Friday, 13 April 2018

Puttin' on the black shirt

Until relatively recently I thought that antisemitism was more or less dead in Britain. Popular fiction from before 1939 regularly contains the sort of casual unpleasant remarks about Jewish people that are rarely heard in public nowadays. Oswald Mosley and his Fascist thugs lost the Battle of Cable Street because the Left and the Jews united to defend the East End from the Blackshirts. This more or less killed off the Far Right in Britain.

The films that were shown after the war depicting the endpoint of antisemitism made most people realise the consequences of those casual nasty remarks.  Decent people made them less often if at all. A few years ago I would have thought antisemitism in Britain was something you find only in antiquarian books. But a new strain of the old disease has proved contagious, only this time the Anti-Semites don’t wear black shirts. They deny that they have anything against Jews, which is a far cleverer way to be anti-Semitic than to be open about it. It’s not the Far-Right that threatens Jews in Britain. The Far-Left which once joined with Jews to defeat British fascists has now metaphorically put on Mosley’s uniform and resurrected a hatred and perhaps a party which it once helped to bury.

There was never that much difference between the Far-Right and the Far-Left. Just like going round the equator, if you go far enough to the left you meet someone who has gone far enough to the right. National Socialism becomes communism by adding the prefix “inter”. Hostility to Jews was common in the Soviet Union and at various times there were purges of Jews just as in the old days there had been pogroms.

Old style casual antisemitism is still common in Russia. It can be quite disconcerting to hear the slurs and the stereotypes about business and bankers controlling the world. But it was in Russia too that new style antisemitism developed. During the Cold War the West supported Israel while the Soviet Union supported the attempts by the Arabs to destroy it. People like Mr Corbyn who grew up supporting, if not helping the Soviet Union and indeed any other of Britain’s enemies would have followed the anti-Israel line simply because that is what fellow travellers did.

The Left also has a hierarchy of victimhood that determines who they support. At the bottom of the heap are white men. These must never ever be supported. At the top of the heap are women, homosexuals, religious minorities who are not Christians, transgender people, and ethnic minorities who look as different as possible from white men. Who is at the top varies. At the moment the transgender card trumps the female card, but the ethnic minority card trumps any other card. It is for this reason that Mr Corbyn and friends will sympathise with groups fighting Israel. After all Israelis have western values. They are successful and are frequently indistinguishable from the average Brit. They just don’t tick Mr Corbyn’s ethnic minority box.   

Hamas may have a poor record with regard to women, transgender rights and homosexuality, but they represent an ethnic and religious minority in Britain. It is this above all that fuels the new style antisemitism of the Left. Sympathy with Israel’s enemies just like sympathising with the Soviet Union means ignoring whatever faults they may have. There may have been Gulags, but at least they wanted to create socialism. Isn’t that model collective farm a wonderful new method of agriculture? Don’t mention the famine.

Arab states may have poor records with regard to religious freedom, or individual rights, but at least they want to destroy the West’s only real ally in the region. This was their virtue for the Soviet Union and it is also there virtue for the Left in general. But just as the Soviet virtue of attempting to create socialism meant that its other faults could be ignored by the Left, e.g. siding with Nazism in 1939, so too the virtues of the Arab world and the fact that they tick the religious minority/ethnic minority boxes means their vices can also be glossed over. It is for this reason that the Left ignores the widespread antisemitism that is a feature of the books published in the Arab world and views with tolerance the frequently expressed intent to destroy all of the Jews living in the region.  But really, if you support someone who wants to kill Jews, what does that make you? You may not use ethnic slurs about Jews, but you still suffer from a new strain of a rather ancient disease.

New style antisemitism crucially involves a double standard. Whatever Israel does, including the fact that Israel exists, is judged less favourably than anywhere else. I used to spend quite a lot of time in Kaliningrad, formerly Königsberg in East Prussia. It is now a Russian exclave next to Poland and Lithuania. Until 1945 this city was more or less 100% German. There are almost no Germans left there now. The Germans either ran away or were driven out. What would happen if the descendants of those Germans were living in refugee camps bordering Kaliningrad? What would happen if periodically they engaged in acts of terrorism or lobbed missiles into Russia? The Russians would go crazy and would do whatever it took to stop the Germans from attacking them. No-one would question the justice of their doing so.

Many boundary changes occurred because of the First and the Second World Wars. Poland lost large chunks of territory in the East in 1939 and gained large chunks of territory in the West in 1945. The Ottoman Empire broke up after World War One and the states of the Middle East were created by means of the British and French drawing lines on a map. Such boundaries and boundary changes frequently involved arbitrariness and injustice. Germans and Poles who had been living in certain places for centuries were forcibly removed. They had to accept this fact and get on with their lives. No-one in Britain, least of all Mr Corbyn complains about the rights of Poles and Germans to return to the homes that their ancestors lived in. No-one worries about the injustice of boundary changes involving Poland and Germany, we only ever hear about the supposed injustice of Israel’s borders. Why single out Israel because as a result of two world wars, the decision of the United Nations, its own war of independence and various subsequent wars it has the boundaries that it has. Why is this uniquely of concern?

Since 1945 a large number of people have migrated to Britain. There have been benefits from this and there have been difficulties. But whether you think there has been too much, too little or just enough migration, few British people would say that they oppose all migration. Fewer still of these people are from the Far-Left. I can’t remember Mr Corbyn ever complaining about anyone coming to Britain.

Jewish people in Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century had a well-founded fear of persecution. Some of them decided to migrate to Ottoman Palestine. Subsequent events would demonstrate just how well founded that fear was. Jewish migration continued during the period of British Mandatory Palestine. Some of them arrived illegally. Mr Corbyn has no complaints whatsoever about illegal migration into British territory today. His only complaint and that of others on the Far-Left is when Jews sought asylum in Palestine. People living illegally in the United States, no doubt, get Mr Corbyn’s sympathy. They are called Dreamers. Why can’t the Jews who moved to Palestine be called Dreamers? They too had a dream. It was fulfilled. But what do you call someone who is in favour of all migration except the migration of Jews? Jeremy Corbyn.

