On the Troubles of Our Times
Back in January 2008, I took a verbal snapshot of the many bad things the UK government was doing to us at the time. Today, I’ll carry this forward to the present. My purpose is to gain a better understanding of the troubles we suffer under today – and not just in the UK. And thus, to try to fathom what is going on underneath.
My list from 2008
Here are some brief extracts from my snapshot:
“Here in England, the news is uniformly bad. There is financial crisis and looming recession. Food and fuel prices are rocketing. Lifestyle fascists, having already made smokers into pariahs, are now gunning to do the same to alcohol drinkers. Selling our homes has been made harder. The European super-state is being forced on us by the back door. Taxes, as ever, go up and up, even as we are told they are being cut. Cameras film us wherever we go.
“Meanwhile, excuses are trotted out for yet more hassles and indignities to be imposed on us at airports. For yet longer detention without trial. For yet harsher penalties against drivers who break arbitrary speed limits, as those limits are being creepingly lowered. And the ID card project, designed to reduce us all to nothing more than numbers and DNA samples in a database, forges ahead. The agenda of control is out of control.
“All this is accompanied by torrents of anti-human propaganda. From ‘we’re a burden on the planet’ to ‘chimpanzees are more intelligent than humans,’ the humanity haters are having a field day. And, over all, there is a pall of constant fear. Fear of terrorism, fear of recession, fear of climate change, fear of any kind of risk. As sociologist Frank Furedi recently observed: ‘We really do live in an era when most leaders find it difficult to believe in anything other than a scary future.’”
The intervening period
Space does not allow me to give much detail on events since 2008. But I certainly see a continuation and expansion of the trends I saw back then. To be sure, we ordinary people in the UK have won on a few issues. Notably, we managed to stop the ID card project. We somehow deflected their planned “war on alcohol” on to softer targets like soda-pop and chocolate. And eventually the period for detention without trial was lowered to 14 days. But even that is far longer than in other countries. So, many of the woes I listed – government hassling us, impoverishing us, and violating our rights – continue unabated.
In the financial area, for example, the predicted recession did materialize. Failed and failing bankers got bail-outs, which taxpayers had to pay for. Since then, the economy has gone up and down, but mainly down. Industry has declined, as shown by the recent failure of British Steel. Prices have gone up inexorably, without wages increasing to compensate. (An unsurprising result of policies that make energy unnecessarily expensive; along with so called “quantitative easing,” also known as inflating the currency). Taxes, too, have gone up hugely. Every few months there’s a new ruse to take away yet more of our hard-earned wealth, and feed it into the insatiable maw of the state.
As to cameras spying on us, now there’s one for every 14 people in the UK. But also, many of these cameras can now do things they previously couldn’t, like facial recognition. Moreover, Edward Snowden’s revelations made us aware of the scale of the surveillance to which we are all subjected in the Anglophone countries. But since then, there have been repeated calls from the usual suspects for more surveillance! And in 2016, the “Snoopers’ Charter” bill gave them just that; though appeals against it are still going through the courts.
This spying on us, we’re often told, is supposed to be about “fighting terrorism.” Surely, there have been a number of terrorist attacks in Western countries in the last decade or so. To which the media, as is their wont, have screamingly over-reacted. The reality is, that in 2010 non-state terrorism caused about 13,000 deaths world-wide. For each of these deaths by terrorism, there were about 5 deaths in “official” armed conflicts, 40 by interpersonal violence, and 60 by suicide. Since then, the vast majority of terrorist attacks have been in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Many have been in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria; all of which have been targets of military actions by Western governments, which have led to at least a million deaths in those countries.
The fact is, terrorism is nasty and destructive; but political governments are far nastier and more destructive. Terrorism is no good reason at all to curb the rights of innocent people.
Then there is police misconduct and brutality. Confidence in police is low in many UK cities, particularly among black people. There have been cases of wrongful arrest of an MP, and police misconduct against another. Even beside the 2005 killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, there was the dubious killing of Mark Duggan, which sparked extensive riots. And police tasered a blind man. Yet the government want to give police more power, including “emergency” powers to access phone and internet records. And they want to issue tasers to all police officers!
Then there is Cameron’s introduction of “secret courts,” including secret evidence and closed court hearings. A clear violation of human rights; and liable to be used, so it seems, against anyone who annoys the establishment, even in minor matters. Combine this with a suffocating climate of political correctness, in which all of us are in danger of being accused of nebulous and wide ranging “hate crimes,” and you have tyranny indeed.
