Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Why Prince Charles (and William) Should See Cabinet Papers

It has recently come to the attention of the media that the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge routinely receive confidential Cabinet papers, to keep them up-to-date on the workings of the Government. Yes, the Government that will one day act in each of their names. Literally. 'His Majesty's Government'.

Cue the predictable outcry from the usual suspects, arguing that it is undemocratic that unelected Princes should be privy to confidential Government documents. Of course it's undemocratic. We have a constitutional monarchy, not a presidential republic, you imbeciles.

We have an unelected head of state, where the office passes down by lineal descent. We know, therefore, barring a huge change in circumstances, who our next head of state will be, and the next, and the next. It is entirely reasonable, under those circumstances, for the future incumbents to be schooled in what the job entails, so that when the time comes, the transition will be as smooth as possible. The criticism is not, therefore, that the future heirs to the throne have privileged access to the workings of the Government, but that we have a throne at all.

Well, that's silly, isn't it? Firstly because, if we were to have a referendum on the abolition of the monarchy, it would lose by a landslide. The vast majority of the UK population support the monarchy and its continuance. The institution of the monarchy enjoys de facto democratic consent, therefore any argument that it is undemocratic is faintly ridiculous while there continues to be such high public support for its continuance.

Secondly, constitutional monarchy is the most stable and balanced form of government known to man. It provides democratic accountability through an elected legislature balanced with a check on radicalism through the monarchy. It also provides a figurehead which the entire nation looks up to and cleaves to. Humans are tribal creatures, and most need the sense that they belong to something greater than themselves. Monarchy provides that. Constitutional monarchies are far more likely to be rich and prosperous and far less likely to be prone to political crises.

So stop moaning about the fact that the future Kings have access to the workings of the Government that will act in their name. Christ, it'd be a hideous oversight if they didn't.

Monday, 14 December 2015

More Girl Action Figures Needed... Apparently

Just finished reading this bizarre piece on the BBC website which, in keeping with the new feminist tradition of bleating about utterly nonsensical things, maintains that there aren't enough girl action figures, which is, you know, sexist.

Of course, there's a really, really, really fucking obvious reason why there aren't as many girl action figures as boy ones. It's the same reason why there's more Barbie dolls than Ken dolls.

Action figures are bought primarily by or for boys. As boys are the majority consumer of said action figures, rather unsurprisingly, action figure manufacturers focus their marketing at that demographic. And in another stunning development, most boys do not enjoy playing with action figures of girls.

Who fucking knew?

Likewise, dolls tend to be consumed primarily by girls. Hence they are marketed at girls. Hence they are virtually all female with pretty dresses. That's not sexism - that's marketing, you throbbers. And before you go on about gender stereotyping (blah, blah, blah, blah, blah) has it occurred to you that most girls like playing with dolls and boys like playing with action figures because it's in their nature, not because of the nasty and (fictitious) social construct of gender? You dipshits?

Oh, and by the way, gender is a biological difference, not a social construct. Otherwise, behavioural differences wouldn't be manifest in virtually every animal species on the planet. Except they are. Quite why idiot feminists think humans are different when we've evolved from the same fucking pool of muck is beyond me.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Cultural Appropriation? Don't Make Me Laugh

Cultural appropriation is one of those silly, meaningless terms bandied about by hare-brained Leftards in their perpetual quest to Not Cause Offence (tm). The argument goes that if you not a member of a particular minority, then you are Not Allowed to use any symbols, icons, artefacts, concepts or language which pertain to that minority. So, because I am white, I am Not Allowed to wear a Native American head-dress, or an African mask, or learn to speak Japanese, because if I do, it smacks of colonialism, and I might offend Native Americans, Africans or Japanese.

What. Utter. Shit. Does that mean to say that black men are Not Allowed to wear business suits, because they are culturally reserved for white people? Don't be fucking ridiculous.

Yet again, idiotic mongs miss the point entirely. If you're going to have a 'multicultural' society, then surely it is better for all members of society to be equally involved in and familiar with all aspects of that multiculturalism? And that means sharing, merging and enriching each other's culture by borrowing bits from everyone else's. That's perfectly natural, normal and will lead to healthier, happier relationships between communities which are able to relate to each other much better.

The alternative is ghettoising ourselves, and reinforcing the virtual apartheid which causes such racial and cultural tensions in the first place, where every little demographic is pigeon-holed, and needs their own little 'safe space' where they can talk to people just like them. All this results in is grievance, envy and tension, but Leftards fucking love that, don't they? Because then some people are 'oppressed', and they have a cause that they can champion, going out and waving their placards, sticking it to 'The Man' and making themselves feel important.

Wankers. Here's a good deal. I have absolutely no problem with anyone from any minority, be it ethnic, religious or cultural, listening to classical music, wearing a suit, appreciating da Vinci, reading Shakespeare or any of the other great cultural accomplishments of Western society. Good on them. By the same count, what's to stop me having an ornamental katana on my windowsill, learning to speak a foreign language or wearing a Native American head-dress, if I particularly felt like it?

Stop being offended by stuff that doesn't matter. You fucking asswipes.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Trump, Fury and Banning Things

We've had two newsworthy comments in the past few days, one from Tyson Fury, the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion, who made some apparently sexist and misogynistic comments about women, and Donald Trump, the leading in the race to become the US Republican Party's Presidential Candidate, who stated that all Muslims should be banned from coming to the US, at least temporarily.

Not unsurprisingly, these comments have caused a fair bit of angst and noise. They appear to be utterly ludicrous. But what also strikes me as utterly ludicrous is the proposition that they should be disqualified from competing or even barred from entering the UK on the basis of these comments.

I'm sorry, what?

I know precisely what you're thinking: he's banging on about free speech again. And you're right. I am. Because it's really, really, really fucking important. Tyson Fury and Donald Trump should be free to say whatever ridiculous things pop into their minds, as should everybody else, short of defamation or incitement. And the reason why is simple: if speech and expression are not free, then they require policing. In which case, who is it that gets to decide what is or is not acceptable?

Whoever would be charged with such a duty would wield tremendous power - the power to control language, which shapes ideas, underpins culture, politics, our institutions, our very society. A person or organisation who held such power, in effect, controls thought and behaviour. And I personally think that's too much power for anyone to hold.

This is yet another sinister manifestation of authoritarianism from the Perpetually Offended, who seem to think they have a God-given right to go through life without ever experiencing any level of unpleasantness or discomfort. Newsflash, fucksticks: you don't. Nobody does. The vast majority of your discomfort caused by things people say isn't caused by offence - it's caused by cognitive dissonance, that horrible nagging feeling that you might be wrong. It is phenomenally important that your ideas (and mine) are constantly challenged, because they might actually be wrong. Less so in my case, obviously, because I'm not a screwloose Leftard.

It is quite bleeding obvious that Donald Trump and Tyson Fury are talking utter bollocks. The correct way to deal with their arguments is not to demand their censorship, but to confront those arguments and highlight how utterly preposterous they are.

And before you bang on about how these opinions, utterly bonkers though they are, constitute incitement, don't be fucking stupid. Donald Trump has not said that all Muslims should be murdered, has he? Tyson Fury has not suggested that women deserve a good rape. THAT would be incitement - actively encouraging others to go out and commit violence against others. So they are in no way morally equivalent to hate preachers who suggest that homosexuals, apostates, non-believers and women who complain to the police about forced or under-age marriage should be murdered.

They're not evil, just phenomenally dumb.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

ISIS, Syria, Iraq and Other Assorted Issues

We once more find ourselves upon the brink. A debate is taking place in the House of Commons today, and there will be a vote tonight, on whether to authorise military operations against the Islamic State terrorist organisation in Syria. Note, we are already engaged in military operations against them in Iraq.

