Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Youthful Voting

Chatter turns once again to the question of lowering the age at which a citizen is entitled to vote. Apparently it has come to the notice of some that, by age sixteen, the average youth in this land has tempered his fancies, and tamed his passions, and become sufficiently knowledgeable and wise in the ways of the world, not just in experience, but in education, — having of course left his excellent state-run school with a basic but firm grasp of history, science, mathematics, reading and writing, and so on, — to help in his small way to guide government policy on a sane and beneficent course, without his being easy prey to manipulation and fantastic promises and stupid but appealing ideas, and, on that account, it is felt that “there must . . . be a formal recognition that young people are, in the main, mature and responsible citizens and entitled to respect as such.” [1] Well, it’s all mad-hopeful and politically-induced drivel, of course — “mature and responsible citizens” does not in the main describe even the adults — but I don’t suppose a greater number of irresponsible voters would trouble a government whose blind instincts are in any case for power rather than anything else; for they are grist to its mill.
[1] Jonathan Pyke, “Let age be no barrierComment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 24th July 2007. (I made the mistake a few weeks ago of watching Question Time, the invited audience of which on that occasion was composed exclusively of various individuals of the species Homo adolescens. I was interested to observe that they whooped like monkeys.)

Friday, 6 July 2007

A Sunday Meeting

Anyone stuck for something to do this weekend might consider attending a meeting of The Stalin Society. It will take place in Birmingham on Sunday the 8th of July from 1pm to 4pm at Café One. A talk will be given by Carlos Rule on How the Soviet Union prepared for the Nazi Invasion:

“Carlos Rule will counter the bourgeois slander that the Soviet Union had not been prepared for the Nazi invasion of 1941.” [1]

No doubt speculation that one’s time and historical understanding would be better served by staying in bed all day, or by toddling off to the park in a seizure of boredom to throw bread at ducks, is bourgeois slander of the worst kind.


Originality has in many ways become “the intellectual pest of our time” [1]. The paramount desire for originality means that truth is of secondary concern, and in some cases, of no concern at all. A man beset thereby seeks to establish his extraordinariness, and, in striving thereafter, he may even refuse to recognise truth too ordinary for his purpose.
It is the most foolish of all errors for young people of good intelligence to imagine that they will forfeit their originality if they acknowledge truth already acknowledged by others. [2]
Striving after originality gives off a reek of desperate mediocrity. [3] If that were its sole result, however, then we should live quite peaceably with pinched and pegged noses; but the fact is that it gives rise also to the silliest conceptions, which have nothing to recommend them and would not be set in print, were it not that they drew attention to the author’s standing as above that of the ordinary man.
Whatever has the air of a paradox, and is contrary to the first and most unprejudiced notions of mankind, is often greedily embraced by philosophers, as shewing the superiority of their science, which cou’d discover opinions so remote from vulgar conception. [4]
It is on account of the esteemed and almost mythic status that geniuses have attained — and on account of all the popular stories told about them which ignore the graft and the strict mastery and which concentrate instead on the fancies and oddities — that there are now so many men who, though possessing no rare talent or sensibility, let alone genius, declare themselves dissatisfied with the boundaries of their discipline, and who thereupon proceed to “transgress the boundaries” with all the grace and intelligence of a gas escaping from a swamp.
[1] [“die jetzige geistige Pest”.] Jacob Burckhardt, Weltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen (Krefeld: Scerpe-Verlag, 1948), p.132.
[2] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections, tr. E.Stopp (London: Penguin Books, 1998), §.254, p.29.
[3] “One must possess originality, not ‘strive for it’.” [“Originalität muß man haben, nicht ‘danach streben’.”] Jacob Burckhardt, op.cit., p.133.
[4] David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (New York: Dover Publications, 2003), p.19. “The essential thing is not that there be many truths in a work, but that no truth be abused.” Joseph Joubert, The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert, tr. P. Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005), Year 1787, p.10.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Hi-Tech Shar’iah

“We set out to prove that computer crime with its high technology is not entirely a new type of crime that needs a new Islamic theory and thus is already covered by the general Islamic Shar’iah laws.”
Mansoor Al-A’ali, “Computer Crime and the Law from an Islamic Point of View”, Journal of Applied Sciences, Vol.7:12, 2007.

On the Just Deserts for Stealing Trifles from Natives

“Be very severe if any of your own party steal trifles from natives: order double or treble retribution, if the man does not know better; and, if he does, a flogging besides, and not in place of it.”

