Saturday, 17 March 2018

A terrible act requires a determined response

There isn’t that much in Russia that works, they have practically no exports except oil, gas and commodities, which in part is the reason their economy has been in steep decline lately, but there are still some things they do well. The FSB, or KGB mark II is still very good indeed. The military despite sometimes using obsolete, clunky weaponry can still perform as they have ably demonstrated recently in both Ukraine and Syria. Perhaps the biggest strength of the Russians is that while they themselves believe in truth, they are willing to lie without any scruples whatsoever. We on the other hand have all sorts of scruples, but no longer believe in truth.

The experience of World War II taught the Russian military and security services the benefits of deception. While the Western Allies too deceived the Germans about exactly where in France we would invade, somehow in the decades since we have forgotten the lesson. The KGB won the Cold War. They were able far more often to gain our important secrets than we theirs. This was in part because Western intellectuals and politicians (some in quite high places now) were willing to betray their country because they sympathised with Soviet ideology (socialism).  

The Russian military didn’t really lose the Cold War. It could have prevented the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union with remarkably few machine gun bullets. It was Gorbachev’s failure to defend the Motherland, i.e. the historic Russian Empire plus buffer states that led to the worst loss of Russian territory in history. What had taken centuries to gather, still worse what had been Rus’ from the beginning, Ukraine and Belarus were lost. It was as if the Russian heart had been ripped out.

But the Russian military retained its traditions from World War II. Its training remained just as brutal and the way it fought just as cruel and effective. It does not find itself limited by concern for civilian casualties, nor does it need to fear that a Syrian will be able to sue a Russian soldier in the Moscow courts. No Russian soldier will be convicted for doing something excessive. Rather he will receive a medal for it. This is why a Russian regiment is always liable to defeat a NATO regiment, for the simple reason that it will not have to fight with one hand tied behind its back and it will be willing to take casualties.

There is something excessive about Russian history. The pity is that it is so little known outside Russia. No wonder we struggle to understand our opponent. They know our history. They know our literature far better than we know theirs. They can speak our language, while most people in the West think Russian amounts to mirror writing (Я, И, etc). When I first read the story of how Russia developed from its tiny beginnings in Kiev to stretching across most of the Eurasian landmass I was struck most by the cruelty. Two princes are bumped off because they got in the way, another is blinded. The most terrible thing that Ivan does is to himself when he kills his own son and heir in a fit of temper and then regrets it. The most saintly Tsar Alexandr may well have been involved in the assassination of his father. The cruelty also done to the Russians by invading forces (Mongols, French, Germans, Poles) was such that the Russians always found a way somehow to take revenge and in their taking revenge they found a way to be excessive.

It is this tendency to excess that explains best I think the use of Polonium to kill Litvenenko and Novichok to attempt to kill Skripal and his daughter. It just isn’t necessary to use such exotic methods. It’s excessive. It’s an attempt to say we can do what we want. We can do anything. Therefore fear us. It’s like putting a horse’s head in someone’s bed. Just like in the film, it works.

The Russians know that while they believe in truth and only tell one truth in their media, we in the West must be unbiased to the extent that we think everything is a matter of opinion. This enables them to lie with impunity. No matter how unlikely the lie, the BBC will report that the Russians say that they have no troops in Crimea, no troops in the Donbass and no Russian planes have killed any civilians whatsoever in Syria. This will all be reported impartially. Some people here, especially those who hate the West, will give the Russians the benefit of the doubt. After all who really knows the truth? Perhaps the CIA or Mosad brought down the Twin Towers, maybe they faked the moon landings.  

If you tell a lie consistently enough and your opponent doesn’t really believe in truth anyway no wonder you convince some of them and make everyone else doubt. Just like being excessive, this is a strategy that works.

The only way to defend against someone who lies is to know the truth and believe the truth. This is the key first stage in how we must learn to respond to our opponent. The problem is that we are going to have to reverse decades of misinformation from our universities that there is no such thing as truth.

In the West intellectuals typically believe that morality is no longer a matter of truth, but rather opinion. Who am I to judge? Everything is permitted.

Prince Charles wants to be defender of faith, i.e. all faiths rather than defender of the faith. The word “the” here makes all the difference, for in defending all faiths he is saying none of them are true, but rather all of them are just matters of opinion.

Even the most basic of truths have become a matter of subjectivity and relativism. No longer is someone’s sex something fixed and unchangeable. This is the view held in Russia and most of the world throughout human history. Instead in the West someone’s sex is a matter of opinion, something I can decide and choose based not on the facts but on how I feel.

In academia everything becomes plural. No longer do we have history, but rather histories. No longer does the BBC describe civilisation, but rather civilisations. Who are we to judge? Who are we to have confidence in Western Civilisation or think that anything good at all came out of it. Rather all must win prizes, all must be relative and all must be equal. No wonder we are unwilling to defend that which we no longer even value.

We have lost all sense of what we discovered, invented and composed. We ceased to defend our continent and our island. No wonder we are losing to someone (Putin) who believes in the truth, but is willing to lie. We made his job easy, because we have nothing left to defend, not even the truth.

What must we do? We must begin to defend our values. We must realise that these values are not so vague that they can apply to anyone from anywhere. Rather our values come from our history and have developed because our people were changed by that history. We are the children of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. Britain is as it is because of British people and the British history that made them this way. We are not the same as everyone else in the world who did not have that history. It is time that we began to defend that which is truly ours rather than some vague thing that is really no-one’s.

We must find objective truth and defend it from lies. Our media and politicians must not be impartial about lies. Say that it is a lie and then treat it with the contempt it deserves.

