Why just guns? Ban knives and pillows too.

Predictably, fulltime lefties have responded to the horrific murder-suicide in Durham with infantile wailing and gnashing of teeth. Ban guns, they scream, or at least tighten gun-licensing laws in a way that amounts to the same thing.

It’s true that people with documented mental problems, such as the suicide-murderer Atherton, shouldn’t be allowed to own guns. If Durham police were indeed informed in 2008 that Atherton was bent on self-harm, and yet didn’t invalidate his gun licence, then they must be brought to account — as psychiatrists will tell you, violence towards oneself often goes hand in hand with violence towards others. That agreed upon, can we now talk like grown-ups?

Much as I hate to repeat a slogan of the US National Rifle Association, guns don’t kill people — people kill people. Sometimes they shoot, sometimes they stab, sometimes they suffocate with pillows. Those wishing to do murder will find a way, and where there’s a way there’s a kill. And even where guns are everywhere more people are accidentally killed with cars, and yet cars still aren’t banned. But surely the more widely guns are available, the more murders will be committed? This question ought to be answered with factual evidence, not sentimental effluvia. And evidence points to a different conclusion.

Item 1: The six million Swiss own 600,000 assault rifles and 500,000 handguns. Yet murder statistics there are so low they aren’t even kept. Item 2: Massachussetts, with some of the toughest gun laws in the USA, has three times the murder rate of New Hampshire, where a resident doesn’t need a licence to buy a rifle, shotgun or pistol. Item 3, closer to home: In the six months after handguns were banned in Britain (1997) gun crime doubled.

I could cite such statistics till the MPs come home, all showing no direct link between the availabilty of guns and gun crime. Tough gun laws hurt only law-abiding people who find it hard to do country sports or defend themselves. Wicked people will always find a gun, and if you wish to put this assertion to a test, just go to any dingy pub in South London, chat to the landlord, buy him a pint, say you’re looking for a gun, see what happens. Another quotation from the NRA, and I thought I’d never cite those chaps: If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

We live in a country where police manifestly fail to protect us. London outstrips New York hands down in every crime category except murder, where the gap is closing fast. And yet, in spite of some token gestures by our governing spivocrats, self-defence is frowned upon, to put it mildly. You’re welcome to defend yourself against a criminal, provided he doesn’t get hurt, or, God forbid, killed. If that happens, you’re almost guaranteed to be charged with manslaughter and likely to go to prison.

The spivocrats do allow us to use ‘commensurate force’ to defend our life and property. In other words, if you wake up at night to find a stranger standing over you, you must make sure you defend yourself only with a weapon he carries. If he has a baseball bat, you can use a baseball bat. If he has a knife, you can stab him. If he has only his bare fists, you can punch him. If he has a gun… well, let’s not get carried away. You’re not allowed to have a gun handy, even if you’re licensed to own one. It must be unloaded and locked up in a secure case. Much good it’ll do you there.

Now, for old times’ sake, when a man’s house is broken into, his duty is to protect his family first, himself second, his property third. And yet in a situation I described the state would rather you lay back and pretended you’re asleep, hoping that the thug has ‘only’ come for your TV, not our wife or your life. Chances are, that’s indeed the case. But are you willing to stake your life on that chance?

Forget about such outdated notions as honour — common sense alone should tell you that the intruder isn’t entitled to benefit of doubt. It’s your duty to yourself, your family and (another obsolete notion) society to assume the worst: the criminal has come to kill and rape, not to pick up 20 quid’s worth of electronic kit. His civil rights were left outside your smashed window — if you can, you are within your moral right to defend yourself with whatever you have available, regardless of any visible threat. If your house is broken into, consider your life in danger.

Alas, applying this seemingly irrefutable logic in a live situation may well land you in prison. It’s only in a free country that citizens are free to protect themselves. In our emasculating spivocracy, the state and, by logical inference, criminals have a monopoly on violence. The rest of us must rely on the Guardian and the BBC to defend us.

One suspects that the kneejerk reaction to the Atherton case will make matters even worse. You don’t really expect Dave and Nick, ably assisted by Ken, to make things better, do you?





