 1950 was dominated by two despots – Stalin and Mao -, while the Western world had power dispersed in parliaments and assemblies. Over the subsequent 50 years, the despotic East gradually liberalised, and the liberal West gradually became despotic. We have come almost full circle.

I’m not a betting man. I place bets on average once every 10 years or so. But last Friday I went into a betting shop and placed a £10 bet on Donald Trump to be elected as the next President of the United States, at odds of 4 to 1. Because I think we have arrived at the point in the cycle where power has become too concentrated in the hands of unaccountable and slightly mad individuals at the top, and needs to be returned to the plurality of commonsensical people at the bottom.  If the US electorate doesn’t manage to do this in a bloodless election in a couple of weeks, I fear they will do it in a bloody revolution a few years later.

If Trump wins, top-down state control will be slashed, the US economy will be deregulated and begin to boom, and the current absurd new Cold War will end. And also most likely Britain will leave the top-down-controlled EU, which will disintegrate back into a diverse collection of self-governing sovereign states. If he doesn’t win, I would expect both the USA and UK and Europe to become even more despotic (quite possibly with the equivalents of Stalin or Mao emerging), and their economies even more stagnant, and the people ever more angry.  And Britain forced to stay in the EU.

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The Culture Of Place

The recent EU referendum in Britain, and the current US election, have set me thinking seriously about national identity. Why is it that people in one place so persistently regard themselves as in some way different  from geographically adjacent peoples?

I focused today on one single question: Why is there an England, a Scotland, and a Wales. Why isn’t it all just Britain? And I simplified the question to just this: Why is there a Wales?

Perhaps the terrain map below, which shows the Welsh border with England as a thick red line, may offer a very simple explanation:

walesThe border follows almost exactly the line where the Welsh hills rise above the English lowlands to the east. Almost the entirety of Wales is hill country. In the north of Wales there are even mountains.

In what way does that mean that life in Wales was likely to have been different than life in England?  Well, for a start England’s gently rolling hills are covered in farms growing wheat and corn and barley and oats and potatoes and cabbages and turnips and any number of other plants. But there is very little such arable land on Welsh hills, and so the Welsh largely kept livestock: pigs, sheep, cattle. So probably the Welsh ate different foods than the English. And since Wales is bounded by a coastline on three sides, we might guess that they ate rather more marine fish than did the English.

And as most of England consists of gently rolling hills, it also meant that it was relatively easy to move around England. The Roman roads of England undoubtedly made it even easier. Not so in Wales. It takes much more effort to move around hill or mountain country. Agricultural and manufacturing products could be easily transported and traded throughout England. And so also could languages and customs and beliefs and ideas. So while English society was fluid and dynamic, relatively isolated Welsh communities were far more self-sufficient and resistant to change.

And so Wales retained (and still largely retains) its own Celtic language – the language that Britons probably spoke during the Roman occupation. The English language is really an amalgam of many languages, including Celtic and Latin and French and Danish. England is a melting pot in which languages and beliefs and ideas are always being blended, and probably very quickly blended, because England is not a large country. And English is, as a result, a highly portable language that is the product of rapid linguistic evolution over many centuries.

rainfall_europeOne might also imagine that people who live in hill country, and climb hills every day, are almost certainly stronger and hardier than lowlanders who walk on its plains, or ride horses and carriages across them. And since Wales has a higher level of rainfall than England, the Welsh might have been expected to spend more of their time indoors, and to have worn sturdier clothing.

Add together all these slight differences – and a great many other slight differences -, and you get two distinct cultures, and quite likely two different attitudes to life.

All of the aforementioned differences between England and Wales are also the differences between Scotland and England. For Scotland is even more mountainous than Wales. And while the Romans succeeded in conquering Wales, they never succeeded in conquering Scotland. Neither did the Normans. And so Scotland has also retained its own language, unmixed with either Latin or French. And they also retained distinct clans in pockets all over Scotland, something reflected in the cantons of the even more mountainous Switzerland.