My opinion on this is that we should bomb the fuck out of them. Here's why:

  1. ISIS are a despicable bunch of fascist pigs. They behead civilian prisoners, throw homosexuals off buildings, stone rape victims, sexually enslave women and children and engage in mass murder the likes of which the world has not seen on this scale since the 1940s. They are our enemy, and the enemy of anyone who stands for decency, freedom and the rule of law;
  2. They are ideologically opposed to our existence. Their stated aim is to establish a global caliphate, a theological Islamic dictatorship where all other religions are prohibited, and society is policed according to their fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran. They are actively seeking to destroy the United Kingdom and our allies;
  3. They have already attacked France. The despicable murder of over 130 innocent people in Paris shows just what these medieval thugs are capable of, and the depths to which they will stoop. France is our closest military ally and has stood with us in both World Wars. They have requested our assistance, and we should not abandon our friends when they need us;
  4. We are already engaged in military action against them in Iraq, but due to our observance of an artificial, obsolete and irrelevant border, we cannot attack them in Syria. To imply that we will somehow provoke an attack by engaging them in Syria is ludicrous. We're either already provoking them, or they need no such provocation, because they're murdering bastards;
  5. We bring something to the party. The RAF is one of the best air forces in the world, and our precision weapons, including drones and targeted missiles, can cause considerable damage to specific targets whilst minimising loss of innocent lives. We will be able to contribute to the military campaign significantly, and hopefully help to tip the scales against them;
  6. They cannot be negotiated or bargained with. They are fundamentalist, totalitarian, fascist extremists. They are morally indistinguishable from the Nazis. I hate to invoke Godwin's Law, but in this case, it is justified. There's no reasoning with these fuckers. They are hateful, vicious, nihilistic bastards, and the sooner they are put in the ground, the better off we'll be;
  7. They have already advanced significantly beyond a mere terrorist group. They control vast swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria. They have their own flag and government, they are issuing their own currency. Whether we like it or not, they are making their dream of an Islamic State a reality. And it is now time to shatter that reality.
Is military action the panacea solution? Of course not - ultimately, a political solution will have to be hammered out in the Middle East. But I'm damn sure that ISIS are not part of that solution - they're part of the problem. They need getting rid of first, and once the dust has settled, then the talks can begin.

Will this lead to mission creep and boots on the ground? Most likely, yes. We - and other Western powers, and probably Russia as well - will probably have to occupy Syria and Iraq for an extended period of time, most likely decades, to see this through. Once we have deprived them of territory and resources and destroyed their training bases then we will be safer.

Is this the only front we'll have to fight on? No - ISIS are pernicious in how they spread their vile ideology, and it needs confronting at home as well as abroad. We'll have to become, by necessity, censorious of them - closing down their websites, social media accounts, propaganda outlets, and prosecute people who advocate and support them.

Will it lead to innocent civilian casualties? Most likely - some loss of innocent life will be unavoidable. But when it comes to decisions of war and peace, we must weigh these in the balance. More people WILL die if we do nothing. Our way of life, our very civilisation, is threatened by this fundamentalist ideological cancer, and like that vile pestilence, they are spreading. The only solution is to blast them, and cut them out.

The road will be long and bloody. Many people will die before this is done. But ultimately, we are faced with a choice - do we tolerate evil, or do we confront and destroy it? The dark spectre of fascism has once more reared its head. We know that there is only one response to it. We must, on behalf of our children, and our children's children, pitch ourselves against this vile force and destroy it utterly, lest the world be plunged back into a dark age of despotism, brutality and superstition which should have been consigned to history centuries ago.

Enough is enough. Kill the fuckers.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Slavery Reparations

David Cameron has become the first British Prime Minister in 14 years to visit Jamaica. I, for one, am particularly pleased about this, as I think we should be doing more to forge closer links with other Commonwealth Nations and Realms.

Unfortunately, his visit seems to have been overshadowed by calls from campaigners for the United Kingdom to pay reparations for its role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. This is further brought to light by the fact that one of Cameron's descendants was a slave-owner.

Let's be very clear about the Atlantic Slave Trade. It was an appalling chapter in human history, with the better part of 13 million people being trafficked from Africa into the Caribbean and the Americas to act as slave labour. The level of suffering and death were considerable, and it arguably takes its place alongside the Holocaust as one of the most despicable acts ever perpetrated. The UK was a party to these shameful events, and it is perfectly reasonable that, with the benefit of hindsight, we, as a nation, should apologise for our role, in the same way that Germany has apologised for the Nazi atrocities in World War II.

But it is also important to place the Atlantic Slave Trade in its historical context, and therefore worth noting a few facts which contribute significantly to the debate:

  1. Britain was not the only party involved. Holland, Spain, France and Portugal were also heavily involved in the slave trade - indeed, the Portuguese shipped more slaves than the British. Added onto this was the fact that the European powers often did not capture slaves directly - they left that to the sub-Saharan African states to abduct them from various parts of the continent. The colonial authorities in the Americas - often at least semi-autonomous, and the direct successors to the modern Latin American states - were also active participants;
  2. Britain was at the forefront of the abolition of the slave trade. Court cases as early as 1569 ruled that slavery was incompatible with English law, and that slavery was effectively illegal within the British Isles. Parliament passed an Act in 1807 expressly prohibiting the slave trade and emancipating all slaves throughout the British Empire. The Royal Navy was used to unilaterally enforce this on other Powers, including the Spanish and Portuguese. Throughout the 1800s, various Powers capitulated to British pressure, signing treaties to outlaw slavery;
  3. The Atlantic Slave Trade was by no means the earliest example of slavery in human history. It was a relatively common state of affairs, widespread across numerous civilisations including the Arab Caliphates, China and South East Asia, Africa, Ancient Rome, Greece & Egypt, the Aztec, Mayan & Inca Empires, the Mongolian Empire, Medieval Europe, Viking & Celtic tribes and even some Polynesian tribes such as the Maori. Western involvement in slavery was by no means a special case - it was an affliction which affected every civilisation;
  4. Modern demands for reparations based on events which happened over 200 years ago are vexatious. No one currently alive in the former slave colonies has ever been a slave, nor has anyone currently alive in the old slave Powers ever owned such a slave. If the UK (and others) were to pay reparations now, it would effectively mean that people who have never owned slaves would be forced to pay compensation to people who have never been slaves. It would be like demanding that Germany continue to pay reparations for World War II indefinitely;
  5. Just how far back can we take reparation demands? Just about every country on Earth has suffered from slavery at some point in the past. Britain has been invaded by the Romans, Saxons, Angles, Vikings and Normans, and even suffered from Barbary coastal attacks in Medieval times. Arguably, that gives the UK the right to claim reparations from Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France and half a dozen African states. It even gives Israel the right to claim reparations from Egypt.

This is typical of left-wing activism - feminists complain about how women are treated in the Western world, and yet ignore the far greater ordeals they have to face in less civilised parts of the world. Supporters of Palestine rail against Israeli excesses in Gaza and the West Bank, but don't criticise when the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah attack schools and hospitals with suicide bombers. Unilateralists demand that Western powers decommission their nuclear arsenals, but say nothing as Pakistan, Iran and North Korea gradually move towards developing their own. Anti-war protesters demand an end to Western occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and American imperialism in South America, but say nothing when Russia annexes whole sections of Georgia and Ukraine. And anti-slavery protesters demand reparations from Western nations which criminalised slavery hundreds of years ago, whilst ignoring the active practice of slavery by countries in the Middle East and Africa. This kind of two-faced hypocrisy really makes my piss boil.

So actually, you can fuck off with your pious, holier-than-thou bullshit. No nation on earth has done more for humanity than Britain. Sure, we've done some shit. There's plenty of blood in the ledger, but the good far outweighs the bad. Britain's greatest association with the slave trade is that we abolished it. Our legacy to the world is the rule of law, habeus corpus, democracy and the destruction of fascism. How many people has Britain saved and granted freedom to through those advances?

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Case for Capitalism

Since the financial crisis, there has been a lot of protestation about our current economic system and how it is not fit for purpose. This has resulted in widespread protests, upheavals in the Eurozone, ideological battles between Left and Right, and what can only be described as a communist being elected Leader of the Labour Party. Even the Pope has stuck his oar in, complaining about how horrible the current setup is.

Variously, the charges against capitalism are:
  1. It serves the needs of the few, not the many. Equality between the rich and the poor is at an all-time high. Capitalism is fine if you're lucky enough to be one of the elite, but ordinary people are crushed by it;
  2. It is prone to crisis. As the various market bubbles of the 20th Century and ultimately the financial crisis of 2008 show, unrestrained markets massively overheat, requiring expensive State intervention to set it right;
  3. It is an affront to democracy. Because it concentrates wealth into the hands of a select few, they are ultimately the ones which wield political power. Capitalism is in effect a kleptocracy, with the very rich profiteering out of the very poor.
 There's just one problem with all of these accusations... they're all bollocks.

1. Capitalism Serves the Needs of Everyone
A quick history lesson needs to be brought forward here. From the advent of human civilisation, up until about the 17th-18th Centuries, life expectancy of your average human remained pretty much the same, i.e. between 20 and 30 years of age.

Let that sink in for a moment. For virtually the entire time that humans have been in existence, from about 2.5 million years ago to 300-400 years ago, life expectancy didn't change that much. If you lived to age 30, you were lucky to be alive.

The reason for this is pretty simple: technology. Human technology, before the 17th and 18th Centuries, was relatively primitive. It involved lots of manual labour, and societies were pretty much entirely agrarian - farmers subsisted on the land, with barely enough to get by on. Disease and famine were rife.

