(andrew’s fault)

So while I’m trying to decide whether to start posting my obscenely over-academic university research on here (and finding out if I’m even allowed – I have a feeling it might be the property of the University and thus unpublishable anywhere else), here is a very lengthy response I posted today to this post on Andrew Watts’ superb blog. His basic point is that socialists don’t have the ability to be decent people themselves and want the state to do it for them; and that’s why socialists don’t give blood. I thought I’d repost my response here because it ended up being quite a neat little autobiographical statement of political philosophy – but you should read Andrew’s blog first; as a rule it tends to be funnier than mine anyway, and that’s the important thing…


The last time I tried to give blood, they wouldn’t let me. They looked at me, weighed me, and then said I wasn’t allowed. Your BMI is too low, they said. Really, I said? Yes, they said. If we let you give blood you could have a heart seizure. You should see a doctor actually, they said.

So I went to see my GP, and my GP told me I should try eating meat and stop being such a big (well, small) vegetarian nancy. So, for the sake of my health, I learned to be harsher and not to feel so much remorse for the suffering of less fortunate creatures when it interferes with my own self-interest.

That was ten years ago. From there, it was only a small step to becoming a fan of Nietzsche, who recognised exactly how cruel humans can be if it’s in their own interest, and of course inadvertantly influenced a string of idiots like Rand and Hayek, and indirectly, Thatcher. She’d been long out of office, but I was able to recognize then that I had hated her through my childhood for the wrong reasons. I had mistakenly hated her, for the reason most people, as you say, still hate the Tories – for being cruel. But she wasn’t a bad Prime Minister because she was cruel; she was a bad Prime Minister simply because she had, if anything, much too positive a view of humans – she thought that if we were freer to be independent as entrepreneurial capitalists, then we would also be freer to be responsible and kind to each other as individuals. But what happened under Thatcher was social carnage; her liberalism was too radical and people who were suddenly able to make a lot of money didn’t bother to look after those who were less able, or those who didn’t regard the acquisition of wealth as being the telos of human existence.

For a while, I admired New Labour then; they recognised that if the wealthy were going to actually contribute anything of substance for the less advantaged, they were going to need a bit more encouragement. New Labour weren’t socialists because they didn’t want to compel the advantaged to help the disadvantaged – or at least, Blair didn’t – but they did at least try to come up with ways in which it could happen: academies, foundation hospitals, PPPs etc. But these were never going to work: when organisations with their own interests (whether that is profit or religious influence) get power over things like transport or education or healthcare, they were never going to act primarily in the interests of transport or education or healthcare as being intrinsically worthwhile; they were always going to use those things as instruments of their own interest (generally profit). So rail fares become unaffordable; academy schools get more obsessed with exam results in the short term and will lose good teachers – and possibly their buildings – in the long term.

This might not be intentional, it might not even be conscious most of the time, and it’s not that people aren’t ‘kind’; it’s that when kindness gets in the way of their own immediate goals, their own goals come first. This is because people are, at bottom, selfish.  And this is what socialists understand.

As much as it might seem to go against the Sixth-form-common-room debate of “wouldn’t socialism be nice/no it won’t work because people are selfish”, in the real world socialists are the ones who DO recognise that people are selfish. 

And so I actually do accept your premise that socialism is about outsourcing your kindness – although actually I think it’s about outsourcing responsibility for your kindness – but if it is, it’s because they recognise that otherwise the kindness won’t get done. Capitalism would never have been so successful if the rich had noticed people were starving and done something about it.  

Now personally, I’m not a socialist because, having become a flesh-eating Nietzschean, I don’t see any obligation at all in moral kindness. For the sake of basic human decency and my own safety, I’m in favour of personal responsibility – but it needs to be given gradually, not thrust upon us. And in the meantime, we need to be compelled by law to help the less fortunate, otherwise they won’t get helped and then they’ll revolt.

So, the consequences of this: a few years ago I abandoned the Labour Party, whose tribe I had, in the first place, been indoctrinated into by my mother, a high Anglican from Liverpool, who quite correctly regarded Jesus’ agape-or-hell law/compulsion as being profoundly socialist in nature. Jesus, too, thought that people are equal in the eyes of God, but basically selfish and need compelling to be kind: and socialism is the practice of positing the (empirically false) claim that all people are of equal value and then, as you say, adding that the more well-off must be compelled, by the threat of punishment (ie hell) if necessary, to be kind as a result. And hell is a pretty tough punishment for breaking the only human law Jesus set out and not loving your neighbour.