Until 1945 there were very few Arabs or indeed Muslims in general living in Europe. Since then there are an estimated 6 million Arabs in Europe and 44 million Muslims. Jeremy Corbyn no doubt considers that every single one of them brings untold benefits to our continent. No doubt many have brought benefits. Anyway they are here and it would be monstrous to attempt to remove 44 million people from their homes.  But in the Middle East and in the Muslim World in general there are more or less only 6 million Jews. The vast majority of them were born in Israel and have lived all their lives there. But on a number of occasions the Arab world has united in order to try to destroy these six million Jews. Many still want to. People like Jeremy Corbyn count some of these people as his friends. What do you call someone who is friends with those who want to kill six million Jews?

The population of the Middle East and the Muslim World in general is almost exclusively Muslim. In the name of tolerance can they not accept that one small chunk should be Jewish? We in Europe have been willing to accept seven times the number of Muslims into Europe as Jews who have migrated to the Middle East. Quite a lot of European territory is home to Muslims, some of it owing to historical invasions from the Muslim world. But we do our best to get on and no sensible person suggests that we attempt to reverse this situation. That would be racist and inhuman. But then what do you call the attempt to reverse the historical situation that gave rise to a Jewish state in the Middle East?

What do you call someone who thinks only Muslims have the right to migrate to another continent, but if Jews dare to do so it is justified to fight a never-ending war in order to remove them?  You call them a new style anti-Semite. This is the double standard that judges Israel and its history in a far harsher way than anywhere else. This antisemitism is indifferent to the horrors that Arabs may inflict on each other, but condemns Israel whenever it attempts to defend itself from attack. Mr Corbyn, no doubt, doesn’t use the words that characterised old style antisemitism, he is even friends with Jews who share his world view, but by supporting and sympathising with those who wish to destroy Israel, new style antisemitism is as dangerous a threat to the lives of Jews as any they have met in history. The Far-Left then meets the Far-Right and embraces itself.

Soviet and German soldiers meet as allies in 1939

Friday, 6 April 2018

Playing feminist roulette

There is a contradiction in feminism. Perhaps this extends to modern women in general. Feminism demands equality with men and wishes to minimise the difference between men and women to the greatest extent possible, but it also and at the same time demands special treatment for women. This is fundamentally because of a quality that is inherent in and special only to women.

The reality, of course, is that men and women are very different indeed with natures that are compatible but unalike. These differences are not merely in the external characteristics which allow us nearly always to recognise instantly a stranger as being either a man or a woman, they are also in the way that men and women tend to act and to think. A few examples:

How many women in their forties and fifties do you know with a husband 20 years younger from Thailand?

How many men do you know who on approaching the age of thirty suddenly become obsessed with either getting married or having a baby?

How many men do you know who respond to something bad happening with either going shopping or in eating large amounts of chocolate or ice cream?

Do you think women or men watch more pornography on the Internet?

There are exceptions to every rule and human behaviour is complex, but at the heart of the relationship between men and women is our differing attitude to sex. In general men from their teenage years onward want to have sex as much as possible. A reasonably attractive young woman will have no trouble at all finding someone to have sex with. If anything there will be a queue. Women on the other hand, throughout human history have been more interested in finding a long term husband with whom she can build a family.

It is lucky, or perhaps rather it is by design, that men and women are as they are. If both were like men, then there would be lots more sex, but rather less stability. If both were like women it is unclear there would be any sex at all. Men seek sex and require little more than its being available. An emotional attachment to them is not necessary. For women sex without an emotional attachment has (at least until recently) been considered unattractive and undesirable. Until the past fifty years or so it was most unusual for women to have sex casually with people they just met. It is for this reason above all that women, with few exceptions are uninterested in paying men to sleep with them. Most women would pay to avoid such an experience.

We are as we are. Men and women are different. But we need each other. The highest happiness for humans is to be found in a relationship. Family life and children are the source of the greatest fulfilment to us both. So we must work with our different natures and try to understand each other as best we can. As much great fiction shows, it is difficult. Men and women continually find each other baffling.  Misunderstanding is at the heart of many great novels. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy misunderstand each other, for which reason they have to overcome their pride and also their prejudice. We all do.

Unfortunately misunderstanding is also at the heart of recent developments that have taken the battle of the sexes in a new direction. The battle damages men, but perhaps it damages women still more even if the wound is largely self-inflicted. The legacy is not merely increased misunderstanding, but more importantly increased distrust. But without trust how can men and women form relationships at all?

Few if any men have been prosecuted as a result of the MeToo or Timesup movements. Lots of women have made claims about various forms of sexual assault taking place in Hollywood and elsewhere, but remarkably little evidence has been provided. Certain aging Hollywood actresses have been able to find a new purpose metaphorically knitting as the guillotine falls once more on their next victim. It’s enough just to denounce. No further evidence is required, before the next head is held up before the crowd of knitters. Various careers and lives have been ruined. Some lives have been lost. Each of us may have an opinion about the guilt or innocence of these people, but none of us really know.

This is the essential difficulty about a crime that if it takes place usually takes place in private. It is difficult enough to prove that a sexual assault happened yesterday, it is practically speaking impossible, unless there is a confession or some form of physical evidence, to prove what happened ten or twenty years ago. But that’s ok, for the fundamental aspect of MeToo and Timesup is that we should always believe women.

This is the basic inequality at the heart of feminism. Women are inherently truthful, while men are inherently liars. It is for this reason that when faced with a situation where there is only testimony, the testimony of the woman should always be believed, while the testimony of the man should be treated with suspicion. Do we have any evidence that men are more likely to lie than women? Should it be the case that whenever there is a trial involving a woman that we should automatically believe what she says and disbelieve what any man says? Alternatively we could perhaps argue that the testimony of one woman should be worth that of two men? That sounds familiar. Can't think why. 

The truth however, is that we all have had experience of both men and women telling lies. Which of us has never lied? So on what basis do we assert that women are inherently truthful and should be believed? It looks as if this is an article of faith, indeed blind faith. There is far more evidence for the resurrection of Jesus than that women should always be believed, yet it is considered to be an act of blind faith to believe that He rose again, while it is simply common sense to suppose that whoever says MeToo was in fact assaulted. The claims of the New Testament are based on multiple eyewitness testimony and the sources for these often corroborative witness statements are far better than those for say Hannibal crossing the Alps or the Peloponnesian War. But while faith in Christianity is in continual decline we are supposed to take as proven any unverified or unverifiable claim made by a woman stating that at some point in the past however long ago she was sexually assaulted by a man. The mere assertion that someone assaulted me twenty years ago is proved just by my saying it. This rather looks like a new religion substituting itself for the old.  Are we really supposed to have blind faith in the testimony of women as if women were divine?