If the differences between the English and the Scots and the Welsh have greatly diminished over the past century or two, it’s probably because roads and railways and canals and bridges have made the movement of agricultural and manufacturing products – and also language and customs and beliefs – much easier between them. Most Welsh and Scots now speak English. And so do the Irish. In fact, a great many Europeans now speak English in addition to their native languages. English has become a global language, more or less in my own lifetime.

Dogged resistance is perhaps one of the principal cultural traits of the Welsh, the Scots, and the Irish. And easy accommodation is perhaps a principal cultural trait of the English. After all, the English readily accommodated first the Romans, and then the Danes, and then the Normans, in rapid succession. The others would not. And if I personally have mounted a bit of a spirited resistance to smoking bans, it may well be simply because I am descended from Welsh mariners, Scilly Isle lighthouse keepers, and the peat-burning Irish of the Bog of Allen – and such people always doggedly resist any yoke placed upon them.

The arguments I’ve raised in this essay have all been physical arguments. That some places are more hilly or mountainous than others. That some have more productive soils than others. That some are colder or wetter than others. My suggestion throughout has been that the land on which people live shapes the people who live on it. I’m even inclined to suggest that any foreigner who lives long enough in any country will become as much a native of that country as its true natives. And anyone who visits Paris or Venice or Barcelona just for one day becomes a citizen of those cities in some fractional degree.

The English are much more shaped by England than they have ever shaped it. They are surrounded today by the same hills and valleys as their ancestors. The same is not quite true of England’s towns and cities. London has been almost entirely built and rebuilt by Londoners, but Londoners are also formed and shaped by the London built by prior generations.

And since every land is different from every other, there will be different people living everywhere. And they will have different cultures, languages, clothes, foods, customs, and beliefs.


And these cultural differences are not trivial. They are the product, in most cases. of many centuries of gradual change. And there are often ineradicable differences: for example, Scotland will always be colder and more mountainous than England. And because there are so many different cultures around the world, no single one-size-fits-all European project or globalist New World Order will ever be able accommodate all of them, any more than one size shoe will fit all feet. People are not blank slates from which beliefs and values can be erased and over-written with new ones – because the culture inherent in the places they inhabit is already deeply etched into them. So there can be no such thing as a single set of “European values” or a single  species of “European citizen”: they are pipe-dreams, and any attempt to construct either will be bound to fail.

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Collective Madness

Yesterday I mentioned A.J. Ayer talking about Logical Positivism with Bryan Magee, and noted that Ayer had lit a cigarette 7 minutes and 30 seconds into their discussion.

In fact, on closer examination, I found that this was probably Ayer’s second cigarette, and that he had lit his first cigarette after just 4 minutes and 27 seconds:

The video was made in 1976, when nobody noticed cigarettes. It was probably still possible for it to have been made in 1996, when discussion programmes like After Dark featured people sitting around a table, smoking and drinking as they talked. But I doubt if it could have been made very much later than that.

Because now, 4 minutes and 27 seconds into the programme A.J. Ayer may as well have produced a live hand grenade from his pocket, and pulled the pin out. The programme would have been halted. Bryan Magee would have been helped away, coughing and spluttering. The studio would have been cleared. Firemen would have rushed in to douse the cigarette. And A.J. Ayer would have been arrested, handcuffed, and led away. And of course the discussion would have terminated. The screen would have gone black, and displayed “Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible.”

That’s how crazy it’s become. Many people have become so sensitised to cigarettes that they’ll start coughing and spluttering, and having asthma attacks, at the mere sight of one. And in fact I notice cigarettes just as much as anyone else – although my reaction to seeing someone lighting up is one of thankfulness and relief that there’s another smoker present. I know this because when I saw Ayer light up, I  was initially delighted – before I started getting worried about what would happen next, and lost the thread of the discussion (as did Mandy Vincent): Lit cigarettes now trump Logical Positivism.

Rather mercifully, A.J. Ayer died in 1989 before this collective madness had become a tidal wave. But if he had been around today, he would have been told – or would already know – that he wouldn’t be permitted to smoke while he discussed Logical Positivism with Bryan Magee. And, since quite clearly he would have wanted to have lit up as they talked, he would have been under slight stress throughout the discussion. He would not have been at ease. And almost certainly the result would have been that he would have spoken slightly differently. He might even have terminated the discussion at the earliest opportunity.

