13 October 2017

Altruism towards future generations

Some critics have suggested that the libertarian position regarding future generations is: “I don’t care”. But libertarianism does not reject moral responsibility towards others. It rejects the notion that the government should enforce such responsibility.

Feeling responsible towards one’s own descendants, and others who share a proportion of one’s genes, appears to be a hard-wired human attribute. Aggregating responsibility-towards-descendants feelings may be what has traditionally generated interest in the position of future members of a society.

Prior to the welfare state, and to the development of social justice ideologies, public actions motivated by responsibility towards descendants did apparently take place. The Victorians built bridges that were designed to last for hundreds of years, though there was often no obvious incentive for doing so.

After decades of welfare state – and rhetoric about preserving resources for the future – we seem to be behind the Victorians in terms of investment in the long-term future.

It is not in any case clear how a society could have a motive to behave more responsibly towards its future members than is generated by innate responsibility feelings towards descendants. Because the elite produces arguments for why one should feel responsible? People’s choices will still reflect what they perceive to be their own interests.

One can, however, see how hard-wired concern for future generations might be negatively impacted by policies. The existence of state medical and education systems, purporting to cater for everyone, means that each individual has fewer resources available to devote to interest in his descendants. The reallocation of resources means he is liable to assume that responsibility towards descendants has also been reallocated – without this assumption necessarily being justified.

Compared to aggregated individual actions, it seems collectivised action is likely to be less motivated by interest in the future, not more. Collectivised action is subject to ‘democratic’ control, and voting is notoriously conducive to short-termism.

06 October 2017



“Perhaps there are those who are able to go about their lives unfettered by such concerns.

But for those like us, our fate is to face the world as orphans, chasing through long years the shadows of vanished parents.

There is nothing for it but to try and see through our missions to the end, as best we can, for until we do so, we will be permitted no calm.”

Christopher in Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans

30 September 2017

‘Fairness’ and the triple lock

Part 2 of Intergenerational Hogwash is on the website:

‘fairness’ and the triple lock

22 September 2017

Revolution - II

Manners are flouted and customs broken. Foul language and direct insult become normal, in keeping with the rest of the excitement ... Printed sheets pass from hand to hand and are read with delight or outrage — Listen to this! Angry debates multiply about things long settled.

A curious levelling takes place: the common people learn words and ideas hitherto not familiar and not interesting and discuss them like intellectuals, while others neglect their usual concerns — art, philosophy, scholarship — because there is only one compelling topic, the revolutionary Idea ...

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence

15 September 2017

The Book of Strange New Things

As an illustration of my point that ‘trash’ can be entertaining, so long as it doesn’t have ideas above its station, consider another product from the Amazon stable, Preacher. This is based on a graphic novel series from the 1990s, and has been cleverly adapted for the small screen. Provided one’s expectations are low — as mine usually are these days — it is an enjoyable romp and doesn’t leave too much collateral brain damage in its wake.

There are two main problems with most movie and TV products currently coming out of the Anglophone world.
(1) They are dumb, and suffer from cartoonisation. (By this I mean the process by which something that starts out not being a cartoon is transformed into something that has most of the qualities of one.) Watching them is liable to make one’s IQ level drop several points, at least temporarily.
(2) They contain ideological subtext at an intensity level that is irritating.

The pilot episode of Oasis, another Amazon product which I recently had the chance to see, is significantly lacking in both these flaws. It’s visually sharp but without the style-over-substance characteristic which usually goes with that, i.e. camera and cutting work that is distractingly jazzy. This gives it a relatively cool and relaxed feel — unusual for a sci-fi product.

Oasis is based on The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, author of The Crimson Petal and the White. The latter was turned into a BBC television series in 2011 which, while relatively low on defect (1), collapsed under the weight of the other problem. The viewer was made more aware of the currently fashionable model of Victorian society (dark, hypocritical, perverted, etc) than of the psychology of the characters.

07 September 2017

Intergenerational hogwash

The new article is on the website.

intergenerational hogwash

Part 2 is in preparation.

31 August 2017

coming soon

Scheduled publication date for new article on website:
Sunday 3 September.

25 August 2017


An article, on the topic of scapegoating, is in preparation.
Meanwhile please enjoy the following.


Carefully strained to create a delicious, silky texture, it’s free of fat, reduced sugar, but high in protein.
... it’s free of fat, has reduced sugar, but is high in protein.

... it’s free of fat, reduced in sugar, but high in protein.

(label, Arla Foods’ “Skyr” Icelandic-style yogurt drink)

18 August 2017

Revolution - I

How a revolution erupts from a commonplace event — tidal wave from a ripple — is cause for endless astonishment ...

