And why I'm not mad for thinking that

Why I believe the Second Coming is imminent
(and am not mad for thinking so)

(c) Guy Blythman January 2011


(1) Predictions of the end

(2) Energy, Environment and Economics

(3) Science: Shrinking Horizons

(4) Science: Pandora’s Box?

(5) Culture and Anarchy: 1

(6) Culture and Anarchy: 2

(7) Culture and Anarchy: 3

(8) The Crisis of Government

(9) War and International Politics

(10) Conclusion


This book is intended to be a warning. Essentially, its argument is that within the next few years, certainly by the middle of the present century, all the problems currently faced by humanity will have worsened to the extent of either destroying it or lowering its quality of life such that death would actually be the most attractive option for us. I appreciate that not everyone will agree with my thesis, although I venture to suggest that many will reject it simply because it isn't what they wanted to hear. It is understandable that there should be a negative reaction; after all, the end of the world isn’t everyone’s favourite subject. Most of us would want life to continue with at least a chance of its being comfortable and happy enough to make the experience worthwhile. But quite apart from the lives of individuals being finite (advances in medical technology may for all we know result in their being extended indefinitely, but as will be argued later on in the book this might not be altogether a good thing), we can’t say for certain that the world won’t end at some point in the future – for all we know, it could happen as soon as five minutes’ time – and it makes every sense, if we do want life to continue in some hopefully congenial form, to at least explore the possibilities of there being some lifeboat which enables us to achieve that goal. It amazes me that some people do themselves down sufficiently to not be interested in the possibility of eternal life and eternal bliss, especially when this world never meets all our expectations of it and gives some people – the poor, the unemployed, the enslaved, the bullied, those suffering from afflictions of body and mind – a particularly hard time. We’re not so bad that we don’t deserve at least the chance of it; at least, that is what God thinks about the matter.
I don’t claim to be perfect but I hope you will accept my assurances that the book was written from altruistic motives – from compassion, and not misanthropy. My brief isn’t to be some morbid prophet of doom but rather to warn people of what is to come so they can take the action necessary to gain entry to the much better world which I believe will replace this one. There are theological reasons why our current existence is imperfect, the imperfection carrying within it the seeds of ultimate destruction, and God has I believe been wise enough to allow the symptoms of final disintegration to serve as warning signs. Nor, even though I desire that the wicked should be punished for their sins, do I not think it would be far better if they were to repent and so be saved when the end comes, if they are still in their earthly bodies at the time.
In discussing all the things currently going wrong with Western society, I may seem much of the time to be describing what is first and foremost a British situation. In this country we are all very familiar with the problems of excessive political correctness and excessive bureaucracy, an over-mighty private sector, soaring costs of living, an absurd benefits system, increasingly antisocial behaviour, etcetera. To some extent it’s inevitable; I naturally have more experience of what goes on in my own country than of what goes on in others’, am more acquainted with its problems. But there’s also a justification for focusing so much on the situation here. The collapse of Western society will happen in Britain first because, due to its combination of small size and large population, it is the part of the West suffering most from overcrowding and stretched resources. Besides, what conversations I have had with people from other European countries suggests that the problems Britain is facing are being experienced there as well, if not - yet - on the same scale or in exactly the same way.
Since it’s easy when fervently believing that the Second Coming is imminent to get carried away and become a bit hysterical, I felt it was important to debunk one or two myths. Some things which people speculate, or fear, may happen in the future, such as machines taking over society and making people their slaves, will not, I believe, come about. They won’t be among the factors bringing about the End; although other things might be. At other times, I may describe a particular person as if they are still holding political office, when in fact they aren’t, or seem unawre of some important development in international affairs. Please bear with me; the world scene changes all the time, in all areas of human activity, and although of course it is my intention to regularly revise the content of the book where possible, inevitably where purely factual matters are concerned it will sometimes be out of date.
Some of the issues I refer to in the book may not seem to be quite so pressing at the time you read it. But problems have a habit of going away and then coming back again. They do have peaks and troughs, or maybe the media have simply lost interest in them, or people got tired of complaining. They will nevertheless remain in the long term problems and the general trend be for them to worsen.
You will have gathered that the book is written from an unashamedly Christian standpoint. I stress the “unashamedly”. I happen to believe in the orthodox Christian view that the earthly world will one day end, after which all humanity will be judged by God and those worthy of eternal life will gain it, while those who are not worthy of it won’t gain it. With respect to decent Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Jains, Zoroastrians etcetera I also believe that Christianity cannot be viewed as only one out of a number of religions to which it is of equal, but not greater, value, since to accord all those belief systems the same value would be to debase them equally – though there are many similarities between them there are also many differences, and what is contradictory is rendered nonsensical. It has been the norm of late in western society to follow a philosophy of syncretism in religious matters (which includes not having any religion at all if you feel so inclined), but just because it is generally accepted practice does not mean it is right.
My Christianity was a matter of approaching the subject of “religion” with a spiritually and intellectually open mind. The conclusions reached in the book have been arrived at after much careful thought and observation over a period of five to ten years. Those who are not religious or are frightened by its message may respond by criticising it as arrogant or dismissing it as nonsense. They are of course perfectly at liberty to do so. All I ask is that they not be prejudiced against it by any dislike for Christianity but judge it on its merits. As I see it, its conclusions would be accurate even if I was not religious and the sceptics were right about there being no afterlife. Without that promise of a better world, however, they would be unbearably depressing. No doubt they are depressing anyway, to those who are accustomed to the familiar world we've all inhabited for however long we've been alive, but it is beyond my brief or my power, I’m afraid, to put that right.
People with whom I have debated religious topics often dismiss my views with the words "oh, well of course you would say that, you're a Christian." Yes, I am a Christian, but I am one because I happen to believe certain things, rather than someone who believes certain things because he is a Christian. Exactly why Christianity is the answer to the problem of a disintegrating world is set out in the final chapter. For a really comprehensive discussion of the subject I would have to refer the reader to my The Mills of God, or for that matter to the Bible, the works of C S Lewis, or indeed a great many other religious writings all of which were intended, after all, to point people in what their authors considered was the right direction.


Predictions of the End
People have been talking about the end of the world for years. I see no benefit in attempting to list all those others who in recent or not so recent years have indulged in predicting when it will come, explaining how it’s foretold in ancient writings and attempting to describing the precise form the catastrophe will take. That would be a subject in its own right, and there are other books which deal with it far more comprehensively than I have time to here.
One ought, I suppose, to mention Nostradamus, the most famous prophet of the end, who puts the date of the Second Coming of Christ, which precedes and heralds the Last Judgement, at July 1999 (near enough). He doesn’t seem to have been right all the time; some of what he says is difficult or impossible to understand, given that he was using the language of his time and translations may not always be accurate. Also, if we are to believe the majority of his predictions, most of human history over the past four hundred years would seem to have been predetermined, and without going into an in-depth philosophical discussion of the subject it is generally accepted that we have free will. Although it might be possible to be sure of the broad general trends, much else, including the identity of the leading protagonists who made their own decisions whether to go into politics, or the church, or soldiering, must be down to personal choice and not affected by any external factor.
Where did Nostradamus get his information, in any case; did he have a hotline to God? Unless the latter had personally revealed the truth to him, and neither the believer nor the secularist has any evidence for that, Christians should be wary of setting too much store by what he says. It is worth noting that he appears to have been right quite a bit of the time at least. It looks like he accurately predicted the rise of Hitler, whose name he gets wrong only by one letter (Hister), that the English parliament would rebel against the monarch and execute him, and the Gulf War, which among other things saw the sky over Kuwait darkened by smoke from Saddam Hussein's burning of the Kuwaiti oilfields ("Wicked and vile, a man of ill repute, the tyrant of Iraq comes in apace. With Babylon's Great Whore all plead their suit. Horrid the land shall be, and black its face"). On the other hand, although he might have been on the mark in informing his readers that “great efforts by a northern woman mannish” would “greatly vex the leaders of the Eastern peoples” – Margaret Thatcher, a champion of the free market, stood firmly against the potential threat to Western liberties from the Soviet Union and so was not popular with Russian leaders before Gorbachev – his forecast that this person would return to a position of prominence, having lost it, seems somewhat improbable in Thatcher’s case given that she is ageing, her powers impaired by the effects of a stroke, and was seen as increasingly distanced from reality and sound judgement even before she fell from power twenty years ago. The best approach to Nostradamus is to say that one is free to regard his predictions in whatever way one wants. It is impossible to decide whether the more accurate ones are simply an astonishing series of coincidences, or something more.
For a Christian, the greatest authority for what is likely to happen prior to the End must be the Bible. Here the Book of Revelations receives perhaps excessive attention. Some of it is bizarre and hard to make sense of anyway. But it’s often difficult to relate what happens in it to what is going on in the world today; it is possible that much of what it says concerns events which took place long ago, in particular the fall of the Roman Empire (“Babylon”). At the same time, there are other passages which seem to describe things that have yet to happen:
Revelation 8.7-11: "The first angel sounded: and hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth; and a third of the trees were burned up and all the green grass was burned up. Then the second angel sounded: and something like a great mountain burning with fire {a meteorite?} was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood; and a third of the living creatures in the sea died and a third of the ships were destroyed. Then the third angel sounded: and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and the springs of water; and the name of the star is Wormwood; and a third of the water became wormwood; and many men died from the water because it was made bitter."
Here we seem to be looking at some kind of massive natural disaster. Something like it may well have occurred in the past – an even more cataclysmic upheaval probably assisted in wiping out the dinosaurs – but there is a striking lack of historical evidence for it. And from the text these events do seem to immediately precede the end of the world.
Before we decide that this proves Revelations to be true, it’s worth noting that some doubt has been expressed over whether it (Revelations) is really canonical. I believe the impact of God’s interventions in the world during Biblical times was such that those who witnessed them could not have been mistaken about the main details – by which I mean that most of what is in the Bible deserves to be there, and so any doubts about the accuracy of Revelations needn’t be doubts about the truth of Christianity as a whole. However, we don’t really need to pay it as much heed as we do. Its fame, or notoriety, causes us to forget that it isn’t the only place in the Bible where predictions about the end of the world are to be found. There are also passages in the Gospels which describe the events of the End Time in a certain amount of detail:
Matthew 13 vs 17-23
"But woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days! And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on a sabbath: for then shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved: but for the elect's sake, those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is the Christ, or here; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect."
Matthew 24 3-14
"Take heed that no man lead you astray. For many shall come in my name, saying, "I am the Christ; and shall lead many astray. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines and earthquakes in diverse places. But all these things are the beginning of travail. Then shall they deliver you up unto tribulation, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of the nations for my name's sake. And then shall many stumble, and shall deliver up one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray. And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold. But he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations; and then shall the end come."
Matthew 13 v.24-25
"But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from Heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken..."
The account in Mark is essentially the same. Luke also, except for 25-26: "And there shall be signs in sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, in perplexity for the roaring of the sea and the billows; men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world..." And 21.25-27: "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."
We should also mention Joel 2:10: "There will be darkness, gloom, clouds and thick darkness, devouring fire, devastation, and much running to and fro. The earth shall quake...the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon shall be dark, the stars shall withdraw their shining."
Some passages are hard to interpret; for example it is not clear why all the trouble should take place in the winter or on a Sunday, or where the “flight” from it would be to, or what the bellows are that roar in Luke 25-26. It may be that the worst of this is yet to come. But either it is going to happen, or it strikes a chord uncomfortably in the mind, suggesting that it is happening now. The trends which are forecast to precede the End are certainly ones we are very familiar with, and the correspondence between prediction and reality seems too close to be a coincidence. There have undoubtedly been “earthquakes in diverse places” during the past twenty years; in Japan, Iran, Haiti, the United States, New Zealand, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, China, Indonesia, India, Russia, Egypt, Samoa, Honduras, East Timor, Algeria, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tonga, Italy, Afghanistan, Morocco, Greece, Chile, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Mozambique, Congo, the Solomon Islands. There have even been one or two in this country: the Folkestone/Dover ‘quake in April 2007 and one in the Midlands/Lincolnshire region a little later. Earthquakes in Britain have tended to be isolated incidents (like that at Colchester, Essex, in 1884) and relatively slight. But when you get them here not just at all but with more than one occurring within a relatively short time, it is a sign that something fundamental really has changed, and gives some idea of what can happen, is happening, elsewhere in the world where quakes are in any case more frequent and more devastating. It must be part of an overall global trend, and as in many other things it is that trend which is the crucial point. The number of earthquakes and volcanoes that have been reported on our TV screens over just the last 20 years is striking, even given the fact that in the modern world these events are more likely to be recorded and studied and so may only seem to be more common. My 1995 edition of Larousse’s Pocket Factfinder lists sixty-four earthquakes known to have occurred between AD 526 and the year of publication. Of the 53 mentioned which had happened since 1906 (by which time more effective records including measurement of intensity on the Richter Scale had begun), twenty-two had occurred in the five years 1990-1995. Wikipedia records 873 earthquakes involving fatalities (and including aftershocks, which can destroy life or property just as the main shock does) between 1900 and 1990, and over half as many (439) from 1990 up to April 2010. These represent high enough percentages to suggest an increase in geological instability that has nothing to do with more efficient and assiduous record-taking.
An increase in earthquakes in those parts of the world where they already tend to happen, plus those where they don’t, indicates an overall worsening of this particular problem. Meanwhile “signs and wonders” could refer to the Halle-Bopp and Shoemaker-Levy comets, and the various eclipses which have occurred in the last few years. Major famines have afflicted Sudan and Ethiopia. The passages where the sea and waves roar will resound (in a manner of speaking) with anyone who experienced or was otherwise affected by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
“And then shall many stumble, and shall deliver up one another, and shall hate each other.” There is little doubt that the last few decades have seen a general decline in moral standards, leading to a lack of trust in one’s fellow citizens and bitter litigation cases. There have certainly been many “false prophets”, in the shape of all those dodgy religious cult leaders, many of them claiming to be Christians, who turn out to be guilty of brainwashing, financial misconduct and/or spending their organisations’ money on prostitutes and concubines. “And because iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of the many shall wax cold.” The decline in virtue and morality has led us to become very cynical about society and to lose faith in any attempt to improve it, including on the part of those institutions such as the Church who are supposed to be in the forefront of thwarting the disaster but appear, at times, to have been caught up in it themselves or be simply ineffectual.
“Kingdom shall rise against kingdom.” Not necessarily an accurate description of what is currently happening geopolitically, because the worst problems - breakdown of law and order, poverty, the energy crisis and threats to the natural environment - are those affecting all nations, i.e. they are internal rather than external. It might however be accurate in the future. “Then shall they deliver you up unto tribulation, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of the nations for my name's sake.” Persecution of Christians goes in in Muslim countries and areas in Africa and Asia, and may even be said to take place, though in a very different (yet no less soul-destroying to the believer) form, in Britain, in the contempt shown towards the Church by the media and intellectual establishment, and the bringing of legal cases against Christian individuals (often elderly) and organisations for supposedly saying or doing something considered offensive in a multicultural society. “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations.” And yet, with modern communications the opportunities for spreading the Gospel worldwide have never, in the last hundred years, been greater, and there are few if any nations which have not had some contact with Christianity. Even if people don’t always listen to what is being said.
Sceptics will of course point out that Jesus several times gives the impression that the End will come in the lifetime of his disciples, which it clearly didn’t. All that can be said in response is that Jesus was born into a particular culture at a particular point in history; he was a man of his time, sharing its beliefs (one of which was that the end of days was imminent). Those beliefs could sometimes be mistaken (he may have been without sin, but no-one who whatever else they may have been was truly human could possibly be without fault). The important thing is that his predictions do match, in a way I believe is more than coincidental, what is taking place in the world today; he was simply being a little premature.

There are times when prophesying the end of the world has become something of an industry, and of course when the end does not come the whole idea of it tends to be discredited. Some are extreme in the way they interpret the signs, reminding one of the Bishop of Carlisle who decreed (though not necessarily with the Second Coming in mind) that the floods which afflicted parts of central and northern England in the summer of 2007 were a sign of God’s wrath at the legalization of “civil partnerships” between homosexuals. Leaving aside the issue of whether or not homosexuality, and thus liberality towards it, is indeed immoral, something it is not this book’s brief to discuss, it seems a little odd that God would punish that particular sin, if it is a sin, in that particular fashion; one may as well suggest that in a few months’ time there will be a volcano in Cornwall because of yob culture.
However, just because there have been so many false alarms does not mean the end won’t actually happen some time in the future. We shouldn’t choose not to believe in the end of the world and the Day of Judgement just because the idea of them isn’t to our liking, or some people have got excited and jumped the gun. In the story of the boy who cried wolf, could it not be that the shepherds were at least partly to blame?
It is also unwise if one is going so far as to identify an exact, or almost so, date on which the End is supposed to happen. That is an area where neither the Bible nor anything else give us any clues, rendering it therefore a matter for speculation only; and there aren't even any grounds on which one can speculate. In Matthew 24 v.36 Jesus tells us, “Yet about that day and hour no-one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son; no-one but the Father alone.” Some have seen this as an excuse to be complacent about the End and not look for signs of its coming or warn others about it, but they ignore one very important point. By his own admission Jesus is not attempting to tell us the precise date but he does tell us what will precede it, the aim obviously being to give people a rough idea of the time period in which the End will take place – especially useful for those actually living in that era - so that they may prepare themselves for it. Only a couple of sentences before he urged his listeners, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its tender shoots appear and are breaking into leaf, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you may know that the end is near, at the very door.” I believe the people of this current period of history – the early twenty-first century – are capable of recognising the signs and acting on them, though too often they do not.
For the above reasons, the question "how long have we got left?" is not one we can answer with exact accuracy, but one of the passages from Matthew quoted above needs especially to be borne in mind: "And except those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." If the problems that the world has recently begun to experience continue to worsen, life for Man will be hideous in the extreme; the physical and mental suffering will be unbearable. God does not wish things to get to such a stage, for that would be unfair on those who are living their lives in the correct way and deserve to suffer far less than those who are not; although any sufferings they do go through would of course be more than made up for by an eternity of bliss in Heaven, there is still no reason, if God is a God of love and all suffering undesirable, why their Earthly tribulations should be unnecessarily prolonged or severe, if His purposes are accomplished and everyone has had ample time to repent and turn back to him. This suggests to me that the Second Coming will take place sooner rather than later, and is another reason to change one's ways now.
It may be significant, though I don’t know to what extent, to point out that it’s not only in the Bible, or indeed Christianity as a whole, that prophecies concerning the End are made which square with the increasing dysfunctionality and precariousness, presaging maybe a global disaster unparallelled in human history, of the world at the present time – even if some appear to be out, as far as dates are concerned, by a few years at least. William Butler Yeats, the poet who predicted a Celtic Armageddon in 1899, seems to have expected the end of the Christian era in 2000, when the rough beast, "its hour come at last", would slouch to replace Jesus. So does the Reverend Tim la Haye, and so did several other ecclesiastics: Protestant ministers like Robert Fleming in the eighteenth century and Robert Scott in the nineteenth; or the Catholic canon Rodriguez Cristino Morando in the twentieth. The prophecy of St Malachy, a twelfth century Irish monk, places the late John Paul II as the third Pope from the last. The Maya believed that they were living in the fifth age of the sun: that prior to the creation of modern men there had been four previous races and four previous ages. These had all been destroyed in great catastrophes, leaving few survivors to tell the tale. According to Mayan chronology the present age started on 12 August 3114 BC and is to end – ominously - on 22 December 2012 AD.(1)
Muslim teaching on the End is that only Allah knows when the end will come, but certain signs will signal its arrival. In the final days faith in true religion will have declined; morals will be loosened into chaotic permissiveness; and tumults and great wars will take place (sound familiar?). Before the end comes, wise men will wish themselves dead. Sikh predictions are similar.
Tyretta Muhammad, a numerologist belonging to the Nation of Islam (which organization is not everyone’s cup of tea, I will concede), once calculated the code of the Koran to conclude that we could expect the end in 2001.(2)
You might ask why I as a Christian should give any credence to the beliefs of other religions or of cultures that did not know Christianity. But most Christians nowadays would accept that even though those other religions may not represent ultimate truth in the same way that Christianity does there is nevertheless a lot of good in them, and a lot of things which may be accurate. Certainly it seems far too much of a coincidence that the predictions of the great religions, which in some cases involve a date for the final apocalypse that is not too far in the future, or which falls within roughly the same time frame, our own, even if the year specified has actually been and gone - should square so much with what is actually happening in the modern world, especially when, as this book is intended to show, there are sound reasons for thinking that things cannot continue for long without some enormous collapse in every aspect of human affairs, their nature and complexity being what they now are. It all rings a bell which echoes rather uncomfortably around the interior of one’s head.
On quite a few occasions during the past couple of decades people have been known to suggest that we have reached, or may have reached, "the end of history". They do not mean that events would cease to happen; because they see history in terms not of events, or only of events, but rather the different political and sociological systems societies may adopt and the rivalry between them. Their belief seems to be that human society has attained a form which is unlikely to change because (a) it more or less meets everyone’s needs, or will do once, in the fullness of time, it becomes truly universal; and (b), the alternatives have been discredited. What has given rise to such talk is the final triumph, or so it might seem, of capitalism over communism - those two systems being, in a secular world, the principal contenders for the hearts and minds of people - and capitalism's establishment as the dominant social and political philosophy. It is a little hard to see why the resolution of one particular issue, the end of one particular historical trend, should lead us to suppose history itself to be over; but the suggestion is of value in that it raises the whole question of whether history does have an ending, and whether we may be said to be approaching it. If history is moving towards a goal, then it would be correct once it was reached to say that history had ended, if "history" were identified as the progress towards the goal. If following its achievement time still went on and things - whether good or bad - still happened to people, then history would not have ended, if we see it as a succession of events (and particularly if those events were important). As for the desirability or otherwise of it ending, well if the goal was a good one – and the whole concept of what we are discussing here implies that its goodness would include its being so good that nobody would find the endless continuation of a particular state of affairs boring - then nobody would mind that it was over. They would, of course, history ended in something bad (in which category one may include boredom); while if the outcome was neutral in terms of its contribution to the sum total of human happiness then it would not be worth bothering about.
Whether, if it should actually happen, the “end of history” is going to be something unwelcome is either a matter of conjecture (we would hope it won’t be something unwelcome, of course) or, for a Christian, depends on the individual and whether he or she gets to Heaven. But one thing is clear to my mind; unless the way our minds work, and the nature of the world around us, are radically altered (as they will be in Heaven) then if the end of history means that things no longer change it undoubtedly is unwelcome, because then we would indeed get terminally bored. We thrive on novelty, or at least variety. We sometimes change things just for the sake of change, throwing out a government partly because it has been in power for too long and not necessarily because the opposition’s policies were more sensible. We want things to be exciting, different, new, which indeed is the whole way in which the triumphant capitalist system operates within the West. Fashions change, and companies selling a given commodity must take note of that or cease to make a profit. There doesn’t even have to be any technical deficiency on the part of the old product when compared to the new. And although proponents of the “end of history” thesis don’t seem to think in terms of some kind of utopia emerging and everything we could possibly worry about disappearing forever, it’s a pretty safe bet historians, journalists and probably everyone else too would find it impossibly dull and tedious if we always had to face the same kind of problems, the same kind of issues, enjoyed the same kind of benefits from life and suffered from the same kind of disadvantages. So we should not be celebratory, or at the other end of the scale apathetic, about the “end of history”. Presumably when historians and philosophers speak of it they do not mean the total destruction of the Earth and its inhabitants (which would certainly constitute the "end of history", if we leave out the question of whether intelligent life exists on other planets). But the end of all change would be just as terrible a catastrophe.
The problem with deciding whether history has a goal is that to speak of one seems odd in a mindless universe which has no creative intelligence, always assuming that the universe really is like that. We would have to bring some kind of God into the picture; and we'd also have to decide which God, since there are at least several. If the Christian one is the authentic version, then the goal is the salvation of Mankind through Jesus Christ so that it may be worthy of eternal life in the new world God is to create to replace our present, imperfect one. At this stage however I don’t want to discuss the merits of a theistic view of things but rather whether, if we divorce ourselves from our present situation and from millennial tension, we can find any reason to think the human race, or the quality - and thus the purpose - of its existence will inevitably end at some point, and when that might happen.
It occurs to me that we may be doomed simply by the passage of time. Our society needs to acquire knowledge in order to make progress and to properly manage the world in which it lives; and also to record that knowledge for the vital cultural purpose of commemorating the achievements of past generations while transmitting what they have discovered to future ones. Is there a limit to the amount of knowledge we can attain, and could the actual process of attaining it become a problem? The former would certainly be disastrous. Knowing everything, assuming that’s possible, might be a tragedy because then life might lose its interest. But regardless of whether it is possible to learn everything we are certainly in trouble if we can no longer learn anything, because then our societies would begin to stagnate.
Whether human knowledge can be infinite depends on the extent of our ability to acquire it and also the number of facts there are to be known. A fact can be one of three things:
(1) Something existing in a certain place
(2) Something having a certain nature
(3) Something behaving in a certain way
(1) depends on whether space is infinite. My view is that it is, for there is no particular reason why it should begin or end at any given point.
Since the nature of things, and thus their ability to behave in a certain way, ultimately depends on the manner in which the subatomic particles which ultimately constitute them up are arranged, (2) and (3) depend on whether there can be an infinite number of arrangements (I don't know if there can).
Knowing that something existed at a certain place might or might not be significant (I should stress here that what concerns us is the number of knowable facts that are interesting, since if they weren't we might as well be unaware of them, for we'd be as crushingly bored as we would if we couldn't know them at all). Whether or not it would be significant depends on what its presence there tells us about it, its location, or the universe as a whole. In other words, facts other than its presence at point X or point Y would have to be involved. So ultimately the location of something is not, in itself, of any value to us; it is still a question of the natures of things. If the number of the combinations of particles that creates their nature and determines their behaviour is infinite, then life will be forever fascinating as we unravel more and more of its mysteries without ever discovering so much that we become subject to grinding boredom. If it is not infinite, then we have a problem.
As stated above there is also the question of our ability to acquire knowledge, regardless of whether it is there to be acquired. If there are things we don't see, this may be because our relatively limited minds and relatively inefficient senses are incapable of perceiving them, and our science not yet sufficiently advanced, impressive though it may be, to compensate for that natural deficiency. Often, we would only know this to be the case if we could see them. We have no way of knowing how we, or our science, is going to evolve in the future; so whether the knowledge attainable to us is finite depends upon the number of combinations of particles being finite too.
There is one problem which would arise whether or not knowledge has an ultimate limit to it. It is clear that if human history is to go on indefinitely, or permanently, then a stage must at some point be reached when the records produced by all Man's activities become too extensive to be stored and managed effectively and will have to be gradually destroyed. Since to start the destruction with relics from the earliest period of human existence and continuing through antiquity, the Middle Ages, etc, at as fast a rate as was necessary to achieve the objective, would leave us without any knowledge of key periods of history the best thing would be to destroy only a selection of items (whether in the form of documents or physical objects), beginning with the least important. But since it is often difficult to assess the relative value of one piece of historic material compared to another, and with lack of space continuing to be progressively a problem over time, we would inevitably end up junking the important things sooner or later. Computers wouldn’t solve the problem since even on a computer information would, as bytes, take up a certain amount of space.
The point when we have to start this spring cleaning will obviously not be reached for some considerable time - many hundreds, if not thousands or millions, of years - but it must nevertheless come. And when it does it will be incalculably tragic. Of course we are free to have a bleak and fatalistic belief in a never-ending cycle of societies and civilisations, none of which can always be known to the others. Such fatalism would be quite congenial to the atheist, who believes in an ultimately purposeless universe, but it’s no less depressing for that. If we are honest with ourselves, we would like to think that some record of our achievements, our trials and our triumphs, of what we were and what we did, will endure permanently. Although individual societies may have collapsed and left little or no trace of themselves behind, it was never their deliberate intention, or that of humanity as a whole, to be completely erased from posterity.
Whatever the ultimate storage capacity of the human mind, we simply will not have the resources to study and to teach all the historical eras and phenomena which may come and go during, say, the next 200 years, as well as all those we have already had. There would have to be periodic, or ongoing, destructions of records. And the consequences of that are clearly unwelcome even though we would still have recorded knowledge going back thousands of years. The erasure of all records of a particular historical era (supposing that to be possible), meaning that its achievements would ultimately have been futile because it could bequeath no lasting legacy to its successors, must surely be unacceptable to those who, religious or otherwise, believe life has a purpose. Not least because the periods information on which has to be deleted will one day include our own, even if the records won’t have to be wiped for another few millennia.
When exactly the point at which we have to stop disseminating the information will be reached is hard to say. I think it will come about sooner than will the need to physically destroy records, but come it must eventually. Even if there were no physical difficulties of storage there is still the problem that the human selfconsciousness cannot accommodate too much historical knowledge because it simply cannot conceive of spans of time beyond a certain extent. Probably, once information overload becomes a serious enough problem, some psychological mechanism will simply shut out a sufficient number of facts, confining them to the subsconscious, in order to compensate.
The effect of the erasure of all the facts from our minds, assuming that were possible, would have far more serious implications than just the destruction of the physical evidence. It would mean we would not know our own history, and since it is essential for our cultural wellbeing and sense of identity to be aware of our past the result would be cultural degradation. (Obviously, the knowledge excised would eventually include that of our origins as a species, and if we have no clear knowledge or picture of our origins, however lowly they were, we are debased as a consequence.) The only way out would be to deliberately distort the historical record, lying about when events took place; as all historians will agree, this would be setting a dangerous precedent because it is culturally, as well as morally and intellectually, vital that the past is accurately represented.
The process of erasure would be a dauntingly onerous one. We would also have to destroy all the physical evidence for the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Victorians etc., because the sight or other experience of them would lead to their entry into our consciousness. We would have to stop all archaeological, and perhaps other, research because we might discover something about them, deliberately or accidentally; they would then re-enter our awareness and lead to confusion and information overload. Societies of which we had no previous knowledge would enter it for the first time, once we unearthed the bodies of their dead or specimens of their jewellery; and to attempt to discover everything still to be found so that it could be destroyed would be impossible and time-consuming. The discovery of any fact about a past era which had not previously been known would sabotage the whole process of rewriting the past so as to make it easier for our consciousness to manage (the physical evidence would clearly contradict the written version now being taught in schools and colleges), and indeed, by the accumulation of facts, make it necessary to erase more recent eras from our consciousness as well as distant ones. In any case the temptation to learn about either known or hitherto undiscovered cultures would always be impossible to resist and draconian laws would have to be passed to make sure that people did not try to do so. But even if we didn’t do so, and started forgetting what we did know automatically as a means of psychologically compensating for the info overload, the results would still be hideous. We can postpone the evil day by putting records underground, say, or on other planets once we have perfected the technology to send people there. The latter seems an ideal solution, given the sheer size of a universe which may be endless - as long as one was prepared to travel that far to consult the material, which they might not be. But that still wouldn’t solve the psychological problems of information overload.

