Sunday, 15 April 2018

Special, Entitled, Front of the Queue - the Parental Fallacy

Afternoon - thanks to the half dozen or so people who endured my thoughts on the subject that follows the other day.

There is often a scramble for time off work during certain periods of the year, with some invariably being disappointed and having to come in over Christmas, during the kids' school holiday or at another time when it would better suit their living arrangements not to. What actually prompted this piece was a comment I heard on that general theme last week, namely that those with children should get priority in this regard over and above individuals who have no offspring or dependants - i.e. if there are two people asking for the same block of time off work and only one can realistically have it then Mum or Dad are at the front of the queue and the childless can go hang. Interesting.

We live in worryingly collectivist times, where the manufacturing of 'grounds for special treatment' is proving to be one of the few areas in which we can safely say that a skills crisis does not exist. With that in mind it's probably unsurprising that 'support for parents' (often dressed up as looking after children) is just the latest in a long line of 'more stuff for me' moments that have typically been on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, having had a sex change or simply being in either the majority or a minority. To say "that person over there can only have the time off work that I don't want" is a self-identification of oneself as some sort of special case, that much is clear.

We could always go further down fantasy avenue and suggest that working Mums and Dads receive more holiday time and/or are paid a higher basic salary than those serfs who have never been impregnated or impregnated somebody else, be that through good fortune, misfortune or deliberate design. Actually this happens to an extent already, with "sorry the kid's sick" being used by some to claim an impromptu day off or 'work from home' (a laughable scam that is routinely abused and employers should have more tools to clamp down on). As far as remuneration goes, a story from my late teens remains illuminating to this day, even if it makes for uncomfortable reading.

When I took my first 'proper' job at eighteen I'd replied to an advertisement that pitched the salary at precisely ten thousand pounds a year (it was there - salary = £10k in clear and unambiguous print with no asterisk next to it). Upon being deemed 'the successful applicant' I head off for a meeting with my new boss and am told "seeing as you've come straight from college we'll be paying you nine grand". Now, understanding the power dynamic in play I recognised there was basically nothing I could do, but it smacked of 'false advertising' and was an ominous portent of certain naughtiness that would follow further down the line (probably one for Patreon and not here).

Anyway, I resolve that 12 months of hard work and 'proving oneself' would remove the excuse of inexperience and see me paid the proper 'adult rate' for the job I had. Not so - despite an above average performance review I get the two per cent increase that had been applied across the board. Still aware of who was calling the shots here (or at least most of them), I decide to frame my enquiry along the lines of "please tell me what I have to do in order to make myself worth more than I'm currently on", as opposed to coming over as somebody making demands. The response I got to this question didn't really answer it at all and, on reflection, was absolutely astonishing.

Amongst the fluff, blurb and non-response that I got was an observation that "oh well, you'll just have to put up with your parents nagging at you for a while longer". Now the need to mention something like this serves as a real insight into the genuine motivations for the employer's penny-pinching and flat-out refusal to honour the content of the job advert more than a year earlier. Since I still lived with Mum and Dad, rather than having built a life with significant other and kids elsewhere, somebody had clearly rationalised that I didn't need the money as much as certain other people who had different living arrangements, so it was only 'fair' to pay me less than them in line with this.

In reality there is nothing 'fair' about this ugly form of paternalism at all - living alone is probably the 'lifestyle choice' that incurs the greatest costs of living but to suggest that I'm therefore 'owed' something over and above what I'm prepared to work for as a form of compensation would be infantile and absurd. That's entirely my problem and I have to find my own way of working it out - similarly, demanding 'free stuff for me' on the grounds of parental status (regardless of how effective a parent he or she might be) is just another variant on the collectivist silliness that appears to have engulfed modern society. If you can't afford to support a 'big family' then don't have one. Simples.

The British welfare state has always looked after parents under the guise of supporting children. One of the areas in which people on my wing of the political/philosophical thread vary wildly is that regarding the treatment of young people, and I'm actually a bit of a Statist in the realm of 'UBIs for kids' although that 'help' comes with caveats. A free education up to 18? No problem, including something that resembles the 'pupil premium' to help the poorest. Free school meals? On balance I'm more for that than against it. Free uniform vouchers if your kid's school is fashion prescriptive? Ok - I'm open to just about anything that moves benefits away from parents and to the kids themselves.