First, a piece of news about something said or done travels quickly, more so than usual, because it is uniquely apt; it fits a half-conscious mood or caps a situation ... The fact and the challenger’s name generate rumour, exaggeration, misunderstanding, falsehood. People ask each other what is true and what it means. The atmosphere becomes electric, the sense of time changes, grows rapid; a vague future seems nearer ...

As further news spreads, various types of people become aroused for or against the thing now upsetting everybody’s daily life ... ardent youths full of hope as they catch the drift of the idea, rowdies looking for fun, and characters with a grudge. Cranks and tolerated lunatics come out of houses, criminals out of hideouts, and all assert themselves.

Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence

11 August 2017

Foreign aid

While on the subject, here is another suggestion for donations to finance a website that is — at least in part — very useful.

(Such donations are likely to form an important part of the new economy, in which most cultural output is delivered via the web, and much of it is ‘free’.)

I never thought I would find myself saying this, but: why not donate to The Guardian. True, its articles often set one’s teeth on edge. Nevertheless, it is often the first port of call for researching cultural topics, not counting Wikipedia.

As the newspaper points out,

unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can.
When I last heard anything about it, this strategy was generating losses, so donations may be essential if their open-journalism model is to continue.

Here is the link for their donations page.

04 August 2017

Wikipedia: best thing since sliced bread?

Wikipedia is an extraordinarily useful resource.

Sure, it suffers from occasional errors. And its articles about living persons need to be treated with caution. But in the fields of science and general knowledge it is an unparalleled source of information.

Founder Jimmy Wales had the vision to progress the Wikimedia project through the early years, in spite of its detractors, a remarkable achievement. While Google, Facebook etc. honchos garnered zillions, Wales’s involvement has not made him a rich man.

Mr Wales is asking users to make a donation to Wikimedia. He says that if everyone currently visiting Wikipedia gave 2 pounds, they could keep it “thriving for years to come”.

Please make a small donation now, e.g. GBP5 / EUR10 / USD10. If you have Paypal it only takes a minute.

To paraphrase Sir Geldof, jolly well go and do it now.

Gregory Kohs has sent me a link to an interesting article highlighting some of the weaknesses of Wikipedia.
Wikipedia cannot be treated as an authoritative source. Despite that it is tremendously useful, in my opinion.
One has to maintain a critical attitude to what one is reading and remember it might be wrong.
This is true of anything published on the web and, indeed, anything published by a university.

28 July 2017

Thank you for letting us extract your phone number!

So, I get this email from The Economist.
Claim your complimentary print copy, inside!
I know this sort of thing is often a scam. But it is The Economist, right?
Yes, technically the email comes from iberuss.com, which seems spammish, but the link you click on takes you to a web form at economist.com.
It all looks respectable and not like spam usually does.
No doubt The Economist wants to bombard you with marketing emails, as the price for your print copy, but I am potentially willing to pay that price.
Please enter your title, first name and surname.
Fair enough.
Please enter your email address.
You already have that. It can’t do much harm giving it again.
Please enter your phone number.
Less keen on that one. But okay, in exchange for a free print copy I’ll give you one of my mobile numbers. To be honest, I tend not to answer it unless I know who’s calling.
Thank you for giving us your details! Goodbye!
All right, it doesn’t say “goodbye”. But that does seem to be the end of the process.
No more links to click on.
I thought I would be asked for a mailing address so I could be sent the alleged free print copy.
But unless they are going to deliver it by means of flying drone homing in on my mobile phone location, I seem unlikely to get it.
The Economist must be getting a bit desperate if it’s having to resort to dodgy marketing tactics like this.

21 July 2017


Ich habe eine Frage für deutschsprechende Leser. Ich suche Informationen über russische oder ukrainische Kriegsgefangene und Zwangsarbeiter in Eisenach in 1940. Ich habe vor kurzem gelernt, dass mein Großvater möglicherweise einer von diesen Gefangenen war.

Der Wikipedia Artikel über Eisenach erklärt ein bisschen von der Geschichte.

Wenn jemand — vielleicht ein noch lebender Sohn oder Tochter einer der Zwangsarbeiter — Kenntnisse von der Episode hat, die Hinweise zum Schicksal meines Großvaters geben könnte, würde ich gern davon hören. Bitte benutzen Sie das “Contact” email im Sidebar.

Ich entschuldige mich für mein nicht perfektes Deutsch.

14 July 2017

spellcheck #4

Another one from the S C Johnson stable. They make great cleaning products; could they not find a way to reliably cleanse their labels of typos and other bloopers?

Do not use on self-cleaning ovens, microwave ovens, hot ovens, exterior surfaces, chrome, aluminium, zinc, cooper, plastic or polished/lacquered surfaces.