We must cease to be balanced about defending how we live. Democracy and free markets are better than tyranny, fake democracy, the crony capitalism of corrupt oligarchs and any form of the socialist experiment that has already been shown to have failed. This is not an opinion. Free markets, the rule of law and democracy are the condition for the possibility of prosperity and opportunity for all. This is a truth we must defend and hope to spread worldwide.

We must understand our opponent. Russia is more dangerous now than at any time except when it was ruled by Stalin. It is more desperate and the people in charge more ruthless. They know no boundaries. It is very difficult to predict how next they might lash out.

We need to spend more on the armed forces. NATO needs to be able to defend our territory against a conventional attack. At the moment we could not protect Eastern Europe except by using nuclear weapons. We need to deter the Russians from any further adventures.

Many UK universities, including mine, have wonderful Russian collections, but no-one can read them. Foolishly we closed down the Russian departments when, after the Cold War, we thought they were no longer needed. You cannot understand Russia, without knowing the language. They have a different mentality that only becomes clearer with conversation. Russian is a subject worth studying and more useful today than many. 

We need to deter Russian aggression, but we also need to work towards peace. We do not want forever to have Russia as an opponent. They are too dangerous. Don’t underestimate the Russian military or security services. They are willing to fight without rules and in ways that are unexpected (see e.g. the failure to surrender after losing Moscow in 1812). This was the key to their past victories and would form the basis for future ones.

We must treat Russia now as we treated the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Both sides then knew that there were limits. We accepted that that there were things we could not change, such as the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. They knew there were lines they could not cross. Eventually with patience on the part of both sides this developed into détente and finally into something approaching peace. We must start again and work for the same goal. But if we have the good fortune to make peace again, don't let's squander it as we did in the years after 1991. 

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Falling off a cliff

The stats for my blog have fallen off a cliff. No doubt this is because I have ceased running on the treadmill that kept them going. It had become something like an addiction watching the number of readers increase and fall each week. I would scramble to get next week’s blog ready. Sometimes I would leave it late and would wake up early on Saturday morning and write the whole thing out, check it through once and then go. Other times I might have something prepared.  That is if events didn’t make it obsolete.

 I started academic life with two rules. Don’t respect great people too much and never repeat anything found in a book. How can you write any sort of critique of someone else’s views if you think revere their greatness? If you repeat what you have found in a book, a newspaper, a lecture or in a conversation, what would be the point of anyone else reading what you write? Reading is not pointless nor are great people, but unless it is possible to in some way go beyond what they say it is not really worth saying anything at all. But saying something new every week is like feeding an addiction.  Sometimes it is necessary to have a dry December and then a dry January etc etc.

When you stop and have time to look around and reflect there is the chance to think more detailed thoughts. I haven’t been writing, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. Ideas have been developing. Some of them may one day be written.

I no longer have any desire to write about the weekly events of politics. Most of it is disposable and of no consequence. I am almost equally disgusted by Government and Opposition. Some of what I have read about the Prime Minister and her advisors makes me long to kick her Government out no matter what the consequences. If Theresa May is incapable of thinking for herself, why is she Prime Minister why indeed is she in Parliament? Is it just a matter of ambition? But then the whole thing has a Lady MacBeth quality about it. Are you trying to wash your hands Mrs May? It’s not a good look.

Let us then have a few years of Labour. Let them do their worst and we can all then start again perhaps with something a little less sordid. But then again what a mess Labour could indeed make of things.  Still perhaps every few years the electorate once again has to relearn the lesson that socialism doesn’t work. The trouble is that you don’t always get the chance to kick out socialists once they gain power. Beware.

Scottish politics is not worth writing about at least until there is another election. Politics in general revolves around the issue of equality. Those who make a god out of equality are winning. If you believe in freedom and free markets don’t let them. This is the only issue of substance. People are different. They have different abilities. Men and women are different. The attempt to make them the same leads to nonsense. This is what I attempted to write about in the last few months of my blog. Perhaps I will try to turn some of these ideas into a longer piece.

The problem is this. Writing no longer pays.  There are exceptions of course. Some fiction pays a lot, some famous columnists in newspapers make a lot. But nearly everyone else scrapes a living and would be far better off doing something else.

For every blogger who makes a fortune there are millions who get paid essentially nothing. If I reflect on the hours I spent writing versus the amount earned it would amount to perhaps one pence an hour. Far from this being minimum wage it isn’t even enough to buy sweets. Why do it?  Eventually it looks awfully like feeding an addiction to get readers. But it doesn’t matter how many readers there are because none of them click the adverts, because all of them have ad blocking software and think that they can forever read for free. There won’t be any newspapers in twenty years’ time. If we are not careful there won’t be any books or any writers.

I don’t miss the way I would write something on Twitter and then a few minutes later check to see if someone had read it or best of all retweeted it. This too is just feeding an addiction. Start with a few days. You may be tempted to go back, but stick with it. After a while it feels awfully like those days before Twitter even existed.

I began blogging because I wanted to campaign against Scottish independence, which was something I considered a threat even when most people I knew thought it could never happen. It could still happen. Anything which is supported by a significant proportion of the electorate can happen. But strategically the best thing to do is to ignore the SNP. If we attack them, then many Scots get angry and support for nationalism increases. If we tell Scots they can’t do something, or that it would make them poorer, some of them want to do it all the more just to show that they can.

The reality, as I have long argued, even if it still surprises some commentators like Mr Massie, is that leaving the EU is liable to unite the UK. Ireland’s hissy fit since Brexit is down to the fact that it will massively hurt their trade. Being in a different trading bloc to your neighbour who speaks your language and thinks almost the same way as you do is not a good idea. Poor Ireland. Strategically a wrong turn was taken over one hundred years ago. Hatred of the Brits means that the difference between being a region of Germany and being Munster looks minimal. Irish independence doesn’t much look like independence after all. Unless Scots are very stupid indeed, we won’t be fooled into going down the same route.

