‘Kingsman’: a Brexit explainer?

So much has been written about the rise of ‘Populism’. Many commentators have speculated on its origins while others struggled to work out what it all means and why it has come out. Examples of this populist wave include Trump, the Italian Five Star Movement and the British vote to leave the European Union.

You might not think that Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman:The Secret Service, a gratuitous adventure in violence and comedy, could shed any light on populism. But think again.

Kingsman tells the story of ‘Eggsy’, played by Taron Egerton, a working class lad recruited into an international secret service called Kingsman. Independently funded, these super sleuths represent old-fashioned values of chivalry and are the epitome of the English gentleman. Before you rush off to a safe space, women can become Kingsman too. If you haven’t seen the film and are trying to work out what his type of agent would look like, then imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg with a martini.

The villains of the piece is Valentine played brilliantly, as always, by Samuel L Jackson. Valentine is a tech billionaire worried about global warming. He was donating large sums to research to deal with the problem but frustrated by a lack of results and politicians inability to act, he hits on another plan. Valentine reasons that the things that people do are over-heating the planet. If they can’t be persuaded to change heir behaviour then the only answer is to eliminate the problem, as someone recently said on TV, literally.

Valentine’s conspiracy to wipe out billions of lives to save the planet requires the help of the rich, politicians and Royalty. Not all agree, notably a Swedish Princess who, like others who resist, is kidnapped.

Valentine claims he cherishes humanity. To save it from itself, from its overpopulated ways, it needs to be culled while saving the elites who will create a new world. Meanwhile ordinary people get on with their lives, oblivious to the fact that others are making life and death decisions about them.

The forces stopping this are the gentleman, and gentlewoman, dedicated to being on the side of the people. It is no coincidence that the film also has Royalty objecting to this Malthusian plan.

The villains here are the people who think they know best, who are self-serving and selfish while claiming to be selfless.

Kingsman is an outlandish film. It is a homage to, and resetting of, the Bond genre. But it also reflects the spirit of the age: decisions that affect how people live are made by distant elites. Inevitably people kickback. They want to control their lives and are opting for politicians who are challenging the political consensus. That might not be the best option, as many of these politicians peddle Nativist theories and will undoubtedly be as addicted to power as their predecessors. But there is another alternative: freedom.



Alex Chatham

Alex has been an occasional blogger for Liberal Vision.

Why I’m Backing the West Lynn Ferry Crowdfunder

The appeal reads:

The historic West Lynn ferry is in danger. The present owner cannot run it for another winter and needs to sell the business or shut down and sell his boats. If that happens we may not be able to start a new ferry for years, if ever.

I know the words well because I was involved with writing them. I met Ben Ellis the prospective buyer of West Lynn Ferry, a going concern, in the King William pub in Terrington and helped him finish off his page on crowdfunder.co.uk, his selected platform.

The ferry is an established commuter route into from rural West Lynn into Kings Lynn and is a helpful option for all manner of errands, such as visiting the library or shopping in town. Taking the ferry comes with free parking and cuts out all of the traffic on the long route round the other way. But the owner has joint issues and wants to finance a lifestyle change and take on less demanding work.

After 17 years invested in the ferry, which probably did not help his joints, he will be rightly determined to sell up or asset strip the business. He has been trying to sell the business for 18 months and although this summer is lovely, he is not looking forward to yet another winter of running services every 20 minutes. The ferry needs a particular set of skills to run and Ben Ellis is the only buyer to have come forward, but Ben does not yet have all of the £65,000 price tag.

Ben has various offers of finance, all of them unreliable and all of them with strings attached. He can’t proceed to buy the ferry if he doesn’t know he can make it work. On top of landing those prospective investors, his challenge is doing it without crippling the business with debt. Asking for gifts from his community – a helping hand in this otherwise private endeavour – makes sense.

Of course, there is a chance that the money will be handed over and the ferry will still end up closing. Plenty can still go wrong. Yet for the people in Terrington, Clenchwarton and West Lynn sharing a little of that risk with Ben has a better chance of keeping their ferry running.

For the wider community, and in particular for libertarians and conservatives, it is a chance to demonstrate that we are committed to practising what we preach. It does not matter that we come from London and have all the ferries and tunnels we need for ourselves. If we believe that public services can be provided by private enterprises then we have a responsibility to lead by example and support them when they falter.

You won’t find my donation on crowdfunder. He had my money before his page existed, but it is already very late. We have here a real example of the world working they way we want it to. The time to step up and get involved is past due.

Shoot the B*tch?

Consider a lady called Phoebe.

