This happens over and over again. Israel is accused of an atrocity – here it’s the killing of a child. The BBC & Guardian go large on it, the cretin-o-sphere explodes in protest. Then it turns out to be balls, in fact it was a Palestinian missile that killed the child.
And there’s tumbleweed blowing across the empty streets of a ghost town.
What was front page news when Israel was to blame becomes a page 37 small box correction nobody notices. Everyone remembers the child killing and Israel.
A German job centre has apologised for an ‘oversight’ after ordering a young woman to work in a brothel.
According to a report in the local Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper, Christine Hirmer, 19, received a letter from the German Labour Office in Augsburg suggesting she apply for a position at an establishment called the ‘Colosseum.’
That’s the opening of this Independent piece. What do you think she was being asked to do? Become a prostitute?
Nope. To be a barmaid. Brothels are legal in Germany, as are their bars.
It’s a grossly misleading headline start to the story. Brothels are legal. Brothels should be legal. At stake are the lives of the women who would otherwise be haunting street corners. This story is motivated by puritanism.
President François Hollande’s 47-year old partner was slammed for eschewing her Left-wing principles in favour of unabashed champagne Socialism despite the threat of “thousands of job losses in the coming weeks” in companies ranging from Renault to Air France.
They haven’t been paying attention. This is what always happens. It’s not so much socialist hypocrisy (though that’s not unknown), it’s the effect of power and proxy wealth, the wealth of the state. Almost everybody is affected by it, John Prescott being a prime UK example.
It’s why socialist experiments invariably turn out to be as stratified as any seventeenth-century monarchy.
Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.
This gets bandied about a lot by many on the tax-hard left, so there’s a dull inevitability about the fact that the Clement Attlee Foundation is a registered charity and, as they point out:
… if you’re a UK taxpayer GiftAid increases the value to us of your donation by 28p in every £1 at no cost to you.
That is, the UK tax man loses the income tax you paid on the money earned and donated.
It continues. I’ve added emphasis to parts of the following quote which is, I think, from the same 1920 Attlee book as the first:
In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways – they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community. The first way is intolerable, and as for the third: Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice.
Attlee had a point. But he had a very different welfare state in mind than the one we’re facing now. His intention was for a safety net for people fallen temporarily (“at some period in their lives”) on hard times in a “civilised community” of “self-reliant individuals”.
UKIP would be happy with that. It’s not what the people who quote Attlee today have in mind. They seem to leave this bit out when picking their citations.
The Attlee Foundation does seem to be a good thing, though:
Our past projects include:
Housing for teenagers in London’s East End, similar to today’s foyer projects, and a halfway those leaving the housing
Opening a community centre and day care for drug users at a time when there was no government funded support for drug users. This was funded initially by the Leverhulme Trust and later a London borough. This project led to development of a drug-free hostel for the next stage of rehabilitation which became the first of many Phoenix Houses across the UK.
Providing eye camps in India and funding for an Indian doctor to study at Moorfields, in association with the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind.
Developing an adventure playground in the heart of London’s East End. After many years of successful operation we redeveloped the site to add the youth and community centre and sports pitches.
Attlee Means Business is an exciting project to develop entrepreneurial skills in young people in Tower Hamlets with support from City businesses. A programme of support over six workshops covering business basics and planning will be provided by City business volunteers with inspirational talks from successful business people and entrepreneurs. This project is funded jointly by City businesses and London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
Cold? Loveless? And even if you have paid all your taxes gladly, is it a bad thing to want to do more?
Attlee can’t have thought so. The Foundation was established before his death, to carry on his work. By then, more than 40 years after he wrote his famous sentence, he had, presumably, changed his mind.
Ron Paul says, of the public debate following the most recent shooting in a school in the USA:
Many Americans believe that if we simply pass the right laws, future horrors like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting can be prevented. But this impulse ignores the self evident truth that criminals don’t obey laws.
But they don’t believe that, do they?
There’s a tendency, everywhere, to think that people who disagree with us are idiots. Comment threads on blogs mean I can’t deny some are, whatever the politics. But in the main they’re not. If they haven’t mixed with people who have other ideas, they can have unexamined opinions, but most people of an opposing view are reasonably rational about it. And that’s true whatever your politics are.
Nobody thinks that making guns illegal will mean every criminal meekly hands in their weapons. Gun control advocates think that reducing the availability of legal firearms will reduce the availability of illegal ones, that it will more or less eliminate very public mass murders – which do seem to be carried out with legally-held weapons.
