Writing about morality and consequences in a way that hasn’t dated

The latest addition to the Brian Micklethwait Archive is a piece by me called The Morality of Consequentialism and the Consequences of Morality, which was first published over two decades ago. I had completely forgotten ever writing this, and today read it again with much interest.

And with some satisfaction. It’s good stuff, though I say it myself. I say it myself because if I don’t, who will?

What I find so gratifying about how I mostly wrote about libertarianism back then is that because we didn’t need to be obsessed with current events and grabbing media attention (basically because we didn’t care if only a few people read our stuff (photocopier rather than printing blah blah)), I was able to concentrate on underlying principles, keeping mere current events at arms length. Which means that these pieces of mine mostly don’t date that much. If you thought they made sense when I wrote them, you’d still think that now.

Much the same also applies to a lot of the stuff I published by others, which you can find your way to here. (Apart from the Political Notes link, which for some reason seems not to work.)

Dan Hannan in Australia

Two years ago, which explains the non-up-to-date political references to such things as Brexit, Dan Hannan did a talk in Australia. I found my way to this talk via the Hannan website, and watching this short interview of Hannan by Marc Sidwell (Sidwell is a friend of mine but I’d not clocked this interview until now), and then at the end of that being recommended to attend to this CIS hosted talk in Australia, done, as I say, a couple of years ago, which goes on for a lot longer:

Hannan didn’t talk about the then President Trump in his main speech (which lasts a bit under 40 minutes), but he did during the Q&A. And on the Trump matter, Hannan sat resolutely on the fence. He regarded Trump as “unfit for office”, because a liar about his fornication, his taxes, and just generally, and he welcomed the good liberalising things that Trump has done, but he denounced the public spending spree that Trump presided over and encouraged. He regards the kind of tribalism that is totally pro- or totally anti-Trump as the problem. Transcending tribalism being the whole secret of “western civilisation”.

I take the point about tribalism, but I wonder if Trump could have done his good stuff, both domestically and abroad, without all those character flaws of his. His boorish manner is all mixed up with the fact that he didn’t waste any time trying to suck up to his opponents, the way rival Republicans always tend to do in the vain search for their admiration. Trump was effective because “uncivilised”.

On the broader subject of “western civilisation”, Hannan can’t help attributing the success of what PJ O’Rourke called “that fine trend in human affairs” to his own Anglosphere tribe. The Anglosphere tribe is, he seems to be saying, the anti-tribal tribe.

And I think I agree.

Hitchens talks to Paxman

I fear that I may now be an I-may-be-about-to-die bore. In the sense that I can think of nothing which I am now doing or saying or even thinking which is not happening under the shadow of my recent lung cancer diagnosis. And given the subject matter of this particular posting, any pretence along such lines would be absurd. Which is why I start with that now. Which could get very boring.

Anyway, what I want to link to is this video, lasting about half an hour, in which Jeremy Paxman talks with the late and then staring his about-to-be-lateness in the face Christopher Hitchens.

Here’s a still from this video, which I think I am presenting because one of the many things I like about this conversation is how Hitchens looks. His head entirely shaven, his face serious, the very picture of a ancient stoic, looking both at death and at the kind of life he might have to suffer before death with an unflinching gaze:

Hitchens’s appearance reminds me of that of my friend and fellow Samizdatista, Paul Marks. “The Sage of Kettering”, as the Samizdata commentariat refers to Paul, looks a lot like this already, despite the fact that to the best of my knowledge Paul is only going to die in the same medically relaxed sense that we all are.

The link to this video was, of course, sent to me, by a friend who had learned of my current medical predicament and thought that I might appreciate learning about it and watching it. Which I very much did, having missed it the first time around.

The friend picked out a bit right at the end, where Hitchens says that he especially appreciated communications from strangers who had in one way or another appreciated something that he, Hitchens, had said or written or done. “If in doubt about whether to send me such a message, do not hesitate. Send it.” Or words to that effect.

He added that he regretted having failed to do this for others in similar circumstances.