Our education is a) dreadful, b) awful, c) catastrophic

Barnaby Lenon, the retired Head Master of Harrow, feels multiple-choice questions are ‘underutilised in A levels and GCSEs.’ They are, he believes, ‘a very quick way of covering a large area of syllabus…’ I’m glad that someone has put his finger on the real problem with our education: not enough multiple-choice questions is why we’ve produced two generations of ignoramuses.

Even though one ought to listen to experts, I can’t for the life of me understand why simply asking a pupil, say, who invented radio transmission is in any way inferior to providing a choice of answers, such as a) Guglielmo Marconi, b) Elton John, c) David Beckham. But as Mr Lenon’s hands-on experience with teaching is of more recent vintage than mine, I’m prepared to bow to his expertise. Moreover, I’d like to put in my euro’s worth by proposing a few sample multiple-choice answers, designed to test today’s pupils to the outer limits of their knowledge.

What was Queen Victoria’s job? She was a) a queen, b) the star of a Soho transvestite show, c) You what, mate? The square root of 9 is a) 3, b) 21, c) Who you calling square, sunshine? What is Parliament? a) Britain’s legislative body, b) That’s not how you spell it, c) It’s fags, innit?

Admittedly, the education I’m trying to lampoon is more typical of our comprehensives than of Mr Lenon’s lofty school. But generally speaking, the dominant system of anything, be it education or medicine, tends to act like a magnet pulling all other systems up, or these days usually down, to its level. Thus, though our best public schools are still marginally better than comprehensives, the gap is narrowing. Today’s average Harrow graduate wouldn’t be a patch on someone who went to a bog-standard grammar school of 50 years ago. Moreover, I’d suggest from personal observation that this hypothetical grammar-school man would also be more learned than today’s average holder of a bachelor’s degree from a reputable university.

Now that I’ve cast myself in the role of prosecutor, I’d like to offer a few random exhibits in evidence, all coming from my personal encounters of the last month or so. Exhibit A, an architect, didn’t know what ‘polemic’ means (don’t architects ever argue?). Exhibit B, an IT consultant, had never heard of Byzantium (a dominant force in Europe for about 1,000 years). Exhibit C, a recent philosophy graduate, couldn’t place Schopenhauer’s name (that’s like a conservatory graduate never having heard of Mozart). Exhibit D, a financial journalist with one of our top papers, had never heard the word ‘metaphysics’ and couldn’t even venture a guess as to its meaning. Exhibit E, a reporter working for a London paper owned by a career KGB man, thought communism was a fine idea if lamentably perverted by the Soviets. When probed on the specifics, he singled out equality and democracy as distinguishing features of communism as an idea. Exhibits C, D and E had attended top public schools before going to university. (I’m prepared to swear on a stack of Bibles that I’m not making this up: these are indeed among the few people to whom I’ve spoken over the last few weeks.)

Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t really matter to me if university graduates have never heard of metaphysics or Byzantium, or if our opinion formers don’t know communism from the offside trap. God forbid you’ll take me for an intellectual snob. The real problem is far deeper than the ignorance of elementary facts that’s endemic all over Britain (and she isn’t alone). It’s just that a civilisation can’t survive without most people sharing a certain corpus of intuitive assumptions, cultural preferences, prejudices – and factual knowledge. Diversity, multi-culti and all that, but without this society becomes atomised in ways that are more damaging than gradations of wealth. Ideally, 60% of the people should be able to draw from roughly the same cultural well, with 20% below and 20% above that level. That way society is unlikely to develop too many fault lines threatening to cleave it apart. Not everyone can or should be a Mr Know-all, but neither should everyone be a Mr Know-sod-all.

Dissolve the glue of shared knowledge, be it religious, cultural or educational, and what will keep society together? Yearning for six-week holidays and early pensions? But I’m barking up a wrong tree. The problem that vexes me so has already been solved by Mr Lenon. Let’s have more multiple-choice tests, and we’ll be fine.


It’s all society’s fault, says the Archbishop

Archbishops are like naughty children: compliment them, and the next minute they’ll do something awful. No sooner had I praised Dr Williams for his Christmas message than he reverted to type in his new-year speech.

The good Archbishop chided us for ‘a national habit of being suspicious and hostile’ towards groups of young people. Admittedly, ‘quite a lot of the images we’re likely to remember from the footage of the riots in the summer will be of young people out of control in the streets, walking off with looted property from shops, noisily confronting police and so on.’ But that’s no reason to cross the street when a gaggle of hooded, feral-looking chaps block our path.

