Deal or no deal?

We’ve been playing this game for over three years now, and few of us have enjoyed it. The game may or may not end tomorrow, but at least we’re closer than we’ve been.

It’s hard to smile when one is holding one’s breath

It says a lot about our parliamentarians that many of them are bitching about having to go to work on a Saturday. Indeed, what’s national sovereignty compared to a relaxed weekend with a mammal of one’s choice?

Now, what do we call leaving without saying good-bye? The English talk about ‘French leave’, thus putting the blame for such rudeness squarely at Gallic feet. Not to be outdone, the French put the boot on the other foot by calling it filer à langlaise, ‘English leave’.

(A propos of nothing, the same linguistic ping pong is played with a certain contraceptive device the English sometimes call ‘French letters’ and the French capote anglaise.)

Every ‘Brexit deal’ mooted so far has introduced a new idiom: ‘EU leave’, which is saying good-bye without really leaving. Now what about the deal our MPs, still reeling from their ruined weekends, are going to debate tomorrow?

There are only two respectable stances on this debate, one typified by Boris Johnson, the other by Nigel Farage. Those who want to scupper Brexit, deal or no deal, can be contemptuously dismissed on more grounds than can be even listed here.

The Boris view is that, though the deal he has negotiated with the EU is a compromise, it’s the best compromise we’ll ever get. The Nigel view is that the proposed deal amounts to taking EU leave.

The Boris view is more pragmatic; the Nigel one is more principled. My view is that they are both right, and I hope this sitting on the fence won’t cause lasting genital damage.

Boris Johnson has every reason to be proud: he has achieved in three months what Mrs May failed to do in three years. Johnson’s superior human qualities apart, this difference is due to their positions at the starting blocks: Johnson actually wanted to leave and May didn’t.

However, his deal (dread word) has strong elements of ‘EU leave’ about it. First, there’s the question of Ireland.

Mr Johnson’s deal is different from Mrs May’s in that the hated backstop will now apply to Northern Ireland only, not the whole of the UK. That means that, for all economic purposes, Northern Ireland will stay in the EU, while also being able to benefit from whatever windfall is expected to boost the post-Brexit British economy.

I don’t find the positives of this arrangement instantly persuasive. Effectively this means that different parts of the UK will have different customs laws, thereby defying the traditional definition of a united commonwealth. Next thing we know, Scotland and Wales will demand the same status, and they’ll have a point.

The argument against having a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is that it would jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement, concocted by the combined efforts of two spivs going by their diminutive names, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

Good riddance, I say. The Good Friday Agreement represented abject surrender to mass murderers. It elevated thugs like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to the status of statesmen and members of Parliament – which they had tried to blow up. At least they were honest enough to decline that honour.

Of course, neither hypostasis of Boris Johnson, politician and journalist, would ever be able to enunciate such a thought this side of a boozy Bullingdon Club reunion. The Good Friday Agreement has been elevated to secular sainthood, and an auto-da-fé awaits any heretic.

Then there’s the Level Playing Field clause of the proposed deal. Without getting bogged down in detail, it means that Britain will have to continue to abide by EU social and environmental regulations, no matter how perverse, which usually means very.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but the whole economic case for Brexit wasn’t just acquiring the freedom to sign our own trade agreements, but also getting rid of the EU red tape tying our businesses hand and foot.

One understands why the EU crammed that clause down Britain’s throat: their own competitive position getting shakier by the day, they don’t want Britain to undercut them on regulations.

Yet there I was, thinking that Brexit was supposed to strengthen our competitiveness, not tie us forever to the apron strings of the unaccountable, unwieldy EU bureaucracy. It’s partly the millstone of regulations that’s dragging both Germany and France into a recession. Do we really wish to follow them, lemmings-style?

No deal is the principled position, and Nigel Farage ought to be commended for sticking to it. Let’s not forget that it’s largely his intransigence that forced that ‘heir to Blair’ into the referendum in the first place.

Farage’s view is that we should ditch Johnson’s deal and ask the EU for an extension (which Juncker said wouldn’t be granted, but then he might have been in his cups). The Tories and the Brexit Party will then go into a general election as a bloc and win a decisive majority, at last making Nigel an MP.

A new parliament of committed Leavers will vote for a clean break with the EU, and we’ll all live happily thereafter in the post-Brexit paradise. And whatever short-term economic pain we’ll suffer will be greatly alleviated by the £39 billion divorce settlement we’ll get to keep.

However, the first duty of government isn’t to create paradise on earth, but to prevent hell on earth. And that’s what the Nigel position is risking.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that our comprehensively educated masses will grasp the difference between May’s procrastination and Johnson’s extension. The Brexit consensus, such as it is, may disintegrate and the electorate may hold the Johnson-Farage bloc responsible for the mess.

As a result, we may get no Brexit and, which is even worse, a Corbyn-McDonnell government. That’s precisely the hell on earth that governments are instituted to prevent.

I can’t calculate the odds for and against such a development – I don’t think anyone can. But let’s assume that the likelihood of such a disaster is no more than 20 per cent. Would you risk the survival of your family on such odds? I wouldn’t either, and neither should we accept them when the survival of Britain qua Britain is at stake.

Hence, wincing from both physical and moral pain, I climb off the fence. The possibility of such a hellish outcome is too great a risk to take. If I were an MP – perish the thought – I’d vote for Johnson’s deal.

Then, letting the dust settle after a year or two, we’d be able to decide which parts of it to keep and which to abandon. With apologies to Shakespeare, some deals are more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Yes, I know that would be dishonest, but do let’s be consistent pragmatists, taking our cue from Messrs Machiavelli, Burghley and Talleyrand – especially if Marx and Trotsky are looming as the alternative. 

It’s not Kurds, it’s NATO

Trump-bashing has become a worldwide obsession, a spittle-sputtering, mouth-frothing mania from which I don’t suffer.

“Hey, Tayyip, I know where you live.”

Whenever a politician is savagely attacked, I always invite people to consider the options. Making negative statements is easy; offering positive solutions is a task that defeats most critics.