The only people with whom smokers can now speak easily and relaxedly are other smokers. The cigarette between the fingers has become the identifying symbol of a certain kind of easy-going tolerance. And its absence has become a warning sign.

Which has led me to believe that in the near future, smokers will form separate societies, or become confined to ghettos. For it won’t just be that non-smokers won’t want to be around smokers, but that smokers won’t want to be around non-smokers. The forces of mutual repulsion will be equal and opposite. Smokers and non-smokers will cease to co-exist with each other. Co-existence will have become impossible. Society will be visibly seen to be broken in ways it has yet to be.

But it’s not just smokers who are being subjected to exclusionary measures.  It’s happening to all sorts of other “undesirables” – like drinkers and fat people – as well. Even dog owners:

Dog walking has been banned or cut back in thousands of parks and open spaces in the past two years, it is claimed.

Public Space Protection Orders, aimed at stopping threatening or violent behaviour, allows councils to ban various activities in certain areas.

Kennel Club estimates, based on figures from its own contacts with councils, show dogs have been banned from at least 2,205 public places in England and Wales, The Daily Telegraph said.

Some parks, playing fields and beaches are among the places which have been put out of bounds and dogs have also been stopped from running or playing off a lead in 1,100 others places, it was claimed.

I’ve never owned a dog (they’re far too demanding for me), but lots of people do, and dearly love them. If smokers can be easily expelled from society, how much easier will it be to expel dogs and dog owners? It’s not going to be too hard to make a case that dogs pose a Public Health threat far greater even than cigarettes. Dogs can attack and kill people. Many probably carry fleas (or can be plausibly claimed to so do). And of course they defecate everywhere (as does every other animal in the natural world). Canine Control will require dog owners to obtain licences (that probably happens already). Dog “addicts” will be offered inanimate fluffy dog substitutes, and encouraged in canine cessation programmes to give up their dogs. Canine Control officers will comb neighbourhoods shooting dogs, cats, budgerigars, parrots, hamsters, and any other animal they encounter (Here are several graphic reports of dogs being shot on sight by police in the USA).

Absolutely everything is under attack. Marriage is under attack. Gender differences are under attack. Christianity is under attack. Nation states are under attack. Borders are being thrown open. Everything that was once perfectly normal is being derided and de-normalised. The world is being turned upside down.

An explosion is coming.

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Loathsome Politicians

What is it about politicians that makes them all so loathsome?

I can remember every single British Prime Minister all the way back to Harold Macmillan, and I can safely say that I loathed every single one of them.

In fact, I don’t think I loathed Harold Macmillan that much. I don’t remember seeing that much of him. But I remember the rest of them, and I loathed them all.

I think maybe it’s just that I saw too much of them. They were on TV or in the newspapers far too much. You kept seeing their faces staring out at you like Big Brother.

They all started out as being fresh, interesting, new faces. And then they became familiar faces. And then the loathing started. And once the loathing had set in, it only ever got deeper and deeper.

And I loathed some much more than I loathed others. I had a peculiarly intense loathing for Harold Wilson. He had a bumbling insincerity that I came to detest. And I loathed Edward Heath’s sickly wooden smile. And of course I loathed Margaret Thatcher. And most recently Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and David Cameron, who were all equally loathsome, but in different ways.

I haven’t started loathing Theresa May yet. Kitten Heels remains an interesting new face. She hasn’t done anything too awful yet. I  saw a clip of her speaking at the dispatch box in parliament a couple of days ago, and making a slightly risqué joke that had the house roaring with laughter. She can tell jokes. That’s good. Margaret Thatcher couldn’t tell jokes. Neither could Edward Heath.

But if I haven’t started loathing her yet, I’m sure I soon will. It always starts up sooner or later. It took a long time for me to start loathing Tony Blair. He was a rather likeable, regular guy when he first entered Downing Street. And the charm took a long time to wash off. But eventually it did, of course.

It’s not just that I loathed all the Prime Ministers. I loathed all the drab, grey, interchangeable ministers around them as well. And all the trade unionists. Remember Arthur Scargill? And all the London mayors: e.g. Ken Livingstone. Although I haven’t learned to loathe Boris Johnson yet. He’s still rather fun. But the humour is wearing thin.

