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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Politics – Practical Morality

I have been looking at some of the earlier posts on this blog and I came upon an assertion by me that Politics is practical morality and it struck me that a statist (or progressive) and a conservative (or libertarian) could mean very different things by this phrase.

For a Statist or a Progressive it could mean that Politics is (or should be) enacting legislation or regulations which do good things, things which the well-ordered conscience of an individual would dictate. He might not understand this concept or might express it in class terms. Thus, for example, it would forbid and punish murder. In this instance no conservative would, so far, disagree. On the assumption that murder is bad, the state should discourage it, an assumption most conservatives share with most progressives. The state enacts the conscientious beliefs of all individuals.

Next example: abortion should be permitted in most cases and that the state should subsidise it with the taxes paid by all citizens, conservative and progressive.

The hitherto complacent conservative is suddenly deafened by cacophonous bells, drums and trumpets, which shriek ‘Not the same thing at all!’ There is no shared assumption.
The hitherto complacent conservative backtracks furiously: what about ‘well-ordered conscience? You can’t murder babies and with my money.

She is desperate. She can see where this is going. She has to put forward an alternative view. The view she wants to put forward is that Politics should be enacting legislation which encourages good behaviour and discourages bad behaviour. She slumps in her chair, almost terminally depressed.
Almost terminally depressed is how I feel now. I can see where this is going.

I was going to put the other case: that Politics is (or should be) enacting legislation or creating institutions which encourage individuals to behave morally and discourages them from acting immorally.

But I almost feel myself being backed into a position which I hate: theocracy. No way. Theocracy is a system where some people take it upon themselves to know the mind of God and to legislate accordingly. That’s Islam (among other things).

It is true that there are a very large number of my fellow citizens who take the view that infanticide is a right. To my mind, that is an abomination. It is the society I live in.

Something of a digression:
Suppose that I know that my neighbour is about to perform an abortion. Suppose that I do not know anything about the circumstances of the pregnancy he is about to terminate. Suppose too that I have a .38 revolver. What does my conscience tell me to do? This does not seem that difficult a moral problem. I must not sneak up behind him and put a bullet in his head without warning. That is, I must not simply execute him. I must not put his family or any third party at risk. This is the least fun post I have ever embarked upon. The truth is that, since starting this post, I have come to the conclusion that I would have to confront him and his vile objective. With my .38 I could either demand that he swear convincingly to desist or promise him that he would otherwise be disabled or die. I’d have to do it. This post has brought me to a place I had not imagined. It may have got more fun. I’m not sure.

I don’t think I am going to resolve the issue, only to restate the problem again: what has politics to do with morality? Clearly, it is agreed that there is a connection. One side believes that the state is an actor. The other side believes that the state is, at best, a context.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

EU Debate

Daniel Hannan speaks first; he says it all. He is an unparalleled orator. I mean that absolutely literally – who else in the English speaking world understands and uses rhetoric as well? When we joined the Common Market, which has (without a shred of democratic agreement) morphed into the EEC then into the EC and then into the EU, we were in a bad way, three-day week, double digit inflation, strikes, prices-and-income policies. ‘Europe’ seemed to be doing better. But, as Hannan notes, we could not have done so at a worse time. We cut our links to the Commonwealth, with which we have so much in common. The Commonwealth has grown and prospered. He cites Norway and Switzerland, both members of the European Free Trade Association (enjoying the benefits of free trade with the EU) but free from the political and bureaucratic ties of EU membership. They have all the benefits and none of the drawbacks.

Katinka Barysch (very pretty girl) starts by telling us that being in the EU gives us access to a market of half a billion people. She neglects to mention that being in the EU specifically forbids us from making a bilateral agreement with China (over one billion people and growing) or with India (over one billion people and growing), not to mention multiple other nation states.

Nigel Farage gives a welcome history lesson on how the issue has been presented to the British electorate.