Is it likely that the extinction of humanity will take place for purely biological/ecological reasons, because dominant species have died out before for one reason or another? It doesn’t follow that because plenty of other life forms have become extinct that we will necessarily do so too. There may be additional factors involved which from a biological point of view will prevent that happening, most importantly Man’s ability to adapt his environment to suit himself rather the other way round, which might enable him to survive any disruption caused by the continuing process of continental drift or (where it is natural in origin) climate change. But it’s as well to bear in mind that there undoubtedly is a precedent for a dominant species, or indeed many kinds of species, disappearing. The biologist Peter Ward tells us that during the last 570 million years there have been about fifteen mass extinctions. “Five of these may have involved as many as 50% of the earth's species, and two can be classified as "major", in the sense that they completely reorganised the ecosystems in the sea and, more relevant to humanity, on land.”(3) That we don’t yet fully understand why these extinctions occurred means that just as we can’t say with certainty one will happen to us, we can’t say with certainty that it won’t. We have good reason to feel vulnerable. Ward: “The first of….two major mass extinctions occurred 245 million years ago. Being the oldest, this first event is still the most poorly known, and its causes are largely unresolved. Many scientists believe that it was brought about by a slow, inexorable change in climate and sea level when continental drift caused the continents to merge into a single gigantic supercontinent. This was a new world of endless glaciers and waterless deserts, of temperature extremes between winter and summer: a land of extinction. By the time the continents had finally separated more than 90% of species had died. This great extinction swept away most of the marine and land-living animal life, ending a 200-million-year-long evolutionary history geologists have named the Paleozoic era.”(4)
Ward seems more certain about the reasons for the second major extinction, which took place some 65 million years ago and is thought to have wiped the dinosaurs from the face of the Earth. He attributes it to a combination of factors; first of all an increase in atmospheric temperature, which would have killed off many life forms, and a fall in sea level and then, on top of these upheavals, an impact with a large asteroid or comet, something for which there is actually geological evidence. The latter catastrophe caused widespread burning of forests and huge tidal waves, while great clouds of dust, along with poisonous gases from the fires, filled the atmosphere and blotted out the sun on whose light plants depended for their photosynthesis. Many of the plants died, both terrestrial and aquatic species, and with them the animals that fed on them. It is thought that well over 50% of all species on the planet perished, including the dinosaurs.(5)
There seems to be widespread agreement among scientists about the end of the dinosaurs being due to a multiplicity of causes. Besides the ones mentioned above, others that have been suggested include hormonal changes which meant they were not producing the right quantities of males or females; competition from mammals which ate their eggs; the evolution of new types of plant to which the dinosaurs’ digestion was not suited and which was poisonous to their metabolism; and, significantly perhaps, various factors which might be considered environmental. The heating of the atmosphere, with a rise in CO2 levels, may have been caused by an increase in the number of volcanic eruptions (such as appears to be happening now), or by the changes in sea level. The ash and dust in the air from the eruptions would have added to that thrown up by the asteroid (or comet or meteorite) hitting the surface and the volcanic gases stripped away the ozone layer so that the dinosaurs or the plants and animals they fed on were killed by ultraviolet radiation from the sun (whose energy would be reaching the Earth in the form of light if not heat). The planet’s magnetic field may have reversed, changing poles, and in the process left it exposed to harmful solar radiation. Freshwater spilling from the Arctic Circle reduced the salt content of the oceans, leading both to climate change and to the extinction of much marine life. Finally a supernova could have exploded in a nearby solar system, which would have had a destructive effect upon life in ours.(6)
Ward believes there is “mounting evidence that a third great extinction has begun.”(7) Not all scientists agree with him on this, or think that if he is right the actual experience of the extinction, as opposed to the prospect of it, is imminent. Some accept that it is happening but believe the overall effect will not be as devastating as is feared. I can accept that the catastrophe may be delayed, because no-one can ever predict the timing of such things with complete accuracy however scientifically skilled they are; it would require an omniscience which we don’t possess. What is harder to believe is that it will never happen. It seems to be an inbuilt feature of life on Earth that these extinctions periodically occur and there is no reason to suppose they will cease in the future unless some new factor in the equation alters the order of things in that respect. The only such factor that one can think of is of course the hand of Man; the emergence within the last few million years of a species with skills enabling it to change the natural environment to an extent and in a way no other has ever succeeded in achieving, especially within the two hundred and fifty years since the Industrial Revolution. And here, if anything, Man’s activities appear to have accelerated the rate of extinction rather than decreased it.
Ward is essentially correct in writing, “Like the previous two events the current mass extinction has a complex history and no single cause. It has been unfolding for millennia.”(8) Some of the causes of global warming and other environmental hazards threatening the Earth may be man-made. Others are probably natural, inbuilt somehow into the system (this is something which at the moment is insufficiently understood). That would not make them any less dangerous. In particular the likelihood that previous mass extinctions were caused, at least in part, by celestial bodies striking the Earth appears to hook up rather disturbingly with recent concern about the possibility, heightened by the astronomical phenomena like the Halle-Bopp comet, and with the apparent foretelling of such events in the Bible. And there remains the possibility that emissions of CO2 from industry and other by-products of our technology may be making the effects of climate change worse, and there are other ways in which our impact on the ecosystem may be damaging, overfishing being one example.
Commonsense and morality demand that if one has to make the choice, there is no arrogance in considering the loss of an intelligent, sentient species a greater tragedy than that of a non-sentient one (we are here leaving aside for simplicity’s sake the question of whether the distinction is valid, though most rational people however fond they were of animals would say that it was – and that of whether Man’s behaviour at times justifies his being called “intelligent”!), although it may well turn out that the survival of the sentient species is bound up with that of all the others. Here it’s worth noting that more than a hundred species of plants and animals are expected to be dying out each day by 2050, a higher rate than in most previous extinction crises(9). And even if we have been guilty of the most appalling environmental vandalism, that cannot mean our dying out should be regarded as a just punishment (we ourselves would not, for the most part, be excited by the prospect). The question therefore is whether Man can change his lifestyle sufficiently to stop the ecological rot, or in some way adapt to it (regardless of whether that itself involves lifestyle changes); or will himself be caught up in this latest mass extinction (however much he is responsible for it) and perish or his skills at moulding his environment enable him to pull through. A major upheaval in the global ecosystem does not necessarily mean the disappearance of a given species – there are, after all, some which are hundreds of millions of years old and still flourishing – and Man’s unique skills might be thought to give him a particular advantage. Though we should bear the fact of past extinctions in mind, we cannot say that we will die out simply because of what may have occurred in this planet’s history in the past. But without divine intervention, become extinct I think we will, our technical skills apart, and in due course this book will show why.
If the dinosaurs died out from a variety of causes, then so too will humans. Some of the causes will be due to our own actions, some may be beyond our control. In as far as Man is still a part of the natural environment then, if periodic mass extinctions are a feature of that environment he will be vulnerable. And he is still a part of it, affected by it, because he can drown in floods, be killed in storms and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and heatwaves. Since he can’t eat metal and plastic he still survives on the products of agriculture rather than industry, on plant material that has been cultivated, or animals that have to be fed on plant material; if environmental conditions interfere with the growing of the crops he or his food animals need he is liable to starvation.
But the situation is partly of his own making. The extinction cycle will destroy Man, he is a part of it, because it is being exacerbated by the particular demands he as a species, his society being especially complex, makes on the ecosystem, demands it cannot meet; and because his efforts to escape the extinction cycle will lead him down paths which will be ultimately disastrous for him. It could be argued that it is only one of the various human societies, the West, which by its high level of industrialization is causing all the damage to the ecology. But it is a part of the complexity, the diversity, of the human world that such a society, different from those which have traditionally been agriculture-based and pastoral in outlook, exists, while some of the less developed societies are showing a keen desire to catch up with it technologically, feeling it to be most unfair if they are not allowed to do so.
The disappearance of species appears to be the result of a complex interplay of different factors and the extinction of Man will demonstrate that, the more so because his own society is complex, and particularly so. His impact on the natural environment, which however unavoidable is rebounding against himself, the development of increasingly advanced and thus destructive technology which the flaws in his nature will cause to be used for the wrong purposes, the difficulty as his society grows more and more complex and populous of meeting diverse and often conflicting needs and desires, the exhaustion of his opportunities for cultural advance and enrichment, will all combine to bring about either his physical destruction or a decline in the quality of his life to the point where it is not really worth living. Some of these problems have little or nothing to do with physical environmental factors such as global warming, however caused. Indeed they might be viewed as wholly social and cultural rather than biological in nature, although a culture is that of a society and the sociology of living species, including non-human ones (such as apes and ants) has always been considered an important part of a biologist’s brief. It may just be a matter of semantics.
It has been suggested that rather than die out, the dinosaurs simply evolved into a new form of life – most probably birds. Whether or not such a thing will happen to Man is anyone’s guess. He may perhaps have freed himself from any dependence on the operation of natural selection by improved medical technology and artificial enhancement of his physical abilities. Such a thing would not necessarily be harmful provided there continued to be quality to life, if it bettered the human condition or made no difference to it other than facilitating continued survival; but as we shall see, the costs of going down such a path may far outweigh the benefits. Nor can we be sure it will be enough to protect us from a catastrophe on the scale of a mass “extinction event.”
None of us would mind naturally evolving into a new species, if that was what it took to survive, as long as we did not have to get used to our new form too suddenly; and there is little danger of that since the process of natural selection is gradual enough for us not to see or feel its effects even though we may know it is nonetheless taking place. But if natural evolution is still going on in the case of Man, it does not provide us with a rock-solid guarantee of survival; with many disastrous things predicted to happen within the next fifty years (a timespan much shorter than that over which major evolutionary change, in which category I include not just the emergence of a new species but its becoming dominant, occurs), there is a real possibility we will not be able to evolve fast enough to cope with the crisis, even given the tendency of evolution to happen in leaps and bounds. Natural selection obviously did not benefit those species wiped out in the previous extinctions.
It is also worth considering that if Man solves his problems, ecological and others, by evolving into a form that is very different from his present one – as opposed to just making a few changes such as a tougher skin which would better withstand increased solar radiation – there could be no communication between the new species and the old, if the former was as different from the latter as it would have to be to solve the problem, however long the evolutionary process took before it was eventually complete. By this I mean that although by studying the right records our descendants might be able to decipher our language, especially if all intelligent life forms converge to some extent in their thinking (which seems plausible), they could never be able to truly fully emphathise with their forebears - as is necessary for history to be the culturally enriching factor which it is, a communication between the past and the present. The structure of the brain, and of the body in so far as it effects the language the life form uses and its way of thinking (which it does), would be too different. You are of course free to believe in a bleak Universe where there is a succession of intelligent species, whether existing on the same planet or different planets, none of whom can have any true understanding or empathy with their successor or predecessor. Concerning why I think the cosmos is not and cannot be quite so depressing, you would need to refer to other writings on religion.

We are concerned in this book with the fate of the human race as a whole, rather than any particular part of it; but it’s relevant here to consider the question of how civilizations collapse, or whether they will do so at all, not least because we might, in an era of mass communication and international travel which has brought nations into contact with each other as never before, be said to be members of a single world civilization such as has not existed until now. Linked to this is the belief that we have reached “the end of history”, because that supposed culmination of all things is seen in terms of the position of global supremacy established for itself by Western capitalism, Western customs and Western political structures. In popular perceptions, the definitive expression of this theory is found in Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man.” Fukuyama, who has worked for the American government and might be seen as very much a product of the kind of society whose success in replicating itself he seeks to draw attention to, has been considerably reviled, or ridiculed as deranged, by left-wing thinkers yet he emerges in the end not so much the triumphalist champion of a system he declares to be now eternal and immutable as in fact somewhat uncertain. His book seems to give the impression that he thinks Western dominance cannot be challenged, yet on a number of occasions he questions whether it really will continue, eventually drawing all earthly societies into its orbit, or protest against the flaws in the system lead to a revolutionary upheaval that will see it dethroned or at least forced to retreat a little.
"What I had suggested {in an article in the journal "The National Interest" in Summer 1989, out of which the book developed},” he writes in the foreword, “had come to an end was not the occurrence of events, even large and grave events, but History: that is, history understood as a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all times…{on pages xi – xii} I argued that...while earlier forms of government were characterised by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy would be arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions. This was not to say that today's liberal democracies, like the US, France or Switzerland, were not without injustice or serious social problems. But these problems were ones of incomplete implementation of the twin principles of liberty and equality on which modern democracy is founded rather than of flaws in the principles themselves." Because of the impetus provided by technological progress, which is best facilitated by a democratic free market political system which can make full use of everyone’s talents, and pressure from the people or at least from important interest groups within society to have their status and their achievements recognized, in the fullness of time liberal democracy despite its admitted faults will triumph everywhere, including, eventually, in tribal societies which have not themselves remained entirely static throughout their history. And yet in his closing passage (p338-39), he implies that it is not necessarily the final irrevocable phase of human social, economic and political evolution. "...Mankind will come to seem like a long wagon train strung out along a road. {All} will discover that to get through the final mountain range they must use the same pass...the great majority of wagons will be making the slow journey into town and most will eventually arrive there. {But we cannot} in the final analysis know...whether their occupants, having looked around a bit at their new surroundings, will not find them inadequate and set their eyes on a new and more distant journey." The publisher’s blurb on the back asks if the discontent of the “last man in history”, meaning those who remain disadvantaged and excluded from the (relative) paradise of liberal capitalist domination (for there will always be some in this condition, with or without the best will in the world), will mushroom into a new situation of conflict, one which could challenge the status quo if not overthrow it altogether. What I think Fukuyama is arguing, in the end, is that liberal democracy will emerge as the dominant, universal system of government in the long run; but that “the long run” is not necessarily the same as forever. The achievement may not last. However unless there remains a degree of confusion in his approach to his subject – for no-one, unless they are talking only of earthly situations and reject the idea of a Second Coming followed by, hopefully, translation to eternal paradise in Heaven, can possibly view a dystopic outcome to everything with equanimity - the scenario of reversion to chaos and conflict, if it does become reality, is an alarming and depressing one. If as Fukuyama seems to be arguing liberal democracy is the best kind of government and society that’s attainable then its collapse (and for how long?) would inevitably lead to a deterioration rather than an improvement in the human condition.
It is part of the theme of this book (Facing The End} that the defects and contradictions in western capitalist democracy, which affect both its own citizens and those in areas which have not yet subscribed to it, are of such a nature that they will indeed lead to chaos and conflict, of a kind that many not be resolvable, if the earthly state of affairs continues for much longer. We have not yet reached the end of history because the issues which the flaws in the system, and the reaction to them, raise – such as the threat to the natural environment from continuing and rapid economic development; the misery felt by the poor and excluded; the socially damaging effects of technology; and the resentment at the general dominance of the white Western peoples, which may lead to a kind of inverted racism that itself engenders conflict, especially when combined with demographic and political changes that challenge both the whites’ position in the world and their sense of cultural identity - are only just beginning to emerge and many, for one reason or another, are not yet fully sensitive to them. But because of their capacity for causing violence and destruction they will in time bring about the end. We are not at the present time witnessing the end of history, but rather the beginning of its final, terrible, strife-ridden phase.
Perhaps liberal, capitalist democracy is the best form of government, whatever its drawbacks; it is the seriousness of the latter which is the problem. The growing threat of Islamic radicalism, which would be a source of trouble even if not dominated by evil people with a pathological hatred of Westerners, is but one argument disproving Fukuyama’s thesis. Even if, all things being equal, we are each of us destined to become democratic capitalists in the fullness of time, what happens when things are not equal? For all societies – and particularly those most distanced from it, such as the South American Indians and other tribal peoples - to become integrated into the democratic capitalist system will clearly take a very long time, however inevitable we see it as eventually, and the discontented state of the world, with so many potentially explosive issues bubbling just underneath the surface (and sometimes above it) suggests that disaster will overtake the process long before it has time to complete itself. Many tribal peoples, along with traditional Muslims in the Middle East, are quite happy to live in pastoral or monarchical societies and the obvious failings of the Western system, along with anger at its dominant position and perceived arrogance, are likely to strengthen their resistance against being absorbed into it.

Not only is Fukuyama uncertain whether such a point as “the end of history” will actually be reached, he does not say that it will be a thoroughly good thing if it is: "The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination and idealism will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history."
Quite. That is exactly what is going to happen, as chapter five of this book makes clear. And we should not relish it in the slightest.
Topical here, perhaps, is the question of what brings about the collapse of civilizations and whether those which are currently dominant are destined to go the way of the Greeks, the Romans, the Aztecs and the Incas, perhaps within the next hundred years or so, because of the stresses within and the tensions between them. I am here using the term “civilisation” as if it is synonymous within society – in other words any human community, within reason, that is governed by codes of conduct preventing behaviour that is socially or materially damaging is a “civilisation”. Whether the community is, for example, settled or nomadic makes no difference. Use of the term “civilisation” to distinguish between peoples who are technologically sophisticated and peoples who are not as derogatory and probably racist. To apply it to the Greeks and Romans but not to the “barbarian” tribes who inhabited northern Europe in classical times – a distinction which scholars have tended to observe in the past – would suggest the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Vikings (along with the Celts) were simply brutish thugs who got what they wanted by violence, which is in fact was not the case. Some societies are simply different from others; or they may in fact be surprisingly complex if judged objectively, or by their own standards and not that of the society of the observer.
The collapse of one society is not the same thing as the collapse of the whole world. But given modern communications, the economic expansion and technological progress of the West – which others are now seeking to emulate – and the nature of the issues which face Mankind in the twenty-first century, it could be said that although the globe is still divided politically and administratively into various units, a division accompanied and often reinforced by important cultural differences, we have in a sense a single world civilisation; that all countries, all societies, are inextricably linked with each other – bringing into being the “global village” - so that what goes wrong in one part of the world will adversely affect another. War, or disruptions in the supply of important commodities, may damage international trade and prosperity. That is another theme of this book. There are many good reasons for thinking the West is in decline, and that other societies which in many ways rival, or have been subjected to, it are by contrast increasing in wealth and power – or at least in their determination to no longer put up with a situation they find increasingly unacceptable. But there are stresses and strains within China and Islam too. Sexual immorality, and violence and explicit sex in the arts, have led to or been a manifestation of the decline of many past civilisations, such as Rome, and we are certainly seeing them in the West right now – I am less sure about other societies about which I inevitably have less experience - but Western decadence is only one culture-context-dependent aspect of a very complex problem.
Because societies may be interconnected does not mean they have equal power and status. Tensions within the global village, between those who enjoy a dominant position within it and those who consider themselves the underdogs, will ultimately destroy it. The West is not going to give up its hegemony without a fight - for all kinds of prudent and understandable reasons, as we will see in later chapters.
Factors which in the past may have destroyed only one civilisation are now of such importance that they could destroy many, because of increasing globalisation and interdependence. In the past civilisations have flourished and fallen as a result of regional climatic changes and many "hydraulic civilisations" were formed around the need to control river flow, collapsing when the flow was diverted for some reason. Today environmental problems, most notably global warming and its consequences, affect the survival of all Mankind.

(1) Eugen Weber, Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs Through the Ages (Pimlico 2000)
(2) Frederick J Baumgartner, Longing For The End: a history of millennialism in Western civilisation
(3) Peter Ward, "The End of Evolution: Dinosaurs, Mass Extinction and Biodiversity", Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1995
(4) ditto
(5) Ward, p158-9
(6) Ward
(7) Ward
(8) Ward
(9) Ward
(10) Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press 1992, Hamish Hamilton 1992

Here is Bill Bryson in A Short History of Everything (p256-7) on the volcano in Yellowstone National Park, USA:

“{Scientists}…were able to work out that the cycle of Yellowstone’s eruptions averaged one massive blow every 600,000 years. Yellowstone, it appears, is due {to erupt again shortly}…the ash fall from the last Yellowstone eruption covered all or parts of nineteen western states (plus parts of Canada and Mexico) – nearly the whole of the USA west of the Mississippi. This, bear in mind, is the breadbasket of America, an area that produces roughly half the world’s cereals. And ash, it is worth remembering, is not like a big snowfall that will melt in the spring. If you wanted to grow crops again, you would have to find some place to put all the ash…and that’s not even to consider the climatic consequences. The last supervolcanic eruption on Earth was at Toba in northern Sumatra, 74,000 years ago. Greenland ice cores show that it was followed by at least six years of “volcanic winter” and goodness knows how many poor growing seasons after that. The event, it is thought, may have carried humans right to the brink of extinction, reducing the global population to no more than a few thousand individuals.”