What’s the alternative to Trump? Warren? Biden? Sanders? If I dusted off my old US passport and chose to take part in the next election, I’d be as likely to vote for the reincarnated spirit of Heinrich Himmler as for any of them.

Whether I’d be able to vote for Trump would largely depend on the nature of his intimacy with Putin. If I couldn’t find a benign explanation for it, I’d probably give the election a miss altogether.

So far I’ve steadfastly refused to jump on the bandwagon driven by those who claim that Trump is but a puppet on Putin’s string. Some ascribe this subservient status to natural affinity, others to more sinister motives.

That some link exists is beyond doubt, although for old times’ sake we should refrain from accusing a man of treason in the absence of prima facie evidence to support such a charge. However, even if Trump isn’t Putin’s agent, at times one wonders how differently he’d act if he were.

What’s unfolding in northern Syria is one such instance. Trump has blithely betrayed America’s Kurdish allies and invited Erdogan to launch an aggressive incursion.

By way of justification he has used all sorts of increasingly bizarre statements, such as that America owes no debt to the Kurds because they took no part in the D-Day landing.

Neither did any of today’s NATO members, with a partial exception of the Poles. A few Dutchmen, for example, might have come along for the ride, but certainly not as many as the 20,000 of them who served in the Waffen SS.

Does this mean the US owes no obligation to defend Holland against aggression? And as to the Germans, not only did they not jump on those landing craft, but they even inflicted 10,000 casualties on those who did. Does this mean Germany isn’t protected by Article 5 of the NATO Charter?

The Kurds, says Trump, are “no angels” and “more of a terrorist threat in many ways than Isis.” That’s irrelevant if true. If America only ever offered protection to nice people, the Saudis would have been overrun by Iran a long time ago.

One gets the impression that Trump’s approach to politics is mostly informed by his lifelong career of building glittering monuments to venality and bad taste for ethnically diverse Mafiosi.

He doesn’t seem to realise that foreign relations don’t boil down to personal relationships and mutual pecuniary benefit. There are powers in the world that pursue ends that have no monetary equivalent.

Such powers are driven by wicked motives compelling them to act as global bullies. They can’t be mollified by smiley handshakes and confidential exchanges. Resolute strength is the only possible counterbalance.

It’s to stop the expansion of one such power, the Soviet Union, that NATO was created in 1949. Turkey was drawn into the alliance to protect NATO’s southern flank. She’s home to NATO, mostly US, bases and a recipient of NATO, mostly US, arms.

If Turkey wobbles in her commitment to the Western alliance, the alliance will wobble too; if Turkey switches sides, NATO will be badly, perhaps fatally, wounded.

Now Trump clearly doesn’t see Russia as a threat, a typological heir to the USSR. After all, today’s rulers of Russia, and especially his friend Vlad, don’t want to kill all capitalists.

On the contrary, they are sort of capitalists themselves, as obsessed with money as any American property developer. Fair enough, they do spout a never-ending stream of anti-American invective, but only because Congress doesn’t let Trump meet them halfway.

If Vlad wants to help himself to a few marginal countries or peoples in the vicinity of Russia, that’s just fine and dandy with Donald – as long as he and Vlad see eye to eye on the important things in life.

Some of those countries may not be so marginal; others may even be NATO members. But that doesn’t matter to Trump. What’s important is that both he and Vlad, along with their nearest and dearest, continue to avoid war and prosper.

The day after Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria and openly encouraged Erdogan to intervene, the strategic balance in the Middle East – possibly the world – shifted.

Turkey began to act as Russia’s proxy, clearing the way for Putin’s kleptofascist empire to carve up Syria and get a permanent foothold in the region. She’ll then be controlling the crossroads of the global oil routes, reaping rich rewards in both money and power.

It’s not as if Trump didn’t realise this. He does – and welcomes it. “Syria may have some help with Russia and that’s fine,” he said with astounding cynicism. “It’s a lot of sand.” That sand is so saturated with blood spilled over millennia that one is tempted to think it’s important enough not to dismiss so casually.

If probed, Trump would probably describe himself as a realpolitik pragmatist, thinking in the practical categories of national interest, understood solely in economic terms. If so, he must realise that NATO isn’t just a protector of small nations, but also a conduit of America’s global influence.

Dismantling this guarantor of peace in Europe for 70 years would hurt America’s economic interests, to put the problem in the language Trump understands.

And empowering an evil regime that doesn’t even bother to conceal that it sees the West as an enemy may embolden it to take desperate steps.

To roll it back would then be considerably costlier than to keep it in check before it has gathered a full head of steam. And that cost would be denominated not only in blood but also in money.

However, Trump is doing his best to undermine NATO by pushing Turkey into Putin’s embrace. For example, leaked to the press yesterday was Trump’s insulting letter to Erdogan written a week ago.

As a young man Trump must have read How to Win Friends and Influence People; it’s his kind of book. But, judging by the letter, he didn’t grasp its key points.

“Let’s work out a good deal!” starts Trump in his inimitable manner. “You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy – and I will.” In other words, by all means act as Putin’s vanguard, but do it nicely.

He started as he meant to go on: “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump writes at the end.

Now, Turks are known for their pride. If Trump thinks this combination of threats and insults will keep Erdogan on side, he’s sorely mistaken.

The threats are empty anyway: he can’t destroy Turkey’s economy. He can hurt it, but Vlad will be there to take up the slack with an open chequebook and a steady supply of arms and energy. But the insults are real, practically guaranteed to alienate Turkey from NATO.

As I said earlier, I don’t know if Trump is doing Putin’s bidding because of some kind of cloak-and-dagger ‘deal’. It may be just ignorance and naivety. But, in the practical categories Trump swears by, it doesn’t really matter.

Dress to depress

Our pundits are getting weak-kneed at the sight of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wearing native garb on their visit to Pakistan.

Not only that, but Kate was turned out in the style popularised by her late mother-in-law, who did feel that special something for Pakistan.