Leon Brittan asks why our ‘partners’ would agree to continue to trade freely with us if we left the EU. The question answers itself. They want to continue to sell French wine and German cars to us. He admits that Harold Macmillan had conceded that the Common Market was about much more than trade. When Nigel reminded the audience that argument had been presented as being only about trade, Brittan said, ‘Not true’. Edward Heath lied and Leon Brittan is lying.
The final vote gave me hope. The swing was massively towards the motion, with the gain coming largely from the ‘don’t knows’.

The first link above is to a debate which features Nick Clegg.

As to the second debate featured here, I venture to say that the historical and factual positions put forward by Hannan and Farage were not answered by their opponents and, I think, cannot be.

What I want to claim for myself is what everyone wants to claim: that my opinions are based upon facts and logic. Rhetoric depends upon the orator’s use of both. For the Greeks, Rhetoric, was one of subjects of a proper education. Would that we gave the same respect that they did. I think that academicians in ancient Athens would have dismissed Katinka’s arguments as emotional wishful thinking and Leon Brittan’s as dyspeptic and counterfactual.

Saturday, 19 December 2015


In 2009 my heart was gladdened by the complete failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit. Nothing of any substance was agreed. However, a great deal of money was wasted.

About a week ago its successor was alleged to have come up with a meaningful agreement. It did not. The final communique had two parts. The first part declared that the nations of the world were resolved that the global mean temperature would not be allowed to rise by more than 2oC (preferably 1.5oC) by the end of the century. Well done, you statesmen of the world! You have outdone King Canute! He forbade the tide to wet his feet. You have told the entire climate of the world how it must henceforth behave. Bravo! We will all sleep more easily.

The second part was vaporising about carbon dioxide emissions; but no one was prepared to commit to binding targets.

Odd, really, when you think that the whole substance of the Climate Change hysteria is that the climate is warming dangerously and that the cause is manmade emission of carbon dioxide. Perhaps it would have been a bit more convincing to say something like the following: If we keep emissions below a certain arbitrary level (and we will), the threat of warming will go away Hurrah! It wouldn’t have convinced me; but it would have been less transparently absurd.

China and India are among the greatest emitters of CO2. They are not going to stop any time soon. Or rather, they are not going to stop vastly increasing their emissions any time soon. Good luck to them! Energy is the sine qua non of economic development and rising living standards. Fossil fuels (so called[1]) provide something like 98% of the world’s energy. To achieve development, we are going to have to use a lot more of it – and we will.

The most under reported (and most cheerful) fact of our time is that since 1970 the number of people living in abject poverty (ie the number of people who do not know where they will get their next meal and who expect to see their children die of malnutrition or disease) has fallen by 80% - EIGHTY PERCENT. Globalisation and freer markets account for this; but abundant and affordable energy are also necessary for industrialisation. Industrialisation has made us in the west spectacularly rich. To deny abundant and affordable energy (and therefore industrialisation) to poor countries is wicked.
Incidentally, the use of agricultural land to produce biofuels (to replace ‘fossil fuels) is also wicked because it raises the price of food. Slightly higher food prices for western nations may be acceptable but higher food prices hurt the poorest in the world disproportionately. And there are still too many poor people in the word. And too many of the world’s population are still poor. I corrected myself because I do not subscribe to the idea that we should get rid of people. Some ‘environmentalists’ have opined that malaria has an upside – it reduces populations. Banning of DDT has killed millions of children.

I rejoice that Paris has been almost as great a failure as Copenhagen, while deploring the vast sums spent on the summit and deploring the smugness of the delegates who congratulate themselves on having ‘saved the plant’.

[1] The term ‘fossil fuels’ come from the idea that coal and crude oil and methane are the products of decaying biological material. Astronomers have detected hydrocarbons in comets. Coal, crude oil and methane are hydrocarbons. This fact undermines the idea that all hydrocarbons are fossil fuels.

Innumerable commentators attempt to give credence to the idea that Islam is ‘peaceful’ and perhaps on the verge of reformation, that thereafter ‘moderate’ Muslims will join forces with ‘moderates’ in other religions and secular ‘moderates’ to create a world of universal mutual tolerance.