Something happened about 300-400 years ago which significantly changed that. All of a sudden, we became much more efficient and productive. Humans - especially in the Western world - started to realise that, if they specialised in one particular thing, they could excel at it, and produce a surplus which could then be traded for other things. And we started doing it big style. With sudden leaps forward in technology, resulting in mechanisation and industrialisation, trade exploded, and capitalism was born.

The great thing about capitalism isn't that it gives everyone more money, because it doesn't. But the massive increase in productivity brought about by the division of labour (i.e. specialisation) means that the goods the most people rely on to survive suddenly become a lot cheaper. Everything, from food, clothing, energy, water to housing, has become higher quality and more affordable over the last 300-400 years, because of the division of labour and the capacity to trade. That's capitalism. It doesn't necessarily make ordinary people richer, but it makes the things that everybody needs cheaper and more readily available. A direct consequence of this is a massive improvement in quality of life.

Average world life expectancy in the 21st Century is 65. That means that, compared to 400 years ago, the average human is living over twice as long as they were. That's a 100%+ increase in just 0.02% of the time that humans have been in existence, and it corresponds directly with the rise of capitalism.

And it's only going to get better. We are on the cusp of large scale automation - autonomous robots will soon be able to perform the vast majority of manufacturing and agrarian work. The result will be that the price of pretty much all foodstuffs and manufactured goods will drop through the floor. Of course, companies and their shareholders will profit from this, but so will everyone else. Ordinary people might not get a share of the profits, but they won't have to pay out as much. So they will have more money to spend on luxuries, and more free time. Roll on the good times.

2. Capitalism is a Surprisingly Resilient Economic System
The great advantage of capitalism as an economic system is that it is not heavily centralised. This gives it significant advantages:
  • If a single company fails, it is unlikely to bring down an entire industry. The company's competitors will step in to replace the supply left by that company;
  • The principles of market competition have a tendency to force companies to be increasingly efficient, especially when savvy consumers use their buying power;
  • Even the most calamitous failures, e.g. the banking system, can work out for the best. The UK economy is now recovering well from a massive system shock.
Ah, but the banks needed to be nationalised, I hear you say. Well, yes, they did, but only because they held hugely dominant positions in the market. If we had a more competitive and diverse banking sector, no one individual bank would have needed bailing out by the Government, because it would have been absorbed by its competitors. The problem with the banking sector is that it has very few players in the market, and there are significant barriers (many of them regulatory) to entering the market, making it difficult to establish new competition. If anything, some of the regulation has made things worse, not better.

Despite the banking crisis being the worst financial shock since the Great Depression, we appear to have weathered it quite well. Socialist economies have been ruined by lesser crises, even forcing entire regimes to their knees (Russia, Uganda, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea...). Socialist command economies fare no better than capitalism in times of crisis - in fact, based on previous experience, they fare decidedly worse.

3. Capitalism Strengthens Democracy
As previously discussed, capitalism makes essential goods and services cheaper and better quality for ordinary people, freeing up more of their money to spend on luxury goods. This makes them consumers, and their combined buying power is far greater than those at the very top. There's only so many Aston Martins that a billionaire can be bothered with. Once he's got ten, why bother with any more? He's never going to drive them all.

Contrast that with 40 million people who all want a Ford. Which market are you going to go after? Capitalism is a great leveller, because it puts ordinary people's buying power on a par with rich people, on a level never seen before in human history. In terms of disposable income, life expectancy and quality of life, we are more equal now than we have ever been.

The idea the capitalism concentrates profits to a small elite is again, a fallacy. Most socialists imagine that the majority of corporate shareholders are fat, red-faced men in pinstripe suits and top hats, smoking cigars and drinking cocktails made from children's tears. Actually, the majority of corporate shareholders are retail investment funds, commonly accessed through pensions.

In other words, the biggest shareholders are ordinary people. So when company profits and share prices are high, the main beneficiaries are ordinary people, because the fund values in their pensions and investments are higher. This affords them a higher quality of life. And, of course, most people tend to work for companies, so when a company is doing well, it generally increases pay to retain its successful employees and attract new ones. Other companies then have to provide more competitive wages, so overall wages begin to rise. People get paid more for the same work... so their quality of life increases. Profits are good.

Capitalism increases people's quality of life, making them happier, healthier and more content. Such people are significantly less likely to engage in violent protest, and the governments of such people are significantly less likely to do anything to piss them off. This results in a massive increase in political stability. This is demonstrated primarily in the Western world, where political transitions happen regularly and peaceably following free and fair elections, compared to less capitalist countries, where elections are marred by corruption, intimidation and violence.

In short, capitalism is the best economic system yet devised. It has, and continues to, significantly improve the lives of billions of people, by making their essential needs more affordable to them, and increasing the amount of free time they have by making better use of their labour. It makes them happier and more content, is significantly more resilient than alternative economic models and also helps to strengthen and incentivise democracy, the fairest form of government yet devised.

Capitalism's fucking ace.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: Nationalising the Railways is Stupid and Wrong

The Bearded Sage has announced his plans over the weekend to gradually return the railways to public ownership. Cue much orgasm from the Hard Left, to whom state ownership of everything is mana from Heaven. But, as ever, nationalisation of the railways is a bad policy.

1. Based on False Premise
Corbyn's implied assertion is that he wants to take Britain back to the Golden Age of Rail, which he intimates was when the rail network was nationalised. However, this is total nonsense. The Golden Age of Rail was arguably when rail was a new technology, developed in the early 1800s. The entire rail network was in private ownership from its inception in the 19th century until 1948. Far from being the Golden Age, British Rail (the nationalised company) oversaw an unprecedented decline in railway use, as the country transitioned to automobile transport. So if you want to go back to the Golden Age of Rail, the economic model to follow is the one we've got now.

2. Assumption of Public Sector Efficiency
The assertion also follows that the rail system was so much more efficient under British Rail than it has been since the privatisation. This is hogwash. Trains regularly ran late under British Rail, and passengers were entitled to no compensation. Furthermore, the train traffic under British Rail was significantly lower than it is today - as previously mentioned, British Rail oversaw a huge decline in rail usage. Probably because people were sick of their shit and bought cars instead.

If anything, the railways are more efficient and more fair to consumers today than they have ever been. There is simply no case for change.

3. Myth of Price Controls
Another oft-touted argument for returning the railways to public ownership is the idea that that ticket prices can be fixed by the State. Again, this is actually bollocks. The price of a ticket is ultimately determined by the cost of operating the train, plus a profit for the train company. Let's assume that the State runs the railways on a non-profit basis. Well, that would reduce ticket prices initially, although the absence of price competition and the efficiencies that ensue would probably render the difference negligible. The only factor then would be operating costs.

As operating costs increase (salaries, health & safety, maintenance, repairs, investment in new rolling stock etc.) then so do the ticket prices. The Government has very little control over these factors - if new rolling stock need to be bought, then they need to be bought. If something needs fixing, it needs fixing. These are the costs of running the concern, which are effectively passed onto the consumer via the ticket price.

Now, of course, the Government could keep ticket prices artificially low, but then wouldn't receive enough money to cover the running costs of the railway. In order to stop it from becoming dilapidated and unsafe, it would therefore require a bail-out, courtesy of John Q. Taxpayer. This results in either higher taxes, spending cuts elsewhere, or higher inflation if the Government recklessly just borrows the money. In this manner, every taxpayer in the country ends up paying for something that only a few taxpayers use.

And where is rail usage the highest? Ah, yes - London and the South East. Who uses it the most? Commuters into London. So El Corbyno advocates a policy where shelf-stackers in Middlesborough have higher taxes, lower-quality public services and/or higher prices to fund a transport perk for commuters in Hampshire?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The people who use the railways should pay for them, and the only way to ensure that is to keep them in the private sector, using price competition to drive through efficiency.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: The New PMQs Won't Work

This is starting to become real fun, listing how Dear Old Jezza is wrong about everything. His latest wheeze is changing the format of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), traditionally the highlight of the Parliamentary week, to a less abrasive format.

Typically, all the MPs squeeze into a packed House of Commons to watch the weekly bunfight between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. They also stand a chance of being able to ask the PM a question themselves, if they catch the Speaker's eye. It's the real cut and thrust of political debate - theatrical and occasionally artificial, but it's the only real bit of entertainment in the otherwise tedious and boring business of lawmaking.

David Cameron, it's fair to say, is pretty good at PMQs. He plays the man as often as the ball, and with both Brown and Miliband, made it a contest between personalities as well as policies. This has served him in good stead so far. Jezza is obviously pretty mindful of this, and given the unusual and occasionally downright dodgy things he has said in the past, is probably pretty keen to avoid being made a mockery of by Cameron. So he has come up with a couple of ideas which he now appears to be putting into practice.

