Better an open-minded system than a blind belief system.
I am often accused of writing about what I don’t want rather than what I do. I’ve never been able to follow that troll line of ‘thinking’, as there are various headings at the top of The Slog, and just the one click on these will explain in detail what I want. But it is in the nature of trolls to insist you occupy a very clear structural functionalist position on all cultural issues: failure to do this, you see, means they have nothing to hate, and/or that I lack conviction because I am neither one thing nor another.
Sadly, this view goes beyond trolls and infects the Believers. These folks are like trolls, except that instead of using streams of bile and multiple exclamation marks, they do at least trot out their chosen polemic, politely explaining at the end why they cannot imagine how anyone could conclude otherwise. As these belief systems are shown over time to be increasingly irrelevant, inaccurate, naïve and then delusional, so too the Believer’s faith becomes stronger.
My problem is that I am a born agnostic. This comes from a lucky right/left brain combo that forces me to both notice flaws, and enjoy the creative process of a new approach. Settled science is an oxymoron, and no enlightenment within the experience of Homo sapiens is ever likely to be The Answer. What I or others think society should do at any given point in time can only ever be the Latest Idea, not the final solution. History shows that certainty among the faithful produces mass slaughter of the innocents.
Today, our economics, politics, and social policies are almost all cul de sacs from which there is no escape; those who support them treat every last piece of evidence that they’re utterly extinct with the insistence that One More Heave will wake them up. It is sometimes amusing, but more often terrifying, to watch.
Austerity followers, Keynesians, Neocon Friedmanites, Muslims, Feminists, liberal educationalists, social workers, dieticians, investment bankers, Tories, Europhiles, Socialists, hangers, financial journalists, human rights lawyers, Nanny legislators, equality obsessives, libertarians, trade union leaders, Catholics, Warmists, Climate change deniers, quantitative easers, floggers, moon landing conspiracists, Harriet Harman, Boris Johnson, Methodists, surgeons, separatist Scots, the BMA, homoaeopaths, sexual orientation fanatics and Birmingham City supporters. What they all have in common is the all-encompassing, cast-iron certainty that they and they alone follow the one true light…..and everything else is simply misguided tosh.
The conundrum here, however, is that they are in turn right about at least one thing. But from this one grain of truth, they conclude that an unbeatable brown-sliced loaf of healthy, nourishing bread can be fashioned. It cannot.
For the purposes of today’s piece, I want to keep things simple, and restrict the demonstration of my thesis to a couple of alleged absolutes that are clearly not at all absolute, or even remotely convincing any more – but which remain close to being religions for their followers: universal equality collectivism, and globalist neocon economics.
Collectivist socialism starts from the twin fantasy that all humans nurture infinite brotherly love for each other, and everyone should have an equal rank in society. Man is a pack animal incapable of resisting the temptation to create hierarchy, and often keen to punish those who get uppity in any way about that idea. In turn, Man is a species whose IQ, metier and chemical brain formulations vary wildly between individuals. So not only does empirical recording make a nonsense of the socialist ideal, anthropology ensures that any attempts at it will fail. From 1789 onwards in modern history, this has without exception been the case. Wherever the socialist cultural and economic model has been applied, the result has been mass executions, imprisonment without trial, perversion of the ideal, imperial hubris, and bloody carnage.
But for all that, the sans culottes, Bolsheviks, postwar Labour Government, and early Cuba of Fidel Castro were right about one thing: the elite was taking the piss, bigtime. Aristocrats, Bourbons, Romanovs and Havana Mobsters got their just desserts, and are not greatly missed by those of sound mind.
I have nothing against elites, by the way. In fact, I’m all for accountable elites whose privileges are deserved. But that was clearly not true of the above examples.
Neocon unregulated globalist economics are equally based on a ridiculously optimistic view of the bigger-brained Homo erectus we laughably refer to as Homo sapiens. The ‘theory’ states that, if left to themselves, most members of a hoarding species with an overactive danger-instinct will not only create positive, moral wealth at all times, but actually trickle the wealth down upon les Miserables, all the time donating vast oceans of philanthropic social guidance to the less fortunate, while paying all their taxes on time and in full to ensure the nearest thing to The Fair Society that can be delivered on this Earth. They will cooperate globally, exporting and importing at all times and in all ways such that perfect interdependence removes the possibility of war permanently, and economies of scale bring prices down and down and down until everyone is well off and satisfied.