What we have had in the past few months is a relentless attack on men for being men. I was assaulted by a man, MeToo, MeToo. With enough MeToos anyone would get the impression that it is in the nature of men to sexually assault and that indeed they  are practically all doing it or thinking about doing it, or intending to do it. What beasts compared to the pure sanctity of the holy blessed woman who only wants to make films unsullied by contact with these animals.

The trouble with these hash tags is that they have real world consequences. There recently was a rape trial in Belfast. The men involved were declared to be “not guilty”. But immediately there were those who thought they knew better than the jury. Trial by Twitter declared “Ibelieveher”. On what basis? Did those who proclaimed injustice sit through the whole of the trial? Are they all law experts? Or is it simply that following on from MeToo they think that women must automatically be believed always, which means that men must always be disbelieved. If that’s not sexism, then I simply don’t understand the word's meaning.

With enough demonstrations, the law will be changed to reflect public opinion. It will amount to this. In any case where there is no evidence whatsoever that a sexual assault has occurred, the woman should be believed. What this will mean is that if a man and a woman go into a room and the next day the woman claims to have been raped, the man will automatically be guilty unless he can prove that he didn’t rape the woman. But under these circumstances I would advise men never to have sex with women. It’s possible after all to rape a long term girlfriend or even a wife. Alternatively every man should install CCTV cameras in his room and should demand that hotels do the same. That way there might be evidence. Do we really want to go down that route?

Until relatively recently in history this wasn’t an issue. No woman would go to the room of a man she had just met that evening after having a few drinks. She wouldn’t do this unless she intended to have sex. Now we have a situation where it is completely normal to meet someone for the first time and have sex with them. But you cannot have a situation where there is permissiveness about sex and the expectation that strangers meet and sleep with each other, but at any point one of these strangers, but not the other, can claim a crime occurred for which the penalty is many years in jail. For a man this amounts to playing феминиская рулетка [feminist roulette].

What do the Ibelieveher believers actually want? I don’t think they want to go back to the time when sex generally did not occur before marriage and where young women had chaperones. Many of them I suspect want to have sex when they please and they rely on the fact that it isn’t difficult to find a willing man. They rely therefore on the nature of men as people who want to have sex. But while wanting permissiveness these Ibelieveher believers want to at any point in time cry foul and send any man they please to jail.  

But it won’t take many instances of men being sent to jail in such circumstances for men to realise that this game is far too risky. They might then begin to find the company of prostitutes more congenial and less stressful than having a girlfriend who wants continually to hold a metaphorical gun to their head. In time we might develop a new way of interacting such that men sleep only with prostitutes until they get married and women apart from prostitutes sleep with no-one. That would begin to look rather like Victorian times. Dresses could get longer, corsets might come back into fashion and it would be like the sexual revolution never happened.

Men and women frequently misunderstand each other, because we have different natures.  This combined with the practice of sleeping with people we have only just met is bound to lead to failures of communication with regard to desire. It is for this reason that traditionally sex was regulated by the Church and by society in rather a strict way. Limiting sex to within marriage meant the couple had to come to an understanding with regard to their desire and had to express their consent publically before witnesses. This is how nearly everyone lived until quite recently. Sexual puritanism limits the opportunity for the sorts of sexual assault that occur in private with no evidence for a crime except the testimony of the participants. But what we can’t have is a combination of permissiveness and puritanism. It is unfair to both the nature of men and women and will eventually cause such distrust that we will have to choose either puritanism or permissiveness.  We can’t have both.

The contradiction inherent in feminism has been exposed. It is overly proud of the virtues of women while overly prejudiced about the vices of men. This is not about equality. It’s about superiority. Feminism’s major achievement will soon be that men and women misunderstand and distrust each other more than ever before. Well done sisters.

Friday, 30 March 2018

To let the punishment fit the crime

A St Andrews academic Clara Ponsati is facing extradition to Spain. The Vice Chancellor of the university has come to her defence, as have many other people in Scotland, on the grounds that Ponsati is being “targeted for her political beliefs” by the Spanish government.

Ponsati is not alone in facing extradition to Spain. Former Catalan Premier Carles Puigdemont is in custody in Germany on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds in connection with what Spain considers to be an illegal referendum held on October 1st 2017 and a later unilateral declaration of Catalan independence. Ponsati and others who were members of Puigdemont’s government face similar charges. Not every country has the same laws, of course, but the offence that the Germans consider is closest to this in German law is high treason.

Is it the case that Puigdemont, Ponsati and others are being persecuted for their political beliefs? If that were the case why were they not arrested some years ago when their political belief in the independence of Catalonia was made clear and public? It is not illegal in Spain to believe in this. Nor indeed is it illegal in most countries to campaign for the independence of a part of a nation state. I could campaign for the independence of Burgundy, Saxony or Kansas and I will be left alone. I can believe fervently in the justice of independence for all of these places no-one will send an international arrest warrant. I might get into trouble if I campaigned for independence for a region of Saudi Arabia or China, but in most countries I can believe what I please about regional independence.

The issue with regard to Ponsati is not what she believes, but rather what she did. An international arrest warrant has been sent not because she believes in independence for Catalonia, but rather because she tried to achieve this independence illegally. What this means is that she broke the law in Spain.

But surely what Ponsati did was no different to what Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond did in Scotland. In some ways this is true. The SNP gained power in the Scottish Parliament and said they wished to hold a referendum on Scottish independence. This referendum was held. If they had won, they would have set about turning Scotland into an independent, sovereign nation state. What’s the difference between what the SNP did and what happened last year in Catalonia?

