Alfie Evans is a Turning Point for How Britain Sees The State

On Saturday the 28th of April the toddler Alfie Evans tragically died. He was admitted into hospital only seven months after he was born and has remained there ever since as a result of a degenerative neurological condition. This February the doctors at Alder Hay hospital decided that it was not worth trying to preserve Alfie’s life. When the parents tried to remove Alfie from the UK and take him to Italy for treatment, they were not allowed. In the eyes of the law, the opinions and personal convictions of the doctors counted for more than the parents of the child.

This should be a big moment for British culture.

Call it ‘national mythology’ or sentimental, but a large part of British culture is the belief that in Britain, the relationship between citizen and the state is one of mutual respect. Our politicians are not supposed to be despots. They may be idiotic and fumbling but the popular perception is that dictatorship is just ‘not British’. This rosy view is representative of the way we Britons view the government. British civil servants are competent instead of corrupt and nepotistic. British policemen are ‘bobbies’ rather than armed to the teeth pseudo warriors. While many counties have had a difficult relationship with their secret security services we turn our spies into much-loved action heroes. And what British child did not grow up with the notion that although the American army has more guns than we do, the British Army is still (somehow) the best in the world?

Whether any of this is actually true is highly debatable. But the popular view that the British state is a benign, measured entity is a pervasive feature of our national character. The Alfie Evans case could change this. Here we have the state openly flouting the will of a family to save their young son. This certainly does not fit into the view of the gentle state myth we are so used to.

The Alfie Evans controversy should be a watershed for British culture. State power has grown unchecked for decades, to truly frightening levels.The delusion that the British government exists to serve the people is a silly mistake at best, and dangerously deranged at worst. Across the country conversations about the scope of state power will be happening. Let’s hope that people come to the right conclusion. That the state has grossly overstepped it’s mark here and that it should not be tolerated.

Ways to Reach a Wider Audience

Yesterday I wrote a post The Way Libertarians Should Engage in Politics outlining my view that libertarians should be able to take part in politics whilst retaining our identity. Personally, I think that Adam Kokesh’s idea to run for ‘non-president’ of the united states in 2020 is a little too gimmicky but at least he is thinking about how to hijack the political system for libertarian ends. Instead of writing a list of possible things libertarians could do, I have created a pyramid. The activities towards the top of the pyramid would be more effective and hence, require more organisation. Whereas the actions at the bottom of the pyramid are easier for individuals to carry out.

I make no apology for omitting various things from my pyramid such as violent protest and ‘infiltrating the conservative party’. To my mind, these methods of gaining prominence would not work. More importantly, this is not by any means an exhaustive list. There are many more things we could be doing. My intention here is really to help people conceptualise how we could actually begin to reach a bigger audience.

 

 

 

 

 

Context and Intent Must Matter. Royal Babies Don’t

It has been shown that, in complex domains, punishment is an ineffective means of controlling behaviour. The reason is that if someone cannot tell whether a decision will lead to punishment then they cannot rationally incorporate that factor.

Communicating your ideas in a way that is both accurate and also funny is a complex domain. Locking up a comedian for making a bad joke is therefore unlikely to be effective. Pragmatically, it is a stupid idea.

Markus Meechan, Count Dankula, is today being sentenced for the crime of using “gas the jews” as a cue for a cute dog to make a Nazi salute. The context was a joke about cute dogs not really being so special. The intent was to ridicule Nazis. Making jokes to illustrate what aspects of a thing are genuinely special and valuable is an unequivocal social good. Ridiculing the third most evil political movement in recent history is an unequivocal social good. I wish people would make similar jokes about Stalin and Mao.

I’ve written before about how speech precedes politics and should not be regulated by political action. Setting that aside for a moment, there are social goods embedded in  Meechan’s intent. We know punishing people in complex domains won’t work, but what it will do is force people out of the complex domain. If there is a clear line between the complex and the straightforward it will mean fewer people crossing that threshold. It will force them out of attempting to create edgy jokes about bad people. It will force comedians to make safe, tame, infantilised rubbish, and will stop people taking the time to ridicule Nazis.

