Reflecting on my opinions with sadness, anger and often incredulity.
As I have grown older I have realised that much that I took for granted was wrong. In my maturity I don't agree with the follies of my youth. My core principals have not changed but may knowledge of how to achieve and apply them has.
Left to our own devices we can become farmers and bakers, tailors and cobblers, plumbers and engineers, astronauts and programmers. Our possibilities are limitless as we cooperate to help ourselves and each other. “What a piece of work is man”. It takes a state to turn us into soldiers and sailors to make us kill and maim ourselves and each other. On Remembrance Sunday we should take time to think on all those that died or were injured during war and pledge never to be fooled again, by the old lie, that it is sweet and honourable that we die for our state.
Dulce et Decorum est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. —
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
I read today [OECD] that Britain has the highest rates of obesity, and fatness, in Europe and is the 6th most obese country in the world. There is also the terrifying statistic that the rate of obesity has doubled since the 1990’s and we face the serious prospect of this bankrupting the NHS. Obesity is a major risk factor, as we all know, for diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and dementia – this rate of change should alarm us – but it won’t.
For many years, most of my working life, I ignored a growing problem. This problem was the growing size of my belly and my increasing size. By the time I changed my lifestyle 6 years ago I had managed to create quite a respectable problem for myself. My waist was 35 inches, my weight was 14 stones and unfortunately not being a tall man my BMI was 31.6. I was quite clearly obese. This had crept up on me, I knew as I aged I was becoming less fit but I didn’t look that different to many other middle-aged men and nobody passed any adverse comments. As a doctor, I knew I was building up risks for myself but I was able to minimise these in my head. Nothing bad had happened, I don’t look that unusual, my blood pressure is OK, I still stay active – it really was easy to convince myself that this was no great deal.
Then came the rude awakening. Five years ago I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes mellitus with blood sugars so high I had the full range of symptoms and was started on metformin instantly, at a pretty high dose. I then went through the NHS’s education package. This told me to take my medicines, eat regularly and sensibly, and take a bit of exercise. With this, I was assured, the thing was manageable and I’d be fine. No-one took a blind bit of notice of the large, and obvious, wobbly bundle of fat I had around my middle even though this was the most conspicuous thing of my appearance. (If you want to imagine me then – not recommended – then imagine a potato with four cocktail sticks as limbs, that was me to a “T”). I sat on classes with other similarly shaped people and we all pretended that there was nothing amiss, nothing that eating a stick of celery couldn’t sort out. I went to the gym, where the rhythmical bouncing of my and my new friends’ bellies, while we tried to jog on the treadmills, was almost hypnotic to watch. Through it all no doctor, no nurse, no dietician, no-one said – for goodness sake get rid of that belly ! They were all too polite to mention it.
When I received the diagnosis a cold shiver went down my spine. I’d worked in an area where I’d seen the consequences of diabetes. I’d spoken to men about to have their feet amputated, I’d given rehab advise to folk after their stroke, I’d completed forms confirming that a diabetic man was now blind, and I’d consoled widows after their spouse’s fatal heart attack. I knew my mortality risk was now considerably increased and I knew some of the problems I might face. I also knew, from very cursory information gathering, that my poor diet and obesity were the main factor in this.
I decided to change, I was so scared and shocked, I knew I had to change. I went on a low carb diet and lost 3 stones, I kept on the diet and took regular exercise. I saw my waistline shrink, my belly disappear and my blood return to near normal. After a few months I came off medication and have remained medication free, and with relatively normal bloods, for the past years. A couple of my diabetic pals, who were equally shocked, did the same thing with similarly good results. But I meet my other pals, who were never troubled by the thought of their weight; still obese, still taking medication and now starting to experience the adverse consequences of this illness.
So I have a personal interest in this report of growing obesity in the UK even though I am a relative neophyte to the world of diets and healthy eating. What are we to do to try and stop this growing trend. It is clear that there are some things we can’t do.
We can’t reduce the availability of food. This is a non-starter, there is no way we can limit what people eat – they must do this themselves. If you don’t sell the double pack of Mars bars I’m smart enough to get around this by buying two packs as is everybody else. Attempt to limit things by smaller packaging could only work if we were happy to accept central rationing of our food, otherwise we just buy more of the smaller packets.
I don’t think that we will get around this by education. I don’t think that there is anyone left that thinks a Big Mac and fries becomes a healthy option because it has a gherkin in it. We all know that a salad is healthier than a bar of chocolate – education is the answer when ignorance is the problem. That is not the issue here.
