Creature of the Full Moon

A bright full moon, dazzling in a clear night sky, stirs the deepest nature in me. The hair beneath my shirt feels it and seems to thicken, my teeth are bared and my ears alive for prey. This is a hunter’s moon and man is a hunter.

The myth of the werewolf is an ancient one, found amongst the Greeks (in a typically rationalised form) and amongst the ancient Germans in the raw. In the saga, Sigurd puts on a wolfskin cloak and with it takes on the character of the beast, as if the poet recognised what is within, ready to be released when we step out of the accoutrements of society. All the tribes of the north had two names for that beast, one left unspoken out of supernatural fear, but still named their children ‘Wulf-‘ as if to recommend its character. In Mongolia they taught that the khan was descended from a wolf and a doe (a deer, a female deer), as if picturing the ideal characters they thought seemly in a man and in a woman.

The wolf is always with us. To look upon one is like seeing in a distorted mirror. The domesticated beast, the dog, looks up at man wishing to be loved, wishing to understand and to imitate. A wild wolf has looked into my eyes and he did so as an equal, but with another quality: he is looking for weakness. Among mankind we look at each other the same way, especially at the full moon. As Hobbes says in De Cive, ‘Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe’.

The men of former days lived beside the wolf and saw in it their own instincts: in hunting both show intelligence, co-operation, ruthlessness, the thrill of the chase and remorselessness in the kill. Perhaps they imagined man to be descended from the wolf, as the Mongols did – it would be a more attractive proposition than descending from an ape.

There have been plenty of Sci-Fi stories imagining manlike creatures evolved from wolves, but why always wolves and not other creatures? Perhaps it is an obvious thought as it just seems from their eyes and behaviour that the wolf could be like us.

Perhaps instead we should think that we are like wolves, beneath. Our dogs try to imitate us, but in the wild, man imitates the wolf, the perfectly designed hunter alongside which many generations of man grew up. Civilisation is just a few millennia old, barely that amongst the peoples of Northern Europe, while the Stone Age lasted far, far longer. We are Stone Age people, with a thin crust of civilisation sitting on top of countless ages of instinct. Beneath that veneer of society, the natural man drives our behaviour, and waits for the cracks to appear. On those cold nights where the clouds depart and the full moon blazes in the sky, casting shadows, showing where the prey lies; on those nights the crust of modernity is very thin, the age-long instincts of the natural man rise.

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The Wrong Side of History

The idea of inevitable progress is worse than folly: it is a positive impediment to thought, leading to decrepitude.

Finding patterns in things, Isaiah Berlin observed, is a human trait (“To understand is to perceive patterns”) but he know it was all fantasy, like seeing the shapes of animals in the clouds. History, viewed from a distance shows few examples of constant motion in any direction: short of the social changes brought about by the discovery of metal and new materials, the invention of wheels and writing, it is hard to place any ‘inevitable’ thread in the human story, but for one, which Thomas Hobbes observed:

it is evident that dominion, government, and laws, are far more ancient than history or any other writing.

Things may change in any society in a way we perceive, from tyranny to freedom, from oligarchy to democracy, but all these concepts have come and flourished and decayed and fallen many times in recorded history. There is no inevitability. Berlin again said:

Historians of ideas, however scrupulous and minute they may feel it necessary to be, cannot avoid perceiving their material in terms of some kind of pattern.

There is no pattern though, and there is no set idea of progress, whatever the Whig historians thought or Marx wrote. As to inevitability, consider the Augustine Age of the Roman Empire; universal peace, prosperity, law and cultural continuum – and compare it with the situation in Europe just 500 years later. Europe did not match the achievements of Rome until the Renaissance, if then. The Renaissance was not to last either: it posited a stable relationship of crown, mitre and scholarship, but it just took a monk nailing his theses to a church door showing the falsehoods on which that culture was built, and it came crashing down.

If you who believe that the process of modernity is proof of rightness, consider these:

In 1642 the Civil War began in England. It is seen today as a modernising struggle for democracy, but it was the opposite. Parliament was old, mediaeval and progress in that age, demonstrably, was to enlightened despotism as demonstrated by Europe’s most advanced monarch: Louis XIII of France. King Charles gathered young and energetic advisers, while those who opposed him were the older generation. John Pym was 58 in 1642 (four years older than Thomas Hobbes); John Hampden and Cromwell spritely at 47 and 43 respectively. The coming men would dispense with the mediaeval hang-over that was parliament. The Civil War was reactionary, a rebellion launched by the passing generation quickly before it was too late, before the young pups could take over. Democracy was against the tide of history.