But just let this message stew. Don’t bang on about it.  The psychology of Scottish independence is that it becomes less likely the more it is ignored. If it should ever become necessary, I shall come back to fight the good fight. I may in a few months or even a few weeks, when I am less tired come back anyway. Or I may not. But for the moment I am learning Polish. Russia is no longer really safe. I am planning a novel about how to murder someone in such a way that it is impossible to be caught. I have found a way, but I lack a means to solve the crime and so any detective I might imagine is as stuffed as I am as a writer. Never mind I will keep thinking.  I have found the time to read Zola’s Earth, which is extraordinarily brutal and explicit for a nineteenth century novel. I work, I am well and I am no longer addicted to writing each week. For the moment, I have nothing further to add.  

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Little University on the Prairie

Apparently there is a plan in Scotland to pay students £8000 per year to study. Scottish students already have their fees paid by the taxpayer. The idea now is that they should be paid the equivalent of the "living wage" to study. This all begins to get rather expensive for the tax payer. But is it worth it?

A while back I came across an exam paper from the late nineteenth century. The task involved translating various passages from English literature into Ancient Greek. With a bit of effort I could imagine doing the reverse of this. Give me a few months, a dictionary and a grammar and I could probably make a stab at translating a bit of Plato or the Bible. But to translate Shakespeare into the language of Homer, to translate Milton into the language of Xenophon, this is a task I could not imagine being able to do.  Yet there were students from an unsung Scottish university able to do something that nearly all of us today would consider to be impossible.

We have a habit of looking down on the past as something superseded. Look at those awful late Victorians with their “white man’s burden” and their dreadful views about everything. How lucky we are to be so enlightened. How terrible it must have been for them to live in such darkness. But if you ever have the chance to read a work of scholarship from this period, you might be surprised to discover the level that was attained. Civil servants in India would produce scholarly editions of the Vedas as a hobby. Our man in Baghdad could actually speak fluent Arabic in various dialects and understood the history of the area and the people who lived there. It was for this reason that he could give sensible advice to the Government.

The reason these people could do these things is that university education in the late nineteenth century was of a very high standard indeed. Whatever people studied required hard work and serious intelligence. It didn’t much matter what someone studied, because any employer would immediately recognise that a degree from even the most humble Scottish university qualified someone to take on whatever burden was assigned. Does it do that now?

When I wander into the university library the first thing that I meet is a wall of sound. It may as well be Ronnie of the Ronettes telling me to be her baby for all that this present building resembles any previous place I have ever tried to study. I remember going to the University Library in Cambridge and finding silence. Anyone who spoke more than a couple of whispers immediately got a dirty look. No-one went to study with their friends. But we have progressed. Now we have a social space. Now we have collaborative learning. I would prefer frankly to leave collaborating to the French.

 I find myself frequently in a room where I am the only one actually reading a book. I open my book of Russian literature and begin reading. I continue doing this until I’ve read enough and leave. This is what I think studying is. But I am the only one doing it. The first thing that everyone else does when they enter the room is to open their laptop. They then open their mobile phone and proceed to switch attention from the one to the other until this becomes boring and they then proceed to chat with their friends. On the laptop is everything that they need to study. All the lecture notes have been written up with nice bullet points. Nearly everything that has to be read can be found on something called a “virtual learning environment”. It is rarely if ever necessary to even go and look for a book, let alone read it.

Some good work is still being done. Intelligence is a constant. The same proportion of the population is very able as was the case one hundred years ago. But a university degree no longer tells me that someone is even moderately able. Governments increased student numbers to such an extent that people with IQs of 100 and sometimes even less can obtain a degree. This logically follows from expanding numbers towards 50%. The standard has to be lowered otherwise those towards the bottom of the ability range would have to be kicked out. But this also means that those towards the top are unable properly to distinguish themselves from anyone else. It also means that there are courses I have come across where the set texts include Little House on the Prairie.

The tragedy is that I see able students who work hard, who find it impossible to get a job that is suitable for their ability. Sometimes they choose to do a further course to try to distinguish themselves, sometimes they start at the bottom doing a job they could have done at sixteen.  Many jobs that used to be done by school leavers now require five or more years of education, just to gain a piece of paper that is then used to set up a sort of closed shop to protect those who have it from competition.

Degrees that teach something objective have retained some of their merit. But many of the courses in the Arts and Social Sciences are simply teaching young people how to be unemployed. The problem is that far, far too many people are studying these courses. The only merit in medieval history or philosophy is that they provide a mental training that can then be transferred to for instance translating the Vedas or Shakespeare into Greek. But when you make these courses open to those of moderate ability they cease to provide a mental training for the ablest and cease to distinguish the ablest from the moderate. What then do they do? Well you might teach about life on the prairie in the nineteenth century America, but this won’t help you do anything and it won’t distinguish you from anyone else. Anyway we knew all of this already from watching television. 

The Arts and Social Sciences in particular have been taken over by the Left. We now have books dealing with Feminism in Spinoza and post colonialism in Macbeth. The only way to pass is to toe the party line. We now have safe spaces even and trigger warnings. Here's a warning. You are not going to like this blog. Whatever is the latest fad, we must import it. Dare not question it. Is this really worth paying so much for?