The difference is this. The SNP had permission to hold a referendum on independence. The SNP came to an agreement with the UK called the Edinburgh Agreement which made the independence referendum of 2014 legal and binding on both sides. Each agreed to respect the result as a decisive expression of the wishes of people in Scotland. There wasn’t an illegal referendum in Scotland and there wasn’t an act of rebellion because UK gave permission for the referendum and made it legal both in Scotland and the UK. If the SNP had won, Scotland would by now be a sovereign independent nation state recognised the world over.

Why did the Catalans hold an illegal referendum? The reason is that Spain would not give permission to hold a legal one. Ought Spain to have given permission? This is a matter we can debate endlessly. There are legitimate differences of opinion. In our political tradition we have generally considered that the parts of the UK have the right to leave if they express the political will to do so. But this view is not shared by most of the world. It is hard to think of a member of the EU that would allow a region to have a vote on independence. Likewise the USA would certainly not allow a state to have such a vote. So whether we agree with Spain or not it is worth reflecting that Spain is not alone.

After Catalonia made its unilateral declaration of independence how many nation states around the world recognised it? The answer is zero. The only places which tentatively gave support to this declaration were Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Flanders, Corsica, Sardinia, and Scotland. What do these places have in common? Well the first two are places that obtained “independence” illegally by means of Russian tanks and the rest are parts of sovereign nation states with significant independence movements.

But not a single internationally recognised sovereign nation state supported Catalonia even though around the world many of us were shocked to see the Spanish police we battering people for voting. Why was there such a lack of international support for Catalan independence?  The reason is clear. It is because the Catalan regional government was acting illegally. Its unilateral declaration of independence was an act of rebellion. No-one in the rest of the world wants to encourage such behaviour. Nearly every nation state in the world sees maintaining territorial integrity as its number one priority.

But don’t the Catalans have the right to vote for independence if they want to? It is commonly thought by independence supporters in Scotland that there is a right to hold a vote on independence whenever they want. But this is not the case. While the SNP’s Fiona Hyslop argued that “the people of Catalonia must have the ability to determine their own future” she was apparently unaware that the so called right to self-determination does not apply to places like Catalonia nor indeed to Scotland. This is why the UN sought "solutions within the framework of the Spanish constitution and through established political and legal channel" rather than pointing out that Spain was in breach of international law for not giving the Catalans their right to secession. 

Places like Catalonia and Scotland, being part of a fully functioning democracies already have self-determination. They have national and regional elections by which they can already express their political views. There is not in international law a right to have a vote on independence. If there were then most of the democracies in the world including all of the EU, USA and Japan would be in breach of international law. If Catalonia was merely fulfilling its right to self-determination in law and Spain was acting illegally in thwarting this right, why is it that the whole world took Spain’s side with only a few regional assemblies and rogue secessionists backing the Catalans? It's rather odd than only these few places should correctly understand international law, while the whole of the rest of the world including the UN does not. 

The sovereign nation state in international law has the right to defend itself and defend its territorial integrity. It is for this reason above all that we support Ukraine as opposed to its breakaway regions of Crimea, Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic. They too unilaterally declared themselves to be independent from Ukraine on the basis of illegal referendums. They too received next to no recognition.  Even if Russian troops had not been involved in achieving these declarations of independence and even if 100% of the populations of these regions had wished to leave Ukraine, it still would have been within the right of Ukraine to say “No” you will remain part of Ukraine and the sovereignty of the Ukrainian Government will forever extend over you.

But what are Catalan independence supporters supposed to do? If Spain always says “No” to a referendum on Catalan independence how are they to reach their goal of independence? They have no choice but to hold an illegal referendum, simply because Spain won’t grant them a legal one.  Rebellion indeed is the only option when a nation state refuses independence. Many of today’s nation states obtained independence in this way. If the rebellion succeeds the new state is recognised. In this case the leaders, such as George Washington, are heroes. There is a right to rebellion, but there is clearly also a risk. If you fail, then you are liable to be prosecuted, sometimes rather severely.

It is above all for this reason that a touch more gratitude might be expected from Scottish nationalists for the fact that they were allowed to hold a legal referendum. The UK didn’t have to give in to SNP demands. They don’t now. If Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon had decided to hold a referendum anyway, they too might have had to face the consequence of acting illegally. All the Catalans wanted was the chance that Scotland had in 2014, but I have heard rather few Scottish nationalists praising British democracy as opposed to that in Spain.

Clara Ponsati may well have acted illegally, but we can also sympathise with her predicament. She had no legal route to independence and therefore chose to act illegally. She failed. Catalonia is not independent and probably will not in the foreseeable future become independent. There has been some violence in Spain. The cause of this can justly be ascribed to the Catalan government acting illegally and the Spanish government attempting to enforce the law in an unnecessarily heavy handed manner. If the independence vote in Catalonia was illegal why not let the Catalans vote freely and then simply ignore the result because it was illegitimate? But while any violence is regrettable we must be grateful that it has not, as yet been too severe.

Still it is worth he Spanish authorities learning the lesson of their overreaction. If they have any sense with not create martyrs, like the British did in Ireland in 1916. Better by far if we’d led all rebels depart in peace. Better if we’d acted decades earlier so that they had felt no need to rebel in the first place.

There is no threat now to the integrity of Spain, so be gentle with those who felt forced to act illegally. The dearest wish of Ponsati was by means of Catalan independence to not live in Spain. Perhaps the punishment that would most fit the crime would be to fulfill her wish and say that she may indeed continue not to live in Spain and will be left alone so long as she continues to do so.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

The EU wants our coat too

I have been finding contemporary politics dull and uninspiring. It is above all for this reason that I’ve been struggling to write about recent events. We know that at some point there will be another election struggle between a rather daft, but reinvigorated Labour Party and a worn out Tory Party in desperate need of new ideas and a new leader, but it won’t be yet and may not be for years.  The SNP have the most support in Scotland, but that support is not enough for the one thing that they want. While a year or so ago Nicola Sturgeon didn’t go a day without threatening this or that, she appears to have calmed down, or perhaps it is merely that in Edinburgh there

sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

But whatever she is doing, it is probably not worth provoking her or her “running dogs of Scottish nationalism”. It can be good fun to remind the Nats that it looks awfully as if there moment has passed, but why remind when they already know. Better by far just to ignore them as much as possible. Let them sleep, let them lie. What was that about Brexit guaranteeing Scottish independence? Whether that was a pie or a sleeping dog it wasn’t the greatest prediction in the history of Scottish politics.