I doubt we will have much success tackling our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Anyone suggesting we get rid of the automobile, or suggesting we dig roads by hand or get rid of any other labour saving machinery, is unlikely to have a successful career in politics. We can suggest that people exercise and find ways to make it easier but, unless we are going to have forced marches then we need to find ways to make people want to do this.
The key in the affluent west is that we need people to want to be normal sized, to fear being obese. This is what we have lost. As I walked around I saw other people the same shape as me, it normalised my obesity. Chairs, cars, everything has been slightly adapted to suit the larger body, each step making it easier to be obese and, more importantly, making it easier to ignore your own obesity. I needed somebody to tell me – “Whoa ! You’ve got far too big there. That doesn’t look right” but even when I had fallen ill people were too afraid to mention it. They were happier to let me die earlier or loose my sight, or foot, than to be accused of “fat shaming”
We would prefer people to be comfortable in their obesity, than in any way upset – but this is precisely what we do not need. Discomfort might prompt thought and redirection and improvement to their health and life. I wish someone had spoken honestly to me, when I asked “How do I look ?” I wish they had said “you are getting fat” rather than lied with “Fine”. There is no need to be unpleasant about this we just need to be honest. We also need to be careful about attempts to actively normalise obesity. I noted, when in the supermarket today, this is not as strange and impossible idea as I had thought – three of the covers of magazines (directed to young women) were using obese models. It may be dangerous to promote anorexic stick insect ideals of beauty but it is equally dangerous to promote obesity as a good choice.
The problem of obesity has unfortunately got bound up in the gender issues of objectification of womenWe but obesity doesn’t affect only one gender. All of us are at risk when we treat our health and future in a cavalier way like this. There are many vested interests who would prefer us not to think about it; the food and pharmaceutical industries would be much happier we consumed more of their products and dealt with the consequences. The media and beauty industry can sell us their products either way, fat or thin models, it is of no concern to them simply which model sells more copy.
People are free to live as they wish, they are free to be fat or thin as they choose, but they must choose with adequate knowledge. We should not influence these decisions because of our political biases and we should net let people die early because we were too afraid to tell the truth.
It is gingerly, and with a great deal of trepidation, that I write today’s post. I have been struck by the awfulness of Carl Sargeant’s death on Tuesday when it appears he took his life after having been accused of misbehaviour and having lost his government position. Now, I don’t have any great affection for politicians and did not know a great deal about Mr Sargeant before this event so why has his apparent suicide affected me ?
Firstly because it is a very obvious reminder of the terrible damage we are doing to our society and the rule of law by the ongoing hysteria in the media about sexual abuse and politicians. Clearly I would want to see any politician, of any hue, who abused any other person dealt with and punished appropriately. The promise of power and influence, that the world of politics offers, means that it will attract more than an average amount of psychopathic individuals. Therefore it is quite reasonable that we may find an above average number of people who are guilty acts of abuse in our governmental bodies. But, equally clearly, I only want guilty people punished and shamed. This distinction is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society where rules are just and punishment only justly applied when it is warranted.
One of the earliest legal treatises was the Mishneh Torah which was an attempt codify the bases of Jewish Law. In the early attempt to tease out guiding principles for a fair and just society the great philosopher Maimonides wrote :-
“It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”
as he was aware that to do otherwise was the start of a slippery slope which lead to a lawless and unjust society where conviction, not being based on an adequate burden of proof, could lead to punishment on the basis of a whim of courts and rulers. This has also been referred to as Blackstone’s Formulation after he stated “All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer“.
This principle should be considered alongside another, related legal principle, that is, the presumption of innocence. All legal systems hold this principle dear. Roman law states “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies), and Islamic law, Common Law and the Civil Law all carry this basic tenet. As the public puts it “Innocent until proven guilty“. This is a principle that keeps you and I safe : we can only fall foul of the law, and be punished, if we are found guilty after trail not simply by accusation.
In the Carl Sargeant case he was treated as if her were guilty before he had a hearing. He lost his position and was treated by Carwyn Jones, The First Minister of Wales, as if the accusations were true. This is the habit, increasingly popular, of jumping to the conclusion that accusations are truth. It is this approach which underpins such campaigns as #IBelieveHer. Now it is understandable that we want to increase the justice for those who are victims of any form of abuse but this strategy is very dangerous. If we believe the accusers without question what is the need for a trial ? If we believe the accusers then the only thing missing is retribution. This leads us to a very dark place where people can be destroyed by malicious accusations.