At some point in the near future someone is going to demand that I call them “ze” instead of “she” or “he”. Fair warning. I will laugh. I won't be able to restrain myself.  This is what is now coming out of our universities. We must accept without question and without argument whatever the latest left-wing fad is. But to accept in this way is to give up the ability to think for yourself. But the only purpose of going to university to study the Arts and Social Sciences is to question everything, argue about everything and think for yourself. Without this you have nothing and certainly nothing worth paying for.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Bought and sold for RT gold

Does it matter very much that Alex Salmond has chosen to appear on Russia Today (RT)? No. I sometimes glance at this site. It has a perspective, but then again so does the BBC, CNN and the New York Times. RT has a Russian perspective. It’s not a perspective we often have access to in the Western media, so in that sense RT can be useful. I find some of its reporting and opinion pieces to be very biased, but others are no worse than what we get in British newspapers or television. But then every story on every website has to be evaluated critically. The important point to remember is that RT is funded by the Russian Government and it has a goal. This goal is to further the interests and foreign policy objectives of Russia.

Does this make RT illegitimate? No. The BBC World Service likewise has a goal. Do you think that we fund radio programmes in obscure languages out of the goodness of our hearts? In Britain too I find that the BBC has a perspective that it relentlessly pushes. It is most often very fair and balanced in its coverage of politics, but at the heart of it all is political correctness. Most people, perhaps nearly everyone who works for the BBC believes in this or at least won’t question it. I doubt it would be possible to get a job if during an interview someone expressed doubts about aspects of feminism, gay marriage or climate change. So while it is possible to describe much of the coverage on RT as propaganda, so to it is equally possible to describe the BBC.

But why would Alex Salmond choose to appear on RT? It may be chance. He may simply have received an offer from the Russians. He lost his job earlier this summer and has the right to work where he pleases. But it might be worth reflecting for a moment on what he is doing.

During the Soviet Union various Labour politicians and Trade Union leaders made trips to see how socialism was working out. Many of them went to see a collective farm and reported back on how wonderfully it all was working out and how progressive and efficient it all seemed. When travelling around the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in the 1930s they noticed no famine, nor in other parts of the Soviet Union did they notice any repression. This continued right up until the end of the Soviet Union. Various Labour politicians and trade union leaders supported Soviet foreign policy goals, such as nuclear disarmament and in return were given money by the Soviet state.

The Soviet Union was Britain’s enemy all through the Cold War. The greatest threat to our existence came from Moscow. We also, of course, were a threat to them. But let’s be clear. There is a word for siding with the enemy during wartime.

I think the West has made a terrible mess of relations with Russia since 1991. We have pushed the EU and NATO right up to Russia’s border and crossed Russian strategic red lines. There was a chance back in the early 1990s to include Russia in NATO and give it some sort of EU membership. We could have had a relationship of cooperation and friendship, but chose instead to continue the Cold War rivalry. No doubt the Russians were to blame also.

The Yeltsin years were humiliating.  Russians may have been treated with some friendship, the Americans even sent aid, but they were also treated as if they were all useless, second rate drunks.  The financial crisis of 1998 showed that democracy and free market economics could lead to poverty.  In order to avoid further descent they turned, or rather returned to the familiar pattern of leadership. Putin has brought Russia back to being something close to a great power again. But in doing so he has come into conflict with the West. He has become our enemy.

The final straw for the Russians was Ukraine. Just as the Americans would not allow missiles to be sited in Cuba, the Russians could not allow Ukraine to join the West. They fought to stop this and they won. But in return the Americans deliberately set out to wreck the Russian economy and achieved that goal. The rouble fell like a stone in 2014 and sanctions had an effect on the living standards of ordinary Russians. But at the same time Russian foreign policy was succeeding. Their intervention in Syria while brutal was the key to defeating ISIS. Russian intelligence actually understood what was going on because they had been in Syria for decades and spoke the language, knew the history and understood the differences between the people there. The CIA as usual understood nothing.

So not only is Putin an enemy, he is a dangerous enemy. His intelligence services are rather good and his military forces are superior to anything we can put in place. If Russia wanted to annex the Baltic States, it could do so almost instantly and there would be nothing we could do to stop them except drop nuclear weapons on Moscow.

The Russians didn’t take kindly to having their economy wrecked. Moreover they didn’t take kindly to how the West once more made a mess of the Middle East by first encouraging revolt in Libya and by means of that example enabling chaos in Syria. They were right of course. It is for this reason that the Russians are out for revenge.

Naturally Alex Salmond understands none of these things. He is bumptious, fanatical about Scottish independence, but not very bright. Putin like every other leader in history has made mistakes, but he is conducting foreign policy in a very clever way. Russian interests are being advanced, Russian power is being increased. Above all he is attempting to weaken the West.

One way in which the Russians are attempting to weaken the West is by encouraging secession movements abroad. The Russians have a rather paradoxical attitude to secession. It’s fine when it’s in Russia’s strategic interest, but otherwise it is forbidden. Thus Crimea is allowed to secede from Ukraine, but any attempt by Chechnya to secede from Russia will be crushed by force. Because Russia will crush by force any secession movement at home, it feels free to encourage, for example, the Catalans in their attempt to secede from Spain.

Spain, of course, is not exactly an important military power anymore and hasn’t really been since it lost its fleet in 1588. Britain on the other hand is rather more serious. We have nuclear weapons and we still have reasonable armed forces, despite David Cameron’s attempt to all but disband them.

Long term Mr Putin is trying to weaken the West and weaken NATO. What better way to do this than see Britain’s armed forces neutralised. If that happened in conjunction with renewed American isolationism, then NATO would cease to be a serious force. It would be left with the Germans and the French. At that point a dash from Smolensk to the Baltic coast in order to get back the Baltic States looks feasible.

