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.

Steve Davies: Four new technologies to be optimistic about

I seem to recall a lecture, given by Steve Davies at the IEA just before Covid and the political reaction to Covid started spoiling all our lives, in which he warned that modernity might be stopped in its tracks or worse by some unforeseeable disaster, and that we should watch out. And I’m pretty sure that, during the Q&A, he even mentioned the possibility of a pandemic.

Now however, Steve Davies says, not unreasonably or inconsistently, that the future is brighter than many now, as the Covid crisis persists, assume or at least fear:

People everywhere need to recover their sense of confidence and optimism and to realise not only that this is, undoubtedly, the best time ever to be alive, but also that the future will be even better.

Davies then writes about four technologies which he says will transform life for the better: autonomous vehicles, synthetic food, artificial intelligence, and anti-aging medical treatments. So, life will not only be better; it will also last for far longer.

Regular readers of this blog will know that recently I have particularly noticed technology number two in the Davies list, synthetic food. And number one, autonomous vehicles, has long been to be an interest of mine also. I agree that both will be “epoch making”, eventually.

But I probably won’t live to see either epoch unfold. As far as I’m concerned, that last one, extended life-span, through the conquest of such things as cancer, can’t come too quickly. Which is why it almost certainly won’t come, for me, quickly enough.

However, I recently I heard some wisdom based on recent personal experience spill out of my mouth, to the effect that, now, being told that I have a potentially quite-soon-fatal disease, at my already quite advanced age, is a big deal, but not that big a deal. This just means that I will die a bit sooner. But what if such a medical mishap meant that I died a lot sooner, like about a two hundred years or more sooner? That would be a very big deal. In an age of multi-century lifespans, if that is what is about to arrive, people will surely become far more risk averse even than they are now, because they will have so much more to lose by dying.

But then again, adolescent boys have long had a lot to lose and they are notoriously prone to risk-taking, just for the hell of it. So, what do I know?

In general, will people actually be any happier? I doubt this, because happiness seems to depend more on one’s internal mood than on one’s mere circumstances. I don’t feel any more miserable now than I was a couple of years ago, when I was unaware of my medical condition and before it started or at any rate before it started hurting.

The City of London’s next Big Thing(s)?

I never take these Big Things for granted, merely on the strength of early fake photos of how they might look, but fingers crossed, here’s the City of London’s next one:

Or is that next three?

It (or they) apparently got planning approval yesterday.

One of my little pleasures in life is reading the comments on such postings as this one by Olly Wainwright on Twitter, with lots of people grumbling about the next proposed Big Thing. Not, you suspect, because they particularly hate its design but because really they hate all the London Big Things and would have preferred London to stagnate instead of carrying on being capitalist. I also like it when others join in with things like “Well, I actually quite like the Walkie Talkie.” As do I.

Plus, talking of Walkie Talkie, and as other commenters asked: What will be its nickname?

The books I’ll be talking about this afternoon with Patrick Crozier

This afternoon, all being well, Patrick Crozier and I will finally get around to doing our podcast on the Industrial Revolution: Good Thing and here’s why it happened.

I will be making the running and Patrick will be heckling me, seeking clarification, etc.

Here are the books I intend to refer to:

I also intend referring to the recent writings of Anton Howes.

The reason we are able to do this is that my voice has got a lot better lately, thanks to the magic pills. I still cough a bit (so apologies in advance if that happens), but nowhere near the ghastliness of about three weeks ago.

The Wires!!! in Seattle

So I was at Dezeen, checking if there’s been any big architecture lately (only in China), and I saw this photo:

And I assumed we were in Japan. New modernist white box building, yes. The Wires!!! in front of it, yes. Absolutely nothing said in the text about The Wires!!! But all this was happening in Seattle.

Why do I make such a fuss about The Wires!!!? It’s because the phenomenon of The Wires!!! is an extreme illustration of the matter of what is seen and what is not seen. The point about The Wires!!! is that they are literally not being seen. There they are. And the Real Photographers are definitely seeing The Wires!!! They put them centre stage. They are saying to the people who write these extraordinary pieces, about buildings with The Wires!!! all over them: Look, The Wires!!! Write something about The Wires!!! But no, the writers don’t see The Wires!!! Or if they do, their Editors are under strict orders not to see The Wires!!! They delete all mention of The Wires!!!

Cities, in particular, abound with things you are supposed to look at, and things that you are not supposed to look at. Like stage scenery that is there to be looked at, and the equipment that supports the scenery or in some way services the scenery, that you aren’t supposed to look at, or even to see. We all look at cities in this way. I do it. I still try to avoid looking at all the poles, for lighting and for signs, that sprout out of urban pavements. (Memo to self: Photo photos that put these things centre stage, in the manner of the above photo of The Wires!!!))