Francis Galton, The Art of Travel, or Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries, 5th ed., 1872 (London: Phoenix Press, 2000), p.309.

A New Language

“Gordon Brown’s assertion that the latest terrorists are ‘evil’ recalls George Bush’s notorious axis. . . . If he truly desires change, fresh international dialogue and enhanced national security, it is imperative that he find a new language to express his ideas.” [1]
Would it be better if we described only as bad, misguided, or a wee bit naughty persons who wished to commit mass-murder and spread terror? I myself cannot see how the word “evil” [2] — in the sense of moral wickedness — is misapplied to such persons. Happen I am not so warm and sensitive as our author, nor so prone to the belief that the world will be set aright through the mad insistence that we find a new language by which we should fail to describe it.
[1] Dr Jan Tate, Letter to The Guardian, 3rd July 2007. In a similar vein, cf.: “It is deeply unhelpful for news networks to breathlessly report that the Glasgow attackers were ‘Asian-looking men’.” Josh Freedman Berthoud, “Dangerous little words”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 1st July 2007. (From the context, I have trouble understanding the meaning of the phrase “deeply unhelpful”. Does it mean what it normally means? Is it even English, or some homoplasy?)
[2] The Online Etymological Dictionary has the following entry for evil: O.E. yfel (Kentish evel) “bad, vicious,” from P.Gmc. *ubilaz (cf. O.Saxon ubil, Goth. ubils), from PIE *upelo-, giving the word an original sense of “uppity, overreaching bounds” which slowly worsened. “In OE., as in all the other early Teut. langs., exc. Scandinavian, this word is the most comprehensive adjectival expression of disapproval, dislike or disparagement” [OED]. Evil was the word the Anglo-Saxons used where we would use bad, cruel, unskillful, defective (adj.), or harm, crime, misfortune, disease. The meaning “extreme moral wickedness” was in O.E., but did not become the main sense until 18c. Evil eye (L. oculus malus) was O.E. eage yfel.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Other Idols

On account of the post-war economic strength of Japan, Eric Falkenstein finds it quite silly that Japanese soldiers killed themselves when faced with defeat by the United States in the Second World War.
After watching the movie where the Japanese soldiers were in effect committing suicide on the basis that life would be intolerable if the Americans won, when in fact Japan prospered after WW2, reminded me of the general mistakes people have on the big picture. [1]
Mr Falkenstein makes the mistake of projecting his own interests onto others, and it is unsurprising therefore that he finds their deeds silly.
.....If those Japanese soldiers had been fighting for an economic prosperity within an Americanised society, such as that which exists in Japan today, then their beliefs about the intolerability of Japan in the future would have been false, given that they would have found tolerable what they found desirable; moreover their fighting against the power which would beget such a society would have been irrational; and their suicides in vain. But of course they were fighting for no such thing.
.....Many committed suicide in accordance with a code of honour and in the belief that the order to which they had sworn themselves — which they loved and to which they had devoted their lives — was to be destroyed, an event that has largely come to pass. The Japan that has prospered after the war is a very different Japan; and thus the belief that life would be intolerable if the Americans won was true precisely for those to whom the ensuing society would have been intolerable. Make of that what you will, but understand thereby that not everyone has Mammon for his idol, and not everyone makes his sacrifices thereto.
[1] Eric Falkenstein, “Conventional Wisdom of Future Usually Wrong”, Mahalanobis (Weblog), 1st July 2007, via Tim Worstall, “Quote of the Day”, Tim Worstall (Weblog), 2nd July 2007. (At the risk of being accused of pedantry or churlishness, but to the benefit of a language in which we are all fallible, I must note that the sentence “After watching the movie. . ., reminded me of . . .” is incorrect.)

Friday, 29 June 2007


“It is now found that the thoughts and moods that you have can affect how water crystallizes.” [1] Indeed the ice-cubes in my freezer are there because of the thought that I shall often be in the mood to drop one or two into a stiff drink after having read something in an academic journal.

