Tag Archives: authoritarianism

To understand history one must understand the religious mind

Robert Henderson

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;

Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’

Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;

Man got to tell himself he understand.” ( Kurt Vonnegut  Cat’s Cradle )

Trying to understand history  without understanding the religious  mind  is like teaching  someone the vocabulary of a language without explaining how the grammar works.  Nor is  the religious mind simply concerned with what are generally  called religions. Such minds  can be  and often are  attracted by secular  ideologies  such as Marxism, Fascism  or political correctness.  These are substitutes for what are normally called religions. Beneath  such formalised ideas  there is the natural human preference for the culture and people in which an individual has been raised.  Social animals need habits and humans being the social animal par excellence require very sophisticated ones.


The idea of memes comes from the evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins. A meme is the mental equivalent of a gene. They  contain ideas.  Dawkins  introduced  the word  to the world in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene.   The meme,  like a gene,   is self-replicating and can undergo mutation. It affects  behaviour creates cultural.

There was nothing entirely novel about such an idea,  it having been discussed in Darwin’s time.  For example,   T. H. Huxley  believed that ‘The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.’ (Huxley, T. H. “The coming of age of ‘The origin of species” (1880) Science. 1, 15-17.) But Dawkins gave the idea a new clarity and set it against the background of genetics.

Memes can form entire ideologies such as religions or  political theories like  Marxism or  they may be a stand-alone  social rule such as wear black to a funeral or don’t eat with your mouth open. Memes like genes can be beneficial, harmful or neutral in their effects.

It might be though that judging  a meme as objectively  good or bad is impossible,  but it is possible if the judgement is based upon  the evolved nature of a particular society.  For example, if a society is a warrior society, individuals with a penchant for violence can, other things being equal,  be valuable.  Conversely, a society in which non-violent behaviour is the norm the violent mentality will be a handicap to the individual who has it and a danger to the efficient functioning of the society.

The  problem of consciousness

We are in a prison of  self-consciousness amplified by high intelligence and  above all  language.  Both these things set humans apart from any other organism. These qualities  naturally lead to attempts to explain what humans   perceive to be reality, a reality which will often seem threatening, especially if the person is living in a society which has no science to explain natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions, thunder and lightning,   plagues and  floods.

Imagine the existential context of a hunter gatherer band. It is not that its members are innately stupid or ignorant. Indeed, they will have a considerable repertoire of useful  and essential skills from understanding how to trap and kill animals,  where to gather berries and nuts, how to make tools and other artefacts. But their  world will be a constant source of wonder and bewilderment. They will have not have  any  idea of why  rivers flood, volcanoes roar as they belch lava  or the sun appears to die every day  and gradually burns  less brightly  as the year progresses before returning with regained vigour.  To these phenomena will be added the dangers and fears which result from  living amongst dangerous animals and in competition with other groups of humans who do not belong to their band or tribe.  Magic is  the only means these people  have of making sense of what they  experience and most importantly it is  an ostensible means of controlling reality.

Magic can take a wide variety of forms.  It will not necessarily involve a god because the belief may come simply from a belief that if X is done Y will follow.     Drawing  a scene of a successful hunt on  a cave wall supposedly  makes a successful hunt more probable; the casting of a spell supposedly  makes a woman fertile;   the drinking of a potion is said to cure   a  sick child; the sacrificing an animal or human  to the gods  is done to  ensure  a good harvest or victory over another tribe.

Of course the desired outcome of the magic will often not materialise, but  it will sometimes  by pure coincidence. Moreover, it is not always by mere chance. The Shaman of the band will probably have a knowledge of  plants which may indeed have a positive effect as a result of by  trial  and error over many generations –  indeed some animals self-medicate – and there is also the powerful placebo effect which when linked to ritual is likely to be heightened.  The performing of ritual will in itself will have a reassuring effect.

But even if failure to produce the desired result  of magic  occurs it will not automatically be taken as evidence of the futility of the magic but  more likely be  attributed to  the god’s disfavour or merely  to  the magic not being strong enough or the time unpropitious .

Magic  may be as the author of the Golden Bough James Frazer defined it,  “a spurious system of natural law as well as a fallacious guide of conduct; it is a false science as well as an abortive art”, but it is still a psychological comfort, not least because as with true science it provides rituals to follow as well as the belief that they are shaping reality.


Magic in the form of superstition  is very common even  in  advanced modern societies. More often than not  it has nothing to  do with formal  religion. Sportsmen in particular  are notoriously superstitious:  insisting on dressing in a certain sequence, using a favourite bat or racquet, taking the field in a team sport in a particular order and so on, but few humans are entirely untouched by it.

Looked at rationally such behaviour seems absurd to those who live in societies in which rational scientific  explanations can be given for most things and even where such an explanation cannot be given people will believe  that one exists but has yet to be discovered.  Yet  the grip of scientific rationality is only skin deep.  No matter how rational humans  think themselves the majority,  and probably the large majority , will still  use  such psychological tricks to  deal with the stress of  self-consciousness .

What this tells us  is that even  though  there is no  rational basis for believing such rituals will have the effect desired,  they  can undoubtedly provide an individual with psychological comfort and a sense that in some way the individual has exercised some sort of control over situations which do not lend themselves to any rational solution.

The step after magic and superstition

If magic  is what might be termed the innate human response to self-consciousness the next step is the creation of  formal religion This  will have holy texts and develop a sociology to encompass larger populations than the band or  tribe.  The population will have moved from a nomadic to a settled way of life.

Some like Hinduism will have multiple gods, others  such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism will have a single god. Buddhism,  at least in its purest form,  has no god.  But belief in the supernatural  is something all formal religions require including  Buddhism , because that faith even in its purest seemingly most rational form  requires the believer to accept the reality of   rebirth with the eventual end of nirvana.

Nor is magic dead within formal religions. Even  a sophisticated religion such as Catholicism  has some decidedly primitive aspects, for example, the doctrine of  transubstantiation  requires  a belief that the bread and wine given in the   Eucharist are   literally transformed into the blood and flesh of Christ.  Nor will all practices not compatible with a particular religion be ended by the religion’s putative dominance. The widespread belief in and persecution of people accused of being witches in   Europe in the early modern period is a classic example of this.

Religion as an organising principle

Larger settled populations  require more sophisticated social structures.   Religion has an innate  organising quality which aids the formation of such social structures.  This has routinely meant its has been used to justify  monarchical  power  either by the monarch wielding the religious authority themselves or by having a religious caste which either  justified the right of the monarch to rule  or which exercised  the monarchical authority itself.

The belief that the worship of God in a certain way was integral to the good order and fortune of a country and its people is strong in most religions. A failure to follow the “right” form of religion could mean disaster for a people.  Any misfortune could be ascribed to a failure of faith or of observance.  The Black Death was put down to precisely that while the destruction of the Spanish Armada to England in 1588, in which the weather played a significant  part,  was  attributed by  the Spanish to some lack in their society and as a sign of God’s favour by the English.

The potency of religion

It is important to understand that religious belief is not something simply imposed on people or just  a habit acquired through their upbringing.   The sufferings of those who have refused to deny their faith are truly extraordinary. The Inquisition did not simply condemn people out of hand. Those who had taken up a variety of Christianity other than Catholicism were frequently  excused from punishment if they recanted.  Faced with death by burning at the stake many chose that death rather than recanting. Some, like Archbishop Cranmer, recanted than went back on their recantation and  were  burnt. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs all too graphically bears witness to the sufferings borne over the centuries.

Religion and the  secular mind

To understand the religious mind is also to understand the mind of those  gripped by a secular  ideology,  for the  psychological and sociological outcomes are the same as those experienced by the religious. That is particularly true of totalitarian ideologies such as Marxism or political correctness which offer the promise of an eventual  future  state in which  the ideology is fully realised.

Marxists believe that the movement of the dialectic through history will inevitably lead to the state of  Communism.   That belief is psychologically the equivalent of going to Heaven for the Christian or  Paradise for the Muslim or Nirvana  for the Buddhist.  Something similar happens when the politically correct  encounter  human behaviour   which brutally contradicts  their view of the world. They  do not draw the obvious conclusion, namely, that   political correctness is a incompatible with  our  evolved  nature. Instead, they say it shows that that  more  time must be spent  in educating the politically incorrect  to believe  that the  mores of political correctness are the only way to behave and believe.

One of the most peculiar secular ideologies,  which has been around since the early 19th Century,   is the quasi-religious devotion to laissez faire economics which for its true believers, the neo-liberals,  means holding  rigidly to the idea that free markets and free trade  are a sure-fire means to greatly increase  general prosperity and  that it is rationally  the only  economic system to follow.  This might seem a very dry subject  to engage people emotionally. Yet  its believers  tend to become extremely agitated if a contrary view is put to them and more often than not refuse to offer any contrary argument or facts when faced with an opponent of  their  creed.    In short they display all the signs of the religious believer.

Why does it attract followers?  For the same reason any ideology is adopted. It offers itself as an algorithm to order the world.  It is sometimes hailed as a general libertarian good by its proponents  which could engage the emotions,  but few people who claim to be libertarians actually live their lives by the creed.  A much more plausible explanation,   at least for the true believers,  , is that these are people who find the idea of a neat mechanical ideology  which tells them just stand back and don’t interfere with the market   intellectually satisfying. In addition, like all ideologies, sacred or profane, laissez faire allows its followers to believe that action is being taken to control the world. Ironically,   intellectually and emotionally  it offers just what Marxism does, an  eventually utopia which comes about automatically when economic life takes on a certain shape.

The fact that humans are so susceptible to the lure of  ideologies and habit  must mean that this behavioural trait serves some vital  evolutionary purpose because otherwise it  would not  have persisted.  The purpose is to unite and order a society.

2016 and the future

Robert Henderson

What has changed over the past year?

The grip of the Western globalists is slipping.   They do not   realise it yet but their day is  almost done. Their ramshackle ideology,   a toxic blend of open borders politically correct internationalism  and what is crony capitalism but called by  those with a vested interest in it neo-liberal or laissez faire  economics , has wrought as it was certain to do,  rage and increasingly despair amongst  the majority of electors in Western states who are increasingly turning to  politicians that at least have some grasp of what is necessary to preserve  the viability of Western nation states.

The most  optimistic possibility for the West  is that  parties which do have some real attachment to what the great mass of people seek will be both elected and when in office carry through their pre-election promises.  But this is far from certain. It does not follow that what will replace globalism will be a politics which reflects the wants and needs of Western voters because the existing elites may drop all pretence of being anything other than an authoritarian clique and go in for wholehearted suppression of any dissent.  There are already signs that  this might happen with  the  growing willingness  amongst Western  elites  to  censor  political ideas, potent examples of which have been the  recent conviction of Gert Wilders in Holland for inciting racial hatred by saying there should be fewer Moroccans in  Holland , while in the UK  the  Prime Minister Theresa May has just sanctioned the putting into law of a definition of anti-Semitism so broad that any criticism Jews or Israel could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Much will depend on how Donald Trump’s presidency develops.

In Britain the  EU referendum  has dominated everything both before and after the vote to leave in the political year .The anti-democratic mind-set of those who wanted to remain in the EU has been nakedly shown by colossal attempts to  sabotage the result of the referendum through legal  and political action and an incessant bleat about how they want a soft Brexit not a hard Brexit when only  Brexit  exists.

Something which the government calls Brexit will  eventually emerge,  but it could easily  be  a beast which is  directly at odds with what the British people voted on when they went to the polls on 23rd June, namely, for a clean break with the EU.  If this government, or conceivably its successor, concludes  a deal which stitches the UK back into the EU with  such things as free movement of EU citizens into the UK, the UK paying for the “privilege” of remaining in the Single Market and the UK being subject to the European Court of Justice, there  is surely a serious risk of political violence. But even if that  is  avoided British politics would be seriously curdled by such a betrayal.

The other  pressing political  need  is  for an  English parliament and government  to balance the devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A procedure to have only  MPs sitting for  English seats  voting on English only legislation  (English votes for English laws  or EVEL for short)  began a trial in 2015,  but  it  has few teeth because  it is difficult to disentangle what is English only  legislation, not least  because  MPs  for seats outside of England argue  that any Bill dealing solely with English matters has financial implications for the rest of the UK and , consequently, is not an England only Bill. Nor does EVEL allow English MPs to initiate English only legislation. Most importantly  England , unlike Scotland,  Wales and Northern Ireland, is left without any national political representatives   to concentrate on purely English domestic matters.

The House of Lords review of its first year  in operation makes EVEL’s  limitations clear:

The EVEL procedures introduced by the Government address, to some extent, the West Lothian Question. They provide a double-veto, meaning that legislationor provisions in bills affecting only England (or in some cases, England and Wales, or England and Wales and Northern Ireland), can only be passed by the House of Commons with the support of both a majority of MPs overall, and of MPs from the nations directly affected by the legislation.

Yet English MPs’ ability to enact and amend legislation does not mirror their capacity, under EVEL, to resist legislative changes. The capacity of English MPs to pursue a distinct legislative agenda for England in respect of matters that are devolved elsewhere does not equate to the broader capacity of devolved legislatures to pursue a distinct agenda on matters that are devolved to them

The most dangerous general global threats are plausibly these in this order

  1. Mass immigration, the permitting of which by elites is the most fundamental treason because unlike an invasion by force, there is no identifiable concrete foreign enemy for the native population to resist. Yet the land is effectively colonised just the same.

2 Uncontrolled technology, which leaves the developed world in particular  but increasingly the  world generally,  very vulnerable  to suddenly being left without vital services if computer systems fail naturally or through cyber attacks.  Judged by the number of reports in the mainstream media the frequency of personal data being hacked and major computer systems  going down, most notably banks, is increasing. This is unsurprising because both state organisations and private business are remorselessly  forcing  customers and  clients to use web-based contact points rather than deal with a human being.  This in itself makes life unpleasant and for older people in particular most difficult.

In the  medium  term –  probably within ten years –  there is the existential  threat  to humans of general purpose robots being able to cause a catastrophic  drop in demand by taking over  so many jobs that demand collapses because huge numbers are rapidly made unemployed.  To that can be added the development of military robots which have the capacity to make autonomous judgements about killing humans.

The  general lack of political concern and a seemingly  universal inability of those with power and influence to see  how robotics and AI systems generally  are rapidly  developing is astonishing. Time and again when the subject of robots and AI systems is raised with such people they will bleat that new jobs will arise due to the new technology, as new technology has always created jobs, and these developments will provide the jobs for humans.

This is sheer “it’ll never replace the horse” ism .  Intelligent robots and AI systems will not only take existing jobs,  they will take most or even all of the new jobs that arise.  This is the potential catastrophe that humans face from robots and AI,  the rapid loss of such  huge amounts of employment  that the economic systems of both the developed and the developing world cannot function  because of the loss of demand,  not the SF style scare stories about intelligent robots making war on humans.  The other thing that  politicians do not seem to understand is that when there are  robots and AI systems sophisticated enough to do most of the jobs humans do, the loss of human jobs will occur at great speed. We can be certain of this for two reasons; our experience with digital technology  is of rapid advances and robots and AI systems will be able to design and build even more advanced  robots and AI systems, probably  very quickly.