I agree on both counts. I am being very cheered up right now by all the kind things that I have persuaded various people, not a few of them pseudonymous Samizdata people whose identities are otherwise unknown to me, to say to me about my own various sayings and doings over the years. And I too regret having failed to do as much of this as I could and should have, when I saw valued friends and intellectual comrades nearing their ends.

New category in the category list below: Death. Here’s hoping that at least some of the remaining postings I manage here are not thus tagged.

By the way, that could be quite a few more. Hitchens was facing the certainty of death, pretty soon, when he did this interview, and he duly died soon after it, I believe. Not long, anyway. All I can really say about my lung cancer is that it sounds pretty bad. But that might merely mean it being pretty bad for quite a while longer.

John Wesley statue outside St Paul’s

I do love statue-photoing but I admit that it has been very hit-and-miss. This, however, by my modest standards, I rate as a hit:

That’s John Wesley. He was, or so it says on the base of the statue, the “father of Methodism”. And, it is right outside St Paul’s Cathedral. How come? Well, it only arrived there as recently as 1988 and is a bronze redo of another statue of Wesley that is in Central Methodist Hall. Or there’s another copy of the original there, or something.

I learned this here. And if you follow that link you get to an even closer head shot of this Wesley statue, which, to my eye, makes him look rather like the actor Christopher Plummer.

“We believe passionately …”

Mick Hartley comments on the statement by Julie Birchill’s ex-publishers about why they cancelled her book:

And you can almost guarantee that if someone states how they “believe passionately in freedom of speech”, it’s a prelude to an act of censorship which proves that, actually, they don’t.

It’s the word “passionately” that is so nauseating, in this context. What this actually means is: “Somewhat less than before this row happened, which we are going to give in to.”

Little, Brown didn’t actually use the word “but” in their statement, to signal the reversal. But, if they had, it would have changed nothing of importance.

Salisbury Cathedral behind sheep

Another notable James Cook photo of his local and favourite cathedral:

It’s nice how the sheep are mostly looking, vaguely curious but in no way troubled, at the camera.

And note how, in the summer, with all those leaves, the tree in the middle would spoil everything.

Why Democrat electoral cheating is no longer okay

To start with, a pre-emptive grovel. I am not a fully fit person just now. I can just about manage photoing photos and posting photos. I can even manage stating my opinions. What I shrink from doing, in my present state of seemingly permanent lethargy, coughing-ness and achiness, is embarking on any sort of argument to the effect that my opinions are correct, with someone who does not share them. You’ll either take these opinions of mine, or leave them. I am now only up to stating what they are.

And when it comes to the rows and ruckuses now happening in the USA about how Donald Trump should turn over a new leaf, become “presidential”, and now let Joe Biden become the next president, I have two opinions, which I will now state.

First, it is my understanding that the scale of cheating by the Democrats this time around was something else again. I won’t persuade you if you don’t agree, and I think I am open to the idea that the gap between where Biden is said to stand now and where Trump has to stand to remain President is just too great for a few legal judgements to make any difference. I just watched Megyn Kelly, whose attitude on things generally seems to resemble mine, say exactly this, and I didn’t blow any gaskets. But for whatever it may be worth, I found this, and this from the BBC, rather persuasive, and in the case of the BBC piece, highly relevant.

The Democrats hate Trump, but last time around they were caught by surprise. This jerk? He’s won this? They just were not prepared for that outcome. That’s why they didn’t cheat much last time around. They hadn’t thought they’d need to.

This time they were ready. They hate Trump just as much as ever, but this time around they grasped that, hateful down-market nincompoop embarrassment though Trump definitely is, he is also, for whatever clutch of mysterious and deplorable reasons, a formidable foe. And they were ready. But they weren’t quite ready enough. The scale of Trump’s achievement shocked them again, and this time around their cheating is, as Americans like to say, off the scale.

My opinion. You have a different opinion? Fine by me. I get it. If you do not share my admiration for Trump, fine by me again.

But here’s another opinion, which it seems to me is a bit less generic, a bit less predictably Trumpist. Because something else has changed.

Democrat electoral cheating is not a new story. I’ve been reading stuff about America and American politics all my life, off and on and mostly off, and like a thread through it all is the fact that in big cities that they run and are determined to go on running, Democrats cheat in elections. So Democrats cheating in elections this time around is not the big change.