I don’t understand why our future king and queen should indulge in this sartorial exercise. What’s wrong with the clothes of their own civilisation and rank? After all, the apparel oft proclaims not only a man, but also his culture.

Respecting other cultures doesn’t presuppose adopting them or abandoning one’s own, if only temporarily. Indian and Pakistani politicians make that point by routinely wearing their own dress at official functions in England, and I don’t recall ever seeing, say, Nehru clad in white tie.

Had Queen Victoria ever visited the subcontinent, one can’t easily imagine her wearing a sari, with a turban-topped Prince Albert by her side. In those days British royals didn’t have to apologise for being either British or royal.

One can understand a Western woman taking her shoes off and covering her head in a mosque, or a Western man donning a skullcap in a synagogue. Places of worship are like private clubs that are within their rights to impose house rules.

But Pakistan is a country, not a mosque. It’s part of the Commonwealth of Nations (née the British Empire) of which William will be head one day. He and his wife are thus constitutionally obliged to treat all member nations with courtesy – but without ever demeaning the dignity of their office.

One suspects that in this case they were inspired not by an all-abiding love of exotica, but by our multi-culti Zeitgeist. That’s most unfortunate, for the monarchy is by definition a conservative institution that must act as a bulwark against the perverse aspects of modernity, not kowtow to them.

It’s not just the royals either. Every time female TV reporters do their thing in a Muslim country, they feel obliged to wear a head scarf. Why?

Are they trying to camouflage themselves as Muslim women? If so, a head scarf alone wouldn’t do the job. A burka is a must, and perhaps also a pair of dark glasses if the reporter’s eyes are some non-Islamic colour.

If the sight of a bareheaded woman offends Muslim men, they should contain their brittle sensibilities – as we do when seeing gaggles of burka-clad women overrunning those boutiques in Knightsbridge. 

Anyway, all this raises a tantalising question. What if Will and Kate next visit a Commonwealth country where both men and women tend to wear nothing but a loincloth?

Will Kate… no, I shouldn’t let my fantasies run wild. Most unseemly at my age. Instead, after all these years, I must finally bring myself to put that notorious issue of Closer magazine on e-bay.   

Stick to footie, Jürgen

Ours is an age of narrow specialisation and broad audiences.

Bringing those two together creates a lamentable situation: broad audiences are eager to listen to a narrow specialist pontificating on areas outside his expertise.

Glittering with the gold dust of celebrity, he’s accepted as the light of universal wisdom able to elucidate any problem under the sun.

However, nowadays such men are so rare that one is tempted to say they are nonexistent. For it’s precisely the modern obsession with narrow specialisation that precludes multifaceted sagacity. The jigsaw of life is now too fragmented for anyone other than a great philosopher to put the picture back together, and one doesn’t see many of them around.

Anyway, if one were to search for such an overachiever, football players and managers wouldn’t be the first group to investigate. Jürgen Klopp is a case in point.

An excellent coach, he’s also a likeable man, ever ready to flash his pearly dentures at an interviewer, laugh raucously and reassure his audience with his stock phrase “it’s all good”.

What’s not good is his constant pontificating on the delights of unlimited immigration and, consequently, the evils of Brexit.

Now Herr Klopp’s Weltanschauung is wholly informed by the game he loves. He’s a narrow, and highly accomplished, specialist. However, when his mind wanders off from the football pitch, it’s swept away by the hurricane of ideas that go beyond the lapidary phrase “I hit it first time and there it was in the back of net”.

As a football manager he swears by meritocracy. That’s the beauty of football and sports in general: there exist simple numerical criteria of truth.

No nuances need apply, there’s no antithesis to any thesis: England beat Bulgaria 6:0 yesterday and there’s really nothing to argue about. England is the better team. End of discussion.

Few things outside sports arenas are as simple as that. Predictably, however, Herr Klopp fails to realise that. Football to him is the distillation of life, an unfailing matrix to apply to every little problem. Such, for example, as Brexit.

Herr Klopp hates it because he knows that his Liverpool team benefits from unlimited immigration. His celebrated front line consists of an Egyptian, a Senegalese and a Brazilian; his best line-up includes only three British players. And if it works for Liverpool FC, surely it must work for the UK.

Hence he writes: In football it’s clear: the best player plays. It’s the same outside football. If you didn’t bother listening at school and you don’t have any education or skills, you can’t expect to get a good job. And when somebody turns up from another country who has worked hard and studied economics or whatever, they don’t get the job because they are black or foreign. They get the job because they are the better candidate.”

Heresies, religious or intellectual, attract because their claim is always partly true. The problem is that they try to pass that part for the whole, making the overall idea fall flat on its face.

In this case it’s true that, if a qualified immigrant can do a better job than a locally sourced recruit, he should be welcomed. One exception I’d make is specifically the profession Klopp singled out: economists.

The fewer we have of them, the better because economists, armed with their computer models, do more harm than good. They should get out of our hair and let people get on with making a living the best they know how. So a Jean-Pierre Whatever can take his degree in economics from l’Ecole de Thingamajig to some place where the sun shines all year round.

But yes, if we can’t produce enough good doctors or engineers, qualified foreigners should get their work visas. Given the pitiful state of our education, I can see accommodating a couple of thousand of those every year.

However, the UK immigrant population currently stands at about 10 million, and it’s increasing at 400,000 a year. Something tells me that not all of them are high-calibre professionals who can show our Tom, Dick and Harrys what’s what.

Something else tells me that most of them place a high demand on our social services without providing a supply of much-needed knowhow. For example, I wonder how many of the 100,000 Somalis who’ve graced our Isles with their presence recently are structural designers or endocrinologists.

Then again, even assuming that our economy has gaping holes that only migrants can plug, it’s not immediately clear why Britain can’t accept them without abandoning her national sovereignty.

After all, foreigners have been able to come to England throughout history without England having to become a province of Germany or some other continental power. Holbein, Rubens, Handel, Haydn, Wittgenstein, Hayak, Eliot and countless others plied their wares in Britain without Britain becoming a Gau in some kind of Reich.