Although my first choice would be to do away with 'uniforms' of all kinds - that's for another day.

When I was growing up the next door neighbour was busted for circa £40k worth of benefit fraud, including falsely claiming disability and payments based on her husband having 'fled the scene' when he most certainly hadn't. I remember reading about her court case in the local rag and, in an attempt to avoid a custodial sentence, her solicitor had offered up the "she's got kids" defence in the hope that the judge would show leniency (to his great credit he didn't). It's an interesting concept that a Mum or Dad could rob a bank or stab somebody 24 times but get off with a slap on the wrist while the childless serve several years behind bars. So much for 'equality before the law' eh?

We're all familiar with the graduate who stabbed her boyfriend but was spared jail because she was 'supremely talented' and could go on to achieve great things, or the Anthony Joshua 'possession with intent to supply' case in which his undoubted ability as a boxer was offered as a mitigating plea. Sorry, but surely somebody in that situation should weigh up what they are potentially throwing away before embarking on their chosen course of action? Once you start affording leniency on the basis of factors that have nothing to do with the case then are you not letting down the victims of crime while giving those possessed of 'potential' or 'talent' a relatively blank cheque?

And...just as "but I'm so talented" should not detract from the facts of a case, surely the 'defence' of "but I've got kids" ought to have zero effect on the outcome?

I'm also interested and amused by the use of the "have you got kids?" line to 'win' arguments, as if merely becoming a parent represents some moment of epiphany or profound truth - out pops the kid...and Karen from Telford spontaneously turns into Tolstoy or Shakespeare. It is of course complete bollocks but I've run into something along the lines of "but if you had kids you'd think differently/agree with me" so many times that it's clearly something that a lot of otherwise sane and rational people genuinely believe. In reality it's what I've previously referred to as a 'legitimate outlet', used by those seeking to unleash their 'inner shit' and justify all manner of authoritarian nastiness.

Off the top of my head - I'm one thousand percent against any call to restore capital punishment and cannot foresee a situation in which I'd even consider changing my mind. While it goes without saying that adults knowingly having sex with kids or gorging on childporn is absolutely, completely wrong (and stick the perps in jail if there's evidence of anyone having done this) I refuse to join in with the current 'nonce-catching' hysteria which strikes me as having unpleasant motivations of its own while demeaning all of us. Torture is inexcusable, invariably yields misinformation and cannot be justified in any circumstance. Apparently if I were a parent, I'd feel completely differently about these issues.

Speaking of torture I remember an episode of Questionable Time several years ago, during which a complete bastard called Hugh Hendry stated openly that if you needed to torture somebody to get valuable information out of them then you should definitely do so. When pressed about this by a member of the audience he justified his stance by saying "Hugh Hendry's just a guy with two kids who lives in London", as if parenthood had at least clarified and maybe even radically altered his would-be answer to the question. No, Hugh Hendry supports the use of torture for the previously stated reason, because he is a complete bastard. Parenthood was just a semi-legitimising vehicle.

I haven't even got onto the curious 'parental right' to inflict GBH on their offspring in the name of 'correction' or 'discipline' - be assured we'll cover that subject separately and elsewhere.

So surely the mere status of being a parent should entitle an individual to precisely nothing. No new rights, no 'free stuff' or cash benefits over and above or at the expense of others. I'm aware that it's a difficult job (one I was probably never cut out for, although I wish many others possessed that kind of self-awareness) that most who take on do so with the right intentions and a desire to take it seriously. Hey, some people really enjoy being Mums and Dads for all the right reasons and good for them - if you're one of those people then I sincerely hope you don't take what you've just read as a 'hit piece' or anything like that. There's no ill-will intended towards you here.

It's just..."I'm a parent" is no stronger a claim on preferential treatment than one's race, gender or sexual orientation might be. After all, once somebody is a special case then everybody is.

I'll be back midweek with something on racism or the destructive effect of 'fake families' - please vote now if you have a preference.

In the meantime here's Big Audio Dynamite - thanks for reading.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Our 'Way of Life' - and the Biggest Threat to It...

Hi again - two in one day, that boy's on a roll. Promise to make this is quick as I can.