Presumably, what we should do instead is stop and show we care by hugging the hoodies, as prescribed by Dave ‘David’ Cameron. Now, when I hug my wife, she hugs back, unless I’ve been irredeemably beastly, in which case she tells me to leave her alone. Under no circumstances will she stick a knife in my belly or even punch me in the face. Nor is she ever likely to mug me, unless of course I ask for divorce. However, hard-earned experience suggests that any or all such outcomes would be likely if one tried to get tactile with our Mowgli urchins. That’s precisely why ‘we walk a bit more quickly and hope we can pass without some sort of confrontation,’ which in the Archdruid’s view is a wrong thing to do because not all young people are thugs. That’s undoubtedly true, and I’d even go so far as to suggest that relatively few are. However, just to be on the safe side, it’s best not to calculate the odds in favour of such an eventuality. They are high enough, especially since the gooduns and the baduns are often indistinguishable sartorially or facially. The same gangsta getup; the same enraged air; the same empty eyes.

The liberal assumption shared by Dr Williams and Mr Cameron (in the latter’s case, one suspects, mostly for PR purposes) is that it’s all society’s fault. The poor youngsters aren’t the ones who stab, punch or mug – society does that, using the lads as a mindless, soulless conduit. It almost pains me to remind our two dignitaries that individual responsibility for one’s own salvation, heavenly or earthly, lies at the heart of both the religion led by one and the party led by the other. The youths are free agents; when they maim, rob or abuse, they exercise their own free will and must be prepared to face the consequences. That’s basic.

But once we’ve got this ABC truth out of the way, do let’s acknowledge that society has indeed dealt our young a losing hand – by putting into practice precisely the kind of bien-pensant liberal twaddle in which our leaders like to indulge. Just like the jawbone, the neck bone and the backbone, society is propped up or else brought down by an intricate body of interconnected elements.

When the state makes the father redundant by assuming his provider role, children are brought up by single mothers and are thus exponentially more likely to go bad. When the state crams such truncated families into Soviet-style tower blocks, it creates an ideal test tube for cultivating anticulture. When it pays serial single mothers, it encourages the breeding of uncontrollable guttersnipes. When it herds children into schools where they are comprehensively educated how to use condoms but not how to read, write and add up, they’ll neither acquire any marketable skills nor, judging by the number of teenage pregnancies, even learn how to use condoms. When children are fed multi-culti rubbish, they regurgitate it into hatred of our native culture. When they aren’t taught that there’s a direct link between work and pay, they’ll want something for nothing. When told that there’s no God and they’re all nothing but advanced apes, they’ll feel justified in behaving according to simian morality. When trained by our legal system that crime doesn’t necessarily lead to punishment, they’ll feel free to let themselves go.

If you’re driving fast in the wrong direction, the only way to get where you’re going is to backtrack to the starting point. Applying this proven logic to Britain, that means returning, with appropriate tweaks, to the foundations of what historically is perhaps the most successful society ever. Abandoning the same half-baked ideas that are responsible for our social demise would be a good opening move. Empty logorrhoea is what got us in trouble, and only thoughtful, courageous action can get us out if it.

Oh well, tell it to the marines. Or else to Archbishops and Prime Ministers.

New year, new language

The economy is at best stagnant, but at least the English language is moving full speed ahead. ‘Only cross with green figure,’ say new pedestrian-crossing signs in Lincolnshire, consigning the familar green man to oblivion. ‘It’s seen a little bit like it’s sexist,’ explains a Boston borough councillor, proudly displaying the command of English style we’ve come to expect from public officials.

It is sexist, more than a little bit — there’s absolutely no doubt about it. In fact we’ve known for a long time that the word ‘man’, along with the corresponding personal pronoun, is deeply offensive no matter how it’s used. True, old codgers are obstinately clinging to such foul obscenities as ‘chairman’, not realising how much more mellifluous, not to mention progressive, Mr Chair sounds to anyone with a modicum of sensitivity. Said codgers even dare object to sentences like ‘Every one of ManU players knows their role.’ Yes, as the team features only men (their today’s performance notwithstanding), claim the insensitive pedants, we wouldn’t offend too many people by following ‘one’ with ‘his’. Just goes to show how behind the times they are: never mind grammar, it’s the principle that counts.