[1] Müjde Ker-Dincer, “Educators Role as Spiritually Intelligent Leaders in Educational Institutions”, International Journal of Human Sciences, Vol.4:1, 2007.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

The Temptation of Present Interest

“Men, ’tis true, are always much inclin’d to prefer present interest to distant and remote; nor is it easy for them to resist the temptation of any advantage, that they may immediately enjoy, in apprehension of an evil, that lies at a distance from them.”
David Hume, “Of the Source of Allegiance”, A Treatise of Human Nature (New York: Dover Publications, 2003), section VIII, p.19

The Status of Poetry

The status of poetry has changed much over the ages, from its high rank of old as divinely-inspired speech and a repository of wisdom, to its broadly-viewed standing of today as a diversion of little consequence, seen often rightly as the dreary output of effete pretenders and vapid yappers, such that:
An announcement that a poetry-reading is about to take place will empty a room quicker than a water-cannon. [1]
This decline of status is owed mostly, I believe, to the pragmatic and popular age in which we live, which rates utility above all and which deems poetry an undisciplined art to which anyone may turn a free hand.
Parents who notice that their boy intends to be a poet should thrash him until he gives up his versifying — or until he becomes a real poet. [2]
As with all things, if poetry is to be worthwhile, a little discipline and drilling — Zucht und Züchtung — wouldn’t go amiss.
[1] David Stove, “The Oracles and their Cessation: A Tribute to Julian Jaynes”, Cricket versus Republicanism (Sydney: Quakers Hill Press, 1995), p.127.
[2] G.C. Lichtenberg, quoted by Carl Brinitzer, A Reasonable Rebel: Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, tr., B. Smith (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960), p.107.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Scattered Seeds

“When once incomprehensibility of speech was introduced by Fichte and the semblance of profundity was put in place of thought, the seeds were scattered which were to result in one corruption after another and finally in the complete demoralization of philosophy and thus of the whole of literature, which has arisen in our day.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, “Fragments for the History of Philosophy”, Parerga and Paralipomena, vol.1, tr. by E.F.J. Payne, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.96.

No Tyranny so Hateful

“There is no tyranny so hateful as a vulgar and anonymous tyranny. It is all-permeating, all-thwarting; it blasts every budding novelty and sprig of genius with its omnipresent and fierce stupidity. Such a headless people has the mind of a worm and the claws of a dragon. Anyone would be a hero who should quell the monster.”

George Santayana, The Life of Reason (New York: Prometheus Books, 1998), p.145.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Trouble with Honours

Apparently the chaps who made Salman Rushdie a Sir had not taken into consideration the touchiness of the Islamic world, an oversight that has been a spark to primed and paraffin-soaked sensibilities. Therewith speak up the sons of these shores who believe our duty is to dampen our words and deeds so as not to set off so volatile a material.
Sir: Did the genius who recommended Salman Rushdie for a knighthood not realise the offence it would cause to the Muslim world after the Satanic Verses debacle? And exactly why did he get a knighthood, as he has done nothing for Britain other than cost the taxpayer a fortune in police protection for writing a book the majority never read? [1]
Should the British Establishment seek the approval of Pakistan or Iran for the honours it bestows? I think not; for it is the business of that Establishment to decide without consideration of foreign threat or favour who is worthy of its honours; and what a business it is! A man may be deemed worthy to be a Knight of the Realm for all manner of services: from selling vast quantities of tat (Sir Alan Sugar) to singing and playing the piano like a music-hall queen (Sir Elton John). Tsk.

[1] P. Cresswell, Letter to The Independent, 20th June 2007.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Poor Fatsoes

At times the world must seem to the ideologue to be full of the most oblique and inexpedient occurrences requiring the most oblique and expedient explanations. Imagine, for a humble instance, being ideologically committed to the idea that there are in modern Britain millions of people living in poverty, and yet discovering that a third of such people are as fat as country-squires. One’s commitment demands that one still see them as poverty-stricken, whilst reality appears to mock the idea. Therewith the ideologue needs to cope, and must employ his explanations to that end, as the following passage demonstrates:
Working-class mothers may not be able to afford to feed their children properly: last month, canvassing on a rundown council estate in South Yorkshire during the local elections, I watched young working-class women collect their children from school and noticed that about a third were morbidly obese, a pattern that was already being replicated in their children. A local councillor told me that the women were too focused on the struggle to survive to worry about weight. [1]
It appears to me to be some kind of queer satire to suggest that the poor cannot afford to be thin, and a still queerer travesty of genuine hardship to suggest that such persons have grown fat because of too great a focus on the struggle to survive. [2] If we are to have a genuine satire of poverty in this land, then let us speak of the struggle to survive a day without chips or chocolate or manifold comforts, or the struggle to get off the sofa to turn the television off; for here poverty is very far from being a great problem, unless we are talking about poverty of spirit or surroundings, in which case we can truly say that poverty is widespread.
[1] Joan Smith, “Children of a lesser nation”, The Independent, 10th June 2007.
[2] One can eat quite healthily for little money if one chooses to do so, certainly for less money than it costs to stuff one’s fat face with fast-food and processed filth; and if one is fat and determined not to be, one could even make a start — and please forgive this radical suggestion — by eating less, and thereby spending less.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