Aside from digital technology,  advances in genetic engineering and ever more radical transplant surgery raise the question of what it is to be a human being if full face transplants are now available and the possibility of things such as a head being transplanted in the not too distant future.   We need to ask ourselves what it is to be human.

  1. Islam – serious unrest is found throughout the world wherever there are large numbers of Muslims.
  2. Ever increasing general instability. Contrary to Steven Pinker’s view that the world is becoming more peaceful, if civil conflict is included things are getting worse.  Formal war may be less easy to identify , but ethnic  (and often religious ) based strife plus repression by  rulers  is so widespread outside the West that it is best described as endemic. Globalisation =  destabilisation because by making the world’s economic system more complex , there is simply more to go wrong both economically and socially. Sweeping aside  traditional relationships and practices is a recipe for social discord.  All of economic history tells you one thing above all else: a strong domestic economy is essential for the stability of any country.   The ideology of laissez faire, is like all ideologies,  at odds with  human nature and reality generally and its application inevitably creates huge numbers of losers when applied to places such as China and India.

The most dangerous specific  threats to global peace and stability are:

–              The heightened tension between China and the rest of the Far East (especially Japan) as a consequence of China’s growing territorial ambitions.

–              China’s extraordinary expanding  shadow world empire which consists of both huge investment in the first world and de facto colonial control in the developing world.

–              The growing power of India which threatens Pakistan. An India/Pakistan nuclear exchange is  probably the most likely use of nuclear weapons I the next ten years.

–              The increasing authoritarianism of the EU due to both the natural impetus towards central control and the gross mistake of the Euro.   This will end either in a successful centralisation of  EU power after the UK has left the EU  or the attempt at centralisation will lead to a collapse of the EU.

The Eurofanatics  continue to play  with fire in their attempts to lure border states of Russia into the EU whilst applying seriously damaging sanctions to Russia. It is not in the West’s interest to have a Russia which feels threatened or denied its natural sphere of influence.

–   The ever more successful (at least in the short run) attempt of post-Soviet Russia to re-establish their suzerainty over the old Soviet Empire and Putin’s increasingly martial noises including substantial re-armament.  However, these ambitions will be likely to be mitigated by the plight of the Russian provinces of the Far East where there is unofficial Chinese infiltration of the sparsely populated and natural resource rich land there. Eventually China will wish to capture those territories.

Robert Henderson 17  12 2016

The burden of digital technology

Robert Henderson

Technological  change  has been  making  increasingly  severe   demands  on  human beings for around 300 years. There  was change before then of course, but it was slow and most people   could live their lives without  having to adapt to radically   new ways of living.

Things  began to speed up as the Industrial Revolution began and an argument can be made that the century  1815 and 1914  saw  more radical technological  qualitative  change than any generation before or since. But  that  change  was the difference between living in  a  still  largely  pre-industrial society (in 1815) and  an  industrial     society  in its  early middle age (in 1914).  Moreover,  the  change  did  not actually require the vast  majority  of  the  population to master complicated machines at their work,  let  alone in their own homes.

In  1914 the most complicated machine most people had to operate was probably the telephone and vast swathes  of the population would not even have had to go that far into  the  world  of technology. Not only that, because  machines  then were either mechanical or part mechanical,  i.e.,  not   electronic, just looking at the way a machine was made  often allowed the intelligent  observer to have a fair guess at how  it  worked and to see  what had  gone  wrong  if it malfunctioned.  Even  work-related machines which required skilled operators, such as  machine  lathes,  were not   fundamentally difficult to understand, although the dexterity  required to operate them often took time to acquire.

Things remained essentially  the same until  the advent of personal computers and the widespread use of digital technology.  Machines became   more and more predominant in advanced societies but they were   not,   in  most  instances,  complicated  to  use. This  was  particularly  true  of those machines used in  private  life.  Telephones just required the user  to dial;  washing machines  had  a  start  button and nothing else; televisions  and radios  simply needed switching  on;  cars were simply  designed to travel. Then came digital technology.

Computers are like no other machine ever invented. They have  a  unique combination of  an unparalleled public and  private   use  and   a  central importance to  economic  activity and public  administration.   The  potential  penalties  for  the   failure  of these machines  are vastly greater than  for  any   other  piece  of  technology.   Not  only  can  an  immediate   application  of a computer be ended,  as can happen with  all  machines,  but  computer users also  risk  losing  networking  capacity  and, if they have not useable backed up copies  of   their computer data, the loss of their entire records and conceivably the loss of the means to continue their business. Computer users are also vulnerable to outside sabotage though hacking  and viruses.   No other machine has ever  exposed a society to such risks through its ubiquity and vulnerability to outside influences.

These machines are also vastly more demanding of time than   any  other  machine  ever  used  by  the   general   public. To  master computers to the  degree where a person does not lie helplessly in the hands of  experts  is a  demanding and continuing   task.   It is unlikely that many could or would manage it  without making  computers their  profession.   In fact,   even   supposed  computer  professionals   are   only   knowledgeable in   their  specialist  areas:   a   hardware  specialist has no deep knowledge of software and vice versa, while programmers long ago lost any detailed understanding of an entire program. It is also true that many self described IT experts are anything but. They get by with a small amount of IT knowledge  because of the general level of ignorance amongst the general public and the fact that most problems can be overcome by re-booting or by  reinstalling programs.

The computer age  is a stunningly  recent   phenomenon.  Most people even in the West   would  not  have   used  a  computer before 1985.  Probably a majority  had  not   done  so by 1990.  By the end of the 1980s  the nearest  most   would have got to a computer  would probably have been   bank  ATM  machines.  The internet was esoteric and laborious,  the   web barely more than a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.   Even    in  the  world  of  employment  computers  were  still   used   sparingly.

As  with  computers actually called computers,  so with the other machines which  cause much  grief now.   The mobile phone was  a status symbol  and   the size of a brick, while  landline phones were still phones   boringly   restricted   to   simply   phoning   rather   than    mini-computers with a tendency to bemuse.   Microwaves had  a  simple   choice  of power.  Refrigerators did  not  offer  to  remind  you  of  what needed to be ordered.  TVs   tended  to  simply work when switched on.

In  the past 25 years all this has dramatically changed.   We  are in  a world in which computers are absolutely integral   to  business and public administration and they are  now  the  norm rather than the exception in homes.  For most people, it  is  literally impossible to escape them.   Worse,  they  have  become ever more complex to use and invade ever  more  of our lives as microprocessors are inserted  into  the most unlikely things such as clothes.  Machines  generally   are more demanding. To use This has profound implications for  people  both in  high IQ and low IQ societies.

Even to use computers at a low level  of expertise, such as using a word processor to its  full capacity and  sending email  efficiently , requires  a degree of concentration and  knowledge with which  a substantial minority are uneasy.  More demanding activities such as  spreadsheet  use  or the construction of a database  are inaccessible to the majority. Most  people  have only a  minimal knowledge of the  capacities of their operating system . This lack of expertise  afflicts the young as well as the old, which suggests that this is going to be a permanent  problem because the young have grown up with computers.

Of  the commonly used programmes  search engines  are particularly interesting from the point of view of IQ. Everyone  who uses a computer can use a search engine at some level, but  the skill with which they use search engines varies massively.  This is unsurprising because the search engine is  the  commonly used program which most calls upon IQ related abilities.  It relies not simply on knowledge but  also  problem solving. To perform a function in a word processor  requires the user  to apply inert knowledge, go to this menu, use this function etc. To use a search engine efficiently for anything but a simple search for a certain website  requires the ability to formulate questions  in the most pertinent way.  I never ceased to be amazed how at many people  use search engines ineptly, often comically so. I should not be amazed of course because the ability to do so is IQ dependent.

The implications for those with a low IQ are these: the lower the IQ, the more the person will struggle in an advanced society because the use of computers is increasingly inescapable.  In a high IQ society the low IQ individual will struggle but the society  as a whole will  manage. In a low IQ society there will simply not be the IQ firepower to sustain a society based on digital technology.  In a high IQ society  the low IQ part of the population will be left increasingly in a technological no man’s land, unable to competently use the technology but forced to use it simply to live.


The constant learning process

Personal  computing  began in the mid  seventies. A  person  starting then would have had to learn the BASIC  programming language.   By the early eighties they would have been using DOS. By 1990s Windows   expertise  was  necessary.   Since  1990  successive   editions  of  Windows  have  varied  considerably  from   the  previous version requiring further learning.

What  goes for  operating systems applies also to most  other programs,   which   when  they  are   upgraded   often   bear    surprisingly little  resemblance to the  version  prior  to  them.  Certainly,  if one moves from an old   program   to  a version  which has been uprated twice, the chances are  that knowledge  of the original program will be of little use  in  understanding the new one.

Apart from the effort needed to constantly learn new programs  and to attend to such things as installations of software and hardware, the other great drawback of computers is the amount of time which can be spent on maintenance.  It is all too easy to find a  day  or  two  slip by just sorting out a single relatively  simple  computer problem or learning how to use a new program.

The nature of what is to be learned

The burden  of learning is   especially heavy because of  the  nature of that which is to be learned. This  is what might be termed   dead information.   There is no  intrinsic  interest in what is to be learned. It is merely a means to an end.  To operate  a program all that is needed is a knowledge of   the  menus  and  function keys.   That is precisely  the  type  of   information  which  is least palatable to  the  normal  human  mind.  Hence,  it is the least easy to learn for most people.    The  computer is in effect forcing human beings to  act  like  computers, something utterly alien to them.

Intelligence  is  of  little  use on its own.  Computers  are  information   driven  machines.  Put the most intelligent man in the world before a   computer  and  he  will  be utterly helpless  if  he  has  no  computer  experience.  Even  if the  man  has  some  computer   experience,  he will be as incapable of using  a completely   unfamiliar type of program as the dullard.

The substitution of function for intellect

That  computers are function rather than intelligence  driven  is  objectively  demonstrated  by the fact that all  of  what   might be called the administrative  operations of a  computer – file management,  loading of programs etc –  could be  done by a computer program.

When I watch the young using computers,  obvious or disguised in the shape of phones and the like,  I get a feeling of deep  unease.  They  so  obediently pull down  menus  and    select   options  that I wonder at the difference between them  and  a  robot.  The  machine is driving the human being at  least  as   much  as  the  human  being is  driving  the  machine;  brute  machine functionality is replacing intellect.

There  is  only so much any human being can  learn,  both  in terms  of time and mental impetus.  If increasing amounts  of  both are required by computers simply to operate them,  where  will that leave intellectual development?    Worse,  will the  ability  to  operate  machines become  to  be seem as the  most  important activity of  human beings?

The myth of youthful expertise

It  is true that those who have grown up with  computers  are   more  comfortable  with the machines than those who  came  to them in adult life – the latter still comprise, more than 50 per cent of the population. It is worth noting.   However,  the idea  that  the young  generally  have any  substantial understanding of  computers is dubious going on simply wrong. A recent survey  by the global market-research company Synovate, reported:

“We found that people tended to fit into one of three categories: 27 per cent are what we call ‘cybernauts’ – people who like to be ahead of the game in terms of technology. However, the majority, 53 per cent, are ‘average Joes’. They don’t love technology per se, but view it as a facilitator – it helps them to communicate or entertain themselves. They tend to use it in quite a functional way, such as emailing, banking or shopping online. Then there are 20 per cent who we describe as ‘digital dissidents’, meaning they actively dislike using technology and avoid it wherever possible.” Daily Telegraph 30 6 2007  The myth of the MySpace generation.

The  young know how to use the internet and web,  can work  a  word processor and  use programs which really interest  them.  But  let  their   computer develop  a  fault   which  renders Windows  unstable or unusable or  a piece of hardware  fails,  and  they are,  in most cases,  as helpless  the  generations which did not grow up with computers.

What  the young do have which  older people do not  have   is group  knowledge.  A schoolchild of today can call  on  the computer  knowledge of their peer group and the assistance of   teachers.  Those  a little older who are in work  still  have   their  peer  group  to  help them   if  they  get  stuck.  In  addition,  if they work for a large employer they can call on the  expertise  of the employer’s IT  department  or  service contractors.

Computers  have only been in schools since the mid  eighties.  Anyone over the age of forty (arguably,  over the age of  35)   will  not  have  a  peer group on  whom  they  can  call  for  assistance  with  computers  (and  other  machines)   because   almost  all  of  those  they  know  well  will  be  of  their approximate  age  – few people have  close  friendships  with  those who are  much younger than themselves – and the  people   who  are  their age will have little computer  experience  or knowledge.   The  best they can hope for is  assistance  from  their children if they have any,  and then it is pot luck  as   to how computer competent those children are and how  willing  they  are  to help the parent.   If an older  person  has  no  compliant computer literate children and  does not work for a   large employer,  he or she will  be utterly isolated from the   knowledge   needed   to  deal  with even   basic computer developments.

The  science  fiction writer Arthur C Clarke  pointed  out  a  good few years ago that there comes  a point with  technology  when it became indistinguishable from magic for all but the initiates. The dangers of that are obvious: for that which is not generally understood  gives the few who do understand a power over those who do not.  That potentially gives private corporations and governments a great stick with which to beat   their  customers  and citizens into  submission,  either  for  profit or political power.

Where the technology is as vital and central to a society  as  computers  have  become,   there  is  the  further  and  more   fundamental  risk   of society reaching a  state  where   the   technology  can  no longer be either properly  maintained  or  controlled.

More prosaically, in societies which have the capacity to embrace the ever  growing potential  digital technology, those without the means to gain Internet access or the ability to use computers generally will be left stranded as more and more of everyday life is dependent upon people having the ability and opportunity to use the Internet. Already there are few large organisations, private and public, which are not making strenuous efforts to force anyone who wishes to interact with them to do so through the Internet.   This trend will continue if nothing is done. There are also developments which within ten to twenty years may have driven advanced societies to do away with cash and trap everyone into a world in which  the means of living are dependent upon the reliability of digital systems and the honesty and goodwill of those who control them. Imagine a world in which payment could only be made through an electronic  transfer  using a card or  smartphone and the bank servicing your electronic broke down? Or suppose you lost your card or had it stolen. How would you survive?

In a democratic society politicians  should be addressing the very real dangers to everyone  and the unreasonable burdens being placed on those who simply cannot come to terms with the technology, the old, the disabled, the simply not very bright.  This is simply not happening.  God help us if those with power and influence do not begin to address the problem soon.

Greece and the Eurozone : holding tight to nurse for fear of something worse

Robert Henderson

The   Greek referendum on the terms for a further  financial bailout was potentially  a clever move by  Alexis Tsipras and Syriza. If the result of the referendum   had been  YES to the terms put forward to deal with the Greek debt , Tsipras and his government were off the hook for reneging on their election promises. If there was  a NO to the conditions, Tsipras could  play the democracy card and challenge the Eurozone to go against the democratic will of the Greek people or simply walk away from the mess and  pass the poisoned chalice to his political opponents.