1. Accepting Questions from the General Public
This is experiment number one, which was duly tried at PMQs yesterday. Normally, the Leader of the Opposition gets to ask six questions, which the PM must answer to the best of his ability. These questions are normally provided by the Leader of the Opposition's staff, who will have spent the week diligently researching and identifying gaps and weaknesses in Government policy. This will give their boss well-researched lines of attack, assuming they do their job properly.

Of course, because such questions tend to be highly focused and require extremely specific answers, the PM's office is usually furnished with the questions in advance, to allow them to brief their man. Otherwise, the answers would be a bit dull: 'I don't have the figures to hand, but I will happily write to the Right Honourable gentleman in reply' is normally the place-holder response.

El Corbyno has opted to drop this tried-and-tested approach and go for asking questions from the general public. He crowd-sourced his questions, chose his favourites and put them to the PM one by one. This did have the advantage of taking the bruising impact off Cameron's responses, but gave Cameron another wonderful advantage: he didn't have to be specific. None of the questions highlighted particular failings in Government policy - they were just low-level, broad-brush scrutiny. Cameron's response to was reply simply and effectively and then to re-state Conservative policy.

In other words, Corbyn turned PMQs from a bunfight where the PM could potentially by defeated into a cool, calm platform for the PM to wax lyrical about how fucking wonderful his policies are. If he's pinning his hopes of victory on this reform, I think he's barking up the wrong tree.

2. Not Asking Questions Himself
Although he hasn't yet tried it, Corbyn has implied that he might not always do the asking himself, but cycle it through the Shadow Cabinet. This is another attempt to throw Cameron off - he's very good at playing the man rather than the ball, ridiculing his opponent to discredit the question. Definitely not cricket rules, but it has the advantage of working in modern politics, where personalities are as important as the actual policies. The idea is that, if Cameron doesn't know exactly who he's facing, it's harder for him to tailor his answers to combat the questioner.

However, it hands Cameron another advantage. If it's not Corbyn himself who stands at the Dispatch Box, then Cameron can easily portray them as a proxy or a lackey. Someone unimportant, someone irrelevant. 'This is how the Leader of the Opposition values parliamentary democracy - he sends an errand boy to do his job!' You can imagine it now. Or even nastier: 'the question put by the Honourable Member is important, and I will answer it. I feel that it is a shame that it couldn't be put by the Leader of the Opposition, who is too cowardly to face me in the Chamber!'

It would make Corbyn look weak and cowardly, and the Shadow Cabinet look irrelevant and unimportant. Again, not really a strategy I'd pin hopes on.

If you're the Leader of the Opposition, a big part of your job is convincing the general public that you'd do a better job of being Prime Minister than the other guy (or girl). The only way to do that is to personally show that the current PM's not up to it and that you won't back away from a fight if it comes to it. PMQs is pretty much the only bit of Parliamentary proceedings that normal people are actually aware of - it's the Leader of the Opposition's main chance for taking the fight to the PM. Corbyn is setting out to give Cameron a really easy time of it, which suits Cameron just fine.

Just like the rest of Corbyn's leadership suits him just fine.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: People's QE is a Load of Shitey Balls

I'm actually quite pleased that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected Labour Leader. It gives me something to vent my spleen at. Miliband just didn't cut it - he was too much of a comedy act to really get some invective going.

Corbyn, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. So I'll happily engage in tearing chunks off his stupid and idiotic policies, one Leftist retardism at a time. First on the list is an economic policy he's been toying with: 'People's' Quantitative Easing.

Quantitative Easing (or QE) is what the Bank of England has been doing since 2010 to stop the economy from sinking. A brief explanation is as follows:
  1. In order to fund the public services we need (and a fair few we arguably don't) the Government levies taxes on us. It collects the tax money (revenue) under threat of imprisonment and spends it on stuff it thinks we need. Most of the time, this revenue isn't actually enough to cover the Government's bills, which leaves us with an annual shortfall (or deficit);
  2. In order to plug this deficit, the Government effectively borrows money. It issues IOUs called gilts (because they used to be issued on gilt-edged paper), where companies and individuals lend the Government money, and it agrees to pay them interest at a fixed rate for a set term, and then pay the money back;
  3. Once someone has lent the Government money, they own the gilt. They can then sell it on to a third party if they want. Depending on the rate of interest, remaining term and outstanding loan, they can fetch a higher price than their face value. Once sold, the third party owns the gilt, and the loan and interest are owed to them. With me so far?
  4. Lots of companies and financial institutions use gilts as low-risk investments, because they generally pay better than just a basic bank account, they're regarded as safe because the Government has never defaulted, and they can be bought and sold reasonably quickly, because there's lots of them and lots of people who want them;
  5. When the Good Old Credit Crisis hit, everyone wanted lots of money out of their banks, and so the banks had to sell lots of gilts in order to release the cash. However, because all the banks wanted to sell, nobody wanted to buy. So liquidity in the gilt market dried up pretty quick, leaving the banks in a really bad situation;
  6. In circumstances like this, you would expect the Government to step in. But the Government couldn't, because it didn't have any spare money. It raised money on the gilt markets, which it was now finding impossible because, as previously discussed, nobody wanted to buy. So they were up shit creek without a paddle as well;
  7. Enter the Bank of England. The Bank of England is basically in control of the Sterling currency. It knows how many pounds actually exist, approximately where they are, and where they are going to. More than that, it can actually create or destroy currency, which affects how much the pound is worth. If there are more pounds, they are worth less & vice versa;
  8. The Bank of England took one look at the gilt market and screamed 'AARRGGHH!' at the top of its lungs. It immediately decided to create 200 billion extra pounds (which in the proper vernacular, constitutes a Fuckload) and started buying up gilts. This provided the much-needed liquidity to prevent the banks (and the Government) from collapsing;
  9. The price of this has been above-average inflation. The worth of a pound is, very roughly, the size of the economy divided by the number of pounds in existence. Given that the economy shrank, and the number of pounds grew, when you divide a smaller number by a bigger number, you get a teensy number. So all the pounds were worth less, so prices were higher;
  10. Obviously all of this is fairly complicated. Various people have coined phrases which attempt to describe what has happened. The most accurate analogy is probably 'printing money'. El Corbyno's preferred description is 'handing over lots of money to the bankers'. 'Bailing out the banks so they don't smash to pieces evaporating our savings' is probably more accurate.
Where does the aforementioned El Corbyno fit in with all this, you may ask? Well, his Wonderful Idea is to change the Bank of England's mandate from just adjusting the money supply to control inflation and ensure financial stability, to letting it engage in further QE, but with the money being invested in projects close to Lefties' hearts, i.e. public spending.

This is a phenomenally shit idea. As discussed, a pretty unpleasant side effect of QE is inflation - the currency is worth less, so prices are higher. This is a particularly nasty consequence for poorer people, because the prices that tend to rise the most are food, energy, fuel, clothes etc. - all those things that you need to survive. Survival generally has a base cost, say about £6,000 a year. If you earn £10,000 a year, about two thirds of your income go on just living. If you earn £100,000 a year, it's only a fraction of your overall income. So to put it bluntly, inflation is a tax which transfers the value of money from the people to the State, and it hits poorer people harder. Ergo, getting the Bank of England to print money to then hand to the Government and spend on shit it thinks we need is effectively a form of punitive taxation on the poorest in society. So morally, it's utterly fucking repugnant.

The next reason that it's a shit idea is that if inflation is consistently above what people would consider tolerable, they won't want to hold their savings in pounds. The interest rate or investment growth they would obtain wouldn't match the rate of devaluation, so they'd be losing money all the time, or at least running a very high risk of it. Rational investors (the 'smart money') don't like taking too much risk, so they would start pulling their money out of the UK, and putting it into countries with more stable currencies. This is called capital flight. And as the rational investors are generally very rich, you lose a lot of capital very fucking quickly.

Now, when you take money out of one country into another, you effectively sell one currency and use the proceeds to buy another. So you'd be selling pounds, therefore increasing the number in circulation... therefore devaluing them further, therefore making inflation higher, making prices higher, and meaning the Bank of England would have to create more money to give to the Government to run public services. You start to get a spiral effect, which under extreme circumstances can lead to hyperinflation. For further details, see Weimar Germany, latter days of the Soviet Union and Zimbabwe. Not a great place to be, as it generally leads to giant piles of dead bodies.

The Government could stop this by imposing capital controls - limits on how much money people can take out of the country, or even out of bank accounts. Can you imagine that? The Government telling you that you can't go on a foreign holiday, or you're only allowed to spend £100 a day?! People generally get extremely fucking pissed off when the Government infringes on their freedom to such a degree.

