Eschatological Rebellion

What makes a respectable, wealthy, middle class, middle-aged woman climb up and try to smash a window in a government ministry? What brings more white, middle class academics and children of professionals on to the street to block the traffic, vandalise buildings and run countercultural camps in the streets? It is not the environment.

The end of the world! There were once eccentric men walking the streets with placards announcing “The End of the World is Nigh!”, and how we chuckled at them; now they wear beads and flypost ominous stickers on the Tube. I would laugh, but they are scaring children half to death with their unhinged eschatology.

If your stomach was turned by some of the displays available on YouTube it may be the sight of people dressed up as hippies or students doing ‘interpretive dance’ in the street or tents with signs for mindfulness sessions. That tells you more about us outside, really. It is a culture-clash: these are the people we do not want to be like, and we are the people they do not like because we do not appreciate their way of thinking.

(There is nothing wrong with interpretive dance on the street – in fact it is positive as it identifies the people I can ignore.)

Extinction Rebellion is wrong in just about everything they stand for. Having made that point, I have to look at the attraction they have for many, and why there is anger when I ever doubt them.

The cause they claim is saving the world; every comic-book hero’s quest, and who can doubt that? It is what we are brought up with. We try to ignore the incongruity when Batman destroys a city just to save a girl, because he is just a comic fantasy, and so is Extinction Rebellion’s rhetoric.

So what makes a respectable, wealthy, middle class, middle-aged woman climb up and try to smash a window in a government ministry? That answers itself – the stifling social constraints of respectability. Bursting out of the constraints, liberation like a fly escaping from a bottle – that is what it is all about. There are hammers and spraypaint and free-form dance, and at least the latter harms no one. That ever-present voice inside says ‘settle down, be good, do your homework’;, but then a new ideology is available that says ‘all those things you never dared to do – do them!’

The rest of us look askance at the chaos that denies our learnt, ordered pattern of the world, but maybe with a hint of jealousy.

The odd thing is though that this gathering of thousands of likeminded or easily misled souls is itself a quest for respectability.

There are others. There are grannies suddenly finding a purpose for their time. There are junior clergymen losing their purpose. There are academics from ex-polytechnics with books and little imagination, resigned never to rise to the height that demands actual intellect. They are powerless, and here they find some semblance of power. Their works will never be cited at Oxford, but here their voice can be heard for a moment, whatever unscientific rhubarb they speak, and if they can persuade the government to act, as they sincerely desire, then that is power indeed. No wonder they respond so viciously when doubted: we are stealing their last chance for power.

For the rest of us, who may be doing more for the benefit of mankind and its environment than the whole parcel of the ‘XR’ mob, this is an annoyance to be cleared up like any other. What to do about it – that must be another article.

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Bishops to mend a broken Britain?

Those misfiring bishops!  I want to believe I am being too harsh.

Assuredly the nation is in fine spiritual health, in spite of all we have heard and seen on the streets, for the bishops of the Church of England have stayed silent on spiritual matters and now they have spoken, they have addressed Brexit instead.  We must assume that there is no need for their input in spiritual matters, or they would surely have made that a priority.

The open letter from 25 diocesan bishops published this week begins on the issue of a No-Deal Brexit, which they assert (against the prevailing evidence) will have a “massive impact” on the poorest (with not a word for the entrepreneurs).  It is not certain whether they mean “no withdrawal agreement”, which is the immediate political issue, or “no free trade agreement”, or whether all those who signed appreciate the distinction between the two. The admonition in the letter is directed at the Government, which again is puzzling, because the government is trying to do a deal:  it would be better addressed to those who have pledged to oppose any deal which the government brings back from Brussels.

Is it any wonder that this studiously politically balanced letter comes out, to some eyes, as anything but that?

The main issue for the bishops, surely, is the second issue, thrown into the bullet points at the end, namely the quality of public discourse. That is a spiritual matter.

“Political polarisation and language that appears to sanction hate crime: the reframing of the language of political discourse is urgent”:  there no Brexiteer will differ for we have for the last three years been constantly insulted, shouted down, belittled, slandered, threatened and in some cases even been pursued by vexatious law-suits. Remainiacs have been targeted too where they have stepped beyond decent behaviour. That is a moral failing. They have not suffered anything like the relentless campaign suffered by even moderate Leave-voters.  Do the signatories mean the local, personal persecution of Leave voters equally with Remoaners, or are they just looking from a distance, without dirtying their hands, at depersonalised social media?

The worse threat is not electronic words but real-world confrontation. The face of screaming self-justified hatred is horrifying.

There is a spiritual sickness in the idea a man may conceive that his ideas and only his are valid and acceptable or intelligent, and all others are dehumanised crud.  Bishops are right to address this. That is their proper role. Regrettably, some of their number (not necessarily those who signed the letter, though certainly one of them) have fallen victim to the malady themselves.