Another consideration is purely numerical. Supposing for the sake of argument that 20 million Germans, all as supremely qualified in their fields as Herr Klopp is in his, wanted to settle in Britain.

There’s no doubt the British economy would benefit, but a country doesn’t live by economy alone (I know how anachronistic this thought sounds). It has to preserve its own idiosyncratic culture, which presupposes a certain ethnic equilibrium heavily favouring the indigenous population.

Hence, even if all those Germans were Klopps in disguise, some limit would have to be put on their number. We’d have to say, sorry, Freunde, we may consider 2,000 but 20 million is ausgeschlossen.

To be able to be so picky, we’d have to have control over our borders. And to have that, we must have… well, you know the litany. Trouble is, Klopp doesn’t. All he knows is football, and more power to him.

Sei nicht dumm, Jürgen. Der Fußball über alles. Du wirst niemals alleine gehen! (I assume that’s how the Liverpool FC theme song, You’ll Never Walk Alone, sounds in German.)

 

Je m’excuse…!

This title is transparently inspired by Emil Zola’s 1898 pamphlet J’accuse…!, in which that otherwise dreadful writer passionately attacked those who had framed Capt. Dreyfus for espionage.

I’d like to apologise to ‘Great’ Thunberg on behalf of Western civilisation

That’s where the similarity ends, one hopes. First, my piece will be apologetic, rather than accusatory. Second, as a result of his effort Zola was convicted of libel and had to flee to England, a fate that I’m confident won’t befall me.

After all, since I’m already in England, escaping there would be physically impossible. Nor will an escape be necessary because, as someone who has sleepless nights worrying about our planet, I’m firmly on the side of the Extinction Rebellion angels.

That means no one will dare sue me no matter how often I call people fascists or murderers – and that’s when I’m in a good mood.

But before I offer my profuse apologies, I must point out that Greta Thunberg’s Christian name is an anagram of ‘great’, and no aptonym has ever been more appropriate.

Following in Boris Johnson’s footsteps, I’d like to thank anagrammatic, aptonymic ‘Great’ and the movement she inspired for pointing out our civilisation’s “mind-blowing carbon debt”.

And, taking my lead from Michael Gove, then Environment Secretary, I apologise on behalf of Western civilisation for bringing our planet to the verge of extinction, using the Industrial Revolution as a lame excuse.

Moving from the general to the particular, I want to mention some of the specific culprits that throughout history have been bringing our civilisation into disrepute and our planet close to extinction.

First on this list of shame is agriculture, and I mean all of it, not just animal husbandry.

That devouring the flesh of murdered livestock is both a moral disgrace and an ecological disaster is a truth more universally acknowledged than anything Jane Austin could concoct.

Alas, less opprobrium is levelled at cereal farming, which ignores its dastardly, millennia-long contribution to global warming.

In particular, I’d like to apologise for the villain who first came up with slash-and-burn agriculture, wherein large tracts of forest were burned to make the soil more fertile – this, with criminal disregard for either the raised temperature or the murdered trees.

If that was bad, the subsequent three-field system was even worse, for it rotated three fields to grow different crops in sequential seasons. Only one of the three fields lay fallow – rather than all three, which they would have been had ‘Great’ lived at the time. I’m sorry about that.

And I’m even sorrier about the scoundrel who at the same time invented the moldboard plough, that diabolic global warmer. You see, turning the soil releases heat into the atmosphere, which has been hurting our planet since God was young.

Apologies are also in order for Benjamin Holt, the criminal American fascist who in Zola’s time invented the tractor, exacerbating the problem no end. And as to those planet-killing degenerates who came up with chemical fertilisers, no apology will be abject enough.

Instead, with all humility and boundless respect, I’d like to draw ‘Great’s’ attention to the perils of the vegan diet.

While morally superior to barbaric carnivorism, it too pushes our planet to the precipice. To be on the safe side, we must stop eating not just meat but also bread and related foods. Only consuming naturally growing grasses, nuts and tree bark would obviate the need for apology. 

Now we can smoothly segue from agriculture to the chemical industry, including its pharmaceutical offshoot. Here my mea culpas reach fervour pitch and I’m banging my head on the floor even as we speak.

In particular, I’d like to apologise for Hippocrates who first noticed the medicinal properties of willow bark, Charles Frédéric Gerhardt who synthesised that bark’s acetylsalicylic acid, and the firm Bayer that turned it into mass-produced aspirin.

Enough people have already apologised for another Bayer product, the Zyklon B gas that served the needs of Germany’s growth industry in the 1940s. Yet mine is the first apology for its seemingly innocuous aspirin, which might not have killed a few million people directly, but has still dealt a mortal blow to our planet.

As to Alexander Fleming with his evil penicillin, don’t let me get going on that mass murderer. The pathetic little benefit of antibiotics, saving a few carbon-producing lives, is outweighed by the egregious damage caused by manufacturing those satanic potions.

Have you seen smoke coming out of pharmaceutical factories? Then you know what they do to our planet, and I’m genuinely sorry. So say no to drugs (other than recreational ones) and explore the medicinal properties of naturally growing grasses, nuts and tree bark – and if you don’t, I’ll report you to ‘Great’.

The list could go on, each item accompanied by my head-banging apology. But you get the message: all science and technology over the ages has been hatched by a perfidious conspiracy devoted to destroying our planet.

It’s time we sat down and pondered the possible solutions (actually, sitting down is the only option here in London, what with ‘Great’s’ troops gridlocking the city centre).

The conspirators I mentioned camouflage their subversion with empty pronouncements about people living longer and better as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Rather than apologising for it, hiss those snakes, we must give thanks.

Those vermin don’t realise that they thereby betray their fiendish designs. For the problem is precisely the longer lifespans and therefore greater numbers of people befouling our planet.

Reverting to the pre-industrial, ideally pre-historic, conditions would rapidly depopulate, and thereby save, our planet. I just wish ‘Great’ and her friends had the courage to spell out this objective in so many words.