So you can see how 'People's QE' could, in a very short space of time, lead to entrenched poverty and anarchy. That's why I think it's a really, really, really shit idea, and anyone who even thinks about trying it should probably be beaten. Very hard. In the face. With a brick.

Jeremy Corbyn: Why I Don't Think He'll Be PM

So the impossible has become possible. Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-Left rank outsider for the Labour leadership, won the vote by an impressive 60% in the first round. He has been busily assembling his Shadow Cabinet after a slew of front bench resignations. His supporters are overjoyed.

So, of course, are the Conservatives. Because the odds of a Conservative victory at the 2020 General Election have just significantly increased.

Hubris? Complacency? I don't think so. I could be wrong, of course, but I cannot seriously see Corbyn as a genuine alternative Prime Minister. The reasons for this are as follows.

1. Lack of Appeal
Quite simply, Corbyn does not appeal to a broad enough section of the electorate to win a General Election.

Hang on, I hear you say. He's been MP for Islington North for about 30 years, and he's just won the Labour leadership by 60%! How can you say he's not electable?

The answer to this is quite simple. Neither the constituency of Islington North, nor the Labour Party generally, are representative of the voting population of the United Kingdom. Approximately 46.5 million people are entitled to vote in UK general elections. Of those, approximately one in four hardly ever bother to actually vote. So you have about 35 million people who do vote, who have a range of political views, from hard-Right to hard-Left. Most people, assuming a normal distribution (which is not an unreasonable assumption to make given the diversity of the UK's population), tend towards centrist political views.

Furthermore, our electoral system of First Past the Post (FPTP) tends to punish political parties with widespread, but low level support, and amplify the gains of parties with concentrated high level support. In the last election, nearly 3.9 million people voted UKIP, but were rewarded with only one seat in the Commons. The SNP polled 1.5 million votes - less than the Liberal Democrats (2.4 million votes and a mere 8 seats) - but won 56 seats. In order to win a significant number of Commons seats, UK political parties have to have widespread and concentrated support.

Corbyn represents a relatively uncommon strand of political thought. He has the ardent support of many Leftist voters and activists, who are loudly proclaiming his victory. Many of them have joined the Labour Party precisely to install a leader who shares their values. The problem is, they only represent 10-20% of UK voters, which is not enough to form a Government. Many centrist voters will be put off by his views, and those on the Right will find them abhorrent. The only way Corbyn can realistically command enough support is by capturing mainstream public opinion - the centre ground. But doing that will probably involve political compromises that he is unable to stomach.

2. Mobilisation of the Right
Corbyn is utter anathema to anyone on the Right of the political spectrum. He has advocated renationalisation, unilateral nuclear disarmament, heavy taxation, money printing, and withdrawal from Overseas Territories such as the Falklands. He has therefore handed a sizeable constituency of voters to the Tories.

Ah, but they'd vote for the Tories anyway! I hear you say. Not necessarily. Many voters who are put off by their party of choice, don't vote for the opposition - they just don't vote. Ed Miliband experienced this at the last election - Labour voters didn't necessarily switch to the Tories, but they just stayed at home. Corbyn is so toxic to the Right, you can be sure there will be a big mobilisation against him. This will inevitably increase votes for the Tories as the Right unites to keep him out.

3. Attitudes in England
UK general elections are won and lost in England. The biggest nation in the UK represents about 80% of all Parliamentary constituencies, and England is not really a socialist country. Corbyn's attitudes on foreign policy and defence will be of particular concern. Most English people see the UK's place in the world as a projection of their own national pride (compare this with the SNP, for whom the UK's wider foreign and defence policy is one of their key grievances with the Union). If Corbyn wants unilateral disarmament, withdrawal from NATO and the Overseas Territories, he is saying to the English: you don't matter any more. England is not a powerful nation, and the Union is an empty projection of greatness long spent.

Now, I could be wrong, but I don't see a majority of English people buying into that subtext. I see them being openly hostile to that narrative and turning out in force to reject it. And, although it is possible to win a UK majority without having an English majority, in practice, it's pretty difficult.

One of the unsung stories of the 2015 General Election was the rise of UKIP. They came second in many Labour constituencies, reducing Labour majorities. This confirms what Nigel Farage has been saying for some time: UKIP are now taking votes off Labour. They've damaged the Tories about as much as they're going to. Now, they're hurting Labour.

Many working-class voters feel that the New Labour era was not representative of them. They looked at the front bench and saw people who were utterly alien to them. They looked at Nigel Farage, with a fag in one hand and a pint in the other, and they saw something familiar. So they voted for him.

Now, it remains to be seen whether Corbyn can reverse that trend. I'm skeptical. Corbyn has the backing of the unions, who are making noises about mobilising the working classes and general strikes, but union membership is at pretty low levels compared to their hey-deys in the 1970s, and overwhelmingly public sector. Disaffected constituencies in the inner cities and the North of England have been voting Labour for decades, and they're still in the same state. The people who live there don't see Labour or the Tories doing anything for them, and they have a deep mistrust of the EU and immigration. I can only see UKIP's vote share in these areas increasing.

5. Perception of Chaos
It has already started. Many Labour front-benchers have resigned. The mood of the Parliamentary Labour Party is reported to be foul, after they have had a leader foisted upon them who has made a career of rejecting the whip, rebelling against his own party and generally making a nuisance of himself. The Party seems on the brink of a split. It is uncertain how Corbyn will hold sway over his mutinous colleagues in the Commons.

All of this contributes to a public perception of chaos and instability, which are hardly criteria the British people regard with much affection when eyeing up a potential future government. Indeed, with the mood of his Labour colleagues so mutinous, all that is required for an uprising is a figurehead for the rebels to coalesce around. Alternatively, the Party could split (SDP redux), shattering Leftist unity and making another Tory victory all the more likely. 

Either way, I can't see Corbyn being Prime Minister. He'll be utterly smashed by the Tories.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Why Making a Pass is NOT Sexual Harrassment or Misogyny

It's been in the news and all over Twitter. Of course it's all over Twitter - anything with a fucking sniff of outrage trends on Twitter these days, which is rapidly becoming the digital equivalent of a baying Roman mob. Charlotte Proudman, a PhD student with a profile on LinkedIn, got a friend request from a 57-year-old lawyer. I'm not going to name him, because the poor bloke hasn't done anything wrong, and I'm not going to contribute to his name being scattered across the ether.

In this message, he made a clumsy pass at Miss (or is it Ms? Or Mx? Or who fucking cares?) Proudman, complimenting her on her appearance. Miss Proudman duly responded with accusations of sexism and misogyny, and how it's inappropriate for him to be saying such things to a woman half his age. She then posted the exchange on Twitter, feeding the aforementioned baying mob to whip them up into an outraged frenzy. She's even got herself on the news, with lots of people saying it's outrageous... outrageous that a man should deign to compliment a woman on her appearance. He might even want to have sex with her, God forbid.

This is pearl-clutching, puritanical, Victorian bullshit. Seriously, is this what we have descended to? We've fucking regressed about 200 years in our social attitudes.

Let's begin with an elementary lesson in basic sexuality, shall we? As I have previously blogged, human sexual behaviour follows patterns well-established throughout the animal kingdom, especially in terms of male initiation. Sexual contact is virtually always initiated by the male - peacocks displaying their feathers, stags fighting off competitors, and humans by making a pass. Paying a compliment, buying a drink, buying a big fancy BMW... you get the idea. This is human nature - men have evolved to initiate sexual contact, and women have evolved to respond. This is not bloody rocket science.

So it is therefore perfectly fucking natural for a man to make a pass at a reasonably good-looking woman. It's not sexism, it's not misogyny... it's programmed instinct which has been around since, oh, I don't know... the dawn of fucking Time. Here's a great big shocker for you... heterosexual men like to have sex with pretty women, especially pretty young women, who are more likely to bear healthy children. In other news, the sky is blue, Hitler was a naughty boy etc.

Now before some whackjob feminist starts munting on about 'male entitlement', entitlement has got fuck all to do with it, and anyone who maintains that men feel entitled to sex hasn't got a God-damned clue about what it's like to be a man. Try fucking asking a man how entitled he feels to sex. We're not entitled to sex, but we want it, and a complex combination of genetics, social attitudes, cultural expectations and learned behaviour direct us to engage in certain activities which increase the chances of it happening. One of those is making a pass. And the reason that men do it so often is because women hardly ever do. If men didn't make passes at women, hardly anybody would ever have sex.

Now, in the same way that men are programmed to try to initiate sex, women are programmed to be choosy. After all, the risks are considerably greater for them - they have to spend the best part of nine months bearing the child, and potentially much longer raising it, especially if the man doesn't stick around. There's also the risk of death in childbirth, both for the mother and the child. So women are therefore more likely to pick men who are likely to produce healthy children, and more likely to stick around afterwards. This is simple biology.