“The ease with which lies can be told and misrepresentation encouraged: leaders must be honest about the costs of political choices, especially for those most vulnerable.”  You should not argue in favour of lies and misrepresentations, but then it is yoked to honesty about the costs of political choices, which in the context of the no-deal Brexit concerns is zinged at the current Cabinet. Is that wise? The belters in this post-referendum period have emerged from the LibDem machine. They deserve at least a mention.

Are the signatory bishops then accusing Boris Johnson of lying in this matter?  He has a history in his personal and professional lives of exaggerating, through his teeth on occasion, but in this context there is no falsity, only interpretation.  It is a moral failing to lie; it is also a moral failing to accuse others unjustly of lying.

There follow platitudes.  This is as expected.  I am though puzzled by the last: “Attention must be paid not only to the Union, but also to the meaning of Englishness”.  The meaning of Englishness is a mystery to me.  It ceased to have a meaning centuries ago as the nation discovered its completeness as we became Britons.  The Church of England is left alone caring for a snippet of the wider nation.  Once the church had a worldwide vision, now too localised.  Perhaps a world-spanning vision from a Brexit born through such unexpected struggle.

In this then we have a letter which is right in its words but wrong somehow in its conception or giving the impression of being so.

When at last we can get Brexit over the line, the vision of healing a fractured society for which the bishops plead may be able to take a step forward. Achieving that break must be a priority for the healing of the nation. Then churchmen and laymen can together work to diagnose the sickness and cast it out. We must bring the nation to its knees, in prayer.

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Putin it like that, no

I was due to write a long, possibly rambling, post on Vladimir Putin’s comments on liberalism, but the job has been done for me. I loathe the modern philosophies of nominal liberalism and the destructive effect they have had on state and society, but if President Putin thinks I must then fall into his camp, he has not understood the Britons.

As it happens, I need not provide an insightful analysis because Paul Goodman has written a flawless piece on Conservative Home this morning:

Putin asserts that liberalism has outlived its purpose and is obsolete. That choice of words follows the liberals’ own playbook, by asserting Putin’s philosophy to be ‘on the right side of history’, and he is also playing the old game of portraying the choice of philosophy as one-dimensional; Liberal v Authority.

In fact, there is no ‘right side of history’ and the field is not one-dimensional either. Also ‘liberalism’ is not one entity but a series of propositions, some right, many wrong, and a badge seized upon by anyone with a mad idea they wish to propagate. Therefore opposing the maddest new ideas, or ideas fifty years old, is not to throw yourself into the hands of dictatorship not to abandon liberalism itself (however it might be defined).

Then there is the basic point put by Paul Goodman: it is not just liberalism and authoritianism: there is the Conservative in the mould of the English-speaking world. That is built on the inheritance of freedom which is fundamental to Anglosphere culture: strip modern accretions away from the cultures of continental Europe and you are left with feudal tyranny as the basic norm of life, but strip modernity from the English-speaking peoples and you have the ancient rights of free Englishmen. This makes deep-conservatism so different in the Anglosphere: in Europe it looks back to ancient authority which was tyrannous, while for us it looks back at a time when the state barely interfered in life.

On the basis of opposing western liberalism, Putin is building alliances with European-style conservatives, in Turkey and the old lands of Austria-Hungary. As the only genuine freedom-loving conservative government anywhere in the Anglosphere at the moment is that of the United States, and that is under existential threat from authoritarian liberals, there seems no other alliance to oppose the idiocies of modernist ideologues without jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

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4IR: understanding and fear

Alan Mak MP recently wrote a series of articles on Conservative Home about the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, which its aficionados dub ‘4IR’.  The excitement and the possibilities echo through the whole piece.  The IT revolution is exciting and inviting of innovation that has transformed life as we could not have imagined not just in my lifetime but the last decade, and the next leap can make new transformations we can barely imagine.

It is a promise of the future but also the reality of the present:  we are deep within the ‘third’ industrial, revolution, the computer revolution, and ‘4IR’ is all that follows or might potential follow from it: beyond apps to artificial intellegence, robots, synthetic biology, ‘the internet of things’, augmented reality, biohacking, and more we cannot yet conceive across the world and beyond it. It is the fusion of technologies: you might say that 4IR geeks must step out from their screens and create real things in the real world.

Is it true that no new thing has been invented since the 1950s- 1960?  Then we saw the first hovercraft, lasers, maglev, the silicon chip – all since has been the improvement of existing technology.  The latest Tesla may be a revolutionary car it is a car, and nothing Henry Ford would not recognise.  Since the IT revolution, innovation has shrunk to the confines of a screen, and has changed the world from there, but it is limited.  The promise off the next stage, this ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is to bring all the strands of technology, from Boulton-Watt to Microsoft. Together to do new things which each alone cannot achieve or even conceive..