The big change is a Republican refusing to retreat in the face of it. Why? Why is Trump being so unpresidential, so undignified, so … just so ghastly? The answer is that the big political picture has been transformed, partly by him, but partly by him responding to the fact that it has already changed so much.

Time was when Republicans were the party of the Lucky Winners. Country clubbers, corporate executives, yacht owners, owners of houses with several garages, presided over by perfectly manicured wives, in charge of several well behaved children and subservient servants. The Democrats, meanwhile, were the party of the workers, of people struggling to do work or even to get work. Any plutocrats who were attached to the Democrats, like the Kennedys or (FD) Roosevelt, were numerically insignificant oddities. (Whether that was true, I don’t know. But this was the dominant narrative, as people say now.)

But that’s all changed. The Democrats are now the party of the Lucky Winners, and also of the unlucky losers at the very bottom of the heap who can only now depend on the crumbs of comfort bestowed upon them by the Lucky Winner class. The Republicans have become the party of the workers in the middle, the middle class, as Americans accurately describe them. The Republicans are the party of the people who still struggle to work and to stay working, and who hate the whole idea of giving up and becoming dependant upon the Lucky Winners.

Not all “workers” voted for Trump. A lot of workers, especially in things like IT, are still solidly Democrat. But the heart of the Trump vote was workers of a certain sort. The heart of the Trump vote was no longer the Lucky Winners class. They have migrated over to the Democrats.

Okay, now for the key bit of what I’m saying.

In olden times, if you were a member of the Lucky Winners class, and your guy lost an election, complaining about cheating was frankly a bit, well, undignified. You and your pals controlled almost all the leavers of power in society. You owned the big corporations. Your children were creaming off most of the expensive education. The world was yours. Were you going to bitch about electoral corner-cutting by a few machine politician Democrats in big cities who had enough clout to say boo to you, every once in a while? This was not a good look. And on the whole, Republicans took their defeats, and if Democrat cheating cost them a win or two, well, that was how it crumbled, cookie-wise. Legally, that may not have been the rule, but actually, that was the rule. Noblesse oblige. Let the people picked by the struggling class have their turn. Suck it up. Go play golf.

But now? Now, what is happening is that the Lucky Winners class is telling the class definitely below it in the pecking order that this subordinate class now has to just lie back and let it happen, when the electoral cheating happens all over them.

This is not a good look either, but it’s what the Lucky Winner class now think they can do, and get away with. Maybe they can, in the sense that they may well get their guy over the line this time around. But if they do, but if it then becomes clear that they did this by cheating on a large scale in this election, then the words “reap” and “whirlwind” spring to mind.

Meanwhile, Trumpists do not now give a fuck about Trump being “dignified” or “presidential”. They voted for him because he was none of those things. Yes, he was born into the Lucky Winners class, but now he’s their Lucky Winner. And they now want him to insist on the principle that cheating in political elections is wrong, dammit! And it is especially wrong when it’s done by the very class of people that has spent the last four years declaring itself to be in every way superior to them – richer, better, better looking, cleverer, wiser, more tasteful, more cultured, more intellectually nuanced, less racist, less “deplorable”, you name it. And if those smarmy bastard liars on the television don’t like this, they can just shove it up their Lucky Winner arses.

I trust that the undignified nature of my language in the previous paragraph is getting my point across. Which is that the argument that those now on the receiving end of Democrat cheating should just roll over in the face of it is now out of date, big time.

Cheating is okay – not good, not completely okay, not dignified – when it is done by life’s strugglers to life’s Lucky Winners. But when the Lucky Winners do it to the strugglers, that’s a whole different ball game, and a game that the Lucky Winners will and will thoroughly deserve to lose. And whether you personally agree with that or not, the particular strugglers on the receiving end of this particular bit of cheating damn well do agree.

That’s what’s changed, and it’s a very big change indeed.

Like I say. My opinions. Take them. Or leave them. And comment all you like. Just don’t assume I’ll have the energy to respond to any responses that this gets.