Perhaps they are planning to do so shortly. If that’s the case, I may have inadvertently stolen their thunder, for which I’m terribly sorry.

Equality makes people dumb

If I may be allowed a slight paraphrase, I hold this truth to be self-evident that no two men are created equal.

There’s one born every second

There, doesn’t this tally with our daily observation better than the original text? Clearly, an innumerate chap isn’t equal to a maths professor, an illiterate one to a writer, a child to his father, a criminal to a law-abiding man.

We aren’t even entirely equal before the law: people under a certain age can’t vote, neither can prison inmates, a Catholic can’t marry into our royal family, Americans who inscribed equality in their founding document I bowdlerised above have age qualifications for public offices and a nativity one for the presidency.

Even equality before God only works at birth and perhaps in infancy. Later, if a child grows up to be a thief, he isn’t equal to one who observes God’s and man’s laws. They are no more equal than paradise and hell.

The more we look at the world, the more we realise that it’s organised hierarchically. So was the traditional Western society, patterned as it was on the family.

A family is always vertical, with the father occupying a higher rung than the child and… I almost said ‘the mother’, but stopped myself lest the sky might open and the God of secular virtue smite me with a court summons.

A hierarchy is like the steel carcass of a building: it makes the structure sound and durable. In society, a vertical social arrangement provides a form into which human content can then flow. Remove that, and society becomes amorphous – water on the tablecloth, not in a glass.

It’s precisely destruction of this form that a newly inaugurated modernity declared as its overriding goal. Removing ranks of nobility or at least divesting them of any power was one part of it; sanctifying majority vote as the only just political system was another.

Both may sound like good ideas, but only to those who lack training in thinking things through. Such an exercise, coupled with unbiased observation, would show that egalitarianism has lethal consequences in every walk of life.

Losing its form, society disintegrates into an atomised mass of resentful egotists, giving the lie to the masonic slogan of modernity. For it’s not just liberty, but also fraternity that equality makes impossible.

Revolutionaries who start out by believing that, since all people are equally good and capable, they are only ever held back by the yoke of hierarchy, soon find out they are wrong.

Given equal opportunities for advancement, some people advance further than others, and some don’t advance at all. The revolutionaries become so disappointed with the people that killing them all seems unavoidable.

In more vegetarian societies it’s the people themselves who get disappointed. No matter how vociferously they demand equality, and no matter how hard the state tries to deliver it, the rich remain richer than the poor, the tall taller than the short, the knowledgeable smarter than the ignorant.

That produces social atomisation, for a sense of supposedly unjust inequality breeds resentment, and resentment begets egotism. Feeling betrayed by society, each man locks himself within himself. Rather than seeing his neighbour as his brother, he begins to see him as a competitor. There goes fraternité, biting the dust.

Yet it would be wrong to say that equality is a pipe dream. In fact, every country has achieved it in small enclaves where people’s clothes, food, lodgings and indeed rights aren’t merely equal but identical.

These perfectly egalitarian places are called gaols, and indeed prison is the epitome of egalitarian aspirations, the ideal towards which they strive. Liberté goes the way of fraternité, both ousted by égalité.

Another great damage caused by egalitarianism is intellectual. All classes have been levelled socially, and politically each vote has the same weight at the booth. By unavoidable transference, a belief gradually sets in that all opinions are equally true or at least equally valid.

Phrases like “I have a right to my own opinion” and “let’s agree to disagree” are routinely uttered by ignoramuses arguing with learned men. You think the Earth is round, I think it’s flat, so what makes your opinion better than mine?

Underpinning such exchanges is the dominant belief that greater knowledge confers no more advantages intellectually than noble birth does socially. All idiots are savants or all savants are idiots – take your pick.

Since absolute truth has been declared nonexistent, thought on all subjects other than the narrowly technical ones has lost both structure and a teleological aspect. It too has become amorphous, and the general assumption is that intellectual arguments can be settled by majority opinion as decisively as political elections. “Not many people will agree with you” is seen as a valid QED.

When truth is replaced with a patchwork quilt of supposedly equal opinions, the opinion that most readily appeals to the less intelligent wins out by its strength in numbers: people capable of grasping the totality of a problem are always in the minority.

Witness the ease with which yesterday’s eccentricities become today’s orthodoxies – and also the maniacal stridency with which the huddled masses yearning to be equal enforce the new-fangled orthodoxies.

The views that homosexuals could marry, or that people could choose their sex from a menu of some 20 options, or that a freshly minted man can give birth and become both the father and mother to his child would have been regarded as symptoms of mental illness a generation ago.

Today they are orthodoxies, meaning that no dissent is possible. The same goes for equality between (among?) the sexes.

Ask its champion how come, if the sexes are equal, every time you call for a plumber or electrician a man turns up, and you’ll be told you can’t generalise on that basis – you can’t generalise full stop, under any circumstances.

In fact, the ability to generalise, to think inductively, is a tell-tale sign of an intelligent man – for him, empirical observations fit into a system of thought, rather than walking away in every possible direction on their own two legs, leaving intellectual emptiness behind.

It’s in this context that we can understand the public reaction to the Extinction Rebellion and the mayhem it’s causing in central London.

Anthropogenic (and apocalyptic) global warming is a hypothesis, a theory, just like Darwinism is only a theory. That designation used to presuppose vulnerability to conflicting evidence and certainly a possibility of debate. No longer.

If in the past elevation to orthodoxy took decades, advances in communications technology of which modernity is so smugly proud have shortened that span to days, months at the longest.

Hence the most we are allowed to say is that, while we deplore the disruption those crazed cretins are causing, we wholeheartedly sympathise with their half-baked cause. In fact, as Boris Johnson has grovelled, we are grateful to them for bringing the impending end of the world to our attention.

We are witnessing a delayed-action bomb going off, for modernity, ushered in to uphold reason, has gradually destroyed it in the name of equality. Intelligent people still exist, but they are neither listened to nor indeed heard.