Quite right too. My only quibble — and I know I have to watch my step here — is the word ‘figure’ as a replacement for the ‘m’ word. There’s nothing wrong with it, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve grown so fond of ‘person’ that I’ll be sorry to see it go. But this nitpicking in no way casts aspersion on the noble effort to bring our language in line with our innermost feelings.

In that spirit I suggest that Boston council hasn’t gone far enough. That the ‘m’ word, meaning a human person-figure of the masculine sex — pardon me, gender — needs to bite the dust goes without saying. What I propose is that the ghastly combination of letters should be banned — and I do mean banned, act of Parliament and all — altogether, even if the letters don’t add up to anything seen as remotely sexist or chauvinist in Boston. Better safe than sorry, I say.

This kind of figurepulation (or figuregling, if you’d rather) of the language may take some time for some figures to get used to. But give us a year or two, a few court cases, and this change will be not only figuredatory but cordially welcomed by all, from London to Figurechester. Before long the use of the letter combination I no longer can bring myself to spell out will be regarded as bad figureners. Perhaps in time a style figureual could be issued advising on how to incorporate this verbal figureure into everyday language. That way we’ll all concentrate on things that are really important in life, rather than such incidentals as economic meltdown, or patients dying of hospital-acquired MRSI, or criminals mugging old figures in the street.

Happy New Year and big thanks to every figure and wofigure who reads this blog. God willing, I’ll continue my reactionary musings in 2012. Always provided I give Boston a wide berth.



Crime and (community) punishment

That convicts spared gaol attack 50 people a day may be news. But it’s nothing new. Nor is it surprising: a country that’s too timid to punish criminals properly is encouraging crime. And a country where Ken ‘Kenneth’ Clarke is Justice Secretary is positively begging for it.

Ken ‘Kenneth’, mostly reflecting the bias of those who live in low-crime areas, believes in community punishment even more fervently than he believes in the EU. He dislikes prisons much more than he dislikes criminals. We can’t afford any more prisons, he claims. And even if we could, we shouldn’t have them because prison doesn’t work.

Now, since my wife doesn’t approve of swearing, I’m not going to tell you what I think of Clarke’s moral and intellectual qualities. Moreover, in the spirit of this Christmas season, I’ll consider his arguments as if they were worthy of consideration. It’s not all about displaying seasonal generosity – it’s also knowing that many of our MPs share Clarke’s views. I realised this a few months ago when attending a debate on the issue, with an MP and even a minister repeating the same mindless mantra: prison doesn’t work. Why? Because there’s no evidence it makes people better.

That’s true. But then neither do supermarkets, restaurants, stadiums, railway stations – and yet we have them all, secure in the knowledge that improving people isn’t their function. Neither is it the function of prisons. But this obvious fact is somehow doubted precisely by the people who are paid to know better.

Prison works in many ways. Some will see it as simple retributive justice, as Kant did. Others will emphasise its deterrent value. Still others will feel that prison, in addition to its obvious utility in isolating criminals from their potential victims, has a great symbolic value. It asserts the moral superiority of good over evil, thereby restoring the social serenity upset by the wicked deed. It also communicates to all and sundry that society has convictions — and the courage of its convictions. These are things that prison and, in the absence of the death penalty, only prison does successfully.

What it demonstrably neither can nor is designed to achieve is the elimination of evil and the moral regeneration of mankind. This is a task, often an impossible one, for the church, not for the state. The only lives that can and should be improved by punishment are those of the good people outside prisons, not those of the bad people inside. And that happens to be the whole idea.

People considerably cleverer than Ken Clarke have always known this. For example, Luther divided the world into the religious and secular realms and argued that the Sermon on the Mount only applied to the spiritual one. In the physical world, the balance between faith and duty to the community imposes compromises. Thus a judge, as a servant of the public, should follow his secular obligations to sentence a criminal to prison, if such a verdict is appropriate. But, as a servant of God, he ought to mourn the criminal’s fate and pray for his soul. Justice in the secular world has to function according to the Old, not New, Testament. Turning the other cheek saves people’s souls. ‘An eye for an eye’ saves their lives and property.