Energy, Environment and Economics
It is clear that something is not right with the environment. There are obvious signs that the polar ice caps are melting, threatening to cause serious flooding in low-lying areas over the next fifty years. Then there are the odd weather patterns which have been experienced of late in the Northern Hemisphere; bitterly cold (or unseasonably mild, by traditional standards) winters, severe storms, and long hot periods in the summer leading to severe water shortages. As well as unseasonable the weather is often changeable, alternating frustratingly between sunshine and showers. The Australian tennis player Pat Cash once commented, visiting England for Wimbledon, that the UK had four different kinds of weather each day. Floods and/or typhoons in the USA, Europe, Africa and Asia (in other words, all all the continents) prove that global warming is not a myth. Then there are the earthquakes and volcanoes. As well as being a threat to the physical safety of humans, the latter can release great quantities of dust and ash into the atmosphere, which can have a damaging environmental effect. Many species are on the verge of extinction. Pollution is doing enormous damage to our health and to the ecology. Along with overfishing (at least a quarter of all fish stocks are thought to be overharvested(1)), it has disrupted the ecological balance in the North and other seas and along owith pollution means that we may soon have problems finding fish at all.
Tim Radford, science editor of The Guardian, reported in an article in the newspaper on 30 March 2005 that two-thirds of the world's resources were "used up". He wrote:
“The human race is living beyond its means. A report backed by 1,360 scientists from 95 countries warns that wetlands, forests, savannahs, estuaries, coastal fisheries and other habitats that recycle air, water and nutrients for all living creatures are being irretrievably damaged. Because of human demand for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel, more land has been claimed for agriculture in the last 60 years than in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries combined and water withdrawals from lakes and rivers have doubled in the last 40 years. Humans now use between 40% and 50% of all available freshwater running off the land. Since 1980 about 35% of mangrove swamps have been lost, 20% of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed and another 20% badly degraded. Deforestation and other changes could increase the risks of malaria and cholera, and open the way for new and so far unknown diseases to emerge.
“Flow from rivers has been reduced dramatically. For parts of the year, the Yellow River in China, the Nile in Africa and the Colorado in North America dry up before they reach the ocean. An estimated 90% of the total weight of the ocean's large predators - tuna, swordfish and sharks - has disappeared in recent years. An estimated 12% of bird species, 25% of mammals and more than 30% of amphibians are threatened with extinction within the next century. Some of them are threatened by invaders. The Baltic Sea is now home to 100 creatures from other parts of the world, a third of them native to the Great Lakes of America. Conversely, a third of the 170 alien species in the Great Lakes are originally from the Baltic. Invaders can make dramatic changes: the arrival of the American comb jellyfish in the Black Sea led to the destruction of 26 commercially important stocks of fish. Global warming and climate change could make it increasingly difficult for surviving species to adapt.”
To add to the above, it is forecast that more than a hundred species of plants and animals will be disappearing per day by the year 2050. The rate is higher than for the previous mass extinctions which have occurred in natural history.(2)
The seriousness of these problems cannot be denied; we are still organic beings and as such remain dependent, despite our technological progress, upon the natural environment – even if the plants it produces are cultivated artificially - for the quality of our lives if not our very existence, and global warming threatens the food we eat as will be seen later on. And nature can kill through storms and other natural disasters. We therefore naturally try to identify the causes of the problems so we can then work out solutions to them (of which ceasing to be organic, like some of the beings one encounters in science fiction, is not one as will be made clear in a later chapter). Unfortunately to do the former, let alone the latter, can be extremely difficult.
In the case of the earthquakes and volcanoes, it is hard to say precisely why more of them are being experienced now than in any previous period of human history. It is not a question to which geologists have been able to come up with an answer. The cause does not seem to be underground nuclear testing – the explanation which comes most readily to mind - as this has very little effect on the stability of the Earth’s crust even though the latter is thinner, by comparison, than the shell of an egg. Without any other explanation, we can only speculate that (a) becoming geologically turbulent is something planets do from time to time, or (b) that the phenomenon occurs when a planet reaches a certain age – when it becomes old things start to break down, as they do with a living organism. Both possibilities are extremely worrying; the first because we don’t yet understand why it happens and its consequences may be catastrophic when combined with other environmental problems, let alone social and political ones. That the only comparable period of geological instability is that which preceded the demise of the dinosaurs is somewhat disturbing. The second possibility is even more alarming because it implies the ultimate destruction of the Earth itself, either through disintegration of the crust or because other equally disastrous things are happening as well. In either case there seems little hope of remedying the problem because the forces involved are too powerful to be tamed and managed successfully; whatever did have that effect would itself be potentially dangerous, since it could be used to cause earthquakes and volcanoes rather than prevent them, especially in the hands of terrorists or those who were simply power-crazed.
The causes of global warming are similarly hard to identify. But we can no longer seriously doubt that it is happening, as some people still did until just a few years ago; the real issue is over its cause. There are grounds for supposing that climate change, like geological instability perhaps, is part of a naturally occurring cycle or series of cycles; it has after all happened before without the hand of Man playing any part in the process, as shown by the successive Ice Ages we have had so far, plus evidence that the climate of Europe during the Middle Ages was much warmer than it later became (and was to remain until the present day). So awesome is Nature in its power, whether or not the effect is destructive, that one is inclined to wonder if puny Man can really make much overall impact upon the scheme of things. Yet we can’t discount the possibility that while it may not, on its own, be causing the phenomenon the industrialization of the last two hundred years has contributed to it and is making it worse.
The heating of the atmosphere by carbon dioxide emissions from transport (especially private cars and aircraft) and industry, and the methane produced by decomposing waste on landfill sites, disrupts weather patterns while the trapping of more of the sun’s heat through the CO2 in the atmosphere causes drought, resulting in famine, in the Third World as well as a rise in sea levels through thermal expansion and melting of the polar ice caps, leading to flooding in both the Northern hemisphere and the Southern. How severe the problem will become, and whether some kind of natural mechanism will operate to stop it eventually, is impossible to say at present – the full mechanics of how the atmosphere and climate and weather systems operate and interact are still insufficiently understood. With no firm evidence that it IS going to stop, at any rate before horrendous disruption and loss of life has occurred, we must assume we are heading for disaster unless we can find a way to halt and to repair the damage, especially when the effects of other problems, social and political in nature, are taken into account.
There are of course some benefits to global warming (there is a positive side to most things). Summers last longer (this could just mean though, going by recent experience, that they are humid and wet and stormy as in a tropical climate) and winters become milder (though personally I prefer those brisk, crisp, chilly autumns you used to get in England), and it may one day be possible in Northern Europe to harvest grapes and certain other products which could not be grown there before because the climate was too cold. By 2030 Edinburgh is expected to have the climate currently enjoyed in the Midlands and southern England that of the Loire valley in France(3). But seen alongside the disadvantages of environmental change this will be of limited benefit. It will be impossible to relax in one’s vineyard, sipping from a glass of the best quality wine grown there and basking in the glorious sunshine of a typical November day, when the other effects of global warming mean that all around law and order is breaking down to the extent that your personal safety and the security of your possessions cannot be guaranteed.
As well as the factors mentioned above, global warming causes flooding through the severe storms which follow from the heating of the atmosphere and its effect on weather patterns. This will have calamitous consequences all over the world, but I would like to focus for a moment on the effect in Northern Europe, the part with which I am after all most familiar. What is forecast is more storms on the pattern of the floods of 1953, in which sea defences were overwhelmed and thousands of people lost their lives along the British and European coastlines.(4) Clearly there is a risk of an appalling death toll and also considerable disruption of the infrastructure by which society’s needs are met. One possible consequence which comes particularly to mind concerns the Olympics due to be held in London in 2012. The capital and the Thames Valley have always been potentially liable to serious flooding and the Olympics will require the building of thousands of new homes in areas that are particularly vulnerable. This is on top of the pressure on public services, the diversion of funds from a wide range of important causes, and the financial burden it imposes on a capital, and a nation, already groaning under the weight of a large and expanding population crammed into a relatively small area (who in 2012 will be joined for a time by all those, whether British citizens or foreigners, visiting London for the event). My fear is that either something absolutely disastrous will mar the occasion or we will be forced, at a relatively late stage, to cancel the event, which will mean considerable ill-will and damage to the country’s international reputation, through the inconvenience caused to many, and the loss of the millions of pounds invested in it. It might be the right decision but it would also be a pity. Even if any material damage caused by the impact of the Olympics upon London were avoided, the blow to the nation’s pride and morale would be shattering.
Generally, in this country and other vulnerable regions of Western Europe, the floods – of which those affecting parts of western and northern England in the “summer” of 2007 were perhaps a foretaste - will cause widespread and costly disruption, and the measures needed to prevent them or minimise their consequences will be financially draining, involving a diversion of money from other vital services which may not be practical unless drastic changes are made to the organization of society and politics and to the way wealth is generated.
As the flooding becomes more frequent and more severe in its effects, there will be a migration of population inland, away from the flood plains and coastal regions and into areas which are already becoming seriously overcrowded. The new homes needed to house them may, of course, be built in the country rather than in the overpopulated towns and cities, but the effect will be just as
damaging in the long run. Villages are already losing their character as a growing population, many of whom want to live in the country because they believe life is better there and cannot be prevented from doing so, means more and more houses have to be built in rural areas. Those houses are often in the traditional local style, and thus more sensitive in their impact than they would otherwise be, but they are nonetheless there. And the larger a village gets the more it needs factories, shops, petrol stations and street furniture to service its needs. The result is that the countryside often no longer looks like the countryside and so doesn’t provide either those living there or those visiting it with the atmosphere of peace and quiet and beauty it needs to have to allow us to “get away from it all”, to relax. There is already talk of having to build on Green Belt sites, such is the housing shortage – something exacerbated by social changes, family breakdowns and the tendency towards single-person households, none of which can be reversed by pointing guns at people’s heads – in a population the size of ours, and even where the building is on brown field sites it still has a visual impact, dispelling the sense of rurality, simply because of the extent of it. A comparison between the Ordnance Survey map of a rural area of East Anglia published in the late 1960s or early 70s, and a map of the same area today, makes clear that despite a professed desire to protect the rural environment on the part of politicians the villages are slowly but surely expanding and joining up; in fact becoming towns.
As the villages grow in size and population, they acquire the same social problems as the urban areas, because they come to seem merely an extension of them. There has for some years been considerable concern about the increase in crime rates in the country. Towns and cities have their advantages; because of their importance there are often better facilities for meeting this or that requirement than in the country and there can sometimes be a sense of friendliness and community, coming from large numbers of people living together in the same relatively small area, which there isn’t in the more straggling rural settlements. (In some villages it used to be possible for everyone to know everyone’s business but this less the case today as the villages grow, the newcomers often being people from middle-class districts of the towns who don’t share the culture and outlook of the traditional rural population; there is nothing wrong of course in being middle class, but that makes no difference to the damage inflicted on traditional identities). But they also very often suffer from the sense of alienation and of being hemmed in that often accompanies the growth of a vast and densely-packed population. Numbers also make people aggressive. Because there are so many others living in the same area that it isn’t possible to know who are the bad guys and who the good, fear of encountering the aggression causes people to retreat into themselves as a form of self-defence.
For the urban areas of Britain are already overcrowded, the population swollen among other things by immigrants and asylum seekers, and experiencing a rise in crime and anti-social behaviour (which migrants from the countryside think they are getting away from). Public services are being placed under severe strain. Not building new houses – houses which are designed to cope with the general increase in and social fragmentation of the population, not with what one might call environmental migration as well – in the flood plains will merely result in overcrowding and urbanization elsewhere. The new housing will either create new towns/cities in what was formerly the countryside, or add to the extent of existing ones by being built on their outskirts or within a short distance to them. At any rate the massive shift of population inland will bring more people into the urban orbit, working if not living in the towns and making use of their services, which is enough to create congestion, because they are in closer proximity to them. Whatever the precise shape the changes take the result will be the same. It will be as if the habitable part of the nation has shrunk.
Since urban Britain is already seen to be groaning under the pressure, what the effects will be of a further large-scale influx of population don’t bear thinking about, especially given the growth which is forecast to take place anyway. Global warming has far-reaching social and political, as well as biological and economical, consequences. There will be a major if not total collapse of public services and indeed of the whole infrastructure of society. The result will be widespread public unrest and the breakdown of law and order, on a scale which only martial law and the establishment of a totalitarian state will be sufficient to deal with. Harsh measures possibly amounting to euthanasia, even genocide, will be necessary to reduce the population and so get on top of the problem. One can also envisage disastrous cultural consequences; thousands of historic buildings would be lost forever, rendered inaccessible or irreparably damaged, beneath the flooding because they could not all be dismantled and moved to safer inland regions for reconstruction there, owing to lack of space in the now much constricted habitable areas of the country. In the upheavals that the need to cope with the demographic and logistical crisis would entail, care for historic monuments would indeed be regarded as a relative luxury, for which the money and other resources could not be spared. In any case a historic building loses much of its character and identity if its structural integrity is compromised by dismantling and rebuilding – however skillfully and authentically the job is done - on a site other than its original one.
The only sure way of avoiding all these problems would be a massive programme of building sea defences, involving the construction of a wall around much of the east coast of Britain. But the cost of such an operation would be vast and possibly prohibitive, imposing further burdens on an overpopulated society already struggling to fund and otherwise cater for its manifold needs.
In Europe the Netherlands, used as the Dutch are to this sort of thing, face even greater disruption as the crisis unfolds. They are a smaller country with a history of vulnerability to the encroachment of the sea, and an urban population already experiencing social tensions because of a backlash against traditional (of late) Dutch liberalism and issues with the growing
Muslim and ethnic minority communities. Elsewhere in the developed world, Japan faces the loss of 1,100 harbours and neighbouring areas, the cost of protecting which is estimated at $92 billion(5). Migration from coastal to inland areas is likely to have the same effect as in Britain in a culture which, from tradition and in order to maintain its remarkable economic success, is highly urbanized and also very regimented and disciplined; where pressure to do well has resulted in a rise in suicides and other social problems, and people are crammed into high-rise apartments rather like hens in a coop. When the pressure becomes too great, one may snap. (The dangers of nonconformism in such a populous and urbanized society, which had to be tightly ordered to prevent things getting out of control, is thought to be one explanation for the militaristic and autocratic culture which arose in Japan in the years leading up to the Second World War; in such an environment xenophobia flourished and led to the appalling atrocities committed against Chinese civilians and later Allied prisoners of war). In the US – the economic powerhouse of the Western world and thus, actually or potentially, the world in general – an alarmingly, in view of the whole danger from storms and rising sea levels, heavy concentration of population and economic activity is found in coastal regions, a phenomenon not confined to America and explained by dependence on sea-borne trade in past centuries. Nearly 50% of the population lives within twenty miles of the sea, in major cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York(6). Because America is so much larger, with much more open space for people to live in, than most other Western countries the disruption might be less in the long run but major relocations, both of people and of industry, would still be needed and might prove logistically difficult, while the knock-on effect on the rest of the world is worrying to contemplate.
In the Third World the effect of global warming will be turbulent weather, serious flooding and drought (the latter more commonly in Africa). There will be famine and mass starvation as crops fail and livestock dies, along with the death toll from hurricanes and the like. Currently about one-tenth of the world's population, mainly in the southern hemisphere, is hungry and an even larger number seriously malnourished, partly because of drought. The problem is rendered worse by the fact that the regions in question tend to have large and growing populations, with very often more people than there is food to go round. In north-east Africa alone some 100 million people are in danger of starving(7). As the food becomes scarcer the price of it will rise, putting it further beyond the reach of the starving multitudes(8). A recent analysis predicts an extra 40-300 million people will be at risk of hunger in the year 2060 because of the impact of climate change, on top of a predicted 640 million people already at risk of hunger without it(9).
The massive loss of population would be tragic enough whether or not it had a negative impact on anything or anyone else. But it will also cause instability throughout the entire region known as the Third World, in the shape of a phenomenon that within recent years has already begun to be recognized; that of the environmental refugee. People displaced by natural disasters or whose lives and prosperity are threatened by crop failure will flee to those countries which are not as badly affected as their own (assuming there are any such places), leading to an increase in population and strain on available resources, as well as ethnic and cultural/political tensions. How badly this will affect the hitherto more prosperous parts of the world – which do still require the Third World’s agricultural products – is hard to say exactly but there is one way in which it might do so. If the environmental refugees go to the West, adding to the pressures that part of the world will already be experiencing because of political and economic ones, on top of the size of their own indigenous populations, it will worsen a situation which can already be regarded with justification as potentially explosive. If trade patterns are disrupted owing to the loss of crops and of large sections of the population which is working the land in the exporting countries, the West could make up for this by using the warmer climate to grow the desired commodities itself, but as made clear above it will not be in a position to enjoy these benefits (10). Around 800 million people in Northern India, Australia and parts of Northern and Southern Africa (as well as the “dust bowl” of the Mid-Western United States) are thought to be at risk from water shortages as the land dries up. Even if climate change is not taken into account, 40% of the world's population is suffering from water shortages and as that population rapidly rises demand will increasingly outstrip availability of supply(11).
The problem of “desertification” was recognized long before global warming became a buzz word and is expected to get worse with it. In North Africa, as well as making life more difficult in the region itself, by causing the water needed to irrigate crops to evaporate and reducing the amount of natural rainfall, the expansion of the desert belt may well with climate change hop the Mediterranean and render parts of southern Europe, particularly Greece, Sicily and southern Spain, much hotter and drier in the summer than at present(12). Bushfires due to drought, already not uncommon in Australia, are another symptom of rising temperatures and have recently become a problem in Greece, suggesting what may lie ahead for people in these regions.
At the other end of the scale many low-lying areas such as parts of the Maldives, Egypt and Bangladesh would be made uninhabitable by flooding. Brown estimates that through inundation of the Nile Delta region 10-15% of Egypt's productive land will be lost and up to 10 million people will become homeless. “In a city which has a fast-growing population and a shortage of housing,” he points out, “this will make already difficult social problems acute.” In southern and eastern Asia 85% of the world's rice production, which takes place in low-lying areas, is under threat.(13) Southern China will be affected by the flooding threat to the extent that her economic miracle may be threatened. Most at risk is thought to be Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries and a nation that has suffered grievously from food shortages in the past. 80% of the country is built on the deltas of the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meguma and half of it is less than 16 feet above sea level(14). As we have seen the cost in the West of building sea defences against global warming is considerable, but it is likely to be far more so in Bangladesh. Undeveloped countries like this simply do not have the technical or economic resources to build effective barriers against the flooding; the irony is that if they did, it would imply them having just the kind of industrial infrastructure which results in global warming.
It is considered virtually impossible to protect some parts of the world, meaning that 36 countries may be rendered mostly or entirely uninhabitable by the mid-twenty-first century. Many small islands, particularly in the Pacific, will disappear. The situation in many places will be worsened because movements in the earth’s crust are causing the land to sink at a similar rate to the sea level rise.
Globally, because of the tendency for human economic – and thus other - activities to be concentrated on or near coastlines, over a billion people are thought to be at risk from the 3ft rise in sea level which is predicted). About 10% of agricultural production is in areas vulnerable to sea level rise, which threatens the food supply of more than 200 million people. “Such a sea level rise could create 50 million environmental refugees, more than three times the number of refugees from all causes in the early 1990s.” Lakes and rivers would be contaminated by salt water and health problems arise through the spread of water-borne diseases. Fisheries and the insurance, banking oil and gas industries would suffer(15). Many popular tourist destinations would also disappear, which would have a catastrophic impact upon local and national economies as well as reducing the quality of life, whether for visitors or indigenes, by denying one the pleasure of relaxing on a beach in glorious weather or of swimming in the sea. One of the nightmare scenarios which I find most often coming to mind is that where westerners are unable any more to visit beach resorts in Bali and other south-east Asian locations, or – even more devastatingly, from their point of view – their own countries because the tide is permanently in. The blow to the Asian economy will be considerable but the westerners will themselves, if prevented even at home from enjoying the pleasures of the beach, suffer both materially and physically. Inability to unwind or simply to do what one desires and finds pleasant results in a population that is restive and thus aggressive. Here is one case where a planned retreat from the coast – by everyone who likes to go there as well as by those already living there – the only course of action which may be possible in the end, in the belief of some environmentalists, would not solve the problem because it’s precisely the prevention from visiting the region and sampling its leisure facilities that is the problem. The awful consequence will be a population – in Britain for example a particularly dense one – penned into a smaller area where overcrowding leads to violence and a collapse of the transport and public service infrastructure, and without the chance to relieve tension by doing the things which have that effect, the things which they enjoy.
Climate change will also have a drastic effect upon health. In addition to all who perish in floods, hurricanes and droughts, many will die from the temperature increase itself. Heatwaves have the power to kill not just by heat but by the deterioration they cause in air quality. In Chicago and surrounding districts in 1995 600 people are estimated to have died as a result of a short summer heatwave. Scientists predict that in future there will be several thousand deaths each year in the big cities of North America, North Africa and East Asia. This number is expected to quadruple by 2050(16). In Europe, the exceptionally hot summer of 2003 – only just within many people’s tolerance levels, I expect – which among other things killed a large number of elderly people in France still serves as a foretaste of what is to come.
Then there is disease. As the climate of Europe becomes more like that of the tropics it will give rise to the diseases one finds in those hotter regions. For diseases flourish more easily in warmer climates – and with the benefit of air travel, which is set to increase even more than it has done in recent years – along with the animal species which carry them. As well as becoming more common in areas where they are already prevalent, they will also spread to those where they were not previously experienced. Cholera, dengue fever, African sleeping sickness and elephantiasis are all predicted to increase both in their range and their frequency(17). So too are cockroaches, a tropical importation, which in Britain have undergone a rapid increase in numbers during recent mild winters and are well known as bearers of disease; dust mites, thought responsible for an increase in childhood asthma in many temperate countries; ticks, which are parasites of sheep and cattle and also spread Lyme disease, a disability of the joints to which an increasing number of deaths have been linked, particularly among country people and walkers; and the mosquitoes which carry malaria. Already 300-500 million people, mostly in Africa, are estimated by the World Health Organisation to be infected with the latter. Now research shows that malaria is spreading both north and south from the tropical latitudes where it is most common and it is not impossible it will eventually reach northern Europe. Malarial mosquitoes were not, in fact, unknown in Britain up to the inter-war years of the twentieth century, when the last of them died out; it is likely that with the conditions created by global warming they will not only return but become much more common than in recent centuries(18).
Perhaps the most chilling threat of all comes from bubonic plague, which killed millions of people in Europe during the Middle Ages, wiping out perhaps a third of the population of Britain. Numbers of brown rats and fleas, the animals which carry it, have of late increased considerably in Europe during mild winters. Cases of the plague were diagnosed not long ago in Russia, North Africa and the USA (there were two substantial outbreaks of it in England, in Suffolk and Bristol, as recently as the first half of the twentieth century)(19).
We might also mention leishmaniasis, a disease which attacks skin and internal organs – in fact all bodily tissues – and requires prolonged and extensive treatment. It is transmitted by the bite of sandflies, and affects about 12 million people each year. Already common in the south of France, it is now creeping steadily northwards; the sandflies are known to be breeding in the Channel Islands and scientists believe it is only a matter of time before they become established in tourist areas of southern England(20).
We have already, as the effects of global warming start to be visible, begun to see tropical species of insect (along with scorpions, which in fact belong to those class of animals known as arachnids) appear in northern Europe, where one would not normally expect to find them, in the summer months; the likelihood is that other animals will in due course follow them. As we’ve seen some of these will be carriers of plague. Others, though they may not bear diseases, may be poisonous. There are of course parts of the western world (they may be counted as that, culturally if not geographically) where the risk of being bitten or stung by them is accepted quite stoically as a daily hazard of life – Australia, for example, has to put up with the stonefish, funnelweb spider and blue-ringed octopus. And the effects are not always as fatal as is popularly believed by Europeans. But they will need to be treated, at a certain cost in money, time and resources, and if they are not the result will often be a deterioration in the quality of life or the pain and heartbreak occasioned by loss of a loved one.
Diseases will spread not only because of the heat but because of the poor air quality and the lack of water (as well as, sometimes, the overabundance of it, with some bacterial organisms reproducing rapidly in water and thus thriving in flood conditions). A shortage of water affects personal hygiene and increases the chances of infection – by cholera or dysentery among other things (21).
In both the developed and the undeveloped world, it is the already most vulnerable groups within society who will suffer most from all these adverse affects of climate change: the poor, the overcrowded who live in slum or near-slum conditions (such as may still be found in a few places in modern Britain, and certainly elsewhere), the very old (well represented among the French victims of the 2003 heatwave) and very young, and those already suffering from illness, particularly heart and lung problems. But the general disruption and distress will undoubtedly be horrendous. On top of all the suffering the Third World has already undergone, and which ought to arouse horror and sympathy in the West, for it to be subjected to an even greater catastrophe is almost beyond the ability of our thoughts to conceive or our emotions to cope. But the West itself faces what in some ways will be equally nightmarish. My worry is that it will find itself experiencing, and having to deal with, problems which it has not had to cope with before, not in the modern era. The community as a whole, as opposed to individuals, has been accustomed to security from life-threatening diseases and the fear of them. The psychological damage inflicted by its new vulnerability, on top of the stress caused by overcrowding, loss of countryside and the denial of holiday and leisure opportunities, will have a shattering effect on the quality of life. And that is in addition to – though in many respects it amounts to the same thing – the practical problems involved. In Britain first of all, the health effects of climate change, both on particularly vulnerable groups and the population at large, will further strain an overburdened health service with the result that people will die, doctors perhaps having to sacrifice some lives in order to preserve others; officially or unofficially, there will be adopted a policy of euthanasia, something general overcrowding in the NHS is already creating pressure for. The alarming implications of this if it is adopted will be dealt with in a later chapter. If it is adopted but fails to solve the problem, the unrest as people don’t get the protection they desire and expect against disease will accelerate the breakdown of law and order and the collapse of society into anarchy.
Global warming has the capacity to cause wars. Because of drought resulting from the increased heat water will become a scarce commodity planetwide, and thus be fought over. Whether this problem, as opposed to others, will be encountered in the West as it too experiences changes in climate I don’t know, but it will certainly be encountered in the Third World which is in any case the hottest part of the globe. Many countries rely on the same rivers for their water and if one launches an irrigation scheme another may find its own supply drawn off. Indeed as the water becomes scarcer, the greater will be the number of countries each dependent on another for their life-giving H2O. If they cannot get it they will either die or take up arms to secure it. The regions where these issues are arising are already prone to political conflict. The most sensitive of these is the Middle East, with Syria and Lebanon having a claim on the headwaters of the River Jordan, acquired by Israel in the 1967 war. Another cause of tension in this volatile part of the world is Turkey’s control of the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; Syria depends on the Euphrates for survival and at one point complained that in 1990 the Turks had threatened to restrict the river flow to their country unless they stopped supporting to Kurdish rebels in southern Turkey, which Turkey denied it was doing. In Southern Africa, where there is a constant migration to the urban areas because of the impact of successive droughts upon subsistence farming, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa rather uneasily share the water from the Zambezi; like everyone else on the planet they may soon find themselves fighting bitterly over scarce resources. India blames Nepal for disturbing the flow of the Ganges, vital for 300 million farmers, by deforestation and Bangladesh complains about that India is taking more than its fair share of water in the dry season(22).

Dealing with the problem
The cumulative physical, social and political effects of global warming, especially in combination with other factors, have the capacity to either destroy Mankind or permanently degrade its quality of life to a level where it may not be considered worth living. What are the chances, then, of doing something to prevent this obviously undesirable outcome? If it is true that only a small increase in atmospheric temperature can create a runaway greenhouse effect which it may be impossible to stop – the so-called “butterfly effect”, supposedly caused by the beating of that insect’s wings – then we may already be too late, given the amount of carbon dioxide still being pumped into the atmosphere and particularly from newly industrializing nations, whose contribution to overall CO2 levels may offset the benefit gained from environmentally friendly measures implemented by the developed world. If a small improvement in the situation would be sufficient to reverse the greenhouse effect then this gain is being totally wiped out. Altogether, it is difficult to be optimistic.
One could take the view that it is just one section of humanity, i.e. the West, which is responsible for the problem; it certainly looks that way a lot of the time. Because of its being the wealthiest and industrially most advanced one part of the world now has the capacity to destroy the rest, not through nuclear war but through environmental pollution. However, to condemn the West for this or to expect it to abandon the way of technology and industrialization is both unfair and unrealistic. The world is both a flawed place and also a highly complex one – meaning that unfortunately, when things go wrong they do so in complicated ways – exhibiting diversity and contrast in, among other matters, the different races and cultures that inhabit it. Logically speaking, if something is different from something else there must be some way in which it is different – in its skills, its way of thinking. This implies strongly marked and conflicting opposites. There are two options for any given culture: you either have a settled pastoral existence and stay at home to mind the ecology or you are an industrialized imperialistic culture with strong armed forces which goes out to annex other countries. Undoubtedly Western technology and political and commercial imperialism have done incalculable damage to the rest of the world, as well as bringing it considerable benefits; but in behaving in the ways it often has in the past, and to some extent still does, the West may up to a point have been/be motivated by things to do with its nature which it can no more help than the indigenous peoples of the South American rain forest are to blame for their culture – often honestly believing that it was doing good. The political imperialism is now a thing of the past, at least in overt form (some would argue, not entirely without justification, that it has been succeeded by commercial imperialism, especially on the part of the United States, and that since he who pays the piper calls the tune this is actually political imperialism as well). But the technological supremacy of the West remains one of the dominant – still, perhaps, the dominant – factor in world affairs, being rivalled only by China and by those countries in the Far East such as Japan which, being friendly towards it and in many ways admiring its culture, are in any case within its orbit. The drive towards industrialization has only been going on for some two hundred and fifty years, but it is a well-known fact that social and economic evolution, like biological evolution, can occur in jumps; and for the most part the West has hardly shown any tendency to look back during that time, except in the sense of wistfully contemplating lost worlds which were in some ways less complicated and stressful than today’s, but which no-one would want to return to. The West seems to have a capacity, once a certain set of factors come together to facilitate change, to make sudden rapid strides in particular directions; another example is the way the cultural level of societies which it was easy, rightly or wrongly, to dismiss as barbaric when contrasted with the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome, rose considerably once Christianity became accepted and gave a stimulus to learning. Westerners are good at applying a particular technique on the macro-scale once something occurs to provide the right kind of trigger for it; until recently they were better at it than China and other Asian countries, who originally invented many of the technologies now commonly in use in the West, such as explosives, but for one reason or other did not mass-produce them in a way that could radically change the way society was organised or make one’s country politically and militarily more significant on the global scale. And while first Japan, then China and India, have struggled during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to catch up with the West, there remain many tribal cultures who have not the slightest interest in the benefits of technology and indeed see them as something altogether harmful, needing therefore to be avoided.
The problem with global warming was always that few in the West, in view of the unwelcome, and politically unpopular, especially with governments of a right-wing nature, sacrifices which would be required in order to combat it - such as strict control over building design, restrictions on car ownership (which would be seen as both an attack on personal freedom and a reduction in standards of living, so important is the car for leisure and for giving the citizen a sense of independence), "green" taxes and the transfer of more freight from road to rail - were inclined to believe in it without unshakeable evidence. Given the nature of the problem, by the time that such evidence was available it might well be too late to do anything about it. At the same time, any measures to tackle global warming tended to be seen as pointless, and the sacrifices they would involve consequently unjustified, unless the USA - the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide, the principal "greenhouse gas" - was prepared to adopt them (this is but one manifestation of the problem that reaching an effective solution to the major environmental issues, which by their nature are international ones, require international agreement, which cannot always be guaranteed). People preferred to wait for this to happen rather than adopt the Quaker philosophy that it was better to light one small candle than curse the darkness.
But even if this situation has now changed to some extent, it may not have changed in time. And there still remain the psychological and practical difficulties of the West making the changes in lifestyle that will be necessary for it to stop global warming and thus the damage it is doing to the planet. Generally those who are keenest to recommend it does those things are also those who themselves live an eco-friendly alternative lifestyle and are happy to do so; they are making the mistake of thinking that what's good for them will necessarily suit others, that what they have been able to manage without difficulty the rest of society can too. We are not all of the same temperament and way of thinking.
To reduce the CO2 emissions from car exhausts means reducing car ownership, rather than cutting down on the frequency with which cars are used and resorting to them only when absolutely necessary, because if you had a car you would be tempted to use it all the time. Any scheme to limit the use of private transport would be dependent on the co-operation of fallible human beings, on their whims and weakness and foibles, and thus are not foolproof; it could not be guaranteed that they would be effective except by the imposition of Draconian laws which required some means of checking how many journeys an individual car owner made per a given time period in his or her vehicle – it could perhaps be done, such is the state of electronic surveillance nowadays – and punishing them by crippling fines, a jail sentence or confiscation of the car if they were deemed to have undertaken their journey for frivolous reasons. This could have the effect of imposing much-needed discipline, but the extent to which personal liberty was being interfered with would be resented, particularly because there might be some disagreement over what would constitute a frivolous use of the vehicle. For the scheme to be strictly voluntary would make nonsense of it, and thus of the claim to be putting the environment first, given the notorious tendency of human beings to not always do what they ought.
To have a car and be able to use it whenever one likes is an essential part of the freedom we have come to enjoy in the West, especially for young people striking out on their own for the first time and relishing the thrill of true independence. Without a car we are less likely to feel in control of our own destiny – because in truth, we are not. When we use public transport, buses or trains, we are dependent on the driver of the vehicle for our safety; and although most drivers are sensible and properly trained, accidents can happen. Many would entertain the sentiment that if they are to be crippled or killed in a crash they would much rather do it themselves; there may well be the not entirely unjustified feeling, when an incident does happen, that if they had driven themselves to where they were going instead they or their family might not have been killed/seriously injured (in fact they might, but that isn’t the point). It’s also possible for a train crash to kill more people than normally happens in a road traffic accident. To be reliant on public transport is also resented when there is poor customer service; it’s disagreeable to have to put up with, to be in a sense the prisoner of, a bus driver who is unfriendly or rude. For in a sense one is a prisoner when in a closed metal compartment, a sealed vehicle, that one cannot just jump out of any time one likes and must remain in if one wants to complete a journey that may be important. The sense that our liberty was being curtailed anyway by having to use the bus/train would be combined with a generally sour atmosphere, plus injured feelings if we were personally on the receiving end of the unpleasantness, to produce a whole experience that was depressing and upsetting. This applies whatever form of public transport we use and whether the facility is operated by a private company or the state. It’s part of the freedom we have become accustomed to that we don’t have to endure that sort of thing – we feel better, freer and happier when we can avoid it by taking the car, in which we are master of our own little house on wheels and thus insulated from another’s obnoxious and overbearing behaviour (ignoring, of course the issue of nagging wives and back-seat drivers!).
Generally speaking, in fact, I find staff on public transport are less overtly rude than they were often inclined to be at one time; but there are exceptions, and if we restrict ourselves, or are restricted, to public transport we are hostages to fortune, vulnerable to any deterioration in standards which might occur. But in any case, although some people – the elderly, for example, or those unable to have a car for medical or financial reasons - have no choice but to use public transport most of us would prefer not to be entirely shackled to it. To know that we were, that our options were so restricted, would be psychologically a blow. The expectations and thus the frame of mind of a person using public transport are different from those of a person driving themselves to their destination. In our capacity as car owners we can be our own bosses; on a bus or railway train we are rather passengers, more directly subject to rules and regulations and unable to exert any control over our journey, often helpless in the face of an accident or severe delays to the service, and more likely to feel we are travelling at the discretion of the powers that be rather than our own. This doesn’t matter if we don’t have to place ourselves in that position all the time because then it seems less of an imprisonment, whatever the necessity or otherwise of doing it on one particular occasion. But if we did, we would feel less
free, less fulfilled, and in some ways more vulnerable.
We generally don’t mind air travel so much, even though the restrictions apply there to an even greater extent, because we know that for purely practical reasons it’s the only option when we want to visit distant locations. To travel by sea would take too long, especially if one were going for business reasons rather than, or as well as, pleasure. For this reason, air travel can be regarded by rich executives as a sign of status and freedom in the same way as a motor car is, even though one is obviously more constrained in one’s behaviour on the plane than on the car. They (along with everyone else) don’t expect there to be an alternative anyway. The problem for modern society would be if air transport, along with private transport, were not available to us. Apart from the psychological consequences, the nature of the Western world in the twenty-first century, in matters of both business and leisure, is such that it depends on them for its proper functioning. The pace at which business is conducted may require one to leave London or New York and be in Tokyo within the space of a single day (though, oddly, it was found possible and even necessary to axe Concorde once the plane began to hit financial trouble) in order to finalise a deal, since not every matter can be dealt with over the phone or by e-mail, without a face-to-face meeting. It might work if the rest of society were radically reorganized in order to adjust to it, but that would be a mammoth operation involving other sacrifices of the same kind, which might be practically unfeasible and certainly not popular. Besides, the feedback from some of the consequences of restricting air travel would be negative, involving permanent inconvenience, in either our current society or one that has been drastically reorganized in order to be greener. If we wish to holiday, visit relatives, or both, in Australia, and have to be absent from work in order to do so, we clearly have to take the plane since otherwise we might be away for months (if passenger ships could travel as fast as aircraft the waves they would set up would have dangerous consequences for other vessels and for marine life, especially if traffic were particularly frequent). Bosses might not be willing to spare us and we’d have to wait until we retired – by which time some of our loved ones might have died – in order to pay Uncle Bruce in Brisbane a visit. Only the leisured independently rich could afford, financially or socially, to take such trips.
In the last resort, cars and planes are essential in order to cater for the needs and expectations of a heavily populated and highly complex society. Even making them slower, or limiting their use rather than banning them outright, would have shattering and negative consequences. At the same time the most powerful people within society, who would need these vehicles in order to conduct diplomacy and resolve important issues – something which, in crisis moments, requires speed – would have to be exempted from any of these restrictions. To leave mobility, and thus flexibility, as the preserve of the relatively small elite which any government necessarily is would further hasten the move away from personal freedom for the majority and towards totalitarian dictatorship.
The West would also be at a disadvantage compared to other societies, other powers, such as the awakening giants China and India, if it accepted the restrictions curbing air travel or private transport and their consequences but those other powers did not – and the converse would also apply. The loss of freedom and opportunity and the relative economic decline would be resented all the more if others were not making the same sacrifices.
Even if the sacrifices were practically possible that still leaves us with the other, non-physical factors. It may be something to do with the Western character, or it may be common to all cultures wishing to embrace the path of technology, and keep any benefits doing so has already given it, but we are simply unwilling and unable to undergo the psychological shock of giving up the high standard of living and leisure opportunities to which our culture has become accustomed. Global warming in the long run will itself destroy the health, happiness and prosperity of the West but better to have quality in the short run than not to have it at all. Global warming may threaten lives, but living is not an appealing prospect if you can't spend your time doing the things you like. You must admit there is a kind of sense, a kind of reason, in that. The thought of the damage being done to the Third World, some of whose inhabitants don’t belong to a technologically advanced culture anyway and so won’t be impressed by your arguments, makes no difference because when a culture is asked to make sacrifices for another which may be extremely damaging in one way or another, maybe prohibitively so, naturally puts itself first.
In the West expectations are higher than in the Third World so it can cause psychological harm when those expectations are not fulfilled. Relatively speaking this can be as serious for a Westerner as poverty and pollution are to an inhabitant of sub-Saharan Africa or a rain forest Indian in Brazil. It can drive individuals to suicide, or cause them to sink into a mire of depression, and collectively be infinitely disastrous. An over-swollen population such as that of the United Kingdom would be suffering not only from the constrictive effect of numbers, which if the scale on which certain things took place were reduced it might be even less able to cope with than it is now, but from being denied those pleasures which by allowing release of tension preserve social harmony. The words “powder” and “keg” come to mind.
Then there is the question of waste: Britons also throw away annually thousands of tons of packaging. The problem is that it is vital to modern methods of food supply, which rely on centralized processing, long distribution chains and long shelf-lives. We also dispose of vast quantities of electronic waste, or e-waste (a problem which grows the more society becomes dependent on computers): computers themselves, TVs, videos and camcorders plus kitchen items such as washing machines, cookers and dishwashers. These products are hard to recycle because of the toxic substances, such as the lead in the glass of TV screens and computer monitors, they contain. Again the problem is structural, in this case lying in the way businesses these days tend to operate; manufacturers do not design items to be repaired when they become defective, because more frequent replacement of the product brings quicker and higher profits.
About 70% of our household waste could in theory be recycled or turned into compost, but less than 17% actually is. As we shall see later success at implementing recycling measures would appear to vary from region to region – Lichfield, for example, having a far better recycling rate at 46.2% than has Liverpool at 4% (23) which limits their effectiveness in combating global warming if only a small increase in temperature is needed for it to go out of control. Incinerating the waste instead, which could actually generate energy for use in industry and the home, without producing too much CO2, and serve as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels, is difficult because of fears of local residents about the impact of toxic residues on their health, which in the past have provoked fierce opposition(24); an indication that what may be beneficial on the international scale can be harmful, or at any rate bound to arouse opposition, on the local, as with the visual impact of wind farms. And some environmentalists believe that items such as plastic, glass or metal could not be burnt safely(25).
The best-known and perhaps most talked-about of the suggested remedies for global warming is the adoption on a large scale of renewable energy sources – wind, wave, tidal, solar and geothermal energy – which do not pump vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It seems an ideal solution to the problem – a technology which works with nature rather than against it, keeping the environment clean while still allowing us to generate the electricity we need to keep modern life going. Unfortunately, its effectiveness is limited in most cases by variability of supply; the sun cannot be relied upon to shine, the wind to blow, twenty-four hours a day. The sea may be too calm, or the tide out. Not enough energy can be stored to meet everyone’s requirements because not enough will have been generated in the first place. For this reason, renewables by themselves can only meet a certain percentage of the world’s energy needs. If you ignore the cost the visual impact of modern windmills could be reduced by building them out to sea, with undersea cables connecting them to land, but that does not necessarily have any bearing on their practical utility. The Earth's internal heat provides a more constant source of energy - it is, after all, always there – than those already mentioned but the technical and financial problems involved in drilling to the depth which is necessary to create the desired temperatures, flashing water into steam which drives turbines and generates electricity, are for the foreseeable future prohibitive. If renewables are eliminated from the picture we are presented with a choice between fossil fuels, which apart from being finite anyway - though they are predicted to last for at least the next 600 years - may be contributing to global warming, and undeniably cause pollution in any case, and nuclear power. Obviously strenuous efforts are and will be taken to ensure the maintenance