Personally I couldn't give two shits about 'the Middle East conflict' and refuse to 'pick a side' in the ongoing troubles engulfing that part of the world like many do, lining up for Israel or Palestine in the same way that people support football or rugby teams. You don't and won't hear me talking about it on these pages for precisely this reason, as I've always thought Anglo-American interference in what is essentially other people's business to be at best pointless and in all likelihood somewhat counter-productive. The nadir of our narcissistic self-obsession was probably when we appointed Tony Blair as the region's 'peace envoy' - a bad taste appointment if I've ever known one.

Yes, we bought a very expensive ceasefire in Northern Ireland (contrary to what some may tell you the underlying 'issues' have not disappeared) but it's not in our gift to do the same in Israel/Palestine and we shouldn't try to. Sometimes, as difficult as it is, you have to acknowledge that the world isn't exactly as you would like it to be and that you can't personally 'fix' everything that is wrong with the planet. My suspicion from the outside is that the main reason conflict persists in the Middle East is that the genuine pursuit of a peaceful two-State solution (with difficult compromises) is politically unacceptable to too many people on all sides - just look at the people they keep electing.

It's with this in mind that I struggled to take the 'Labour Party anti-semitism' story this week too seriously. Things reached something of a low when Jezza attended an event thrown by a group hilariously named 'Jewdas' and smirked his way through a series of foul-mouthed 'speeches' about the State of Israel, 'the Jewish history of making money' and a multitude of other topics. Now I don't think this idiot will ever become Prime Minister but for the sake of argument I'm pretty sure he'd be an unmitigated disaster if he ever did. The 'flavour' of this story, however, was more about the quality of the man's judgement and the nature of the company he keeps.

Whether it's the IRA, Hamas, Communist 'diplomats' or attending the annual Jewdas shindig it's beyond dispute that Corbyn has some 'interesting' and potentially dubious friends, although this is far more common amongst senior politicians that many probably realise (see our dealings with Pinochet's Chile, Saudi Arabia and Communist China off the top of my head). What I find most interesting in the ongoing description of his 'friends' is that they consistently represent "an existential threat to our values and way of life" - it's worth breaking that down and working out the extent to which they represent a threat and/or the biggest threat to whatever 'our way of life' is.

The last time I checked the Uk wasn't at serious risk of being invaded, nor is Sharia Law about to be implemented anytime soon. The republican movement in Ireland ended its campaign on the British mainland many years ago, while as I stated earlier we could always take a step back from matters in the Middle East and remove any potential cross-hair from ourselves. However you choose to define 'our way of life', I'm struggling to identify this potential aggressor from overseas from which we (and by extension this 'way of life') are in imminent danger. A conflation between 'people who don't particularly like us' for whatever reason and 'genuine menace' seems to have taken place.

Yes, there are alarmingly frequent episodes involving the unhinged blowing themselves up, using vehicles as weapons or shooting/stabbing people (on both sides of wherever the divide is) but it's important to ask precisely what, if anything, they're trying to achieve and respond by doing the polar opposite - I'm not ruling out the possibility that some of these 'incidents' were staged or have been carried out by people under mind control, a possibility that would have been dismissed as 'mad conspiracy theory' not long ago, but a surprising number are now waking up to. That notwithstanding, if 'our way of life' is the target then how do we go about 'not letting them win' and defending it?

Condolences to all those who lost people they cared about in terror attacks, but it strikes me that my fellow writer Pete North was onto something when he said "it's the lack of giving a fuck that will defeat terrorism". If we allow the antics of losers, psychopaths and the unhinged to dictate to the rest of us what rights we have, enable the passing of pernicious 'anti-terror' legislation and the creation of a de facto police state then we have lost emphatically. It's regrettable and you and I might be among the victims next time, but a failure to acknowledge that 'shit happens', do nothing and shrug our shoulders leaves people offering the State an opportunity to attack all of us.

So...if by 'our way of life' we are referring to basic freedoms in the areas of expression, movement, association and protections like due process then the real threat to what we claim to value comes not from Jeremy Corbyn's 'friends' but from two very specific directions. One is the British State, who we now know have been 'forgetting' to disclose evidence that would have acquitted defendants in trials (yes they 'forgot', of course they did) and mining the personal information of individuals through third parties. No police officer will be sacked, let alone prosecuted and the surveillance state could simply pass legislation do what they are already doing covertly by more legal means.