Having asked for a rejection of  the terms offered  by the Eurozone in the referendum and  got an emphatic  61% vote  for rejection,  Syriza   could  have  called the Euro elite’s bluff from a position of strength.   Regrettably for Greece’s hope of recovery they have not had the courage to do so.  Instead  they have  humiliatingly capitulated by signing up to an even more severe  austerity deal than  they could have concluded with the movers and shakers  in the Eurozone a fortnight ago. The stark realpolitik of the situation was epitomised by the Greek prime minister  Alexis Tsipras appealing to the Greek Parliament to accept the deal with the words   “We don’t believe in it, but we are forced to adopt it,” The Parliament  accepted by  his plea by voting 229 for and 64 against, but it required support from the opposition because over 30 Syriza MPs either voted against or abstained. From provisional acceptance by the Greek government  to acceptance by Parliament took three days.   Shotgun marriages often take longer to arrange.

Greece is no longer in control of its economy or its political system.  It is having forced upon it huge changes to pensions and public sector salaries, large privatisations,  and perhaps most humiliating, to sell off €50bn of Greek assets , the proceeds of which will be partially used to guarantee repayments on debts owed to the EU and the IMF. The detailed new requirements are:

“To unlock a fresh €82bn to €86bn bail-out, Greece has until Wednesday to pass laws that:

  • implement VAT hikes
  • cut pensions
  • take steps to ensure the independence of Greece’s statistics office is maintained
  • put measures in place to automatically slash spending if Greece fails to meet its targets on primary surpluses (revenue minus expenditure excluding debt servicing costs)

It has until July 22 (an extra week compared with a draft statement) to:

  • overhaul its civil justice system
  • implement the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD) to bring bank resolution laws in line with the rest of the EU

Greek MPs will also have to stomach a move to sell off €50bn of Greek assets.”

This is not the end of the matter. At best the Greek problem and the problems of the Eurozone generally have been simply been kicked down the road. The madness  at the heart of this settlement is that Greece is being further burdened  by a huge amount of extra  debt when the general consensus amongst economists is that the existing  debt was more than Greece could ever hope to repay.  Disobligingly for the Europhile elite,  the IMF  has made it clear since the agreement between Syriza and the Eurozone  that Greece requires a great deal of debt relief and that unless this is forthcoming  the IMF will not take part in the overseeing of the agreement.    But the agreement makes no provision for overt debt relief, although fiddling with the period of repayment and interest rates payable may reduce the real value overall debt (principal and interest)  somewhat.  Nor is this position likely to change, because some Eurozone countries, most notably Germany,  are determined to continue to resist overt  debt relief if Greece is to continue within the Eurozone.  At the same time Germany have made it clear that they want the  IMF involved in the realisation of the agreement. In addition to these obstacles all the other Eurozone countries have got to sign up to the agreement  and this will require some countries, including Germany,  to get parliamentary approval to the terms.  Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble has even suggested that Greece leave the Euro for five years.

But even if the Eurozone votes collectively to accept the deal and the IMF  difficulty is overcome,  there is no guarantee it will be realised  for two reasons. The Greek people may be driven by  desperation to  resort to serious violence after they realise that voting changes nothing in Greece and the severe austerity programme takes effect , effects which are aggravated by the fact that   Greece has no real Welfare State.  This could drive the Greek political class to hold further elections with the result that a government is elected which will not implement the deal.

More mundanely,    Greece’s  politics and  public services are severely tainted by cronyism and corruption.  The country  may simply  lack the bureaucratic  structures and expertise to  implement the  complicated and far reaching reforms  which are being sought by the Eurozone.

The sad  truth is that Greece is a second world country which has been masquerading as a first world country.  Before joining the Euro it got by because it had its own currency and  received very large dollops of money from the richer members of the EU.  In those  circumstances its lending was circumscribed by the fact that its debt attracted a high rate of interest because it was seen as a bad risk.  Once Greece had smuggled itself into the Euro by falsifying its accounts,   it was treated as safe a bet as Germany  for creditors who rashly  reasoned that the rest of the Eurozone would ensure Greece did not default.

How difficult would it to be for Greece to re-establish the Drachma? The Czechoslovakian split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 provides a reassuring  example of how it might be done.  Initially the two new countries were going to share a currency but within a matter of weeks they came to the conclusion that this was unworkable and decided that each country should launch its own currency. This was accomplished with very little trouble:

 The two countries already had capital controls, but all cross-border money transfers between them were halted to avoid further speculative flows into the Czech Republic. Border controls were tightened.

Komercni Banka, a then state-owned commercial bank, glued stamps, printed by a British firm to ensure secrecy, on 150 million federal banknotes. These were trucked around the country with the help of police and the army.

The exchange for notes stamped by Czech or Slovak stamps, at a 1:1 rate, started on February 8 and was completed in four days. Later in 1993, the stamped notes were replaced by new ones.

People could swap a maximum of 4,000 crowns — then worth $136 (87 pounds) — in cash. They had to deposit the rest. The old money ceased to be valid immediately the switch started.

The whole process, which required 40,000 people just on the Czech side, went ahead smoothly. An opinion poll showed 86 percent of Czechs experienced no problems in the operation. Capital controls were essential to stop bank runs. Secrecy in the buildup was paramount.

The Greek situation is not an exact parallel with that of Czechoslovakia because of the massive debt the country has acquired. Nonetheless, if Greece did relaunch the Drachma creditors would be forced to decide  between accepting  the new currency even though this would certainly mean them receiving far less than the face value of the loans  or in all probability getting nothing.

Would Greece out of the Eurozone be a better bet for Greeks than what is on offer within the Eurozone?  It is difficult to see how things could be worse because , as things stand, Greece is locked into many years of austerity at the least. . Most importantly outside the Eurozone  the Greeks could take charge their own destiny. Most importantly they would be able to control how much of and at what rate they would repay their national debt .  Holding tight to nurse for fear of something worse is not the answer here because long experience shows the something worse will always be the EU.

The digital tyranny – The threat posed by a cashless society

Robert Henderson

We are in danger of sleepwalking into a cashless society. More and more purchases are made by electronic means , through standing orders,  direct debits, debit cards  or credit  cards.   Debit and credit  card purchases already account for over a third of UK GDP and more than three quarters of retail purchases (up from 46% in 2003), while  card and computer purchases have just overtaken UK cash sales.

The next logical step  towards  a cashless society is to have laws which allow private businesses  and any public body  which charges for  its services  to refuse cash payment.  Denmark is seemingly  taking the first tentative steps along that road.  The Danish Government has proposed legislation which if passed  will  remove the obligation to take cash from retail outlets such as petrol stations,  clothes shops  and restaurants next year.

With the combination of more and more people using  methods of payment other than cash and the willingness of technologists to  feed the trend with ever more sophisticated and comprehensive  systems of  cashless payments, there is no reason to think that this trend towards  making cash dysfunctional will stop unless governments take a hand and prevent cash from becoming  defunct by law.  This development  is alarming because the abolition of physical money would  carry  tremendous dangers in terms of  the opportunities for  state authoritarianism  and simple practicality.

The dangers  from state authoritarianism are:

  1. There would be no money which could be held which was not potentially known to the state, because with only electronic money available it would have to be stored electronically and be accessible via the Internet  if it was to be useable.

But what about using virtual currencies such as Bitcoin?  Apart from the dangers of such a means of exchange – the great volatility in value, the frauds which are occurring where Bitcoin is stolen, the lack of a lender of last resort and a restricted range of  goods and services which can be bought – Bitcoin still  needs  to be stored electronically and hence is  potentially identifiable and accessible to governments. There would also be an audit trail from an individual’s source of electronic money  to the purchase point of a virtual currency  like Bitcoin. The only exception would be if someone sold something or did paid work for someone and was paid in a virtual currency like  Bitcoin.

If Britain  went cashless and others did not the likelihood is that a black market in foreign cash such as dollars would  arise in Britain.  There would also be the possibility of exchanges made by barter or a product such as cigarettes becoming a de fact currency.

  1. A cashless system would allow the state to have all  electronic money stored in a central government controlled place.  This would leave  the  individual  at the mercy of the state which could deny electronic money to anyone within their jurisdiction by cancelling or blocking their means of payment.
  2. The state could more readily control the money supply if all bank accounts were  under the control of the state and physical cash did not exist.  The state would be able to manipulate public economic behaviour by  imposing a negative interest rate when increased spending is deemed desirable  – people save less because it costs them money – and a transaction tax every time a purchase is made  – people spend less if because it will cost them to make a purchase – if it is thought an economy is over heating.
  3. The state could remove money from your account at will.
  4. The opportunities for general surveillance of the individual both by the state and by private corporations or individuals would be greatly increased.

The problems of practicality are:

1.The idea  assumes that everyone can  afford a  computer of some sort, whether that be a mobile phone, tablet or desktop, and can afford to replace their means of getting access to the Internet  every few years at best.  The reality is that millions of people are too  poor to be able to meet such costs.  The taxpayer would have pay for access to electronic money for those too poor to buy their own.

  1. Many people cannot use the digital technology.  Huge numbers of people  are still not using  this technology. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that  11% of the UK population (approximately 6 million) has never  used the Internet.  Moreover, the ONS did not ask for frequency of use merely whether someone had used the Internet When the ONS asked whether people had used the Internet in the three months prior to the question being asked,   only 86% answered yes.  Thus 14% of the population had either not used the Internet for more than three months  or   had never used it and, importantly,  only 68% of disabled people had used the Internet in the previous 3 months. Clearly there will be large numbers of people, including  the most vulnerable in society,  who will seriously struggle to use digital technology for the foreseeable future. If cash becomes illegal many of  these people will literally not be able to live if they cannot understand the technology or have no one to operate it for them.

3.The computer systems which support a cashless society will inevitably be subject to  regular disruption, whether from hacking or simple failure because,  as we all know,  digital technology frequently goes wrong and the system downtime can be considerable.   Imagine being unable to access the only means you have of paying for something.  It would probably be necessary to have more than one electronic payment device because of this, although that would not help if the fault was not with your payment device but with that of those from whom you wished to make a purchase.

  1. Many people will have their means of accessing electronic money stolen  or lose it themselves.  They would then need to replace their equipment which allowed them to access their electronic money.  Many would not be able to afford to do so and those most likely to lose or have their electronic money access  equipment stolen  would be the old and the disabled.

A cashless society would have considerable attractions for a government. It would greatly extend the power of the state over the individual. Crime generally might  be reduced without  physical cash to oil the felonious wheels, although cybercrime would become more tempting in the absence of banks to rob and people to mug. Tax evasion would become very difficult for most people (the rich would simply move their money to other jurisdictions) .  There would also be the saving on the abolition of the need to maintain a physical money supply.  Banks  and other financial institutions would also welcome the abolition of cash as it would remove the considerable cost of physically handling cash and maintaining a branch network.

The danger is that cash will become defunct by default,  because the Government shows no interest in protecting cash and arguably is surreptitiously encouraging  its demise by making it either impossible or very difficult to access public services in any way other than through the Internet.  We could reach a point where, say, 90% of the population use electronic money  and a government simply says it is time to go cashless ignoring the fact that millions of people who cannot use electronic money will be left in the soup. Politicians need to be lobbied now to ensure that  the maintenance of cash remains a legal requirement.

But it is not just a case of ensuring that cash remains a legal requirement. Even a  widespread refusal to accept cash  by businesses and other corporate bodies which charge for their services  would be seriously socially disruptive. That idea also needs to be knocked on the head  by making it illegal to refuse cash in payment for anything.

Get writing to your MP.

Three-parent babies – Redesigning Nature

Robert Henderson

The House of Commons has voted  382 in favour to 128 against to allow babies with genetic material from three people to be born.  Scientists will be able to replace an egg’s defective mitochondrial  DNA with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a female donor’s egg to eliminate genetically  determined diseases such as muscular dystrophy.  This is germline  gene therapy which results in the  genetic alteration being passed on to any  children and their descendants. Britain is the  first country to legalise the procedure.

If it was merely a question  that  the technique  will be used to prevent children  being born without a serious disabling disease it would be emotionally  very difficult to argue against it simply because of the tremendous suffering  which  such diseases cause for both the children themselves and their families , whose lives are often turned upside down with the burden of caring with which they  are left.  Nonetheless, there are possible  biological dangers of genetic manipulation because material is being introduced into a body which is foreign to it. They could perhaps cause cancerous tumours or result in rejection by the immune system.

The thin edge of the wedge

It is a certainty that if three-parent children are allowed it will be the thin end of the wedge which leads  to much more radical alterations of a child’s genome. If gene replacement therapy is deemed ethically acceptable for preventing certain  inherited diseases,  there could be no absolute  moral bar to any manipulation of genes, whether this is  either be through the introduction of genetic material from one or more persons other than the parents into the egg or sperm or to methods of  genetic engineering of humans  which do not require  the introduction of genetic material from a person who is not one of the parents.  Moreover, it is probable that in the not too far distant future the manipulation of  a person’s genes will be done either by direct restructuring of the person’s genetic material (perhaps through the   re-writing of the code of a faulty gene) or the introduction of genetic material not taken from a human  being  but created artificially in a laboratory.

The effect on the children born of genetic manipulation.

Even at its most basic, such as the proposed replacement of mitochondrial DNA to prevent diseases such a muscular dystrophy,  is it not likely that a  child born from the procedure will feel  a freak knowing that they are the product of three people’s DNA, and have serious doubts  about their identity?  Could they ever  have the same relationship with their parents as a child conceived naturally?  That is debatable because the recipient of the replacement DNA  to correct a genetically determined illness might well view it simply as being equivalent to a transplant of a cornea or heart, although there would be the difference that the replacement DNA would be handed down the generations if the person receiving it had children.

But what if  the genetic modification was much more radical, for example,  determining elements of personality, intellect and physical appearance ? That would be much more  likely  to cause psychological disturbance in both the child and the parents.     The child might feel they were not people in their own right but simply the toys of their parents, machines cut to a template consciously planned by another.  If a child’s  life  did not go well,  would not they be inclined to blame their parents for making the genetic choices that they did?   Sadly, if genetically altered children do  blame the parents,  then it is all too easy to imagine that children would sue their parents for making what the children deemed to be bad choices.

The effect on the parents of children born of genetic manipulation

The parents  could also have psychological issues. It is one thing having a child naturally who is born disabled, deformed or just   turns out to be a disappointment in some way, quite another to have a child who disappoints after the parents have made decisions which helped  to shape the child’s physical and mental  qualities.  The parents would run the  risk of  not only being disappointed ,but of knowing they were in part responsible for what the child was, something  which could  engender either feelings of guilt or the anger which can arise when someone knows they are responsible for something but cannot accept that reality. Again, the law could come into play with parents suing the scientists who had performed the genetic manipulation for misleading them.

The creation of a genetic divide in a society

If a society leaves genetic manipulation to the market with only those with the means to afford it receiving the manipulation, the difference  between the haves and have-nots  could become  so large that there were objectively   two  grades  of human beings in the society.   The mere fact that some were genetically engineered and some were not could and probably would  result in an elite which was biologically as well as materially and intellectually different from those who had undergone genetic manipulation, a difference which could translate into a caste system with the genetically manipulated only breeding amongst themselves .   An alternative scenario could be the genetically unaltered have-nots – who would be in the large majority – seeing the elite as other than human and slaughtering them without compunction.