We should not however get carried away with imagining that the new age is unimaginable.  It is called the ‘fourth’ revolution after those of steam, of electricity and of computers.  As we saw the previous upheavals, so we see this one, and we can learn not to underestimate it, nor to be afraid of it.

It is no different from the others.  This new revolution is governed by pure Adam Smith logic, as have been the preceding industrial revolutions and all innovations since man first lifted a hunting spear:  if there is incentive for an individual to innovate then he will innovate, in order to make his work less boring or more profitable.

If the system were ever established that takes from a man all that he can produce then there is no incentive to innovate and society ossifies:  Smith identified this deadening factor in the feudal states of his day.  Innovation and the motors of prosperity existed only where a man could earn more by working hard and innovating, and were strongest in America, as land rents were low. In the French countryside a seigneur would take as rent the whole increase in production, and as a result tenant farmers made no innovations, but lived from day to day. It was in the towns, freed of this system, that new machines and techniques were developed, and in Britain both town and country fizzed with innovation, leading to prosperity for all: profit for the innovator and cheaper goods for the customer.

The deathly feudal system is in vogue today: its idea of taking from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs, is a cornerstone of Marxism to which Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell are devoted, and a large section of the unthinking population too.

There is fear over the new industrial revolution.  This too is nothing new. The Luddites, Captain Swing, and all machine-breakers did what they did convinced that machines would take their jobs and leave them to starve.  Today, identical fears are heard, and those most vocal about it will tell the world on Twitter and Facebook, while sending out for online pizza.

The lesson of all revolutions in innovation has been that it can produce unexpected prosperity in all society, with new jobs arising where others are lost:  as less work is needed, there is time and energy to do more work, and new prosperity opens up new opportunities.  If a ship once took a year to build from timber and can now be built in two months, then that is not five out of six workers on the scrapheap – it is building six ships in place of one, or building them bigger for new cargoes, or building them of steel.

When robots take jobs, as they will and must, it is to make consumer goods more affordable and industrial processes cheaper, and it creates more jobs, and ones less backbreaking.

Each sudden change produces fear and protest – when the mines closed in the 1980s commentators thought the mining villages lost to poverty forever, but they throve, with more jobs there now than ever before, and jobs that do not involve crawling through a mine in the blackness waiting for a cave-in, and retiring with lung disease.

The future is good.


Ordinary extraordinary men

He was a village character, writing a gentle tale of his coming to live in the village and marry his sweetheart, but he started with the tanks rolling into his Polish village and in time the revenge he wrought through Normandy and the relentless attrition of Caen. There were no ordinary lives in that generation.

A quiet autobiographical note appeared in the village magazine, from the man best known for making eccentric home-made fruit wines and for having a funny name (this being a village not known for trendy diversity).  His memory lane brought him to our village from far away but it absorbed him.  The tale began in Poland, with a fresh, young pilot in 1939, and an emergency call to report to his airfield; but when he approached the field, he found the Germans were there ahead of him.  He did not slink home but withdrew across Poland and across the width of Europe.  There followed over the next editions the account of how he and a small band of fellow airmen crossed German-occupied Europe, and when their path was barred by the swollen and frozen Danube, crossing the ice, three miles wide, to temporary freedom in Yugoslavia.  We read of his making his way to Britain, of the tough training in the Highlands, billeting in Cambridgeshire and then on 6 June 1944, at last taking the fight to the invaders, as he joined the British forces swarming across the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy.

Caen was supposed to fall on the first day.  The first day was a great success, but the Germans held Caen strongly, and the British and American soldiers hammered the city for two months until it broke and the advance could continue.  There were personal memories here too:  he reported encountering a Mongolian unit.  Even further from home than him, they had been recruited as fraternal assistance for the Red Army but defected to the Germans on the Eastern Front and here they were defending a town their ancestors had never heard of half a world away from their pastures, yet all under the same sun in the eternal blue heaven.

What followed Caen is well known from the history books.  It was not fought with maps and statistics, but by men.  One foot before another flesh and blood like us all, all the way to the heart of Germany.  Men stood as bullets ripped through those who stood beside them.  Men stood as a dull steel Panzer charged unstoppably towards them.  Men crossed shot, shell, minefields, barbed wire, and the Rhine, in order, in discipline, unrelenting. Men had to stand to their duty when they saw the gates of Belsen open and they faced the captured guards.

When all was done and time to go home, for some there was no home.  Between Hitler and Stalin, Poland was no more.  It was six years in a young life, with a lifetime ahead of work in the fields and calm gardening.  All this was kept within his heart, done so that his children and all of ours need not see the same again.