And of course there was Old Rivers of Blood with his thin crocodile mouth. And the bellowing Reverend No Popery of Northern Ireland. They were deeply – even spine-chillingly – loathsome too.

I reserve my loathing exclusively for British politicians. I very seldom loathe foreign politicians. More or less every French or German politician seemed like a statesman by comparison with the slime in the UK parliament. Charles de Gaulle. Helmut Kohl. Bettino Craxi. Towering figures. Even Soviet leaders had a grim charm about them. Nikita Krushchev, Leonid Brezhnev. And of course the very affable Mikhail Gorbachev. And now the razor sharp Vladimir Putin.

And US Presidents are, as I wrote last night, pretty much Roman emperors. You can’t ignore them. But I haven’t loathed many of them either. John F Kennedy was a superstar, although I think that may have been because he was married to the infinitely refined and beautiful Jacqueline. JFK minus Jackie might well have been just another boring US president, like Gerald Ford. The only US president I got to loathe was Richard Nixon, but that was only during the Watergate affair. And right now I can’t say I even loathe Hillary Clinton. I feel a bit sorry for her, if anything. Although if she ever sets foot on British soil in one of her dumpy pantsuits, as President of the United States, my loathing will be intense.

melaniaIn this respect I think that Donald Trump’s secret weapon is his wife, Melania Trump. She’s another Jacqueline Kennedy. I think she can knock men dead at a range of two miles with those laser eyes of hers. I think she could stop an army with those eyes.

I was listening to Michael Savage complaining yesterday that the Trump family were all so good-looking. Didn’t they have a drooling aunt Norma somewhere, he asked. But actually I don’t think Donald Trump is at all good-looking. He’s ugly like Pompey the Great. And his sons are too. He’s got the face of a bar-room bruiser who’s been in too many fights. It’s really only Melania who is absolutely stunning. Or at least those killer eyes are stunning. If Michael Savage thinks they’re all good-looking, it’s really only because she’s so good-looking that she’d make any doofus she stands next to seem like Cary Grant. Melania Trump is probably the single best reason there is for voting for The Donald: to put a goddess in the White House.

Anyway I think that it’s probably just over-familiarity that makes politicians loathsome. After you’ve seen a face enough times you can see all the flaws in it. And in the end you can only see the flaws. You can see the greed and conceit and mendacity oozing out of every pore of it. And you can also catch it in every inflection of their voice.

If politicians want to stay popular, they should stay out of the public eye. Once they’ve become familiar faces, loathing is sure to follow, like an army of ants. If you want to remain interesting, you must remain unfamiliar. Once they catch up with you, you’re dead meat.

The only reason that artists like David Bowie remained popular for their entire lives is probably because they kept changing their public persona, kept re-inventing themselves, so that nobody ever caught up with them. They remained enigmas. Nobody got the measure of them. The pursuing wolf pack never caught up.

In some ways, a public persona is always changing. If nothing else, it changes as people age. After a while, everyone gets a new persona, automatically.  When the obese Chancellor Nigel Lawson went on a diet, and wrote a diet book, he slimmed down into a different man. And with the lost pounds, my loathing for him also evaporated. Even loathing departs after a while.

A.J. Ayer finally lights up after 17:30 minutes.


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A Remarkable Man

I woke up this morning, and when after a while I’d finally remembered who I was and where I was living and which century it was, and my eyes had become accustomed to the light, I eventually got online and found a YouTube video of the third debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and flipped through it with the sound off.

I scored it as marginal win for Trump. Because Hillary stayed standing. She wasn’t wheeled off on a gurney in a state of collapse. And no flies landed on her either. And that’s pretty good going for her. That’s almost the pass mark. If she’d smiled a bit, it could have been a win.