 Who would have thought that the process of leaving the EU would take longer and appear more difficult that winning the First World War? But then at least we were more or less united between 1914 and 1918 and few indeed were the Brits who thought it was a good idea to hope that we lost and our opponent won. We nearly did lose in the days following March 21st 1918, but strangely while we have “remembrance” we have no memory at all and no knowledge whatsoever of the most important events that challenge the clichés of mud, trenches and static warfare.

Like some other impatient Brexiteers I would have simply announced to the EU in 2016 that we had already left. I would have unilaterally lowered all tariffs to zero and invited everyone around the world to treat our goods in the same way. I would then have lowered business taxes so that they were the lowest in Europe and repealed each and every bit of EU bureaucracy that hindered business. I would have told the EU that we would not be paying one penny more in order to trade with them “freely”, on the grounds that paying for free trade is a contradiction because it’s precisely thereby not free.  I would have used the billions saved to compensate, in a roundabout way if necessary, our businesses for any losses incurred by leaving the EU and whatever was left over I would have spent on a fleet of destroyers to patrol our territorial waters. I would have reminded our European friends that they would remain friends if and only if they treated us in a friendly fashion. Otherwise they need not expect us to share any intelligence nor if they were invaded from the East need they expect any help. We fought two World Wars when we didn’t have to, as in neither instance were we directly threatened. We spent a vast amount of money and lives liberating continental Europe and got precious little in return, not even thanks.

If we had done this we would at least have avoided the deadly dull and rather humiliating spectacle of these tortuous negotiations just so that we can continue to trade more or less freely with people who at times appear to want to punish us. We may have fallen far since 1918, but surely we haven’t fallen quite that far.

But Theresa May didn’t have the numbers for my swashbuckling Brexiteer fantasy in 2016. Her party was divided, not merely between Leavers and Remainers, but more importantly far too few of her MPs were even really free marketeers who believe in cutting public spending, lowering taxes and living within our means. There just aren’t enough Conservatives in the Conservative Party to force through the radical sort of change that might have happened if we had had the guts to do it.

The election of 2017 made the UK safe from Scottish nationalism. The dangerous moment was if the SNP could have achieved independence before the UK left the EU. If the EU had cooperated and bent their own rules, an independent Scotland could have joined the EU in the transition period from leaving the UK. But thankfully this moment has now passed. Once the UK has left the EU, then SNP Remainers have to become Rejoiners. This would mean giving up whatever powers the Scottish Parliament gains from Brexit, it would mean giving up control over our territorial waters and it would mean joining Schengen and the Euro. The EU membership fee would also be rather higher given that we would no longer get back Mrs Thatcher’s rebate. None of this looks terribly attractive, not least because if Scotland were in Schengen while England was not it’s very hard to see how a hard border could be avoided. The Republic of Ireland is not in Schengen. Moreover if the UK is out of the EU while Scotland was in it, the nightmare scenario of being in a different trading bloc to your greatest trading partner becomes very real. The UK’s internal single market is much more important to Scotland than the EU’s single market. You can’t after all be part of an internal market if the relationship between England and Scotland becomes a relationship between independent nation states rather than parts of a single nation state. The clue is in the word “internal”.

Brexit clarified minds in Scotland and those who could think through the issues rapidly came to the conclusion that Scottish independence was no longer attractive or even tenable. Scots are not stupid and for this reason support for the SNP fell and will continue to fall.

So the election in 2017 was worth it.  We will look in time on the years 2016 and 2017 as the years that saw Scottish nationalism reach its peak and then go into decline. But the price we paid for this was that Theresa May lost her majority. This meant that Brexiteers had to take a long view.

Theresa May’s weakness and the fact that Parliament and her own party are divided has been exploited relentlessly and ruthlessly by our opponents in the EU. Their task has been to give Britain the worst possible deal. The consequences of this are that Brexit will cost us a lot more than it needed to and we will have to make more concessions to the EU than was necessary. All of these things will be damaging to the UK’s national interest. The money we give to the EU in the coming years might have been spent on defence or the health service or in cutting the deficit. Instead we will continue to spend billions in order to trade “freely” with the EU. This is the consequence of the Remain rear-guard. Instead of being united we were divided and the EU exploited this to give us worst deal they could. It’s thanks to Tony Blair, John Major and everyone who ever banged on about a second referendum that our fishermen won’t yet get control of our waters.

What do you call someone who acts so as to damage the UK national interest? Do you call them a friend? It’s not a game. The lives of British citizens, e.g. fishermen, will be worse, because the deal we are getting at least in the short term is not as good as it could be. The people responsible for this, whether in the EU or in the UK, have not been treating the UK in a friendly fashion. Many of them want our position after Brexit to be financially as bad as possible. Some of them want to advance their own long term aims at the expense of ours. The whole way in which certain EU countries have negotiated has been hostile. France wants to take UK jobs. Spain wants to make life difficult for Gibraltar in order it hopes to force Gibraltar to become a part of Spain. The Republic of Ireland wants to use Brexit to weaken the bonds between the UK and Northern Ireland, because it too hopes that UK territory will eventually become part of its own territory.

We have been remarkably patient in the face of this hostility and irredentism. The impatient, like me, would have walked away long ago, but that no doubt would have been a mistake. Let us focus instead on the prize ahead.

With luck we are going to achieve what we set out to achieve. We are going to be able to trade more or less freely with the EU and eventually we are not going to have to pay the price, whether that price was in terms of money or in terms of political union. What people thought was impossible, we will achieve, i.e. truly free trade, with no subscription fee. We will get to this stage moreover without going through the shock of radically changing economic direction. Let us achieve the free-marketeer, low tax, low regulation dream gradually. We will in time get control of our waters. Moreover despite provocation from those who hate us, we have stayed friendly. This in the end has proved worth it. Surprisingly enough the EU is beginning to value the UK’s contribution to security and intelligence. We have achieved a more united response to Mr Putin than he probably thought we would. It looks like Mrs May’s Brexit strategy has been worth it.