But none of this can happen without the most dangerous menace to the rights of the individual that we currently face - namely ourselves. It was Benjamin Franklin who stated that "the individual who sacrifices his liberty for the sake of his security will lose both and deserves neither" and he was absolutely right. If we keep our cool when being instructed to panic and refuse to offer up the freedom of others on the altar of some contrived 'greater good' (see 'collectivism is selfish') then those cashing in on tragedy to make power grabs for themselves will get absolutely nowhere. You have to ask why the existing mountain of 'anti-terror' legislation hasn't stopped this stuff from happening.

In short, you can't legislate 'bad things' or 'bad people' out of existence and attempts to do so only hinder the law-abiding. We need to understand this propensity we have to damage ourselves.

To answer the original the Labour Party anti-semitic? Probably not.

Anyway, that'll be me done for now - catch you in the week and feel free to suggest discussion points if you have any. Thanks for reading.

Confession - I Don't Like Pensioners

Morning - a surprisingly early Rabbit this Sunday, hope you're all awake to read it.

Being the right age to myself remember being a 'younger person' fairly vividly, I'm aware of the perpetual demonisation of the young which is part of our society and has been for as long as I can remember. The narrative goes something like:- the youth of today are the worst ever, they're all thieves, louts and habitual drugtakers who go round pinching car stereos to feed their crack or smack habit. They're all stupid and lack respect, particularly for 'their elders' (who of course are 'entitled' to automatic and unearned respect for, er, reasons?). When GCSE results go up, it's because the tests are easier - when they don't, this is offered as 'proof' of their collective idiocy.

In short, young people can't win and I feel sorry for them.

The reverse thesis of this is applied to pensioners and the elderly, who of course did nothing more edgy and contentious than bake cookies and sit round a fire attentively listening to war stories when they were younger. If you've been led to believe that mods, rockers, hippies, skinheads and punks were all significant movements of youth who 'had their moments' then think again, as apparently these things never happened. Invented in 1994, 'the teenager' and his/her cousin 'the young adult' have been terrorising our streets for two decades now, much to the chagrin of those who remember when there was no crime, everyone doffed their cap when required and nobody swore.

There are a series of flawed assumptions at the centre of this 'old = good, young = bad' view of the world and it's worth tackling them individually. One misplaced assertion is that pensioners have 'paid into the system all their lives' and are therefore entitled to 'dignity in old age' as a result. The first thing worth pointing out is that the State pension, rather than representing the collection of something you have already paid in, is actually a ponzi scheme in which people currently of working age fund the ongoing pensions of existing claimants. There was no generation of 'noble contributors' who agreed to pay something in exchange for nothing and we shouldn't pretend that there was.

Even taken at face value, this concept of 'paying into the system all their lives' doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Many will have paid in and/or taken out intermittently and, given that welfare has been a valid career option for as long as I can remember, there will be current pensioners who never or hardly worked at all, taking advantage of quite literal 'cradle to grave' provision. The 'baby boomer' generation had free university education, grammar schools and could afford to buy their own homes in significant numbers to name but three advantages those in their 20s and 30s will not have. Then there's the future of the State pension itself, so it's worth asking...who's subsidising who here?

Next we have the depiction of the older generation as wise old sages who have 'been around the block' and should be bowed to on account of their superior life experience. Well, based on my slightly inferior life experience there is no correlation between age and wisdom - in fact it's a bit like the analysis of the cricket player who hasn't played 42 Test Matches, but the same match 42 times. Time spent on the planet is only as good as what is learned in that time, the ability to analyse one's successes and failures, rationalise and then learn the requisite lessons from them. People of all ages and generations have varying capacities for this, from quite a lot to some to absolutely none.

Perhaps the most unpleasant 'word association game' I see played with regard to older people is that with 'war heroes', military service etc. Now I grew up at a time when most of pensionable age would certainly have been around during the Blitz and World War Two, and it's certain that a great many of them fought in the conflict between 1939-45. However, someone who was 18 in 1945 would be 90 now and so nearly all of those who fought the Nazis have sadly left us (RIP). I don't begrudge a former WW2 soldier anything that they might get in acknowledgement of their efforts, but noted the anomaly of the shocking treatment of Nepalese Gurkhas by the British State over many years.