Add to all this the scandal of many MPs grossly over-claiming expenses. The NHS failing – again. Micro-chipping dogs; will we be next? More red tape to bind businesses. A proposal to abolish cash, so making every item of every purchase, however small, traceable via database to the individual who made it – a boon to the Lifestyle Police, no? If not also to the taxman.
Then there is large scale immigration, deliberately encouraged by government; presumably, to increase the tax base in an attempt to shore up the Ponzi scheme called the welfare state. Accompanied, ironically, by a scandal in which many long-standing UK residents were treated as “illegal” immigrants. And a proposal for tougher prison sentences for “people trafficking!” Meanwhile, asylum seekers can be held indefinitely without any hearing.
But the worst of the worst among the UK political class’s behaviour has been in two areas: Brexit and environment. Despite a very clear instruction from the people, and despite committing to it in their election manifestos, they have failed to take the UK out of the European Union. It’s become clear that many, if not most, among the political class don’t want Brexit, and never have done. They have put their own selfish and party interests ahead of the expressed will of the people. That is atrociously bad faith. Some of them, even, have worked deviously towards an outcome that might look like an exit, but in fact would bind the UK ever tighter into the EU.
As to the environment, all the main parties have descended into deep green madness. They and their media have backed the “humans are causing catastrophic climate change” fraud with everything they’ve got. Not only making energy far more expensive than it need be, but also risking the stability of the electricity grid in the future. They have made a big hoo-hah out of the “problem” of plastic waste. Even though most plastic which finds its way into the oceans comes from Asia; and the UK has never been a significant contributor to the problem. They have made to the EU and UN commitments on air pollution, which cannot be met. To subject us to these inflexible, ever tightening, collective limits was clearly an act of bad faith. But as a result, they are now seeking to make driving cars so expensive, that many of us are likely to lose our personal mobility entirely. Beyond this, they have banned new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. Moreover, our so called “representatives” have capitulated to an extreme and disruptive green activist group, and declared a “climate emergency” for which there is no hard evidence at all.
The wider world
Looking at the wider world, you see similar problems. Whole governments have been bailed out – Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus. The political classes do not show respect or concern for ordinary people. There is dishonesty everywhere. Political debate has become more and more polarized, and nastier in tone. The green agenda is rampant. Even the churches have bought into it. Meanwhile, life becomes more and more of a struggle for ordinary people.
In many places, there are “grass roots” stirrings from those who are fed up with the whole system. In democracies, new political parties are springing up, like the Brexit party. But nothing seems to be bringing about any real change. The much vaunted “Arab Spring” has all but petered out, with Tunisia the only country in the region to have made significant reforms. And Islamic extremism is on the rise in places like Turkey.
Meanwhile, there are ongoing troubles in countries like the Ukraine, Venezuela, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. And the hopes many Americans and others had, that Donald Trump might prove to be different from, and better than, his predecessors, are starting to fade. Indeed, the USA seems to be continuing its policy of behaving as the biggest bully in the world.
A longer-term perspective
Our troubles today, I think, are the results of more than a century and a half of political and moral decline. There has been, as I described in an earlier essay, a centuries long battle between two opposite visions of politics. One is the top-down Leviathan state, in which the ruling classes essentially have licence to do what they will, and the rights and freedoms of ordinary people are not important. The other is the bottom-up, Enlightenment view, in which government is supposed to be for the good of the people – that is, of all the people. For a brief period in the 19th century, Enlightenment values were in the ascendant. But since then, Leviathan has been fighting back, and has inexorably increased its power, destructiveness and arrogance.
In the UK, it seems to me, the 19th-century reforms towards universal suffrage also contained the seeds of the rot. As I’ve recounted elsewhere, “democracy” has not proved to be much of a check on the state. If anything, it’s had the opposite effect, by giving a false legitimacy to bad governments. This was compounded when the political parties started to appeal to particular voter bases, aiming to benefit their own supporters (and themselves) at the expense of everyone else. Then, during the 1980s, the parties started to converge. The factions within the political class began to align themselves with each other, and against the interests of the people they were supposed to be serving. Something similar happened in the media too. To such an extent, that it’s now very rare for mainstream media to deviate from the politically correct message of the day. Even when that message is no more than lies, deceptions and hype.
Meanwhile, the big corporations got in on the act. They began to lobby government for subsidies, or for policies to favour them or to hamstring their competitors. This incest between corporations and government led to increases in the power and wealth of both, at the expense of smaller businesses and of ordinary people. And so, wealth was re-distributed from the poor and the middle classes to the rich. Meanwhile, the financial sector, encouraged by (and, some say, copying) government, became more and more irresponsible with other people’s money.