I put Trump ahead on points in the gesture stakes. He’s got a whole range of gestures. And there was even a new jabbing aimed index finger gesture that he used repeatedly. Hillary couldn’t match his gestures, although she tried. And I think those Trump finger jabs slowly wore her down. She probably woke up with a black eye this morning.

polls1980The opinion polls may show her still holding a narrow lead over the him, but here’s why I don’t believe them:  a late October 1980 poll showing Jimmy Carter streets ahead of Ronald Reagan, just before his landslide win.

I think Trump is going to win. I’ve always thought he was going to win. He was the stand-out candidate of the entire bunch from the moment he entered the race. Why else did he attract such immediate and unrelenting hostility?

I knew who he was before he ran. I had him down as a brash, loud-mouthed New York property developer who trumpeted his name on top of every building he constructed. I can’t say I admired him much. But I wasn’t shocked or offended by the way he talked. He just seemed wonderfully politically incorrect – an ingénu who’d never learned to censor himself into silence like all the other castrati in the race, most likely because hard bargaining over property deals in NYC doesn’t include much political correctness. No wonder everybody wanted to watch him on TV: there was nobody like him. He was a savage who hadn’t learned the rules, and just said whatever he was thinking without first running it through a multiple PC filters to screen out words like “dog”,”rapist”, and “pussy”. How terrible!

Cn. Pompeius Magnus. Marble bust of Pompeius,  ca. 50 B.C.  Copenhagen.US presidents are like Roman emperors, and watching US presidential elections is like watching the spate of infighting and assassinations that preceded each new emperor, like with Claudius after Caligula. Only now the Praetorian Guard are the media and the net and the Secret Service. And Donald Trump is Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus – Pompey the Great (left). He even looks like him, right down to the improbable quiff. And Pompey was another property developer who put his own name on the buildings he erected – like the Theatre of Pompey in Rome (where Julius Caesar was assassinated).

I think Trump is going to win because he’s caught the rising global tide of reaction against big government. People are sick of it everywhere. It’s why us Brits voted to get out of the asphyxiating EU superstate, and why most of Europe are going to be following us soon. Because they’re sick of it too, and they want their countries back. They want to take control back from a global political elite that has become a deranged aristocracy who’ve lost touch with ordinary people and ordinary values and even ordinary reality.

And Hillary Clinton is a fully paid up member of that aristocracy. She regards the presidency as her entitlement after 30 years of service in the DNC (which she now owns). She’s the ultimate political insider. But nobody much likes her. She has zero charisma. Hardly anyone attends any of her speeches or rallies. Why should they when she’s got the grating voice of a Nurse Ratched? Nobody buys her books either. The Democrat grassroots voted for Crazy Bernie, but they got given Hillary Clinton instead, because she had all the superdelegates at the DNC convention. Her only real claim to fame is that she is the wife of one of the more charismatic US presidents of recent decades. But he’s now a shadow of his former self. And she is too. They’re an elderly couple who ought to have quit politics and retired to Florida five years ago.

Who’s going to vote for her? Are all those Bernie supporters really going to switch their loyalties from him to her? Are they going to vote for her with any enthusiasm? If it’s raining in Milwaukee on election day, are they going to walk ten blocks to cast a vote for somebody they don’t really want to vote for, or are they just going to stay in bed?

And what about the anti-war left? Are they really going to vote for a warmonger (Libya, Syria) like Hillary Clinton? A couple of days back, on Michael Savage, Donald Trump said he’d probably start talking to Vladimir Putin before his inauguration. No chance of that happening with a Hillary who has compared Putin to Hitler. And yet here we are, living through a crisis that’s almost as bad as the 1962 Cuba crisis, and it’s Donald Trump who’s the peace candidate.

And what about the rain of Wikileaks emails which are coming down every day on the Democrats? There’s something new every day. And it must be hurting, because otherwise John Kerry wouldn’t have twisted Ecuadorian arms to shut off Julian Assange’s internet access (as well as his telephone) in their London embassy. Not that it has done anything to stop a flow of emails that now exceeds Climategate in its scale.

And then there are the health concerns surrounding Hillary. If Donald Trump had collapsed outside a 9/11 memorial service and been lifted bodily into the back of a car, his presidential ambitions would have ended on the spot. If Hillary’s didn’t end that day, it’s because the US mainstream media swept it under the carpet.  It’s really only the life support provided by the mainstream media, and the government of Barack Obama, and her friends inside the Republican party, that is keeping her faltering campaign alive. Who’s going to want to vote for a chronic invalid with blood clots in her brain?