So it is better by far if we just ignore the latest manifestation of Irish nationalism. It attempted to damage our national interest in the years between 1939 and 1945 even if that meant the sinking of ships which in part were bringing the food necessary to fill Irish stomachs. It tried to bomb us into submitting to its will, while its diplomats who had the same aim pretended that the bombing had nothing whatsoever to do with their aim. Now it wants to use our desire to maintain an open border between our two independent sovereign nation states to bring its goal that little bit closer. I’m sorry, but no matter what it costs us we will always defend the people of Northern Ireland and their choice to be British.

But as always the cloak of British security extends over Ireland and will continue to do so. I doubt Mr Putin is much interested in neutrality. We protect the rights of small nations like Belgium and extent the hand of friendship even when they bite it. For some people after all a cloak isn’t enough. They want your coat too. Well we will even give them that.

Let us promise then that we will keep the international border between Northern Ireland and the Republic open. We will make no checks whatsoever either on people or on goods. The whole of the UK including Northern Ireland will neither be in the EU Customs Union nor the Single Market. We are united and we will let no-one try to divide us. But if this leads to any sort of tariff or charge, we will choose not to collect it. Let Irish trade be free, it will benefit all of us. But if the Republic of Ireland is forced by its membership of the EU to charge tariffs or to regulate the movement of people, let them erect a hard border on their side of the line, not ours. But in that case don’t blame us. We are independent sovereign nation states. We must respect our equal right to act independently. The trouble with nationalists whether Irish or Scottish is that they never wish to face up to the consequences of independence.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

A terrible act requires a determined response

There isn’t that much in Russia that works, they have practically no exports except oil, gas and commodities, which in part is the reason their economy has been in steep decline lately, but there are still some things they do well. The FSB, or KGB mark II is still very good indeed. The military despite sometimes using obsolete, clunky weaponry can still perform as they have ably demonstrated recently in both Ukraine and Syria. Perhaps the biggest strength of the Russians is that while they themselves believe in truth, they are willing to lie without any scruples whatsoever. We on the other hand have all sorts of scruples, but no longer believe in truth.

The experience of World War II taught the Russian military and security services the benefits of deception. While the Western Allies too deceived the Germans about exactly where in France we would invade, somehow in the decades since we have forgotten the lesson. The KGB won the Cold War. They were able far more often to gain our important secrets than we theirs. This was in part because Western intellectuals and politicians (some in quite high places now) were willing to betray their country because they sympathised with Soviet ideology (socialism).  

The Russian military didn’t really lose the Cold War. It could have prevented the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union with remarkably few machine gun bullets. It was Gorbachev’s failure to defend the Motherland, i.e. the historic Russian Empire plus buffer states that led to the worst loss of Russian territory in history. What had taken centuries to gather, still worse what had been Rus’ from the beginning, Ukraine and Belarus were lost. It was as if the Russian heart had been ripped out.

But the Russian military retained its traditions from World War II. Its training remained just as brutal and the way it fought just as cruel and effective. It does not find itself limited by concern for civilian casualties, nor does it need to fear that a Syrian will be able to sue a Russian soldier in the Moscow courts. No Russian soldier will be convicted for doing something excessive. Rather he will receive a medal for it. This is why a Russian regiment is always liable to defeat a NATO regiment, for the simple reason that it will not have to fight with one hand tied behind its back and it will be willing to take casualties.

There is something excessive about Russian history. The pity is that it is so little known outside Russia. No wonder we struggle to understand our opponent. They know our history. They know our literature far better than we know theirs. They can speak our language, while most people in the West think Russian amounts to mirror writing (Я, И, etc). When I first read the story of how Russia developed from its tiny beginnings in Kiev to stretching across most of the Eurasian landmass I was struck most by the cruelty. Two princes are bumped off because they got in the way, another is blinded. The most terrible thing that Ivan does is to himself when he kills his own son and heir in a fit of temper and then regrets it. The most saintly Tsar Alexandr may well have been involved in the assassination of his father. The cruelty also done to the Russians by invading forces (Mongols, French, Germans, Poles) was such that the Russians always found a way somehow to take revenge and in their taking revenge they found a way to be excessive.

It is this tendency to excess that explains best I think the use of Polonium to kill Litvenenko and Novichok to attempt to kill Skripal and his daughter. It just isn’t necessary to use such exotic methods. It’s excessive. It’s an attempt to say we can do what we want. We can do anything. Therefore fear us. It’s like putting a horse’s head in someone’s bed. Just like in the film, it works.

The Russians know that while they believe in truth and only tell one truth in their media, we in the West must be unbiased to the extent that we think everything is a matter of opinion. This enables them to lie with impunity. No matter how unlikely the lie, the BBC will report that the Russians say that they have no troops in Crimea, no troops in the Donbass and no Russian planes have killed any civilians whatsoever in Syria. This will all be reported impartially. Some people here, especially those who hate the West, will give the Russians the benefit of the doubt. After all who really knows the truth? Perhaps the CIA or Mosad brought down the Twin Towers, maybe they faked the moon landings.  

If you tell a lie consistently enough and your opponent doesn’t really believe in truth anyway no wonder you convince some of them and make everyone else doubt. Just like being excessive, this is a strategy that works.

The only way to defend against someone who lies is to know the truth and believe the truth. This is the key first stage in how we must learn to respond to our opponent. The problem is that we are going to have to reverse decades of misinformation from our universities that there is no such thing as truth.

In the West intellectuals typically believe that morality is no longer a matter of truth, but rather opinion. Who am I to judge? Everything is permitted.

Prince Charles wants to be defender of faith, i.e. all faiths rather than defender of the faith. The word “the” here makes all the difference, for in defending all faiths he is saying none of them are true, but rather all of them are just matters of opinion.

Even the most basic of truths have become a matter of subjectivity and relativism. No longer is someone’s sex something fixed and unchangeable. This is the view held in Russia and most of the world throughout human history. Instead in the West someone’s sex is a matter of opinion, something I can decide and choose based not on the facts but on how I feel.

In academia everything becomes plural. No longer do we have history, but rather histories. No longer does the BBC describe civilisation, but rather civilisations. Who are we to judge? Who are we to have confidence in Western Civilisation or think that anything good at all came out of it. Rather all must win prizes, all must be relative and all must be equal. No wonder we are unwilling to defend that which we no longer even value.