State interference

Would governments be able to resist insisting that characteristics such as intelligence were enhanced by the genetic manipulation  of all members of a society whether or not the parents wanted it?  A  dictatorship  could insist on certain characteristics being enhanced in all their population. Alternatively, the could deny such  genetic manipulation to all but those with power . A third possibility would be, in Brave New World style,  to use the technology  to have people genetically altered so that there were people with different abilities and personality traits produced in different quantities.

Even a representative democracy  might find itself driven to act in such an authoritarian way if it was feared that the society could not compete with other societies which adopted government inspired genetic changes.

Genetic manipulation after conception

Genetic manipulation will not stop at point of conception.   As the technology advances we can expect to see opportunities for much genetic manipulation from the foetus to the aged human. However, this would be  Somatic gene therapy which would be introduced into non-sex cells and would not , unlike germline gene therapy, become part of the person’s genome and consequently could not be passed on to any children or their descendants.

In the case of those old enough to give their consent to somatic gene manipulation  much of the psychological problem which exists with genetic manipulation of the sperm and egg is removed because adults, unless they are mentally handicapped or living in a society where the state forces all to undergo such procedures, they will be able to make the decision for themselves as to whether they have  such a procedure.  Even if they do not like the result of their gene manipulation  they would  not be in a worse psychological situation than someone who has had a replacement organ or plastic surgery which does not give them what they anticipated.

The dangers of a rapid genetic alteration within a population

Rapidly changing the proportions of  characteristics in  a population could  damage the viability of the society. Very little is understood about the importance of the distribution of different qualities and abilities within  a society. Suppose a society opts to rapidly increase the IQ of its people.  A society of highly intelligent people might not work because homo sapiens naturally forms hierarchies and if everyone is highly intelligent this might  make the creation of a stable hierarchy impossible.  .  Or suppose personality traits such as aggression, caution and extroversion could be  manipulated. If the choice was left to parents the favouring of one of such traits might make a society too aggressive or too placid.

What can be done to guard against the worst possibilities?

As genetic manipulation of humans will undoubtedly spread rapidly throughout the world, there will  be no realistic way of preventing  individuals from availing themselves of the technology short of closing the borders and allowing no one to travel out of the country to have the manipulation done abroad with regular checks on every individual to make sure there was no illegal operations being done

If gene manipulation  is banned in one country, but foreign travel is not, banned those  who can afford it and think it worthwhile will go abroad to have the procedure . It would be  possible for a country to make genetic manipulation a  crime regardless of where the act took place.  But that would open up a can of worms. The manipulation would have already have taken place.  The altered human being, whether child or adult,  would exist.  In the case of a child,  the individual would not have broken the law because the decision to have the procedure would not have been theirs. What would the state do?  Imprison for life every adult who had broken the law? Take every genetically altered child into care?   A ban on individuals seeking  gene manipulation would be a non-starter.  If it is widely seen a desirable thing, the only thing which might stop gene manipulation  would be a high proportion of procedures resulting in serious problems such as tumours or deformities dissuading most of the public against it.

Guarding against state enforced gene manipulation is a more practical proposition, but only  in countries with some regard for constitutionality and the law in general. It would be possible for such countries to include in their constitutions absolute bars on any state imposed genetic manipulation.

The curse of the Blair Doctrine

The blueprint for the present international mess lies in the overthrow of Milosevic

Robert Henderson

The first Gulf War was the last Western intervention with force under the old Cold War rules. It was limited to evicting Saddam Hussein  from  Kuwait  and establishing a no-fly zone established over the Kurdish part of Iraq . No attempt was made to overthrow Hussein .  Indeed, the reverse is the case because the first President Bush deliberately lifted the no fly order in the immediate aftermath of  the War to enable Hussein to re-establish control, the USA’s  judgement being that it was the lesser of two evils, the greater  evil being  Iraq as a client state of Iran.  This was still recognisably the world of Communist East versus  capitalist West.

The wars which eventually occurred from the splitting of Yugoslavia after Tito’s death gradually  increased the West’s liberal imperialist tendencies and culminated in NATO bombing  – action unauthorised by the UN and illegal under NATO’s own rules because Slobodan  Milosevic offered no threat to a NATO member –  what remained of  the  Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. There was also something new, the desire to remake territories in the West’s image by imposing conditions on a sovereign state over part of its territory, in this case Kosovo. The first steps towards ignoring the UN Charter’s protection of national sovereignty  (chapter 7) had been taken not merely in actuality,  but intellectually.

It was the experience of the wars resulting from the break up of Yugoslavia  and the continuing difficulties represented by Saddam Hussein that persuaded Blair to develop what became the Blair Doctrine. He first outlined this in 1999 in a speech to the Economic Club in Chicago, viz:

The most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people’s conflicts. Non -interference has long been considered an important principle of international order. And it is not one we would want to jettison too readily. One state should not feel it has the right to change the political system of another or foment subversion or seize pieces of territory to which it feels it should have some claim. But the principle of non-interference must be qualified in important respects. Acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter. When oppression produces massive flows of refugees which unsettle neighbouring countries then they can properly be described as “threats to international peace and security”. When regimes are based on minority rule they lose legitimacy – look at South Africa.

Looking around the world there are many regimes that are undemocratic and engaged in barbarous acts. If we wanted to right every wrong that we see in the modern world then we would do little else than intervene in the affairs of other countries. We would not be able to cope.

So how do we decide when and whether to intervene. I think we need to bear in mind five major considerations

First, are we sure of our case? War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress; but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators. Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance, as we have in the case of Kosovo. Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake? Fourth, are we prepared for the long term? In the past we talked too much of exit strategies. But having made a commitment we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over; better to stay with moderate numbers of troops than return for repeat performances with large numbers. And finally, do we have national interests involved? The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded the notice of the rest of the world. But it does make a difference that this is taking place in such a combustible part of Europe.

Milosovec  lost a Presidential election in 2000, was arrested on April 1, 2001 and extradited to the Hague Tribunal on June 28, where he died in detention in March 2006, before his trial was completed.

What Blair saw  the fall of Milosevic as a success for the Blair Doctrine and this has  laid the foundation for all the misbegotten Western intervention since. Nor has it been simply a matter of military force.  The EU had a hand in making sure that Milosovec  did not survive by dangling carrots such as eventual membership of the EU for Serbia.  From this the EU became more and more ambitious in its expansionist plans to the East, something which is all too apparent in the EU’s messy hand in creating the Ukraine conflict we are presently witnessing by pressing for it to move close to the EU with eventual membership the end of the game.   The imperialist mindset of the EU is  unambiguously  described in an EU document  The Western Balkans and The EU:  ‘The hour of Europe’  (Edited by Jacques Rupnik Chaillot Papers,  June 2011), viz:

Today, more than fifteen years after the end of the wars of Yugoslavia’s  dissolution, the ‘Balkan question’ remains more than ever a ‘European question’. In the eyes of many Europeans in the 1990s, Bosnia was the symbol of a collective failure, while Kosovo later became a catalyst for an emerging Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In the last decade, with the completion of the process of redrawing the map of the region, the overall thrust of the EU’s Balkans policy has moved from an agenda dominated by security issues related to the war and its legacies to an agenda focused on the perspective of the Western Balkan states’ accession to the European Union, to which there has been a formal political commitment on the part of all EU Member States since the Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003. The framework was set, the political elites in the region were – at least verbally – committed to making Europe a priority and everyone was supposedly familiar with the policy tools thanks to the previous wave of Eastern enlargement. With the region’s most contentious issues apparently having been defused, the EU could move from stability through containment towards European integration.

There are favourable trends to make this possible: the EU has emerged as the unchallenged international actor in the Balkans; the region, exhausted by a decade of conflict, is recovering stability and the capacity to cooperate; the EU has no other equally plausible enlargement agenda in sight and could use the direct involvement of some of its Member  States in the region to facilitate the accession process.

I wrote the essay below in 1999 for Free Life, the magazine of the Libertarian Alliance.  Reading it now I am glad I placed a question mark after Milosovec in the title. Milosevic  might be said to have won the war and lost the peace, for it was Western interference which did for him. Had he been left,  as Saddam Hussein was after the First Gul War, to fight to retain power in the rump Yugoslavia without international interference he would probably have remained in office. As it was when the Presidential Election was run in 2000 Milosovec

What the 1999 essay does do is show how the move from non-intervention to regime change and nation building was well under way fifteen years ago, with all the disastrous consequences we have seen since, including creating false hopes in many countries democracy could be magicked up simply by removing  a dictator.

Rousseau wrote that people must be forced to be free for their own good : the Blair Doctrine states that people must be forced for their own good  to live by the rules of political correctness.



A victory for Milosevic?

Robert Henderson

Now that the big boys toys have been put back in the  cupboard and Mr Jamie Shea is returning to run his whelk  stall in the Mile End Road, we really do need to ask why this bizarre act of aggression by Nato occurred because it  has profound implications for Britain. What was it all about?  Well, we all know that, don’t we? To put the Albanians back  into Kosovo, stupid! Wrong! The war started because  Milosevic would not accept the Nato proposals drawn up at  Rambouillet, which was scarcely surprising for they might  have been designed to ensure their refusal.

Not only did the Rambouillet Proposals give foreign soldiers  the right to enter any part of Yugoslavia, they provided for a referendum on independence for the Kosovan population. Add to that the demand that Serb troops withdraw from Kosovo and the refusal to allow Russian troops to be part of a peacekeeping force, and it is all too easy to see why  Milosevic refused them. Moreover, the Rambouillet proposals were not put forward as a basis for negotiation, but as a  fait accompli. They then became the subject of a naked  ultimatum, issued effectively by the US in the egregious  person of Madeleine Albright.

The Rambouillet proposals would have reduced Yugoslavia to the status of a dependent territory, with the virtual  guarantee that the land (Kosovo) which had the greatest  emotional significance for the majority Serb population would  be lost to the hated Albanian minority. Moreover, they had  the knowledge that the loss of Kosovo through a referendum  would almost certainly result in the expulsion of the two  hundred thousand Serbs normally resident in Kosovo, assuming  that they had not already left after the withdrawal of  Serbian troops. Milosevic was offered the prospect of  tremendous humiliation and nothing else. If Nato had wished  to ensure a war they could scarcely have done better. As  Henry Kissinger remarked in a interview with Boris Johnson of  the Daily Telegraph (28/6/99,) Rambouillet was a provocation.

But the Rambouillet proposals were only the immediate cause  of the conflict. The war was really about the imposition of  Liberal Internationalist ideals. Since 1945, the Liberal  Internationalist cause have been growing in strength until it  has become the ostensible ideology of the ruling elites  throughout the West. During the Cold War the territorial  ambitions of the Liberal Internationalists were considerably  constrained. Since 1989 those constraints have been removed.

The result has been an unhappy sequence of interventions,  covered by the fig leaf of UN colours, which have  demonstrated the utter impotence of the Liberal  Internationalist creed by invariably creating situations the exact opposite of those intended by the interveners: Somalia  is a mess of anarchy, Bosnia a UN protectorate with the  warring ethnic groups largely segregated and future conflict  just waiting to happen. The war against Serbia marked a new stage in Liberal Internationalist ambitions: naked  aggression was undertaken without even the indecent cover of  the UN fig leaf.

The persistent failure of international intervention has not  deterred the Liberal Internationalists because, like all  fanatic ideologues, the Liberal Internationalist is  incapable of admitting that his creed is plain wrong no matter have often events prove it to be so. For the Liberal  Internationalist any failure is simply the result of  insufficient resources and time, a spur to behave in an ever  more totalitarian manner; from peacekeeping through outright  war to de facto colonial occupation. Consequently those with  the power in the West continue to intervene ineptly in  conflicts inherently irresolvable in liberal Internationalist  terms. Their response to failure or the contrary evidence of  events is to embark on ever more intervention regardless of  the havoc caused or the long term consequences.

What the war was not about was morality, despite Blair and  Clinton’s inordinate and deeply risible posturing. (In fact  war is never about morality. It is always about territory,  aggrandisement, the removal of competitors and the  imposition of the victor’s will.) The nations attacking  Yugoslavia had stood by during many greater man made horrors  such as the massacres in Rwanda. Most pertinently, the West  had not merely stood by while hundreds of thousands of Serbs  were expelled from Croatia, but in the guise of the UN had  actively assisted in that expulsion by providing arms and  airpower to support the Croat military. Most tellingly, and  most repellently, because it was utterly predictable, Nato  has not meaningfully protected the Kosovan Serbs since the  end of the war. Nor could they have had any reasonable expectation of doing so, for the size of even the projected  peace keeping force (50,000 – which numbers have not been  met) was obviously inadequate to mount a general police  action against an Albania population of nearly two million in  which there were plentiful arms. A cynic might think that  Nato’s aims were from the beginning to produce a Kosovo  ethnically cleansed of Serbs.

The course of the war laid bare the stupidity, incomprehension, incompetence and amorality of the Nato members’ leaders. The objective facts say that the conflict  has greatly worsened a naturally fraught situation. Before the war, the vast majority of the Albanian population of  Kosovo was in Kosovo living in their homes. Since the war  began the, vast majority have either left the country or  remain in Kosovo having been driven from their homes. Thus,  just as the Second World War signalled the beginning of the  Holocaust, so Nato’s action signalled that of the Kosovan  Albanians’ tragedy. Without the war, it is improbable to the  point of certainty that the greatest movement of a  population in Europe since 1945 would have occurred.

The hypocrisy of the whole business was graphically  demonstrated in the Nato members’ attitude towards the  refugees. The public posturing on the need to provide for the refugees was all too clearly balanced by the fear that  any large scale import of refugees to Nato countries outside  the Balkans would arouse considerable dissent in those  countries. Amongst many stomach heaving moments, Clare  Short’s protestations that Britain did not want to move the  refugees away from the Balkans simply because Britain did not  wish to unwillingly assist Milosevic rank very high. The double standards, both amongst politicians and the media  have continued with the end of the war, as the Liberal  Ascendency quietly tolerates ethnic cleansing of the Kosovo  Serbs and the gross acts of revenge taken by the Kosovo  Albanians.

What if there had been no war? Judged by what had gone  before, there would have been continued harassment of  Kosovan Albanians by Serb paramilitaries and some action by  the regular Serb forces, the latter primarily directed  against the KLA. One simple fact alone gives the lie to  Nato’s claims that wholesale ethnic cleansing would have  occurred regardless of Nato intervention. Prior to the war,  Milosevic had ten years to undertake the task and did not  attempt it. Fine ideals are not fine at all if  they are so  out of keeping with reality that they produce evil ends.

Who won the war? Well, let us follow the Dragnet example and just look at the facts. Milosevic remains in control of  Yugoslavia minus Kosovo. Two of the prime demands of the Rambouillet proposals – that the Kosovo population be given a  referendum on independence within three years and the right of peacekeeping troops to go anywhere in Yugoslavia – have been dropped. There is also to be no referendum and the  peacekeeping force will operate only within Kosovo. In  addition, Russian troops are involved in the peacekeeping  force, a token Serb presence will be allowed in Kosovo and  there are signs that the force may eventually come under UN  not Nato auspices. Those are very significant political gains for Milosevic.