So far, same old. Bloke makes pass at girl, girl spurns him. Nothing to see here, move along folks.

Except, what enters stage fucking left, is fucking feminism. A vile, divisive, totalitarian school of thought propagated on the lies that men and women are identical except for minor cosmetic differences, and that any expression of masculine identity or behaviour is misogyny, which is morally indistinguishable from rape.

This poor bastard admittedly made a clumsy pass at a woman considerably younger than him on a website where such behaviour is decidedly out-of-context. A bit of a social faux pas, to be sure. But does he really deserve to be publicly humiliated on a national scale for engaging in behaviour which is completely natural? The answer is of course, no. Miss Proudman could have borne the incident with good grace, by simply replying back that she was married, or engaged, or whatever. Or just ignored it. But she felt the only recourse was to write a snotty reply, accusing him of sexism and misogyny, and then have his name splattered all over the newspapers.

Are we really in a situation where we consider even the mildest expression of sexual interest in a woman to be misogyny? We have a society which constantly tells men that they're not as good parents as women, that they are all potential rapists, that even making a pass at a woman constitutes harassment. That sounds an awful lot like structural oppression to me.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Refugees and Migrants

It's the story currently gripping the headlines, and is dividing opinion up and down the country. As thousands - even hundreds of thousands of people pour into Europe from Africa and the Middle East, often taking dangerous journeys across the Sahara and the Mediterranean, sometimes with tragic consequences, the nations of Europe are divided over what to do about the biggest movement of people since World War II.

No one can help but feel anything but pity when the bodies of drowned toddlers are washed up on Turkish beaches, and the instinctive human desire is to do something - anything - to prevent such things from happening again. The debate has become rapidly polarised. Broadly, those on the Left are advocating more open borders, taking in the people enduring the perilous crossings. Those on the Right reject any further attempts to help. Leftists are painted as hand-wringing bleeding-heart liberals, Rightists are painted as heartless, uncaring xenophobes.

For what it's worth, my opinion is as follows:

  1. Rescue people who are in immediate danger. People who are crossing the Mediterranean in barely seaworthy craft, overloaded and without lifeboats or emergency floatation are at serious risk of drowning. The first action should therefore be to intercept such craft and rescue those people, otherwise they will die. This is morally intolerable.
  2. Deal with the people-traffickers. These people being loaded onto boats and set adrift at sea, hoping to get to Europe, are being trafficked by criminals operating out of ports in North Africa, Syria and possibly Lebanon and Turkey. Stop the traffickers, and you will stop the boats. These must be pursued through legal and military means if necessary.
  3. Distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. We have to accept the fact that some of the people making these attempted crossings to Europe are not refugees. They are not fleeing persecution, famine, war or disease - they simply want a higher quality of life. Europe cannot - and should not - attempt to provide for people, merely because they are poorer.
  4. Deport economic migrants to their home nations. People who are not genuine refugees - whilst we can sympathise with them for having a lower standard of living - should not be allowed to settle in Europe. They should be sent back to where they came from. It is up to their Governments to look to their needs, not ours.
  5. Recognise that refugees are a global issue, not just Europe's. The dialogue has always been, 'is Europe doing enough?' or 'is the UK doing enough?' What about the Arab countries, with whom many of the genuine refugees share a language, a religion and a culture, doing? It should not be Europe's place to act as the sole fount of solace in the world.
  6. End the conflicts in the Middle East, which the refugees are fleeing. Many would criticise any Western intervention in the region, given our recent forays in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the conflicts in the Middle East represent a clear danger to the Western world. A political solution is the only answer, but military force may have to be used to bring some factions to the table.
Ultimately, in order to stem the tide of migrants and refugees coming from the Middle East and North Africa, we need to accept that these places are not particularly nice places to live, and start doing something about it. That will probably include some form of military action, which is a rather comfortable, easy euphemism for young men dying thousands of miles away and being brought home in boxes. Sons, brothers, fathers and nephews, dying in the sand.

However, people are already dying. ISIS have killed thousands since their uprising in Iraq and Syria began. More have died fleeing them. And yet more will die as the conflict continues. Maybe a Western intervention could end it sooner. Maybe it would make things worse. It's a tough call to make, and an unpopular one. But someone had better make it soon, one way or the other.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Women as Rewards in Video Games

I'm fairly new to this whole #GamerGate thing, admittedly. One of the things I've come across is the Twitter account @femfreq (Feminist Frequency), which is run by journalist Anita Sarkeesian, and is generally dedicated to exposing and critiquing what Sarkeesian perceives as sexism in video games.

Her most recent video on examines what she calls the 'Women as Reward' trope in video games, where female characters are objectified in the game, either as rewards for completing certain tasks, or as a mechanism for furthering progress in the game.

Of course, this is fairly commonplace, and the reason why is not particularly difficult to figure out: 56% of gamers are men, and 59% of frequent gamers are men. So the majority of gamers are men. Now, given the approximate 10% of the population that identify as homosexual, it is pretty fair to say that the majority of video game players are straight men, and, quelle surprise, straight men generally quite like looking at pictures of women in various states of undress. So sex is a selling point in video games. Not hugely surprising, given that it is a selling point in just about everything else from movies to soap.

In her new video, Sarkeesian gives a 20-minute expose of a number of different examples where women are sexualised and objectified in video games. Again, I'm not disputing that this happens. My question is, why does it matter?

The presumption is, of course, that behaviours incentivised in a video game will have a direct correlation on gamers' behaviour in real life. This is, in itself, a trope - which was first raised as a concern with violence in video games. Numerous studies have demonstrated that playing violent games doesn't necessarily cause violence.

Violent reactions are, like sexual interactions, linked to dopamine activity in the human brain, plugging into its reward system. In other words, humans are generally attracted to depictions of sex and violence, which trigger a very similar response. So if violence in video games doesn't correlate with an increase in violent behaviour, then why would sexualisation of women in video games lead to an increase in the sexualisation of women in the real world?

The answer is, of course, it probably won't. So it appears that Sarkeesian is just indulging in an unjustified moral panic. Most people who play video games (both men and women) are capable of differentiating between what is acceptable in an artificially-created ruleset and what is acceptable in the real world. That's why people get a thrill from bankrupting their family when playing Monopoly, but won't tend to run off with their credit cards in real life.

Objectifying women in a video game isn't necessarily going to convince men that it's acceptable to do that in real life, nor is it going to convince women that it is acceptable for men to behave in that way. Sarkeesian seems to be assuming that video game players are little more than impressionable monkeys, rather than moral agents, capable of distinguishing right from wrong in a real-world scenario.

Of course, the video focuses exclusively on the sexual objectification of women in video games, but has absolutely nothing to say about the sexual objectification of men. Virtually all of the male characters in video games are portrayed as well-built, rugged, muscled, alpha-male types, often depicted bare-chested or at least with tight shirts revealing the contour of abdominal and pectoral muscles in exquisite and unrealistic detail. So how is it that only the objectification of women in video games is a problem, when the objectification of men is just as prevalent? If one form of sexual objectification is unacceptable, then surely all forms must be?

Sarkeesian continues with the hypothesis that this sexual objectification of women is a form of male entitlement - a feminist theory that men feel entitled to enjoy women's bodies, either by physically using them or viewing them. Sarkeesian goes on to explain the various different ways in which male entitlement is manifest in Western society, including the rape epidemic.

Except that there isn't a rape epidemic. Reported incidents of rape in the Western world are broadly holding steady at approximately 0.02%-0.03% of the population. That's about 0.04%-0.06% of the female population. A recent ONS study put the rate for all sexual offences at 1.4% for women. It is true that women do experience more sexual harassment than men, but it is still a relatively uncommon occurrence.

Another example of male entitlement Sarkeesian cites is where a man buys a woman a few drinks and expects sex in return. This fatuous example demonstrates an astonishing ignorance of the basic tenets of human sexuality - or indeed, sexuality in general. In virtually all species, sexual intent is almost always initiated by the male. This is widely documented across a host of different species, and humanity is no different. It is perfectly natural for a man to try to initiate sexual contact with a woman - he has evolved to do precisely that, since that Y chromosome first found its way into our genetic code.