We have lost all sense of what we discovered, invented and composed. We ceased to defend our continent and our island. No wonder we are losing to someone (Putin) who believes in the truth, but is willing to lie. We made his job easy, because we have nothing left to defend, not even the truth.

What must we do? We must begin to defend our values. We must realise that these values are not so vague that they can apply to anyone from anywhere. Rather our values come from our history and have developed because our people were changed by that history. We are the children of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. Britain is as it is because of British people and the British history that made them this way. We are not the same as everyone else in the world who did not have that history. It is time that we began to defend that which is truly ours rather than some vague thing that is really no-one’s.

We must find objective truth and defend it from lies. Our media and politicians must not be impartial about lies. Say that it is a lie and then treat it with the contempt it deserves.

We must cease to be balanced about defending how we live. Democracy and free markets are better than tyranny, fake democracy, the crony capitalism of corrupt oligarchs and any form of the socialist experiment that has already been shown to have failed. This is not an opinion. Free markets, the rule of law and democracy are the condition for the possibility of prosperity and opportunity for all. This is a truth we must defend and hope to spread worldwide.

We must understand our opponent. Russia is more dangerous now than at any time except when it was ruled by Stalin. It is more desperate and the people in charge more ruthless. They know no boundaries. It is very difficult to predict how next they might lash out.

We need to spend more on the armed forces. NATO needs to be able to defend our territory against a conventional attack. At the moment we could not protect Eastern Europe except by using nuclear weapons. We need to deter the Russians from any further adventures.

Many UK universities, including mine, have wonderful Russian collections, but no-one can read them. Foolishly we closed down the Russian departments when, after the Cold War, we thought they were no longer needed. You cannot understand Russia, without knowing the language. They have a different mentality that only becomes clearer with conversation. Russian is a subject worth studying and more useful today than many. 

We need to deter Russian aggression, but we also need to work towards peace. We do not want forever to have Russia as an opponent. They are too dangerous. Don’t underestimate the Russian military or security services. They are willing to fight without rules and in ways that are unexpected (see e.g. the failure to surrender after losing Moscow in 1812). This was the key to their past victories and would form the basis for future ones.

We must treat Russia now as we treated the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Both sides then knew that there were limits. We accepted that that there were things we could not change, such as the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. They knew there were lines they could not cross. Eventually with patience on the part of both sides this developed into détente and finally into something approaching peace. We must start again and work for the same goal. But if we have the good fortune to make peace again, don't let's squander it as we did in the years after 1991. 

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Falling off a cliff

The stats for my blog have fallen off a cliff. No doubt this is because I have ceased running on the treadmill that kept them going. It had become something like an addiction watching the number of readers increase and fall each week. I would scramble to get next week’s blog ready. Sometimes I would leave it late and would wake up early on Saturday morning and write the whole thing out, check it through once and then go. Other times I might have something prepared.  That is if events didn’t make it obsolete.

 I started academic life with two rules. Don’t respect great people too much and never repeat anything found in a book. How can you write any sort of critique of someone else’s views if you think revere their greatness? If you repeat what you have found in a book, a newspaper, a lecture or in a conversation, what would be the point of anyone else reading what you write? Reading is not pointless nor are great people, but unless it is possible to in some way go beyond what they say it is not really worth saying anything at all. But saying something new every week is like feeding an addiction.  Sometimes it is necessary to have a dry December and then a dry January etc etc.

When you stop and have time to look around and reflect there is the chance to think more detailed thoughts. I haven’t been writing, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. Ideas have been developing. Some of them may one day be written.

I no longer have any desire to write about the weekly events of politics. Most of it is disposable and of no consequence. I am almost equally disgusted by Government and Opposition. Some of what I have read about the Prime Minister and her advisors makes me long to kick her Government out no matter what the consequences. If Theresa May is incapable of thinking for herself, why is she Prime Minister why indeed is she in Parliament? Is it just a matter of ambition? But then the whole thing has a Lady MacBeth quality about it. Are you trying to wash your hands Mrs May? It’s not a good look.

Let us then have a few years of Labour. Let them do their worst and we can all then start again perhaps with something a little less sordid. But then again what a mess Labour could indeed make of things.  Still perhaps every few years the electorate once again has to relearn the lesson that socialism doesn’t work. The trouble is that you don’t always get the chance to kick out socialists once they gain power. Beware.

Scottish politics is not worth writing about at least until there is another election. Politics in general revolves around the issue of equality. Those who make a god out of equality are winning. If you believe in freedom and free markets don’t let them. This is the only issue of substance. People are different. They have different abilities. Men and women are different. The attempt to make them the same leads to nonsense. This is what I attempted to write about in the last few months of my blog. Perhaps I will try to turn some of these ideas into a longer piece.

The problem is this. Writing no longer pays.  There are exceptions of course. Some fiction pays a lot, some famous columnists in newspapers make a lot. But nearly everyone else scrapes a living and would be far better off doing something else.

For every blogger who makes a fortune there are millions who get paid essentially nothing. If I reflect on the hours I spent writing versus the amount earned it would amount to perhaps one pence an hour. Far from this being minimum wage it isn’t even enough to buy sweets. Why do it?  Eventually it looks awfully like feeding an addiction to get readers. But it doesn’t matter how many readers there are because none of them click the adverts, because all of them have ad blocking software and think that they can forever read for free. There won’t be any newspapers in twenty years’ time. If we are not careful there won’t be any books or any writers.

I don’t miss the way I would write something on Twitter and then a few minutes later check to see if someone had read it or best of all retweeted it. This too is just feeding an addiction. Start with a few days. You may be tempted to go back, but stick with it. After a while it feels awfully like those days before Twitter even existed.

I began blogging because I wanted to campaign against Scottish independence, which was something I considered a threat even when most people I knew thought it could never happen. It could still happen. Anything which is supported by a significant proportion of the electorate can happen. But strategically the best thing to do is to ignore the SNP. If we attack them, then many Scots get angry and support for nationalism increases. If we tell Scots they can’t do something, or that it would make them poorer, some of them want to do it all the more just to show that they can.