All we hear is the deafening braying of the mob, Chesterton’s village idiots and village atheists coming together not only in the same crowds but also in the same breasts. And then marching towards a glorious dream bound to turn out to be a macabre nightmare.

Sanctimonious, moi?

By itself, taking part in the Extinction Rebellion circus doesn’t make Benedict Cumberbatch a “sanctimonious fraud”, “stupid” or “shallow”, as some of his disappointed fans are calling him.

How many miles to a gallon is that, Ben?

It makes him a modern man par excellence. I’d even go so far as to suggest that Mr Cumberbatch is the sun for which all modernity tropistically reaches.

The fans detect, and are upset by, some incongruity in Mr Cumberbatch’s febrile hatred of carbon emissions and his frequent lucrative endorsements of muscle cars, such as the MG and Jaguar.

Shilling for the latter, he once delivered a snappy line: “It’s good to be bad.” Possibly, provided one knows what good and bad are. That’s where the problem is.

Good and bad are, or rather used to be, moral and therefore metaphysical concepts. They presuppose the existence of some ideal of moral truth acting as the measuring stick of virtue and sin.

By definition such an ideal has to be absolute and timeless, for if it isn’t, it leaves the realm of truth and enters one of fickle relativities. In the process, words that in the past denoted metaphysical realities are prostituted to physical appetites and thereby desemanticised.

Thus Hemingway, another quintessentially modern man, felt justified to write that “if it feels good, it’s moral”.

If that’s not a category error, I don’t know what is: the writer equates sensual, which is to say physical, which is to say transient, which is to say relative, pleasure with an absolute metaphysical ideal. Hemingway could write, but he couldn’t think.

Such an understanding of morality is consistent with the rampant, all-conquering materialism of modernity. To a modern man, relating his appetites to first principles isn’t so much alien as incomprehensible.

Yet even a modern man is still human. While pursuing material gains in the form of money and the sensations it buys, he still feels a longing for that elusive something he can no longer define, something bigger than himself – or rather something he pretends to be bigger than himself: inveterate egotist, deep down he knows that nothing really is.

Since truth is no longer part of his vocabulary, nor metaphysics a word that means anything to him, he looks for that something in the material passions of today. He seeks the superpersonal while rejecting the supernatural.

For those who retain some vestiges of sanity (and their number is dwindling), this quest is a pleasant, ego-stroking diversion, a way of feeling good about themselves without having to do anything serious to deserve it. Ego thus stroked and purring with delight, they can resume real, material life.

Thus I’m sure Mr Cumberbatch doesn’t quite understand why some of his fans are calling him names just because he promotes carbon emissions on wheels and then protests against carbon emissions.

The first is real life, the second is onanistic self-gratification. What on earth is the problem? Can’t a chap do both? A secular materialist during the day, a secular idealist in the after hours?

Indeed he can. Especially if he doesn’t realise that he, along with all quintessentially modern men, suffers from schizophrenia. When the proportion of such madmen losing touch with reality reaches a critical mass, our civilisation will perish – while ‘the planet’ will remain in rude health.

It’s not long now, judging by the public response to this current bout of madness. What used to be condescending acquiescence has become mandated approval. When it becomes compulsory participation, we’ll know the end is nigh.

At least terrorists do it on purpose

Whenever US and British personnel share military bases, carnage ensues. The Americans kill and are killed, using cars as their weapons of choice.

It’s time foreigners learned to drive properly

Here I’d like to share my experience of driving close to a million miles in the US, Britain and just about every country in Western Europe. Naturally, switching from one place to another, one has to adjust to different road conditions and drivers’ habits.

Comparisons are made, generalisations are drawn, and mine are that Britons are by far the best drivers I’ve encountered, and Americans are among the worst.

Statistics support this observation: in Britain we have 3.1 annual road deaths per 100,000 population; in the US it’s 12.4. Four times as many – even though Britain is cramped and drivers have to fight for every inch, while much of driving in America is done on empty motorways.

I recall driving from Houston to Los Angeles years ago, and for about 300 miles the only other car I saw going in either direction belonged to a cop who gave me a ticket for doing 40 miles over the 55 mph limit.

Other than being done for speeding, the only danger on such roads comes from falling asleep, and this may explain why it’s American and not British soldiers who create fatal accidents when serving together.

The knife’s edge conditions on British roads train drivers to stay focused at all times, never losing their concentration. Luxurious American roads may have the opposite effect – one learns to relax, knowing that it’ll be hundreds of miles before another car appears.

The latest cause for such conjecture is the scandal caused by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a CIA officer attached to an RAF base in Northamptonshire. Mrs Sacoolas drove on the wrong side of the road and killed a 19-year-old motorcyclist.

She then promptly fled the country under cover of diplomatic immunity, which supposedly protects her as well as her husband.

Now diplomatic immunity may be an essential tool in international relations, but it’s not – nor is meant to be – a licence to kill. Established by the 1961 Geneva Convention, it’s granted with the proviso that its beneficiaries must obey the law.

Causing death by dangerous driving merits up to 14 years in prison. Hence Mrs Sacoolas’s spy-drama escape on a private flight, even though she had promised the police to stay put.

The spirit of the law demands that her immunity be revoked and she face the music in Britain. The British foreign secretary made that request, only to be curtly dismissed by President Trump.

“The spouse of the US government employee will not return to the United Kingdom,” he said, adding an offhand remark that people sometimes drive on the wrong side of the road.

Indeed they do. However, if they kill as a result they tend to be prosecuted, which by the looks of it isn’t going to happen to Mrs Sacoolas.

Americans have form in being confused by unfamiliar traffic rules. Back in 2007 two US servicemen died near RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall. The Suffolk coroner then issued a reminder that Britons drive on the left, and yet in 2016 another American serviceman was killed on the wrong side of the road.

British left-hand traffic causes problems not only for Americans but also for continentals – much to the delight of a friend of mine who lives in Colchester.