To add to all this, the UK political class have enthusiastically adopted the globalist, internationalist and environmentalist agenda, peddled by the United Nations and the European Union. This despite the policies resulting from this agenda being ruinous to ordinary people. But the statist political class don’t care. To act in bad faith, against the interests of the people they’re supposed to serve, has become for them the norm, not the exception.
How did they get away with it?
How has the state contrived to do all these things to us, without sparking a revolution? One way is by offering people “carrots,” to make them think the state is a benefit to them. Education is one example of this. Initially, state provision of education did improve standards; but over the long term, it appears to have produced a dumbing-down. And when a political class sets the curriculum, what will be taught will be only what the political class wants to be taught.
Welfare, pensions and health care are more such carrots. But obviously, carrots have to be paid for by someone. And that can only be the taxpayer. That, and an aging recipient population, are why taxes go up and up. That’s also why they want to get rid of cash; to make even the tiniest transactions visible, and so taxable. And that’s why they encourage large scale immigration, despite the cultural problems it brings with it. All these things, they have done in bad faith.
Another thing the state does is take measures to protect itself. This is what the surveillance is really about – the state seeking early warning of any possible opposition. This is what the political correctness and the secret courts are about, too. The political class want to be able to get anyone they want to, with innocence being no defence. And, while gun ownership has never been a big part of UK culture, I think it no coincidence that the Dunblane massacre was used as a lever to bring in very tight gun laws. All these things, too, they have done in bad faith.
And then there are the scares. In 1918, H. L. Mencken wrote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” And the state has taken his advice very seriously.
Terrorism is one such hobgoblin; real, but grossly overhyped. The environmental scares – global warming, air pollution, species extinction – are far less real. Indeed, looking objectively into these issues, I find no evidence that any of them is a big problem. To talk, as some do, of climate change as a threat on a par with a world war is sheer lunacy.
I do, though, find plenty of evidence of skulduggery on the part of the alarmists, of government itself and of its advisors. They seek to curb, and ultimately to bring down, our industrial civilization, which has done so much for all of us – including themselves. They have arbitrarily moved goalposts, e.g. from a target of 2 degrees above “pre-industrial” levels to 1.5 degrees. They have disguised politics as science. They have refused to release data to allow replication of studies. They have deleted, mis-represented and (probably) doctored data. They have sought to suppress dissenting views. They have whitewashed claims of alarmist misconduct. In environmental matters, they have inverted the burden of proof, and negated the presumption of innocence. And they have made costly commitments on behalf of us all, without rigorous justification. In all these things, the political class and their cohorts have acted in bad faith.
Whither the state?
For a while, a state can get away with ruses like these. The political class and their media and hangers-on can lie and distort the truth. They can reject all criticism, never correct their story, and never admit they were wrong. They can intimidate people into believing and following their agenda. They can harass, bully, impoverish or even murder anyone who tries to gainsay them. But over the long term, this is a high-risk strategy. After a while, the statists will start to lose people’s hearts and minds. Indeed, this is already happening.
But the key, I think, is that as Frank Furedi identified, the political class and their media find it hard – indeed, all but impossible – to see any positive prospects for the future. That raises the question: What are they afraid of? What is it, that causes the global political class and their hangers-on to be so negative about the future?
My diagnosis is as follows. I think the political classes know that, despite all their ploys, their state and the current political system are, slowly but surely, losing credibility and support among the people. And once people see through one of their scams, all the others immediately become suspect; and the bad faith that underlies them becomes more and more obvious. It’s becoming clear that the current system is not sustainable, either politically or economically. And that is what makes the statists fearful; because the inevitable consequence is that their system will eventually collapse, and they themselves will be dumped out of power.
This loss of credibility is greatest in the Anglophone nations, like the UK and the USA; but it’s happening in other places, too. As yet, those of us who have woken ourselves up, and have lost all respect and fellow feeling for the state and its political class, are a minority. But we are increasing. When enough people come to understand how badly they have been treated, there will be much anger against those responsible. That anger, properly channelled, can lead to real change for the better.
This is a dangerous time, of course. We must not only spread the truth about the state and explicate our alternatives to it, but we must also stay alive and solvent. But we owe it to ourselves, and to those around us, to be always rationally optimistic about the future. Optimists are sometimes wrong, of course; but we can’t afford to be pessimistic. For in the end, pessimists almost always turn out to have been right!
By Neil Lock
Source: The Ludwig von Mises Centre for Property and Freedom