Those who don’t think prison works should tell that to the wife of a murder victim. Or to a pensioner robbed of his life’s savings. Or to a woman raped and beaten within an inch of her life. No doubt they’ll all agree. Moreover, tell it to New Yorkers who saw their city transformed from a crime-infested hellhole into a reasonably civilised place by Mayor Giuliani’s policy of ‘zero tolerance’. The policy was simple: Giuliani had a lot of prisons built and filled to the brim. The crime rate instantly dropped to a manageable level, if not quite zero. Next problem.

As to the state not being able to afford prisons, this argument is even more spurious. The state has only a few legitimate functions, and primary among them is protecting its citizens from attacks by both foreign enemies and domestic criminals. It’s for this purpose that the state was instituted in the first place. It’s the only purpose that must be achieved regardless of cost. So predictably our army and law enforcement are the only public services that are indeed suffering savage cuts – politicians see them as soft targets.

The state might have come into being to provide for internal and external security – our spivocratic state serves a different purpose: the self-perpetuation of the spivocrats. Where will the money come from? they bleat, shifting the argument from philosophy to arithmetic. I have an idea: why not dip into the £10-billion foreign-aid budget, which is enjoying nice little increases while we supposedly can’t afford hospital beds, never mind prisons?

We’re already spending more on foreign aid than either Germany or France, and most of the money goes to economies capable of cranking out space rockets and nuclear bombs. Surely, Messrs Clarke and Cameron, you could spare a few billion to protect us from vicious thugs? After all, community punishment was supposed to mean punishment in the community. Not of it.





The best hospital is no hospital, says the NHS

The suggestion that the NHS in general and hospital care in particular could be better wouldn’t fly in the face of empirical evidence. Deadly hospital-acquired infections are at an all-time high. Waiting lists are crippling, in many instances literally. Men and women are made to share the same crowded wards, something that didn’t even happen in the Soviet Union. When already in hospital, patients, often writhing in pain, have to wait days before being seen by a specialist (spoken from personal, nearly fatal, experience at one of London’s newest and best NHS hospitals). In short, Britain is the only first-world country with third-world medical care.

There’s clearly a problem there, and the bright sparks in the NHS have come up with a solution to make King Solomon proud. The best way for a patient to protect himself from an NHS hospital is to stay out. No hospital, no problem.

‘The old hospital-based system has to develop into a more preventative, community-based system,’ says Steve Fields of NHS Future Forum. The word is ‘preventive’, not ‘preventative’, but let’s not get pedantic about the odd extra syllable. People in or around government services must be paid per syllable, which explains their style, straight out of Mrs Malaprop’s School of English as First Language. They’ve developed their own vocabularies and their own logic, but in this case the latter is unassailable. Especially if patients aren’t bleeding too fast.

‘It’s much better for a good number of patients to be cared for in their homes,’ according to Mike Farrar, head of the NHS Confederation. How good a number? Well, one in four actually. In fact, too many misguided people have come to think of ‘hospitals being a place of default.’ But that’s exactly what they are, Mr Farrar. A patient goes to a GP, who prescribes something. If the medicine doesn’t work, the GP will refer the patient to a specialist, who (after an inevitable wait of a few weeks) will try a few tricks of his own. Those failing, the patient may go into hospital — as precisely ‘a place of default’. It’s hard to believe that, in an ideal world where publicly financed hospitals don’t routinely use MRSI as a deadly weapon, one in four patients would be better treated at home, where neither the facilities nor the personnel available can possibly match those even at an NHS hospital.

‘If we release the costs of these beds… — then that’s the right thing to do,’ opines Mike Farrar. But the costs of hospital beds have been ‘released’ for years, with the funds shifted into burgeoning administrative staffs. One example: a Birmingham hospital recently reduced its number of beds while hiring, at the cost of £100,000 a year, a Director of Diversity, who immediately proceeded to issue illiterate memoranda on the importance of being sensitive to cultural differences. The tendency of replacing frontline medical services with PC buffoons hints at the real purpose behind the NHS or any other gigantic socialist project. This has less to do with its declared aim than with expanding the government’s control of peoples’ lives. One senses that those directly in charge of that function, all those optimisers of facilitation and facilitators of optimisation, look at doctors, nurses and beds as irritating hindrances. Those irrelevancies get in the way of the real work.