In 1688, James II & VII tried again. He had lived in exile in France, seeing the spectacular achievements of his cousin, Louis XIV, who excelled his father (and bankrupted his nation, but that was unseen). The old ways got in the way and had to go; the reformation was a past enthusiasm to be replaced by the modern counter-reformation. King James removed the old guard from their positions and appointing new, younger men steeped in the ideas of the Sun King. Parliament was dismissed and royal authority over state and church established. It was the way all the world was going. Democracy was reactionary and old-fashioned; it survived only by a rebellion of the old guard.

The Whig Interpretation of History which followed the Glorious Revolution tried to recast the reactionary rebellions by imagining a general progression towards freedom and democracy. It served well: it gave a rousing national story to encourage us to ever-greater achievements and it ensured that future developments in Britain and its Empire followed that idea, but it was based on wishfulness, not fact.

In the 1850s, slavery in the southern states of America was perfected as a system, as the local establishment thought, such that the Manifest Destiny of these states was to expand over a ‘Golden Circle’ embracing Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. Led by the Democratic Party, the bold new vision declared that “We will expand, as our growth and civilization shall demand – over Mexico – over the isles of the sea – over the far-off Southern tropics – until we shall establish a great Confederation of Republics – the greatest, freest and most useful the world has ever seen.” To bring it to reality, private armies invaded Mexico and conquered Nicaragua (until an attempt to conquer the rest of Central America caused a reverse). In Congress, a proposal was debated to establish slavery as the law in any new territory acquired by the United States to the south, in anticipation of this expansion. It was the future. Only the Civil War and the merciful abolition of slavery ended this vision of progress.

In 1912 the first of the International Conferences of Eugenics met. This was a vigorous scientific discipline, promising an improvement of all mankind. Chairs in Eugenics were founded at universities, the imagined benefits became a staple of futurist literature, because this was the certain future. Those who opposed eugenics were ignorant, superstitious reactionaries, so the world was assured by its ‘enlightened’ minds. The opening of the Nazi death camps wiped this grotesque future from our future.

In the 1930s, democracy and ideas of individuality seemed to be winding to their end. Socialism was the future, the nations were assured, and the only struggle was between factions of socialism: Communism or Fascism. Pliant journalists shown the new Soviet Union came back to say “I have been over into the future, and it works.”, even as Ukrainian peasants starved in their millions. Anyone opposing socialism was behind the times, ignorant of modern thinking, harking back to an anarchic system incompatible with modern life. A modern, mechanised age required a modern, ordered, mechanised system of rule, of life and of death. Both fascism and communism promised order and effective action. We saw how that went.

In each case, the widespread acceptance of inevitability sapped resistance. It narrowed the scope of the imagination. Those who opposed socialist takeovers, as Franco did, just imposed their own versions; because that was modern.

Belief in today’s enthusiasm as a universal, timeless ideal drives out constructive thought. From this will come only stagnation and collapse.

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Hate speech: the Denning Solution

The Law Commission have discredited themselves into irrelevance. The Police have lost the respect they need to bear authority. Power has passed to the unaccountable. Lord Denning had a solution ahead of his time to define what is truly hate-speech worthy of the law’s attention.

The tussle between freedom to speak and the maintenance of order is an old one, maybe as old as speech itself. The first Stone Age tribal chieftain who clubbed underling for speaking out of turn began an age-long train of action.

Not so long ago, freedom of speech was limited even in Britain, but there was liberty enough to grumble against it, and juries were not so willing to convict their neighbours for speaking against what the government or polite opinion insisted upon. The main crime of expression was one against the written word only: ‘seditious libel’, and on this charge many pamphleteers was put before a jury for insulting the King’s ministers and sowing dissention against the lawful authorities.

In the latter half of the twentieth century Lord denning expressed his opinion of the offence:

The offence of seditious libel is now obsolescent. It used to be defined as words intended to stir up violence, that is, disorder, by promoting feelings, of ill-will or hostility between different classes of His Majesty’s subjects. But this definition was found to be too wide. It would restrict too much the full and free discussion of public affairs…So it has fallen into disuse for nearly 150 years. The only case in this century was R. v. Caunt…when a local paper published an article stirring up hatred against Jews. The jury found the editor Not Guilty.”

The Caunt case he quotes concerned a shocking editorial in a local newspaper: in 1947, the editor of the Morecambe and Heysham Visitor published an article virulently attacking all Jews and suggesting that violence against them would be understandable; and this just two years after the death camps had been opened. It was written as a response to the Jewish Insurgency in Palestine, making no distinction between the rebels in the Levant and Jewish people generally – its key paragraph would get any journalist sacked and disgraced from any respectable newspaper today, or promoted in the Guardian. It may have been a cause of anti-Jewish riots that followed in Liverpool. Nevertheless, the jury acquitted the editor, because free speech was more precious to them.