There’s also an aesthetic. Some people viscerally detest the thought of people having guns. It presents a landscape they find appalling. That means it isn’t rational. Equally, other people pose with assault rifles and go to the shooting range, hunt, wear cammo clothing. That’s equally visceral and equally not rational.
Neither is irrational, they’re just not born of reason.
From what I can see, there’s a very irregular pattern in the world of gun ownership against factors of suicide, murder, other crime. This post isn’t about that evidence. As it happens, I tend towards thinking people should be able to own handguns, rifles and shotguns, but not assault rifles or ground-to-air missiles. But this isn’t a religious view, I’m open to persuasion.
This post is about not assuming, or pretending, that people who disagree with you are idiots. Because it gets in the way. We should want the best outcome, however that’s achieved.
This isn’t a historical problem. Democide, the mass murder of citizens by their own government, has continued into the twenty-first century. Democide relies on the transformation of people with political, national or ethnic differences into distorted boogymen whose imaginary evil provides – is the only thing that could provide – the necessary degree of justification required for the commission of righteous atrocities.
So this matters. This sort of inaccurate caricaturing of political opponents should be challenged wherever it’s seen. Most people are trying to do their best. Few greens or socialists want everyone shackled to human-drawn ploughs in agrarian communes (though after sufficient demonisation of the bourgeoisie that has happened); few conservatives or libertarians want to step over poor sick people in the street. Dehumanising people just because you disagree with them is dangerous and destructive.
And that is what both of the above tweets were doing.
Take the first. Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) founded the cross-party Centre for Social Justice in 2004 (current Chairman, Labour’s David Blunkett). He is passionate about the problems of Britain’s socially disadvantaged. Whether you agree with his policies is one thing, but the suggestion he would ever wish to destroy the welfare state is grotesque. Michael Gove, influenced by his own difficult start in life, is passionate about improving the educational chances of the poor. Again, you might disagree with his policies, but to suggest he wants to destroy the educational system – wants to destroy it – is a bizarre distortion of reality.
But what of people who did want to destroy welfare and education? Why, rounding them up, smashing their spectacles and making them do menial agricultural work could be a form of justice.
As for the second tweet, it turns out that Republican voters in the USA, a group that includes some people with strongly libertarian tendencies, give more of their time and money to charitable causes than do Democrat voters. It might be that some Objectivists associate weakness with altruism, but there aren’t many of those about, and Rand loathed libertarianism, holding it in contempt. Libertarians actually believe in self-ownership and in the principle that one should never initiate violence. All else stems from those principles. They can get a bit silly, and their isolationism is unattractive, to me, but they are not sociopaths.
Sociopaths, of course, are dangerous. We shouldn’t allow them unrestricted freedom. Maybe we could re-educate them in special camps?
Incidentally, there’s a context to that second tweet. Note the reference to Atheism Plus. This is a newish group that wants to combine atheism with far-left student politics. It has emerged from the extremely funny contemporary sceptical movement that grew up around Richard Dawkins, James Randi, PZ Myers and others – funny because the one thing you absolutely can’t be, if you want to be a part of it, is sceptical. There are a set of ideas that many of its most vocal figures are stridently adamant must be held. Indeed, Atheism Plus is a reaction to the fact that some atheists and sceptics disagree with some of the strident folks’ political opinions. More on this in another post but, for now, enjoy the spectacle of a sceptical movement splintering because some of its members are sceptical and the others don’t like that.
Back to the demonisation. Have you noticed that this relies on collectivism? Individuals don’t get demonised, it would be exhausting to single enough individual people out to wind up with a decent-sized massacre. Instead it’s Tories, Commies, Moslems, Christians, Jews, Catholics, brown people, white people, men, women – always groups. Always Jews too, but that’s another story.
Individualism – originally a synonym for Liberalism – is being attacked in both those tweets. Both IDS and Gove are driven by determination not to treat people as members of a disposable group, not to accept that there’s a natural underclass that will always need to be supported by the rest of society.
They don’t want an affluent, powerful public sector managing the throwing of money at permanent failure, glowing with the warmth of the bloated self-esteem that comes from – or perhaps leads to – imagining anyone who disagrees with what you’re doing is simply evil, that they can’t have a reasoned and possibly reasonable political position.