To be fair, the government is trying to change the balance by taking some money from the Peter of admin to pay the Paul of medicine. The overall NHS budget is growing of course, God forbid it should be otherwise, crisis or no crisis, meltdown or no meltdown. But the rate of growth has slowed down to something like 0.5% a year after inflation, which is enough for the worshippers of the NHS God to scream about savage cuts. Their problem is that the government, under pressure from its own backbenchers and voters (remember them?), seems to be acting contrary to what the NHS is really all about. With money going into frontline services, there may not be enough left to pay for all those bureaucratic freeloaders with their targets and memoranda.

What matters about socialised medicine is the adjective, not the noun. Hence the proposed changes, clearly designed to get the runaway train back on track. Makes one wonder why no other Western European country, most of them even more socialist than we are, has totally nationalised medicine.




The destructive myth of equality

To the American founding fathers the ‘truth that all men are created equal’ was ‘self-evident’. It’d better be, for it certainly can’t be proved.

True equality can only exist in heaven; in earth, the belief that all men are created equal is wishful thinking. For men are created unequal in strength, intelligence, character – well, in everything. Earthly inequality is thus a natural order of things, and it can only be distorted by unnatural means. Even then it won’t disappear; it’ll be replaced by a worse type of inequality or else camouflaged by demagoguery.

For example, most egalitarians acknowledge that equality of result is a pie in the sky. However, they insist that equality of opportunity is a laudable and achievable goal. In fact, it’s the other way around. Equality of result can indeed be achieved by levelling downwards (the only direction in which it’s ever possible to level). It’s possible to confiscate all property and pay citizens barely enough to keep them alive. It’s possible to create dumbed-down schools that’ll make everyone equally ignorant. It’s possible to provide equal healthcare for all that has little to do with either caring or health. What’s absolutely impossible is to guarantee equality of opportunity. A child with two parents will have better opportunities in life than a child raised by one parent. A child growing up surrounded by books will have a greater opportunity to develop intellectually than his coeval growing up surrounded by crushed beer cans. The son of two tennis pros will have a greater opportunity to learn the game than the son of two accountants.

An important thing to remember about egalitarianism is that levelling downwards isn’t just the only possible direction but, for its champions, the only desirable one. To Burke ‘compulsory equalisations,’ could only mean ‘equal want, equal wretchedness, equal beggary.’ To modern egalitarians they are the shining beacon. But any true equality is anathema to them, and it’s amusing to watch them pretend it’s not, against both empirical evidence and common sense.

Progressive income taxation highlights this by setting up a conflict between two pieties. On the one hand, redistributive taxes strike a blow for ‘equality’ as they push high earners down to a lower level. On the other hand, they are a flagrant violation of the principle of equality under the law.

Obviously, someone who makes twice as much as someone else must pay twice as much tax in absolute terms. But making him pay three or four times the proportion of his income makes all believers in justice cry havoc and let slip… well, they have no one to let slip. Their cause isn’t supported by anyone, save for a few eccentrics.

But for egalitarians the choice is clear: they are prepared to sacrifice justice, fairness and even utility (flat tax rates would make the economy healthier) at the altar of ‘equality’. The results of such urges are best shown by the example of the USA: 50% of all Americans pay no income tax; over 50% of all taxes are paid by the wealthiest 3% of households; 90% are paid by the wealthiest 10%. In Western Europe the situation is even worse. Thus in any reasonable sense, when applied to this levelling run riot, the word ‘equality’ is a misnomer.

Yet it’d be wrong to say that equality is a pipe dream. In fact, every country in the world has achieved it, if only in small enclaves. There people’s clothes, food, lodgings and indeed rights aren’t merely equal but identical. Their medical care and education are free, and things like TV sets and sports facilities are equally available to all. These perfectly egalitarian places are called gaols, and indeed prison is the epitome of egalitarian aspirations, the ideal towards which they strive.