His terrace overlooks a roundabout on the road leading from Harwich ferry port. Every Saturday afternoon my friend settles in a comfy deck chair, G&T in hand, and waits for some arrival from the Hook of Holland to cause an accident by driving the wrong way on that roundabout. He seldom has to wait for more than one drink.

All that points to a problem, but there is a solution. Ideally, any American or European planning to drive in Britain should take a remedial driving course. That, however, is neither practical nor promising, considering that those foreigners kill one another with alacrity even on their own roads.

Hence we must make sure that everybody drives on the same side. To that end, both the US and continental Europe should switch to left-hand traffic.

This proposal is inspired not by jingoism but by history, science and common sense.

Historically, all of Europe drove on the left until the continental blockade introduced by Napoleon, who presaged Macron in his fanatic commitment to a united Europe.

Since Britain characteristically refused to play along, out of sheer spite Napoleon introduced right-hand traffic in the European countries under his control.

Originally, people drove on the left because carriage drivers wielded their whips with the right hand. That’s why they were unlikely to lash innocent passers-by, only ever endangering other carriage drivers.

When drivers switched to cars, science came in to support left-hand traffic. Tests show that, when a head-on collision is threatened, most drivers instinctively turn the wheel to the left, which in Britain means towards the pavement and on the continent towards the oncoming traffic. That too might be a contributing factor to the remarkably low number of road deaths in Britain.

One wishes those continentals realised the error of their ways and followed our rational example proven historically and scientifically. But they never do, do they?

A bloody good question

“We have been there for 16 years,” writes an American reader of mine in response to my yesterday’s piece on Turkey and the Kurds, “and if you say that we have no exit at this time, how can we end it?”

The problem goes deeper than the odd explosion or shooting

The title above is the short answer, or rather non-answer, to that question. Yet I feel duty-bound not to leave it at that.

The general comment is that the best way to correct costly mistakes in foreign policy is not to make them in the first place.

That, however, is seldom the option, given the calibre of those in charge of global affairs. Today’s politics simply doesn’t attract people capable of thinking as deeply and broadly as this subject demands.

Emotions, ideologies, short-sighted electoral needs, press campaigns, inflamed public opinion all conspire to push our intellectually and morally challenged leaders towards precipitate, often foolhardy, action. Such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Fear of Saddam’s WMD, which he didn’t have, was only a pretext for it, not the reason. The reason was an overemotional reaction to the shock of 9/11.

WE MUST DO SOMETHING!!! was the battle cry, and it had merit. Something indeed had to be done, but what?

The answer to that question depends on whether 9/11 is believed to be an isolated incident, one of many such ad hoc events, or a manifestation of a certain pattern of long standing.

Any person whose mind isn’t befuddled by self-righteous ideologies will know that Islam has been waging war on the West for 1,400 years. That religion is doctrinally committed to expanding ad infinitum, and disposing of as many infidels as that goal required.

Obviously, no nation can afford 1,400 years of non-stop action. Even conflicts of considerably shorter duration, such as the Thirty Years’ War, didn’t feature 30 years of uninterrupted hostility. Long wars always ebb and flow, they have peaks and troughs. Islam’s war on the West is like that too.

Whenever the Muslim world is at its most impassioned, and the West at its weediest, the war flares up. When Muslim passions attenuate and the West’s strength increases, there are lulls. Yet the underlying hostility never abates.

At present, the West enjoys an overwhelming military and economic superiority over the Islamic world, sufficient for keeping Islam at bay – provided it doesn’t experience a sharp peak in uncontrollable passion.

The West’s strategy should then be keeping things at an even keel, trying to preserve the status quo and not to inflame too much rage. And, if a major hostile act is nevertheless committed, it must be punished with a sufficient deterrent value to discourage further attacks for a long time.

Under such circumstances the West is justified to treat Islam at large as the enemy, not just the group, or even the state, immediately at fault. Islam must be held collectively responsible for the crimes committed in its name.

A cataclysmic event like 9/11 called for a no-holds-barred response. For example, since the strength of the Islamic world is solely dependent on oil, I would have been in favour of occupying the oilfields throughout the Middle East and administering them long enough for the passions to quiet down.

No force, regardless of how apocalyptic, required to achieve that objective would be off-limits. The West would explain to the Muslims that hostile acts would be punished severely enough to prevent them in the future. They’d get their oil back when they learned to behave, but not until then.

Throughout I’d ignore political realities – the war between Islam and the West isn’t political, but existential. Hence it wouldn’t matter how often, if ever, this or that Muslim state held elections. Elections mean little in Islamic countries that are all theocratic to some extent.

Now, we understand that no Western leader would allow such thoughts as much as to cross his mind. They all fall over themselves like ninepins screaming: “Islam is a religion of peace”.

I’ve heard these very words uttered by a platoon of US presidents and British prime ministers. Clearly, 1,400 years of history fall silent when ideology speaks.

Yet SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE!!! And that something had to be justified, for America must always have a noble reason for any military action.

Enter the neocons, so many Iagos whispering into Othello’s ear. You have a mission in life, Mr President. The Middle East is being run by dictators, the Saddams, Mubaraks and Gadaffis of this world. And yet their people are gagging for US-style democracy, the acme of political virtue and sagacity.

We must get rid of those undemocratic tyrants and bring democracy to every goatherd and Bedouin out there. They’ll become our friends once they’re exposed to the delights of a bicameral legislature elected by universal franchise. That’ll be our response to 9/11.

Er… yes, well, but do we have any proof that Saddam is responsible for 9/11? Oh, Mr President, that’s not the point. The point is that he’s a nasty dictator and has to go. Enter 2003.

I remember talking at the time to a British copycat neocon who has since become a media star specialising in anti-Islam invective (in his case largely inspired by personal resentments). He was all fired up about the attack on Iraq, while I spoke along the same lines as I am here.

“You may be right,” said the copycat. “But let’s just poke the hornet’s nest and see what happens.” Well, we’ve seen it now. The nest has been poked and murderous insects are flying all over the world.