of proper standards of safety in the nuclear industry; but accidents can still happen, and their likelihood will obviously increase the more nuclear plants are in existence. If nuclear energy is in the long run to succeed fossil fuels as Mankind's principal energy source, the number of nuclear power stations it will be necessary to build, whether or not it will be as large as a Friends of the Earth survey a while back estimated, will be sufficient to increase the probability of one or more serious accidents quite considerably. And one needs to take into account not just the likelihood of an accident occurring, but the overall consequences when it does; in the case of a nuclear accident these would be horrific and widespread. At the same time, however, we cannot do without nuclear power altogether. There is a certain trade-off involved; although a nuclear disaster, or series of nuclear disasters, could kill millions it is likely that returning to a pre-industrial way of life would have the same effect and more. There would simply be no way of feeding or otherwise catering for the vast population that has grown up in the West since the Industrial Revolution (and because of it). Once again the word “euthanasia” rears its ugly head; and people would fight to avoid being victims of the practice, as they would to make sure of obtaining for themselves a share of the food. Those concerned about nuclear power because of the threat it poses to life would be well advised to bear this in mind. So if fossil fuels are too polluting, and renewables not completely reliable, nuclear energy will have to figure in the picture somewhere. The trade-off needs to be made regardless of what power source one is using, because deindustrialization would be catastrophic whether it was nuclear energy we were turning our backs on or coal/oil, and burning the latter will eventually through global warming cause more devastation and death than a dozen nuclear holocausts.
We could seek to mitigate the problem by ensuring that all remaining fossil fuel reserves are used as economically as possible (a necessity in any case when dealing with an increasingly scarce resource), so that the need to rely on dangerous nuclear or unreliable renewable energy could be postponed until the latter was somehow perfected, a wholly safe means of generating power from the atom (probably involving nuclear fusion) devised, or, though this has not yet moved out of the realm of science fiction, some totally new means of generating energy obtained from the exploration and exploitation of other planets. The best solution, for the foreseeable future, would be to balance safety with continued prosperity by fixing the amount to which each of the three main options – renewables, fossils and nuclear – could be allowed to contribute to the energy “cake” and adjusting the amounts as necessary over time. Renewables could generate the maximum quantity of available energy that they are capable of – in Britain, some 20% - the figure afterwards remaining at that amount, while the remainder would be divided more or less equally between nuclear and fossils, reducing both the probability of another Chernobyl (from what it would be if more nuclear plants were built) and the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere. However, to ensure that the strategy was implemented and the necessary regulation carried out would require a degree of state planning which goes against the spirit of free enterprise as currently practised: no way could things be left to the vagaries of the market. We may well have to face a bleak choice between loss of life or welfare and extremely undesirable hindrances to our liberty.
The value of renewable energy, some suggest, is that it could be sold to the Third World as the means by which its countries could industrialise to the same extent as the West without adding horrendously to global warming. However, if the problem of renewable energy is that it could only generate a certain percentage of the electricity required by a modern industrial nation then that would be the case in a developing country, like China, just as in the West. If renewable energy cannot on its own fuel industrialization and the creation, potentially at any rate, of a higher standard of living for everyone then it is a poor man’s option and the developing world would be extremely angry at being expected to put up with it. Conversely, if the West in the interests of being green put all its eggs into the renewables basket and suffered as a result, but China did not, it would be the West that was at a disadvantage.
The political issue of the rise of the Asian and Far Eastern countries relative to the declining West has an effect upon the question of global warming. If the West, in order to cut its CO2 emissions, reduces its standard of living and technical efficiency, this will further weaken its general position compared to India and China and speed up the reversal of the current world order, leading to a situation where the West is itself dominated, disadvantaged and oppressed – especially if its rivals do not cut their own emissions by so much. It may be reluctant to put itself in that position, especially if it is sensed developing nations are angry about the West’s traditional dominance of the global economy and its desire to preserve that dominance (which they are), and that they may seek to exploit economic and technological weakness on the West’s part out of revenge (which would only be flawed human nature). China – say – for its part will be unwilling, having experienced the benefits of Western-style technological progress, to contemplate any sacrifice them that might be involved in adopting an industrial infrastructure based solely or largely on renewable energy. And the West won’t if she doesn’t, both from justified moral indignation and the natural desire to be strong; which means the problem will not be solved and the pollution will continue. Ideally, the sacrifices should be made by both sides, with some kind of UN regulatory body overseeing things; but it would always be impossible to know with absolute certainty that each country was keeping its side of the bargain, and there might well result an acrimonious and unedifying squabble.
The nature of world civilisation and the global village means that many people in poor countries are aware of aspire to Western levels of comfort and prosperity. If the Third World, from its most powerful and prosperous nation, China, downwards does industrialise in the same way as the West then the consequences for the Earth would clearly be terrible when we consider the damage to the environment that Western industrialisation has already caused. There is one ray of hope; perhaps a proper balance can be achieved between different energy sources, in the manner suggested above, in China and the totalitarian political system in operation there will make it easier for the regulatory measures which are needed to be adopted. But there are plenty in China who dislike that system and would like to complement economic liberty with political liberty; should future unrest lead to the system’s overthrow it may mean that state planning goes out the window too. And the West, which has of late enjoyed a very different political and economic culture, may be reluctant to impose the regulations on its own people and business sector; if consequently it didn’t, China would naturally consider itself to be hard done by and any agreement between the two sides would break down. And all this is assuming the shift towards renewables will by itself be enough to reduce atmospheric CO2 to whatever is considered a safe level.
Nor are the prospects for change good where the issue is not the environment but the alleviation of poverty (a related, and certainly important, subject). As pointed out in an article in the New Statesman in January 2005: “Millions in Africa live on less than 1 dollar a day. To bring them out of poverty we would, among other things, have to pay more for the goods we buy from them, and allow them more favourable terms of trade. That has "uncomfortable implications for western consumers, western jobs, western businesses and western economies". Then there is the reluctance of Western governments to take on domestic trade lobbies who would lose their monopolies if African imports were to flood the market.
The rise of the Asian and Far Eastern countries relative to the declining West has an effect upon the question of global warming. If the West, in order to cut its CO2 emissions, perhaps reduces its standard of living and technical efficiency, this will further weaken its general position compared to India and China and speed up the reversal of the current world order, leading to a situation where the West is itself dominated, disadvantaged and oppressed – especially if India/China do not cut their own emissions by so much. The West may be reluctant to do this.
The problem is that the West cannot help the Third World to achieve the levels of prosperity that it desires, and needs in order to solve the problems of poverty and famine, without impoverishing itself; and even if that impoverishment would only be relative it would still be serious, psychologically because of the high expectations westerners have in an affluent society – they are not used to extreme poverty like so many others - and practically because of the requirements of a complex society. In some respects it will be worse if the rich oppressors become the poor oppressed rather than if the previous state of affairs continues, because at least those who were the poor and oppressed in the past are used to it. On top of this, the amount of money the West feels it can give can only decrease proportionately as recession bites; this gives some idea of the disaster that faces the Third World.
The rise of the Asian and Far Eastern countries relative to the declining West has an effect upon the question of global warming. If the West, in order to cut its CO2 emissions, perhaps reduces its standard of living and technical efficiency, this will further weaken its general position compared to India and China and speed up the reversal of the current world order, leading to a situation where the West is itself dominated, disadvantaged and oppressed – especially if India and China do not cut their own emissions by so much. The West may be reluctant to do this.
There is no doubt that the West’s industrial expansion in recent centuries has inflicted enormous damage on the rest of the planet. In a television appearance the late Mother Teresa appealed to Westerners to recognise the harm they were doing “because you like to live the way you want.” One does not like to take issue with somebody like Mother Teresa, but here I’m afraid I must. A rain forest Indian likes to live the way he wants. The problem arises from our living in a world which is both diverse, as we would prefer it to be, and flawed, as we must admit it to be. Logically speaking, a sliding scale will be in operation. If something is different from something else there must be some way in which it is different – in its skills, its way of thinking. This logically implies opposites. There are two options: you either have a settled pastoral existence and stay at home to mind the ecology or you are an industrialized culture, with strong armed forces to impose its will with when necessary, and an expansive economy which inevitably, because of its nature, dominates, one might say annexes, other economies. The West can’t solve the problem by changing the way it is. And because of the imperfection of the world the contrasting lifestyles are in conflict, with one causing harm to the other.
Of course, quite apart from the negative feedback in the form of environmental damage, the West will be unable to sustain its current level of technological process, and thus standard of living, in any case; nor will any culture that matches or overtakes it in wealth and prosperity. All forms of modern technology depend to a greater or lesser extent on minerals – on the harnessing of silicon to a wide variety of industrial processes. Although some of the materials needed can be obtained naturally, e.g. rubber, others can’t. Once supplies of the latter are exhausted, as they will be eventually, the technology as a complete unit will no longer be possible. Even where the materials are wholly natural the machinery to process them and distribute the finished product will not be. Unless minerals can be grown as on a farm, unless they can be persuaded to reproduce in the manner of organic life forms, they will sooner or later run out. Indeed bioengineering, probably involving the creation of new organisms or the genetic reshaping of existing ones, may well be the future. It has been talked about. Yet almost by definition, at least some of the technology involved in the process, and enabling the organism to do its job, will itself have to be artificial, derived from minerals (nanotechnology, often touted as a way of achieving a lot of technological tasks in the future, involves the use of miniaturised non-biological machinery). So the problem isn’t solved. We might be able to prolong the technological society indefinitely by using the mineral resources of other planets, but we can’t be sure that they exist in the right form and in the right quantities and the means of exploiting them is not yet to hand, requiring as it does both considerable technological advance and a colossal amount of money which with all the other things we need to spend cash on may not be available for a long time. Meanwhile, here on Earth, there is the problem that as supplies of the right commodities become rarer, their price rises, generally making these essentials more difficult for the purchaser, whether an individual wanting to buy a new set of cutlery or a company seeking machinery for a new plant, to afford and to obtain. Severe hardship will be inflicted long before the minerals run out, and will become even worse when they do. In the meantime, of course, we will naturally try to keep the good times going as long as we can, wrecking the planet’s ecosystem in the process.
Nor can the West be self-sufficient in food, in order to avoid the consequences for it of the rising world prices of that commodity. This would mean an increase in agricultural activity on a scale that isn’t practical. Since not all of us can be farmers, households would have to at least have an allotment each which would enable them to grow their own food, and presumably rear livestock – a skill they would have to be taught. Unfortunately, there isn’t the land for it. The increase in the population over the last few hundred years has meant that much of it has had to go for housing, or for the various installations that service the needs of a complex modern society which requires facilities for leisure, education, culture, health, and all manner of other things. At the very least we would have to dismantle all that makes a modern existence comfortable and interesting; the reduction in the quality of life would have a shattering psychological impact which one does not like to contemplate. In fact, because agricultural self-sufficiency, if it was possible, would make no difference to the depletion of industrial materials, we would need in any case to dismantle industrial society in a manner which would leave unsupportable the huge population which has grown up on it (agricultural products still need to be processed and transported by industrial means). The overall consequences of these problems would either be mass starvation or deliberate culling of human populations in order to make the situation manageable.

It has been suggested that we should plant new forests in order to absorb the excess CO2 in the atmosphere. But this may reduce the amount of land that is needed for farming, for recreation or for house-building. All these are important sectors. Unfortunately as the population increases and social changes mean there are more households to be accommodated, and more and more new homes required; also more schools, hospitals and factories to serve the new communities created. Brown recommends that buildings be painted white as in the Mediterranean, to reflect sunlight and reduce the "heat island" effect which kills so many people in cities. But this goes against the modern culture of personal choice, combined with our need for an interesting diversity in our environment. The modern world wants variety, and otherwise tends to get bored and depressed; an all-white town would have the same negative effect as one painted a dull grey or black. We have already more or less identified an unattractive visual environment as one of the causes of alienation and anti-social behaviour in urban areas.
So Brown’s scheme is out. Nor, as made clear above, can we resolve the issue by a controlled regression to a more primitive kind of society, no matter how carefully it was carried out. The millions of people whose lives and welfare have been made possible by industrialisation and technological advance could not possibly be supported. We certainly could not support the increased population we are predicted to have in the future. Disease and starvation would wipe out many millions, and the dismantling of the modern communications network would render an effective way of dealing with the problem difficult. Having regressed, society would be unlikely ever to regain its technological advance, or if it did would regress again within a relatively short time, for by then fossil fuels would have been largely exhausted. It would be impossible for us to discover some new source of power on other planets, for we would not possess the capability of space travel. Fukuyama writes, and is worth quoting this in full: “Many countries have of course existed at the level of subsistence agriculture for generations, and the people living in them have doubtless achieved considerable happiness; but the likelihood that they could do so having once experienced the consumerism of a technological society is doubtful, and that they could be persuaded as a society to exchange one for the other even more so. “Moreover, if there were other countries which chose not to deindustrialise the citizens of the ones that did would have a constant standard of comparison against which to judge themselves {and be at an economic, military and political disadvantage}. Burma's decision after World War Two to reject the goal of economic development common elsewhere in the Third World and to remain internationally isolated might have worked in a pre-industrial world, but proved very difficult to sustain in a region full of booming Singapores and Thailands.
“Only slightly less unrealistic is the alternative of breaking selectively with technology by seeking to somehow freeze technological development at its current level, or to permit technological innovation only on a highly selected basis {apart from anything else it essentially involves a planned economy, which current establishment thinking would recoil at}. While this might better preserve current living standards, at least in the short run, it is not clear why life at an arbitrarily selected level of technology would seem particularly satisfying. It would offer neither the glitter of a dynamic and growing economy, nor a genuine return to nature. The effort to freeze technology has worked for small religious communities like the Amish or Mennonites, but would be much more difficult to realize in a large and stratified society. Selective innovation raises difficult questions as to what authority decides which technologies are acceptable. The politicisation of innovation will inevitably have a chilling effect on economic growth as a whole.” (26)
We can neither abandon technology nor, I believe, learn to accept the measures that will need to be implemented if it’s to be properly regulated, such as the carbon tax and laws to ensure energy-efficient design in new and existing buildings. Because there are already fears in Britain about the “nanny state”, the concern is that increased state intervention and planning to ensure energy efficiency and environmental friendliness will further tip the balance towards an intolerable restriction of personal liberty. Many also feel that such measures and the irritation they would cause are unjustified anyway unless the USA and China, the main actual or potential producers of CO2, also play their part, which at the moment China, at any rate shows no sign of doing. Hence although some progress may be made on a small scale, with for example the recycling initiatives launched by local authorities, it will not be possible to resolve the biggest issues, such as fossil fuel emissions from industry and transport, wiping out the benefits gained in other areas. What may be ecologically necessary is impractical for social and political reasons. Unsure how to solve the problem this creates, and occupied much of the time with equally important issues, governments vacillate. Meanwhile the deterioration of the environment continues to accelerate.
Scientists believe that by 2025 carbon emissions from cars can be

cut by about a third with more efficient engines and lightweight construction, without any loss of comfort or performance. But the benefits of this will be negated by the massive increase which is forecast in car ownership itself. However energy efficient they are, if there are more of them it will swallow up and render useless any gain for the environment if the total number of cars is such as to produce a net increase in emissions.
The problem of global warming is likely to get worse as the Western world becomes increasingly overpopulated, the British population alone being set to rise by 9 million in the next few years (2007 estimate). The more people there are, the more cars and the more airline flights there will be, and the more carbon dioxide will be produced making global warming and all its consequences more severe. By putting strain on scarce resources population increase, resulting in the West from improving standards of health care which lead to greater life expectancy and falling infant mortality, and likely to be accelerated in years to come by technology which enables women over the normal child-bearing age to conceive and bear children through artificial means, is ultimately the source of all our environmental problems; indeed, of all our problems. By putting a strain on scarce resources it causes starvation in places like Africa and may eventually have a similar effect in the West, where it is already contributing to overcrowding, pressure on public services and the transport system and social alienation.
Although the trend in the long run is thought to be for the rate of growth to slow it is not predicted to level out until 2050, which means it will be causing appalling problems until then. And the final figure of 10-12 billion people is not one which will be easy to feed; many are starving as it is, despite improvements in agricultural technology. The problem could be solved by genetic engineering, but only at a cost which may outweigh the benefits as well as being aesthetically and perhaps morally repugnant, i.e. cows which produce six times more milk than previously but are so fat they can hardly walk. Many feel we should revert to small farms where the animals are raised more humanely than is the case with the factory system; unfortunately, although these small farms might be more productive than factory farms they will make less profit for the big businessmen, who will use political influence to prevent their spread.
When one considers the extent to which population is projected to rise in Britain over the next twenty years the implications for the problem of traffic congestion, already severe, do not bear thinking about. There will be an increase too in poverty, homelessness and crime. Because each generation produces a certain percentage of criminals, problem families, and people with behavioural disorders the numbers of these people that society has to deal with will increase both in relative, because of harmful social trends, and absolute terms. The number suffering from mental or physical illnesses/disabilities, and requiring special care will also go up. One wonders whether the social services, already overstrained, will be able to cope.
When combined with the modern tendency for relationships and families to break up, increasing the overall number of households, population growth will lead to more houses having to be built in the countryside, and thus a reduction in the quality of life because the countryside is psychologically essential to us on account of its relative peace and quiet and the opportunities it provides for rest and recreation, especially given the mental stresses caused in an overpopulated society. As we have identified the problem stems not just from an actual increase in population but from a change in demographic patterns and social behaviour. More people may want to use cars, or for some reason live in a particular country - or a particular part of it - either permanently or as tourists or businesspeople. Some people, who have the social and financial base from which to do so, are becoming more affluent, and certain services less expensive which means they will be made use of on a larger scale - except by those disadvantaged and excluded in the long run, such as the long-term unemployed or the low wage-earners, who (a) resent the widening gulf between the have-nots (themselves) and the haves, and may become in the future increasingly restive as a result, and (b) would use cars and planes for travel if they could, thereby worsening pollution and congestion.
Whatever the exact cause of all these problems, their effects on a small but densely populated country like Britain will be crippling. I am using Britain as an example not just because it is the one I as a Briton am most familiar with; thanks to the combination of relatively limited geographical area and dense population it is the country where the problems, actual and potential, affecting the Western world are most acute and most clearly observed. The explosion may well happen in Britain before it does anywhere else; this could mean Britain gets over its problems first and subsequently becomes a relatively stable and peaceful place which serves as an example for everyone else to emulate, but such rests on an assumption that those problems can, in the long run, be got over. The tolerance and equanimity in the British character may in fact delay the explosion until some time after the rest of Europe has succumbed, but it will happen eventually - and if it does, despite the much commented-upon level-headedness of the British, it will if anything prove how serious is the situation facing the West. Whatever the case it does seem that many of the social problems Britain is experiencing are at least beginning to occur in other Western countries too, which means the British example is a valid one to cite. It stands as a warning of what others might be faced with in years to come; especially when a country that is still one of the world’s leading financial centres undergoes a total and shattering collapse.
The increased population will need cars and buses to get around, but if the numbers of these vehicles on the roads goes up it will render them considerably more dangerous as make it difficult to get to one’s destination anyway. Industry will suffer if people are unable to get to their jobs on time. For households to share a single car seems a thrifty solution but it will be seen as a disability, a step backwards from what is efficient and convenient, because if it can cause hold-ups and frustration in carrying out one’s business if you have to wait for your wife/partner or other family member to turn up with the car and they have been delayed. It may not be a practical option in any case, if your movements and theirs are going to be different because of different jobs in different parts of the country, or they simply happen not to be available for any one of the infinite number of reasons which might apply in this life. Bicycles are a healthy option which many people in fact do take up but they are not suitable for long-distance journeys – someone may live in London but work somewhere on the Sussex coast, or vice versa. It’s also true that in our society a car is a status symbol and icon, one that is necessary not just from the point of view of ego but because it implies the ability to succeed (by having earned the kind of money that will pay for the vehicle) and thus preserves not only the individual’s self-respect but the esteem in which he is held by others (I say “he” because I suspect this is primarily a male thing, but it matters because men make up roughly half of the total population). The pace at which modern society moves is such that having one’s own transport is all but essential to be able to interact with it and assist it in functioning (in all kinds of important matters, not just getting to work in the morning); which one might not be able always to do if dependent on someone else’s being available to do the driving, or on often unreliable trains and buses. The person who does not have a car may not the sort who employers, in this increasingly fast-paced world, are interested in or comfortable with. They may appear not only eccentric, but also something of a loser and therefore possibly not reliable. I suspect most people would therefore not give up use of their cars and walk or cycle everywhere unless they could be sure the rest of the population was going to do the same, so there was no chance of them being compared unfavourably with someone else; but that could not be guaranteed.
Unless people were so poor that they couldn't afford them, the government would have to pass harsh new laws restricting car ownership. We could have more trains instead – existing numbers of rolling stock would not be able to cope - but this would involve them travelling within a shorter time of one another than they do at the moment, which is not only impossible but extremely dangerous. At present the underground railway system in London takes away something of the strain imposed on this sector by sharing it, but at the cost of itself becoming frequently overcrowded, especially at peak periods when thousands are commuting to and from work (things get particularly nightmarish when a train breaks down in a tunnel and scores find themselves trapped inside it in soaring temperatures). In the future it will be even less able to play its part in reducing the burden.
The expansion of one sector of the transport industry will have considerable effect upon another, in terms of its ability to do its job and of the passenger's quality of life while using it. A growing world population is making greater use of air travel and so airports have to expand. London Airport's Terminal Five, once it is been built, will mean increased use of an already seriously overcrowded Tube as both the native-born, who have been abroad on business or pleasure and are now returning to their homes or workplaces, or visitors from overseas use it to get from the airport, where it starts, to the capital. Travel on the Underground can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience as it is, one made worse by, in particular, those familiar tourists with backpacks and suitcases taking up almost as much space as they do – making a coach effectively twice as crowded as it would otherwise be. It does not take much intelligence or common sense to appreciate how awful conditions would become if the number of Tube passengers were to at least double. There’d simply be too many people for the network to cope. More frequent trains are impractical for the reasons stated above; you could have bigger ones, but the platforms at each of the stations – over a hundred of them – would need to be lengthened at massive cost and considerable inconvenience to the public while the work was in progress. Unable to use the Tube because it was too full up or not even functional, the public would switch to buses and overland trains and simply transfer the overcrowding problem there. I have no doubt, by the way, that someone will go to great lengths to prove that the figures will not be more than the system can possibly handle; but there have been plenty of cases in the past when officially approved estimates of the capacity of engineering projects, when completed, to meet their users’ needs have proved wildly optimistic.
Overexpansion – by which I here mean expansion that might be necessary, but is still dangerous in its consequences – also has serious implications for the commercial air travel. More people are taking the plane to go on holiday or attend business meetings overseas. To cope with the increase we cannot have more planes working from the same airport because aircraft already take off and land within a very short time possible of each other, placing great strain and responsibility on air traffic controllers (and making you realise just what exceptional human beings they are) if accidents which could kill hundreds of people are to be avoided. The solution is to build more airports (which has a destructive impact upon local communities, and also as we’ve seen leads to potential congestion in other transport networks). But if at the same time you are also building more planes, the skies are becoming progressively more crowded. This matters much less than congestion on the roads, for example, because the sky constitutes a very large area of open space in which there’s more room in which to manouevre. But mid-air collisions do happen, for one reason for another, and the more planes there are in existence the greater the probability that some of them at least will hit each other – or indeed come to grief for any other reason, such as equipment failure. At present the number of air crashes is not going down – even if most airlines still have an excellent safety record, getting the vast majority of their passengers down in one piece - but the number of flights is going up. This means that by 2015 we may have one crash a week. Even though the actual overall percentage of planes lost and passengers killed will be small, there will still take place an absolute increase in the number of air disasters, and they may be featured on the TV news often enough to put many people off air travel since there will seem to be a greater probability one may lose one’s life. It’s also true that the larger, more extensive and more complex a system becomes the harder it is for fallible human beings to keep it under control and ensure safety. The outcome will be loss of public confidence in the sector, which if revenues fall and the ability of the industry to perform effectively or be economic is hampered, could have a disruptive effect upon international business. (Another, particularly distressing, implication of the expansion of international air travel is that with bigger planes, to cope with greater numbers of passengers, more people will be killed when something goes seriously wrong. Sooner or later, going by the law of probabilities if nothing else, the new A380 Airbus will crash and when it does four to five hundred people will lose their lives).
The area where the effects of overcrowding constitutes the most emotive issue in the public mind is undoubtedly the health service. Unacceptably long waiting lists for operations and the poor performance which results from overstressing doctors and nurses mean loss of life. One's mother, father, son, daughter, wife, husband, brother, sister etc - or for that matter oneself - is a potential victim of the problem. Some would deny that population growth, though undoubtedly a factor, is its real cause. But there seems no other way to explain the failure of all governments, Labour and Conservative alike, to deal with it - it's all too easy to turn the issue into a party political one by blaming those who preceded you in government. Rising population growth is the one constant factor which can serve as an explanation for it; the British National Health Service is crumbling not because of financial shortages or administrative deficiencies but because it is simply having to deal with too many patients. Someone from a local health authority, being interviewed on British television two or three years back, actually stated that this was the case. A rare and refreshing admission, but one which is not made very often, due to the political consequences it might have. Suggest that the problems of the NHS are due to there being too many people in the country, forcing on it a workload which overstretches its resources, and some will be inspired to campaign more vigorously to keep out all asylum seekers, even those whose reasons for coming to Britain are more understandable, or solve the problem by the "repatriation" of those sectors of the community - the black and Asian ethnic minorities - whose presence here they object to.
Undoubtedly the overpopulation problem is being rendered substan-tially worse by immigration. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s the immigration whose consequences people feared most was that from Commonwealth, or former Commonwealth, countries in Asia, Africa and the West Indies. It has undoubtedly swollen our numbers, but has petered off considerably in the last twenty years. Its end result, due to differences in demographic patterns, will be an increase in the number of non-whites relative to whites rather than in the general population. Its consequences will be essentially social and political. Where matters like this are concerned, and looking at those matters from an economic point of view, the issue which has now displaced it in the public mind is the people who have become collectively known as "asylum seekers". They desire to establish themselves permanently in Britain and other Western countries either because economic conditions there are better than back home or because they are fleeing political oppression. The issue has cultural repercussions which will be dealt with in another chapter, but in the meantime it is the economic ones which are altogether most serious. One may sympathise with those who are fleeing genuine oppression. The "economic" migrants are sometimes no more than criminals after rich pickings and even where they are simply trying to build a better life for themselves and their families (which may be the case with the vast majority of them), the general view seems to be that the country cannot accommodate them all and that the best option would be to help them in their own lands. But that in some cases, particularly the migrants from Africa and the Middle East, will involve trying to change the political situation in those countries - the situation from which many of them are trying to escape - which could have dangerous consequences, bringing about a violent reaction and destabilising international relations.
And unfortunately it has not proved easy to prevent those migrants whose motive is simply the rich pickings to be gained from entering a country or from avoiding detection once they are there. Or indeed to distinguish the deserving cases from the undeserving ones. And some refugees from persecution could be criminals as well, people who may commit theft, rape or murder and so inflame tensions between migrants and the indigenous population. It ought also to be pointed out that even if an immigrant's reasons for going to live in a certain country are morally understandable they will still be making a contribution to the growth of its population and thus also to the general strain on resources in various sectors. How far this is the case will depend on how many political refugees there are, and as the world is clearly becoming a more unstable place there is every likelihood their numbers will grow until we are forced from sheer necessity to keep them out. The increase would offset any benefit to be gained from spreading the responsibility for accepting asylum seekers as thinly as possible among a wide range of countries, because each country would still find itself presented with an impossibly large number of immigrants to assimilate and provide for. If Britain brings as many people as are "fleeing from genuine persecution", as well as all those migrants who it quite simply needs for economic reasons, the ultimate total of newcomers will be something more than its society can possibly cope with.
We may find ourselves having to resort to measures such as that taken recently in Denmark, by which Danish citizens are forbidden from marrying foreigners (who would presumably go to live with them in Denmark), as a means of reducing the number of new arrivals and therefore the stresses on society. The really terrible aspect of the problem is that it may cause us to interfere with the normal - and in most other circumstances, sacrosanct - process of love and marriage. If asylum seekers are having a damaging enough effect upon the economy, and marriage (fraudulent or otherwise) is one means by which they enter the country, then the Danish action is justified, though I don’t say so lightly. It is not sensible to automatically condemn as racialist what may be rather a regrettable necessity.
(It might be pointed out that a lot of people are now actually leaving Britain. But their numbers are being replaced by immigrants and the number of people entering the country is greater than the number leaving. So neither the cultural nor the socio-economic issues are resolved.)
There has been much controversy over where asylum seekers should be housed. Whatever motivates them, it does not matter from the point of view of their socio-economic impact whether they are spread out or concentrated in one particular part of the country; there will still be the same number of people contributing to the pressure being exerted on a single national economy.
Some argue that immigration can be the solution to the problem rather than its cause. The problems of the NHS might for example be remedied by importing more doctors and nurses from overseas - and indeed we may have no option but to do that. But those people would themselves, as members of the public, require medical treatment at some time (as well as contributing to general overcrowding and strain on resources in other areas); and so the problem would not be solved. We would be like a person running very fast in order to get to a certain destination and yet always staying on the same spot.
Our dilemma, of course, is that in all walks of life, due to the increasing age of the population, we need more immigrants to fill jobs for which there would otherwise be a severe shortage of applicants; and yet the addition to the population will offset any beneficial socioeconomic effect of this migration, as well as raise very problematical issues of racial and national identity. Trying to solve the problem by federalising the country, by dividing it into self-governing regions each with its own responsibility for funding essential services, will not work because each region on its own will not have enough financial resources to run everything properly.
Even supposing that there will be a total ban on all further immigration, which is something we cannot guarantee and indeed seems unlikely at present, and that the ban will prove effective - which also cannot be guaranteed - the number of people already in the country will still be too great to allow the NHS to function properly. This is worrying because the only way to solve the problem will then be by forcing people out of the country - people who by then may already be British citizens. We would have to start with those who had entered the country only recently, and then if that did not lessen the pressure go on to expel all migrants, including those who may have been here for ten years or more. This would undoubtedly have unpleasant consequences; apart from the ugly scenes we would be witnessing, and that regrettable hardening – debasement, arguably – which comes from doing what is distasteful but necessary, there is the impact on political refugees. If countries close all their borders to asylum seekers, or deport those of them who are already here, we will have to assume things will get worse for them since there is no indication that the problems they face in their home countries will cease. To the pressures caused by immigration we might also add the contribution to the problem caused by greater numbers of foreign students (which some people would like to see increased even further) and tourists. As with the many of the economic and political migrants, they are not necessarily here for a bad reason. But even if they choose in the end not to reside in the country permanently, or are only here in any case for a few weeks, while they are here they are adding to overcrowding and making use of the country’s transport facilities and other services, subjecting the camel’s back to even more strain.
Then on top of everything else there is another issue which has long been recognized and talked about, that of dealing with an ageing population. Naturally we have sought to raise living standards and use science to eliminate disease, and in the past two hundred years our efforts have met with remarkable success. This means people live and often preserve their faculties longer but also that when they do get old and infirm, the cost of caring for them all in terms of pensions and medical care rockets. It’s one area where we would hardly wish to turn back the clock; but if medical technological progress continues on the path it seems to be taking, the outcome must be an even more significant slowing down of the ageing process or even its elimination altogether. Yet if we eliminate ill health, retard ageing and ensure longevity to even a fractionally greater extent than we have already we will place intolerable stress on our most important services, especially given all the other things they need to do, or will need to do in the future: namely cater for those, not necessarily old, who suffer from long-term illness or disability, who have been hurt in accidents, or who have contracted disease or suffered injury because of the consequences of global warming.
If the troubles being experienced by the NHS and other vital services cannot be dealt with by either injecting more money or by administrative reforms - if the problem is simply one of its having too many people to cater for – and freezing out immigrants will make only a small difference, then some form of euthanasia may simply become inevitable, however much the thought of it might be disliked by some. If we fail to deal with the population explosion we will be in danger of having to bring about through sheer necessity what we often condemn on grounds of moral principle. I imagine that the first people to be affected would be those who were both old and seriously ill, followed by the old in general and then the sick in general. The mass killing of the elderly would be tragic in that we would be deprived of their wisdom and knowledge and also lose a link with the past which is psychologically comforting.
The danger we face is that in a complex and highly populous society whose financial and physical resources are under considerable and increasing pressure we may reach a stage where personal freedom, defined by the range of options that are open to one, has to be curtailed if it is being used in a damaging fashion. It cannot be guaranteed that people will employ it in the way which is least expensive and creates fewer logistical obstacles to the practical running of society. A conflict is being created between liberty and order, between freedom and the need to resolve all-important practical problems. The tension has always been present in democratic societies but is now becoming worryingly greater. It is seen in health issues especially. With a large population which is both continuing to grow and at the same time in some respects ageing the problem of caring for everyone’s medical needs, in terms of both finance and the physical allocation of resources, are going to be considerable, as we have found; and sometimes an individual’s personal behaviour has an effect upon the state of their health. We would prefer to eat what we like and nothing else, but obesity and the illnesses resulting from it are subjecting the NHS to immense strain. The sheer practical consideration of survival may have to be given a higher priority than the moral and political principle of freedom. We will have to ban those foods which contain too much fat and cholesterol (which may psychologically be the most satisfying, entailing that it may cause depression if one is prevented from eating them), introduce penal sanctions or crippling fines for adults who overeat or parents who allow their children to do so. The larger the population is, the more essential it is that its behaviour is not such as to add to the difficulties of catering for it; that people do not endanger their own health or safety, or that of others, by reckless driving, other forms of irresponsible conduct, or any lifestyle choice whose medical consequences society is going to have to pay for. This is what has led to the Nanny State, to the CCTV society beginning to replacing the Open one. There always has been reckless behaviour, which damages the rest of society, on the part of some people, and always some kind of legal penalty for it; but because the potential consequences of misconduct are now more serious the severity of the penalty has had to be increased and the definition of what constitutes an offence widened to include lifestyle choices. Those who, quite rightly, have always championed the free society and argued that it can continue in being indefinitely as long as we are able to keep out any would-be dictator whether foreign or home-grown, have failed to take into account the increasing complexity of that society in the present era and the implications of same.
We may have to introduce restrictions on the number of children a couple are allowed to have, and the stages in life when they have them. We may be tempted to see abortion as a form of birth control, which, however effective it might be as such and whatever one’s views are on the issue anyway, would be a morally debasing way of looking at it. And, since any small alleviation of the pressure may be crucial in making the difference between what we can cope with and what we can’t, penalties will be introduced for those who have children as a result of casual sex.
Some would argue that a lot of these things are irresponsible and that imposing a penalty for them would be a jolly good idea. Whether it really is depends on what kind of culture you’re living in. In a society that has always had these or other harsh restrictions, and in which they would be accepted (though even there, significant elements are clamouring for change), they might not do too much harm. But the West is not used to them and their imposition would have a similar kind of effect to when a host of old laws that have been forgotten about, but are still on the statute book, are suddenly enforced with a vengeance (as happened in the seventeenth century under King Charles I, and helped bring about civil war). The difference between cultures is an important one; what in one would be accepted is in another seen as harmful and, because it is viewed that way, would be; it would amount to an assumption of power over the lives and behaviour of ordinary citizens that could easily be abused. Laws that are undoubtedly controversial might be followed by laws that are undoubtedly unjust, and the nanny state become a police state. One is also moved to point out that knowing that its birth carried a penalty would not be likely to make an illegitimate child feel wanted. True freedom in the modern world involves being able to make one’s own career choices. We don’t want to be regimented like ants or certain other species of insect, with the state deciding for ourselves what kind of job we should go into. However, there is now emerging a conflict between this freedom and the efficient running of a complex heavily-populated society. If, for whatever reason, not enough people want to join professions like the police or health service which are vitally important and already experiencing difficulty dealing with their vast workload, then you have a big problem. The nation’s practical needs are being prevented from being met by society’s values and political culture; and the latter are in this case understandable and desirable. That this conflict would occur, negating the advantages society might gain from a growing population who might be expected to fill all the jobs that need to be done, has not been anticipated until now by most people. But it’s there, so what are we to do about it?
The idea of forcing people into a particular occupation is repellent and would certainly be resented if put into practice. Trouble is, to resolve the issue one must either do that or import labour from overseas, adding to the nation’s overcrowding problem and actually in many ways making things worse. There is a kind of vicious circle. This is what is happening in Britain today; many important jobs (in hotels for one thing, but also in many other sectors) have to be filled by migrants from the EU, especially Eastern Europe, or further afield because British people don’t want to do them. In a society which places great emphasis, in itself not unhealthily, on individual empowerment and the freedom to pick ‘n’ choose it is possible for some career options to be discarded as unattractive. There is no sign yet that present trends will change and until they do the migrants will have to remain here, creating pressures in all sectors which can only be contained – if at all – by the employment of more migrants, since for political reasons and to give society some peace of mind the government has to be seen to be doing something about the nation’s problems.
The country is going to find itself financially seriously constrained, when to all the considerations already mentioned – an expanded transport system, an ageing population, a generally overburdened and creaking health service – plus a few which will be dealt with in later chapters, is added the need in future to spend massive amounts of money on building defences against the effects of global warming or on the alternative course of moving settlements in coastal areas inland. Though the latter process will happen fairly slowly over the course of the next 50 years or so, that will not make it any less damaging in its effects. Repairs to buildings damaged by the storms global warming causes will also be costly.
All but essential services will have to be savagely cut finan-cially. This means cancelling, or cutting off the funding to, things which might still be important to people, or to categories of people, in terms of quality of life and will therefore cause considerable unhappiness and resentment. Was the decision of Frank Dobson, former British Health Secretary, that Viagra in view of its costs should be bought rather than prescribed for the time being an admission that the NHS has a serious financial problem, that it is under considerable strain? If in future things like Viagra have to be denied to those who wanted them – and who might be faithfully married couples, not promiscuous types looking for a thrill – there may well be unrest, because sex matters to people. "Prestige" projects of the sort that uplift a nation's spirit will have to go; I’ve already said what I think about the 2012 Olympics (although I would like to be more positive about it). Because a nation needs something to lift its morale from time to time, this will contribute to an already depressed and thus potentially violent society. Britain may also have to cut or terminate its overseas aid because of its own pressing problems at home and the need to spend money on solving them. She may also have to end her overseas military engagements. Whilst this may in some cases be beneficial, it is also possible it could damage British interests abroad. In particular, it could prevent her acting effectively as a partner to America in operations designed to counter threats to the Western world such as al-Qaeda; this would be disastrous given that America when left to her own devices has a tendency to act in a rash and undisciplined fashion, and needs some kind of (potentially) restraining influence upon her, however (in)effective.
To fund the expansion of the infrastructure and the building projects that will be needed to absorb population growth and defend against environmental threats, the government will have to either raise taxes or cut benefits. This will be unwelcome regardless of the political ramifications, which may not matter quite so much if people can see the measures are strictly necessary. If taxes are raised, the wealthier members of society will be less wealthy, which will hit them hard because their expectations, given their financial position, are high. If benefits are cut even more hardship will be caused as those in a dire financial situation will find that situation made worse.
There is one factor which may act as a check upon population growth and therefore all our other problems. The effect of potentially dangerous trends may be offset by the increase in male infertility, and the spread of old and new diseases. Although plague is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the advent of new diseases - AIDS, the Ebola virus and CJD to name but a few - and the return of old ones such as TB and scarlet fever may not in themselves amount to a threat to Man's survival. Life-threatening diseases, occasionally reaching epidemic proportions, have always been a fact of life. It is true that some of them are becoming resistant to antibiotics, but there is no reason to suppose the antibiotics themselves cannot be made more effective to keep pace with this trend. It is a race Man is never likely to win rather than one he is destined to lose. But apart from their being a rather drastic solution to the problem, the danger of diseases is that they may combine with other factors, other environmental hazards, to cause suffering and chaos on a scale unprecedented in human history. Along with overpopulation, the environmental disasters caused by global warming and political disruption in an increasingly unstable world, disease could lead to the collapse of health services and socio-economic meltdown, among other things causing mass movements of people who will place severe economic stress on the countries they migrate to (as well as carry the diseases there), lead to fears about cultural and racial identity, and prove a politically destabilising factor.
We might perhaps be able to solve many of the problems referred to above by moving to another planet. However, apart from the possibility that the trouble might simply start up all over again, with us ruining that planet just as we have ruined the earth, there is no guarantee that we could find a world which (a) had a natural environment suited to the biology of the human species and (b) possessed mineral resources of a kind we could use to create and maintain an industrial society. Certainly, no such planet is available within our solar system; though interesting to a scientist they are, nonetheless, still lifeless lumps of rock. As for those which have so far been discovered outside it, their nature is, it would seem, even more inhospitable. If any colonisable planets exist at all we do not have the technology to reach them within an acceptably short time, and its development, while perhaps possible, is not likely to occur in the near future. Meanwhile, people would not be happy to live there, whether or not they had any choice, and it doesn’t make sense to move from a planet with a threatened ecosystem to one that doesn’t have an ecosystem at all.
Regarding the planets in our solar system, and their moons, if we had the technology within a very short time to transform their environment into something in which humans could comfortably exist then we could also solve our environmental problems here on Earth without recourse to such an option (and then, of course, their mineral resources would have to be adequate for our long-term needs). In any case, the exploration and exploitation of outer space is not at present proceeding fast enough to keep pace with the environmental deterioration of the Earth (the situation has not been helped by the cutback in Congress funding for America's proposed space station (which installation is seen as a necessary preliminary to the establishment of bases on the Moon and Mars)). We are in danger of rendering our own planet uninhabitable before we have developed the means to conquer another.
Could scientific and engineering advances make it possible to solve problems of overcrowding by colonising and exploiting the oceans, or living underground, instead? The problem with undersea colonies is that no-one would want to live under the sea in protective domes, away from the fresh, open air and never being able to relish the feel of it on your face. You'd feel uncomfortably restricted and soon suffer psychological damage. Nor would you want to be operated on in the way that would be required to allow you to function in the water itself without having to continually decompress and wear protective gear all the time. Of the necessity the end result would not be entirely human, and people would balk at altering their appearance and metabolism so drastically from what they were accustomed to. And unless you were still human in your psychology and physical make-up, you'd still miss the open air, and the light. There would have to be some regulation of their mental processes to ensure they did not mind, and that would have alarming implications. All these problems would also be experienced in trying to establish underground colonies. Finally, the colonisation of outer space would be a dangerous thing if led to wars between planets, if the colonies were not on the same planet and seriously fell out with one another. On an interplanetary scale, war would presumably be conducted using the equivalent of nuclear weapons.