This is an illustration of an immutable truth: the relationship between freedom and equality can only be inverse. The more of one, the less of the other. Total tyranny is a precondition for total equality (that is, below the level of the tyrant, who stands above the equal masses the same way the unequal prison warder stands above the equal inmates). What’s more, egalitarians know this, as they are aware of the dubious provenance of their animadversions. They know that any other than a half-hearted attempt to equalise people will only succeed in impoverishing them. In that event the modern megalomaniac state would renege on the only real (as opposed to virtual) promise on which its legitimacy rests: prosperity.

People’s minds, normally numbed to accept make-believe as real, will wake up with a jolt when the physical trappings of their lives are threatened. They may have been brainwashed to sing hosannas to equality, but the songs will turn to screams of rage the moment people are made to move out of their suburban houses into communal hellholes. That would be an inevitable result of attempting equality for real. For it’s extreme inequality that’s the end of a lifelong ‘pursuit of happiness’ canonised in America and everywhere else. It couldn’t be otherwise: The road to economic growth has to be infinitely long, but our earthly lives aren’t. Different people will stop at different points along the way.

Striving for equality – other than before God and the law – is thus a structural defect of our society. Let’s pray it won’t bring it down. Let’s fear it may.

And speaking of Christmas messages…

…wasn’t the Queen’s speech inspiring? One tiny quibble: Her Majesty said that members of the Commonwealth family retain their ‘individualism’. Surely she meant ‘individuality’? What for the Queen was probably a slip of the tongue, God bless her, is for society a slip in standards. Individualism isn’t the same as individuality — more often it’s its denial. For example, tattooing ACAB on one’s knuckles, or even a flower on one’s ankle, betokens an individualism overblown at the expense of individuality. Let’s hear it for semantics.

Rowan Williams wins on points

‘Dr Williams is right’ aren’t words that cross my mind regularly, if ever. Practising the art of English understatement, something to which I’m privy only vicariously, I can safely say I haven’t always been Dr Williams’s most devoted fan. The Archbishop consistently gravitates towards the modernising agenda within the Anglican church, which I regard as a shortcut to atheism. And when he ventures outside his immediate expertise, he tends to express views somewhat to the left of the Guardian‘s editorial policy, which I regard as harebrained as it is destructive.

But comparing his Christmas message with the Archbishop of Westminster’s, I have to hand it to Dr Williams: the points he made are more telling. Vincent Nichols expressed episcopal sympathy for the 50 Palestinian families losing their land to Israeli ‘expropriation’. It would have been more in keeping with his mission to mention hundreds of Christians losing their lives to Muslim terrorism. The bomb murdering 35 worshippers in Nigeria provided an awful postscriptum to the Archbishop’s PC platitudes (something to which he is increasingly given — comes with the territory, one supposes).

By contrast, Dr Williams said, ‘Whether it is an urban rioter mindlessly burning down a small shop… or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost… in the virtual reality of today’s financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark.’ Appalled by the parallel between smelly rioters and aftershaved City chaps , the Tory party, in the person of Gary Streeter, responded immediately: ‘The Archbishop of Cantenbury is on safer grounds when he sticks to moral and spiritual issues.’ The implication is that finance never overlaps with such issues, which these days is doubtless true. But this truth is toxic, and the Archbishop was absolutely right to point this out.

Dr Williams’s form in this area suggests that he has not just specific but general misgivings about ‘capitalism’. Whenever I hear this word mentioned, I always think it would be worth a try. Under no circumstances can an economy in which the government spends nearly 50% of GDP (closer to 75% in the outer areas of the UK) be termed capitalist. But whatever the economy is, when it’s ripped off its ethical underpinnings, it’ll be cast adrift into the sea of virtuality. Nor can an economy be morally self-regulating: to expect this would be to deny the imperfect nature of man. For the suits not to join the anoraks in the devil’s work of atomising society, the morality governing business has to come from outside, from an authority so much higher than man that we all fall under its umbrella. Whatever you believe personally, you have to recognise that, given our history and constitution, such a unifying authority can only come from Christianity.