Let us make the assumptions which most favour Nato. That the agreement which was reached between Milosevic and Nato was not ambiguous. That Milosevic will keep his word. That the  peace keeping force will be Nato led under a unified  command. That the Russians involved in the peace keeping will not subvert the process on the ground. That money will be forthcoming in sufficient amounts to rebuild Kosovo. That the  KLA will allow themselves to be disarmed. A collection of pretty improbable occurrences. But no matter, let us grant  them. What then?

Even under such propitious and unlikely circumstances, it is  highly improbable that Kosovo will be quickly returned to  normality. The destruction of housing and the spoliation of  farm land alone make that immensely difficult, but given the  will and the money, the material damage might be repaired.

But material renaissance is not the heart of the problem.  That lies in the all too simple fact of the existence of  two incompatible ethnic groups occupying the same territory,  both sides replete with ancestral hatreds and recent hurts.  In such circumstances a peaceful multicultural Kosovo is a  fantasy.

We have the example of Bosnia before us. Stripped of all cant, it is now a good old fashioned League of Nations Protectorate, a mandated territory. It has the experience of several years of UN control. Yet the vast majority of the displaced populations in Bosnia have not returned to their homes and the various ethnic groups there lead largely segregated lives.

But the post bombing situation in Kosovo is unlikely to be anything like so favourable as I have described. The KLA have shown no more willingness to generally disarm than the  IRA. The agreement which was reached is not unambiguous.

Milosevic cannot be relied to keep his part of the bargain.  The Russians have shown that they are not willing to accept  Nato command unconditionally. Money in the quantities suggested as needed for rebuilding (anything between 15-25  billion pounds) may well prove to be too great a hurdle for  politicians to sell to their publics who are being told of  the need for cuts in welfare – The USA and Europe are already  squabbling over who should bear the cost of rebuilding  Kosovo.

Milosevic also has one great general political advantage; he  knows that political life amongst the Nato powers is ephemeral. While he may be in power in five years time, the  majority of his opponents will not. He can afford to sit and  wait until a propitious moment comes to regain all or part of  Kosovo. Milosevic’s position is not as strong as that of  Saddam Hussain in purely authoritarian terms, but he has a vital quality which Saddam does not, namely his authority does not rely entirely on force.

Before the war started the Nato leaders must have known that  a western led occupation of Kosovo would simply replace one   form of repression with another. At best they could expect  a replica of Bosnia: at worst, an ethnic cleansing of Serbian  Kosovans. Since the end of the war, all too predictably the  worst has occurred as the western disregard shown for the welfare of ordinary Serbs elsewhere in the Balkans has been  repeated. The peacekeeping force has stood ineffectually by  whilst Kosovo is cleansed of Serbs by the KLA and their associates.

Perhaps no one has won the war, but that is often the way of  wars. The real question is who has suffered the most damage.  At the moment it may look like Milosevic, not least because the Nato countries in truth had nothing material to gain and  everything to lose from the War. Yet Milosevic has reduced  the Rambouillet demands, probably tightened his control on  Yugoslav politics and large parts of Kosovo has been ethnically cleansed. The Nato countries have made  significant concessions and committed themselves to massive expenditure and the deployment of troops indefinitely. This  will both take money from their own electorates and influence  their future foreign policies. It is a strange sort of victory if victory it be for Nato.

For Britain there is much about which to be ashamed and worried. We have bombed defenceless targets which plainly  were not in any meaningful sense military. This places us in an impossible moral position in dealing with terrorist  action. What moral argument could we have against Serb  reprisal bombs in Britain? That it is wrong to bomb innocent civilians?

More worryingly Blair has shown himself to be an unashamed warmonger. I would like to believe that Blair’s public words were simply a cynical manipulation of the public to promote his reputation and were made in the certain knowledge that  Clinton would not commit troops to a land war. Unfortunately I think that Blair was anything but cynical in his belligerence. The Observer reported on 18 July that Blair had  agreed to send 50,000 British troops to take part in an invasion force of 170,000 if Milosevic had not conceded Kosovo to Nato. Incredible as this may seem, (and it was not  denied by Downing Street) such recklessness fits in with  Blair’s general behaviour. So there you have it, our prime  minister would have committed the majority of Britain’s armed  forces to a land war in which we have no national interest,  regardless of the cost, deaths and injuries. The danger  remains that Blair will find another adventure which does  result in a land war. Over Kosovo, he behaved like a reckless adolescent and nearly came a fatal political  cropper. Yet this government appears to have learnt nothing  from the experience, vide the unpleasant and malicious fanaticism in Blair and Cook’s declarations of their intent to both unseat Milosevic from power and bring him before an international court, vide the humiliation of Russia, vide the ever more absurd declarations of internationalist intent  since hostilities ceased. That adolescent idealists’ mindset could lead Britain down a very dark path indeed. It is also incompatible with a foreign policy that supposedly encourages  elected governments (however imperfect they are) over  dictatorships.

What other lessons does this war teach us? It shows above  all the utter powerlessness of the democratic process and  the sham of international law. In the two countries which have taken the lead, US and Britain, parliamentary support  was not formally sought nor given, funds voted or a  declaration of war sanctioned. The other members of Nato have  been impotent bystanders.

The American Constitution was designed to prevent aggressive  acts of war without congressional approval. That  constitutional guarantee has been severely tested since 1945, but perhaps never so emphatically as in the past months. If  an American president can commit such considerable forces to  a war regardless of Congressional approval, it seriously  brings into question the value of the constitutional  restraint. Where exactly would the line be drawn in the Constitutional sand?

In Britain, the matter was debated at the government’s  convenience but at no one else’s. Incredibly, many will  think, support for the war was never put to a vote in the  Commons.

As for international law, that has been shown in the most  unambiguous manner to be a sham. The war was fought without a  declaration of war, in contravention of the UN Charter and in  a manner guaranteed to cause significant civilian casualties.

Yet Judge Arbour at the War Crimes Tribunal does not indict  the likes of Clinton and Blair, only Milosevic. (Readers might like to note that formal complaints to Judge Arbour about Blair and Clinton have been ignored). Law which is not  equally applied is no law, but merely a tool of the powerful  against the weak. Moreover, there does not appear to be any  illegality at which the US would draw the line. Apart from  incitements to murder Milosevic, there have been newspaper  reports of attempts by the CIA to illegally enter Milosevic’s  bank accounts and drain them of funds (we honest folks call that theft). If governments do not obey the core moral and  legal commandments of their own societies, law does not  effectively exist.

If international law meant anything, the Nato action would  be deemed objectively illegal. It was so first because of an  absence of lawful international authority, there being no  UN sanction for the War. On a national level, neither the  British nor the American Parliaments sanctioned either the  action or the expenditure which permitted the action.

The war also drove a coach and horses through the UN Charter  and the Nato Treaty. The UN Charter was breached because it  prohibits action to amend a sovereign state’s borders. As for  the NATO treaty, this only provides for action to be  taken in defence of member countries. Clearly the Yugoslav  government had offered no direct threat to NATO members because there was no attempt to act outside the territory  of Yugoslavia. Moreover, the only NATO countries  which might have called for assistance to a perceived  threat – Greece and Hungary – did not do so and made it  clear that they were far from supportive of the Nato action.

In general terms, it was impossible before the war began to  make a convincing case that Yugoslavia could present a threat  to the peace of Europe. It is a country of ten  million souls, poor with an underdeveloped industrial base. Moreover, its natural poverty had been greatly  increased by years of civil war and UN sanctions.

Balkan history tells a single story: any of its peoples  which become possessed of the advantage of numbers, wealth  or arms will oppress as a matter of course any other of its  peoples. If the Albanians gain control of Kosovo, rest  assured that they will behave as abominably towards the Serbs  as the Serbs have behaved towards them. The disputed territory is Serb by history and Albanian by present  settlement. There is no absolute right on either side.


BBC 2 Farage versus Clegg debate  2 April 2014

Chairman  David Dimbleby

The full debate on IPlayer can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0401ht2/The_European_Union_In_or_Out/

It will only be up until 10th April so catch it while you can.  Here is what may be a permanent recording link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd9rsmD4HiM

The re-match between Farage and Clegg resulted in an even more humiliating hour for Clegg than the first debate. YouGov and ICM polls taken shortly after the debate had Clegg and Farage scoring as follows:

The YouGov poll gave Farage 68%, Clegg 27% Undecided 5%

As last week, this YouGov survey for The Sun questioned just over 1,000 people who viewed the debate. We weighted the data to ensure that it was representative of Great Britain as a whole by voting intention and attitudes to the European Union, but did not weight demographically; it therefore reflected the actual audience by age (older than average), gender (more male) and social class (more middle class). It was a fresh sample: we did NOT re-interview people we questioned after last week’s debate.  

It is clear that Farage gained ground most among the very people LEAST likely to support his party or his cause:

The proportion of Labour supporters saying Farage performed better rose from 42% after the first debate to 57% after the second

Among Liberal Democrats, Farage’s figures are: first debate 20%, second debate 33%

Among people who told us ahead of the debate that they supported British membership of the EU, his figures are: first debate 30%, second debate 45%  (http://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/04/03/farage-wins-round-two/)

An ICM Poll had Farage at 69% and Clegg on 31%

These  polls compare with a 57% Farage, 36%  Clegg  7% undecided  YouGov poll result after the first debate.

This was a tremendous result under any circumstances, for, as  I wrote after the first debate, it is rare indeed for such a crushing advantage to exist in  a two-horse debating race.   In the context of Clegg’s many advantages over Farage  – the profile of being deputy PM, endless appearances   before the TV cameras, widespread  mainstream media contempt for Farage and UKIP , leading a party with sixty odd seats in the Commons and, compared to UKIP, considerable financial and organisational resources plus the experience of  a public leaders’ debate  behind him – the results of the two debates are nothing short of  astonishing.  It was nothing short of an humiliation.

Why did Clegg do even worse in this debate than the first one? Many of the media commentators are putting this down to a more aggressive attitude by him and certainly his adolescent  gibes at Farage will not have helped his cause. Here are few samples:

“He’s [Farage] one of those people who see conspiracy theories everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tells us next that there wasn’t a Moon landing, Obama isn’t American, and Elvis isn’t dead!”

“If I’m the leader of ‘the party of in’, he’s  [Farage] the leader of the party of Putin!”

The general problem with Clegg’s aggression is that it looked, as with everything about his public persona, manufactured. The hand and arm gestures were wooden and studied to the point of being ridiculous, the voice insincere and tremulous by parts. He was a very bad advert for whoever provided his media training and an even worse one from those who advised him on how to approach this debate.

Worse of all  Clegg did what Europhiles have long done, simply chant pro-EU mantras without giving any thought to justifying them or of rebutting opposing arguments with anything more than  a bald assertion that they are wrong.  This was unsurprising because Europhiles are almost invariably intellectually lazy. Instead of doing the hard graft of mastering the facts they simply take on board   dubious assertions  such as “three million British jobs are dependent on the EU” and “the EU has prevented war in Europe” which they present not as the highly questionable opinion they are but as objective fact.

While the Europhile  ideology dominates and controls public life generally and  in particular  the mainstream media, they can get away with reciting slogans which are not only debatable but  often palpably untrue.  I dare say that Clegg has gone through his entire life until these debates without ever  having to defend  in public the subject of the EU in circumstances where he had to either produce arguments in favour of the EU  which stood up to real scrutiny or find replies to the ideas of an opponent who was radically opposed to the EU. There was nowhere for Clegg to escape to. Being unused to having to think on his feet or provide reasons other than the well-worn Europhile clichés,  Clegg simply fell back on those clichés with adolescent abuse mixed in. Often he simply repeated, almost  verbatim, what he had said in the first debate,  the most blatant and extended example occurring when the subject of  an In/Out referendum arose, viz: ‘I [Clegg] believe that when the rules change, when there’s a new treaty, when powers which rightfully belong to you are being given up to the EU, it shouldn’t be for the Government to decide – it should be for you to decide…

In contrast, Farage was vastly  more impressive in his energy, verbal delivery and body language. What nervousness there was in the first debate had vanished.  There was nothing coached about his manner.  He looked and sounded like someone voicing simple truths.

On both  immigration and an In/OUT referendum  Clegg  refused to meaningfully engage with the questions. Farage produced the LibDem poster from 2008 which Nick Ferrari had introduced into the first debate.  This had Clegg promising a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. During the first debate Clegg had claimed the poster promised  the same position he occupies now, namely, that the LibDems would support a referendum on any further Treaty which removed further substantial powers from Britain.  Farage pointed out that the poster had no such qualification of  its general promise of a referendum. Clegg waffled so blatantly at this point that Dimbleby asked him the important  unasked question  I highlighted in my account of the first debate, namely, why not have a  referendum on all that has already been passed without a referendum:, viz:  “ We last had a referendum 40 years ago. You have described everything that has happened since, the Lisbon Treaty  and all those things. Why can’t there be a referendum  on  all the things that have happened ? Why wait for even more change before you agree to a referendum, why not have one now? (Go into debate at 50 min 30 sec).  All this produced was  reiterated Clegg waffle  about waiting for a new treaty. On the face of it this is really very stupid of Clegg because he could quite easily commit the LibDems to an In/Out referendum knowing full well he would never be in a position to deliver it  because his party will never command a Commons majority. Clegg  does not do so because he is trapped by his Party’s mainlining addiction to the EU.

On immigration Farage  told the simple truth ….

‘We have no idea how many people are coming here from the European Union next year, the year after or the year after that, because unconditionally we have an open door to 485million people.

‘Immigration on this scale has changed fundamentally the communities, not just of London, but actually of every city and every market town in this country. But worst of all what it’s done socially, it has left a white working class effectively as an underclass. And that I think is a disaster for our society.

‘[Large scale immigration] is good for the rich because it is cheaper nannies and cheaper chauffeurs and cheaper gardeners.

But it is bad news for ordinary Britons. We need to have a control on immigration, on the numbers who come here and over the quality who come here.’

….while Clegg  lied and dissimulated:

 “He [Farage] claimed that 485million people were going to vacate the whole of the rest of the European continent and turn up in Britain.(This was a direct lie because Farage had already made his position quite clear in the first debate when he said correctly that 485 million had the right to come to the UK).

 “Let me just show you, this is a leaflet from UKIP. It’s a picture of a very unhappy-looking native American.

It says, “He used to ignore immigration, now he lives on a reservation.” We are not – by staying in the EU – going to be cooped up on a native American reservation. What are you going to say next? That you’re Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull?”   (Farage said that he had no knowledge of where the leaflet had come from and disowned the message).

Clegg’s dishonesty on immigration was shown vividly after Farage  quoted a Migration Watch report that immigration to the UK  over the next four to five years  would mean ,  even at its current rate, the building of a city the size of Manchester  which has a population of 500,000. Clegg said this was nonsense because the Greater Manchester area had 2.7 million. Clegg must have known that Greater Manchester is not Manchester and consequently  deliberately tried to mislead. Clegg also repeated the falsehood  from the first debate that  UKIP’s claim of  29 million Bulgars and Romanians  who could come to Britain was absurd because there are  not 29 million Bulgars and Romanians.  The 2012 census figures for both countries  show they have  is a combined population of more than 28 million. Why Farage did not thrust the census figures at Clegg is a mystery.

