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A personal statement: first principles and personal priorities - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
A personal statement: first principles and personal priorities


I don’t, really, mean to start hares and then not follow through.  I’m thinking, in particular, of my recent analysis of the Yank liquidity / confidence crisis, my projected comments on the UK and EU fiscal problems (short version: Brown was Chancellor), and my shocking blaspheming of the Messiah from Illinois (odd, he doesn’t look … well, you know the joke.  Reminds me of the time some pro-appeasement idiot, circa 1937, was blethering in the House about Christmas and the Holy Land and ‘the birthplace of the Prince of Peace’ – at which point Winston loudly muttered, ‘I thought Neville was born in Birmingham’).


The problem is a simple one.  A single set of assumptions – largely unexamined by those holding them – permeates the mental atmosphere here-’round.  There is, I mean to say, very little diversity here.  A congeries of people of varying sex, sexuality, race, nationality, and all that, who all think alike, is not diversity.


Even an evangelical on my friends’-list has been taught, and believes, that Mrs T held that ‘greed is good’; even a European man of the Right, long resident in the UK, misapprehends wholly Mrs T’s comment that ‘there is no such thing as society’ (and elides the remainder of the statement).  I was a very minor foot-soldier in the transatlantic conservative revolutions of the late 1970s and the 1980s, but I can assure you that we were not saying what you’ve been told we ‘really meant by it’.   My friend who misunderstands us to have said that ‘greed is good’ wants a remedial course of Smith and Ricardo; my friend who misconstrues the perfectly true statement that


[People] are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour; and life is a reciprocal business….


is failing to recognise a succinct and accurate statement of Public Choice Theory.


Were I to spend my time challenging and refuting the false premises and unexamined errors underlying the passing statements of some ninety per cent. of those who make political or economic posts – or indeed passing statements – on my f’list alone, I’d do nothing else with my waking hours, every day of the week.  I don’t.  Equally, what I find – and herein is the problem – is that any comment I may make with the merest hint of political or economic relevance (or indeed philosophical: that’s your actual PPE right there, that is), must not only be defended – which I don’t mind in the last – but also explained from the very beginning.  And that is simply impossible for me to do in the time allotted.  I may suffer from a donnish itch to teach, but there are limits.  There are people whose job it is (bonjour, Shezan!) to teach the ABCs of economics and political philosophy to them that walketh in darkness, but even they are here, in this space, as fen, not as, say, political journalists.  I am here to write and to read and to interact pleasantly with others (although, depressingly, quite good friends, with whom I have pleasantly interacted offsite, have dropped me without a word simply because of my views, or so I can only presume.  Much as I should prefer to spend my time here fannishly, than in having to defend every political observation, I’d far rather cease writing fic altogether and instead argue the points at issue, courteously, than have that happen).


I repeat, I don’t at all object to arguing – in a pleasantly collegial fashion, in good faith and good humour – whether Keynes was right, or whether von Mises and Hayek and Buchanan and Tullock are.  I don’t mind in the least debating whether Popper was right or his statist opponents are.  However, whilst I’d not mind – as such – arguing these points with people who’ve never heard of or read Berlin or Coase or Friedman or Phelps or Hutt, I simply haven’t the time.  I’m not fat enough, dedicated enough, prolific enough, or – in this sense – leisured enough, to play Chesterton to every Shaw or Wells I may come across.