A Broad Competition of Bads

“According to the elitist values of the monarchical system, the most stupid, immoral royal is more fit to be head of state than the wisest, most ethical commoner.” [1]
The hereditary-monarchical system allows in theory that the most stupid, immoral royal can become head of state, whilst the wisest, most ethical commoner cannot. It says nothing of necessity about the hereditary head of state’s fitness for the office apart from the vital matter of his not having attained it in an open competition. Therewith it is instructive to note the very slim chance of a wise, ethical commoner — let alone the wisest, most ethical commoner — ever coming to power through the political competition which obtains under a democracy, since such competition by its very nature is stacked overwhelmingly against such men.
[E]ven if the accident of birth and his upbringing could not preclude that a prince might be bad and dangerous, at the same time the accident of a noble birth and a princely education also did not preclude that he might be a harmless dilettante or even a good and moral person. In contrast, the selection of government rulers by means of popular elections makes it practically impossible that any good or harmless person could ever rise to the top. Prime ministers and presidents are selected for their proven efficiency as morally uninhibited demagogues. Thus, democracy virtually assures that only bad and dangerous men will ever rise to the top of government; indeed, as the result of free political competition and selection, those who rise will become increasingly bad and dangerous individuals, yet as temporary and interchangeable caretakers they will only rarely be assassinated. [2]
The belief that democracy will choose good governors, or be to the public good, may be bolstered by an egoistic and flattering delusion of one’s own role in that choice and by a further and vicariously flattering belief that one’s fellows with whom one identifies will likewise choose wise and ethical governors who would typically forgo immediate political advantage for long-term responsibility. For even if one really is discerning enough to know what a good governor looks like before he assumes the power he seeks, and given that such a man could be found more than once in a million, one’s share in the choice is tiny; and even if one appreciates the insignificance of one’s role, then, to maintain one’s belief in the public good of democracy, one has to believe that one’s fellows are en masse similarly perspicacious to discern a good governor from the charming connivers, manipulators, ne’er-do-wells, narcissists, psychopaths, and ruthless egoists who are typically drawn to power, and who competitively make irresponsible grants and promises to gain it.
[B]y opening the prospect of Power to all the ambitious talents, this arrangement makes the extension of Power much easier. Under the ancien régime, society’s moving spirits, who had, as they knew, no chance of a share of Power, were quick to denounce its smallest encroachment. Now, on the other hand, when everyone is potentially a minister, no one is concerned to cut down an office to which he aspires one day himself, or to put sand in a machine which he means to use himself when his turn comes. Hence it is that there is in the political circles of a modern society a wide complicity in the extension of Power. [3]
Under the nouveau régime, we have a political situation in which there is not only a competition of bads, but a broad competition of bads, wherewith corruption is extended, and wherein resistance to the extension of governmental power is lessened.
[1] Peter Tatchell, “Goodbye to Royalty”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s Weblog), 1st June 2007. (H/T: J.K. Baltzersen, “Peter Tatchell and the Monarchy”, Wilson Revolution Unplugged (Weblog), 2nd June 2007.)
[2] Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “On Monarchy, Democracy, Public Opinion, and Deligitimation”, Democracy: The God that Failed (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2001), pp.88-9; original emphasis. Cf., “From the point of view of those who prefer less exploitation over more and who value farsightedness and individual responsibility above shortsightedness and irresponsibility, the historic transition from monarchy to democracy represents not progress but civilizational decline.” Ibid., p.69.
[3] Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power: The Natural History of its Growth, tr., J.F. Huntington (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1993), p.13. Cf., “From the twelfth to the eighteenth century governmental authority grew continuously. The process was understood by all who saw it happening; it stirred them to incessant protest and to violent reaction.
.....In later times its growth has continued at an accelerated pace, and its extension has brought a corresponding extension of war. And now we no longer understand the process, we no longer protest, we no longer react. This quiescence of ours is a new thing, for which Power has to thank the smoke-screen in which it has wrapped itself. Formerly it could be seen, manifest in the person of the king, who did not disclaim being the master he was, and in whom human passions were discernable. Now, masked in anonymity, it claims to have no existence of its own, and to be but the impersonal and passionless instrument of the general will.” Ibid., pp.12-3.