Westminster Abbey – modified and unmodified

Again with the photos from last Wednesday, this time photoed soon after I had photoed The Broadway, and its coffins.

Proceed down Victoria Street from there, and you go past this place. If you are me, you notice:

This is one of those government departments which keeps having its name changed. That’s what it’s called for the time being. Not that I, or you, care very much. I’m just saying so you know what I’m talking about. “1VS” presumably means 1 Victoria Street.

Anyway, this Department of … whatever, has a fantastically over-elaborate glass and steel front entrance. There are two good things, along with all the obvious sneering, to be said about this front entrance. One, unlike with Big Lumps of the Concrete Monstrosity era of what you might call classic Modernism (which is pretty much what the rest of this building is), you can at least tell where the damn front entrance is. An elaborate front entrance is at least better than an infuriating guessing game.

And second, through the fantastically over-elaborate glass and steel roof of this entrance, you can photo photos like this, of Westminster Abbey:

This is a fine example of a modified cliché photo, which is a favourite sort of photo of mine. Cliché: Westminster Abbey, photoed millions of times. Modified: by being photoed through this roof, not photoed that way more than about a thousand times.

But, here’s a thought. What if you live in some terrible backwater like New York or San Francisco or Shanghai, and although there are lots of photos of Westminster Abbey that you could look at, you are so preoccupied with the details of your humdrum life that you seldom give them your attention. For the benefit of all such unfortunates, here is the unmodified cliché photo of Westminster Abbey that I photoed a little bit later:

God does not exist, but He still manages to occupy some of the best buildings.

Canaletto – and now

Came across this picture of St Paul’s by Canaletto, with boats, done in the 1740s:

I tried to find a bigger version. I failed, but did encounter this, from the Daily Express of June 4th 2012:

WITH its spectacular pomp and ceremony, yesterday’s river pageant evoked the alluring images in Canaletto’s painting The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day which depicted a royal flotilla against a backdrop of the City and St Paul’s Cathedral more than 250 years ago.

That “backdrop” is not what it was. St Paul’s is still St Paul’s, but what’s in front of it has taken rather a turn for the worse.

I’ve surely photoed photos of that scene, although not with that many boats. I recall getting interested in the Faraday Building, the one with the green roof in the photo above, which was the first big architectural violation of that St Paul’s view.

In the Canaletto, notice all the spires there, of other places of worship, most of them also designed by Wren.

The Babylon Bee joins Twitter and Facebook in seeking to suppress claims that Hunter Biden is not entirely honest

Yes, my favourite insect has for many weeks been a bee, the Babylon Bee. But now, the Bee is telling me this:

Since you did not click on that article, you were not horrified by all the alleged revelations about H. Biden. So your life is much better for not reading the completely false story. We are glad you did not read it and share it with others. Because you are a good, upstanding citizen and would not share false smears about someone. Good job!

Until now, I had been supposing Hunter Biden, the son of candidate Joe Biden in an election they’re having over there, to be a corrupt scumbag of the scummiest and baggiest sort. But now that the Babylon Bee has come out alongside Twitter and Facebook in defence of Hunter Biden, I realise that I may have to revise my opinion of this handsome and vigorously entrepreneurial young man. Have I been thoughtlessly misjudging him? Who am I to doubt the Bee?

But, I don’t know, somehow, being told not to click on that article, even by such a respected insect as the Babylon Bee, well, that just doesn’t sit right with me. Who are the Babylonian Bee people to be telling me what I can and can’t read? So, here I am doing this posting in exactly the way they wouldn’t want me to, and including the link to the article, which I personally think that maybe you should read, because, well, as of now, I’m keeping an open mind on this Hunter Biden issue.

The Babylon Bee is run and written by hardcore, fundamentalist Christian extremists, the sort of Christians who actually believe in a lot of that Christian stuff. I, on the other hand, am a moderate middle-of-the-road atheist, who knows that all Gods are made-up hobgoblins, apart from the ones in Wagner operas. I always thought this might in due course lead to a political parting of the ways between the Beeites and me. Maybe this is that parting.

LATER: I take the Babylon Bee seriously, and I am delighted to report that I appear to be in good company.