Hillary Clinton has all these negatives, and Trump hasn’t got any of them. The only real negative that Trump has got is that he’s not a bought-and-paid-for member of the political class, and that’s why he’s been under non-stop attack in the mainstream media from the moment he joined the race. Even Thomas Sowell was joining in:

As for the Republicans’ front-runner, what is there left to say about Donald Trump? Almost daily he demonstrates that he lacks the maturity, the depth and the character required to lead a nation facing a complex range of dangers.

But hasn’t Trump demonstrated over the past 18 months that he can stand up to incessant attacks from all quarters, and still keep soldiering onward? Doesn’t that alone demonstrate character? And depth? And maturity? Wouldn’t lesser men have cracked under that kind of pressure? Would Hillary Clinton last a single day if the mainstream media and the Obama administration stopped supporting her, stopped keeping her alive, and she had to stand up for herself on her own? Would anybody else have lasted a single day either?

Over the past 18 months Donald Trump has demonstrated to the world what a remarkable man he is. Far more remarkable than I ever imagined he was. They’ve thrown everything at him, dropped nuclear bombs on him, repeatedly declared him dead, finished, over – but he’s always come out the other side of the storm, still on his feet, still full of fight, and still the same man. And – even more remarkably – he’s done it almost all on his own, without patronage, and without a team of advisers telling him what to do and what to say and how to say it.

If he really is the empty shallow narcissist they say he is, I’d like to buy a bottle of that kind of empty shallow narcissism, and keep in my medicine chest along with the bandages and the creams and the painkillers, as insurance against the day when only empty shallow narcissism can pull me through.

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The Political Pendulum

These days I’m rooting for Donald Trump to become the next President of the United States. And yet 10 years ago, if I’d seen the choice as between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I would have been rooting for Clinton. How odd. What happened? Why did I swing from Left to Right? Why did I ever regard myself as Left in the first place? And what does Left and Right mean anyway?

One explanation is that I grew up in post-war Britain. The state seemed entirely benign back then. It provided free school milk. It provided schools and universities. And above all it provided the National Health Service, all courtesy of the Labour government that swept into power in 1945, shortly before I was born. Many of Britain’s industries were nationalised by the 1945 government, if they hadn’t effectively been nationalised during the war.

Post-war Britain was also post-Imperial Britain. The empire was being peacefully dissolved. Colonies were being granted independence. And Britain was broke. The landed British aristocracy, no longer getting an income from the colonies, were in terminal decline. And Britain had run up huge debts during the war.

Post-war Britain was also a remarkably egalitarian country. Nobody was very rich, and nobody was very poor. Rationing continued for years after the war. The state had expanded during the war in response to the need for careful war planning, and the post-war Labour governments were now using the state to plan the peace. Planning was all the rage. Town planning in particular. What Herman Goering’s Luftwaffe had helpfully started, the British town planners completed. Huge areas of housing were demolished and replaced with uniform tower blocks. Motorways were constructed. Schools and universities and hospitals were built. But it was all very dull and uniform.

The Sixties saw a revolt against this uniformity. Many of the icons of the sixties were art students in the new colleges that had sprung up. John Lennon went to art school. Mick Jagger was at the London School of economics. Most of Pink Floyd seem to have been architectural students. Together they invented new music, new art, new fashion, and a whole new culture and sensibility. They may not have been exactly what the planners had been planning, but they were many of them the product of the new colleges nevertheless.

But the state that had been created in response to the exigencies of war kept steadily growing. The NHS got bigger and bigger. The universities became more and more numerous. Local governments got larger and larger.

Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s government reversed the trend a little. Many of the nationalised industries were de-nationalised. Council houses were sold to their occupants. But the state still kept getting bigger.

But at some point, the benign state of the 50s and 60s and 70s began to gradually metamorphose into the bully state. The same happened in Europe, where the benign European Community gradually metamorphosed into the imperial bully state of the European Union.

