05 March 2012

weekend notes #9

Once upon a time there was a world which was culturally productive but rather inegalitarian. Then the inhabitants invented ‘social justice’ as a device for legitimising their mutual hostility, and soon things were in a pretty pickle.

• The behaviour of Europe and America towards Iran appears to evince the nanny instincts of the governing classes in those areas.

I have no desire to express a view on whether Iran’s activities in the field of nuclear technology are a ‘bad thing’, but I wonder what purpose is served by wagging fingers, or imposing priggish punishments. Iran obviously thinks its activities are a good thing, and its mind is unlikely to be changed by our trying to take a high moral tone. (Especially not after Iraq and fantasy ‘weapons of mass destruction’.) Such actions — like our heavy-handed attempts to control drug use — are more likely to cause the intended objects of punishment to entrench their positions.

The West likes to believe that, following some kind of pseudo-egalitarian enlightenment, it is now far more sensitive to the viewpoints of other cultures where they differ radically from ours, but its inability to tolerate Iran’s behaviour tells a different story.

• Trying to ensure that people come up with the ‘right’ choices, by tying their hands, or by tying our own, is a regular theme of mediocratic politics. We don’t know what to do any more, or we know it but don’t have the willpower to do it, so let’s (the argument — often unspoken — goes) surrender control to someone else.

Forming a big club of highly diverse countries, with supposedly stringent rules about prudence and forethought, which governments were expected to do all they could to keep, has not worked, even with the (somewhat academic) threat of fines. “I know! Let’s make the inability to deviate from what you should do even more rigid and irreversible!”
[The new treaty] empowers the European Court of Justice as the enforcer of fiscal rectitude in the eurozone, makes it possible to levy quasi-automatic fines against countries in persistent breach of the new rules, and obliges all eurozone countries to introduce binding legislation or constitutional amendments abolishing governments’ rights to run up excessive levels of national debt. [emphasis mine]

“The debt brakes will be binding and valid forever. Never will you be able to change them through a parliamentary majority.” [Angela Merkel]
Signing up to irreversibility is just another form of the “today jam, tomorrow whatever” approach that characterises contemporary economic management. The most notable example of it is of course the irresponsible printing of money, carefully minimising thought about a possible future day of reckoning. No worries.

• For some time I have been pointing to possible parallels with 1930s Europe, a suggestion that has been echoed by other writers.

The similarities seem eerier than ever, now that there is a country — with a history of militarism — having punishing terms imposed on it by its neighbours, while deteriorating economic conditions inside create political instability.

But it is not much good blaming the Germans. A single currency area across the disparities of Nordic, Western, Eastern and Mediterranean was a daft idea which was always going to be as unworkable as welfare statism, in the long run.

• Is the Tea Party movement too shrill for its own good? Yes and no.

On the one hand, it shows some of the unfortunate symptoms displayed by certain other opponents of the left-wing hegemony — of sounding overly aggressive, as though they feel they have to tackle their own leftist prejudices, as well as everyone else’s.

On the other hand, if you are going to bother rivalling the hegemony at all, it is probably better not to take the other popular approach: sounding so half-hearted and defensive about the alternatives that you become a more effective advertisement for the moral correctness of the Left than the Left itself.

As for accusations that the TPM panders to populism, there seem to be only two viable options for politicians in a modern democracy: appeal to the preferences of the mass directly, or claim to be benevolently doing things in their best interests — and I do not see why the former should be thought any more distasteful than the latter.

• If France wants to support the position of Armenians, it should declare an annual Armenia Day, not make ‘denial’ (n√©gationnisme) of Armenian genocide unlawful, as recently drafted laws have attempted to do. Trying to make any kind of speech illegal, particularly when it does not even involve the expression of hostility, can only be regarded as an act of oppression. Of course, France is well known for having the most left-leaning intelligentsia outside a communist country, so perhaps one should not be surprised that it is a leader in the field of thought control.

Pooh-poohing free-speech purism is easy to do, and many people seem to find it more appealing to adopt a ‘sensible’ position (“we must, naturally, have a certain amount of free speech”). It will be noted, however, that those who seek to stifle free speech behave as if legitimate passion is exclusively on their side. Responding with efforts to appear balanced and moderate is therefore — apart from being lazy — likely to be ineffectual.

Posturing by conceited bourgeois intellectuals in pseudo-identification with huddled masses, and the expression of this in ways that are damaging or destructive, is not confined to the French. It is a common characteristic of the global il-liberal elite. Concerning the Arab Spring, for example, one has yet to see any net benefit from our interventions on behalf of the ‘right’ side, either to ourselves or to the countries in question.

I suppose one of the arguments in favour of anti-denial laws that is becoming increasingly relevant is that the average person is thought to be too stupid, or too atrociously educated, to be able to tell fact from fiction. A poor argument indeed. If state intervention is dumbing down the population, via ‘education’ and gene pool distortion, the remedy should certainly not include battling stupidity by means of the criminalisation of ‘falsehood’ (as defined by a paternalistic elite).

It has been suggested that part of the motivation for trying to get the new denial law passed, a few months before French elections, is to aid the pro-Sarkozy campaign. It certainly seems as if all the stops are being pulled out in this regard. One can only assume that it is somehow in everyone’s best interests for M. Sarkozy to continue for another five years, seeing that Germany’s leader and even our own premier have been kind enough to canvass on his behalf.

• Blogging this year will be on the light side, as we are busy with expansionist plans.

I am an unsalaried academic. Like my colleagues at Oxford Forum, I am excluded from the present academic system because that system primarily rewards vacuous reproduction of stale paradigms and ideologically palatable theories.

I am therefore unable to write in detail about intellectual issues to which I could be contributing, and have to limit myself to brief blog comments on topics of interest to the general reader, while I struggle to support myself and my fellow outcasts.

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