As well as the strain to which they subject the natural environment, numbers make people aggressive, especially when combined with the ethnic, cultural and political differences over which, given the imperfections of the world and in human nature, they are liable to fall out with one another – and, since hot weather also tends to have that effect, global warming. Which brings us back to the main subject of this chapter.
It has been suggested that even the beating of a butterfly’s wings (which would raise the overall atmospheric temperature, if by an extremely small amount), or some other factor which in itself seems insignificant can tip the balance between a degree of global warning which is manageable and one which is catastrophic. If this is true then it may make a crucial difference if I do not always turn my printer off at the wall because the plug is awkwardly positioned, the bed being in the way, and there is no room for the bed anywhere else (in fact both of these are the case). If preventing global warming is down to the individual, and if the severity of the problem is determined by such small differences, then it is questionable it can ever be solved because the individual’s cirumstances cannot be of such a nature that it’s possible to eliminate all factors which make it worse – unless he or she imposes on themselves an impossibly stressful degree of care which would be every bit as damaging psychologically as pollution can be materially. There are too many variables. We may already have passed the point of no return. Fear of any sort of regulation of the private sector and the way it runs industry, or of the world economy in general, has caused us to tackle global warming in too gradual and piecemeal a fashion, or to do nothing about it at all; and thus sleepwalk, or stumble, into a situation where it cannot be reversed. Yet always there is this preference for targeting the individual, getting them to change their lifestyle in ways which may not be practical or desirable for them rather than dealing with the real problem which is failure on a national governmental level to implement measures such as the expansion of renewable energy. It carries with it the danger that eco-friendly measures will fail to achieve a great deal while purely annoying ordinary people; something evident in the case of energy-saving lightbulbs which can cause migraines, partly because in the interests of benefiting the environment they often don’t give out enough actual light (I find it extremely annoying having to wait for a dimmer to come on fully, even if only for a short time).
With global warming there is simply no way of knowing whether, and by what degree, a small difference can have any effect on the overall consequences of global warming and this the safety of the planet. How therefore can I be sure my behaviour is making a difference in combating the problem? Especially when it is not always going to be possible for it to. I am simply not going to remember or to find it feasible to do everything that is necessary to reduce my carbon footprint. For example, I dislike leaving my computer on standby because this uses up energy and would prefer to switch it off altogether, but it takes a while to shut down and I very often may not be able to wait until the process is complete because I have an important appointment somewhere and need to be out of the house as soon as possible.
If any one of millions of people could potentially make a difference to the problem by what they do, how do I know whether it is my behaviour or theirs which is doing so, is performing the role of the butterfly’s wings? How far is something I do that is eco-friendly countered by something they do that isn’t? The problem with placing all the onus on the individual is that because of the conflicting demands they must meet, and their particular circumstances, which are always unique to a greater or lesser extent, the complex situations, the need to balance competing considerations, which arise in their affairs it cannot be borne. Even if I do everything possible in my own life to reduce my carbon footprint, how can I be sure that others are doing the same or compel them to do it if they are not? There is also confusion. According to one set of statistics my carbon footprint was tiny; according to another, based on a quite different set of criteria, it was huge.
It is not clear that every aspect of global warming, or of environmental pollution in general, actually threatens our very existence or merely, because we take pleasure from the beauty of nature and the diversity of the animal and plant kingdoms, damages the quality of our lives. But even so, damage to the quality of life is a serious enough business even if it doesn’t result in actual death. And forms of pollution other than global warming may still contribute to our demise even if they could never bring it about by themselves, whether singly or collectively.
Nor does it follow that we would necessarily be safe from environmental upheavals and their implications if there were no global warming at all. It has been suggested that the greenhouse effect, whether or not it is exacerbated by emissions of CO2 from industry, prevents there being a Third Ice Age. The theory is probably correct, given that global warming tends to melt ice caps rather than cause them to spread. But as we have seen this is rather a mixed blessing. And if we could not prevent another Ice Age, we might find the changed conditions hard to adjust to; in the worst case scenario, the disruption could bring about the collapse of modern industrialized society, with massive (and terrible) demographic consequences. It is hard to say exactly what the effects may be. I nonetheless feel, however, that cold is easier to adapt to and to withstand than heat (after all, killing animals and wearing their skins, and learning how to make fire, to keep himself warm was how Man survived). Cold can be invigorating since it stimulates intellectual and physical activity in order to generate life-saving heat while hot climates may make one sluggish, even lazy. I like to think the cold made northern European civilization, even though it may be erroneous to attribute racial characteristics or the course a given society’s development takes to climate (I don’t know what the climate was like in the Middle East during the “Dark Ages”, when the Arabs were going through a period of remarkable cultural flowering). But there would, unfortunately, be a serious downside. We would miss being able to lie on the beach or cool off with a swim at Biarritz, Brighton or Miami – things which have become psychologically necessary for us over the past century or so – and
would either seek to prevent the new Ice Age in the first place or, if we could not do that, reverse the climate change once it had happened. And anything which could have such a profound and widespread effect upon environmental conditions, by artificial means, would along with our hypothetical earthquake-preventing machine mentioned above be so powerful as to be downright scary.
In any case, it looks like heat is what we’re getting rather than cold. In many ways this is more dangerous. Whereas cold preserves, heat destroys. It makes people lethargic, and less able therefore to solve the problems global warming itself, and a host of other factors, creates. It makes them irritable, which could be even more dangerous. And for the foreseeable future, it is here to stay. In so far as it is caused by our own activities, I am regrettably convinced we do not have the ability to halt it by changing the way we live. And even if global warming on the scale predicted to take place is natural, something a planet like Earth does after a while, it will still amount to something catastrophic for Man. It may, like the earthquakes and volcanoes possibly, be a sign that the planet is entering a natural, and irreversible, phase of decline. Or it may not; but if so, it will still take centuries to return to something like a proper equilibrium. In the meantime, to be sure of protecting ourselves from its full consequences, which cannot precisely be calculated, would mean ceasing to exist as vulnerable, organic beings, and in the process losing our humanity. Of course, there are some who fear science may be leading us in that direction.

(1) Radford
(2) Ward, see previous chapter
(3) Paul Brown, “Global Warming: Can Civilisation Survive?" (Blandford 1996)
(4) ditto
(5) ditto
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(23) The Week magazine, c2007
(24) ditto
(25) ditto
(26) Fukuyama, The End of History, p84-88

Science 1: Shrinking Horizons?
It’s an inescapable part of our nature that we should always seek to find out more about the universe, and use our increased knowledge to make life easier, happier and more interesting for everyone. In many ways science has succeeded in this task, creating new technologies which raise the standard of living and afford us greater protection against disease than was available in previous centuries. It’s a force for good as well as harm, plus an inalienable part of the modern world-view, and there’s nothing to be gained by being afraid of it. The mad scientist who tries to take over the world using some fantastic new device he has invented – whether from a desire for power or an altruistic but misguided belief that he is going to make life better for everyone – is more or less non-existent in reality, stock-in-trade though he is of science fiction. Scientists can in practice do very little without the support of governments, as a good many of them have found to their extreme frustration when their grants are cut or money that has been promised seems to take a very long time to
trickle down to them. The ruling regime must make available to them the financial and physical resources they need to carry out research and experimentation. Totalitarian political systems, of the kind which persecute their citizens (or some of them) as well as, if possible, those of other countries may harness a decent scientist to their service by exploiting his quite legitimate patriotism or through fear, and employ cranks of the dangerous kind such as Dr Josef Mengele, but that is the fault of the regime rather than of science. There are of course those who lend their scientific skills to terrorist organizations, helping them make bombs which kill thousands of people; but generally scientists, though they may not be entirely admirable as individuals – Isaac Newton could be vindictive towards his colleagues and Albert Einstein’s relations with his family were somewhat dysfunctional – and are I am sure capable of being intellectually narrow-minded, mean only to add to our understanding of the universe we live in and to do so for the benefit of society. The problem with science, and it’s one that can’t (nor shouldn’t) be solved by trying to abolish it, is that (a) it isn’t a universal panacea, and can’t always help us to deal with personal problems or domestic tragedy or raise the moral tone of society; and (b), in a complex and flawed world it may end up doing as much harm as good, despite the best intentions on most people’s part. To put all our trust in it is not a good idea. It’s the contention of this chapter that in other respects than its effects upon the natural environment, it’s likely that unless it is to permanently stagnate, something which our nature renders an unappealing prospect, scientific and technical progress will if carried to its logical conclusion take us into areas which are terminally disastrous. In more ways than one, it can seem to open up to us a dangerously enticing world; dangerous because it isn’t actually there.


