At the End of the Day

I spent part of this evening with two lifelong socialists, whom I increasingly count among my closest friends. However, when it comes to political theory, mutual agreement to differ has always been the order of the day.

This doesn’t seem to have harmed the relationship in any way…and more and more, I understand why. Although a lot of MPs I’ve met talk in a vague manner about why they often get on well with MP’s from The Other Lot, as often as not the word ‘clubbable’ comes up sooner or later as a description of the House of Commons. But what I’ve come to realise over the years is that the role of subsidised alcohol in the Members’ Bar has a lot to do with this false bonhommie – that, and twenty years of backbenchers getting nowhere, losing belief, and gradually drifting over towards the soft centre. The last stage in this deadly process is a seat in the Lords, where all Party differences become muddled in a blur of self-obsessed dementia.

The bond I have with my two Leftie chums is something quite different. First and foremost, we have interests outside of politics: they have art, I have writing, and both ‘sides’ have a love of France. Second, there’s a shared sense of anarchic humour there that’s hard to find in these times of people brought up on robotic sitcoms. But way beyond any of these factors is a shared commitment to decency.

One of the yawning canyons between our respective socio-political outlooks is their belief in a beneficent State, and my conviction that every State inevitably degrades into corruption and turf wars about ‘Jobs for the Boys’. However, on discussing David Cameron and Ed Miliband tonight, it was a matter of some three minutes before we all agreed heartily that neither of these Men of Straw is even remotely likely to tackle the cultural problems Britain (indeed the entire western world) faces.

Culture, decency, and responsibility are – to our allegedly separated minds – infinitely better than gratification, profits, and blame. And as we talked this evening, I was reminded yet again of how it is only the Stalinist Left and the neocon Right who stop politics returning to something positive: that is to say, people of differing ideas working creatively on their versions of how to wind up with a society where the best balance between State help and personal responsibility can be achieved.

This is not the fruitless search for Utopia: that quest is based on the crazy idea that Homo sapiens is anywhere near either perfect or evil. Rather, it harks back directly to the ideas of Jeremy Bentham – ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Bentham’s idea of social contentment was naive in the extreme, but his belief that the human race was neither Hobbesian nor Marxist (before Marx was born) was spot on.

Political consensus is a dangerous thing, but cultural consensus isn’t. The cultural consensus most of us accept is that stable communities, gainfully employed citizens, and One Rule of Law are infinitely more important than shareholder dividends and political correctness. It is why most of us reject multiculturalism, neocon economics and Soviet-style authoritarianism.

Somehow, in some way, the West needs to rediscover – and update – the vibrancy and certainty that pertained during the middle years of the twentieth century….when agreement about a better future and a fair now was near ubiquitous.

I’ve been flogging Radical Realism here at The Slog for two years now. But I wonder: is Creative Realism nearer to the mark? An outlook that rejects the formulaic, unaltered ideas of the past in favour of the application of ingenuity to ethical principles in the future?

No doubt the comment threads will let me know one oway or another.

This is, by the way, the 200th At the End of the Day. Wouldn’t it be nice if it changed enough minds to improve the experience that lies ahead of us?

26 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

  1. I read this comment a while ago in the Telegraph and I was impressed enough to save it. As a summary of socialism it takes some beating and I hope I won’t bore everyone by quoting it here:

    “There is a great moral evil at the heart of the socialist vision. It declares that a fairer, happier society can be achieved if the entire nation is conscripted into a great collective effort, the fruits of which are allocated according to individual need, rather than individual achievement.

    Setting aside its obvious fallaciousness, this vision offers no voluntary participation. It does not ask whether you wish to join this great endeavour – whether you’d rather take your chances and test your own abilities, rather than accepting your share of the collective effort. It demands that everyone set aside their personal preferences and give themselves over to the cause.

    This assumes that individuals are not sovereign beings. Instead, they are the property of the state. Their ambitions, abilities and efforts can only be used in its service for the benefit of the rest of society.

    I consider this a fundamentally immoral attitude, but lefties just shrug. They can’t see the problem. The sanctity of individual freedom just doesn’t register with them as mattering. They normally trot out some trite comment about how people are born into a society to which they already owe a debt, and which continues to help them throughout their lives, and for this reason they have no right to consider their life to be truly their own.

    But any society that provides an infrastructure that benefits future generations, then uses it as a stick to beat them, is a tyranny – as is a society that demands anything more than a small amount of tax to maintain that infrastructure during a person’s working life. Payment of tax is not voluntary and most government policy is not subject to individual consent. To coerce money from people, to spend it on things without their consent, and then to blackmail them into giving up their liberties in exchange is not liberal democracy – it’s a protection racket.