This photograph, might explain my concerns about this. This is a group of Welsh special advisors out for the evening celebrating on the night that they had just started the ball rolling on the case against Carl Sargeant. These are the expressions just after they have opened the floodgates of innuendo and suspicion. A colleague and erstwhile friend has been thrown to the dogs and this photograph reveals their feelings that very evening. When accusation becomes proof, accusations become dangerous and powerful political weapons which some people seem to enjoy using.
This is not the only legal principle that was ignored in Carl Sargeant’s case. He was never given details of the accusations nor knowledge of who his accusers were. Again in English Law, Roman Law, and also the Sixth Amendment of the United States this is a ignoring a cornerstone of justice. In the Bible, when Paul was accused, it was described thus :-
“It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man up to die before the accused has met his accusers face-to-face, and has been given a chance to defend himself against the charges.”
If one does not know the accusations, nor your accuser, you are effectively denied the opportunity to defend yourself. If you can not defend yourself you cannot receive justice. It has long been known that ignoring this principle would lead to injustice and would facilitate terror. The oppressive, nightmarish qualities we try to explain when we use the term “Kafkaesque” , relate to being on trial but ignorant of your accusers and their claims as so well described nn Kafka’s novel Der Process (The Trial). Secret accusations, secret courts and clandestine meetings have always been the way of the power hungry who wish to subvert justice. In this particular case it seems that it has gone further than this as there were also meetings with the accusers when their stories were discussed with all the risks of contaminating evidence of any wrong doing. This is very reminiscent of the history of the Stasi, or the Gestapo, collecting accusations so that they might prove useful against political enemies in power struggles at a future date
Carl Sargeant did not know of what he was accused nor do we. We know that it could not have been sufficient to warrant police involvement. It is likely that it was behaviour that is deemed inappropriate in our present moral climate. He might have behaved in a manner more in tune with an older generation than the present. If this is the case then it is probable that a further legal principle is in the process of being ignored – we can only be tried for offences against the rules that applied at the time. Guilt can not be backdated. If tomorrow they pass a law outlawing drinking alcohol on Sundays, it is this principle which protects me against them coming and punishing me for last Sunday’s drinking. I am obliged to follow the law as it is just now, not as how it might be in the future. Without this principle we could all be facing punishment in the future for some act which is not a crime at present – did you spank your child ? Did you smoke in a public place ? etc etc. The same guideline should be used when we consider social mores and customs.
For all these reasons the story of Carl Sargeant is a sad and worrisome tale. He did not receive fair justice and now never can. We will never know the truth of these accusations as they can not be tested now that he has died, so justice will never be served. These principles are not minor bureaucratic foibles but are the foundations of our enlightened society. For the sake of all those black men lynched in the South in America, denied a trial and presumed guilty on the words of their accusers, we must fight for these principles. For the sake of all the women accused of witchcraft and killed never able to confront their accusers we need to remember how important these principles continue to be. For the sake of the very many women who are going to be accused of adultery, or other crimes in the middle east, and face death just on the basis of an accusers word we need to promote these ideas and promote civilisation.
Carl Sargeant worked hard for his community and tried to improve the world by his work in politics, I hope now that he can rest in peace. Hopefully his family will also find peace and perhaps, in time, they may see that his sad death contributed to a turning point when society turned its back on hysteria and witch hunting.
Today’s daily prompt, about the egg, got me thinking about food and the basics of life. In particular, it made me think about the furore over foodbanks in Britain. These charitable concerns were set up, initially, by church groups such as the Trussell Trust, in order to help the poor and hungry in our society and to allow its members to do the most important thing that we can do as people – to look after our fellows.
It is a shame, therefore, that foodbanks have become the current political football. Rarely are they mentioned but to complain about there presence – “There should be no need for charity in a rich country like ours” – is the common refrain. The existence of foodbanks is used in many political debates as a stick to beat the opponent as a symbol of their failings. However, I would contest that it is heart-warming to see the growth of charity and people trying to help their brothers. Voluntary, local organizations such as this are better than centralised government agencies.
Man is a social animal, it is in his nature to help his fellows. Left to his own devices he is cooperative and adventurous and works in groups to increase the wellbeing of his group. An integral part of this is charity. 150 years ago there was boom in self-help and mutual aid organisations (mutual societies, friendly societies, insurance schemes, religious and trade groups) and over three quarters of working men had some form of health and unemployment insurance. These growth of these schemes was seriously hampered by the development of the current welfare state which rapidly became the monopoly provider (with all the consequent problems that monopoly providers have).