Regrettably, these commentators belong to the ‘wouldn’t it be nice if’ school of ‘thought’.

Maybe it would be nice if the Islamic world abandoned the idea of converting the rest of the world to ‘God’s religion’, by force if necessary; but there are at least two good reasons for rejecting this hope as fantasy.

Firstly, fundamentalist (some say radical) Islam is growing, both in numbers and in ferocity. In other words, much as we would like to see a growing majority of ‘moderates’, we observe exactly the opposite. Once upon a time there were was the Muslim Brotherhood, a very intolerant political movement within Islam. Hardly anybody in the west had heard of them. In the last half century we have seen the increasing influence of Wahabism in Saudi Arabia – very fundamentalist and very rich. Wahabists have funded mullahs with extreme views all over the world. More recently we have experienced the fun and games of Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and ISIS. Everybody has heard of them. They are all closely allied to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose founders would be mightily impressed and encouraged by their emergence.

Allegedly, Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. There seems to be no doubt that the most violent and intolerant groups within it are proliferating alarmingly and disproportionally. Complacency is less and less justified. Pious hope of the kind of reform we would like to see is not encouraged by the evidence.

Secondly, despite the supposed importance of the five pillars of Islam: Shahada (profession of faith), Salah (prayer), Sakhat (alms giving), Haj (pilgrimage) and Ramadan (fasting), the real foundations of Islam are the prophet Mohammed, the revelations he claimed to have received (the Koran) and the accounts of his doings and those of his companions (the Hadith).

The five pillars, apart from the first, are not a problem for most non-Muslims. Mohammed is a very big problem. By my standards, by the standards of the Catholic Church, by the standards of most secular westerners, Mohammed was a very bad man, a warlord, a paedophile, a murderer. And yet, he is exalted by Muslims as being the ‘excellent example’.

The Koran is another very big problem. Muslims regard the Koran as a miracle, perfect in every respect. By pretty well every objective standard the Koran is risible. It is without organisation, self-contradictory and full of nonsense, including nonsense about the physical world. It is derivative, ahistorical and absurd. Some Christians have been converted to their faith simply by reading the Bible (not my position). It is difficult to imagine a non-Muslim being startled into Islam simply by reading the Koran.

The Hadith texts are Muslim accounts of Mohammed’s behaviour. Some portray him in what we might regard as a favourable light. Many do not.

The point is this: All the vicious, violent Muslim groups causing mayhem around the world can, quite correctly, point to texts in the Koran and the Hadith which justify their activities – and they do! They cite the example of Mohammed. When someone like Robert Spencer quotes them, he is accused of hate speech.

The melancholy truth is that Islam, unlike any other faith, defines itself by hatred and contempt for other religions. An extraordinary proportion of the Koran is devoted to Allah’s hatred of non-Muslims. Moreover, and this is my opinion, the theology of Islam is surprisingly thin. Granted, Islam is fiercely monotheistic. Christianity and Judaism are also monotheistic. Christianity, I cannot speak for Judaism, is remarkably rich and textured. God’s nature is taught to be Love. Our central prayer commands us to address the Deity as Father. Central to Christianity is the doctrine of Free Will. Muslims cannot speak of the future without saying ‘inshallah’ (God willing).

Much as I would like to share the hope that Islam will be reformed and that we shall be able to leave in peace and tolerance with Muslims, some of whom are, indeed, people of good will and tolerance, I regret that, for the above reasons, the hope appears forlorn.

The Koran is divided into the Medinan suras, which contain much which is irenic, and the Meccan suras, which are alarmingly bloodthirsty. Sadly for those who urge that Islam is ‘a religion of peace’, the Meccan suras are later revelations than the Medinan and therefore, according to Muslim authorities, may abrogate them. The Koran is a miracle of perfection; but the later passages are more perfect than the earlier ones!