The tyrants were indeed contemptible, but they more or less kept the wild-eyed fanatics under control. Once they were ousted, it immediately turned out that those goatherds and Bedouins didn’t want a bicameral legislature and independent judiciary. They wanted a free hand to kill anyone they didn’t like: Jews, Christians, Europeans, Americans, one another – whatever today’s appetite craved.

The Middle East was aflame, and it instantly became blood-soaked. Millions have died, millions more have fled, mostly to Europe, where they are encouraged to see themselves not as immigrants but as colonisers. And blood is gushing all over the region.

Suddenly the US presence, while criminally idiotic in the first place, has become essential to contain tribal and religious enmities that have been bubbling just under the surface for 14 centuries.

Americans manifestly failed to follow the wisdom of De Niro’s tough character in the film Ronin: “I never go in if I don’t know how I’ll come out.” They went in, and now they are stuck.

In the process, Americans have developed an intricate – and fluid – set of alliances they can’t afford to abandon for fear of a global conflagration. Also, the chaos largely of their making has drawn in major strategic players, such as Russia and now Turkey, both run by quasi-fascist regimes with far-reaching objectives.

Given that situation, simply withdrawing US forces is tantamount to a massive strategic shift not just in the Middle East but all over the world, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

That takes us back to the title above as the only, albeit feeble, reply I can give my reader. There’s no satisfactory end to this situation, barring what sociologists call a paradigm shift in the way our leaders and opinion formers think about the Middle East.

That, as we know, will never happen: the weight of ideology cum piety would be too crushing even for stronger intellectual shoulders than those possessed by Mr Trump et al. Hence, with an apology to my inquisitive reader, I don’t have the same clarity now as I had in 2003.

“We deserve perdition, yet God might have mercy on us,” he concludes. I’ll pray for that; the best I can do.

Turkish march

I thought it would take about a week, but I was wrong. Just a couple of days after President Trump withdrew US forces from northern Syria, Turkey launched an offensive designed to rout the Kurdish militia – as a prelude to an orgy of ethnic cleansing.

Trump helps Vlad flex his muscles

Vastly outnumbered Kurds need every man they can find, which is why they’ve had to withdraw their troops from guarding ISIS prisoner camps. Hence the immediate effect of Trump’s action will be thousands of ISIS fanatics re-joining the fight in the Middle East – or, as a safer option, bestowing their attentions on Europe.

But that’s only the immediate effect. Turkey’s certain victory in this conflict is guaranteed to be followed by genocide that may well outdo that of 1915, when the Young Turk government oversaw the murder of 1.5 million Armenians.

Trump’s action constitutes a shameful betrayal of the Kurds, who have lost 12,000 men fighting side by side with Americans and their allies. But ethics aside, the US finds itself in a precarious position.

For Turkey is America’s ally too, a fellow member of NATO. In that capacity she’s open to the kind of invective Trump reserves for America’s friends.

In this case, Mr Trump justified his decision to abandon the Kurds by threatening to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy if she went “off limits”. He demanded that Turkey “not do anything outside of what we would think is humane”.

If he thinks such threats will cut much ice with Turkey, he doesn’t know much about the country’s history, people and government. In any case, even if Erdogan heeds the warning, he won’t necessarily be able to contain the enthusiasm of Turkish commanders and their men.

However, should Trump’s administration indeed try to hurt Turkey economically, her northern neighbour, Putin’s Russia, will happily step in to make up any shortfalls. And that, speaking in coldblooded strategic terms, will be the worst consequence of Trump’s action.

No doubt his friend Vlad Putin is grinning like the Cheshire Cat: well-done, Donald. Yet again. Knew I could count on you.

Ever since joining the war in Syria, Putin has been playing dozens of ends against the middle, trying to become the dominant player in the region. To that end, Russia has been cultivating both Iran and Turkey, whose feelings for each other lack excessive warmth.

Should the Turkish offensive develop as clearly planned, Turkey would act as Putin’s proxy, his battering ram in the Middle East. And Vlad has been running Erdogan in the best traditions of the KGB/FSB, his sponsoring organisation.

Back in July, Turkey took delivery of Russia’s state-of-the-art AA missile systems S-400, brushing aside NATO’s objections that the weapons weren’t compatible with NATO’s. It’s certain that Russian armaments will now flow into Turkey in a mighty stream.

This development threatens to compromise NATO’s southern flank more than it’s already compromised – but then again, Mr Trump rarely makes an effort to conceal his contempt for that organisation. And of course his friend Vlad hates it with an unmitigated passion.

After all, it was NATO that was instrumental in what Putin calls “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, the breakup of the Soviet Union, which Vlad is desperately trying to reverse.

Southward expansion, gaining a foothold at the Straits, has been the strategic objective of the Russian empire since the 18th century at least. After all, the possibilities of expanding eastwards are limited and northwards, non-existent.

Catherine II (now featuring in a staggeringly awful TV series) explained why. “It’s good that we have the Arctic Ocean on our north,” she once said. “Otherwise we’d run out of soldiers.”

The west is another promising direction, and Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine again follows an imperial pattern of long standing. But it’s southward expansion that’s seen as the most immediately promising move towards the restoration of the Russian Empire, this time run by its secret police.

I’m not going to speculate on the nature of the friendship between Trump and Putin. It’s immaterial whether Trump acquiesces in Putin’s policies willingly or under duress. What’s vital is that he does acquiesce in them, and that – as a minimum – he doesn’t see a KGB-run Russia as the global threat she is.

One thing to be said for Trump is that he didn’t create the current mess in the Middle East. That honour belongs to George W. Bush, with his 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Egged on by his neocon advisers, with their incendiary rhetoric about nation building and bringing US-style democracy to every tribal society on earth, Bush stirred up a hornet’s nest, and the hornets flew out on cue, stinging millions.

That madness had to end somehow, but the trouble was that no sensible exit was immediately obvious. However, there’s nothing sensible about Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds. It’s at best ill-advised and at worst it can be catastrophic.