I remember a particularly cantankerous old man telling me that I should listen to him, mainly because he'd been in the army 'defending this country' before I was born. I asked him to name some of the places he'd fought in and the ex-soldier promptly rattled off a list (Suez was one of them). Look, none of the conflicts that the Uk has involved itself in since 1945 have been about 'defending this country' at all. Our 'Ministry of Defence' has actually become a Ministry of War, with young men signing up because there were parts of 'the life' that appealed to them or employment prospects were limited where they lived. I'm not knocking anyone for making that choice, but it's not 'heroic' either.

Another big green tick in the box for our elders is (apparently) that they tend to vote in higher numbers than pretty much anyone else and 'take part in the democratic process', whatever that means. Now this has less to do with pensioners themselves and is really a continuation of the dichotomy that voting = good and not voting = bad, or probably the best I've heard on that theme:- "if you don't vote then you lose your right to complain about what the government does" (so if you exercise a freedom not to vote you therefore lose your freedom to hold an opinion about 'the issues' - lovely). It's true that pensioners do turn out for elections in disproportionate volume, but it's also worth asking why.

There's an important statistic which goes a long way towards providing an answer - pensioners are the recipients of more than half of all welfare payments. This is when you add up the State pension plus all the other benefits that they're eligible for, but begs the question...if you're in receipt of so much 'free stuff' are you more or less likely than the average person to go out and vote for more 'free stuff', or at least for the retention of what you already have? Wealthy pensioners (some of whom live abroad FFS!!) remain in receipt of such perks as TV licenses, winter fuel payments and bus passes, and to suggest revisiting that with a view to taking some of it away would be political suicide.

Politicians know this, and so frequently gerrymander 'the grey vote', usually at the expense of younger people.

As long as we live in a representative and universal suffrage democracy, I suspect this problem will continue - with the campaign to reduce the voting age to 16 meeting major resistance (I actually think age is the wrong end from which to be looking at the question, but support changes that would mean some 16 year olds would get the vote, while some 61 year olds would lose it) it will always be politically advantageous to demonise and caricature the young, while depicting every last member of an 'older generation' as some 'hero next door', who fought off foreign invaders and continuously contributed to our society for over half a century, therefore justifying certain entitlements.

None of them were shirkers, lawbreakers or less than perfect in any way, apparently.

It's another problem that I suspect Sortition would provide a better response to than the representative system could ever dream of. Alas, that won't be happening in my lifetime.

Anyway, thanks for reading that and I appreciate the subject matter may be considered somewhat 'edgy' - will leave you with some music and catch you next time.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Not Having a Horse in the Race - the Value of Abstraction

Afternoon - hopefully the referee will refrain from jumping in and breaking this post up if it threatens to get interesting.

I'm not sure whether or not I'm in a minority but it's absolutely true that while some of us enjoy the exploration a hypothetical situation or philosophical area, there are many (perhaps more) others who regard this as 'not real world', some sort of obsessing with minutae/dancing on the head of a pin type of activity or whatever. We are of course living in times where senses of grievance, grudge and disenfranchisement drive the reaction of otherwise sane and reasonable people to whatever we are all supposed to be talking about, be it Brexit, 'group rights' or any other emotive subject. It's perhaps unsurprising that abstraction from filling the car/paying the bills is seen as 'weird' in such a climate.

As a vegetarian (and no I'm not trying to convert anybody, make up your own minds on that score) I'm as familiar as anyone with the old dilemma around "eat this chicken or two more will die". Now at the centre of this question (as well as all good hypotheticals) is a philosophical argument between the merits of a rule-based/principled way of thinking and a more practical or consequentialist one. By refusing to eat the chicken I am of course sticking to my non-meat-eater code of conduct and taking a consistent ethical stance, but then you've just told me that one way or another, two sentient beings will die immediately upon my refusal...the right thing to do?

It essentially boils down to...what matters more, standing up for 'the right thing' and 'what you believe in' or the material consequences of your actions, both for yourself and others?