So it isn’t accidental that the Russians would want Mr Salmond on their television screens. Mr Putin is happy to stir up trouble in Spain. He will give money, he will use the IT skills at his disposal to help the Catalan secessionists. It will be difficult to prove anything. Were the Russians really involved in the US Presidential Election? Did they interfere with the French presidential election? Who can say? But whatever they are doing they are doing it for a reason. They want to increase Russian power by destabilising the West.

Is Russia our enemy? Yes. I wish it wasn’t, but Russia is acting towards the West in general like a hostile power. I believe we should make peace with the Russians. Make a deal over Ukraine. But until that happens we are in the midst of a new Cold War. What is more Mr Putin has electronic means that were unavailable to his Soviet predecessors.  

So the Russians will give Mr Salmond a platform to preach secession. If he was a leader of a Russian Republic they would kill him for doing so. But that’s OK he is only trying to harm Britain. If he could only succeed in breaking up Britain Russia would have one less enemy to worry about.

Mr Salmond will probably do little harm. I can’t imagine many people wishing to watch his programme. But let us be clear, by taking Russian money and using it to peddle propaganda that the Russians are sympathetic too, he is acting in a rather ignoble tradition.

For long term strategic reasons the Russians would love to see the UK broken up. Russia is acting as a hostile power and is a strategic threat to our allies in Eastern Europe. Anyone who does not recognise this threat is simply uninformed. In any future elections the Russians are liable to take the side of those who hate Britain. They may try to interfere in our democracy too. Perhaps they already have. We must be clear about this. We look back on those who took Soviet money or who failed to see the awfulness of the Soviet Union as naïve, deluded fools or worse. Taking Mr Putin’s money is no better.


Friday, 10 November 2017

Bach’s wife

Many people think the greatest composer who ever lived was Johann Sebastian Bach.  There might be some debate about this. Some think Mozart was greater, others Beethoven. It doesn’t much matter. If you look at a list of the greatest composers these nearly always make up the top three. But who is the greatest female composer? Is there a woman composer who ranks with Bach? No. How many women composers would make a list of the top one hundred? Perhaps Hildegard von Bingen a medieval abbess might just sneak into the bottom of the list? Why should this be so?

The assumption made by feminists is that men and women are equal in every respect and that there is no real difference between us. For this reason whenever a difference occurs it must be explained as being not due to difference but due to something else. The absence of a female Shakespeare is explained by Virginia Wolfe as owing to the absence of a room of her own which the hypothetical sister of Shakespeare might have lived in. There is always someone or something else to blame for the lack of female success in any particular area. Usually the prime culprit is a man or men in general. There are no great female composers because women historically have been oppressed by a patriarchal society that prevented them from realising their talent.

The ability to blame someone else for your own failure is the key to that failure. Success is difficult to achieve, far, far easier to blame the dog for my failure to turn in my homework. If you give someone an excuse for failing do not be surprised when they grasp it. A struggling woman composer who is given a ready-made excuse that her failure is due to her sex will find that excuse far more palatable than that it is due to her lack of talent. This is the essence of the problem with feminism and one of the reasons why I am not a feminist. It provides a reason for female failure and someone else to blame other than the woman herself. It causes the failure.

If I count correctly Bach had twenty children. He had seven with his first wife Maria Barbara and thirteen with his second wife Anna Magdalena. Bach could achieve greatness and he still had the time to father twenty children. How could he possibly have done this? Could a woman have given birth to twenty children and still have had time to achieve greatness as a composer? My guess is that this would simply be impossible. While being pregnant it would be difficult to focus on composing and while looking after all these children it likewise would have been difficult to pay complete attention to your latest string quartet. Nappies and notes do not mix well.

The reason for the absence of female composers is probably due to the difficulty of combining motherhood with composing. But as many women know there is a difficulty in combining anything with motherhood. Having children is a full time job. It’s not the lack of a room that prevented Shakespeare’s sister from writing her plays, it’s that she married and looked after many children. If she hadn’t married she might like Jane Austen have become the greatest English novelist, but instead she chose to create something more important than novels. She created people.

I disagree with feminism and any other ism that strives for equality, because it fails to admit that there are real differences between people and classes of people. I don’t think that women are better than men, nor worse. We are different. Any particular woman is not limited in her talent and has the potential to be the greatest composer who ever lived. But it is contrary to experience to suggest that women and men in general have exactly the same talents. We don’t.

The fundamental difference between men and women is that only women can give birth. It is this general ability that defines who is a woman. It is this likewise which makes it ludicrous to suppose that someone can simply become a woman on a whim.  Approximately half the population can have children while half cannot. This is the difference that is at the heart of human nature. Disaster and nonsense follows if we ignore it. If a society wishes to continue, it is necessary that most women have children and ideally more than two. When Bach was composing many children died either in childhood or due to infant illnesses. It is partly for this reason that his wives had so many children. It was partly also because they didn’t have much choice. But the result was that Germany in Bach’s time did not face the problems that it faces today.

Partly because of feminism and partly because of the pill, Germany is slowly committing suicide. If you look at a list of countries by fertility rate, Germany comes somewhere near the bottom. Every German woman on average gives birth to around 1.4 children. In order for the German population to increase, this rate needs to be around 2.1. Germans are living longer than anyone else in their history, but the number of young Germans who are paying taxes to look after these elderly Germans is falling.

In most of the First World there is exactly the same problem. Japan also has a falling population because Japanese women give birth to on average only 1.5 children. But there is a difference. While the population of Japan may decline and this may bring with it major difficulties, the Japanese population will remain essentially the same. It will stay Japanese. The reason for this is that like other First World Asian countries, the percentage of the Japanese population who are from elsewhere is tiny.