    If people want to give to charity, and to support their friends and neighbours, then that’s fine and admirable. If they want to organise voluntary organisations to help others or pay extra tax to the government to fund benevolent causes, then that’s fine too. As long as it’s their money and their choice. The moment they start demanding other people’s money without their consent, they cross the line.

    If you disagree, if you think that everyone should be forced to pay towards causes you consider worthy, then at least have the balls to admit that you are no friend of freedom. You are a fascist, pure and simple”.

    Sorry if this offends your socialist friends John … and I have socialist friends too :-) Funnily enough, one of them is the most iconoclastic, self-reliant independent souls I have ever met. Ex-2 Para and 22 Regiment, does not suffer fools gladly, and would cheerfully throttle Blair, Balls et al as being pretentious tw@ts of the first water; but a redistributionist to his boots and would give – and has given – the shirt from his back to someone in need. He is my chum and, I suspect, the better man.

    • One could object at great length to the huge distortion and either/or simplifications of the Telegraph comment you quote with such approval. But let’s keep it short: “No man is an island ….”

      • No man is an island … but so many of them are fools. By all means teach them to be less foolish, but it seems perverse to encourage them with misplaced kindness.

    • With all due respect Caratacus, the idea that the State should control everything is not one which every socialist shares. Just as there are differing interpretations of how capitalism should be run so there are as regards socialism – the original Labour party’s socialism was influenced far more by religious belief than it was Marx. We forget also the co-operative movement and the Anarchists and the Anarcho-syndicalists.

      I don’t support the Socialist Workers Party but way back in the 50s they did register their opposition to the way the USSR was constituted. And Chomsky gave a good talk a while ago about how the USSR was always destined to be a dictatorial regime once Trotsky and Lenin got in and closed the workers’ councils in 1917.

      “this vision offers no voluntary participation.” Well, there isn’t much that is voluntary for billions of people around the world in their participation in the capitalist system.

      I have always seen Marx more as a critique than an answer btw. He spent most of his life writing about the workings of capitalism and very little about what the solutions might be. I’m not sure he thought human beings were perfectly good and altruistic. Aside from describing capitalisms inherent tendency to crisis, he was really interested in exploring the power-relationships it produces – to put it (too) simply, people either sell their labour in order to live or they buy it from others in order to make more money. The enclosure of the common land and the denial of access to natural resources means that we have little choice but to sell our labour on terms which very often we may not like.

      Of course thanks to the gains made by the Labour movement over the last century the power relationships in the world today have become much more complicated and so while I may hold my current employer in contempt, I have great respect for others who I have worked for in the past. There are innumerable trade-offs in this thing we call life.

      All that said, while I don’t share all JW’s prescriptions – I am glad to see his support for the mutual model. The co-operative / mutual principle seems to me to be able to square so many of the inherent tensions in our current economic system. It provides for autonomy, shared responsibility, more equal participation in decision making and greater transparency. It cuts out the bureaucrats and the extractors. Let’s get behind it.

  2. You have indeed been banging on about Radical Realism for a while but (as befits a man of your former profession) it’s really no more than a snappy (sort of) slogan without content or substance.

    And if you’re arguing that the post war consensus (which culminated in the industrial, political, financial and social chaos of the 70′s) was a good thing , then I’d argue that it you who needs a major dose of realism, radical or otherwise.

    • Always glad to hear more from the bigoted Left, Ed. Advertising creates productive jobs and improves the level of media entertainment. Saying – in the context of literally hundreds of Slogposts explaining it – that RR is ‘no more than a snappy (sort of) slogan without content or substance’ – suggests a train of lazy, blinkered and fascist thought.
      I envy you your altered reality.

  3. John, I’m new to your very interesting site. Could you possibly write an entry which describes in some detail “the experience that lies ahead of us” ? Thanks.

    • JimC
      Er…’in some detail’ is a bit of a tall order. If I knew that Jim, I’d know how to stop it.
      What I can continue to do, however, is offer accessible clues about what that experience is likely to be in the posts here.
      In a general sense, I could summarise it as ‘A transfer of sovereign power from democratic politics to autocratic and monopolistic business, alongside the removal of all consumer or voter power to offer resistance’.
      The key functions implicated in that process are, to my mind, banks, multinationals, mega-media corporations, and political whores. But I do not see any of this a demonic global conspiracy: rather, I view it as the inevitable result of a world in which Dr Jekyll has been given free rein to behave ike Mr Hyde.

  4. So much here, John, that I nearly agree with but don’t. You’re right about Bentham, though it takes someone with Asberger’s to believe you quantify maixxa and minima pain and pleasure and equate that with contentment. However, as a guideline for measuring how moral or immoral laws are, it is a starting point (but very easily twistable into a Stalinist denial of individual freedoms.