Notwithstanding a few flaws and foibles, Phoebe is basically a decent person. She leads a contented and well-adjusted life, working hard, but equally enjoying the fruits of her labour. Happily, the work she does benefits others: we know this because they keep paying her to do it. That work, moreover, involves nothing immoral. Thus, Phoebe makes an honest living. And it’s a good living. Each year, she earns a handsome income, testifying to how much she has benefited others.

Every year, too, an institution called government—democratically elected by a majority of voting citizens—commands her to contribute to its coffers some portion of her honestly earned income, specifically, whatever it unilaterally determines to be the appropriate price for the services it renders onto Phoebe and her fellow citizens. This portion typically amounts to about 30% of Phoebe’s income. Every year to date, Phoebe has dutifully complied with this command.

This year, however, Phoebe has chosen to defy the command.

Phoebe has her reasons. Many of them eminently defensible. Some are even widely endorsed. For example, she holds that the government misspends much or most of the money that it manages, carelessly casting it hither and thither, using it principally to bribe the electorate, and only secondarily to aid the deserving. She also holds that the government, through its reckless policies of progressive monetary debasement and sovereign debt accumulation, may well be setting the stage for an eventual and catastrophic economic collapse. She furthermore holds that people in government generally consist of a motley crew of box-ticking bureaucrats, insufferable narcissists, and power-hungry opportunists—none of whom deserve her fiscal tribute.

So this year, Phoebe has alternative plans for the 30% of her income that she has heretofore relinquished. Some of these plans are selfish—like going on holiday to the destination of her dreams. Others are selfless—like paying for a poor friend to have a much needed operation. At all events, she has made up her mind: she is not, under any circumstances, going to comply with government’s command that she give up 30% of her earnings.

At some deep level, she regards her earnings as entirely hers—not anybody else’s—which means nothing more or nothing less than that she, and not anyone else, gets to decide what should done with those earnings. What else could the “her” in “her earnings” mean? Has she really been earning other people’s money, and not her own, for 30% of the time she has been working, every year? Try as she might, Phoebe just cannot get her head around this strange idea, any more than she can get her head around the strange idea (which she read on a bizarre blog one day) that her 30% of her sexual life might belong to someone else, rather than entirely to herself.

Phoebe duly informs the relevant governmental authorities, by formal letter, that she is refusing to pay the taxes they demand of her. As a courtesy, she gives her main reasons, and outlines her alternative financial plans.

Some weeks later, Phoebe receives a formal reply in writing. In that reply, she is warned of the severe consequences that would attend going ahead with her proposed illegal course of action. Unless she pays the amount specified, and by the date specified, she will have to pay yet more. Moreover, if she still refuses to pay the principal and the penalties, a band of men in suits will come, with an authorising document, and attempt to confiscate some of her property. Furthermore, if she gets in the way of these men taking her valuable property, another band of men will come—this time with uniforms, badges, and guns—and attempt to subdue her by force. In the event of her continuing to resist physically—say by parrying the aggressive force used to subdue her with a matching defensive force of her own—the level of force used to subdue her may be progressively escalated, such that the risk of her being injured or killed comes to markedly exceed zero. One way or another, sufficient force will be applied such that she will be rendered harmless. If she is still alive, she will then be conveyed to a cage for a lengthy spell. Many of her neighbours in nearby cages will be sociopaths, some of whom will have been convicted of stealing from and/or physically assaulting other innocent human beings—sometimes as part of an organised gang of thugs engaging in extortion.

Phoebe ignores the formal reply.

One month later, a band of men in suits duly come by her house, and demand entry. Phoebe doesn’t let them in: she keeps the front door shut and locked. Their verbal demands going unheeded, the men in suits instruct one of their burly assistants to break down the front door with a battering ram. But Phoebe anticipates them by opening the door and brandishing a large club a menacing manner. (Not for nothing is she nicknamed “Feisty Phoebe”!) Unaccustomed to dealing with such self-possessed and indomitable ladies, the men in suits scarper, shouting back indignantly that they will report this outrage to the police, and that there will be a heavy price to pay.

Early the next morning, as promised, another band of men appear outside Phoebe’s house. Their metallic badges glint ominously in the crepuscular light. They have come for her and her property. Phoebe, however, does not intend to let them take either. For her, it’s just the principle of the thing. This time round, the men readily breach her front door, and flood ferociously into her house. They have guns in their hands—portable machines designed to propel bits of metal at great speed into human flesh. They point their guns at her, and tell her she has to come with them—or else. Phoebe knows going with them means going to the cage, and leaving her property behind for the taking. But there are too many men, carrying too powerful weapons, to repel. So she tries to flee. At the backdoor of the house, however,she encounters a large man already waiting for her, blocking her exit. The man lunges at her, toppling her over, and pinning her to the floor. Another man arrives, and attempts to put handcuffs on Phoebe, so as to render her defenceless. But Phoebe still has a free hand. She reaches for a knife in her pocket, and strives desperately to stab the man on top of her, to get him off her. She succeeds: he screams, bleeds, lets her go. The other man, seeing his colleague stabbed, takes no chances: he draws his gun and fires at Phoebe. The bullet strikes her head, enters her brain, and kills her.