This is, I may add, depressing in the extreme.  I am forever running across eminently sensible people saying – and apparently believing – perfectly senseless things, and highly intelligent people espousing rank folly.  I haven’t time to remonstrate; should I do so, however obliquely, I am met with such blank incomprehension – ‘how could anyone possibly not agree?’ – that I give it up as a bad job.  I believe the usual Americanism for the upshot of all this to be the term, ‘chilling effect’.  I’m very fond of all of you whom I have friended – necessarily, or I’d not have done so to begin with.  I regret immeasurably seeing our differences become disputes.  But I must say I rather resent the fact that for so many people, their – often purely tribal and instinctive – views want neither examination nor defence, whilst mine not only merit challenge – which is welcome – but require abecedarian explanation, which is tiresome when so recurrent.  Let me be explicit here.  I don’t at all complain of being asked to defend or even to explain my views when posted, although I must again stress that I may quite often have to return to the fray in my own time, as having other things to do or that I’d rather do first.  (And in so doing, of course, I’m then thought to have conceded the argument by failing to stay up all night responding to comments.  Bugger.)  I do rather tire of the fact that I am forever the one having to explain first principles and defend the most passing of comments, whilst those to my left are not thus burdened.  By all means, continue to challenge what you see as wanting challenging.  But if you can at all see your way to first obtaining some mastery of your brief before asking that I start at the beginning every time, I should be grateful. 


I miss Milton Friedman, that dear man, for so many reasons; at the moment, I most miss his smile.  He was able to do this daily with a sweetness of temper and a communicable joy and calmness that gave added force to his arguments.  I cannot.  For that, I ask your indulgence.

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5 comments or Leave a comment
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 26th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
You are, as is everyone else on the face of the earth, according to the common understanding of our Constitution, entitled to your opinion. I happen to agree that Obama is not all that, as the young folks say. But you seem to have failed to understand the horror of Sarah Palin and the implications of her selection as VP candidate.

That's heartbreaking and somewhat terrifying to those of us who have grown accustomed to taking as soothing gospel all that dense bucolic Brittery in your posts.

Now me, myself, I'm old enough to ignore stuff that might work my nerves. But don't make me start writing Hogwarts senior prom stories. Because if you're off the mark about American politics...
fpb From: fpb Date: October 26th, 2008 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
There you go. You "understand the full horror of a Palin candidacy." Hence the people who think differently are people who, at best, do not understand - unenlightened morons in dire need of your brand of light. That shows the kind of respect to the opinions of others which led me to remove you from my f-list in the first place. The notion that you might be wrong is alien to you.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: October 26th, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought it was my request that you do so that led you to remove me from your f-list, but hey. Whatever works.
fpb From: fpb Date: October 26th, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am sorry to take you up when you do not feel that you have the time to answer everyone who disagrees with you (neither have I), but you have actually managed to make your heroine sound worse than I remembered her. In order to make sure that I do not misrepresent anyone, let me repeat your whole quotation:
[People] are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour; and life is a reciprocal business….

First, this does not deny in the least that she made the morally objectionable and false statement that "there is no such thing as society". She did it and put bells and whistles on it. Her clarification makes it even worse. "It is our duty to look after our ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour" - this is a direct and flat contradiction of Our Lord's commandment, "love thy neighbour as thyself." No more, no less, no different: as thyself. But to MT, "myself" comes first, and only after I have done my duty to look after myself can I legitimately start to worry about my neighbour. In English, that is what she said. Even if you insist on her use of the plural, that does not make it much better; since she cannot possibly be talking about society - that thing that does not exist, remember? - then she must be talking about the narrower circles - family especially, but also little gangs of friends, clubs, companies, corporations - whose corporate selfishness are in the moral scale no different than personal selfishness writ large. And in her whole notion of reciprocity there is no notion whatever that the reciprocity is not initiated by the self; that you are, in fact, in deep and unpayable debt before you so much as can contribute one jot to your own happiness, let alone that of others; that you have nothing that you were not given, and that your interactions with other human beings start from a position of radical debt, not of independence. As for the non-existence of society, did not the Greek philosopher describe us as zoon politikon, a tribal or citizen animal? Did not the Roman philosopher-politician state that nature itself ordains that society should exist and that human beings should wish to be a part of it? Did not the Christian Oxford don quote this as a part of the universal moral wisdom, the "Tao", whose existence he sought to establish? Where does this nonsense about human existance as monadic, societyless, self-centred, ever come from? Is it not obvious that society is as much a part of our nature, indeed our souls, as individual identity, and that you can no more deny the one than the other?
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