In this famous 'chicken paradox' I ultimately wouldn't eat the animal and I'll briefly explain why. My refusal to eat the chicken is no guarantee that somebody else will not consume it at a later date, but even if you could provide me with something in writing to the effect of "the two 'saved' chickens will live a happy life and be allowed to die naturally", we just know that the natural demand for meat will continue to exist. This isn't a zero-sum game and farmers will continue to breed all types of animals to meet the ongoing requirements of consumers for meat, dairy and eggs. However, that wasn't a straightforward or easy call to make and I respect any vegetarian or vegan who chooses differently.

Here's one that even the carnivores amongst us can engage with - suppose you have an island comprising of a thousand people who live in  poverty (relative in western terms as opposed to abject poverty, for the benefit of the question). Now an immensely wealthy individual wants to move to the island and bring his or her billions with them (again we'll clarify this is lawfully earned money as opposed to the proceeds of crime or anything like that). Someone on the island's Parliament proposes that we either a) take a percentage of that individual's wealth upon arrival, to be shared amongst the native population or b) do not allow them to enter the island at all. What's the 'right' answer here? 

Now the case for such a measure is that someone with such concentrated and disproportionate relative resources has it within his or her capacity to basically enslave the population of the island. The potential for the democratic process to be subverted and 'bought off' in exchange for special treatment and favours is very real, as is the risk of all that hard cash flooding into the local economy and potentially devaluing the currency (as well as the material assets of others). A one-off tax as a condition for entry would alleviate envy or resentment amongst the natives, while enabling badly-needed investment in the island's education system, defence and infrastructure.

Conversely, whether you agree with income tax as a principle or not, there's a sound argument that what is basically the theft of somebody's legally acquired wealth, assets or possessions to placate a baying mob is ethically and morally indefensible. You could reasonably point out that this money would end up with the island's politicians as opposed to its people, and might be used for the purposes of electoral bribery, which is itself a form of corruption (see the squandering of oil wealth in Venezuela for further details). It's also fair enough to suggest that 'the wealthy one' could be better encouraged into philanthropy or long-term sustainable economic investment than a simple 'cash grab'.

I'm naturally more inclined towards the second argument than the first, but if you come down on the other side or some sort of compromise between the two then that's fair enough as long as you know precisely why and can rationalise it. Hopefully I can catch up with a few of you in person at some point and go through the scenario at length, but the value of such discussions is twofold. Firstly, this battle between principles/rule-based systems and utilitarian/greatest good ones should get sensible and intelligent people thinking, at least for a while. Anybody giving a knee-jerk and/or absolutist answer to such a question has either not thought it through probably or has a dangerous mind.

I wouldn't steal half of a person's money in the scenario outlined, or refuse to let them in, but then it's equally unlikely I would do precisely nothing towards keeping the peace either. The moral of such tales is that while a mentality of "I believe what I believe and fuck the consequences for others" can be incredibly dangerous and counter-productive, the 'pragmatism on steroids' which serves as the reverse polarity of this is little more than believing in everything while simultaneously believing in nothing. If some contrived 'greater good' always, always wins out against the rules protecting the one against the tyranny of the 99, then no such rules exist in reality. A 'blend' of the two is needed.

Most importantly it's the surreal and vaguely ridiculous nature of the scenario that makes you come at the subject in a dispassionate and unemotional way. This is a fundamental aspect in which 'group thinkers' differ wildly from individualists, namely that one has a horse in the race while the other does not. This is why collectivists of both Toddler Left and Toddler Right persuasions struggle desparately with abstraction and the application of philosophical rigour. You are basically asking him or her to approach the question from a starting place they are not used to occupying, and the dismissal of such intellectual archaeology as 'not real world' or lacking 'common sense' is predictable enough.

Someone I respect recently suggested that philosophy should be a subject available for teenagers at school and I'm inclined to agree that is should at least be an option (if you're proposing that philosophy replaces sex education or 'citizenship' then I'll put my signature to whatever you want). While I'm not interested in directing the thought process of any individual in a particular direction, the arrival at whatever conclusion one might reach by a rational process rather than an emotive one is likely to lead to a more intelligible discourse and stem the flow of the willfully blind into 'groups' engaged in perpetual grievance with each other. I am of course aware that it may already be too late.

Anyway, that was surprisingly good fun to write - if you want to throw down your own hypothetical/philosophical scenarios or comment on those illuminated above then feel free.

In the meantime I'll leave you with some Lloyd Cole and see you next time - thanks for dropping by.