For me personally what marked the transition was the 2007 smoking ban. For me that was the point when, overnight, the benign state became the bully state.

It was perhaps the inevitable product of state gigantism, rather than of any new ideology. As the state bureaucracy expanded, its managerial class became more and more detached from the ordinary people they were supposed to be serving. They spent more and more time talking to each other, and to other branches of government. They began to inhabit a separate state culture. They became an aristocracy. And they started to treat ordinary people as if they were their masters rather than their servants. And of course this process was vastly amplified in the EU, where the new aristocracy were even exempt from taxation and prosecution.

So one cause of my transition from left to right came from seeing a benign state turn into a bully state, from a benefactor into an oppressor.

This wasn’t the only cause, however. I spent much of my youth outside Britain, in countries in which there wasn’t a boring, tedious, sameness of post-war Britain. They were all countries in which there were stark differences.

And none exhibited such stark differences as Rio de Janeiro. Not only was the mountainous terrain of the city a stark contrast to the gently rolling hills of England, but so also was the poverty of the favelas on the hills above the multistorey hotels along Copacabana beach. Or the beggars on the streets among the prosperous businessmen of the city centre (there were no beggars on the streets of England).

For Rio de Janeiro was part of a capitalist country in which some people were very, very rich, and most were poor – and in some cases desperately poor.

And the inequality of it all seemed greatly offensive in my young eyes. How could such wealth co-exist side by side with such poverty? The same thought seems to have crossed the minds of revolutionaries like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, who were at that time busy promoting revolution throughout South America. I became something of an egalitarian. And I could see some merits in uniformitarian Britain.

I think now, looking back, that I saw Rio de Janeiro as somewhere where wealth and poverty had become fixed for all time. I think I felt that Rio de Janeiro would remain as it was in the 1960s for all time thereafter. I didn’t realise that I was watching an unfolding process. Rio de Janeiro was a prosperous seaport that exported sugar and coffee and any number of other agricultural and mineral products all over the world. And it was this wealth that attracted people from all over Brazil, to find employment as bus drivers and maidservants and cooks and teachers. And the only place that many of them could live was in the ramshackle, corrugated-iron terraces on the steep slopes where there were no roads, and where the rich didn’t want to live. In time, those same terraces would become much-sought-after bijou residences with astonishing views across Guanabara Bay – much like many former slums of London are now the residences of millionaires.

For the dull, tedious, uniformity of 1950s Britain had followed on from the imperial Britain of a century earlier. Britain in 1800 or 1850 had been much like Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s, where the rich and the poor lived side by side, the one in palatial country houses, the other in rickety slums. In the Britain of 1850 there had been a rich aristocracy and an entrepreneurial middle class and the urban poor who had come to London or Manchester or Liverpool for the exact same reasons they arrived in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

And the Britain of 2007 was a Britain that had followed on from the Britain of 1950. Over a century or so, between 1900 and 2000, the power that had been concentrated in the hands of the rich British aristocracy and entrepreneurial middle class instead became concentrated in the hands of a state bureaucracy which had itself become a new aristocracy, as tyrannical as in any previous era.  In a century privately-owned power has been exchanged for publicly-owned power. And the result is just as oppressive. Perhaps it’s the inevitable result of too much power being concentrated in too few unaccountable and unresponsive hands.

And the Left-Right pendulum swing is perhaps simply the swing from private to public and back. At one extreme of the (rightward) swing, all power is highly concentrated in private hands, perhaps even a single man (e.g. Louis XIV of France), and a century later at the other end of the (leftward) swing it is concentrated in the hands of the public, and perhaps even a single man (e.g. Napoleon Bonaparte). The Britain of the 1950s marked the mid-point of the swing, when there was neither a concentration of private nor public wealth and power, and hence very little oppression. But power and wealth were at that time passing from private to public hands, and 50 years onwards it has become highly concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable and unresponsive new aristocracy, and therefore become oppressive.  And the backswing is now beginning.

And the same seems to be true across the whole of the western world. The presidency of Barack Obama seems to have been one of unaccountable public power (Congress has been a rubber stamp), and the presidency of Hillary Clinton (a woman with a monstrous sense of entitlement) looks set to be even more unaccountable and crooked and corrupt. Donald Trump, by contrast, is an entrepreneur with considerable private wealth, and a Trump presidency would see the beginnings of a swing from public back to private.