In the Europe and the United States, on the other hand, we have responded to low birth rates by trying to import the missing part of our population. In many parts of the developing world there is a very high average birth-rate. It may not be as high as that of Bach’s wives, but there are many places where women have on average families of five, six or even seven children.

Where is Germany to find the missing children that German women don’t give birth to? It can’t very well get all of them from other European countries, because in practically every European country women have low birth rates. So Germany must look outside Europe.

If you continue long enough down this route, do you still have Germany? Perhaps, but Bach would recognise little about this future Germany. He might not even understand the language spoken.

If there is a solution, it is this. European governments have to make it easier for women to have children. It makes no sense to have free healthcare but not to have free childcare. There is no point spending billions on defence if there is no longer going to be a country to defend thirty or forty years from now. Women have a unique talent: the ability to create life. This is more important than all the symphonies ever written. Bach’s wives did not become great composers, but they gave birth to them. Not only to them, they gave birth to all the generations that followed them. We must pay women to have children or else pay their husbands enough to look after them. We must respect motherhood as the most crucial of roles in society. We must also accept that it simply is not possible to combine composing and childbearing.

Feminism is trying to turn women into men. It is saying we can only be great if we do what men do. But this is to misunderstand that our essence is to do what men cannot do. Women and men should not be limited. We should have the same opportunity and potential and the ability to choose what we do or do not do. But it is vital that we accept that there are inherent differences. The feminist attempt to eradicate this difference and insist that there is absolute equality between men and women means that women are unable or unwilling to fulfil the one role that we alone can fulfil. The role of the mother is more crucial to society than the frivolity of composing. If we had more women like Bach’s wife there would be no demographic crisis in Europe and no need to import people from elsewhere. But instead we prefer to elect women who will never have children and look to them and others like them as the example to be followed. We then complain about the immigration that results from this childlessness. Neither of Bach’s wives was a feminist. If they had been, there would have been no Bach. In striving to make people the same feminism instead sows discord and division. Instead of making people equal it strives to make one half of humanity superior. Far from improving the lot of women, feminism makes them barren, far from being a productive way of thinking it is quite sterile.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The trial of Effie Deans

Imagine if thirty years ago someone had been murdered in Cambridge. Suddenly the police arrive and knock on my door and accuse me of being the murderer. They take me into custody, question me and eventually charge that on the night of November 4th 1987 I did wilfully and with malice aforethought murder one Scott Walters.  What would I say in my defence?

The trial of Effie Deans

I might say that I’m fairly sure I was in Cambridge on that particular night, but I don’t remember anything else about it. All that I can remember is that I didn’t murder anybody. At this point no doubt I would get someone to defend me. What would my lawyer ask?

He would no doubt begin asking the police about their evidence. Do they have any DNA linking me to the crime? No. Do they have any objects, possessions or fibres of clothing linking me to the murder? No. Do they have any witnesses? No. Do they have a confession? No. Do they in fact have any evidence at all? No. Is there a case for me to answer? Obviously not. This we should hope is the same for every crime.

If I am to be accused of grievous bodily harm or burglary or even cheating in my exams there has to be evidence even for a case to be investigated. What’s more in order for me to be put on trial this evidence ought to be such that it can potentially convince beyond a reasonable doubt.

But what if I said that Scott Walters put his hand on my knee or groped my breasts while we were both at the college disco or even that we both got drunk and went to bed without my consenting to this? What then?

Likewise I should be able to provide evidence. Is there any DNA evidence? No. Are there any witnesses? No. Although lots of people were there at the college disco, no-one can remember that particular night in 1987. Is there any other sort of evidence? No. All that there is my testimony that Scott Walters did something awful in 1987.

Should the police investigate? What if Scott Walters says he hardly remembers me? We were at college at the same time, but he can’t even remember what I looked like. Alternatively what if he says that he did indeed sleep with me? He can remember it clearly, but it was consensual.

I might disagree with Scott Walters. I might say he was violent and afterwards I had bruises all over my body because of his assault. The police might then ask me do you have any photographs? No. Are there any witnesses to these bruises? No. Did you tell anyone at the time? No. Are there witnesses to your being distressed? No. Did you go to a doctor or a nurse? No. There is only conflicting testimony and memories that differ.

Under these circumstances is there a case? No. During a trial there is a commonly an accuser and an accused. If people could be relied on always to tell the truth there would be no need for trials at all. Law as we know it would never have developed at all. We would simply ask people to tell the truth and they would do it.

But, because people commonly tell lies we need evidence. If someone says I was assaulted last night we can find witnesses, we can find DNA we can find fibres or whatever, but we just can’t do this thirty years later.

It is for this reason that we ought not to even attempt to investigate let alone try such crimes if they occurred at such a remote time that there is no longer any possibility of finding evidence. It may or may not be the case that a crime occurred on November 4th 1987, but we unfortunately have no means of discovering the truth.

If I reported that my house was burgled thirty years ago, but that I have no witnesses to the crime and no evidence of damage or even that anything was taken, then I’m sorry but there is not going to be any sort of investigation. Whether or not there was a crime, there is just no evidence. It was all repaired or replaced long ago. There is therefore no case to answer.

Something very ugly however is happening at the moment. We are attempting to convict people without evidence, purely on the basis of testimony. In no other form of criminal investigation would this be considered an acceptable method of arriving at the truth. The best way, indeed the only way to arrive at justice is to make each case depend solely on the evidence. When we convict when there is a lack of evidence or even insufficient evidence to overcome a reasonable doubt then we are certain to have miscarriages of justice.