It sounds terrific, but any social anthropology primer will tell you that it is utter bollocks; and again, modern history I’m afraid shows that disparities of wealth increase crime, prostitution, social instability, personal anxiety, braindead media, and derivative, stagnating arts output. Above all, the idea that what Man wants above anything else is money and material comfort has been comprehensively disproved in British, Japanese and US studies going back some fifty years or more. Further, persuasive qualitative neuroscience of late suggests a far higher interest in family, children and leisure hobby than office work and money. To be blindingly simple for a second, weekends have not evolved for nothing.
Very recent history also demonstrates across four continents that multinational capitalist business is slow to respond, delusional to a dangerous degree, dishonest at almost every level, ethically bereft among its senior ‘management’, and extremely unlikely to eschew tax evasion, let alone avoidance. Indeed, in 2012 the ideas of Milt Friedman have been disproved on so many dimensions, his followers are of late reduced to quoting the old scoundrel as if he might have been a human fortune cookie.
But here too, Friedman was right about one crucial thing: the day you give the State (or Labour Unions) any responsibility for innovation on a small scale – or running large segments of the economy as a whole – is the day good people will leave for the private sector, all commercial perspective will disappear, and useless senior Mandarins and closet Scottish Communists will aim for maximum structural complexity in order to ensure full employment of, um, senior civil servants and Scottish Communists. In short, Sir Humphrey and Red McLenin will start taking the piss.
Now, if you’ve been reading attentively, the chances are you’ll have spotted the commonality across both these diametrically opposed socio-economic belief systems: the tendency of the powerful to take the piss.
Were you to show your ultimate wisdom and make me Caesar Sloganicus, it is this human tendency I would try not to cure, but to at least control. To aim not for unachievable equality, but equality before the law. To aim not for the doomed idealism of zero privilege, but fully and recognisably earned privilege. To disabuse Union leaders, media oligarchs and bankers of the idea that their influential wealth entitled them to become the Sovereign power in the land. And above all, to make both the political and governmental classes fully accountable for their actions.
And then were you – having observed the outstanding success of these drives – to give me the plebiscitary (and thus fully earned) title of Imperator Sloganicus I, I would enact but one body of legislation.
This would dismiss the idea that either collectivism or globalist deregulation were The Only Alternatives, and instead encourage community entrepreneurial and mutual models to flourish. It would tax multinationals fairly, downsize bourses, ban certain etrading speeds, abolish State ownership, mutualise the Civil Service, remove the nation-State from all commerce, make nationality the key requirement for any media owner, and stop all greenfield building dead in favour of land use for food.
Or put another way, build a balanced, legally competitive, economy with a lower requirement for imports, and near-zero dependence on lavatory paper masquerading as currency. I would argue that a multivariate economy of mixed motives should also produce better life balance, less mercantilist short-termism, a more ethical foreign policy, and reduce crime while increasing the belief in personal responsibility.
I think it would work better than the complete crock we have now, but I couldn’t guarantee that – and I would certainly reject the idea that the result was likely to be Utopian. So after giving it a decade without wreckers and cheats, I’d ask for an objective review, and listen to ideas about how to make it better still.
We learn from our mistakes: politicians go wrong in the 21st Century by pretending they never make any. It wasn’t Galileo or Copernicus that diluted the power of the Church of Rome: it was Rome’s insistence on total belief in what was provably untrue. Unless, next time around, enough people admit that neither collectivism nor bourse-driven speculation has all the answers, the West will decline for all time. 2012 in the US, 2015 in the UK – and probably 2013 in Germany – will be decisive in deciding what happens.
Inflexible, as we have seen from Frau Doktor Merkel’s antics, does not always mean decisive in a positive sense. Better a practical, informed system than a blind belief system.