If we want good comedy, if we want bad people to get a hard time, if we want good ideas and good humour to come to the surface, then we need to tolerate dark dank corners where people are allowed to get it a bit wrong. Context and intent matter both as a way of filtering genuine evil and make believe evil (Meechan’s evil was make believe), but also as a way of guiding our eye to what is valuable.

If you forget them, your TV will be full of bad comedy and Royal babies.

Dose of Liberty Episode 5

In this very special episode of Dose of Liberty, we present a freedom of speech special. We are also live from the Two Chairmen pub at the latest Libertarian Home meetup. Finally, we are joined in our discussion by libertarian extraordinaire  Mr Brian Mickletwait. We hope you enjoy listening to the podcast as much as we enjoyed recording it!

 

 

The Windrush Scandal: Twisting the Knife for a Hopeless Government

I am not very often lost for words but the events that have transpired this week in the Windrush controversy have left me speechless. For the sake of a lost piece of paper many people who have lived in Britain since the 1940s and 1950s have lost their jobs and had their whole lives thrown into question.

As a libertarian, I rarely get the opportunity to jump on any sort of bandwagon. So you will forgive me for enthusiastically hopping aboard this one.  Obviously, this scandal is an utter disgrace. But the claim that Theresa May has created a ‘hostile environment’ for these long naturalised British citizens requires further analysis.

Radio 4 recently caused a stir because they decided to air Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech in full. I always knew about the speech but was never really aware of the enormous public support that Powell received after he was dismissed (in what must be one of the biggest acts of career suicide in modern British history).

People such as myself, who are in favour of more liberal border controls are in a tricky position here. The vast majority of the British public do not support this policy direction, and yet every year more migrants come to the UK. Year after year politicians promise to radically reduce migration but they fail. The reason they fail is that reducing immigration is for all practical purposes impossible.

Immigration makes economic and political sense. Not only does it bring valuable workers to Britain but it sends a positive message to the rest of the world. Furthermore, if Theresa May tried to limit the number of migrants to the ‘tens of thousands’ as she has said, chaos would ensue. The political benefit of actually sticking to her promise would be outweighed by images of families being turned away at airports and the imposition of some arbitrary selection process for foreign migrants.  The Windrush scandal is a clear signal of a system that is doomed to failure.

Time and time again the state has shown itself to be totally inept when it comes to immigration. Ultimately, it is not Theresa May’s fault that there is a hostile atmosphere to migration.  In this instance, that state has promised to do something that it is literally not able to do. This compounds the woes of a government with no real agenda. Theresa May’s premiership highlights one of the main problems with the conservative party, that it has no real ideology, no guiding principals. So in times like these when some kind of unifying principle would be useful, the government is left floundering.

The Windrush scandal is not over yet. There is more pain to come for the Conservatives.

 

The Facebook Issue

Mark Zuckerberg is a controversial figure for libertarians. He is an entrepreneur who rocked the Silicon Valley high-tech culture with a social network that revolutionised online interactions in many aspects, very quickly. Before Facebook, social networks were available but didn’t quite strike the cord across generations. Now, you need to be careful not to let that religious old auntie see your naughty Saturday night activities on her feed.

Facebook does have many positive aspects, which I am sure have been fairly discussed, although it doesn’t seem too popular with Libertarians. Most people I meet in Libertarian events have their reservations with online sharing and privacy, some of them detest Facebook. With its countless users and insane activity, the company has become a giant, with many parties influencing and demanding steps to “improve” the experience. Users want more entertainment, more features, more ease of access and so on. Advertisers want good algorithms to target their audience, better placement and of course, an audience. The government wants: all of the above (?).

We all surely know that Facebook, just like Twitter, YouTube and Google, are private companies offering services. We are all exposed to T&Cs and have to agree with them before signing up to any of these platforms. Are they intrusive? Yes. Will the government make it any better? Definitely no.

The whole show of having Zuckerberg in front of a bunch of Bureaucrats, answering questions and being told off like a school boy in front of a principal made the spectacle specially cringe-worthy. There it was, father state, taking care of the people’s interests and privacy, telling off a very naughty boy who tried to make money off the ripped off “customers”. They even sat Mr Facebook on a seat booster for added dramatization. Or shall I say, humiliation?