Question: In this scenario, whose side are you on?

Did Phoebe, by shirking her obligations to a preposterously unreasonable degree, have it coming? Did she, by her perverse intransigence, culpably predetermine her own demise? Are people like Phoebe—who do not give when the government says that they must, preferring to satisfy private desires rather than public ones—so unforgivably selfish, or so socially pernicious, that they must, if push comes to shove, be liquidated?

Alternatively, do you suspect that there might be something amiss with Phoebe’s largely sealed fate at the hands of the state, should she have the audacity to act as if her earnings were entirely her own? Would you be personally prepared, as a human being, to hurt Phoebe, and if necessary to kill her, if she adamantly refused to materially support some society-wide endeavour to the degree that some of her fellow citizens said she should? Or would you only be prepared to countenance such violence if an organisation called democratic government—which supposedly gains its legitimacy from the Divine Right of the Masses—does your dirty work for you? In other words, are you guilty of a form of indirect and cowardly psychopathy towards your fellow human beings, unless they do the bidding of the sovereign power you happen to identify with? Are you essentially prepared to condemn your fellow human beings to extortion, incarceration, or even execution by proxy, just because you lack either the imagination or courage to conceive of an alternative to the status quo? Are you as morally blinkered today as supporters of slavery were in their time—blithely but falsely taking yourself to be a decent human being—when you are in fact fatally morally compromised?

Is Phoebe completely right and you completely wrong?

Nah. Just shoot the b*tch.

Bringing pareto distributions to drunken philosophising

Avid followers of Libertarian Home will know of a tension between the amount of time people want spent on history and abstract philosophy and the amount spent on concrete political policy and the everyday problems

encountered. Between talking to ourselves in pubs and talking to the public at large. This tension is, in my view, a false dichotomy. In truth we need more, lots more, of all of it. It seems, however, that since most libertarians are working hard on being happy that they have little extra time to dedicate to that effort. Libertarians have a resource shortage that is a bigger issue than any issue with resource prioritisation.

What to do about the resource shortage?

Well, one thing we could do is to make more libertarians – by way of persuading non-libertarians – until we have enough libertarians to get everything done. This is begging the question since effort is required to make the extra libertarians.

One of the things we do manage is lots of drunken philosophising. I have a lot of time for drunken philosophising and one of the reasons for that is that I do not think it is as useless as people imagine. It is also not always drunken philosophising, sometimes it is drunken strategising. Furthermore,  time spent drinking together is time in which communities are built and ideas shared.

That community is the fertile soil in which more impressive enterprises are grown. Those ideas are the seeds being scattered upon that soil. The hope is those randomly scattered seeds sprout into something wonderful.

The process is, however, somewhat inefficient. How many times have the conversations in a pub moved away from something exciting and insightful and onto the thing that the guy with the loudest voice has an anecdote about? Those moments do not ruin social evenings but they are as frustrating as they are unproductive.

In the facet of our universe concerned with business management there is an intellectual school called “Lean”. Look it up, it offers interesting insights into how to avoid waste. One of it’s insights is something called “LeanCoffee” which is simply a format for semi-formal meetings held in coffee houses in the early hours. I have been to a few and found them fun. The description of the format can be a bit wordy, so I’ll leave it out. Understand only that is it not as formal as it sounds. It is actually quite lightweight and relaxed, even with coffee involved.

What the format does is it quickly surfaces the interests of the attendees and exploits natural pareto / power-law distributions in the topics they are interested in. Focusing the conversation on the mutually interesting topics means the non-starters are filtered out. That boring anecdote is gently suppressed.

The other thing it does well is it dedicates some time to each of the attendees’ common interests. This ensures that the right amount of time is spent on each topic (where “right” is also defined by the attendees).

So, the least interesting conversations cannot take the spark of life out of the more interesting conversations until the appointed hour is reached and then only by consensus. That this remarkable feat can be managed without excess administration is really quite impressive.

Can you imagine the impact on our resource shortage if the resources we presently invest in drunken philosophising were an order of magnitude more productive? What would happen if the deeply-interesting and popular conversations dominated the evening and the merely fun and merely-of-normal-interestingness were put aside for a while?

I think this meeting format will be interesting and fun to try out with beers rather than coffees, and with politics rather than business management.

Let’s do it this evening in Westminster

Who’s in?