The acquittal burst the idea that racial hatred could be restrained by the law of seditious libel, and in time the first Race Relations Act was introduced. It made explicit as a crime to stir up racial hatred. That is not a problem for anyone: today’s issue is in imagined interpretations of the much later Equality Act, unwarranted extensions of the McPherson recommendations, and a hedge built about the law by those with a deeper agenda.

Lord Denning’s summary of the law of his time was perhaps a personal one, as ‘seditious libel’ was a common law offence not defined in statute, but is much quoted abroad, where sedition is still a live topic.

Denning’s summary gives us a what may be though the ideal standard not just for speech against races but against any portion of the population, whether one of the narrow categories of the Equality Act or any other group which has attracted the ire of an ill-disposed speaker, to persecute any minority or majority:

words intended to stir up violence, that is, disorder, by promoting feelings, of ill-will or hostility between different classes of His Majesty’s subjects

That should be simple enough, and it should be enough: stirring up violence. That said, the coda, in the idea of “ill-will or hostility” is itself very broad, which might be what made the old law a dead-letter in the hands of a jury. Political rhetoric today (on one side at least) is dominated by accusing opponents as a class of being fiends in human form, which is improper and to be condemned socially but finding the policeman’s boot at the doorstep of every Labour or SNP activist its likely to bring the law into disrepute.

The law steps in where it is necessary to protect society each individual in the society it governs, and guard the social bonds which keep order in that society. In a totalitarian society those bonds may be drawn tight and inflexible, but a free society needs elasticity, and that means mutual tolerance of originality and plain rudeness. It only steps over the line when actual violence is threatened. That is where a law of sedition has a place. In the Denning formulation then, the essence of what should be forbidden is “words intended to stir up violence”: the promotion of feelings of hostility is the method whereby violence is stirred or made more likely, not an additional offence: “promoting hostility such as to stir up violence”, not stirring up violence or promoting hostility.

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Credulity – ignorance – curiosity

Adhaerence To Private Men, From Ignorance Of The Causes Of Peace

Ignorance of remote causes, disposeth men to attribute all events, to the causes immediate, and Instrumentall: For these are all the causes they perceive.

And hence it comes to passe, that in all places, men that are grieved with payments to the Publique, discharge their anger upon the Publicans, that is to say, Farmers, Collectors, and other Officers of the publique Revenue; and adhaere to such as find fault with the publike Government; and thereby, when they have engaged themselves beyond hope of justification, fall also upon the Supreme Authority, for feare of punishment, or shame of receiving pardon.

Credulity From Ignorance Of Nature

Ignorance of naturall causes disposeth a man to Credulity, so as to believe many times impossibilities: for such know nothing to the contrary, but that they may be true; being unable to detect the Impossibility.

And Credulity, because men love to be hearkened unto in company, disposeth them to lying: so that Ignorance it selfe without Malice, is able to make a man bothe to believe lyes, and tell them; and sometimes also to invent them.

Curiosity To Know, From Care Of Future Time

Anxiety for the future time, disposeth men to enquire into the causes of things: because the knowledge of them, maketh men the better able to order the present to their best advantage.

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Eire applies to be America’s 51st State

“In retrospect, it was an easy decision” said the Taoiseach yesterday: “It makes sense for Ireland to join the United States of America”.

Joining the United States, he explained, is the best hope for Ireland’s prosperity. Ireland has more trade with the United States than with any other country except Britain; Americans are keen to be seen as Irish; and the two countries have provided each other with a great deal over the ages – America received labourers, and Ireland received the potato blight fungus. “With the EU, we’d tied our donkey to the wrong post.”

Irish commentators overwhelmingly agreed, observing that the Ireland only joined the European Community in the 1970s because Britain did, and while it was great for a while, the fascination has gone, like any other 1970s makeover.

Richard O’Shea, a senior government adviser, said the move would go forward as soon as possible. The Europeans had used Erin and cast here aside; “It was all very lovey-dovey when they wanted us to stiff the Brits in the negotiation, but now they are not returning our calls, they are ignoring us and humiliating us in front of our friends and neighbours. We thought we were getting cash in had from Brussels, but we find they have gone off with our fish, which is several times more than we ever received. We thought EU loved us, but they were only after cheques.

“The Europeans don’t understand us and their culture is alien. Ireland cannot stand alone: we need to join with another English-speaking country that can be a major trading partner and protector, and we couldn’t think of one except America.”

Joe Biden has often expressed his Irish ancestry. While has has not commented on the Irish government’s approach, he did express deep concern about the number of Republicans in Ireland: the Irish government was quick to reassure him that there is no connection between Irish Republicans and the GOP, and in fact the only similarity is a tendency to carry guns.

Timing for the move is still uncertain but it looks like it’s Irexit for now & howdy partner.