I would guess that we would all agree that we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves for whatever cause and it was this desire which promoted the developments of those schemes. Unfortunately, there has been the development of very negative views on the left and on the right of the poorer in our society. On the right there are concerns that they might be indolent or reckless and need some punitive element to their assistance to try and correct what they see as bad behaviour. On the left the poorer are seen as incompetent, unable to organize and requiring central planning to take over. The left also tend to view us all as egocentric and greedy who would not look after our neighbours were we not compelled to by act of law and threat of punishment.
Both of these views have damaged societies abilities to develop better local schemes. The welfare state has created a gap between donor and recipient, which is poor for both parties – donors can not easily influence how their assistance is used and recipients become increasingly seen as “the other”, something outside of society – apart and lesser. (However, as an aside, I have to say I am grateful of this gap when it allows me not to feel too close to the decision to use my tax payments to kill some Yemeni child.)
Welfare states may not make people lazy, there is really no evidence for this, but they do often cause dependency, and apathy, and often can have perverse incentives which reduce the ability of individuals to return to work and sometimes damage family structures. Welfare states, by their national basis, are often the reasons for people’s dislike of free movement – incomers are seen as jumping into a scheme they and their families had not established (thus felt to be receiving benefits without entitlement) rather than being viewed as possible new partners with whom to work and grow (all studies find immigration strengthens economic growth).
As we now use the term “poverty” to define a group a specific distance from the mean wealth of the population we will always have people in poverty – unless there was no deviation whatsoever in incomes (an unlikely scenario) there will always be the relatively poor and we will always need and want to aid them. All the great religions and philosophies have seen this as a cardinal act of humanity (“If anyone with earthly possessions sees his brother in need, but withholds his compassion from him, how can the love of God abide in him?” in the Bible and the Koran’s recognition that there is a “” to our wealth”) Those, often religious groups, who wish to do this through foodbanks should be applauded for their actions. We should not give all power and planning for assistance away, the less charity there is in a society the less human, less cooperative and less kind our society becomes.
In many areas of education a demonstration is better than a simple explanation. This article from FEE suggests that more people might understand the compassionate aspects of libertarianism if they saw more people “walking the walk” rather than just “talking the talk“. I felt that this needed reposted to be spread more widely.
I volunteer for American Red Cross as a disaster team leader in the Detroit area to help people in need with basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter for the night. An acquaintance of mine recently said to me, “I’m shocked that you’d do that. I mean, you’re a libertarian, aren’t you? Shouldn’t those…
As committed internationalists, Libertarians often have problems with nationalism. Nation states are often seen as barriers to free movement of people and free exchange of ideas and trade. States are often coterminous with nations, such that, to many libertarians, the nation is in fact the state and thus viewed as the problem. Indeed, national governments erecting barriers at their boundaries, imposing tariffs of trade and, in the most extreme cases, waging war for the nation’s benefit are all factors which confirm many libertarians opposition to nationalism.
However, as Murray Rothbard and others knew :-
“The nation, of course, is not the same thing as the state, a difference that earlier libertarians, such as Ludwig von Mises and Albert Jay Nock understood full well”
Often, through accidents of history, the nation-state has been the recognised form of the state but, through centralisation nations have in many areas been subsumed into bigger groups with more powerful, and more centralised, states. This would be the pattern in the United Kingdom, in the historical empire building of the past, and more recently in Soviet Russia and the eastern block and in the European Union. Now a number of nations could be subsumed under one larger state.
Our nations are not simply our states. Our nations are formed from our ethnic groups, our religious and cultural associations, our shared languages and experience, our traditions, many things which are more important to us as individuals than the state. It is the reason that ideas of nationhood do carry personal significance to many people. When nations have been gathered together to create supranational states then nationalism can help break up these superstates and weaken the power of the state. Nationalism can also make it harder for fixed markets and crony capitalist corporations to line up so effectively with the state to secure large rent payments from the public’s purse. We saw this beneficial effect of nationalism, when the collapse of the communist regime in the east was hastened by the rediscovery and creation of smaller national groupings.