Anyway, I deserted the Labour Party but didn’t give up hope: individual people CAN be decent to each other without such compulsion;but you can’t do it by just taking all the support away and leaving them to it. It will take a long gradual time to get there, but it’s possible; the state should be dismantled very, very slowly, and give plenty of practical transitional support in the meantime. I like to call this ideology Pragmatic Gradualist Anarchism. Some people, I think, call it Liberalism.

So this year – regrettably, now – I decided to join the Liberal Democrats, and I even campaigned for them – in a Liberal vs. Labour seat. I did that because they seemed to be pretty sensible about gradually pushing against state authoritarianism while still providing support for people to be decent to each other. (And also because, having taught Politics for a few years now, I’ve become deeply, deeply dissatisfied that the FPTP voting system is representative of what people actually want and so doesn’t provide proper legitimacy.)

So, to answer your point: the reason I’ve been bombarding facebook with annoyed messages is not because I want my kindness to need outsourcing, or because I’m opposed to the idea of personal responsibility and lower taxation and so on. I’m angry at the spending review because the party I campaigned for have done the political equivalent of promising to help us build a plane and learn to fly, and then joined up with a bunch of people who like pushing people off cliffs and pushed us all of a cliff. And we’re going do hit the ground hard, our most vulnerable parts first.

The people who hate the Tories for that aren’t wrong to point out that they are so personally wealthy that they are cutting things they will never personally have to depend on. And they aren’t wrong to point out that George Osbourne smiled a lot during and after his Spending Review speech, and seemed proud of the cuts to quality of life that he’d made on other people’s behalf.

Personally, I’m glad I wasn’t allowed to give blood. Because I’d only have done it so that I could take the credit, but it would have really hurt.

But I wonder if perhaps Osbourne wouldn’t give blood either if he could get a poor person to do it and still take personal credit…