When financiers and businessmen claim they are driven by their own conscience, what they really mean is that their morality is elastic enough to allow opportunism under all circumstances. When they feel responsible only to their own or secular rules, they indeed create a virtual world  — one where banks don’t hesitate to accumulate bad debts 100 times their total capitalisation; where High-Frequency Traders can dispose of their total holdings in hours, which frantic trading creates share prices bearing no relation to any underlying value; where the combined value of the world’s outstanding derivatives equals 15 times the world’s GDP combined (this bomb is yet to go off); where financial institutions create surrogate money in the form of default swaps and other mechanisms; where personal indebtedness has replaced personal income throughout the West. When the unifying reality of our civilisation falls by the wayside, we indeed sink into a virtual world — in which we live on virtual money.

Remove God as the unifying principle, and money acquires sole redemptive value. The sociologist Max Weber pointed this out back in 1904: ‘Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life,’ He forgot to mention that, when this is the case, real money will eventually be replaced by its virtual caricature. 

Remove reality from life in general and money in particular, and society is indeed reduced to atoms, spinning every which way and occasionally smashing into one another. The anoraks at St Paul’s join the suits from further east in their common assault, and the Archbishop stays entirely within his realm when pointing this out. There’s nothing wrong with capitalism, provided its entrepreneurial freedom is exercised within a moral discipline. But, though godless capitalism is more attractive and less cannibalistic than godless communism, it’s ultimately just as destructive.

For once, Archbishop Williams has done his job. Yet again, Archbishop Nichols hasn’t. Will there be a rematch?






Christmas isn’t just for Christians

According to the PC consensus, non-Christians have nothing to celebrate tomorrow. Moreover, they are expected, indeed encouraged, to feel insulted whenever the word Christmas is mentioned. For atheists, agnostics, deists, Muslims and exponents of assorted eastern creeds, the birth of Christ is just any old bank holiday, whereas for Jews it’s time for thousands of Happy Hanukkah cards. One wonders if Hanukkah would be celebrated with as much pomp if it fell on any other month. After all, one doesn’t see too many Happy Purim or Merry Sukkoth cards for sale.

What one does see all over the place is Happy Holidays! replacing Happy Christmas! as the greeting of choice. ‘Thou shalt not offend’ trumps all other commandments, although no one in his right mind could possibly be offended. Even the supposedly pious Tony ‘Anthony’ Blair, whose religious faith matches his political principles in courageous fortitude, expunged the offensive allusion to Yuletide from his Chri… sorry, holiday cards. The fashion started in America and, as most perversions of the same provenance, took a few years to reach our shores. But now it’s firmly entrenched.

Yet while tomorrow Christians will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the rest of the West should join them in celebrating the birth of our civilisation, the greatest the world has ever seen — or will ever see. For every Western achievement we recognise as such can be traced back to that humble birth.

Our music, towering over anything produced by any other culture, has direct church antecedents — and few other. So does our painting. So, largely, does our architecture. Translations of the Scripture, most emphatically including our own Tyndale and King James Bibles, had a formative effect on every Western language and therefore literature. The church was the sole source of education, and the principal influence on government, for many critical centuries of Western history. Our most important laws are derived from scriptural injunctions, as are our binding moral principles.

This much is widely known and commented upon. What receives less attention is the unique contribution Christianity made to Western science, the foundation of our material wealth. Can you name a single great scientist ever emerging from a non-Christian country? I know I can’t, not offhand. However, I can name many ignorant atheist fanatics who claim that Christianity somehow hindered scientific progress (Richard Dawkins, ring your office). What utter nonsense!

No religion is just worship; they all excrete and wrap around themselves a cocoon of intellectual premises that are more or less conducive to various pursuits. Judaeo-Christianity made scientific exploration possible for reasons unique to it. Unlike the Greeks who had a multitude of gods, each responsible for its own realm, Judaeo-Christianity teaches that God, and therefore the world, is one. That means that scientific and mathematical laws apply universally, and unity can be inferred from variety. Christianity also teaches that the material world was created by a rational God. It is therefore rationally constructed and rationally knowable, a realisation that never existed in either the classical or Eastern world. And finally, that event 2011 years ago established the sanctity of the material world, not just of the spirit. Uniting in his person God and man, the physical and the metaphysical, heaven and earth, Christ not only encouraged us to know and subdue the earth (that was done in Genesis), but he also made this possible.

You may or may not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. However,  those who lovingly nurtured our civilisation to splendour believed just that, and it was in his name that they toiled. Let’s say a word of thanks to those giants — and above all to their inspiration.

Happy Christmas to all, believers or not.