When a man 'buys a woman a few drinks', he doesn't automatically expect sex - but he usually desires it. It is a demonstration, a show - it is the human equivalent of a peacock displaying his feathers. He is taking a risk - an economic and social risk that his advances will not be rejected. Some men, because they are taller, better-looking, more muscular, better dressed, or even just demonstrably wealthier, have a lower risk of rejection. Others have a higher risk of rejection, and may not be as emotionally equipped to deal with it. If a man buys a woman a few drinks and then later she shrugs his arm off her shoulder, it's quite likely that he'll be a bit annoyed - not out of a misplaced sense of entitlement, but because he took a risk and lost out. All humans are naturally risk-averse - we feel losses more than we feel gains. That's not male entitlement, that's human nature.

Further examples of male entitlement include catcalling and wolf-whistling. This is pretty boorish behaviour, but again, relatively uncommon - Sarkeesian implies that it is widespread. The vast majority of men are actually respectful of women - of course, they'll have a good look if a pretty girl is walking down the street, but again, that's natural. Sexual contact is, as previously discussed, almost always initiated by the male, so a glance across a crowded street is often the first step. If she looks back, you might stand a chance.

And finally, Sarkeesian also throws in groping and harassment as examples of male entitlement, to demonstrate its pervasiveness throughout our society. But, as previously discussed, the total of all sexual offences against women is about 1.4% - in other words, fuck all. So if all the symptoms of male entitlement aren't anywhere near as prevalent as Sarkeesian suggests, it's fair to conclude that male entitlement, in the ways she describes it, isn't actually as much of a social problem as she makes out. The rest of the male behaviours she describes are basically attempts to solicit female attention - to initiate and progress towards sexual contact, because that's what men have to do, not just because they are genetically programmed that way, but because women hardly ever initiate.

So, in summary:

  • Much of the negative, abusive and criminal behaviour which Sarkeesian implies is 'epidemic' is actually quite rare, affecting less than 1 in 50 women each year. This directly contradicts the feminist theory of 'male entitlement';
  • The other male behaviour which Sarkeesian mentions, e.g. buying women drinks, is not out of a sense of entitlement to women's bodies, but rather a calculated risk in an attempt to initiate sexual contact, because a) women hardly ever initiate, and b) men have evolved to do just that;
  • Whilst some behaviours can be learned and reinforced through reward systems, there is a body of evidence that suggests that such rewards do not transcend rulesets, i.e. that behaviours learned in one situation are not automatically applied to another;
  • Behaviours and attitudes which are therefore rewarded in video games are not therefore automatically going to translate into real life behaviours. Despite the increasing availability of violent and pornographic media, violent and sexual crimes have not increased;
  • By focusing exclusively on the sexualisation of women in video games and ignoring demonstrable sexualisation of men, Sarkeesian is demonstrating astounding hypocrisy, claiming sexism whilst ignoring the treatment of men, which is, in itself, sexist;
  • The sexualisation of women in video games therefore seems to be of little social consequence, which does not translate into the real world, doesn't feed a problem which is significantly overstated, and the only criticism of it appears to be one of taste, which is highly subjective.

In other words, if you don't like it, don't buy it, but take your moral hectoring about what you find offensive somewhere else.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

More Thoughts on Marriage

This Ashley Madison nonsense has got me thinking about marriage and the role it plays in our society. Is it still relevant? Do we still need it? Will it actually survive? Marriage is in decline, and has been for many years. Over two out of five marriages now end in divorce. If the current trend continues it is not difficult to foresee a future where it becomes a thing of the past.

What is Marriage?
There are many forms of marriage throughout various societies in the world, ranging from monogamous marriage, polygyny (with more than one wife) polyandry (with more than one husband), polyamory (with any number of husbands and/or wives) and of course same-sex marriage (although this overlaps with the definition of monogamous marriage). Before we can properly define what marriage currently is, we need to look at what it was, at least in the context of Western society.

A Brief History of Marriage
Marriage goes back to the very dawn of civilization - it is, in all likelihood, one of the behaviours which began to define humans as a civilization, distinct from other animals.

Consider the fact that most mammals exhibit some form of herd behaviour. These herds tend to follow a similar hierarchical structure, with an Alpha Male at the top, who generally has exclusive or at least priority breeding rights with the Alpha Females immediately below him. The Alpha Male is generally expected to be the primary provider for the herd. On the outskirts of the herd would be the Betas - males and females both, but generally in a state of subservience to the Alphas. This is, in effect, a loose form of polygyny.

Economically, this is extremely inefficient. Whilst males tend to be stronger than females, and thus able to provide more (especially in a pre-automation environment, where all work was pretty much hard labour), the difference is rarely sufficient to be able to provide for a significant number of females and their offspring, or at least to provide for anything beyond subsistence. Thousands of years ago, humans recognised this, and came up with a solution: monogamous marriage.

Instead of an Alpha Male dominating a herd, with all or at least a majority of females being subservient to him, the Beta Males were brought in as competition. Of course, they couldn't compete with the Alpha Male directly - he was generally bigger and stronger than them. But they could compete economically. Even an Alpha was hard-pressed to care for a multitude of females, but one Beta Male could easily manage a female and a few offspring.

Thus, marriage was born. Female sexual rights were exchanged for the safety and security provided by a Beta male. This was of critical importance to both: human females had high reproductive overheads, in terms of having to care for comparatively helpless young, not to mention high risk of maternal and infant mortality in pregnancy and childbirth. They needed a surplus of labour, which Beta males were happy to provide in exchange for reproductive rights.

This brings us onto the crucial earliest definition of marriage: a contract, a bargain, an exchange. A woman's sexual rights exchanged for a man's labour. This definition has echoed down the ages ever since, and goes a long way to explaining historical attitudes towards women:
  • Societies in Classical Antiquity, such as the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, generally considered adultery to be a worse crime than rape. If a man raped someone else's wife, that was merely theft. If the woman consented, than she was actively defrauding her husband;
  • Medieval societies considered that a marriage must be consummated in order to be valid, i.e. that the woman had kept her part of the bargain. It was not unusual for bedsheets would be inspected for blood to demonstrate both consummation and the bride's virginity;
  • Divorces, especially ones where the husband was to blame, have traditionally involved the payment of alimony of maintenance from the husband to the ex-wife, as the courts held that he was still responsible for her provision;
  • Even until 1991, it was considered impossible in law for a husband to rape his wife. The issue of consent did not enter the equation - her sexual rights had been assigned to him upon marriage, and he had the right to enjoy them at any time.
Marriage continued pretty much unaltered in concept for thousands of years, as men continued to dominate economically. Prior to the Modern Age, pretty much all work that needed doing was hard labour, typically agrarian and therefore men held the advantage, being physically stronger and more capable in this regard. But some significant cultural and technological developments over the last few hundred years have significantly altered the dynamic between men and women in their marital context.

1. Technology
Over the last 200 years, human society has seen a massive change in the form of technological development. We have witnessed industrialisation, mechanisation and now emerging automation in terms of how we work. Machines - some now even autonomous - do the work in hours that once took legions of men weeks or even years to do. Humanity has benefited hugely from this massive increase in productivity, but the value of an individual man's labour - his bargaining chip in marriage - has diminished considerably. Women no longer need men as much, because men no longer have a monopoly on the back-breaking work required just to survive.

2. Transition to a Service Economy
The basic premise of trade has been around for almost as long as marriage, but was effectively limited by technology. Agrarian goods of one type could be exchanged for agrarian goods of another type. The range of goods that could be traded was effectively limited, and many people were still reliant on agrarian subsistence, limiting their participation in a wider economy.

Industrialisation produced an explosion in the number of goods that could be traded, and in the means to transport them. It also provided huge opportunities for women to become more involved in work, due to the increasing emergence and eventual dominance of service-oriented, rather than goods-oriented work. Service work, unlike mining or manufacturing, does not require any of the physical advantages which men possess over women. Women are capable of doing them just as well as men. This opened up men's diminished labour to further competition, reducing its value further.

3. The Welfare State
Wives were often completely beholden to and reliant upon their husbands for support. A divorced woman - especially where the divorce was perceived to be of her own doing - was effectively destitute, with no real means of providing for herself, other than by agreeing to marry again, exchanging her sexual rights once more for security.

The rise of the welfare state has rendered marriage less necessary. No one faces destitution any more - indeed, the State will give you additional money based on the number of children you have, regardless of who fathered (or mothered) them. How is the welfare state funded? Through tax revenue of course, which is taken off men more than it is women. Men's surplus of labour is taxed, and then distributed without needing the marital contract.

4. Contraception
Until the 1950s, women were also beholden to their own reproductive systems. Risk of pregnancy - and therefore approx. 10 years of financial dependence on someone else (assuming the child survived infancy) - was great. Women's choices of men was therefore informed by this risk - they would tend to go for the men who were most likely to provide for them in such a circumstance, and try wherever possible to tie them into a contractual obligation to do so, i.e. marriage.