The show seen last week, for anyone with one half of a wit, was nothing else but a display of State overreaching. It is quite logical to know that if you are not being paid or paying for a service, you are the product, this has always been true about social media. It is common knowledge too, that the US government is the one to spend the most spying on people. The chance that the government uses Facebook and WhatsApp to acquire intel on citizens is probably very close to 100%. So what does this mean?

Well, Facebook had information on its spying habits leaked, rendering the platform untrustworthy and planting seeds of paranoia on previously unaware or non-believing users. This also exposes that such tools and techniques of surveillance are easily embedded and used by… anyone? Questions start being asked about the government using these, or maybe even using them through social media to spy on us. Is the government angry because Zuckerberg got caught selling data collected from tools that were placed to track civilians for the NSA or another agency(s)?

For now, all we know is that Zuckerberg seems to have gone rapidly from the praised prodigy entrepreneur to an example to be made. His fame and success being turned on him with a seemingly grudge from all sides. Let’s keep in mind Zuckerberg owns services that are not mandatory, but that will be officially and heavily regulated, probably even more scrutinised than currently, by the state. The ever reaching fingers of the government, running a Prime Time drama, to play the good guy, while institutionalising your privacy, or the lack of it.

 

 

Featured Image cc-by-sa. With thanks to Ian Kennedy

Bombing Syria would be a Disaster

 

Tucker Carlson is not somebody who I would usually be happy to endorse. But in this video that has been doing the rounds on social media, he is absolutely spot on. There seems to be a growing consensus amongst the powers that be in America that something must be done about President Assad. Is has been clear for some time that the Assad regime will win this war that has raged since 2011. But claims that he has used chemical weapons against his own people in Duma has rattled the US State Department.

Did Assad use these weapons against Syrian civilians? Yes he probably did, but ultimately this is going to be almost impossible to prove. Over the past few days, there have been heated exchanges in the UN between the USA and Russia- who flatly deny that Assad has used chemical weapons throughout the conflict.

And then this happened…

Now… The childish language and inappropriate content aside here, banging the war drum on President would be an absolute disaster for the USA and the whole world for three important reasons.

1. The first and most important reason is that if there is an encounter between the USA and Russia in Syria, it could quite easily escalate into something much more serious. Given the fact that President Trump and President Putin have amassed considerable political capital being ‘macho men’ it would be hard for one of them to back down. If something approaching a general war between these two powers happens it is almost certain that we would be in a world war three scenarios. The west and Russia & allies would be a conflict where both sides have nuclear weapons. What the exact composition of each side would be is unclear. China would have a lot to gain in such a conflict by staying neutral and providing materials to both sides. It is impossible to imagine Russia and allies beating the USA alone (nevermind supporters) but such a war would cause total devastation.

 

2. Secondly, there is the problem of credibility. I mentioned previously that President Assad probably did use chemical weapons in Duma, they key word in that sentence being probably. Intervention in an unstable Middle Eastern country based on the assumption that they have illegal weapons should fill us with dread. But the powers in the US State Department seem to have remarkably short memories. Attacking the Syrian regime based on these assumptions would ruin any semblance of credibility that the USA still has in the world. But let’s assume for a moment that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons. The domestic backlash would still be terrible. When Tony Blair took British forces in Iraq he was a popular prime minister trying to oust a universally reviled dictator and there were still large riots in the streets. Compare this to Donald Trump in Syria; we have one of the least popular presidents in recent history who would be intervening in a country where the vast majority of the public accept that there are no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in this conflict. Politically speaking, President Trump has everything to lose by getting further involved in Syria.

 

3. The last reason why the USA getting further involved in Syria would be a disaster is the potential outcome of Assad being weakened. The forces of the Syrian government are in a pretty battered shape at the moment. It would not take a lot for the USA to tip the balance of power against the Syrian Arab Army. But what would replace the regime in Syria? At the beginning of the conflict in 2011, there were promises of support for the so-called ‘rebels’ in Syria. Lots of our leaders ended up having egg on their face after it emerged that most of these ‘pro-western rebel groups’ were really just radical jihadist militias. If Trump decides to tip the scales against Assad, he will have to think long and hard about what Syria will look like afterwards, and it probably won’t look pretty.

 

For these reasons I hope that President Trump and his advisors think hard about escalating their involvement in Syria.