The reality, as I have long argued, even if it still surprises some commentators like Mr Massie, is that leaving the EU is liable to unite the UK. Ireland’s hissy fit since Brexit is down to the fact that it will massively hurt their trade. Being in a different trading bloc to your neighbour who speaks your language and thinks almost the same way as you do is not a good idea. Poor Ireland. Strategically a wrong turn was taken over one hundred years ago. Hatred of the Brits means that the difference between being a region of Germany and being Munster looks minimal. Irish independence doesn’t much look like independence after all. Unless Scots are very stupid indeed, we won’t be fooled into going down the same route.

But just let this message stew. Don’t bang on about it.  The psychology of Scottish independence is that it becomes less likely the more it is ignored. If it should ever become necessary, I shall come back to fight the good fight. I may in a few months or even a few weeks, when I am less tired come back anyway. Or I may not. But for the moment I am learning Polish. Russia is no longer really safe. I am planning a novel about how to murder someone in such a way that it is impossible to be caught. I have found a way, but I lack a means to solve the crime and so any detective I might imagine is as stuffed as I am as a writer. Never mind I will keep thinking.  I have found the time to read Zola’s Earth, which is extraordinarily brutal and explicit for a nineteenth century novel. I work, I am well and I am no longer addicted to writing each week. For the moment, I have nothing further to add.  

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Little University on the Prairie

Apparently there is a plan in Scotland to pay students £8000 per year to study. Scottish students already have their fees paid by the taxpayer. The idea now is that they should be paid the equivalent of the "living wage" to study. This all begins to get rather expensive for the tax payer. But is it worth it?

A while back I came across an exam paper from the late nineteenth century. The task involved translating various passages from English literature into Ancient Greek. With a bit of effort I could imagine doing the reverse of this. Give me a few months, a dictionary and a grammar and I could probably make a stab at translating a bit of Plato or the Bible. But to translate Shakespeare into the language of Homer, to translate Milton into the language of Xenophon, this is a task I could not imagine being able to do.  Yet there were students from an unsung Scottish university able to do something that nearly all of us today would consider to be impossible.

We have a habit of looking down on the past as something superseded. Look at those awful late Victorians with their “white man’s burden” and their dreadful views about everything. How lucky we are to be so enlightened. How terrible it must have been for them to live in such darkness. But if you ever have the chance to read a work of scholarship from this period, you might be surprised to discover the level that was attained. Civil servants in India would produce scholarly editions of the Vedas as a hobby. Our man in Baghdad could actually speak fluent Arabic in various dialects and understood the history of the area and the people who lived there. It was for this reason that he could give sensible advice to the Government.

The reason these people could do these things is that university education in the late nineteenth century was of a very high standard indeed. Whatever people studied required hard work and serious intelligence. It didn’t much matter what someone studied, because any employer would immediately recognise that a degree from even the most humble Scottish university qualified someone to take on whatever burden was assigned. Does it do that now?

When I wander into the university library the first thing that I meet is a wall of sound. It may as well be Ronnie of the Ronettes telling me to be her baby for all that this present building resembles any previous place I have ever tried to study. I remember going to the University Library in Cambridge and finding silence. Anyone who spoke more than a couple of whispers immediately got a dirty look. No-one went to study with their friends. But we have progressed. Now we have a social space. Now we have collaborative learning. I would prefer frankly to leave collaborating to the French.

 I find myself frequently in a room where I am the only one actually reading a book. I open my book of Russian literature and begin reading. I continue doing this until I’ve read enough and leave. This is what I think studying is. But I am the only one doing it. The first thing that everyone else does when they enter the room is to open their laptop. They then open their mobile phone and proceed to switch attention from the one to the other until this becomes boring and they then proceed to chat with their friends. On the laptop is everything that they need to study. All the lecture notes have been written up with nice bullet points. Nearly everything that has to be read can be found on something called a “virtual learning environment”. It is rarely if ever necessary to even go and look for a book, let alone read it.

Some good work is still being done. Intelligence is a constant. The same proportion of the population is very able as was the case one hundred years ago. But a university degree no longer tells me that someone is even moderately able. Governments increased student numbers to such an extent that people with IQs of 100 and sometimes even less can obtain a degree. This logically follows from expanding numbers towards 50%. The standard has to be lowered otherwise those towards the bottom of the ability range would have to be kicked out. But this also means that those towards the top are unable properly to distinguish themselves from anyone else. It also means that there are courses I have come across where the set texts include Little House on the Prairie.

The tragedy is that I see able students who work hard, who find it impossible to get a job that is suitable for their ability. Sometimes they choose to do a further course to try to distinguish themselves, sometimes they start at the bottom doing a job they could have done at sixteen.  Many jobs that used to be done by school leavers now require five or more years of education, just to gain a piece of paper that is then used to set up a sort of closed shop to protect those who have it from competition.

Degrees that teach something objective have retained some of their merit. But many of the courses in the Arts and Social Sciences are simply teaching young people how to be unemployed. The problem is that far, far too many people are studying these courses. The only merit in medieval history or philosophy is that they provide a mental training that can then be transferred to for instance translating the Vedas or Shakespeare into Greek. But when you make these courses open to those of moderate ability they cease to provide a mental training for the ablest and cease to distinguish the ablest from the moderate. What then do they do? Well you might teach about life on the prairie in the nineteenth century America, but this won’t help you do anything and it won’t distinguish you from anyone else. Anyway we knew all of this already from watching television. 

The Arts and Social Sciences in particular have been taken over by the Left. We now have books dealing with Feminism in Spinoza and post colonialism in Macbeth. The only way to pass is to toe the party line. We now have safe spaces even and trigger warnings. Here's a warning. You are not going to like this blog. Whatever is the latest fad, we must import it. Dare not question it. Is this really worth paying so much for?

At some point in the near future someone is going to demand that I call them “ze” instead of “she” or “he”. Fair warning. I will laugh. I won't be able to restrain myself.  This is what is now coming out of our universities. We must accept without question and without argument whatever the latest left-wing fad is. But to accept in this way is to give up the ability to think for yourself. But the only purpose of going to university to study the Arts and Social Sciences is to question everything, argue about everything and think for yourself. Without this you have nothing and certainly nothing worth paying for.