The Benjamin Franklin’s old joke that “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch” contains an important kernel of truth, which is the danger that John Stuart Mill called the “tyranny of the majority”. Libertarians stress the independence and importance of the individual, and rightly make individual liberty the highest goal, to minimise this problem, However, another factor which reduces this danger of tyranny is to make democratic units increasingly smaller. As the units are smaller the minorities as proportionately larger. To reduce this to the absurd; in an electorate of one there is no minority and the individual’s vote is always successful.
But joking aside, when nationalist groups are able to reduce the power or larger states the libertarian will find themselves on the side of the nationalist. We support those who throw of the yoke of empire and those who reduce the size and power of the state. Smaller states are more visible, the individual is clearer on the powers that are yielded, and the individual’s power in a smaller electorate is improved. Further smaller states hopefully give the option of voting with your feet. In a state the size of Europe or America it is difficult to move to seek life in a state more compatible your views. If our nations were smaller, or even better were we to consider communes, then we could participate effectively in our municipal politics with less imbalance in the power between the state and the individual and, at the same time, the our mobility might allow us to decide where we will participate and which state we might tolerate.
Unfortunately sometimes nationalism has been used as a cloak to gather power for the state, or has been the cloak that has been used to obscure racist and illiberal ends. All too often calls for national greatness are the siren call of the totalitarian and we should be clear about this and reject it. But when nationalist groups threaten to weaken the state and increase the power of the individual, libertarians should support them. Historically this has a great tradition; the American republic, with its liberal outlook and respect for the individual, was born out of nationalist feelings and hopefully Brexit, and the various celtic nationalist struggles, will start the break up the European super state.
I am an internationalist, I see all men as my equal, but when the state has grown larger than nations, I will support national independence struggles which try and reduce the size and scope of the state. Remember the words of Sun Tzu :-
“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”
I often think that gratitude is much misunderstood. Despite the positive psychology movement and religious organizations recognizing its benefits I sometimes feel only half of the subject is considered.
There is a reasonable body of research which suggests that keeping a Gratitude Journal, a diary of things for which you are grateful can help you promote a positive frame of mind and a greater sense of happiness. People who keep gratitude journals have been shown to be generally happier, optimistic and more productive to similar people who do not keep such journals. Gratitude Journals have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms and possibly have beneficial effects on some chronic physical ailments.
Intuitively this “count your blessings” approach seems to have much to commend it and I have looked at a number of paper and computerized gratitude journals. They did not work for me. When I tried to use them I transformed into tearful actor winning the best cameo role in an international film at the Oscars – “I’d like to thank my Mum and Dad for having me, my children for being nice, my employers for putting up with my incompetence, my neighbours for having a nice garden, the sun for shining and making me feel warm, my bodily health for persisting so far despite my ignoring it, the wind for clearing the lawns of leaves and the bees for pollinating the plants so we do not die in a famine. I’d also like to thank the canteen boy .. .. .. .. “.
This was the problem, there are many, many things one might be thankful for. Although, it has to be said, that I only became aware of these once writing in the journal. I was not thankful before I sat down to think, largely I had taken these things for granted. I had glimmers of gratitude after I wrote the lists. Sometimes I worried that the feeling I had was contentment rather than gratitude, a sense of happiness with my lot, having counted my blessings I was pleased there were so many.
There is a danger in this: if it fosters contentment might it not also foster complacency? It might make me happier by making me happy with my lot. Perhaps a better route to happiness sometimes would be to recognize my troubles and tribulations and change them.
I think this risk is biggest when only half of the nature of gratitude is recognised. In addition to being grateful for things we are also grateful to people. Gratitude is a debt we owe, when we feel gratitude we know we require to say “thank you” to someone. Those of a religious nature rarely forget this half. They are thankful to God and gratitude serves to bolster and strengthen their faith. Thanksgiving is a natural aspect of religious life and gratitude is understandable in this context.
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you ”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
To whom do those without a deity give thanks; to friends and family certainly, but who for the bigger things – to fate ? And what of those things one enjoys that one sees as the fruits of one’s own labour – you can not really be grateful to yourself, you can’t owe thanks to yourself. And here is the rub. Sometimes people are grateful to the fates that they have been lucky and no disasters have befallen then, they are proud that they have worked and collected many things to look on in happiness, they are pleased that they have formed good relations with their friends and families and they feel fortunate that their parents bore them in a place they feel safe and secure. But this pride in your own acheivements and contentedness with your circumstances is not gratitude. There is a shorter word for this Self Motivated User-focussed Gratitude, it is called being “smug“. Unfortunately the happiness that accompanies smugness is always short-lived because, as we know, pride always comes before a fall.