Sexual assault is an emotive subject, but it must be investigated and tried just like any other serious crime. There has to be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order for us to be certain that a conviction is justified. If a sexual assault occurs of whatever kind, the person assaulted should report it immediately. This will enable the police to collect evidence, gather statements from any witnesses and look for physical evidence that might still be available. But it cannot possibly be enough that I say he assaulted me, while he says he didn’t. I might be lying or seeking revenge, or trying to extort something. It is human to lie. We are all potential liars.

It cannot also be enough to say I was drunk. No doubt Scott Walters was drunk too. Did I obtain consent from him before sexually assaulting him? Maybe he didn’t want to have sex with me and woke up the next morning regretting it. But like many inhibited British people we had drunken sex. This happens every night on numerous occasions in Britain and between thousands of long term couples. Do we all sexually assault each other because we were all incapable of giving consent? If so we are potentially going to have to turn Britain into one rather large prison. Which of us has never had sex while rather drunk? Go ahead, you throw the first stone.

We live in a permissive society where people meet strangers and immediately have sex with them. This very permissiveness depends on us requiring evidence that sexual assaults have occurred beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise who would dare sleep with a stranger? If everyone I sleep with can accuse me of sexual assault based on no more than his testimony, then it would be irrational to sleep with anyone. It could send me to jail for years. This is no longer permissive. It rapidly becomes puritanical even tyrannical.

In order to determine whether a sexual assault has occurred we need the same standards of evidence as any other crime. What are these? We need witnesses, DNA evidence, physical evidence, or confession. We need something objective.

People’s lives and reputations are being ruined because of a simple accusation without any further evidence. Other people are being sent to jail simply because someone said they did something and they cannot prove that they didn’t. We would not allow this situation to exist with regard to any other crime, but somehow we have allowed a situation to develop where the mere accusation of any sort of sexual assault is enough to ruin the life of the one accused. This is unjust. This is dangerous.

I’m sorry but if you were sexually assaulted and there was evidence of it at the time, you ought to have gone to the police. Now that there is no evidence apart from your testimony, there is nothing to investigate. A crime worthy of a long prison sentence may have occurred all those years ago, but whatever evidence there was has long since disappeared. There can be no trial, because there is no evidence. There is no case.

We take as evidence that a serious crime has occurred that people immediately report them. My failure to report a burglary thirty years ago suggests that there may not have been a burglary or that I realised that although there definitely had been a burglary I had no evidence beyond my own testimony that it occurred. But if I didn’t have sufficient evidence thirty years ago, how can I expect to have it now. The fact that lots of people are suddenly accusing others of crimes does not lessen the requirement that I supply objective evidence.   

An ugly witch hunt is happening at the moment. People are being encouraged to make accusations based only on their own testimony without any other tangible evidence. They are described as being brave for doing this. This encourages more and more people to be brave. The mob whips itself up into a frenzy looking for new victims. The mob requires no more evidence than testimony. To accuse is the same as to condemn.

Halloween is past. Let us call off the witch hunt. Rather let the police investigate and if there is sufficient evidence try each case in the courts. But an accusation is not proof of guilt. The assumption of innocence and the requirement to convict only when we are without reasonable doubt is the foundation of the rule of law. The freedom to live our lives without fear of arbitrary arrest depends on it.  Without it we have no justice at all and no way of avoiding miscarriages of justice. Let us be clear. The foundation of the law is evidence. Without it we don’t have law. We have mere arbitrariness and the whim of the police, the caprice of a judge. Evidence is the only thing I have to defend myself with. Without it I have no defence.  But evidence cannot simply be that I remember that you did this to me thirty years ago. It cannot even be you did this to me last night, but I have no further evidence than my assertion. If that is going to be enough to send people to jail, then we will all very quickly fear the law rather than feel protected by it.

We look back upon the courts of the eighteenth century which tried my fictional namesake with horror because their laws were brutal and their punishments worse. But at least there was the rule of law when Effie Deans was tried. If I can be tried today and convicted in an atmosphere of hysteria without any evidence except someone else’s testimony I might wonder whether it might not be better to be locked up in the Heart of Midlothian waiting for my appointment in the Grassmarket.   

Saturday, 28 October 2017

The Catalan handkerchief

Spain isn’t greatly liked in Britain. This has been particularly noticeable in the past few weeks as the crisis in Catalonia has developed. Quite a few writers have indulged in the pleasures of Spain bashing and for a variety of reasons. Some Eurosceptic Brexiteers have sympathised with the Catalans and used the crisis to complain about democracy in Spain and the EU. Some people have just found another underdog to champion. Plucky little Catalonia up against nasty Spain only needs Francis Drake to come to the rescue after he has finished his game of bowls.

 I’ve always taken the view that I shouldn’t encourage secession in someone else’s country if I don’t want it in my own. It is grossly hypocritical to do so. One of the features of the Scottish independence campaign that I remembered most was how people from other countries either resident in Scotland or not began taking sides. I lost count of the number of Germans who were desperate for my country to be broken up. When I asked them how they felt about Germany breaking up once more into Saxony, Bavaria etc. they became rather less enthusiastic about German forms of nationalism and didn’t at all like the idea of going back to the days prior to German unification.

Unless you have gone through this an independence campaign and felt the effects of full blown nationalism you don’t really get it. For Pro UK Scots the ongoing campaign to break up the UK is traumatic. We just want to get on with our lives without the constant fear of yet another threat from Nicola Sturgeon. It looks for the moment as if support for the SNP is in decline. The likelihood of another independence referendum happening anytime soon is decreasing by the day. If the SNP loses its overall pro-independence majority at the next Scottish Parliamentary election, which is likely, then we will more or less be safe for the foreseeable future.