When Dimbleby pressed Clegg (Go into the recording at 22 min 46 sec) on the  effect of massive immigration on infrastructure such as schools and  hospitals Clegg responded hesitantly and  incoherently  with “There are always problems when you have people”.  Dimbleby was palpably  surprised and he asked Clegg what he meant.  Clegg waffled on about how there would be such problems whether or not Britain was in the EU.

Clegg was positively  shameless when Farage raised the matter of Clegg’s claim in the first debate that only 7% of  legislation going through Parliament was inspired by the EU. Farage produced a copy of the House of Commons Library note which Clegg had relied on and read out the passage which showed that that the HoC paper note was much more nuanced and undogmatic and gave estimates of its own of between 15% and 50% percent of UK law from all sources . (http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/RP10-62/how-much-legislation-comes-from-europe) .

Clegg tried to wriggle out of being caught  in what to any normal human being would count as a straight forward lie by referring to the 6.8% primary legislation figure quoted by the HoC note. However, as Clegg must have been well aware there is a great deal of  EU inspired law which consists of statutory instruments (the secondary legislation which provides the mechanics to implement primary legislation). Farage called a spade a spade, viz: “You are lying willingly to the British people about the extent we have given away democray”.

Inevitably Farage was taxed with his remarks about admiring Putin as an operator. However, this rather backfired because  both Dimbleby and  Clegg manifestly misrepresented Farage as being a general admirer of Putin  and Farage used the opportunity  to not only  expose that misrepresentation (which gained him the sympathy of the audience)  but to lambast Clegg as one of the cabal of career politicians who had kept Britain interminably at war:

Farage: “I don’t admire Putin, what I said was, he’d outwitted and outclassed you all over Syria. I also said I didn’t like him as a human being and I wouldn’t want to live  in Russia.’

 “You were absolutely hell bent on getting involved militarily in the war in Syria and I personally am delighted we didn’t go to war in Syria.

“This country has had enough of getting involved in endless foreign wars, there is no evidence that our intervention is making life better. I don’t want to be part of a European foreign policy.”

Farage’s strictures against the British political elite’s  warmongering got the loudest applause of the night. (Britain has de facto  been continuously at war for nearly a quarter of a century starting with the first  Gulf War).

Another strong Farage showing was on energy, viz: “The Chinese and Indians have gone for coal on a scale we can’t fathom, the US has gone for shale and we have gone for wind energy.” He  warned that the European Union’s “unilateral” approach to climate change was damaging businesses by pushing up energy bills and driving energy greedy industries such as metal smelting to the wall  and concluded that Britain should  “Scrap wind energy, scrap the subsidies, get shale”.

Farage also pointed out  that many leading politicians who were significant landowners had  benefited from the wind industry.

Clegg response was to call for more renewables to prevent e “over reliance on oil and gas from Nigel Farage’s friend Vladimir Putin”.

The final question from the audience was “What will the EU be like in ten years?”

Clegg said that he thought it would be much as it is now, which tells you how far his head is buried in the sand. In ten years three scenarios are more probable than the present status quo,  namely, a federal super state,    a free trade area or it will have simply disappeared..

Farage  foresaw a Britain outside of the EU after a referendum, hoped that other countries in the EU  would also leave  and warned against the dangers of  violence if change in the EU could not be achieved by democratic  means, pointing to support for nationalist parties such as Gold Dawn in Greece as evidence of the frustration which was building:

“We see in Madrid, we see in Athens, very large protests, tens of thousands of people, a lot of violence.

“You take away from people their ability through the ballot box to change their futures, then I am afraid they tend to resort to aggressive means.”

Clegg’s thoroughly shoddy performance did not help his case but the prime reason why  he was beaten so comprehensively was the simple  fact that he has a thoroughly bad case to argue.   It is impossible to make a sound case for being within the EU on any grounds which are acceptable to either  the British public now or which accord with what politicians from all the main Westminster Parties have claimed since Britain became part of what is now the EU.  For over forty years British mainstream politicians have repeated the sordid, treasonous lie that no real sovereignty  has been given away and that  Britain is still a fully functioning  Parliamentary democracy. The naked lie has been modified over the decades as the loss of sovereignty became ever more apparent  to the casuistry of saying Britain has not lost her sovereignty but merely pooled it with other countries. The more adventurous Europhile fantasists or liars (take your pick) say  that by joining with 27 other EU states British sovereignty has been amplified.

In addition,   the Labour, Tory and LibDem parties still  claim that Parliament is  sovereign because in principle Parliament can refuse any  legislation put before it or simply repeal any legislation relating to the EU up to and including the Act which gave  power to the Treaty of Rome, the European Communities Act of 1972. The reality is that even where the  national veto on EU law has applied it has very rarely been used – and is now very restricted because most EU decisions are made these days  by qualified majority voting – and there has been no instance in over 40 years of Parliament rejecting legislation introduced because of the EU. Practically, British sovereignty has been a dead letter since Britain joined the EEC.

The audience reaction throughout  was decidedly interesting, both because of its consistent support for Farage and for the fact that the BBC had not done their usual and packed the audience to reflect Europhile views. This could either be because a strategic decision has been made by the BBC that they will move with the political wind and allow Eurosceptic views on air  because to do anything else would be too blatantly biased as public interest in and anger about the EU grows or simply because they could not find enough unquestioning Europhiles applying to be audience members . I suspect it was the latter because not only is Europhilia growing more and more unpopular, even many of those who say they support the EU often have a considerable dislike of certain EU issues such as uncontrolled immigration and the imposition of regulations which interfere minutely both with business and the intimate details of their private lives.

The two debates told  us is this:

That the British are deeply dissatisfied with  their  political class.

That the British want an IN/OUT  referendum on the EU

That the British deeply dislike the EU as it is whether they are in favour of leaving or not

That for the British  immigration  is a prime political issue, probably  the prime political issue

That the British detest the perpetual  liberal internationalist warmongering

That Clegg is a very empty vessel indeed .

It remains to be seen whether the  British political class will respond to what the British people want . On the evidence of  the past 40 years don’t hold your breath.

Democracy and Political Ignorance – Why smaller government is smarter

Ilya Somin

Stanford University Press

ISBN 978-0-8047-8661-4

Does the ignorance of voters matter in a system of representative democracy? Somin thinks it has very serious consequences because it leads voters to make “wrong” decisions and laments the low level of political knowledge in the USA.  (I put wrong  in inverted commas because unfortunately he has a political bias which often makes him equate wrong with “these are not my politics” which are broadly liberal left.  This seriously taints his work).  The book  is primarily concerned with the effects and implications of  voter ignorance on the American political system,  but has implications for any political system, democratic or otherwise,  for as anyone who follows politics closely will be only too well aware  political ignorance is not restricted to voters but afflicts politicians and their advisors.

Listen to a vox pop or phone-in on a political subject  and  the ignorance of the general public can be startling when it comes to the detail of  politics,  not least because  educated respondents are frequently as at sea with political subjects as the uneducated.  Somin cites a large number of prime examples of crass political ignorance amongst Americans. For example, two  2006  polls respectively found that only 42% of Americans could name the three branches of the federal government, the executive (President), legislature (Congress) and judiciary (Supreme Court)  and only 28% could name two or more of the five rights guaranteed by the first amendment (p19). As for specific policies,   a 2010 survey showed that 67% of the population did not know that the economy had grown the previous year, despite the economy being judged as one of the most important policy areas by Americans (p21).

This may be dismaying at first glance, but in practice  it is irrelevant how limited is the detailed political knowledge of an electorate. This  is because no individual,  however diligent, erudite, insightful and intelligent,   could be seriously  knowledgeable about all but a very small proportion of  the problems and policies  arising in a  minimalist state constructed on  the Hayek model, let alone the vast ocean of  policy areas which are  covered in the modern industrial state.   That would apply even if political power was devolved. Indeed, in a devolved situation (and Somin is strongly in favour of devolved power)  the position could be even worse because there could be more to know and understand with multiple jurisdictions to vote for on important issues.

Does this mean that representative democracy should be done away with? Not a bit of it. Even though he is worried about democratic outcomes based on ignorance and sceptical about the chances of improving political knowledge amongst  voters, Somin in the end comes down in favour of it: “Despite political ignorance, democracy retains many advantages over rival systems of government.” (P199).

Indeed it does. Whether electors can make considered decisions on all matters or even the vast majority of issues  is not really the point of representative democratic politics.  What matters is the fact that such a political system  can best restrain the naturally abusive tendencies of elites and provide by far the best  legal mechanisms for the formal and peaceful transition of power, something which  makes coups and civil war much less probable.

Voters  can meaningfully answer the big political questions. They can oppose mass immigration on the rational ground that this is an invasion of territory which utterly changes their country. They can say whether they  want their country to go to war. The can approve or disapprove of whether political correctness should or should not be part of their country’s legal system. They can say whether they feel more comfortable with a welfare state or no welfare state. They can make a meaningful choice on whether they wish their country to be part of a supranational bloc such as the EU. They can decide what punishment should be meted out to criminals. They can say yea or nay to whether  essential industries should be  in public hands. Electors can also make purely rational  decisions  (for example, those made simply on arithmetical grounds) on competition for resources, for example, it is perfectly rational to oppose immigration on the grounds that it increases competition for housing, education, jobs and welfare.

The fact that voters’  answers to such questions, if they were ever allowed to vote on them in referenda,  would  generally run contrary to the wishes of elites in  countries such as the USA  and Britain and are routinely  thwarted by those  elites,   tells us that the real reason  voters are denied the chance to directly make decisions about policy is not that they are incapable of doing so on  many major issues,  but rather that the opinions of voters are opposed to those with power, wealth and influence.

A major problem with the book is the fact Somin  wants politics to be a science, to have an objective reality like physics. In the long  distant past when I was a history and politics undergraduate I had  to take a compulsory  course  entitled Modern Political Analysis. This involved flow charts, graphs and formulae which  purported to elevate the  study of politics to the level of a science. Politics students were solemnly expected to take seriously, say, a flow chart which started with a box marked electorate, had boxes marked with words such as election and  government before ending  with a box marked democratic outcome (I kid you not).     Democracy and Political Ignorance is cut from the same misdirected intellectual cloth, nothing like  so crudely but still in a marvellously wrongheaded manner which assumes that the democratic process can be reduced to quantifiable  data. He even has a few formulae such as this  gruesome  example:

“Assume that UV equals utility of voting, CV equals the cost of voting and  D equals the expected difference in welfare per person if the voter’s preferred candidate defeats her opponent. Let us further assume that this is a presidential election in a nation with three hundred people,, that the voter’s ballot has only a one  in one hundred chance of being decisive , and the they voter values the welfare of his fellow citizens an average of a thousand time less than his own. .. thus we get the following equation D(300 million/1000)/ (100 million) – CV = Uv  (p67).

That is the general error of the book, to imagine that human behaviour can be reduced to a miscellany of objective fact which can be used to determine how people  should (or even would of necessity)  behave if only they were in full possession of these facts.  This matters greatly because the vast majority of   political decisions have no objective truth or falsity.

The particular mistakes Somin makes are  to imagine that there is such a thing as perfect information which leads to  objectively  right answers to political questions and  to approach the subject of political ignorance  from a politically correct starting point, something he banally and  tiresomely signals by  assiduously alternating  she and her with he and his as a generic term for humanity  throughout the book.

It is true that Somin attempts to give an appearance of even-handedness, splattering his analysis  with qualifications, but somehow he always comes down on the liberal left “right on” side. Take the question of judicial review to which he devotes an entire chapter.  He hums and haws over how undemocratic this is  because it overrides the majority will but in the end concludes “Once we  recognise that ignorance is a pervasive element of modern democracy, the counter-majoritarian difficulty turns into a much less than previously assumed.” This is because “Much of the legislation subject to judicial review is not actually the product of informed democratic consent.”  (p169).

His political correctness also drives him to the conclusion that some political knowledge can be damaging: “Why might political knowledge exacerbate the harm caused by an electorate with bad values? Consider an electoral majority that is highly racist and wants to inflict as much harm as possible on  a despised racial minority. If such racist voters become more knowledgeable about the effects of government policies, they might force elected officials to implement policies that increase the  minority group’s suffering.” (P54).

That might seem a reasonable position at first glance, but a few moments consideration will reveal the dangers involved in it. What would constitute racism? After all, governments of all colours routinely favour incidentally or deliberately one group over another,  whether the group be defined by race, ethnicity or class. At the present time governments in the Western world, and especially the USA, have favoured the have over the have-nots in their economic policies. This means the poor have been most disadvantaged by the policies. Ethnic and racial minorities tend to be poorer on average than the majority population,  Does that mean the policies are racist? Trying to objectively define what was racist behaviour by a government would in practice would be impossible because inevitable judgements would be highly subjective.  A real can of worms.

Somin gives a further hostage to fortune when it comes to subjectivity with ‘This book does not provide a defense of any particular vision of political morality. But unless we adopt the view that all values are equally good – including those of racists and Nazis [note that he does not include Marxists who have been responsible for far more deaths than the Nazis] –  we must admit that good political knowledge might sometimes be put in the service of “bad” values.’ (p55)

Political correctness also damagingly colours  Somin’s judgement of what is a fact.  Two examples. First, he claims  that the  mistreatment of blacks in post slavery  USA was in part built on the belief of  whites  that blacks were prone to excessive criminality and every black man was just waiting to rape white women; second,  that hostility towards homosexuals and lesbians is in part the result of  ignorance about the likelihood that sexual orientation is genetically determined (p10).

The danger with overt human reasons is that they are often a mask for the real covert ones. Hence, whether post-slavery white America did genuinely fear black criminality is not necessarily the real issue. Human beings will use justifications for likes and dislikes which are not the real reasons for their choices when they feel either that they simply do not like something without having any clear idea why (everyone has probably experienced an immediate dislike for someone as soon as they have been introduced) or are afraid for legal and social reasons that their motivation for holding a view  would be unacceptable or even dangerous for them if expressed. That is the position with anything which is deemed non-pc today . Whites  in the old slave owning states may  have used any number of rationalisations  for segregation post-slavery,  while their actual motivation was  that they did not see blacks as their equals or,   more fundamentally,  simply as different, as not part of the national American “tribe”. There is, incidentally,  nothing inherently irrational about that. Human beings have, as do  all social animals, an innate desire to  associate with  those whom they see as sharing the same characteristics as themselves. Ultimately, humans are driven by desires not reason because it is from emotions that motives arise.  If this were not so, humans would be automata.

Another serious problem with Somin’s examples of false information is that he routinely presents  baldly asserted or weakly supported opinions  as  either  hard fact or as having a high probability of being true.  His  position on homosexuality and lesbianism is a good example.  There is no conclusive evidence that homosexuality or lesbianism are genetically determined, but even if it was so proven it would not mean that it was irrational to dislike such behaviour  or feel uncomfortable with its existence. There could be sound evolutionary reasons why people are hostile to homosexuality and lesbianism, for example,  the rejection of the individual who does not breed and help the continuation of the “tribe”.  That does not mean there should be persecution of gays and lesbians. Rather, it is a plea to not to pretend that something is an objective fact when it is not.