See also: Roof clutter.

What’s strange about the The Wires!!! phenomenon is that there is a stand-up fight going on between the people supplying the photos, and the people commentating, at Dezeen anyway, on the photos. These Dezeen writers are either forbidden to see The Wires!!!, or, even weirder, they literally do not see The Wires!!!

The above photo, and the commentary on it, is the most extreme example of this phenomenon, of The Wires!!!, that I have so far encountered.

EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT again – and its reflection

Ever since doing this posting, I have had that photo up on my computer screen, and I remain very fond of it.

Here are two more photos of that same piece of art/signage, photoed around the same time, although on two different days. Slightly more creatively photoed in that there are other things going on also:

I look forward to getting back to the top of the Tate Modern Extension, which is where this is. It’s one of my favourite spots in all of London.

The Brian Micklethwait Archive goes public

Just over a month ago I learned that I will die rather sooner than I had been supposing, and I asked, by way of being cheered up, for people to say nice things, preferably in public, about my various writings and doings over the years.

The most impressive consequence of this rather vulgar entreaty has so far been the Brian Micklethwait Archive.

It is in the nature of this Archive in my honour that if I had constructed it myself it would be an absurdity, which wouldn’t outlast me any more than this blog will. In contrast, the fact that Rob Fisher, a far younger man than me, has embarked upon this project is a source of profound gratitude and satisfaction to me. If I die soon, this will be a big reason for me nevertheless to die in a state of moderate contentment. Posthumous reputations, such as I now crave on a scale way beyond what I merely deserve, do not establish themselves. They have to be established. I want to be remembered as a writer, yet I do not have so much as one book to my name. This Archive that Rob is gathering up, by cherry picking from my many bits of writing over the years, will make a big difference to whatever continuing impact and influence I may have after I have died.

Rob is in charge of this Archive, not me. It needs to be something he is happy to go on polishing and adding to in the months and years to come, so it must be as he wishes it, rather than as I might have wished it. And I waited until he made it public before drawing attention to it, here, myself. Now I feel that I can without upsetting whatever announcements Rob had in mind to be doing.

Great Men don’t need to advertise themselves. Their achievements speak for themselves. Lesser men like me need to beat their own drums. And it makes all the difference when someone else joins in.

More cruelty-free meat news from Israel

From the Daily Mail:

A juicy ribeye steak is a treat for many, but meat eating is increasingly falling out of fashion due to ethical and environmental concerns.

Now, an Israeli company has revealed the world’s first ever 3D bioprinted ribeye made with real cow cells, and it is completely cruelty and slaughter-free.

Scientists took swabs from two cows, cultivated them in a lab, and pieced them all together to form a replica steak.

What is it about artificial meat and Israel? Maybe it’s just that Israel happens to be a very inventive place just now, and whatever innovation you happen to be a spotter of, you’ll find yourself being directed towards Israel.

I wonder if the pariah status of the state of Israel is some kind of cause of this super-inventiveness, if that’s what it is. If so, it reminds me of how religious non-conformists in Britain, similarly cut off from polite society, were so heavily involved in the Industrial Revolution.

Stokes, Woakes and Foakes could all be playing in the second test

In January 2019, I noted that an England cricket team took to the field which included all three of Stokes, Woakes and Foakes. But that was a mere warm-up game, against something called the West Indies President’s XI, so it hardly counted. However, on Saturday first thing in the morning our time, the second test of the four India v England tests looks like it might feature this same England trio. Wicket keeper Buttler and veteran quick bowler Anderson, both having played so very well in the first test, have both been dropped, as in “rotated”. Foakes is in for Buttler. And instead of Anderson and Broad both playing, Broad is in, plus one other specialist quick. This would have been Archer, but Archer is damaged. So, also included in the England twelve, one or other of them to replace Archer, are quick bowlers Olly Stone and … Woakes.

England’s batting is a worry, despite all the talk about how they scored ten out of ten in the first game. Its greatest current strength, Root, is also its greatest current weakness. What if Root fails to make about two hundred, as has been his habit in the last few games, and instead gets out in the England first innings for a small score, like under fifty? That could cost England the match. So, England will want to give the rest of their batting as much chance as they can to do well. Woakes is a much better batter than Stone. Stone, meanwhile, is a bit of an unknown quantity as a bowler. Woakes is not as quick as Archer, or Stone, but he is a good bowler, and I think he will play. Which means that the Stokes, Woakes, Foakes combination, this time in a real cricket match, is a real possibility.

If so, this will be one of cricket’s better recent joakes.

LATER: Not to be. Stone plays, rather than Woakes. And we’ll soon see if that works, because India have won the toss and, of course, will bat first.

Stone gets Shubman Gill for a duck, with his third ball! India 0-1.

What do I know?