The future is exciting to us because we see science as enabling us to explore wonderful new realms. We should certainly hope to be able to do that. We naturally want the Universe to be multi-faceted, multi-layered, and absolutely fascinating, and science to be able to reveal that wonder to us. Neither a religious person (of the open-minded sort) nor a secular scientist has any problem with that. My concern is that the prospect of rendering accessible some of these new worlds may become a dangerous distraction from the necessary business of re-examining our lifestyle and outlook and, I believe, rediscovering God. We want to explore parallel universes, to meet intelligent extra-terrestrial beings and to travel in time. A universe where time and space form a closed, steady state, immutable system and where Man is the only sentient, reasoning species that can possibly exist does seem rather limited, stale and boring, not doing justice to either God’s glory or our own desire to enjoy all Creation to the full, sensually and intellectually. Maybe there are aliens, and maybe one day we will meet them; most people, including the majority of Christians, would probably describe themselves as being open-minded on the question. But perhaps some things are simply impossible. Perhaps there are other wonders, not entirely accessible through scientific or philosophical reasoning, which can be counted even greater. And perhaps there are good reasons for concluding that some of these new worlds will not be accessible, or useful to us in any practical fashion, within the foreseeable future.
Before we go any further, we need to take into account quantum physics, under which whatever we might say about the Universe is thought to be suspect. According to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle it is difficult to analyse the fundamental particles which make up everything because the mere act of analysis affects their behaviour and changes their nature from what it may have been before, giving a result which might be misleading. And if this is the case, nothing else about the universe is a foregone conclusion. They also point to the scenario of the hypothetical experiment involving Schrodinger’s cat, in which there is a fifty per cent chance of the radioactivity decaying and triggering the poison that kills the cat, so the cat is both alive and not alive which is an absurdity, but nonetheless true.
Commonsense and everyday experience prove that there is much we can be sure of. The Uncertainty Principle cannot contradict the laws of logic. It is quite simply impossible that the cat can be both alive and not alive; whatever produces such a conclusion must be false. It is quite simply impossible that effect can precede cause, as Heisenberg claimed. Abstract truths, (such as that there is no reason why the Universe should begin at any one point), and from which valid conclusions are derived, are unaffected by the physical problem of being unable to analyse the particle without altering its nature. Besides, the difficulty of gaining accurate information about the particle makes no difference to the fact that the particle exists in the first place, that there is something already there which we can attempt with or without success to investigate, and we ought to ask why the particle exists and what its existence shows about the Universe. We wouldn’t be here to discuss whether quantum theory was true in the first place without this universal constant. Quantum mechanics are undoubtedly a true fact about the Universe, but if we think they mean logic can be discarded we have misunderstood them.
Michael White writes in The Science of the X-Files, “as mystifying as Schrodinger’s cat experiment may be, it is based upon sound theory and decades of reasoning within the discipline of quantum mechanics. It does not feel comfortable because it appears to contravene the logical processes we have been educated to appreciate and some that may be instinctive to us as humans. Yet those principles may be right and our intuition wrong.”(1) But apart from the fact that intuition (not the same as simply assuming something to be true on face value) has often turned out to be right, it and logic are in fact two different things. It is logic I am trying to defend here rather than intuition, because however important intuition is logic (a) is clearly essential for a proper understanding of the Universe, and (b) cannot be denied. It’s undoubtedly true that quantum mechanics, as White points out, is the foundation of the science of lasers, advanced electronics and telecommunications, of television, advanced computing, and space travel among other things, which would seem to prove the validity of the theory. But without some unshakeable factual reality which remains constant there could be no progress, no connection, between the supposed facts about the universe on which the theory is based and the creation, and continued existence and operation, of the actual technology derived from it and which is a real feature of our everyday lives.
I expect those who like to maintain that quantum physics renders everything an open question would dismiss what I am saying as narrow-minded and dogmatic. Neither term can be used to describe simply stating what one believes to be true, merely because it is in opposition to what someone else thinks, and especially if one is actually talking sense. We always call something arrogant if we
don’t happen to like it, whereas if we did like it we would praise it as forthright and courageous. We might also be tempted to think that because something makes the Universe seem more interesting, it must necessarily be true; a fallacy which will be discussed again later in this chapter when dealing with wormholes and time travel.
In a bid to reconcile quantum theory with commonsense, some scientists have suggested that the equal probability of the cat dying or living creates two different universes, in each of which one of the two outcomes occurs. I intend to show that this cannot be the case and that parallel universes cannot be created merely by possibilities.
(1) Parallel Universes
It’s easy to see why the idea of these appeals to people; it would be interesting to see how our lives would have turned out if we had made different decisions on important issues from those we took in our own universe, or what course history would have taken if the Russian Revolution or the Second World War had never happened. I therefore deeply regret that I can’t find any reason to suppose parallel universes exist.
The first thing which comes to mind when considering the subject is that the whole notion of parallel “universes” implies a con-tradiction, if one defines the universe as everything that is. It might, though I tend to doubt it, be possible for there to be a realm in which there is absolutely nothing, not even the smallest sub-atomic particle (though if you could travel through it it could still be called a part of the universe, if “the universe” is defined in spatial terms regardless of whether there is anything in that space – and of course there would be something in it, i.e. oneself and any machine in which one was making one’s journey). But it would not be a very interesting place.
The idea of there being more than one universe represents a contradiction in terms, for there must by definition be just one, apart from possibly the Nowhere realm posited above. Parallel dimensions is a better term to use because it does not involve any contradiction, if a “dimension” is of such a nature that more than one unit of it can exist spatially within the same universe. We need to decide whether there is more than one space (the different spaces being the different dimensions). We could certainly speak of there being unity of space if the different dimensions were accessible to one another by any means, but even if they were not (a state of affairs which would render them insignificant to us) I think space must be one for the following reason. Everything must originate from one source; to argue otherwise would be to imply that things come into existence spontaneously, entirely indepen-dently of each other, or, if they did not have a moment of birth but have always been around (as we are told is the case with God), that they just happen to exist. And that, I find, goes against all reason. Everything must therefore be an aspect of the one single reality, and thus connected through it with everything else. Two or more separate spaces could not possibly have come into being, ever.
Why must there be only one space? Well, if there are two kinds of space and it is possible to move from one kind to the other then that involves a spatial link. If there isn’t, if one kind of space and the other are entirely separate with no means of communication between the two, then that implies an illogicality. If we accept it to be a logical truth that everything must come from the same source, then there must be something which it all has in common – i.e. the thing that everything comes from, whether in a pure or rearranged form. This would involve everything being spatially linked, being in the same space. Space is either a thing or a property of a thing (in other words, an aspect of that thing, dependent on the thing’s existence for its own, if existence is something properties have) and is thus subject to the above consideration.
Some scientists/science fiction fans believe there may be “wormholes”: short tunnels linking vastly separated regions of space, or different kinds of space, between which they serve as shortcuts. Their name is derived from the little tunnels bored by worms in apples, whose length is less than the circumferences of the apples. But an apple is of a certain size and has a certain extent, i.e. is finite, whereas space is infinite. If there can be only one universe in spatial terms (as opposed to other dimensions occupying the same space as this universe but on a different plane, which is what I mean by different kinds of space) then there can be no wormholes. I can conceive of a wormhole as a region of space where, in some way, things may be such as to enable someone to travel to another part of the universe faster. I cannot conceive of it as a gateway to another universe, a separate universe in its own right, or part of another universe. There can only be one universe because there is no limit to its size, and by definition there is nothing outside it. Therefore it has no structure (that would apply an independent existence relative to something else, some background against which the structure is delineated), whether solid and integrated or a network of interconnected large and small components (the main universe, the wormholes connecting it to the mini-universes and the mini-universes themselves).
It has become acceptable to be a Doctor Who fan now, perhaps because of the accession to positions of power and influence of the generation that grew up on it, so I can quote from the programme unrepentantly. A remark made during the 1970 story Inferno suggests that the different dimensions, or some of them, exist not in space but in time. Returning from his visit to a parallel “universe”, the Doctor afterwards spoke of his TARDIS (for the uninitiated, the machine by which he travels in space and time, the initials standing for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) as having moved him sideways in time. I am not sure that moving “sideways” in time makes sense in the context of the story, because the impression we are given is that he has travelled to another dimension rather than another time zone, unless he is saying that parallel universes exist at different points in time (an interesting notion which we have absolutely no way of proving or refuting). If everything happens in time then in a sense the Doctor was speaking the truth. But in that case it could just as truthfully be said that when I stepped to one side just now to avoid that car which was about to run me down, I was moving sideways in time (as well as in space), then too. I was certainly not travelling into a parallel dimension.
It is indeed more likely that he moved sideways in space (in other words, dimensions are arranged horizontally in rows). Besides, “sideways” is spatial direction, a spatial value (as are “alongside”, “above” and “below”). But where in space was the Doctor going?
If our own and other dimensions all exist within the same space, does this make them no different from planets in “ordinary” space, such as Mars and Venus? Evidently it doesn’t, for in science fiction our own and other dimensions are not accessible to each other in the ordinary way (that is, by foot, car, horse, plane, boat, train or spacecraft). Specialised equipment, or an accident to your TARDIS (the good Doctor was trying to kick-start his, it having been deactivated by his superiors the Time Lords when they exiled him to Earth, by linking it to a nuclear reactor and there was a sudden unexpected power surge) is required in order to make the journey. We can only speculate why this is so, but whatever the reason it is clear that dimensions are not interconnected by ordinary means. But if they exist within one space, they are not so much parallel dimensions but simply areas of space which are cut off from other areas of space (presumably by mysterious, invisible barriers which, for all those encountering them were to know, might conceal other “dimensions” but could only be proved to do so if we actually succeeded in penetrating them (and who knows, we might not)).
There is a possibility that parallel dimensions, whilst they (a) exist in our own universe and (b) are undetectable (at present) from each other, are something different from little pocket universes existing within the main one. If they do exist in the same universe as our own, where in it do they exist (for logically, whatever exists in any form must exist somewhere?) If they exist in the same kind of space as ours, but are clearly something fundamentally different from a planet in our own dimension, then there is a possibility they may occupy the same positions in space and time as objects in this dimension. That is clearly impossible if they have any sort of physical reality. Though it is conceivable that something or other (I don’t know what) might prevent us from detecting them with any of our senses, the consequences if they tried to exist at the same points in space as things in our universe would be unfortunate. They would fail, and most likely fail painfully (for us as well as themselves).
There may be a way of getting around this difficulty. Some scientific theories about which I have heard suggest there are gaps between the molecules which make up matter (human bodies included). If that is the case, the molecules of beings and objects in the other dimension could exist within those gaps (there would therefore have to be a limit – and who or what would impose, and maintain, that limit – to the number of dimensions that existed, in case the gaps filled up and all things exploded as they tried to occupy the same positions simultaneously). There would also have to be an agency – the same agency, or a different one? – which prevented the molecules of an object or person in one dimension from colliding with those of objects or people in another dimension whenever either of them moved. The collision would presumably have catastrophic consequences; although molecules are very small, physical objects and living bodies – agglomerations of molecules – often are not. I don’t know, not being a physicist, whether anything disastrous ever happens when one molecule hits another, but a body hitting another body is clearly a different matter.
This means we could only move in the ways, and in the directions, which the agency wanted, and thus would not be free agents; and our everyday experiences suggest we do have free will, even if beings in other dimensions do not. The whole theory would therefore seem to be washed out.
I am also inclined to doubt the molecular gaps exist, whether anything inhabits them or not. I think the universe must be endless, because any limits there might be to it would be essentially arbitrary. There is no reason why it should begin or end at any particular point or points. Thus there could be no place where it ended and something which was not the universe began – and no gaps in it either.
Parallel dimensions fall into two types; those which mirror, to a greater or lesser extent, things in other dimensions, and those which do not. Where different dimensions do mirror each other, this strikes me as strange.
In science fiction parallel dimensions some of the differences are caused by a person in one dimension taking a different decision, in the same sort of situation, from that taken by their counterpart in another dimension. It is said to be the various possibilities, the various choices, inherent in certain situations which create each of the different parallel universes. There must initially have been only one universe, and on the first occasion when a life form in that universe which had developed intelligence found itself in a situation where a decision to do something was necessary one or more (the exact number would depend on the number of possible options) other universes came into being. As people in those universes made decisions on this or that matter, still more universes would be created, and the process could go on forever with an infinite number of universes being brought into existence.
Such a notion can be refuted. Something which is only a possibility, or a probability, and not a certainty, does not exist and, if it is an event, is not happening. This is not the case where something might be existing/happening now and actually is doing so, regardless of whether anyone knows it is existing/happening, because its reality gives it significance and the ability to influence events. For example, we cannot prove there is no intelligent life on other planets, and if that life does exist and is discovered by us the consequences for science and for our perception of ourselves will be tremendous. But when we are talking about the mere possibility/probability that something will exist/happen in the future – in other words, it is not existing or happening now – what we have is essentially nothingness. And things cannot originate out of nothing (the Book of Genesis appears to suggest they do, but one can identify reasons for its exaggerating somewhat; the relatively simple, pastoral people who made up its original audience would probably not have understood atoms and molecules, and besides God may have wanted humanity to work out the existence and functioning of such things for itself, which would have been more exciting for it). The molecules which make up the objects which exist, and whose behaviour constitutes what we call events, will always be present, but since the form the parallel dimension takes, like the form anything takes, consists in the way those molecules are arranged and behave, and that behaviour is not predetermined, no difference is made to the point I am trying to get across. Therefore “mirror” universes cannot be created by the mere possibility of one or more given contingencies being realised. If they exist, it is not because of the decisions taken in other universes. They must have existed right from the beginning of things.
It seems far too much of a coincidence that there should be a variety of universes each with the same people and objects in them, unless there were some purpose behind it, assuming we can speak of “purpose” in nature. So we must ask why nature would have copied herself thousands of times over, what she could possibly have gained by it, and why the different universes should be inaccessible to each other. This is such uncharted territory, scientifically speaking, that we have no means of answering the question. A lot depends here on whether everything originates from a God, a creative intelligence. If it does, then creating parallel universes seems a strange thing for Him to have done. If He did it because he wanted to create variety, and thought that that variety would be of a particularly interesting kind if it involved people being different but not entirely so, He could have achieved that aim just as well by having lots of different planets, with different (to some extent) people on them, in “ordinary space” and thus accessible to each other so that the variety could be fully appreciated.
Someone suggested to me recently that an infinity of different universes, or at least more than one universe, was necessary for there to be free will. Since we are only acquainted with one, our own, and have at present no means of establishing whether there are any others, it may seem impossible to answer this point. However we do not require access to any other universes which may exist in order to do so.
It is my belief, set out above, that it is an absolute logical truth that imperfect knowledge must inevitably produce free will. You don’t need more than one universe for it to be true; its truth is a necessary truth, and in any set of circumstances. In any case the implication of the idea, if I have understood it correctly, is that people in any one universe would not have enough criteria with which to make free choices. In other words, nobody in any of the universes would have free will, which rather destroys the point of having more than one if its purpose is to make free choices possible. Although the circumstances in each universe would be different, what we would need would be for people to experience the circumstances prevailing in all universes; something which could be achieved just as easily by only having one. Situations in which there are no obvious criteria determining one’s actions, leading to free will, occur with sufficient regularity in our own universe for no other universes to be necessary.
Parallel universes are among the things science buffs seem to get most easily overexcited about. Paul Parsons in The Science of Doctor Who asks us to “Imagine an alien on a planet in a galaxy 100 billion light years away. He, she or it will be so far away that we on Earth won’t have seen its galaxy, and it won’t have seen our Milky Way. In fact neither party is due to clock the other’s patch of space for another 86.3 billion years. The alien is, in effect, totally disconnected from us – as if it’s living in another universe. And this is the basic idea with {what is termed} a Level 1 multiverse. Because inflation has made space so big, the universe is made up of a vast number of disconnected volumes, each of which can be thought of as an independent universe in its own right.”(2) But this is a metaphorical rather than a physical truth and too much should not be made of it – spatially it’s still all the same universe. Extent is being confused with what is or isn’t able to exist within it.
“Tegmark {Professor Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology} calculates that there are so many universes in a Level 1 multiverse that there’s likely to be an exact copy of you, reading this very same book, on a planet just like Earth somewhere. “There are an infinite number of other inhabited planets, including not just one but infinitely many that have people with the same appearance, name and memories as you, who play out every possible permutation of your life choices,” he explains.”(3) I can accept that probability makes this possible if the Universe is a certain size, but it would still be the same universe. It is important to note that not all scientists or sci-fi buffs would necessarily endorse the view apparently expressed here that the mere possibility of something implies its actually existing or happening.
“If it sounds crazy, then – according to some physicists and mathematicians – that’s because it is. “Tegmark seems to be saying that anything you can think of must exist, just because you can think of it,” says Professor Ian Stewart, a mathematician at the University of Warwick. “He’s confusing the mathematical space of all the things that could happen with the physical things that do happen. If nothing else, this falls outside the normal range of what we consider to be science, because there’s no way you can test it.””(4)
To be fair, tendencies towards rather bizarre reasoning, producing arguments which can be shot down pretty easily and not necessarily only those with qualifications in physics, are maybe a result of the sheer difficulty even for a brilliant scientist in comprehending the very concepts we are discussing here, the vast areas of space and time involved. In the circumstances they are a kind of wishful thinking, an option which seems cosy because no other is available. ““These are tricky concepts because they’re idealizations of mental thought processes as much as anything,” admits Ian Stewart. “Indeed, it’s easy for us to be sloppy about what we mean by infinity, and to use the word as a catch-all term even when we don’t really know what we’re talking about. Stewart cites the commonly uttered statement, “in an infinite universe everything possible would happen somewhere,” as one of the worst misconceptions. “Then how about an infinite universe consisting of large numbers of copies of a chair?” he wonders.(5) Or one that doesn’t, and it must be one or the other – there is an equal probability of two eventualities happening that are mutually contradictory, and as this breaks the law of reason there must be something wrong somewhere. These kinds of objection could be levelled against a good deal of what is suggested by some scientists and their followers, including time travel, dimensional transcendentality and the idea that relativity theory distorts time and space themselves rather than the things in them.
In The Physics of Star Trek Lawrence Krauss suggests the existence of multiple universes could derive from that of the mind, along with the operation of quantum physics. “Our consciousness is always unique, never indeterminate. Is the act of consciousness a measurement? If so, then it could be said that at any instant there is a nonzero quantum mechanical probability for a number of different outcomes to occur, and our act of consciousness determines which branch we inhabit, but an infinite number of other possibilities exist a priori.”(6) Since the mere idea of something does not automatically bring it into existence or cause it to occur, and never has done (even for God; being omniscient he must clearly have the idea of the moon being made of green cheese, yet obviously it is not), this theory can be discounted.
Nor is Krauss correct in thinking that General Relativity proves parallel dimensions to be possible. On page p142 he writes, “Once three-dimensional space was tied with time to make four-dimensional spacetime by Hermann Minkowski, it was natural to suppose that the process might continue. Moreover, once general relativity demonstrated that what we perceive as the force of gravity can be associated with the curvature of spacetime, it was not outrageous to speculate that perhaps other forces might be associated with curvature in yet other dimensions.” But since, as we will see later, space and time cannot be “curved” in the first place, they cannot by being that way bring other dimensions into existence. It is perfectly correct to speak of “spacetime” since things exist and happen in both, and both are essential features of the Universe, fundamentally and equally important in determining the behaviour of entities within it. It is also correct to see “spacetime” as four-dimensional since objects in it have the dimensions of height, length and breadth and also that of timefulness, that is continued existence in whatever form. Beyond this, however, Krauss is wrong.
Parsons, quoting Professor Andrei Linde of Stanford University, suggests that “random quantum fluctuations in our universe are constantly creating new inflationary universes, which are budding off from our own. And so a multiverse picture starts to emerge of an interlinked network of universes and baby universes. If this is correct then our own universe may actually be a baby universe – a bubble of spacetime that sprouted away from its parent universe 13.7 billion years ago.”(7) Parsons also writes: “if gravity obeys the laws of quantum physics then in the same way that space on small scales is bubbling with subatomic particles, so spacetime itself on the smallest scales will then be a frothing mass of loops, bubbles – and wormholes which could be used to time travel…by threading it with exotic matter.”(8) But whatever its implications, quantum theory cannot break the laws of logic any more than relativity can. Fascinating and unpredictable as the Universe is, it must obey those laws; so, unfortunately perhaps (or should one rather be grateful, considering the issues that might arise,) neither quantum physics nor, for example, string theory can be used to prove the existence of these wonderful parallel universes or the feasibility of travel between different “time zones”. The neutrino particle appears to vanish from a particular position and reappear somewhere else without passing through the intervening space. Since this is quite simply impossible – logically, for anything with some sort of physical reality to move from A to B entails it has to first traverse what lies between them – there must be some other explanation for this undoubtedly intriguing phenomenon. When you have eliminated the impossible then whatever remains, however improbable (it might be improbable to a dedicated quantum physicist, must be the truth). Besides, if the universe is a strange, wonderful and not yet fully understood place then, if anything, it is quite possible for the neutrino to do its stuff without breaking all the laws of sensible physics, despite what appears to be the case.
(2) Time travel
In science fiction, time travel most often takes place in the sense of an object or person, or groups of objects or persons, travelling bodily backwards or forwards through time, usually in some kind of craft specially designed for the purpose. The rest of the universe stays where it is.
This entails that the past, present and future are continuously existing places, unless perhaps it is the case that the whole, or a part, of time itself is being moved backwards or forwards rather than that individuals are travelling through time. Apart from the fact that the past and future would not be the past and future – the past never exists because it has ceased to be – we would need to ask, if they are all continuously existing places, exactly where they existed, for laws relating to space would still have to apply regardless of what one could or could not do with time.
When a time traveller arrives in, say, Renaissance Italy, they are in a place which clearly has a physical existence, and within which movement between various points is possible, and which must therefore occupy a certain amount of space. Where is that space? It cannot be the space which is taken up by modern Italy. It is probable that there are many points in space which have, either successively or at points in time which may be fairly widely separated, been occupied by more than one object. There may be, say, a spot down the road from me which is now taken up by a 1960s office block, which replaced a Victorian warehouse on the same site, and which in ten years’ time will itself be demolished and replaced by a leisure centre. If the world of today occupies the same position in space as that which existed in the fifteenth century or any other period of history before our own, along with that which will exist in the future, then there must, if time travel is possible, be a certain number of objects existing in exactly the same spatial location, something which is physically impossible.
As indicated above, the problem would be overcome if it were the whole world or universe which had travelled back in time. Then, objects would simply return to the positions they occupied before they occupied other positions, or take up entirely new ones; if they were/will be at some point physically broken up, their mole-cules will disperse into the atmosphere or assume new forms elsewhere. But this is clearly a different sort of thing from what happens when Doctor Who goes somewhere (temporally) in his TARDIS. It would also involve certain dangers. In the case of time going forwards, the person wanting to see the future would have to be somehow isolated from the effects of the process; otherwise a point might be reached at which they died (the cause of their death perhaps being something entirely unexpected). If time went backwards they would immediately reach the point just before the process began; it would thereupon cease, and they would never reach their destination.
The point of space where they arrive might become occupied at some stage by a physical object such as a wall, perhaps with nasty consequences. The possibility of ending up in an unpleasant or dangerous environment, such as the interior of a furnace or the bottom of the sea, is a hazard which must face all time travelers whether their destination is the past or the future (though a lot depends on whether you are inside some kind of machine and how fireproof/waterproof it is; it means they must have a detailed and 100% accurate knowledge of where they are going in space, which in the case of the future would amount to ESP. Quite apart from the impossibility, unless free will is denied, of ever being able to predict the future – to know what will exist in it, in what form, and where – the knowledge would for both past and present be prohibitively difficult to acquire.
The only other way the physical restrictions on the concurrent existence of a past, present and future might be overcome is if, whenever anything in the world changes, the world is somehow duplicated and the copy transferred to a different point in space from that which will be occupied by the original and still existing world. This process would have to take place every second or so, as the changes do. Apart from the fact that any time machine which was ever developed would have to have a mechanism for locating, in space, each of the countless worlds which would be created by it, the whole scenario inevitably seems unacceptably absurd.
That’s not to say it is impossible. But there is another important reason why rolling time, whether over the whole universe or just a part of it, backwards is unfeasible. It’s logically impossible for time to go backwards, whether naturally or as a result of temporal tinkering by intelligent life forms. Nothing can happen without a reason, so everything is a matter of cause and effect (“cause” and “reason” are more or less the same thing, in so far as both terms mean an explanation for why something happens or exists in the way it does). Since, logically, cause must precede effect unless it is simultaneous with it, events can only happen in a forward direction. If the cause follows the effect then it cannot be a reason for it, and the effect simply happens, which is absurd. Therefore time, if it moves at all – and regardless of whether it moves of its own accord or is given a push by the hand of some intelligent life form – must move in only one direction, and that is forwards. This is so because logic must apply to all things, time included. What’s logically impossible is absolutely impossible.
If you were to roll time forwards, you could not then roll it back again to the present; so you would not be able to enjoy any of the benefits which might accrue to you from the knowledge you would have gained from your knowledge of the future (such as knowing which horse to bet on in the Grand National). So there wouldn’t be any point in accelerating time forwards; it would mean only that people would all live faster than normal, and thus be prevented from really enjoying their experiences, and that would be a terrible tragedy, especially when we live much too fast as it is.
It will be apparent that time travel by individuals is also ruled out by the above. One could not go back in time to a point before one was born, since one’s birth would have been the cause, albeit indirectly, of one’s journey, and one cannot arrive somewhere before one has been born (and thus rendered able to set out for one’s destination). Neither could you travel to the future, because when you returned to the present you would be affected by things that had not yet happened, possessing memories of things that you experienced in the future time to which you travelled and being able to make decisions and perform actions as a result of them.
Whether I am right in what I’m saying, i.e. that the imposs-ibility of backwards causation makes travel to the past impossible, depends on the nature of time, because in one sense things would not be happening before their causes. If time were analogous to space in the sense that you could travel backwards and forwards in it, the “cause before effect” principle would not apply. There could simply be two kinds of time, “real” time (in which the time traveler is born and later sets off in their time machine), and time as it is when travelled through. Though there is still, in a sense, backwards causation, it is not of a sort which makes the temporal journey logically impossible. In an important respect, the causal arrow would still be travelling forward.
We must decide whether, if time were of a certain nature (i.e. analogous to some extent to space), backwards causation could not be said to be involved; whether time being of this nature would infringe, or not prevent other factors infringing, the principle that things cannot happen before their causes? If it does then the possibility of time travel is disproved. We have here a situation where A is an essential truth, and B is incompatible with it, rendering B impossible, but an additional factor, C, which may alter the situation, has been introduced into the equation. Logically, if A is an essential truth C must be compatible with A as well as B if it is to perform the task of reconciling the two. It is not compatible with it. For time to be analogous to space, in that you can go through it from A to B without contravening any of the rules of logic, would involve the past, present and future being concurrently existing places, which as I argued above embodies a contradiction. This I think is the real objection to the idea of travel to the past. The only way of getting round it is for the whole world to go back in time, and this is not what is normally envisaged when we think and speak of time travel.
If a time traveller goes into the past then they must clearly, in order to make their journey, already exist. Even if it is possible for them to exist before they have been born – to exist in one timeframe but not in another – where do they exist? Again it is clear there must be a past, present and future existing concurrently. It may also be considered that for them to make their journey implies that the future of the time to which they travel – a future in which they are born, grow up, come to understand time travel, build their time machine and pull the starter lever – is preordained (regardless of whether something shifts it to a different spatial position so as to get round the problem of it existing at the same point in space as the past). This would deny free will, which the evidence suggests we do possess, as I’ll be arguing later.
In any case, as made clear above, I do not believe time is analogous to space. It would help here to establish its exact nature. There is no evidence that it is a medium, a substance, through which one could travel.
There must clearly be a fundamental element, which cannot be created or destroyed, at the root of everything. If there weren’t, nothing could exist in any coherent form and we wouldn’t be around to discuss this article and agree or disagree with its conclusions. There would be no base on which to build an ordered universe. An important part of this fundamental element would be matter – which science says can’t be created or destroyed – and without which the universe would certainly be a very odd place. We will leave aside for the moment the question of whether the fundamental element is God.
Logically, what cannot be destroyed must continue to be. It is that continuation, the fact that something is enduring, which creates time. Since everything comes in some way or other from the fundamental element, everything endures forever, though not in the same form (the fundamental element, to do its job, must itself be unchanging).
Since time is a property of things (their continuing to be) rather than a thing in itself – you can’t point to, or produce in a laboratory, any entity of which it could be said “look, that’s continuation” – then it cannot itself have properties, such as extension, and so can’t be analogous to space. A property must be a property of something.
Going back in time implies the ability to commit actions which in some cases at least would be logically impossible. It may not appear possible to change history in that for things to have happened and yet not happened seems absurd and inconceivable. In one sense it is conceivable. An “event” is not the same thing as a physical object or a thought impulse. It is merely the way in which the object or the thought impulse behaves. Events happen, but they do not exist. The objects whose behaviour constitutes events are composed of particles, and the events are caused by some action or rearrangement of those particles. When we change the past so that different events happen from those which happened in “original” time we are merely altering the positions of the particles making up the entities whose actions constitute the events. To the question of how something can have happened and yet not happened, the answer must be that in a sense everything happens, because events are essentially the actions and interactions of physical objects and energy-states, and the molecules which compose those objects and energy-states will always exist regardless of whether anyone has been messing about with time.
However, there is clearly a qualitative difference between an object when it has any given property or location in space and the same object when it has any other given property or location, regardless of whether it always remains numerically identical with itself, and that qualitative difference is a causal factor of great importance. Let us ask ourselves whether, if time is changed – either deliberately, or accidentally as a result of some natural phenomenon or the unintentional action of a person, we can say that an event/object which was thus prevented from occurring/existing really happened/existed? Yes we can – because if time is now on the course onto which it was shifted by the temporal change(s), there must be a reason for that. It was shifted onto it for a purpose, and something must have “happened”, or existed, to create that purpose. The agency which did the shifting, whatever that agency was, shifted it from one course onto another, and its being on its current course is therefore a result, and effect, of having previously been on another (because, in the case of human action, someone wanted to change its course). A “change” must necessarily be a transition from one state of affairs to another, and the original state of affairs is the cause of the state to which they have altered. To deny this would entail that things could happen without reasons, without causes, and that’d be silly. We are presented here with a paradox that proves the impossibility of time travel, because things would both have happened and (because we went back in time and changed the past) not have happened. But they could only have done one or the other. Attention has often been drawn to such paradoxes in the past, and I see no reason why they should not ensue from the ability to travel in time. Some are not really paradoxes at all. Parsons at one point brings up the scenario where a time traveller presents the young William Shakespeare with a complete edition of his own works, which the Bard then publishes under his own name. Who then actually wrote the plays?(9) Well, Shakespeare would have done if the time traveller hadn’t intervened, and it was his having done so in unaltered time which was the cause of the time traveller making his journey into the past and changing it, mischievously or perhaps with genuinely good intent. There is still a causal chain connecting Shakespeare to the publication of the works, it’s just that the nature of it has changed because of the time traveller’s intervention. The situation isn’t as absurd as it seems and is certainly more likely than those where someone goes back in time to stop a certain event from happening, only to find that their action in doing this was in fact its cause – their intention to prevent it not actually having a cause itself. But that doesn’t mean time travel is possible in the first place. For one thing, there are other paradoxes which undoubtedly are that, the most famous of which has you journeying back in time to kill your grandfather when he was a child. If you succeed you would never have been born, so you could not have gone back in time to kill Grandad. You would both have travelled in time and not travelled in time, been born and not been born.
Logic dictates what is or is not possible within our universe, or for that matter any universe. It cannot be denied. It is the underlying structure which constantly determines what can and cannot exist/happen, the form which events and objects must take. If there is this internal consistency to things, and if logic really is logic, then it follows (in some way we can’t perhaps fully explain in words) that whatever would inevitably result in a logically impossible occurrence must itself be impossible. If logic is logic it must apply everywhere, whether directly or indirectly.
Some scientists claim to have found a way round this problem where time travel is concerned. Professor Igor Novikov suggests that in line with the principle of least action, one of the basic tenets of physics (although not a qualified physicist I would imagine that it is much the same thing as the principle of conservation of energy, for it appears to dictate that the energy being used in any physical system is only as much as is absolutely necessary to do the job) there is a non-paradoxical, self-consistent sequence of events. We are asked to imagine a billiard ball going through a wormhole and back in time (wormholes are thought to make this possible because they result from a distortion of the fabric of the universe). Something {erhaps the operation of logic as I suggested above, if it is equivalent to Novikov’s “self-consistency” principle?} aims the ball so that when it emerges from the mouth of the wormhole it collides with its earlier self and prevents it from entering the time machine in the first place.(10) Assuming time travel is possible in the first instance, Novikov may be right. The trouble is, there is still a logical impossibility at the heart of things. There are two billiard balls in existence (or one could not collide with the other) where there should only be one because (a) the ball is qualitatively and quantitavely identical only with itself and (b) if it can be duplicated then so can everything else in the universe be duplicated by the process that we see here, namely the possibility of time travel and its effects, and it is not clear how the copies of each entity would be accommodated.
Yet another problem with time travel is that free will would be contradicted. It is a matter of debate whether we possess this faculty, and I do not wish to diverge too far from the subject of this chapter. In my view, for proving that we do possess it it should suffice that:
(a) If our thoughts and thus our actions were not our own we would have no self-consciousness, but we do.
(b) There are some situations where we simply don’t know what to do about something, but nevertheless act in the end in one way or another. Where commonsense and our knowledge of our environment make it inevitable we will do a given thing, unless illness has disrupted the normal functioning of our minds, we could say our decisions and thus the resulting actions were determined by those factors. However if there are no such determining factors, but a decision is still made, the decision can only ensue from free will.
When we think we have made the wrong/right decision regarding something we feel a sense of guilt/warm glow of satisfaction, which we don’t when we do something because we simply can’t help it. This suggests there is a qualitative difference between the two kinds of action, and thus points to the existence of free will even though it may not decisively prove it.
If free will is not an illusion then strict limits on the way one can time travel are implied. If we could travel to the future, our exact destination could not be an object such as a building, or indeed any particular point in space if points in space are to be identified using nearby objects or agglomerations of matter (the planets, land masses etc on which they are located), as is in fact the case. We could not be sure that those objects or matter formations existed for us to travel to; they might have been demolished, or devastated by nuclear war, unless the future is predetermined. This also means that people from our future cannot travel into their past – our present – to meet us, since they do not yet exist. If we had gone into the future and then returned to the present, we would be travelling back to the latter through territory whose existence would always have been inevitable. The only sense in which we could go into the future would be that of travelling to a point in the past and then journeying back to one’s present; one would be journeying through what would to the people living at the point in the past to which we had gone be the future.
Possibly the future exists as a kind of void, in which objects and people appear if, as time moves on, nothing happens to prevent their continuing to be. The only things that would exist there would be those whose nature was such that nothing, natural or man-made, could ever destroy them – the subatomic particles out of which everything is constructed (whether this would have the effect of making the realm look like a void I am not sure, but whatever kind of world we are talking about here would not in the long run be of any great interest to us). As time caught up with one without anything happening to prevent the continued existence of an object, its particles would come together to create it. If we travelled to the future in a time machine, and it really was “the future”, we would have to wait for time to catch up with us before anything interesting could be observed. How long the waiting would be would depend on how far into the future one had travelled (although spatially it would have nothing about it to recommend it, time would presumably still be going on in some way). I imagine our time traveller would not be prepared to wait more than a day or two unless they had gone into the future for some very important reason. Waiting for periods such as a billion years would be particularly irksome! But in any case travelling to the future would be rather a dead loss since it would exist only as a void until events caught up with it, after which it would of course no longer be the future but the present.
If, as time moves on, nothing happens to prevent an object from continuing to exist at that point in space, such as its being moved or destroyed (that is, molecularly destructured), and it becomes a part of the future, of what in one sense would be my present, it will materialize at exactly the point where I am standing, possibly with unfortunate consequences for myself. However I doubt on grounds of logic whether such intriguing scenarios are possible; that the future can exist even as a void. If the future cannot be predetermined, then it will not have been “decided” whether it is to be a void or a place with at least some objects existing in it. It will be neither of those things; and therefore, just as a cat is either a cat or not a cat, it will not exist at all. If it does not exist, one cannot travel to it.
Not everything would of course be affected by the variable of human free will. Anything which wasn’t would be found to exist in complete, rather than basic molecular, form, in the future realm. But given the ability of Man to devastate his entire planet through nuclear weaponry, perhaps even physically destroying it if enough nuclear bombs were detonated on a major fault line, it seems safe to conclude that the future would be entirely a void. If there is anything existing in it apart from in basic molecular form, or performing any particular action, it will have to have been preordained (because of how human free will might otherwise affect things).
Travel into the past does not contradict free will quite so much, because past events have already happened. By undertaking it we would not be restricting the freedom of people living in the past. Indeed, we might be doing quite the opposite. Once the past happens, its nature must change (assuming that it can be said to continue existing at all). From being creatures possessing a substantial measure of free will – when they did whatever they were doing at a particular moment in time, a moment which became the past, they probably did it willingly – the people there, along with the inanimate objects which exist in their world, become like recordings, which either exist as inanimate particles or are continually performing the same actions, and whatever the way in which they have their being cannot be said to possess free will. If they did have free will, that would imply that the future (our present) had not yet been shaped, and we did not exist to travel into the past and meet them – because any action they might decide to perform, however trivial, could influence history in any number of possible ways, and the future cannot exist until it has been decided upon, much of the future including our own birth would be a non-certainty. Much depends on whether these recordings are interactive – on whether, among other things, we can influence their behaviour. If this is the case then our actions may well change the course of history. We would be altering the pattern of events, just as one could wind back a tape recording and then erase something or record over it. Unless we are impossibly careful, we will do this in such a way as to alter time (partly by creating new possibilities for the people living in the past, reintroducing free will to their lives by performing actions which they might respond to). That would make the future of everything, including ourselves, undecided, and we would consequently cease to be, not coming into existence again unless events should happen to result in our birth. We would have to make absolutely sure that our actions when in the past would not have unfortunate consequences. This would require a detailed knowledge of it which, since we do not always know why a thing happened, whether it was a seemingly trivial occurrence or something of global import, or what caused an individual to make a particular decision, and any event however apparently insignificant can change the course of history, would have to encompass not only wars, battles, major treaties, great discoveries and inventions, and the identities of the leading politicians and soldiers, but everything that happened, whether caused by human action or something natural, on every day since the creation of the universe. We’d have to be certain that any action we performed, including scratching an itch, was consistent with the “proper” course of history; it is clear that attempting to satisfy this requirement would be a nightmare. And how could we acquire such knowledge in any case, unless we were omniscient, or were in communication with a God who was, and could advise us what to do and not do? Without these safeguards travel to the past would, in view of its potential dangers, be morally irresponsible.
If there are a host of other inhabited planets in the universe, then this information, if we were at all altruistic, would have to include their histories too, especially if we were travelling to their past or future, or they visited Earth at some time and had an influence on its development. We would have to have discovered the existence of all of them, which the size of the cosmos would render a dauntingly protracted, if not impossible, task, if we were not to leave some of them out of our calculations and thus run the risk of interfering in the course of their history with possibly calamitous results – for us as well as them, possibly. The collection of all this information would be an impossibly tedious business unless entrusted to a computer, and even then it would take a prohibitively long time. So Man will probably not be in a position to safely undertake temporal travel for possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
It’s possible the race doing the time travelling are themselves not human, and therefore might not encounter such obstacles as those mentioned above. Their technology may be far in advance of ours and their psychology very different too. But one has to assume they are capable of making mistakes, and the consequences of such mistakes, which might for example mean that Hitler won the Second World War, are not nice to think about. If they are incapable of mistakes, they must have evolved to such a degree of perfection that they in effect constitute God.
There have been many occasions in science fiction where the actions of time travellers are actual historical events, or accord so closely with them that no real damage is done. What the time traveller does when he goes into the past is not so much to change history as to fulfil the role it has assigned to him. But he seems to do it so often that free will must be called into question, everything apparently being preordained, unless he is simply being irresponsible, with his irresponsibility fortunately having had no bad effects thus far; and if he knows it was he and no-one else who performed/is to perform the action which makes history, and has free will, might he not choose to perform a totally different action or none at all? Maybe it’s unlikely he would be so foolish, but it is not impossible unless he is (a) morally perfect and (b) absolutely immune from any disease or other agency which could cause him to act irrationally or against his will; and for either of these conditions to be met it would be necessary for him to be God. Hopefully, if disaster is to be avoided, either he is God or the latter exists and has created some safeguard against the consequences of the time traveller’s doing the wrong thing; if the latter is the case, there would be little point in giving him freedom to change or not change history at all.
It would be irresponsible to travel into the past when the risk of it having unpleasant repercussions (and that’s a bit of an understatement) would be so high. From a moral point of view it is therefore undesirable, or only desirable if there is some infallible agency controlling our actions and those of the people we encounter there so as not to produce changes in the course of history. It could be that the actions we commit while in the past would in fact agree with actual historical events; but if this is a way of preventing time travel from having dangerous consequences it is a mixed blessing. Only if it was always the case would it be a sure guarantee that no disasters would ever happen, and if it was always the case that would result in the depressing situation where everything which had happened in the past was predetermined; free will had always been an illusion.
If there is anything existing in the future apart from in a basic molecular form, or performing any particular action, it will have to have been preordained (because of how human free will might otherwise affect things). So if one went into the future one would risk upsetting, by one’s actions, a predetermined pattern, just as one would risk altering the course of history if one went into the past.
The belief that time travel is possible stems from a failure to consider the whole range of different issues that have a bearing from it. Its most common cause, however, is a misunderstanding of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Because Einstein talks about space and time being “bent”, some have seen relativity as demonstrating that it is possible to cover a million miles in a few minutes or to drop in on Julius Caesar or Napoleon for a cup of tea and a chat. To dispel this notion we need to look through the smokescreen unintentionally created by Einstein’s choice of words to isolate what he was actually saying.
Gravity, because of its cumulative effects over distance, influences everything which exists in what Einstein calls “Space-Time”. It bends light waves, sound waves etc and also affects the atoms of which solid objects (including human beings and clocks) are made, causing measurements of time to differ. Because gravity lessens/increases with relative distance from a body which exerts it, such as the Earth, the events by which we measure time happen more slowly. An observer on the ground hears and sees a different time from a clock than one high up on a tower, and thus further away from the earth, does from the same kind of clock.
In addition to being bent by gravity and the curvature of the Earth, light and sound both have to travel a certain distance to get from A to B, no matter how fast they move (and light in particular, according to Einstein, travels very fast indeed). Each observer is looking at/hearing their own clock not the other’s, so it is not because of the distance sound and light must travel that there is a difference between the results, the two sets of data. One might object that since light travels faster than sound, would there not be a strange interval between seeing the clock and hearing it tick? But there isn’t, because the actual speeds of sound and light are not affected by distance except of course in that they take longer to get to their destinations. Light and sound will still travel at the same fixed speeds relative to one another. The sound will be heard, and the position of the clock hands observed, by each observer at the same fixed (for them) moments according to the speeds of sound and light respectively, as would occur anywhere and at any time, under experimental conditions or not. In neither observer’s case is there any actual distortion of time, as we will see later.
Despite the language sometimes used by exponents of the theory of relativity the clock itself does not affect time, by definition of its being essentially a device for measuring it and nothing else. It’s merely that whatever affects the behaviour of everything in time will by that token affect the clock too, so it keeps in line with the changes. Apart from the fact that time doesn’t exist to be influenced by it or by anything else, as we’ll see later on, the clock is no more likely than any other mechanical instrument, such as a washing machine, an airliner or a soft drinks dispenser, to have any power over the succession of events. Clocks may not always be accurate in any case, since rather than forming part of the laws of nature they’re designed by fallible human beings who don’t even agree on the standards by which time should be reckoned, let alone maintain that standard properly from one moment to the next.
Over very long distances, gravity will cause differences in the rate at which biological processes take place, so that an astronaut on a journey to a distant solar system (if such a journey were possible), would age more slowly than his brother back home on Earth. This is the famous “Twins Paradox”, which isn’t really a paradox at all; not because there’s no such thing as absolute time, as relativists claim, but because it’s only perceptions of time which are involved here and not the thing itself.
Albert Einstein was a brilliant man. Nonetheless NASA used Newton’s theories rather than his when planning and carrying out the Apollo missions, because it was simpler, and it worked (fortunately, since the consequences of getting things wrong in a matter like this would be disastrous); proving that Newton’s science was not so much replaced by Einstein’s as subsumed by it in a wider understanding of the physical universe. Einstein was perhaps too clever for his own good – even some university physics graduates don’t understand him. It is also true that millions of people live, and have lived, their lives quite happily without understanding or even knowing about the TOR (or Newton for that matter). But if the TOR only explains the behaviour of things in the Universe and is incorrect about the Universe itself, it is obviously still doing something extremely important. There is nothing wrong with it in itself. Where I disagree with it is in its apparent claim that time is itself in some way responsible for the changes observed in the Twins Paradox, in some other sense than their happening, by definition, over a period.
I believe that Einstein, Stephen Hawking and all other scientists who have proceeded from an acceptance of the Theory of Relativity have allowed time to enter into their calculations without first establishing exactly what it is – something no scientist has ever effectively done. This is a serious error, though it may be due more to misuse of language than to anything fundamentally wrong with relativity theory itself.
It is important to appreciate that Einstein wasn’t suggesting, for example, that time travel in the form encountered in science fiction is possible. “Passing back and forth through time like that entails horrendous logical problems in the workings of the Universe, which Einstein himself would abhor”(11). But he does appear to be saying that it can be malleable in a way I don’t believe it is. And talk about “time” being warped by gravity tends to encourage such misapprehensions as the possibility of time travel. I have come across one sci-fi yarn in which the following conversation takes place:

Doctor Who: “If you are looking at a distant star you may be seeing it as it was at the time of the birth of Jesus {I think probably longer}. If that star, or sun, has a planet and there are people living on it with a telescope strong enough to observe events on Earth, what would they see?”
Assistant: “The Romans invading Britain.”
Doctor Who: “ puts to question the idea that time is inflexible. On Earth it was that chap Einstein who began to realise what was happening. Time, you see, moves at different speeds in different parts of the universe.”

Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion, W H Allen 1976, p41-2

In another book in this series, Einstein’s theories are clearly cited as a reason for thinking time travel in the science fiction sense is feasible.
The writer who penned this story, whatever his literary merits (and they were not negligible), was in any case recognised among Who fandom as a rather poor scientist. But we have to be on our guard against taking routes which will end in a cul-de-sac. Our task is to search for the truth and so we can’t embrace ideas that are unsound merely because they make the universe more interesting (I say this with some regret). Apart from anything else it’s a waste of intellectual effort.
Time is certainly the continuation of things – as I think all of us would agree – and the perception of the universe which we have as a result of it. There is no actual evidence, on which all can be agreed, or even a hint of evidence, that it is anything else. However clever scientists may be in relation to philosophers, religious people etc, they have to admit that none of them have ever isolated and analysed a piece of “time” in a laboratory test tube, amalgamated it with any other substance in a centrifuge, bred it with something else to see how it’s affected by natural selection, put it through a particle accelerator to see how fast it can go. Therefore we should be careful about how exactly we introduce it into our calculations about the nature of the universe and the behaviour of things in it. Someone like Hawking would insist that we can’t dismiss a reversal of time’s normal direction, so that, for example, people would die before they were born, as impossible because theorists we don’t yet know enough about time. But this very lack of knowledge about time means that we have no authority to speak of it the way the Theory of Relativity does. I doubt that when the scientists come to know more about time they will find that it can defy the laws of logic, which are the reason why it cannot be reversed. No scientific research can possibly prove what is purely and simply, in all possible worlds, im-possible. Logically, what cannot be destroyed must continue to be. It is that continuation, the fact that something is enduring, which creates time. Refusal to believe time can flow backwards is not just imposing on things our subjective view of them, because of the way our minds perceive the universe (a universe where time always appears to move forwards). It is intellectually justified.
It is a scientific truth that matter cannot be created or destroyed. And if it cannot be destroyed, then logically it must continue to exist. It doesn’t necessarily exist in anything other than basic particle form (though clearly it can or I wouldn’t be sitting here at my word processor typing out this article). Although you can break it down into its constituent particles you can’t destroy the particles themselves.
If basic particles continue to exist then so must the things which are formed out of them, though not always in the same form (a collection of amino acids and proteins can come together to form a human being, and a human being will on death decompose until they break down again into their basic molecular constituents). We are therefore around to perceive the continuity. Only, of course, as long as we inhabit the kind of body that has the sense organs which enable it to do so, but if you take a materialistic non-Berkelian view of the universe then time would still be going on if there were no minds in existence at all.
A follower of a monotheistic religion, particularly if they were a Berkelian, might see continuity in terms of an omnipresent, indestructible intelligence – a God – in which all things ultimately have their origin and their being. They might perhaps
maintain that everything, including the phenomenon of existence, must be a concept in the mind because the concept of things not being so would essentially be a mental one. The mind continues in being because the idea of non-continuation is in the same category. Since we also are concepts in this universal mind – God’s mind – and we share in His perceptions, we continue to exist for the same reasons that He does.
My point is that whichever view you take of the cosmos, an idealist/religious view or a materialist/scientific one, things continue. That continuity creates time because it involves a succession of states – moments when things are in existence are followed by other moments in which they are still in existence –
and a succession of states is essentially what we mean by “time”.
They may not always be the same states, not exactly; because things can change their nature. But they will be states, and they will succeed one another, generally in a forward progression.
Time is not then a commodity, an entity, a thing; it is simply the product of a logical truth, namely that things must endure because they cannot be destroyed. Although it has a physical effect, namely the continued existence of matter and hence its ability to behave in this or that manner, it is itself an abstract quality. A property must be a property of a thing, and therefore since time isn’t a thing it cannot have properties, such as the ability to move at different rates in different parts of the universe. It can’t move in different directions, it can’t be made to stop, it can’t expand in size or become more or less widespread, it can’t be influenced by any other agency, it can’t be of different kinds in different parts of the Universe, because all those things imply malleability and malleability is a property. It is misleading for scientists describing how relativity theory works to speak of “regions of slower time”, or of time “increasing”.
Let’s suppose that as I’ve argued above, logic brings time into existence by things being indestructible. But it won’t do anything it doesn’t have a brief for, that it has no reason to do, as such would be illogical. And at this stage it has no call to make things of a particular nature, only to ensure that they continue to exist. So if logic means time is a reality, emerging inevitably from the continuity of things, that does not necessarily entail that it will have physical properties, such as flexibility. In fact, since the secondary properties of a thing must be derived from its essential nature, and time’s essential nature is merely the fact of continuity, then time cannot have any secondary qualities which are physical because a physical quality cannot originate from an abstract one. Matter cannot be created out of nothing. (At this point I ought to stress that I’m defining “physical” as anything which is made up of particles, or particles/waves, whatever the arrangement of those components which obviously differs considerably between, say, a light ray or a block of wood, a human being or a sound wave).
Regardless of how it has been represented to us the Theory of Relativity, therefore, can only be describing how we perceive time. If perceptions of time are affected by gravity then obviously this would apply to the experiment which is used to verify the theory; so naturally it will be verified. It is not correct in respect of what time exactly is, if time is anything.
Though relativity theory gives us a model of the universe which suits us, it should not be confused with the real thing. The scenario of the astronaut and his twin brother, for example, merely describes the behaviour of entities that exist within time, not time itself; namely, the effects of gravity upon living organic tissue. Nor is the perception of time, the measurement of it, which results from such behaviour the same thing as its object, any more than a photograph of a person is quantitatively or qualitatively identifiable with the person themselves.
Einstein appears to define time according to what happens in it; it is because he fails to realise that time must still be going on when nothing is happening that he is led to commit the error of talking about it as if it’s malleable. The big flaw with relativity theory is that it defines time in terms of events rather than of continuation. (In fact it is measurable by both, although continuation is the more difficult method for us to manage (how easy it might be for a God, or a being approaching Him in ability, I cannot say). Events achieve the purpose by implying a period before they occur, a period during which they are occurring, and a period after they have occurred, and we find this particularly useful in reckoning what we call time).
Because things exist in time everything they do happens in time, the action of a thing being depending on its being around to do it. We therefore make the mistake of thinking that the action and the speed at which it is performed are determined in some way by time, acting as a concrete external agency operating on the things within it, and that the reverse can also occur. In fact the action merely contributes towards our awareness, and our measurement, of time and does not interact with it in any other fashion. If it is particularly energetic it can make time appear to go faster, but not only is this something subjective to particular individuals who happen to be engaged in strenuous exercise, it is so by virtue of being a mental and physiological characteristic of human beings – of entities that exist within time – and thus more a matter of biology and psychology than of physics. It just means that if things continue existing they will also continue to perform whatever actions they are physically capable of, and because of the whole phenomenon of continuity they will also be continuing while they are acting (or the action would not logically be theirs). Time is inevitably a continuation of both existence and occurrence – within the same frame of reference, because one is dependent on the other.
One of the implications of all I have been saying is that because the theory of relativity is only describing people’s perceptions of time, or the behaviour of things within it, rather than making a statement about time itself, it is not necessarily correct in maintaining that time is not absolute. Measurements of time are not absolute because of the way our limited human nature affects our perception of events. Since logically the perception of a thing is different from the thing itself, Einstein in fact says nothing about the nature of “time” at all. As the fact of continuity is not altered by differences in the way time is perceived, time is absolute.
So there we are. The way relativity theory is described leads to serious misconceptions which badly distort our view of the cosmos we live in. The reason why this did not occur to Einstein and does not occur to his followers is because they were/are scientists and not philosophers, and the former don’t think they are answerable to the latter. The mistake they made is not allowed to seem very important because of the poor standing of philosophy in the modern world. And as long as people continue to listen to scientists rather than philosophers it will be impossible to clear up the confusion.
Many, I am sure, would ask me: “How can the confusion possibly have arisen in the first place? There isn’t one, surely. It’s a matter of plain facts. Einstein was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived, if not the greatest. You, on the other hand, are not a qualified scientist, you are a philosopher, and in any case experiments have proved Einstein’s theories to be correct. Given the choice, I know who I’d believe. Einstein must be right.” But it becomes plausible if one appreciates that from fallibility, rather than stupidity – which is hardly a characteristic of theirs – or a deliberate attempt to deceive, Einstein and other scientists have been using a kind of language peculiar to their discipline, one which is very different from that in which philosophers might speak and not always the correct one to use. Einstein talks as if the perception of time is the same thing as time itself, or effectively so, but judged from a purely philosophical viewpoint things may seem very different. Relativity means that people can age differently in one part of the universe from people in another, but this is only a difference in the behaviour of objects existing in time and not in that of time itself. There is still time whether it is absolute or not.
If I were to sum up as briefly as possible why I did not believe time travel was possible (leaving out some of the arguments set out above, pertinent as I believe them to be), I would do so as follows:
(1) If the past still exists (and exists now, or it does not exist) somewhere in the same way that an object in space does, then it is not the past, it is the present; the past ceases to exist once it happens. So it cannot be travelled to. If the past does not exist in this sense but is a real world where people think and act and make decisions, decisions which may affect what happens in the future, then again the time-traveller cannot go there; any of the decisions might mean he was never born and so couldn’t undertake his journey.
(2) The future never exists until it has ceased to be the future, becoming the present, so how can you travel from it to the past? (wd be the future from the standpoint of people in a past era, which might be hundreds of years before the time traveller was born). The future would have to be existing permanently somewhere as something analagous to an area of space, and then where would it exist?
(3) To travel into the past would imply that your birth in the future was a foreordained certainty, or you could not be alive to undertake your journey, and this would deny free will as there are any number of decisions someone could take that might prevent it. Because the future by definition never exists and is always yet to happen one can never travel from it to the present or past. Your future self does not exist to do so.
White seeks to resolve the absurd paradoxes that would arise from the ability to time travel by bringing in the parallel universe theory, in which the creation of a situation to which there are at least two possible outcomes creates also two different universes in each of which one of the outcomes is a reality, regardless of time travel. If you can time travel you can also both kill and not kill your grandfather, but because each outcome happens in a different universe there is no paradox. However, if you accept my argument that mere possibilities are not enough to create universes this is not a way out of the dilemma(12).
The misuse of quantum physics or the theory of Relativity to suggest that time travel or the manipulation of time are possible, indeed any other assertion by a scientist to that effect, arises because of the divergence that has come about between scientific and philosophical logic. There are philosophers who believe in time travel, but for all the reasons set out in this chapter I believe them to be wrong. The scientific way of looking at things has merely been accepted, rather than the philosophical way, because scientists are more popular and well-known to the general public and because philosophers by their own insistence tend to write in a very abstruse fashion which isn’t easily comprehensible to ordinary people. Philosophers have also made things worse for themselves by being over-concerned with language (even though it has proved necessary to talk about it here) and by being too narrow and elitist in their approach to their subject, not allowing outsiders – talented people who just don’t happen to have the right qualifications – to contribute to their journals.
Certainly the scientists themselves appear to believe they hold the Ark of the Covenant. Nigel Calder believes that our lack of knowledge about time has been since Einstein “a problem for physicists, not philosophers.”(13) The first thing that needs to be said about this suggestion that scientists alone can explain the Universe is that it’s very arrogant and very misleading. I hope to have already indicated by this very section of the book that philosophy can supply some of the answers Calder seeks, because it uses a different but no less valid method of reasoning.
Some scientists seem to positively prefer rubbishing philosophy, from a conscious or unconscious desire to discredit and thus neutralise anything which offers a serious challenge to their ascendancy. Hawking writes rather mockingly of the decline in its status within society:

“The people whose business it is to ask why, the philosophers, have not been able to keep up with the advance of scientific theories. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, science became too technical and mathematical for the philosophers, or anyone else except a few specialists. Philosophers reduced the scope of their inquiries so much that Wittgenstein, the most famous philosopher of this century, said: “The sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language.” What a come-down from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Kant!”(14)

Not so. Philosophers are simply using different methods of enquiry, to the extent that the nature and complexity of science in the modern world doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the relevance of their findings. Nor is it the case, as you will realise from perusing any philosophical journal, that modern philosophers are only concerned with analysing language. Merely because not all philosophers think alike, because not all people do, Wittgenstein’s approach has come to be reconsidered in recent decades. As for science proving too difficult for philosophers to understand, that applies only to the detail; the basic aspects of relativity theory or natural selection are well within the capacity of any sufficiently intelligent person. Since the finer, more complex details of a theory are derived from its basic points, if one demonstrates philosophically that the existence of God, for example, is compatible with the basic details then it must also be compatible with the finer.
In seeking to explain the universe philosophers must not be deterred by the fact that they are not scientists. If there appears to be a difference between scientific logic and philosophical logic, it is not necessarily the latter which is wrong. In fact though the difference is an illusion, because by definition there is only one kind of logic; either something goes against the laws of reason or it does not. Therefore if by logic a philosophical principle is correct, any scientific principle which contradicts it must be incorrect. If something is philosophically valid then it must be scientifically valid too because science and philosophy are merely different ways of describing the same universe, the same system, even though they may use different terminology to describe it, or confine themselves much of the time to different aspects of the system. I say again, it isn’t that the scientists are wrong about relativity, only that they exaggerate its full importance in describing things.
Any actual inaccuracy there appears to be in their statements is due merely to misuse of language. Philosophers and scientists therefore can, and should, accept that they both have crucial roles to play in understanding the universe: one looking at things from a physical, materialist point of view and the other dealing with the science of abstract qualities. They need to function as partners, not rivals. Logic must be a crucial part of science because it is essentially the use of reason, and science involves reasoning from what we observe in the world around us, directly or through experimentation. However scientific and philosophical reasoning have grown apart, which because there can only be one kind of reason, i.e. reason, means that where they differ one or the other of them must be wrong! Science has developed a language and a thinking of its own that has become myopic and very arrogant, one might say incestuous. Applying scientific logic, one may come to a particular conclusion about some aspect of the universe’s functioning; applying philosophical logic, which as I see it is simply logic without the distorting effect, one may come to a very different conclusion. Philosophical logic is simply logic without the distorting effect caused by professional peccadilloes, although it may be flawed as practised by individuals; so although I have no formal qualifications in science (or philosophy for that matter), as long as I have sufficient intelligence, am sufficiently rational in my approach, and have sufficient understanding of science from what others have discovered (assuming one can accept what they say to be true) I am qualified to pass judgement on scientific theories and may even be right where scientists are wrong. I cannot quarrel with what is fact rather than just theory, having been proven to be so by observation (I had proof of the Theory of Relativity the other day, when the figures on one of the two clocks on Sunbury-on-Thames station appeared to change fractionally before those on the other), but I can with the interpretation of the evidence.
There are reasons for thinking that certain matters should be a common concern of both scientists and philosophers. We have established that science depends on logic for its operation (it may sometimes, inevitably, be reasoning from incomplete evidence and so reaching false conclusions, which is why a theory is only that, but this is unavoidable if one is to have terms of reference). Philosophy is also concerned with logic, and since one way by which the operation of logic is demonstrated is by analysing the relationships between physical entities and their properties (as in the rhyme by A A Milne: If John were I and I were John, I wouldn’t have these trousers on {because it’s John who’s wearing them}), philosophy is led to consider questions like the age of the universe and whether it can be infinite. And such matters need to be discussed if one is trying to prove or disprove the existence of God, a long-standing concern of philosophers throughout the ages.
Einstein and his relativist followers speak of “Space/Time” being warped by gravity. Like other things about relativity theory this needs to be understood as not literally true. Again, it is the poor use of language which makes the correction necessary. If time, as we have I trust established, is not a physical entity it can have no shape and therefore can’t be curved. As for space, if it is infinite it cannot be curved, because that implies something exists other than it, to form a background against which it possesses its shape. Since there is no logical reason why space should begin or end at any particular point, it must be endless – at any rate we haven’t conclusively proved that it isn’t, and that Einstein’s use of language is therefore correct. Newton is thought of as having proved there was no absolute space, but by “absolute space” I am talking of space as in extension, rather than the qualities – gravity, light, sound, radiation etc – which exist within it, or the spatial location of a particular entity. As with time, however, Einstein is really saying not so much that space is curved but rather that what makes it up is curved. Everything in space, and no area of space is empty but is instead made up of particles, is curved by gravity. It is a series of curves – which, if space is endless, must be an infinite series of curves. The area in which those curved things exist is another matter.
So relativity doesn’t mean you can take a trip in your TARDIS to Ancient Rome or the days of the dinosaurs or, as some have suggested, use a wormhole to time travel by putting it on a fast-moving spaceship and so stretching it out to create a corridor between two points in time. Time isn’t that flexible. Nor can it permit you to fold space around itself like a piece of Origami. However those who would disagree with me on all these counts, if unable to appeal to the court of relativity, might go to that of quantum theory – which combines gravity with the laws governing the behaviour of the subatomic particles which make up all entities and which it is thought will eventually replace Einsteinian physics and subsume it in a general theory of everything – instead. Or of string theory. Both can be interpreted as demonstrating that the universe is structured in such a way as to allow distortions of normal time and space.
You may say to me, you have no evidence that time and space are only the facts of continuation and extension. But there is no evidence that they aren’t. It might help for example if a scientist could discover a small fragment of time, or something physically solid which in itself could be called space, in a test tube in their laboratory, but what is noticeable is the total failure of this to even remotely happen. Besides, whatever they might or might not be nothing can break the laws of logic, if you don’t mind me constantly repeating this essential point, so time travel is still impossible if it means you would be existing before you were born.
Time in defined by there being a past, present, and future; a then, a now, and a “will be”. But it is not of course a physical line. If in the first instance it is just the fact of continuation then it can’t in this or any second or subsequent instance be anything else. Something must be able to proceed from something else being true in the first instance, and that is not possible if the particular nature or what is true in the first instance prevents it. For example, if time is in the first instance just the fact of things continuing then it cannot move on from there to be a physical commodity (meaning a liquid, solid, gas or energy state) since it is just an abstract fact and thus has itself no physical substance out of which, according to scientific law, another physical substance has to be created in order to exist, although it may nonetheless affect the behaviour of physical objects, i.e. they continue to exist. The same applies with space being in the first instance the mere fact of extension.