    An important point of info: I can only assume your understanding of what constitutes “multiculturalism” si diametrically opposite to mine. What do Y’O’U mean by it?

  5. Personally I think I am a half breed neither left nor right. About puts me in the middle and moderate in all things and this inludes being far right or left.

    I like the term “creative realism” = “creative with a mindset to overcome” the “problems shown by realism”. Making do would be a poorer persons way of looking at it but it save a shed load of money in the process that I would never give up.

    • “moderate in all things and this inludes being far right or left”

      Sounds very wishy-washy. You may be moderate in most things, but immoderately so. Moderation should be proclaimed but only in moderation

  6. You and your lefty pals may agree that decency trumps other virtues, though competence should not be ignored in identifying desirable characteristics of leaders. . I find it surprising that they – or even you – think Dave Macaroon is decent in the way that Ed Moribund appears to be.
    I’d rather be with a nerd than a Flashman

  7. We have been subsumed by materialism.Moses was given the 10 Commandments etched in stone.These Commandments were meant for posterity.
    The powers that be have now paraphrased the 10 Commandments to just 2 Commandments.
    To attain utopia, or as we call it in India,nirvana, we need to go back to first principles.

  8. agree with the premise of the post. This is pretty much what I was trying to get to yesterday with my comment that “we need to remember who we are and where we cam from” – or words to that effect.

    • domesticextremist: “There is no left and right anymore. It is the individual against the corporations and our polis are on their side.”

      Dead on. Corporations and Government versus the common man/woman is the new political divide.

  9. ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’….

    So lets put that to a simple test.
    2 men are stranded on a desert island. Both are fit and healthy. There is no obvious food on the island.
    While one tans himself while moaning about the situation, the other finds a long sharp stick, and wades into the water to try and spear a fish. After many hours he comes back with one. What should he do with it?
    The next day, he has really got the knack of it, and comes back with 10 fish, far more than he can eat. What should he do with them, bearing in mind the other guy, still not having done anything, is starving hungry?

    • Ha ha you know the answer dont you. Bury them quickly before the predators are attracted by the smell and not only eat his fish but both of them too. Hmmm…sounds familiar…

    • If he is unhappy supplying his lazy brethren then that makes 1 happy 1 unhappy whether he gives over his fish or not. Either way someone wins, someone loses. 50% happiness.

      If he feeds his friend then it is unlikely this situation will ever change – why should the other man ever bother ? 50% happiness forever.

      If he doesn’t feed him then maybe the other man will get off his lazy backside and learn to fish. Then they can co-operate and maybe take it in turns. 2 happy people as a result. 100% happiness.

      If he doesn’t feed then other man and the other man refuses to help then he will starve and die. That leaves 1 happy man fishing. 100% happiness.

      Maximum happiness means you don’t help those unwilling to help themselves.

      • And it also means that you do should try and help (especially after you ‘ve solved your critical/survival issues) those who are willing to help themshelves. (that’s 100% hapiness too).

    • Trader

      Yes, but we’re not in a world where realism is of paramount importance. To many, what is real must somehow be fitted in to what is perceived to be the case. So, for example, if the US Libyan Ambassador was killed by Al Qaeda, what matters is that this reality is not what the general public gets to believe, since it’s important that they believe the Obama claims that Al Qaeda is a thing of the past. The perception about what Al Qaeda now is, and how US and other countries’ determination has led to its utter defeat, is considered to be more important than the REALITY of how it now is, and the limited success that US determination has had.

      No change will happen until we learn again to respect truth and reality, and to realise that living in a world of perception is something for children, not for grown-ups.

  10. Realism comes at too high a price for most people I know these days, it is a complete stranger to the gin-soaked,addled brained twerps at Westminster.
    Most people want decency, but the absence of it doesn’t seem to bother them. Perhaps if the economy falls off a cliff any sort of realism will make a comeback, but I won’t be holding my breath.

  11. I have always assumed we are from the animal kingdom, subject to the laws of nature. Whilst we might be confident enough to think we rule the earth as dominant species, of course we are not. We may have pretensions to harness nature to our command, but I suspect we are way too dumb.
    Accordingly we must respect the way this planet operates; it operates -not as survival of the fittest- but as survival of the fortunate few of a million variations, who then adapt and recover. Our species needs complete variety in all things; if we have any hope to make it to a billion years as a species, we cannot predict how the planet will change over coming millenia to know how to adapt (and it sure ain’t with plastic surgery), so we need to have as many of us as different as we can.
    We need smart, thick, fat thin, white, black, slow fast, male female, even gay straight; we need esoterics and journeymen, we need greedy and selfless, we may even need atheists and religious fanatics for all I know.
    What we do not need, is one size fits all and one system we all bow to.

    So I fight for freedom to make my own choices. Me and my wee tribe.

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