For today’s insight we visit the poignant glory of the twentieth century, whose melancholy genius gave us Bartók and Brecht, Schoenberg and Solzhenitsyn, to find words of wisdom for our American and British readers who may be getting worked up about the federal government shutdown or the Tory Party conference; and we remember Evelyn Waugh’s description of the psychological liberation of his unjustly incarcerated protagonist in Decline and Fall:
“[O]ne of the first discoveries of his captivity was that interest in ‘news’ does not spring from genuine curiosity, but from the desire for completeness. During his long years of freedom he had scarcely allowed a day to pass without reading fairly fully from at least two newspapers, always pressing on with a series of events which never came to an end. Once the series was broken, he had little desire to resume it…”
Ours for the taking is a permanent emotional emancipation from the world’s least fulfilling pastime: fretting about the weird and repellent activities of idiot politicians. News: Just Say No.
Alas, the no doubt edifying and fascinating details of Ed Miliband’s policy prescriptions for Britain will have to pass us by – we have fairly normal priorities even when Breaking Bad isn’t on – but we have not been able to shut our ears against the mosquito-whine of rancid, second-hand ideas entirely, and they seem to paint a dreary and miserable picture indeed, with price controls, regulations, and subsidies daubed on our social canvass like the broad brush-strokes of the world’s most depressing impressionist painting.
It is worth noticing at all only because it is an opportunity to draw attention to that fundamental falsehood about the nature of modern society which is ignorantly or mendaciously peddled by generation after generation of politicians to the electorate, i.e., that we live in a free and largely unregulated system whose sharp edges government is tentatively seeking to blunt; and that injustice, poverty and inequality are the consequences of an outmoded laissez-faire dogma held in place by some vague elite so powerful that only the state can tackle it on our behalf. In the words of Henry Fielding, “A very wholesome and comfortable doctrine, and to which we have but one objection, namely, that it is not true.” Read more
The Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, leader of a party which claims to be heir to the mighty Liberal Party of Grey, Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George, is blithering on about some new policy on plastic bags. Never mind the Great Reform Act or the People’s Budget, Cleggie wants to interfere in the process of getting your Cornflakes back from the shops. No doubt, too, he will get his way – as Uncle Jack said of a Clegg-like political figure of fun of his own day,
“His intense zeal (a symptom frequent among apostates and renegadoes) has been demonstrated on many late occasions;…if he has failed to persuade, he has never failed to weary out the adversary, and to sink him into a deadly lassitude, perhaps a lethargy.” Read more
In response to unemployment numbers apparently dropping to a level marginally less horrendous than before, the monetary policymakers – High Priests of the Age of Finance Socialism – along with the private sector snake-oil salesmen who make improbably comfortable livings out of a new kind of Kremlinology, trying to predict what the policymakers will do by purporting to read between the lines of their public pronouncements, are working themselves into the usual lather about whether these data mandate an interest rate hike of 0.03% on February 6th 2014 at 11:04 am, or 0.031% on March 2nd 2014 at 1:16 pm, or some equally absurd nonsense derived from some ingenious macroeconomic computer model.
This increasingly revolting affectation of omniscience, whereby central bankers claim to be able to optimise economic outcomes through minutely calculated policy adjustments like some guild of deranged watch-makers, is an utterly insane recrudescence of the central planning delusion which has wrecked the economies, societies and cultures of every country weak and gullible enough to fall for it. It is a monstrous repudiation of the Whig-Liberal double-helix of liberty and prosperity, and is entirely incompatible with true freedom and real progress. Read more
Warming, cooling, whatever. Loath though we are to take sides on a subject about which we know absolutely nothing, as the climate change debate grinds tediously on we observe with considerable suspicion how the alarmists bring a quite explicitly religious character to the issue, with their narrative of sin and punishment, repentance and salvation. This, we suspect, will be their downfall: “Jesus is coming, look busy” loses its ability to scare people into compliance if Jesus continues to be conspicuous by his absence and you have to rely on vague threats that he is probably coming within the next century or two. In this, the decarbonisation cult is encountering the same problem that Uncle Jack diagnosed 240 years ago:
“The doctrine of rewards and punishments has always operated in a very powerful manner on the passions of the weak and selfish part of mankind. It is a question which would require a nice discussion, whether the divine [i.e., priest] or politician has more frequently been obliged to have recourse to it, or has made the most converts by this efficacious application to our hopes and fears. I own that I am rather inclined to the politician, because he brings all his artillery in view, to begin an immediate attack…The divine allures us with the most pleasing hopes, or alarms us with a prospect of much terror, but then it is believed to be so distant, that the danger seems to diminish…” Read more
We promised not to add anything to the tsunami of pointless and predictable punditry which followed in the wake of the Parliamentary vote last week, like a flock of shrieking herring-gulls behind an insanitary fishing trawler, and we stand by that. Ten years from now, Syria will still be a wretched quagmire run by dangerous psychopaths whether we (a) leave it alone, (b) lob a few expensive fireworks at it, or (c) sell it to an international consortium of hydroponic pot farms.
We were interested to note, however, the emergence of UKIP as the principal voice of non-intervention within the framework of British party politics, not counting George Galloway’s Self-Promotion and Anti-Israel Party. With burgeoning support in the Tory shires, the urban north and among campus libertarians, it is interesting to consider where, if anywhere, they fit on the political spectrum; and whether, as with Ron Paul’s idiosyncratic amalgam of pacifism and capitalism, we should reconsider some of our modern assumptions about that spectrum. Read more