Atheism Plus says of itself (link above):
Atheism Plus is a term used to designate spaces, persons, and groups dedicated to promoting social justice and countering misogyny, racism, homo/bi/transphobia, ableism and other such bigotry inside and outside of the atheist community.
The bigotries mentioned all depend on collectivisation. If people are treated simply as individuals without group membership, by the state, then no such discrimination can be possible. Instead, Atheism Plus, though at an early stage, seems to be from the political wing that is most obsessive about group membership, some even on a par with racial separatists.
Bigotry comes from these divisions, it isn’t solved by them. Bigotry was on display in the tweets I started with. The civilised approach to differences of opinion is to debate them, not to attack, unjustly, inaccurately, people who hold different views.
[Alan] began squatting a few months ago when his marriage broke down. He enquired about social housing, but was told none was available. “I was born in London and have lived here all my life but it seems I’m expected to go somewhere else where I know nobody,” he says. “Is that what the big society is all about?”
His timing could not have been worse. From Saturday Alan and up to 20,000 other squatters in England and Wales face eviction as police prepare to enforce a radical change to the law which criminalises those occupying residential buildings. Ministers are calling it the “end of squatters’ rights” and the first guaranteed protection for home owners.
For 667 years, between 1166 and 1833, a far better remedy was available to property owners in England. It was called the Assize of Novel Disseisin and was a far more humane and proportionate response to the wrongful occupation of property than criminalisation.
King Henry I of England died in 1135 without an immediate male heir (his son had been drowned in the wreck of the White Ship in 1120). His daughter Matilda and another of William the Conqueror’s grandchildren, Stephen, both felt they had a claim. Stephen acted quickly, travelled to London and had himself crowned. Matilda then invaded and most of Stephen’s reign was disfigured by the ensuing civil war, during which many land holdings were appropriated, and re-appropriated, by force in the absence of legitimate civil authority.
When Henry II came to the throne in 1154, disputes over land holdings were one of his biggest domestic problems. The modern English legal system has evolved from the steps he took to deal with the crisis. King’s Justices, travelling the country holding courts to hear disputes about land tenure, called together juries of local worthies who could adjudicate based on their local knowledge and memories of who had held which pieces of land under Henry I, whose reign was taken as the reference point. In effect, Stephen was written out of history; any grants he had made were undone.
Henry also introduced two ‘Assizes’, or legal processes that could be called on where there were certain types of disputes over land occupation. Mort d’ancestor was aimed at situations where someone had been deprived of an inheritance, typically when the inheritor had been of minority age at the time of their relative’s death. Novel Disseisin dealt with what we now call squatting.
Obviously, that’s an anachronistic way to put it, but it would have dealt very well with squatting. If you felt your property was unlawfully occupied by other people, you could apply to the Sheriff for a writ of Novel Disseisin. In doing so, you would have had to prove that in the recent past you occupied the property yourself. If that could be shown, the Sheriff would issue the writ and the occupiers of the property would have had to leave immediately.
The point of this was not to circumvent proper legal process. The writ didn’t affect anyone’s rights. The ‘squatters’ could take the restored occupiers of the disputed property to court and show they had a rightful claim, if they did. All it affected was who was in possession of the property while this was being resolved.
The tactic of many squatters, especially the most cynical or openly abusive, is to occupy the property while the dispute is heard. When they lose, having caused great expense and distress to the property owner, they move on.
Novel Disseisin would have stopped this strategy working, without criminalising anyone and without infringing anyone’s rights.
The medieval approach was better than the modern, which ought to be a sobering thought.
UPDATE: On Twitter, JuliaMasked: “We criminalise other thieves, don’t we? Why not squatters? Why should they get a parallel legal system?” Since that’s a question a lot of people would feel warranted, I’ll answer it here.
Squatting is done by some of the most vulnerable people in society as well as some of the most predatory. Runaways squat, for example. While I do want the owners of property to have recourse to very fast and cheap restoration, I don’t want to see the vulnerable criminalised. This is especially true with the increased importance and use of Criminal Record Office checks by employers, which seem designed to make sure that offenders have no legitimate alternative to crime.
The writ of Novel Disseisin allowed property owners to get their properties back immediately, without expensive process, and also without criminalising the squatters unless some other crime is committed, like theft of furniture or damage. It would not prevent criminal proceedings if there were other crimes. I think that provides the best solution to the problem. It mixes effectiveness with compassion.