It’s not like we haven’t seen where we’re headed before. One of the reasons for the war on individualism? Because it yields a desired result, a result, unfortunately, all to common in our history.
Auberon Herbert (via the WSJ) in "The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State", written in 1894, provides the lesson we’ve still apparently not learned:
We are fast getting rid of emperors and kings and dominant churches, as far as the mere outward form is concerned, but the soul of these men and these institutions is still living and breathing within us. We still want to exercise power, we still want to drive men our own way, and to possess the mind and body of our brothers as well as of our own selves. The only difference is that we do it in the name of a majority instead of in the name of divine right. . . .
In this case the possession of power would necessarily confer upon those who gained it such enormous privileges—if we are to speak of the miserable task of compulsion as privileges—the privileges of establishing and enforcing their own views in all matters, of treading out and suppressing the views to which they are opposed, of arranging and distributing all property, of regulating all occupations, that all those who still retained sufficient courage and energy to have views of their own would be condemned to live organized for ceaseless and bitter strife with each other.
In presence of unlimited power lodged in the hands of those who govern, in the absence of any universal acknowledgment of individual rights, the stakes for which men played would be so terribly great that they would shrink from no means to keep power out of the hands of their opponents. Not only would the scrupulous man become unscrupulous, and the pitiful man cruel, but the parties into which society divided itself would begin to perceive that to destroy or be destroyed was the one choice lying in front of them.
Sound familiar to anyone?
I’m amazed at times by what I read in major daily newspapers. OK, not as much now as I would have been say 10 or 15 years ago. Maybe it’s just awareness on my part now, but as I get older I am confronted by what I see as half-baked opinion on the pages of such rags than I ever remember before.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the one that’s gotten sharper over the years and am able to spot nonsense more easily than before. Take for instance, Nina Power of the Guardian. Power is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Roehampton University, so she can be forgiven for being somewhat removed from reality. In her opinion, which the Guardian gladly publishes, the problem of the riots in London and elsewhere can be laid at the feet of government and austerity policies. Why? Well let her explain:
Since the coalition came to power just over a year ago, the country has seen multiple student protests, occupations of dozens of universities, several strikes, a half-a-million-strong trade union march and now unrest on the streets of the capital (preceded by clashes with Bristol police in Stokes Croft earlier in the year). Each of these events was sparked by a different cause, yet all take place against a backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures. The government knows very well that it is taking a gamble, and that its policies run the risk of sparking mass unrest on a scale we haven’t seen since the early 1980s. With people taking to the streets of Tottenham, Edmonton, Brixton and elsewhere over the past few nights, we could be about to see the government enter a sustained and serious losing streak.
It’s the “brutal cuts” and the “enforced austerity measures”. Note she admits that “each of these events was sparked by a different cause”, however she then rejects that admission and claims that in reality they all come back to government cut backs.
Really? It couldn’t be good old technology aided criminality could it? Or something else completely? Or a combination of other things altogether?
For instance, in the next paragraph, she says:
The policies of the past year may have clarified the division between the entitled and the dispossessed in extreme terms, but the context for social unrest cuts much deeper. The fatal shooting of Mark Duggan last Thursday, where it appears, contrary to initial accounts, that only police bullets were fired, is another tragic event in a longer history of the Metropolitan police’s treatment of ordinary Londoners, especially those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and the singling out of specific areas and individuals for monitoring, stop and search and daily harassment.
One journalist wrote that he was surprised how many people in Tottenham knew of and were critical of the IPCC, but there should be nothing surprising about this. When you look at the figures for deaths in police custody (at least 333 since 1998 and not a single conviction of any police officer for any of them), then the IPCC and the courts are seen by many, quite reasonably, to be protecting the police rather than the people.
Oh, so it could be all about police harassment then and nothing to do with “brutal cuts” or austerity? It could be that the spark that lit this fire had to do with police treatment of minorities? It certainly seems that is what she’s saying. And of course the riots elsewhere could simply be copy-cat. Criminal gangs who learned the methods used in Tottenham and deploying them elsewhere to loot and avoid the police?
Well, yes, it could be. In fact, it could really have nothing at all to do with the “entitled and dispossessed”.
Combine understandable suspicion of and resentment towards the police based on experience and memory with high poverty and large unemployment and the reasons why people are taking to the streets become clear.
They do? What’s clear is she’s bound and determined to link them, that’s for sure. But clarity … yeah, not so much.
But that is necessary, even if not true, to conclude the following:
Those condemning the events of the past couple of nights in north London and elsewhere would do well to take a step back and consider the bigger picture: a country in which the richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest, where consumerism predicated on personal debt has been pushed for years as the solution to a faltering economy, and where, according to the OECD, social mobility is worse than any other developed country.
As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as "social problems" (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness – combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent – have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.
All of that from a riot against police that one could conclude was a long time fermenting. Recall the LA riots – was that because of “brutal cuts” and “enforced austerity measures”? Was the looting that took place then a result of “decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness” or mobs taking advantage of the lawlessness the riots brought to loot what they wanted?
And even if she’s half right – what’s the solution she’d desire? Well “equality” of course. She’d rather trample the rights of those who’ve won “life’s lottery” (even though they worked their rear ends off to do so) and redistribute it to the poor and disenfranchised than ask the poor and disenfranchised to do what is necessary to give themselves a chance in life and quit demanding others do it for them.
Collectivism, although she never comes out and says it, is her answer. And we’ve seen how well those equal societies did, didn’t we? Well at least those of us who had been born before the collapse of the USSR and objectively observed the outcome.
Yes, friends, a whole new generation of collectivists begin to rear their heads, some having never seen what the collectivism of the last century brought in terms of “equality” - Equality of misery, equality of oppression and equality of hopelessness.
The problem in the UK isn’t austerity, it’s the results of collectivism and the fact that the inevitable outcome has begun. It isn’t individualism that’s the fault. It’s a massive state which robs people of incentive through it’s supposed benign acts of state sponsored charity. Why strive if you will be taken care of whether you do or not? Why seek food if you’re not hungry or don’t care what you eat? Why take care of yourself if the state will do it for you? And if you start running out of money, tax the rich bastards who want better.
Uncle Jimbo, at Blackfive, puts the exclamation mark on the real reason London is burning:
Liberal social policies have brought western civilization to the breaking point. They had the best of intentions, just ask them. But they, and sadly we, are getting a heaping dose of the law of unintended consequences. If you train an entire cohort of society to believe that the government doesn’t just offer a safety net but a way of life, well you get this- gangs of scum who will take what they want if the free lunch stops showing up. The chattering class is doing their level best to paint this as a legitimate reaction to dire economic times, and for once I agree with them. This is what happens when you run out of other people’s money.
By the way, this isn’t just a one-off bit of nonsense from Ms. Power. She’s been quite active in the Guardian pages denouncing all sorts of things with titles such as “Don’t Assume the Police Are On Our Side”, which makes me wonder what “our side” might be, and “Happiness has been Consumed by Capitalism” which clarifies the sides.