However, the advent of the contraceptive pill meant that women were no longer beholden to these reproductive risks. The chances of them becoming dependant reduced significantly, and so their economic need for marriage also reduced. It's fair to say that it's also influenced their selection criteria for men - modern Beta males find it increasingly difficult to form relationships as women hold out for Alphas.

5. Equality
Finally, driven by the culmination of all of the above is the political movement which has historically aimed to achieve equality in legal, political and civil rights. Feminism in particular has played a hugely important part in the history of the 20th Century, but forms only one part of the equality agenda, which has achieved:
  • The extension of the vote to women;
  • Equal pay for equal work;
  • The establishment of the concept of consent in sexual relations, whether married or not;
  • Abolition of the ban on homosexual marriages.

All of these have had a profound effect on marriage. Which brings us back to the original question: what is marriage?

Historically, marriage was a contract between a man and woman whereby obligations of economic support were exchanged for exclusive sexual rights. The economic support and sexual rights were in effect the consideration, the proposal and engagement the offer and acceptance, and the whole setup was enforceable by law. In a modern context, this definition is obsolete, for several reasons:
  • Changes in law and society have established that women have agency, and therefore cannot assign their sexual rights to another individual. They are an inherent part of personhood, which is inviolable in law;
  • Changes in society and the economy mean that men do not have a surplus of labour compared to women in equal standing any more. Where there is a differential, the welfare state redistributes this surplus without the need for a contract;
  • This contract is therefore based on premises which are now false, tenets which are unenforceable in law and customs and principles which served a society very different to the one we now inhabit. It is therefore invalid.
So the modern definition of marriage is necessarily fuzzy: it is a social and legal institution which recognises the interpersonal relationship (usually sexual) between two consenting adults. It can't be defined as a contract, because there isn't a consideration, and it isn't enforceable. Marriage is therefore, in its modern context, legally weak, especially in its lack of enforceability, and it is therefore no real surprise that it is diminishing in popularity.

Do we still need marriage?
Arguably, yes. Children from broken homes are more likely to suffer from psychological problems, less likely to succeed academically and more likely to become involved in crime as a consequence. Married couples tend to experience lower mortality and morbidity rates compared to unmarried couples.

Whilst there is some argument that strict monogamy is not a natural state for humans, rates of extramarital infidelity tend to be fairly low - it is difficult to get exact figures due to the social and cultural taboo, but they are generally thought to rest around the 25% mark. This suggests that humans are generally quite happy being monogamous.

I would argue that, based on the advantages that marriage brings (stability, security, improved emotional and physical health, generally better outcomes for children) it is definitely something that we should want to keep and preserve as a part of our society.

Will marriage survive?
This is the existential question. Marriage is in crisis - and I'm not talking about same-sex marriage here. The whole institution is endangered by its diminishing popularity, and that is driven primarily by the changing social and power dynamic between men and women, which have stressed the historical concept of marriage to destruction. Note that I don't disagree with that changing dynamic - the ascribing of basic personal rights to women is long overdue, and whilst the value of an individual man's labour has been diminished as a consequence of the issues described above, humanity has benefited immeasurably from the vast increase in productivity that has ensued.

In my opinion, the only way that marriage can survive is through a fundamental change in the way that we view it, interact within it and how it is treated by the law.

What can we do?
My proposed plan to re-define marriage and its relationship with us all is as follows:
  1. Re-establish it as a legal, ethical and social contract, enforceable by law. There is the possibility of doing this, even with no formal consideration:
    1. The proposal and engagement are the offer and acceptance - this is in effect unchanged since ancient times;
    2. The consideration, rather than being the assignation of sexual rights and/or economic support, should take the form of the marriage vows. In law, this would be promissory estoppel - an undertaking by both parties to behave in a certain way, on which the other party is entitled to rely;
    3. Enforceability in law - this is the most important factor. Many people put off getting married because they feel that their rights are curtailed in the event of divorce, particularly men's parental rights. Parental rights should be equalised by statute, the concept of maintenance/alimony abolished (except in respect of wilful negligence of parental obligations) and procedures for divorce settlements to recognise fault-based petitions;
  2. Recognise both pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements, allowing people to make provision for their own divorce as a contingency. We allow people to make provision for the division of assets at death, so why not at divorce?
  3. Finally, and most importantly - it must be a relationship between equals and based on mutual consent.
These changes would, I think, reinforce confidence in the institution of marriage, and make it viable again. Without them, I think that it's quite likely that it will rapidly become a thing of the past, which would be a retrograde step.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

On Fathers4Justice

In war there are many factors which determine who is victorious; the lie of the land, the weather, the availability of food, water, equipment and arms, generalship and tactics, and the number of men. But one factor, above all, stands above these: unity. Give me 1,000 men who will stand with their shields locked together, facing down death until the bitter end, and I will win a battle against 100,000 fearful and divided men. The most important command that a man can ever hear is thus: hold the line.

I do not say that every man of my 1,000 will survive - some will fall and must be left behind. But while faith and courage and resolve hold true, whilst each man is prepared to give his all for the others, the line will hold, and the battle will be won.

Hold the line, and I will hold it with you.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

On Marriage and Ashley Madison

It's been in the news recently that Ashley Madison, a dating website which facilitates extramarital relationships, has been hacked, and that the hackers are threatening to publish their entire database, effectively naming and shaming the users of the site. This throws up an interesting philosophical point: do the users deserve to be punished?

At this point, it's necessary for me to declare an interest: I have personal experience of adultery which has caused me considerable emotional distress. I am also a Christian, so some people might think my views on such a subject to be outdated, even though I'm fairly liberal-minded. However, for the sake of argument, I will rationalise as best as I can, and try to put forward both sides of the argument.

Several have put it to me on Twitter, not the least of them the (in)famous Old Holborn, that they do not deserve such treatment. That their rights to privacy as an individual trump everything else, that they ought to have total freedom of agency and it is no business of anyone else's what they do in their spare time, or who they do it with. That ultimately, no one else has the right to blackmail another with their self-imposed morality. This is reinforced by the fact that the hack is illegal, and publishing the information would be a breach of data protection laws - most likely in several countries due to the international nature of the website.

I agree with this statement. People do have rights of privacy, and ultimately it is up to them what they do with other people in their spare time. The hack is illegal, and the conduct of the hackers is effectively blackmail - shut down the website or we'll name and shame.

Now, it's often said that anything that comes before the word 'but' in a statement is effectively rendered irrelevant. I phrase I disagree with, as it tends to paint everything in black and white and reduce nuanced position to artificial soundbites.



These people are married. Ashley Madison specialises in facilitating affairs between married people. And that is where I have to draw the line.

So? You might say. What difference does that make? They're still individuals with their own choices. True, but they are individuals who have voluntarily entered into an agreement with someone else - an agreement which is very specific on the obligations it places on both parties, and limits people's freedom of choice and action.

Wedding ceremonies vary according to religion (or lack of it), but the general gist is the same: the parties to the marriage take vows, effectively making a promise to the other. For the sake of argument, I've lifted excerpts from the Church of England website, but you get the general idea.

[Name], will you take [Name] to be your husband/wife? Will you love [them], comfort [them], honour and protect [them], and, forsaking all others, be faithful to [them] as long as you both shall live?

I do.

And then later:

I, [Name], take you, [Name], to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold  from this day forward;  for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.

And again:

[Name], I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.

The emphasis is the author's own.

But there were have it: a promise to stay with that other person, to share everything with them, and to be faithful to them, no matter the circumstances, until death. That is what marriage is: a promise of exclusivity, taken in the greatest solemnity and seriousness. It is not something that should be lightly cast aside, just because you're feeling a bit horny on a Friday night.

So, this being the case, does the notion that a married person is still an individual with free agency hold? They are still an individual, but their agency - their ability to make free choices - is limited by the undertaking they have given. They have sworn to put their spouse first and foremost in all decisions. Shagging someone else is a straightforward repudiation of that promise. They're free to do it, in the same way that I am free to promise to build you a house and then scarper with the money. But you'd be a fool if you didn't expect to suffer some consequences as a result of that dishonesty.

Now, I'm not an idiot, nor am I naive. I understand that relationships fail, and marriages are not exempt from that. Some marriages, without any person being to blame, will not work out - people can fall out of love just as quickly as they fall in love. However, I do not see that as an excuse to commit adultery. There are proper, mature and decent ways of resolving this. Get a divorce, or at the very least separate before you start seeing someone else. But going behind their back with someone else's spouse, potentially fucking up their marriage... I cannot see any moral justification for that.

So my position on the Ashley Madison users is this: they shouldn't have been hacked, they shouldn't have their details published. But if they are, and they suffer the consequences of their actions, I won't have much sympathy for them, and they should have thought about it before they decided to break the most solemn promise they've ever given.