There is also the fundamental difficulty of how any objectively true information could exist in some instances. Take Slomin’s post-slavery claim.   It is not  irrational to have a fear that an enslaved group once set free might wreck physical revenge on the group which had held them enslaved.  That being so, it is difficult to see how American whites who believed that could have their fears assuaged by more  knowledge. In the nature of things there could be no such knowledge available to decide  the question  of whether freed slaves and their descendants  would be violently criminal if left to live without any strict social control,  for  that knowledge could  only exist  by testing the matter with the removal of   the repressive conditions under which blacks lived.  If whites feared mayhem would result if such conditions were removed,  they could not make a rational decision to end those  conditions.  In this context it  is worth noting that there has been a considerable growth in the  number of violent crimes perpetrated by blacks on whites in the USA since the civil rights movement and the end of segregation in the 1960s and they are now pro rata hugely greater in number than  crimes of violence committed by whites on blacks (http://www.examiner.com/article/federal-statistics-of-black-on-white-violence-with-links-and-mathematical-extrapolation-formulas). There is also the experience of  post-Apartheid South Africa where black murders of whites, and particularly white farmers, has been considerable. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22554709).

None of this is to  argue for slavery or segregation.  I am simply examining the situation from the viewpoint of the  mental state of whites, especially those in the slave states, after the end of slavery. Whether or not their fears were justified is not the issue.  What matters is that it would be a rational fear and,  indeed,  it was precisely the fear expressed in all the cases of ending slavery or other forms of unfreedom, from the British ending of slavery to the freeing of the serfs in Russia.

Somin  also has a full blown faith in laissez faire economics. That might seem to sit oddly with his political correctness but, that ideology does not have  a fixed menu. Its core ancestral beliefs are the triad of race, gay rights and feminism, of which race is by far the most toxic and is the springboard which has allowed the other parts of political correctness to develop and grow.  However, other things have been added over the past forty years. One of those is a belief in laissez faire economics and free trade (the two are distinct for free trade merely means the exchange of goods and services produced between radically different economic systems).  That laissez faire  and free trade are an integral part of political correctness at present can be readily seen from the fact that support for globalism (which of course includes free movement of  peoples and the undermining the nation state) is now a core part of political correctness. That does not mean laissez faire and free trade  will remain a core part and, indeed,  I see the first signs of the pc wind changing on the matter of economics, but it is as yet a nascent development.

Somin’s  belief in it provides another example of  a highly contentious claim  which is effectively unsupported – he  merely says it is the opinion of most economists “…voters who support protectionist policies in the erroneous expectation that they will benefit the economy as a whole rather than weaken it will also end up undermining their own goals” (p6)

The reality is that  historically, protectionism has often been very successful, for example, the British industrial revolution occurred behind one of the most comprehensive and successful protectionist walls in the shape of the Navigation Acts and the Old Colonial System the world has ever seen.  All the countries which followed the British lead most successfully did so behind protectionist barriers.

Interestingly, Somin does not address the fact that it is not just a lack of interest or education which stops people becoming politically knowledgeable, but also lack of innate qualities such as intelligence, intellectual inclination and  extroversion. Perhaps that is because his politics debar him from believing that people will or will not do or be something because that is the way they are born. That would fit into his modern liberal mindset.  IQ is particularly important because the lower the IQ the less ability to handle abstractions or complex data. This is not a trivial matter because at least ten percent of the population of Western states have IQs of 80 or less . That is the level which most psychologists working in the field of IQ believe that a person begins to struggle to live an independent life in an advanced modern society.

Somin is much taken with the concepts of rational ignorance and rational irrationality.  Rational ignorance  is the idea that voters do not devote time to educating themselves about political issues because they make a rational decision that  their votes will count for next to nothing. I sincerely doubt whether anyone actually makes a decision to remain ignorant on that basis, although they may use it as an excuse for being politically ignorant.

But even if voters did make a considered decision to remain ignorant it would not self-evidently be a rational decision. To begin with there are  many electoral circumstances  where a vote is important. That is true where the electorate is small or a seat is marginal. Under the first past the post system used in Britain there are a considerable number of seats where the main party candidates are near enough in their support to make voting a far from redundant business. But even where there is no  main party candidate who appeals to an elector  or one of the main party candidates is odds on certain to win there is still a point in voting. To begin with if turnout is persistently low it could be used  by those with power to argue for a restricted franchise or even no franchise at all.  Then there is the overall vote a party gets. If, for example, a party or presidential candidate gets elected with less of the popular vote  than their main opponent their mandate is weakened.  If all else fails, a vote for a candidate of a minor party such as UKIP in Britain,  the  minor  presidential candidate in the USA  or a spoiled ballot sends a public message about the state of elector dissatisfaction with the mainstream parties. Somin is not entirely blind to such objections,  but mysteriously and annoyingly they appear to carry little weight with him.

Rational irrationality  is the brainchild of the  economist Bryan Caplan. The idea is  that voters not only have incentives to remain ignorant but also incentives to “engage in highly biased  evaluation of  the information they do have” (p13).  The tempting response to this is a sarcastic “Dearie me, who would have thought it?”

Pursuing the idea of rational irrationality,  Somin likens  the politically interested who are seriously committed to supporting political parties to  fans of sports teams who support their team blindly,  generally give weight to information which boosts  their team and disregard that which does not.  The rewards for doing so are emotional. This of course is not irrational behaviour  because it is natural for human beings to indulge their “tribal” instincts and defend their position and that of their group.

Where rational ignorance and rational irrationality come together, they are to Somin’s mind the most toxic political democractic cocktail, one which could only be overcome or at least ameliorated if those pesky voters would just become “correctly” informed.

What are Somin’s solutions to reduce what he sees as the harm of voter  ignorance?  It is to reduce the amount which government does (with much of the slack being taken up by private enterprise)  and bring as much as possible of politics to the local or regional level, viz: . “Despite political ignorance, democracy retains many advantage over rival systems of government. Nonetheless  , political ignorance will probably continue to be a serious weakness of democratic government. We are unlikely to eliminate that weakness completely. [another example of the blindingly obvious] . But we can reduce its dangers by limiting and decentralising the role of government in society”  p199

There are real  problems with both of these policies. In a large industrialised society government of necessity has to do a considerable amount, whether that is at the local or national level.  There have to be good communications for people, goods and information. A universal school system is unlikely to exist  if it is not in large part funded by the taxpayer. Defence and the maintenance of law and order cannot reasonably be left to private initiatives. Foreign policy, especially for a super-power such as the USA, has wide-reaching ramifications for domestic policy and is frequently very complex to master.

As already mentioned, it would not matter how rigorously the areas of action for government were curtailed, that pruning would not come close to making the voter’s task of informing themselves sufficiently to make considered decisions when voting light enough to be practical. If the present burden of legislation was halved in countries such as the USA and Britain it would not make a blind bit of difference to the problem of political interference because there would still be vastly more for the individual to master than any individual could manage. Even in the minimalist libertarian state there would still be a good deal of legislation and government administration, far too much for any one person to master in sufficient detail to make them informed on all or even most issues.  This limitation also applies to elected full time politicians.

It might be objected that the Internet has made the acquiring of information vastly simpler. That may be true, although it presupposes that people will know enough to look for what they need. But even if they find the information how is the ordinary person to know whether the information is correct or the whole truth? The answer is that they cannot possibly be expected to do so. However intelligent a person is, they are not going to be able to judge the veracity and completeness of claims from seemingly unimpeachable sources if they  do  not have access to the raw data  on which research conclusions are made. Such data is rarely available. There is also the problem of who controls public information.   If   government agencies and the large media corporations are the main sources of such information, the public will only get the received opinion of the elite most of the time there being a great deal of  shared ideology and collusion between the various parts of the elite:  politicians and the public bodies they control,  the mainstream media, big business and not-for-profit organisations such as the larger charities.

As for decentralisation of  politics,  the more local the decision making the smaller the pool of political talent available. This may well result in poorer decisions being made, especially where the policy is complex.  It is also true that if the number of political bodies which can raise and spend taxes  increases, the opportunities for corruption  increase and this generally means more corruption.

Then there is the question of exactly what should be devolved from the centre. There would never be anything approaching  general agreement on that.  Even within the individual there would be intellectual confusion and inconsistency. Take Somin as an example. He would have a conflict between the idea of decentralisation and his politically correct view of the world. One of the reasons Somin favours  the idea of decentralisation is because it offers the opportunity for foot voting, that is,  a person moving from one jurisdiction to another in search of policies more to their liking, literally voting with their feet.   But for  someone of his  political orientation, there is the  unfortunate fact that the more local politics becomes,  the greater the opportunity for racial and ethnic groups to exploit their dominance of an area to their advantage. It is difficult to imagine Somin thinking that federal action to enforce politically correct behaviour throughout America would be damaging or that he would  readily  tolerate  a local jurisdiction which, for example, refused to apply equal rights laws.

Overall all Somin is gloomy about the likelihood of political knowledge increasing.  He glumly points to the fact that despite rising IQ scores, educational standards and the great ease of access to information because of the Internet over recent decades,  there has been little increase in political knowledge during that time (p199) or of rationality (in his terms).

Perhaps most damaging  for Somin’s desire for greater political knowledge is research (which he cites)  that suggests that the more knowledgeable voters are  “more biased in their evaluation of  new evidence than those with less prior information”( P80).  If this is true – and it is very plausible because the more data someone has, the greater the material from which  to construct arguments – then the whole idea of a better educated electorate producing superior outcomes falls completely to pieces.

The primary problem with democracy at present is not voter ignorance – which in any case cannot be reasonably expected to improve – is the way in which elites have hijacked the process by adopting very similar policies on all the major issues – a commitment to ever more restrictive political correctness, the use of the law to effectively ban dissent from their views, their control of the mainstream media and perhaps most damaging for democratic control, the movement of national politics to the supranational level. The most complete example of the last is the EU which now controls a remarkably wide range of policy areas in whole or part, everything from immigration to labour laws.

The answer to this is to constrain representatives both in what they promise and what they deliver or fail to deliver. This can be done in various  ways, for example,  by tying the representative firmly to a constituency which they have lived in for a long time, by making any candidate standing for election put forward his policy position on all the major issues, by making it illegal for any elected representative to renege on his policy as stated in an election manifesto and outlawing any system of party coercion such as the British practice of whipping MPs (that is instructing those of a party to vote en bloc in support of the party’s policy) .

There is an important book to be written about voter ignorance  within a democracy.  Sadly this is not it. I don’t deny that he has written a densely argued book which systematically works out his ideas.  The problem is that he is completely wrong headed in his premises. Consequently, his arguments count for nothing. However, the book is  worth reading as a first rate example of the attempts of those working in what are mistakenly called the  “social sciences” to pretend that these subjects  are bona fide sciences just like physics and chemistry and a very revealing look into the modern liberal mind.

Bruges Group International Conference 9 11 2013

Which Way Out?


Prof. Tim Congdon  (Economist)

Prof. Ivar Raig (Tallinn University)

Prof. Roland Vaubel (Mannheim University)

Ian Milne (Banker and Industrialist)

Prof. Patrick Minford (Prof of Economics Cardiff Business School)

Christopher Booker (Telegraph journalist)

Dr Richard North (Long time EU campaigner)

Mary Ellen Syon (Irish Daily Mail Journalist)

Kieran Bailey (15-year-old who is shortlisted for the Brexit prize)

This conference is important because it brought together some of the people who are likely to be part of the public face of the OUT campaign if and when a referendum is held on Britain’s future in the EU.  Frankly, it was not encouraging,  both because there was great deal of conflict between the views of this supposed panel of Eurosceptics and  many of the proposals had a Utopian ring for they did not take into account the likelihood or otherwise of their plans being put into operation.

Prof. Tim Congdon

Congdon was the most forthright of the speakers. He wants Britain out of the UK full stop: no Lisbon Treaty Article 50 exit,  just the Westminster Parliament repealing the Act which binds Britain  into the EU. His main reason for taking this stance was that to commit to the use of  Article 50 would mean accepting its legitimacy. That has its dangers because if its legitimacy is accepted before  Britain activated the Article , the EU might extend the maximum two year waiting period the Article stipulates  before a member state can leave to a much longer time.  As this would require a Treaty change over which any member state would have a  veto I think this is not a realistic threat provided a referendum is held soon.

Nonetheless, Congdon’s instincts are right,  for to tie us into a two year waiting period would allow the EU to create a good deal of mischief. Using the Article 50  route would also provide an escape route for our Europhile political elite because they could argue that b ecayuse of the Article the best deal they could get was one which left us still within the coils of the EU, for example, a similar  relationship with the EU to that of Norway or Switzerland, both of whom are signed up to the so-called four EU freedoms: the freedom of unrestricted movement within the European Economic Area (EEA) of capital, services, capital and labour.

Congdon was just as unequivocal on the claims that Britain would lose greatly if she  left. He pointed out that the vast majority of UN member states were not EU members but were able to trade successfully both generally and with the EU, and cited various examples of countries, some small,  outside the EU which had made treaties with much larger nation states  such as the USA and China.  Congdon also made  much of the EU’s declining share of world trade, which is only around 12% now and is set to decline further.

As for Britain needing a plan as to what exactly she would do after leaving the EU before leaving, Congdon said this was completely unnecessary and cited the fact that some  65 independent  countries today had gained their independence  from Britain without having such a plan.

I agree wholeheartedly with Congdon’s  overall strategy,   but there is a presentational problem with the man. This is the first time I have heard him speaking in person. I was astounded by the eccentricity of his delivery.  He would be speaking normally when suddenly he would explode into what I can only describe as an hysterical rant. This he must have done at least half a dozen times in his twenty minutes or so of speaking. As he is very likely to figure in any OUT campaign this is worrying. It is odds on he will not go down well with the general public, because eccentricity of any sort, even that which has some charm,  will alienate as well as attract and frankly this  was not an engaging eccentricity.

Congdon was also caught out by a questioner from the audience. He had cited the recent Canada-EU trade treaty as evidence of what could be done by Britain once she is outside the EU.  A questioner asked him for details of the treaty. Congdon had to admit he did not know what they are. That is just plain sloppy. If you are going to cite something as evidence common-sense tells you to mug up the facts  because as sure as eggs are eggs you will be challenged on the evidence.

Prof. Roland Vaubel

Vauble detailed the vested interest of  the various  instruments of the EU – Commission, Parliament, Court of Justice.  In every case centralisation of EU powers increased their power. Hence, he saw no likelihood of any repatriation of substantial powers unless Article 50  is activated.

As for the process of leaving, Vauble took a legalistic approach. He  maintained that the activation of Article 50   was the only way Britain could leave the EU because he considered the acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty by Gordon Brown made any other exit  illegal.    The answer to that is simple: treaties signed by a government which cannot be repudiated by a future government are utterly undemocratic.