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3 Comments

  1. If there is anything I can glean from your blog is that intelligent people should swerve discussions on topics they have very little knowledge or understanding but how boring would life be if people were that sensible. Anyway you’re a stand-up comedian and therefore used to being ridiculed or just plain ridiculous.
    Thatcher – she was far worse than cruel, she was ignorant. She was a fan and a follower of Reaganomics, signed the Maastricht treaty, introduced the Poll Tax, sold off valuable state assets at discount prices to pay for 3 million unemployed. Possibly the worst legacy was convincing a generation that money was more important than morality, as the MP John Smith (best PM we never had) famously once said ‘history will not be kind to her’ and how right he was. She was a good politician but a rubbish economist and we are still paying for her legacy; surprisingly after a good start Blair has gone the same way, the general public in their simplicity see through the lies and deceit, if only MPs were that smart maybe we would never have gone to war in Iraq.
    ‘The state should be dismantled very, very slowly, and give plenty of practical transitional support in the meantime. I like to call this ideology Pragmatic Gradualist Anarchism. Some people, I think, call it Liberalism’. Only an idiot would truly believe this. Do Liberals really believe in dismantling the state, far from it. This is what right-wing people argue for in the hope that as a result they will benefit financially under the mistaken belief that there superior knowledge/education will give them a competitive edge in the market place, and as soon as they realise it doesn’t they seek refuge in protectionism. How much more evidence do you need to finally come to the conclusion that leaving banking/pensions/economic matters in control of greedy self-interested investment bankers is tantamount to letting the lunatics run the asylum.The reason why we had a government and still have one is that an running something grown up and important like a country cannot be left to market forces. Capitalism is wasteful of resources, we constantly confuse freedom of choice and variety in what we buy with individual personal freedoms. Key capitalist economies now have individuals saddled with personal debts, this is not freedom and more importantly is unsustainable. The way to keep this money merry-go-round going is for the haves to lend back to the have nots knowing full well that when they come back around the board and land on Mayfair or Park Lane once more all the money will be back with the haves but the increased business created by the various monetary transactions along the way would have convinced us all that there was a reason to go on playing (and just as important it would have generated lots of tax revenues which the govt will then equate to growth in the economy). Anybody who has ever played monopoly will know that it is very tough for the owners of the browns, light blues, pinky-purples and oranges (working classes) to hold their own against the middle-class (reds and yellows) and they have absolutely no chance against the greens and the dark blues (wealthy).
    It is because the wealthy are reluctant to repatriate enough of their wealth to the poor (the spenders) to keep the capitalist wheel turning that the govt take the monies they collected in taxes and give them back to the poor to keep the game going. If you don’t keep giving to the poor this crazy game of capitalism will come to an abrupt end very quickly. That is why the knee jerk reaction to the recent financial crisis was so wrong; if govt are going to spend to protect our economy you don’t give billions of pounds to inept incompetent bankers to shore up their balance sheets and top-up their cash reserves. The answer, so obvious to anybody that has ever played monopoly is to give the money to the poor who will then pay back some or all of the money they owe to the bankers (not forgetting the increased economic activity and subsequent tax income and positive ecomomic growth statistics), and we can carry on playing the game. You could argue that it is not the job of the capitalist to suggest more taxes, it is the responsibility of govt to tax and re-distribute; once govts stop doing this effectively we see them running up huge debts which ultimately leads to economic instability and lack of growth/economic depression. This is why govt need to tax the wealthy more in economic downturns, re-distribute wealth to increase spending that leads to growth and increased wealth, as important is for govts to have balanced budgets. The reason why politicians fail to do this so spectacularly in a democracy is that they always think short-term and try and introduce populist measures such as keeping taxes low when higher taxes and re-distribution of wealth may be the most successful way of sustaining the capitalism economic system. When re-distributing we have to overcome the negativity attitudes to the losers in society, in a competitive economic system by its very nature we will have winners and losers, paying the unemployed money to keep spending is an important part of the equation as their marginal propensity to consume is so very close to 1 (i.e. they invest everything they get back into the economy, most of it spent locally).
    More importantly this is why Conservatist economic policy doesn’t work and will never work. It’s based on the theory that capitalism will produce continual growth and that as a result everybody will get a slightly bigger slice of the pie. What happens when there is no growth, capitalism stops working effectively when the cake gets smaller, that is why we have and we need governments. That is one reason (not the only one) that Thatcher was rubbish at her job, her answer in times of economic downturn (cake getting smaller) were to take along the crown jewels along to the international porn brokers (investment bankers) and flog them off for whatever price she could get; they gave her a resonable price at first to encourage her but when she became addicted to their cash they realised she was getting desperate and therefore drove a harder bargain. She should not have been allowed to do this in the same way Gordon Brown should not have been allowed to sell off UK gold reserves for approx.US$200 an ounce. New Labour were initially fans of privatisation but came to the conclusion eventually (despite themselves) that it didn’t work in the long run and that is of course what govts should be about, long-term thinking.
    The reason why Blair introduced things such as ‘academies, foundation hospitals, PPPs’ is because he believed that things work better when privately managed but when profit comes before quality that will never be the case. The way you make things of a high standard and affordable is through efficient use of resources, irrespective of who owns or manages the organisation. Some of the most profitable privately owned corporations are the most inefficient and wasteful.
    There is also a danger that we confuse ecomonic systems with personal morality/attitudes. This simplistic assumption would leave us to belive that all capitalists are selfish and greedy and the unemployed/poor are socialists; this is obviously not true. Human kindness/altruism cannot be measured in pure monetary terms. Bill Gates is donating much of his fortune to eradicate diseases such as polio in the third world, this doesn’t make him a socialist. I’ll never be as generous as Bill Gates but the reason why I believe in socialism as an economic system is because the I believe the most economically efficient way of production is planning it and not just leaving it to market forces which causes imbalances, waste and inefficiency and huge human injustice, suffering and misery. I believe that it is the way a business/industry/nation is run that determines its success, not who owns it or who voted for it. These issues are not all resolved by workers cooperatives and mass nationalisation of all companies. I believe that the work that Marx did on Socialism was undermined by his inability to care for his own children and that his friend Engels is a better role model for modern day socialist thinking. In saying that its important to remember Das Kapital and the Communist Party Manifesto were written over 150 years ago and the fact that they still have resonance today is testament to the underlying philosophy from which socialist economic theory was written. Of course if either were alive today no doubt their politics would be to the right of Attila the Hun as they sought draconian measures to wipe out the virus that has is spreading through modern day capitalist ideology i.e. make as much money in the shortest space of time without actually making anything at all.
    I don’t support a mass culling of modern day bankers and politicians as many of them are doing the best they possibly can; the answer is to replace them with people who can do better, new people with new longer term thinking and strategies. That’s why we see a black president in the USA, a Lib-Con coalition running the UK economy, Ed Milliband as leader of the Labour Party rather than brother David. People know things have got to change and are looking for people to lead them to the promised land, I don’t think we’ve found the answer yet.
    This may have started off as a response to your post but turned into something more ugly, more sinister, more psychotic soon after its inception. For that I apologise, hopefully nobody will be bothered to read it and I’ll be ok 🙂
    Nigel

    • Thank you for replying, Nigel – I think we can at least agree that Marx still has resonance today. And that I’m quite used to being ridiculous… 🙂

  2. You are NAUGHTY, Charlie – I wasn’t really suggesting that. Merely making a glib point which is (I think you’d agree with me) at least as true as the idea that Dave is never happier than when grinding the workers’ faces…

    It’s just a shame Osborne does have the sort of grinning smug face any right-minded person would want to punch.


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