But it’s been tough. Australians don’t have to worry about their country breaking up, nor do Japanese. Most people around the world don’t have this worry. It may all be good fun for the Scottish nationalist. They may enjoy this process of trying to break up the UK. But I don’t enjoy it. Out of all of the bad things that have happened in my life I would put Scottish nationalism somewhere near the top. I would rather see bubonic plague in Scotland than the disease of nationalism as the former is far easier to cure.

It is partly for this reason that I am not one of those Scottish writers who tries to see the good side of Scottish nationalism. I don’t want to play fair with these people. I don’t feel sorry for them when they keep losing. I don’t feel sympathy for their pain. I just want to defeat them and see them fully recognise that their defeat is permanent.

Nationalism is the best political card that you can play. Appealing to people’s sense of identity is tapping into something very basic and very powerful. Successfully playing this card can lead to almost anything. For the sake of their identity people are willing to lie, cheat, steal and kill. The only card historically that is stronger than nationalism is religion. Until a few hundred years ago in Europe people were willing to kill in order to make someone else believe one thing about Jesus Christ rather than something else. Most of us now believe in freedom of religion. We have put theocracy behind us as something primitive. But we haven’t yet put nationalism behind us.

The fact that nationalism is the strongest card in the deck means that responsible politicians should never play it. When things go wrong you get Spanish police bashing in the heads of people trying to vote. When things go very wrong you get Yugoslavia or Ukraine.

What have we learned?

1. There is no right to secession in European democracies. Anyone who doubts this should reflect that no-one will recognise a Catalonia that has achieved independence illegally. Therefore Catalonia is not independent. Just because I declare something to be so, it doesn’t make it so.

2. There is no right to have an independence referendum. This may be granted as was the case in the UK or in Canada. It may also be refused.

3. It is not undemocratic to refuse to allow a vote on independence. Germany, France and the USA would not allow their constituent parts a vote on independence and would certainly be willing to use force to prevent secession. They are all democracies.

4. Going down the illegal route to independence leads to capital flight and businesses deciding they no longer wish to have their headquarters in your territory. We don’t yet know if this capital will return to Barcelona and if these businesses will go back. Events are unfolding and markets don’t like uncertainty. Some capital will return as will some businesses, but some won’t.

5. People vote with their feet. Nationalism is very unpleasant for those who are not nationalists. Catalonia has many people who feel Spanish, or both Spanish and Catalan. If Catalan nationalism becomes unpleasant enough they will relocate. The same obviously is the case in Scotland. People who feel British or both Scottish and British will eventually give up on Scotland if we continue down the divisive path. Why spend your life with this sort of unpleasantness and uncertainty? The last thing either Catalonia or Scotland needs is the loss of people who don’t share the feelings of Catalan or Scottish nationalists. If nationalism makes either place unpleasant enough, these people will leave. Many of those who will leave will be those with the most talent and the best brains. If they could reflect this just might give the Scottish and Catalan nationalists the chance to reflect on the damage that they do.

6. Nationalism is a disease that is spread by nationalists. This is why I encourage the use of “Typhoid Nicola”. Scottish nationalists hope Catalonia gains independence, because if it did it would make Scottish independence more likely. Secession gives rise to secession. Yugoslavia starts with one and ends up with many. Nationalists see the example of someone else gaining independence and immediately think why not us. If you let this disease get out of control it, will come to your country eventually.

7. The European Union does not want to encourage independence movements. An independent Catalonia would start life outside both the EU single market and the Spanish internal market. Catalans may be better off now than most other Spaniards, but how much does this depend on them being part of Spain?  

8. Using force to prevent people from voting, even if this voting is illegal is stupid. Spain should simply have told pro Spanish Catalans to boycott the illegal referendum. They should have allowed pro-independence Catalans to vote freely hoping that they would win 100% of this illegal vote. Spain should then have pointed out that the vote was illegal and ignored it. All nation states have the right to enforce the law in their territory, but writing a cross on a piece of paper is not violent and need not be prevented by force.

9. There is a balance between the forces of unification and secession. We should not try to unify that which is too dissimilar. This leads to empires. Nor should we attempt to split that which is nearly the same. This leads to fragmentation. The sovereign nation state is the foundation of our security, wealth, freedom and democracy. It arose from the conflicts of early modern Europe and was developed as a means of solving these conflicts more peacefully. It is the only thing that prevents us from descending into barbarism. The sovereign nation state has rights which we all must respect or else “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

10 Nation states have the right to defend themselves against those who wish to destroy them. They have the right whether these enemies are internal or external. For this reason it is crucial that nationalists are not too relentless in their struggle. Catalonian independence hasn’t happened and won’t happen. It may take a while to sink in, for many Catalans are at present deluded by the zeal of their nationalism, but really it is best soon to accept defeat and get on with your life. All you have achieved is the temporary loss of devolution. Would that the British Government had the guts to do the same next time Typhoid Nicola started issuing one of her threats. It would require a simple majority at Westminster to repeal the Scotland Acts of 1998 and 2016 and it would take just a few bulldozers to rid us of her place of work.  Edinburgh would have one less eyesore and she could be sent homewards to think again.

Catalonia will still be a part of Spain one hundred years from now. Spain has made misjudgements. But the amount of blood spilt in defending Spanish unity while unfortunate should not be exaggerated. Leroy Pope Walker a politician from Alabama thought that the secession of the Confederacy would spill no more blood than could be wiped up with a handkerchief. He rather underestimated. Did the USA have the right to defend its territorial integrity? Yes. Does Spain have the right? Unquestionably. If sense prevails, no more blood need be spilled in Spain. But if Catalan nationalists show the same relentless refusal to give up and accept defeat as their Scottish counterparts we will need rather a lot of handkerchiefs.