Assuming Britain activated Article 50, Vauble said that the EU elite would give nothing much  to Britain over the two years and the odds were that at the end of two years no agreement would have been reached and Britain would simply exit the EU without any agreement.  Because of this Vauble claimed that Britain had to have a strategy for what was to happen after Britain left without a Treaty. Vauble’s solution was for Britain to make alliances with other EU members, especially the smaller ones.  His overall message was that Britain could not survive on her own.  Vauble further envisaged that a Britain which had left the EU and had some form of alliance with other states, both within and without the EU, could act as a lever to change the centralising tendencies of the EU.  He seemed much  more interested in using Britain as a tool for other states’ ends than suggesting  the best strategy for Britain.

Prof. Ivar Raig

Even making considerable allowances  for the fact that English was not his first language, Raig was an awful speaker, mixing incoherent passages with statements of appalling banality , all delivered in what I can only describe as a prolong yell.

Out of the incoherence came a desire for Britain to wrap itself in another  supra-national bloc, in this case one based on North America, Germany, Scandinavia and other Northern European states. This he grandiosely labelled the New Atlantic Project. Like Vauble he believed Britain would not be able to go it alone.

Ian Milne

Milne was in  favour of using Article 50, although he was less committed to it under all circumstances than Raig and Vaubel.. For Milne activating the Article was more a question of showing willing to preserve legal form than a commitment to observe it.  If the EU showed they were going to be obstructive after  Britain activated the Article, then he was happy for Britain to simply leave by making a unilateral declaration.

He was far from pessimistic about Britain being able to negotiate a reasonable settlement with the EU, not least because of the disruption of EU’s  trade with Britain if there was any serious delay.  Milne emphasised how advantageous the EU’s trade with Britain is to the EU , both because of the large trade deficit Britain runs every year with the EU and the supply of goods to EU businesses such as the German car industry.  He also pointed out the rest of the world would not take kindly to uncertainty because they also had an interest in Britain and the EU resolving their differences.

The most useful part of his speech was his detailed plan for how the exit should be administratively planned. He wanted a Ministry for EU Transitional Arrangements (META) set up to manage the business. He took his inspiration from large projects such as the Olympics and Crossrail.

There are contentious points in the detail of his ideas, not least his rather too trusting belief in the efficiency of private industry compared with public service. But his basic idea of a ministry devoted solely to the administrative, economic, legal and political issues arising from our departure is sound because it will be a complicated business.

The problem with his plan is that it is difficult to envisage any conceivable British government implementing it,  not least because for a government to develop such a detailed plan would be to hamstring both the government of the day and any future government.

Prof. Patrick Minford

A decent speaker but completely out of touch with reality because he is in thrall to the laissez faire quasi-religion. A clear example of a man being captured by one of Richard Dawkins’ memes, in this case by a very harmful one. The problem with Minford is that he has spent his entire working life in either public service or academia. This allows him to maintain his fantasy of  perfect markets with perfect information without the evidence of real life intruding.

Minford wants out of the EU because he has the fashionable but untrue idea that the British are in favour of free markets and free trade while the other EU members are locked in a socialist mindset.  Towards the end of his offering he made the comment that the British had always been free traders including during the Industrial Revolution.  This was a truly incredible statement because the British Industrial Revolution occurred whilst  Britain operated arguably the most successful protection system ever seen through the Navigation Acts and the Old Colonial System. That  tells you Minford either has a very tenuous grasp of economic history or is willing to deliberately fabricate to maintain the plausibility of his ideology.  He might also ask himself how unions became so powerful in Britain  if support for free markets and free trade is so heavily stitched in British minds.

From this misreading of both British history and indeed  her current realities,  Minford  built his case for leaving the EU.  He wants Britain to depart  because he views the EU as a protectionist syndicate which prevents Britain from following her supposedly free market ways.

Having laid out his general scheme of objections to the EU he wandered into the ground of employment and extolled Britain as a far superior job creator than most of the EU whose unemployment was much higher. This difference he attributed to Britain’s free market instincts.  From there he moved to the question of immigration and blithely told the audience that immigrants do not take jobs from Britons. He produced what he fondly imagined to be a knock down argument by trotting out the crude classical economic argument about how Britons would find jobs if only they would accept lower wages (which would be facilitated by less welfare provision)  or were better qualified.   This caused a good deal of anger amongst the audience with quite a few calling out.

When questions were taken I managed to get myself called. I told the meeting that on the question of immigration and jobs I had special knowledge from my time as an Inland Revenue investigator. I proceeded  to detail some of  the ways that huge numbers of jobs never came onto the open British market because of foreign gangmasters employing only their own nationals, ethnic minority employers employing only their own people, foreign companies bringing in their own nationals and the recruitment of foreigners for jobs by not only British companies but British public service employers.  I further pointed out that around 5 million people who were counted as being in work in Britain were not meaningfully employed because they had to draw benefits to provide a living wage. If this 5 million is added to the 2.5 million officially unemployed, the real rate of unemployment in Britain is running at over 20% (the official unemployment rate using the Labour Survey count  stood  at 7.7% for 2.49 million unemployed in October 2013).  That is not so very different from much of the Eurozone.

Having done that,  I  attacked the idea that Britons were wedded to the idea free market economics, pointing out the evidence against this belief such as I have already mentioned, and ended by asking from where exactly Minford got his fantasy view of Britain and the British. All of this was very warmly greeted by the audience and many came up to afterwards to express agreement.

What was Minford’s response? It was feeble to the point of embarrassment. He just kept on repeating various forms of “You are wrong” with  absolutely no attempt to address the detailed objections I had raised to his words.

On the plus side he did reject the “Norwegian Option” on the grounds that it would not only tie us into the single market legislation but force acceptance of the four so-called EU freedoms, namely, the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour within the European Economic Area.

Minford was also on the right track when he pointed out the quite small part of the British economy which is devoted to exports (he put it at 10%).  He was also generally confident of Britain’s ability to be successful outside of the EU.

Christopher Booker

Booker is a promoter of the use of Article 50 as the only means by which the EU could be forced to open negotiations.  That begs the questions of what negotiations would result with the Europhile  British political elite bargaining for Britain and the probable response of the EU if Britain simply announced it was leaving.

The answer to the former question is that the Europhile politicians  who would be leading the British side of the negotiations would try to tie Britain firmly back into the EU. If Britain simply repudiated the European Acts which have led to  her entanglement in the EU by repealing them that would make it much more difficult for the British political elite to tie us back into the EU. This is  because Britain would immediately start operating in a post-EU world and British politicians would have to adapt to that reality whether they liked it or not.

As for the response of the EU elites, they would be unlikely to do much by way of creating heavy protectionist barriers against Britain both because of their healthy trade surplus with Britain and the many economic links between Britain and the rest of the EU and because of  the World Trade Organisation’s regulatory framework which binds its members to pretty tight restrictions on protectionist barriers.  It is also human nature to be more respectful to those who adopt strong dominant action than to those who display weak cringing behaviour such as has been the norm for British politicians dealing with the EU for over twenty years.

If leaving the EU means we cease to be covered by the many treaties signed by the EU which currently apply to  Britain (Booker said there are around 700), so  much the better for that would force a re-evaluation of the ones we wished of which to continue to be members.  It is wildly improbable that Britain would be denied independent membership of any it chose to sign up.

Booker is also a supporter of the “Norwegian Option”.  Hence, much of what he says about wanting Britain to be free of the EU grasping hands is pointless at best and dishonest at worst because the Norwegian Option” would still leave Britain within the coils of the EU.

Mary Ellen Synon

By far the most interesting speaker because she was the most realistic. Synon has worked in Brussels for many years and she is under no illusions about the corrupt and self-serving and above all ideological nature of the EU. Synon  said there are instructions to Eurocrats about the language they use in public. They never say people always citizen as in “a citizen of the EU” The word country is used as little as possible and if a Eurocrat is talking about his own country he or she will says “the country I know best” not “my country”. She was generally scathing about  British and other EU politicians.

According to Synon said the 2017 date for a proposed referendum was  chosen because Britain will take the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers in the second half of 2017. This would give Cameron (or anyone else who is PM) and various cabinet members a great deal of opportunity to bring EU summits to Britain and to posture regularly in front of the cameras.

Synon is sceptical about a referendum being held even if Cameron is PM after the next election. She thinks he will try to wriggle out of it as he wriggled out of the promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.  I think is  unlikely because the situation will be rather different to what it was with the Lisbon treaty.  The latter  was accepted by a British Government before Cameron came to power. In this case he would be remaining in power. In addition, Cameron has nailed his colours very firmly to the referendum mast.  It would be immensely difficult for him to renege on his promises because he would have no one else to blame but himself if the promise was broken.

But even if  there is a referendum and it is won  by a large majority,  Synon thinks that the EU will do what they have done with other referendum reverses such as the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty first time round. They will try to engineer another referendum. In the Irish case they did this despite a healthy vote against ( 53.4 percent against, 46.6 percent in favour) in the original referendum.

The tactic was dependent on the existence of willing collaborators in the Irish government. Synon had  no doubt that a Cameron government would find such collaborators, not least because questioned by the Spanish newspaper La Pais in April 2013.  Cameron was asked whether, in the event of a vote to leave the EU this question: “Would you be willing to leave the Union?”  He replied  “I would not”. (Synon described Cameron as collaborator).

Using the Irish example as a template, Synon then outlined in gory detail what were likely to be Cameron’s tactics if a vote to leave occurred .  The government would not accept the vote. There would be a questioning of whether the electorate had understood what they were voting for. This would be followed by the commissioning of  an opinion poll  designed to  either reject the result of the referendum outright or provide a pretext to hold another referendum  on the grounds that the electorate had not understood what the first referendum really meant.

In Ireland another referendum had to be held because the constitution required it. In Britain there is  no such requirement.  The British government could simply ignore the referendum result unless Parliamentary action forced either another referendum or the respecting of the vote of the referendum which had been held that  returned a vote to leave the EU.

Synon’s full notes for her speech can be found here http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84482

Dr Richard North

North began his speech by saying no referendum could be held in  2017 because David Cameron has committed himself to “substantial re-writing” of the Treaties before referendum.  This  he claimed would  require an Inter-Governmental Convention (IGC) which would take several years to convene, agree changes and have the changes ratified by the various member states, some of whom would have a constitutional  requirement to put the matter to a vote. In principle, Britain would be one of them because of the  referendum lock” provisions in  the European Union Act of 2011. This requires any substantial change to the EU treaties to be put to the British electorate. In addition, the 2015 European Parliament elections would mean that before any IGC could be called the newly elected Parliament would have to approve a new Commission, a process which North believes would take until the end of 2015. (http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84483)

The obvious objection to that is the fact that the EU has shown itself willing to disregard legal niceties when it suits them. Moreover, it all depends on what “substantial re-writing” would mean. It could be that Cameron (if it is he doping the renegotiation) will simply be tossed a few insignificant bones which the EU elite can claim can be managed within the present treaties. Alternatively, the British government might simply say this is the fruit that  our negotiations have born and they will be incorporated into EU law in due course if the vote is to accept them and stay in the EU. It should be remembered that the Wilson renegotiation which led to the 1975 referendum were put to the British electorate without  a Treaty change.

The interesting part of  North’s speech dealt with the  amount of law  coming from Brussels which is in reality merely Brussels rubber-stamping decisions made by  other supranational bodies. (North claimed that it was most of the EU regulations we toil under).   This law is  called Dual International Quasi Legislation. It derives from what North describes the   EU as having become, namely,  “part of a nexus of legislative bodies, linking international agencies of the United Nations with regional, national and local bodies, to form one continuous, seam-free administrative machine.” (http://eureferendum.blogspot.co.uk/2007/03/sucess-of-eu.html)

The rather shadowy  bodies  which make such laws  are  the likes of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, (http://www.codexalimentarius.org/) which sets standards for  the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (http://www.ipcc.ch/)  and the Bank for International Settlements (http://www.bis.org/about/index.htm).  The rules agreed by such bodies  go through the  EU  legalising process on what is known as the “A List” without a vote.

Although the process may be rubber-stamping,  it is worth noting that the EU is not legally bound to accept such agreements. However, it suits the EU elites’ purposes to do so because it fits with their anti-democratic supranational agenda for it restricts who makes the decisions to an even smaller group  than would be the case if the EU instigated the regulations.

North is in favour of using Article 50 as an exit vehicle. He gives no sign of appreciating the potential damage which two years of prevarication by the EU could do or the opportunities for active collusion with the EU elite  by the British elite to trap  Britain  once more within the tentacles of the EU.

His idea of using the “Norwegian Option” as a staging post to full independence is wishful thinking,  because once a new settlement is reached it is highly improbable that a further referendum would be held for many years if at all, not least because the “Norwegian Option” would tie us into the four so-called EU freedoms and the  general single-market obligations.

Kieran Bailey

He spoke confidently but,  unsurprisingly for a 15-year-old, said nothing of obvious importance. His appearance smacked too much of gimmickry.

An unasked question

Had I had the opportunity I would  have posed a question which went unasked, namely, what should be done to tie down Cameron (or any other PM) to what will happen if there is a vote to leave the EU? We need to know before the IN/OUT referendum what the British government is committed to.

What should be done?

If a referendum is to be won the OUT camp must put forward a coherent and attractive message which goes to the heart of British people’s fears and anger resulting from British membership of the EU.  Talking legalistically about invoking Article 50, negotiating for a relationship similar to that of Norway or Switzerland  or mechanically reciting mantras about free markets and free trade will not do that. Indeed, it will drive voters away.

The British resent and distrust the EU because of the impotence of the British government and legislature to prevent EU law taking precedence over the will of Parliament. However, they are often unclear about which areas of policy have been subcontracted to Brussels. The OUT campaign must keep hammering home exactly how much cannot be done while Britain is entrenched within the EU.

The most important EU issue in British minds is indubitably  immigration. That should be made the focus of the OUT campaign. Indeed, the more it becomes an anti-immigration campaign the better because mass immigration affects from the entirety of life. The primary ill is simply the fact that huge numbers of foreigners coming into Britain change the nature of Britain both generally – think of the laws against speaking freely and those imposing “non-discrimination” dictats  on the grounds of race and ethnicity – and particularly, for example, here parts of the country are effectively colonised by those of a certain ethnicity or race.

Then there are the secondary ills which immigrants bring: the undercutting of wages, the removal of jobs from the open British market by ethnic minority employers who either employ only those of their ethnicity  and   foreign gangmasters who supply only those of their own nationality, the use of the NHS, the taking  of housing (especially social housing) which forces up rents, the overcrowding of schools in areas of heavy immigrant settlement, the drawing of benefits  by immigrants very soon are they arrive in Britain  and  a disproportionate propensity for crime.

A full throated campaign against these ills, which should encompass non-EEA citizens in Britain as well as EEA citizens, would be something the British electorate would instinctively and enthusiastically   respond to.  It would also allow those speaking for the OUT campaign to vividly illustrate the extent that the EU affects British life in all the important political policy areas.

The danger is that those running the OUT campaign  will, because of the grip that political correctness has on modern Britain, turn away from immigration as a major plank in their platform or  even shun it altogether.  That will guarantee either a lost referendum or allow  Britain to be re-stitched into the EU with something like the “Norwegian Option”.

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