At the extremes of the Left-Right swings (which are mirror images of each other), autocrats or dictators are thrown up. It’s not impossible that the imperial EU and USA may yet produce dictators. But at present it would seem that, having expanded to 28 members, the overlarge, over-bureaucratic, over-regulatory EU is set to either contract or disintegrate.

One might also suggest that in Russia (or as it was then, the Soviet Union) the extreme of unaccountable public state power was achieved under Joseph Stalin, and a century later it has swung back to the private ownership of an oligarchy, perhaps under the control of a single man, Vladimir Putin. A century ago, the USA was privately owned, and the Soviet Union publicly owned. But now more or less the converse is true.


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The Smokers’ Survey

H/T Simon Clark, who drew my attention to The Smokers’ Survey. The survey was commissioned by Forest and carried out by the Centre for Substance Use Research.

I completed the online questionnaire. It asked what my nationality and country of residence was, so I assume they’re interested in smokers of any country or nationality.

It asked what I felt about smoking, what I liked about it, what I disliked about it, whether I ever thought I’d stop smoking, whether I kept my smoking secret, whether I used non-tobacco products (e.g. vaping), whether I was at all worried about any health conseuqences of smoking, whether smokers were being stigmatised. There were quite a few questions (30 or 40?). And they weren’t loaded questions of the “Do you think smokers should be shot on sight, or thrown to the lions, or simply strangled with piano wire?” kind.

A number of questions included 500 character text entry fields. Of these I thought that the most noteworthy one was:

Has your experience of smoking changed greatly over the last ten years? If so, what are the main ways it has changed?

To which I replied:

Since the UK smoking ban, I no longer smoke in pubs or cafes or restaurants. Apart from smoking at home, I now only smoke in the gardens outside pubs. I visit pubs, cafes, and restaurants much less often than I once used to. I also no longer frequent cinemas, theatres, museums, art galleries, and foreign countries where smoking is banned. I also no longer use trains or buses or airlines on which smoking is banned.

They were all perfectly good questions. But they were really all questions asking about smokers’ attitudes to smoking – what they felt about it. Nor were there any questions about the impact of smoking bans (which is why I used the question above to ).

This reminded me of the debate that preceded composing the questionnaire for the ISIS survey of smokers I mentioned yesterday, where Walt cogently argued that we shouldn’t ask smokers what they felt, but what they did. How did their behaviour change as a result of smoking bans, never mind what they felt? And it was really only by asking how their behaviour changed that it became clear that smokers had left pubs and restaurants in droves, and the social and economic consequences of that (including pub closures) began to emerge.

Partly as a result of my mention of the ISIS survey yesterday, and the email from Simon Clark today, but also because of a remark made in parliament last week

— new health minister Nicola Blackman declined to give a publication date for the Government’s new Tobacco Control Plan which she said had to be “evidence-based” —

I think that if the UK government really does want real evidence (as opposed to cooked figures from Tobacco Control) they ought to commission a large independent survey (10,000+ people?) of how tobacco control measures (smoking bans, ‘plain packaging’, antismoking ads, etc) have actually affected people in their lives (rather than what they feel about them). It shouldn’t just be a survey of overt smokers, or secret smokers, or vapers, but also of non-smokers (and even antismokers), and intended to find out what the 10 year War on Smoking has actually achieved. Tobacco Control is exclusively concerned with whether smokers have or have not stopped smoking as a result of their measures. A far wider survey is needed to discover the broadest range of impacts of these various measures in every possible social, economic, and political area.

Some possible questions (and my answers):

Do you smoke inside your home? (YES)

Do you visit your doctor as often as you used to? (NO)

Do you vote the same way you used to? (NO)

Do you have as many friends as you used to? (NO)

Do you visit pubs, cafes, and restaurants as much as you sued to? (NO)

Do you periodically experience fits of incandescent rage? (YES)

For I believe that when the complete picture emerges, it’s a going to be one of a colossal social, economic, and political disaster.

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