In order to make the Universe more interesting we would wish not only to travel in time but also to journey faster through space. The latter would enable us to reach distant planets, and return to Earth, much faster than is possible with the current technology and so we could expect a quick return on our investment if we were seeking to colonise them or make contact with any intelligent species that might live on their surface. The whole process of space exploration would be much more satisfying, much more exciting; and with the “warp drives” possessed by fictional spaceships like the USS Enterprise, which some scientists believe could eventually developed in real life, it would be possible in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard to “make it so”. Warp drive seems to produce a distortion of space rather than of time, though manipulation of the latter would also produce the desired result, i.e. to cut down the distance from one point in space to another. However there does appear to be some temporal factor involved, in some cases anyway, as demonstrated in the Doctor Who story City Of Death where the explosion of the warp motors of an alien spaceship splinters the crew member operating them in time, causing him to end up as multiple personalities each inhabiting a different period of Earth’s history. Distortion of time, which is merely the fact of things continuing and thus not itself a “thing” which can be altered, would as we have seen be a non-starter. But what of space?
To answer that question we have first to establish what space is. It is simply the fact of extension, an extension produced because there is no reason why the Universe should begin or end at any particular point; if it did it would just happen to, which would be absurd, according to chance a greater role than it is likely to play in any ordered cosmos (and if the cosmos were not ordered, and thus not analysable, there could be no such thing as science). There is no evidence that it is space is anything other than this; it doesn’t need to be. It exists simply because of the lack of a logical reason why it should be finite, and so it doesn’t have a brief to be something more. Now if space as opposed to the things in it is the mere fact of extension, and time the mere fact of things continuing, neither can be distorted by anything. There is no physical quality which can be manipulated. The existence of objects within space helps distance to be reckoned by the human mind, and those objects can only have extension because space itself does, but they must not be confused with space itself.
Warp drive is therefore unfeasible because space is not a “thing” that can have properties such as malleability, and, being infinite and universal, does not exist against a background in relation to which it can have a shape such as it may acquire by being warped. The latter effect cannot be produced either by warp motors or by black holes and wormholes, another means by which it is thought by scientists to be possible. This restricts the ability to travel in space without prohibitively long journeys.
Parsons and others nonetheless suggest ways in which the problem can be overcome. “Since you can’t travel faster than the speed of light, physicist Dr Miguel Alcubierre proposes we forget trying to move our spacecraft through space and instead try to bend the space around it to form a kind of wave that sweeps it along to its destination. This is done by surrounding it by with a bubble of a rare substance called exotic matter which has negative pressure and, in some forms, negative mass. The exotic matter causes the space in front of the craft to shrink rapidly (making use of relativity theory) while the space behind it expands at exactly the same rate, creating the wave effect.”(15) But the difficulty is, how can any part of space shrink relative to the rest, if space is (a) primarily extension, (b) infinite, and (c) quantitatively identifiable only with itself? Some think that there can be dimensional transcendentalism, as seen in Dr Who’s TARDIS, and that this can be used to achieve faster-than-light travel. According to Dr Chris Van Den Broeck exotic matter, by shrinking the space around a spacecraft, effectively makes it bigger inside than out – the same applying, it seems to all the objects within that space.(16) This distortion of things means, I take it, that the craft is enabled effectively to cover much greater distances. However, although I confess I don’t fully understand the science Van den Broeck admits that the laws of physics as currently understand do not allow one to break the local speed of light within a given region of space. In any case, no part of space can move with respect to the rest because space is indivisible. Then there is the question of whether dimensional transcendentality is possible in any case.
Parsons shows us how Van den Broeck’s idea works: “imagine a two-dimensional rubber sheet with a “lobe” attached to it. The lobe looks rather like a balloon, with a narrow “throat” connecting it to the rubber sheet. Now picture an ant crawling on the surface of the sheet. Where the sheet joins the throat, the ant finds a hole with a very small circumference. But if it crawls through the hole and along the throat it emerges into the lobe, a big bubble with a huge surface area. Essentially the ant has encountered a large area that’s enclosed by a very small circumference. Now scale all that up a dimension, so the 2D sheet now becomes 3D space. “Replace the circumference of the throat by surface area, and the surface area of the bubble by volume,” says Van Den Broeck. “What you then get is a large volume with a small surface area.”(17)
It seems we are extrapolating from one dimension to another, forgetting that what applies with one will not necessarily apply to both. The total area of an internal space may be greater than that of the substance enclosing it, if the latter is spread very thinly. But the question is one of extent, and of spatial location, rather than area or mass or volume. The substance will still be the perimeter enclosing the space. For the space to be bigger than it would mean that it wasn’t. And it either is or isn’t the enclosing agency, either is or is not in the spatial position where it would have to be to perform that function. It can’t be both, and the laws of logic may not be infringed. So it is doubtful if anything, whether a TARDIS or the universe in general, could be dimensionally transcendental. The same obstacle also prevents the existence of wormholes allowing shortcuts to be taken between points in space that would otherwise be too far apart for one to be reached from the other.
The bunching/distorting of space that occurs through the operation of a wormhole or when a wormhole is created cannot be a property of space itself as any distortion or other alteration in the form of space implies the assumption of a certain shape and thus a background against which that shape is defined – in other words, the existence of a realm other than space, which can’t exist because there is no reason why space should begin or end at any one point, in whatever direction. Space can’t be bunched up or elongated as wormholes are supposed to allow it to do. It can’t contract or fold in on itself (as in the Dr Who stories Warrior’s Gate and Castrovalva) as that implies shape and thus separateness from other things (to “fold in on itself” implies a finite extent relative to some other quantity).
Space can’t behave differently in one part of the Universe from how it behaves in another, because that would be a property and a property can only be a property of a thing – and space isn’t a “thing” but rather the fact of extension. We could only distort the things in space, from the hydrogen atoms which fill it and ensure it is not a true vacuum to whole planets and galaxies. Krauss uses relativity theory to claim spatial distortion is possible. “Because light is the thread that weaves together space and time, the trajectories of light rays give us a map of spacetime just as surely as warp and weft threads elucidate the patterns of a tapestry.”(18)“Curved space opens up a whole universe of possibilities. One can do many things on a curved manifold which are impossible on a flat one. For example it is possible to keep travelling in the same direction and yet return to where you began – people who travel around the world do it all the time…the curvature of spacetime is determined by the distribution of matter in the universe, but this distribution is in turn governed by the curvature of space. It is like the chicken and the egg. Which was there first? Matter acts as the source of curvature, which in turn determines how matter evolves, which in turn alters the curvature, and so on.”(19)
But although gravity bends things in space it cannot bend space itself. Again, we must distinguish properly between space itself and the things in it. Since space is the mere fact of extension, and has in effect no existence physically or as a form of energy, it is irredeemably separate from the things in it, and cannot be bent by gravity or indeed anything. Even if the universe or a part of it had no light there would still be extension. A universe with no physical objects in it (and thus no light or gravity) would continue to exist as an area of space. We would not be able to reckon distance because we can only do that using points of reference – objects – and without light we could not see them, but the distance would still be there.
The belief of those who maintain that relativity can distort space and time so that it is possible to travel in them in ways other than one normally does appears to be that since time and space are connected, if relativity warps one then it must warp the other. But since the TOR can’t warp time the idea that by doing so it can also warp space falls flat, and vice versa. It can only be true that the TOR bends space/time metaphorically (i.e. if we are consciously referring to the things existing and the events happening in them, rather than space and time themselves, as we do when we say “the world has gone mad” (meaning that the people in it are behaving stupidly and not the physical structure of the Earth)). In one sense (other than in their non-malleability) time and space are united because everything must ultimately have the same cause. We can see how they are connected by reflecting that if we proceed from one point to another it implies both time – then I was there, now I am here – and space by the same token, because during time’s passage I have moved from one position to another, the element of progression implying a temporal value as well. So it can be said that time and space are both effectively part of the same entity. But so too are my teeth and my foot and if I stub my toe it does not mean that I get a toothache. It is not a foregone conclusion that because quantities X and Y share property B they should also share property C. So it doesn’t follow that time and space should both be malleable any more than that they should both be pink. They are linked in the general sense I have described above, and have in common the fact of the way in which they are perceived being changeable (because of the operation of relativity); but that’s all.
Suppose, however, that over a period of time we do succeed in perfecting long-distance space travel, at least. What benefits would this bring us? The practical and other issues involved in our colonising alien planets have been or will be discussed elsewhere in this book. The other reason why we want to explore the universe is the possibility we may meet alien civilisations, more advanced than and fascinatingly different from our own, from whom we may benefit enormously in terms of knowledge and practical assistance. There is no proof that I can see for the non-existence of these beings, either theologically or scientifically. A lot depends on whether there is a creative intelligence, because such a being might for one reason or another have decided to confine life to Earth. But we have no proof that He did; certainly there’s no passage in the Bible which categorically says so. This might mean that having given us free will and the ability to experience intellectual pleasure, he wanted us to find out the truth for ourselves, whatever it might be, in the spirit of enquiry (though if intelligent life is for whatever reason rare we could spend a very long time searching for it without result, and perhaps never, on our current plane of existence, find it – which would make this
munificence a bit pointless). Or it might mean there aren’t any aliens; it’s still not something we can be sure of. Most Christians nowadays would probably describe themselves as open-minded on the subject. It’s true that Man is supposed to be unique in God’s Creation, but the definition of human could be regarded as applying to any sentient and reasoning life form, wherever it was to be found and even if it were descended from an insect or reptile rather than an ape, or not organic at all. In addition, the existence of a multitude of different intelligent (as well as, presumably, non-intelligent) species throughout the cosmos could be seen as a further, and necessary, sign of the greatness and wonder of the Creator, an extension of the diversity seen here on Earth.
If one eliminates God from the picture and looks at the matter from a purely scientific point of view, the probability of there being intelligent aliens is high, given the huge size of the Universe (and the possibility it may have no limit at all). This would compensate for the conditions needed for sentient life being very finely tuned, and thus rare – although such need not be a problem in any case if it’s possible for there to be intelligent life forms that don’t function in the organic way with which we’re familiar, i.e. they’re composed of silicon or pure energy, and this remains an open question. However if life does have to be basically organic in composition, and the right conditions for it are rare, then although there could be an infinite number of intelligent species in a very big Universe each might never encounter any of the others, even if it was using advanced methods of space travel.
We’re also assuming the aliens won’t behave towards us in ways that are actually harmful; that they’re benevolent. There is no particular reason why they should not be, but nor is there any reason why they should, given that their psychology could be vastly different from ours. If sentient and sapient they are presumably capable of acting morally, but that doesn’t mean they will, especially if the example of our own species is considered. In Earth history, when different races encountered each other, the result, after an initial period when the dominant emotion was probably curiosity at the simple fact of having encountered something different from oneself, was too often hatred and prejudice, manifested in war, slavery and even genocide. If we did not ourselves behave in this way towards the aliens, they might towards us, so that the problems which have been encountered in racial and international relations on this world might be transferred, disastrously, to a galactic scale. Those problems were never avoided because some people, at least, on each side tried to be moderate and reasonable.
In any case, unless the aliens are the equivalent of God, in which case UFO-lovers should be Christians, they may not save us – or themselves, if the same problems come to threaten them, assuming they don’t already do so – from the grave difficulties the human race currently faces. Even assuming they can, we have so far not discovered them (and time is running out). Nor do they appear to have discovered us – else why would they not land, unless they were unable to communicate with us or considered the human race beneath them (either of which would render them useless to us). Conspiracy theories abound which maintain that aliens have landed but been kidnapped by agents of the Establishment in order to avoid the more negative implications of their existence being revealed – the culture shock, the mass panic - and so that their technology can be requisitioned for military purposes. If these theories are true then our aliens, despite their supposed awesome powers, would seem to be rather ineffective, for they are unable to prevent these kidnappings and appear to be put off by them. A direct landing in Trafalgar Square or Central Park would be rather difficult to cover up (the kidnappings imply that the UFOs are able to reach the surface without being shot down by the military in mistake for hostile enemy aircraft). It is rather strange that the aliens don’t object to the abductions or to the theft of their property (in which respect they can’t be like the Daleks or Klingons of fiction who would probably occupy or devastate large areas of the planet in retaliation); in the human world, at least, such behaviour would cause a serious diplomatic incident. It rather suggests they have a callous attitude to their own kind, in which case why should they be too concerned about our welfare, and for them to be such uncaring creatures doesn’t incline us to think that the reason for their visits – for they must have some purpose in coming here – is benign. Similarly sinister is the theory, beloved in one form or another by the X-Files, that the aliens are actively colluding with Earth governments, or factions within them, and intelligence agencies in what is going on, allowing scientists to take alien genetic material and inject it into unwilling or unwitting human subjects as part of some dubious experiment. Perhaps the aliens themselves have factions, some of whom don’t actually approve of all this, but in that case why haven’t one or two, at least, of the good guys made contact with a sufficient number of humans (as opposed to the lone individual who can easily be dismissed as crazy) in a bid to warn people? If they cared that much about the matter they would make the attempt even if language difficulties prevented them being properly understood. Or maybe they are simply ineffectual.
Alien beings are often claimed to have carried out abductions (of humans) themselves, for the purposes of study or of genetic experimentation. White considers this unlikely because “any race advanced enough to manipulate space-time and travel across the galaxy would not need to conduct physical examinations or to physically extract genetic material…putting aside the argument that any race so advanced would probably consider such behaviour immoral…”(20) This isn’t really the objection, as I see it. Apart from the fact that you can’t manipulate space-time, the science of genetics and that of clairvoyance (in some form), which the aliens would presumably be using to remote-scan human bodies, may nonetheless be different in nature, entailing that the problems encountered in attempting each are also different and that a civilisation could have made greater progress with one than with the other. As for the belief that they would be ethically repelled by the whole idea in any case, I don’t see why mental and technical advance should necessarily be accompanied by moral development, so White’s supposition may be wishful thinking. If the aliens have been experimenting on humans without their consent, then that says something rather disturbing about them.
Not all the alleged cases of alien abduction have been unpleasant for the victim. It’s impossible to prove but I suspect they, like all other close encounters, of whatever kind, with visiting aliens are a delusion arising from the need in a secular, supposedly post-Christian society to have a substitute for God; something which like Him is powerful and mysterious and will eventually bring enormous benefits to Mankind. In this they fall down; however clever and advanced the aliens might be, if they are not themselves the equivalent of God then one still has to ask who created them. Certainly, though they may exist they don’t seem able to help us right now and the seriousness of our current problems suggests those hazards will overwhelm us before they are.
It’s also worth considering that if the aliens have powers greater than ours, we could not share those powers unless we became like them (because obviously they must be able to avoid misusing them, which we given our flawed nature are probably not) and therefore we would be at a disadvantage if they became hostile towards us. “Powers greater than ours” would presumably be things like telepathy (the ability to read another intelligent being’s thoughts) and telekinesis (the ability to affect the behaviour of matter and energy, of the physical world, by one’s mind). It’s worth considering what the consequences would be if these faculties, which might be thought of as opening up a new world, were to be in our possession. We cannot speak for aliens, but it’s clear that were humans to have them it would lead to trouble.
A society which had telepathy could not lie. This means that things could never be kept secret from those people who it might not be wise to supply with the information, depending perhaps on the timing and circumstances (some people one wouldn’t trust it with at all). We would have to lock up/kill all the bad people because they would have become more dangerous! This has alarming implications for civil liberties, not least because it is difficult to arrive at a just and fair definition of what is “bad” – it couldn’t just be those who were recognised as having committed what was legally a crime. If, to limit the dangers, telepathy were restricted to a very small group of people (which would have to include the government, since a government’s first instinct is to maintain control and preserve order) it would give those people an unfair advantage over everyone else, probably resulting in them establishing autocratic rule.
There would be no privacy, no secrets; information could be learned that might have unfortunate consequences, causing someone to act angrily and aggressively, before the dispute that led to the situation could be resolved. The effect could be to make human affairs more confrontational and even violent. And people would learn upsetting things before they could be properly prepared for them, resulting in all manner of psychological harm. An unpleasant thought could be deliberately implanted in someone’s mind, against their will, if the technology works that way.
Telekinesis would also raise the stakes to an unacceptable level. The result would be perpetual chaos and destruction. People would live in fear, either of what others could do to them or what they themselves could do. They would be too easily tempted to destroy what they hated or simply did not like, especially if they were in an angry state of mind. It is best if things are not done too easily, as they would be with telekinesis, because apart from the loss of initiative, and opportunity to build physical strength and moral fibre, if tasks could be performed simply by thinking about them a given action may turn out once committed to be not quite as beneficial as it seemed beforehand.
There would of course be some attempt to legislate against misuse of telepathy or telekinesis; but, as seen, the former could be dangerous even if one were not committing what would normally be regarded as a criminal act, so we’d have to give up the power altogether if we wanted to make ourselves safe (I’m not clear as to how it could be acquired or lost). If the telekinesis was powerful enough, extending to the ability of causing nuclear reactors to malfunction or a lot of less catastrophic but equally nasty things, then any criminal with the power would be able to flout the laws unless they could be overcome by a devastating psychic battle which might lay waste the combatants’ environment. Since they would presumably still be subject to physical harm or restraint they’d have every incentive to make a fight of it, especially since actual killing might be the only way to make a telekinetic criminal permanently safe or subdue them in the first place (if the powers were genetically derived they could be removed using gene therapy, but you’d first have to get the subject where you wanted them).
If any being not only possesses paranormal powers but also the ability to invariably use them wisely, that being must be God or His equivalent; almost by definition anything less than that, anything human, is flawed. For such lesser beings any supernatural ability, whatever form it took, would be difficult to control; people could use it to commit crimes unless it were unfairly restricted to a few, who could then use it to control everyone else unless they too suffered from its harmful consequences. It would be catastrophic unless Man’s psychology was very different from what it was; in other words, was something we cannot imagine. Yet at the same time as you feared their implications, you would be experiencing a strong temptation to use your super powers because of the benefits it might bring. If there were some way of blocking it, you would always be tempted to remove the block.
Also not without its hazards (although in some ways less dangerous to anyone other than oneself, because useless) is the facility of transmutation – shape-shifting. I doubt if it’s what it’s cracked up to be. You could change yourself into another person (that is, assume their physical characteristics), but if too many people did this, whatever the reason in each person’s case, it might cause untold confusion. If you changed into some species of animal you would presumably lose your human consciousness because the structure of your brain would be such as to be incapable of accommodating it (the genetic/molecular change would have to be complete or one part of the resulting organism would be incompatible with another and it wouldn’t be able to function properly). For one thing, you then wouldn’t be able to change back into a human – you would go on behaving as a bird, a mouse, a whale or whatever it was you’d changed into would behave.
If you’d changed yourself for a specific reason, e.g. you wanted to spy on someone without their suspecting, you’d automatically forget what that reason had been. Nor is it much cop being a bird if some sportsman decides to take a pot shot at you, or a mouse if you’re grabbed by a cat. Real mice or real birds have to put up with these hazards as part of the job, but to a human they don’t seem worth it if they can be avoided. The problems would be even more severe – or at any rate it is much more difficult to say what might happen – if you became an inanimate object.
We have no idea what form an intelligent alien being, if it were proved conclusively to be that, would take. But aliens, to be sufficiently interesting to us, to not make a nonsense of the whole thing if the aim is to have a wonderful diversity, would have to be so different that we couldn’t communicate with them or would experience severe difficulties in doing so because of the dissimilarity between the ways their minds and bodies, and ours, functioned. It is so almost by definition. A reptile or insect, for example, would think as a reptile/insect would, however evolved. A silicon life form, or a being made out of pure energy, would be even more incomprehensible in its culture and speech. The bafflement would of course be mutual. And where we cannot conceive how an alien thinks – any alien, if it is significantly different from our own species – we cannot interact with it.
There would have to be some common ground on which we and the aliens could debate but if there wasn’t, they would either avoid us or be led to conduct their business with us by aggression. The implications if there were to be a serious misunderstanding, and we were thought to have acted towards them in a hostile fashion, or vice versa would be utterly disastrous on a galactic scale.
Even if it was possible, in physical and psychological terms, to master an alien language and understand an alien culture the time, expense, and practical difficulty involved in doing so would be prohibitive. The problem is particularly daunting when the diverse nations and races of Earth itself often do not understand each other’s language or culture; and when that knowledge is not necessarily sufficient to prevent differences still arising and ultimately leading to war. Although they may not be inevitable, wars can come about simply because a conflict of interest has developed between two different powers. If this is true on Earth it will also be true on a cosmic level. Even if the aliens were very similar to Earth humans with, for example, the same ethnic groups there would still be that many more people to understand and deal with.
In the absence of conclusive evidence either way, I do not want to suggest that aliens definitely don’t exist or that it would inevitably be disastrous if they did. Nevertheless I often find myself inclined to think that if that if there is any underlying controlling factor that prevents the universe from disintegrating due to the conflicts between those who inhabit it, there will be only one planet with an intelligent life form on it. That planet merely happens to be Earth (because it’s me who’s writing this piece); why this should be so is the same question as “why am I me and not anyone else”. It is probably unanswerable. But any other life form who had found themselves in our unique position would be asking it; there need not be any arrogance involved. The situation merely happens to be fortuitous for us.
If I were forced to stake my life on it my opinion would be that we could not possibly identity with an intelligent life form that was not at least mammalian in its biology and way of thinking. Because of this and because of the attendant danger of wars we would have to be forever apart from it, unable to interact closely with it, which would be in the first place a depressing, unsatisfactory, rather pointless scenario.
Even if we don’t meet any aliens, space travel may nevertheless still seem exciting and also practically useful to us. We might colonise other planets, which among other things would help us to solve the problem of overcrowding here on Earth. Unfortunately, the other planets of our solar system and their moons are to be frank little more than unappetising chunks of rock. There is no indication that any life exists on them. So far the planets which have been discovered in other solar systems have proved even less appealing. There may nonetheless be worlds where life exists, and which are habitable by Man, but if there are they must be so far away as to be inaccessible at present. The lack of a fast enough means of propulsion places them beyond our reach unless astronauts are prepared to travel for many decades, centuries even, in suspended animation – and the technology for that has not been developed either. We cannot say at present whether such technical advances are even possible, let alone how long they would take to accomplish. The likelihood is that the hazards we face here on Earth will overwhelm us long before we know. In the case of astronauts going on a deep-space mission in suspended animation (which would have to have the effect of suspending the ageing process), in search of something which might not exist, the venture itself presupposes a disaster so severe as to be about to destroy humanity or at any rate its quality of life unless we moved to a new home, as otherwise it would not be attempted.
We could “terraform” a planet in our (or perhaps in another) solar system, transforming its atmosphere and topography (both would have to be changed to produce the desired result) into something like that of Earth’s, but such a huge operation would take some considerable time and be very expensive. If we could finance and carry it out successfully within a reasonably short period, we could solve all our problems here on Earth and would not need to be thinking about colonizing other planets! Since we are talking about the shaping of a planet, including its climate and weather systems, into a form which is entirely suitable for us, where no natural disasters occur that are serious enough to threaten life or the quality of it on a big scale, why don’t we use the technology required to do the same on Earth here and now? The problem is that such technology is a long way off and the disintegration of the Earth’s ecosystem a lot more advanced than the process necessary to develop it. We might, as suggested again in a later chapter, be emigrating to a larger planet, or generally spreading ourselves as much as possible, to avoid the effects of overcrowding or the destructive effects in a relatively small world of political conflict. But terraforming would make other worlds boringly similar to Earth and thus reduce much of the appeal of space exploration. And yet it might prove to be necessary, unless other measures were implemented that could be prohibitively undesirable. It is the particular physical/environmental circumstances prevailing on this planet, and the interaction between them, between the climate and ecology it possesses, that explain why we have the physiognomy we do or indeed exist at all. Other conditions either could not support life or would produce life forms, intelligent or otherwise, which were vastly different from ourselves. Unless we wish to change our physical bodies and metabolisms drastically we could not exist on a planet that had a green sky, or seas of glass, or forests of metal, without cumbersome and oppressive protective clothing, which would always diminish our enjoyment of it. We may not be willing to make those changes.
If the main obstacle is distance teleportation, if perfected, could be used to solve it, permitting faster travel both to other planets and between different places on Earth. It may well be possible; I certainly have always found it conceivable. In 1993 a team of researchers pointed out that you didn’t actually need to know the complete state of every subatomic particle of an object in order to be able to teleport it, as had previously been thought and would have made the process virtually impossible. But you would still need to transmit an enormous amount of data to teleport something like a human being, and is thought the transmission would take a vast amount of time, something like 4,000 times the age of the Universe {though that might depend on where you wanted to go}(21). Even if that time were cut drastically you would still need, if you were travelling to, say, a planet in another solar system, to place a receiver at the destination unless you wanted the person’s atoms to go on journeying endlessly through space. This would involve a voyage by “conventional” spacecraft, which might take hundreds of years and would thus have to be a labour of love. It might even be said to defeat the objective; you might, for example, set up a colony on the planet instead.
We ought to consider here the implications if teleportation were to be perfected as a means of travel on Earth itself, where the problems of distance would be less of an obstacle. Undoubtedly one’s business and other affairs could be conducted much more speedily and efficiently, because you wouldn’t have to wait for a bus, train, plane or taxi, or walk long distances if none of those methods of transport were available, to get where you wanted to go. Yet again though the minuses are at least in proportion to the pluses and may even outnumber them. If teleportation, because it was a fast and convenient method of travel, became popular then there would be thousands, if not millions, of people using it each day, travelling one presumes across national borders as well as within their home countries. Although proper regulations would no doubt be introduced, and laws relating to passports and visas apply, it does seem that for customs to keep control of all these people’s movements, for the purpose of preventing illegal immigration, apprehending criminals etc, would be impossible. Any major failure of the system might have consequences the thought of which would result in nightmares for those entrusted with maintaining law and order and avoiding overpopulation and its dangers nightmares. The system could easily be overstrained if, while others used the new teleportation networks, a significant number continued to prefer conventional means of transport which would still have to be policed. However wonderful teleportation might seem to businesspeople and others it will be rather less so when introduced into the crowded, complicated and often dysfunctional world that is twenty-first century society.
Its other hazards are more to do with psychology and sociology. We would lose the joy of travel, the sense of adventure that comes with it, if it was simply a matter of stepping into a cubicle in London, pressing a button, and arriving almost instantaneously in a similar cubicle in New York or Sydney or Tokyo. And along with virtual reality, computers and the Internet teleportation would assist that process of atrophy to which the human race has begun to be subjected in an environment where many of the tasks that hitherto required sustained physical effort on one’s parts are now performed by machinery, operating automatically or at the mere touch of a button. Along with the spirit of adventure initiative (though it amounts to much the same thing) and the opportunity for healthy physical exercise would also be squandered for the sake of making life easier. Nor are even these things the end of the matter as far as the harmful cultural consequences of teleportation are concerned; it goes much deeper than that. Human affairs are essentially about manipulation and manoeuvring. There is nothing necessarily wicked or unethical about this; it is what makes us such a fascinating species. Because we are all different individuals each with their own way of thinking, our agendas are never entirely the same, and we are also very conscious of each others’ faults and limitations, even where we know no evil is being planned (though where there is evil, it makes the situation much worse). Before a meeting with another person or persons, where we will be talking matters, important matters, over which we may disagree with them, we need time to think how best to put our case, how to speak with tact on sensitive matters, how to respond to this or that awkward question. This is so in the home, in politics, at the workplace and even, I am sure, in churches. It is so everywhere. Official meetings would normally be planned in advance anyway so that everyone had time to consider the matters that needed to be discussed, but a lot of very important meetings are actually informal and ad hoc. We often don’t want a particular person to show their face until we have rehearsed how we are going to bring up a particular matter or how to reply if it is they who raise it. If people flit about much more easily between A and B because of teleportation this might not be possible. We’d have to think on our feet a lot more and thus be more likely to make the wrong move, say the wrong thing. Without so many opportunities to plan ahead, and in a world that’s increasingly busy and fast-paced as it is, there is a risk that human affairs in all walks of life could become more aggressive and confrontational, especially when much is considered to be at stake.
This section wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the physical dangers that are supposed to attend upon using a teleportation system. We’ve probably all been influenced in our thinking on this by the film The Fly (both the original and the 1980s remakes), where a scientist builds a matter transmitter and tests it on himself unaware that a bluebottle has flown into it at the same time. Result: his atoms and the fly’s become mixed up, with grotesque consequences. In the 1958 original – hammy compared to the later versions, but still with some genuinely horrific moments – we are presented with a man who has a fly’s (man-sized) head and hand and a fly which has a man’s (fly-sized) head and hand. This seems strange given that the machine’s brief is to transmit objects and not to change their size or otherwise alter them; how does it do it, anyway? In the 1986 film the fly and the human merge on a genetic level, the scientist undergoing a gradual transformation, from having appeared normal when he stepped from the machine, to eventually stabilise as a hybrid between the two, which seems a lot more conceivable although it still raises the question of whether the fly’s consciousness (if it has one) inhabits the hybrid’s brain jointly with the human’s. This last is also raised in the original where the different consciousnesses appear to be divided roughly between the two creatures (or duplicated?); the human-headed fly behaves like a fly, among other things blundering into a spider’s web, but can speak, while the fly-headed human starts with what is evidently a human brain but later says “strange things” to him, as if there is an insect part of his mind that’s becoming dominant (he seems to have difficulty controlling his fly hand, suggesting the brain is sending signals to it he has no control over).
Whether we’d get either of these two scenarios if something did go seriously pear-shaped is a moot point; that of the first film is unlikely, that of the second perhaps less so. It certainly seems possible that human and animal genetic material could become mixed and the possibility of this happening is in itself disturbing particularly when we don’t know what the exact consequences would be. It’s quite likely an insect or small mammal could get into a teleportation cubicle without anyone noticing (there would be safeguards against such things of course, but they’d never be 100% effective). An evil person could even cause such a thing to happen deliberately to see what the result would be (the plot of one of the original Fly films, dreadful as it was, back in 1965). The other gruesome possibility that comes to mind, one that may be more plausible, has the transmitted person’s atoms failing to arrive at the other end – as happens with the cat on whom the scientist on the 1958 film initially experiments. A rather distressing, for animal lovers, scene results where the scientist finds himself listening to the pathetic cries of the unfortunate moggy as a “stream of cat atoms” streak through the ether with him having no power to stop them; presumably the poor animal will remain in this state eternally, although how it can call out isn’t apparent since in its incorporeal form it has no vocal chords with which to do so. Obviously nasty accidents can occur with motor cars, planes, trains and other conventional forms of transport, but we know they are necessary in order to get about in the modern world, if nothing else is, and besides the results of car and train crashes, horrendous though they may often be, are more familiar. We accept them as a necessary risk. It’s not the certainty that things will sometimes go wrong which is going to put people off using teleporters in the first place; it’s the form the consequences will take when they do, and moreover they may happen to oneself and not someone else. A trade-off takes place in the human mind by which the undoubted advantages of teleportation are forsaken in preference for something which is less efficient but whose attendant risks seem of a more acceptable nature (whether being horribly burnt in a car crash, regardless of whether or not one survives, is better than being amalgamated with a creepy-crawly is at least a moot point).
It’s possible, I guess, that a life form could evolve the ability to teleport itself naturally. This would make it even more difficult for the authorities to track down criminals and illegal migrants (we would need to be able to monitor someone’s movements anyway in some circumstances, if we needed to get hold of them urgently but weren’t quite sure where they were), and there would still be the dangers of loss of initiative and mental and physical fitness.
The Fly films and their sequels raise important questions about the nature of the soul and of individuality (as does Star Trek ¬– it will be recalled that Dr McCoy was never entirely happy about using the Enterprise’s transporter beam, fearing that it was destroying his immortal soul). For a Christian immortality depends upon God’s ability to reconstruct the soul and body following whatever, in each person’s case, might be said to constitute death – teleportation could very well amount to it, temporarily, because while a person was physically dematerialized they could neither be aware, not having a brain to think with, nor function biologically in the normal sense. But even Christians don’t like to die before their time, while to someone who was not religious the consequences of failing to be rematerialized at your destination would be irreversible and thus even more awful. Since we don’t yet know whether a teleporter could transmit minds – which can be regarded as roughly the equivalent of electrical impulses – as well as physical objects, it could be that teleportation would sever the mind and body and result effectively in death (certainly, life in the same fashion and on the same plane as it is normally lived would cease), the subject arriving at the reception point as a corpse. Before the first human was transmitted experiments would first have to be carried out on animals, which if the vociferous objections sure to be met with from the animal rights lobby were ignored would still leave us with the question of whether animals had minds or souls in any case – if they didn’t, the results of the experiments could not be reliable. For myself I see no problem with identifying the mind, along with the emotions, as equivalent to “soul” nor, if a person were reconstructed at the end of their journey exactly as they were when they set out, is there any reason to think they are not immortal. What happens to them when they arrive is simply a return to normal physical, earthly existence following a brief interruption, and is obviously different from reconstruction in what will hopefully be a blissful (and permanent) afterlife by a supernatural creative intelligence. Though the next world will not function on quite the same lines as this one, those religions which believe in afterlives generally see them in terms of a restoration of the physical body, and not as a collection of disembodied minds.
The real problem with teleportation is (a) whether it would work in the first place and (b) the attendant risks and their somewhat off-putting nature. Apart from anything else it would seem to involve, according to Parsons, the annihilation and subsequent replacement of each of the particles that make up a person. There’s something decidedly unwelcome about this; I wouldn’t like to be teleported if this was what happened, because I’d rather think I was the same person all the time! So, I imagine, would you. It’s another reason why teleportation probably won’t find many takers. It might be possible to present the problem as not being one if you still retained your memories and thus had the same personal identity; but they would only be copies of those memories. You still wouldn’t quite be you, and the thought would I suspect be sufficient to deter those people intelligent enough to understand what the process involved (it might be wrong to try to persuade them to use it if they didn’t have that discernment). I expect that even if you were in every respect the same person as before you stepped into the teleporter booth, the mere idea that you weren’t, however unfounded, could scupper the chances of public acceptance. There’s another objection too; isn’t it the case that by definition, a memory can only be a memory of something that actually happened to the person who has it, not copied from it in the same way that one reproduces a photographic image or a sound recording. If that’s the case, and teleportation really does entail this process of annihilation and replacement, then going by the laws of logic teleportation isn’t possible anyway, let alone repugnant or otherwise in its effects. (The question of how it bears on such things as personal identity and the “soul” would of course justify an article in its own right).
Even if it didn’t depend on teleportation, any new means of travel would have to be faster than existing ones in order to have an advantage over them and so justify itself. And this would make it especially dangerous if anything went wrong, especially when the problem of congestion wouldn’t go away. It never does with new methods of travel, unless we are to restrict its use to a small elite. If you invented aerial cars in order to avoid traffic jams, you might not still get them (only they’d be twenty feet off the ground) – the vehicles would be moving about the much wider area of the sky instead of confined to a relatively narrow strip of roadway, and by that same token there might seem to be less scope for accidents. But controlling this vastly increased amount of aerial traffic, which would still have to be regulated in some way, would be a nightmare. And you could still get some very nasty pile-ups if people weren’t looking where they were going.
If ultimately it is not possible, for some reason, to transmit people safely from one point in the universe to another by breaking them down into their constituent atoms, that could be viewed as a scientific not a logical impossibility. Although, since logic ultimately determines what can and cannot happen in the Universe, it can be called a logical impossibility as well; ultimately it all boils down to whether one particle/wave can interact with another particle/wave in a certain fashion and if it cannot, then logically it cannot be used to produce the result one wants, if the interaction has been found to be a necessary prerequisite for doing so. The fact is that because of the complexities, scientifically speaking, of the matter we do not know whether a given future technology would be ruled out by logic in this way.
There are some things, such as the matter transporter seen in Star Trek and other fictional worlds, which one can’t regard at the moment as necessarily impossible; they may be, but that will be for the future to discover. There is nothing in them which, at the moment, appears to me to defy the laws of logic. It is quite possible, therefore, that although the technology is beyond our capability at present they may become realities in a couple of hundred years’ time, say, or perhaps sooner, especially given the relative swiftness of technological and scientific progress over just the past three centuries. But the dilemmas caused by other scientific advances which are already much more noticeable, plus our social and political problems, will have overwhelmed us long before that time.

(1) Michael White, The Science of the X-Files: The Truth, Legend books 1996, p96
(2) Paul Parsons, The Science of Doctor Who, Icon Books 2007 p292-300
(3) ditto
(4) ditto
(5) Parsons, p314-15
(6) Lawrence M Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek, Basic Books 1995, p152
(7) Parsons, p295
(8) Parsons, p40
(9) Parsons, p43
(10) Parsons p44-45
(11) Nigel Calder, Einstein’s Universe, BBC 1979, p101
(12) White, p161
(13) Calder, p147
(14) Hawking, p175
(15) Parsons, p229-232
(16) Parsons p231
(17) Parsons, p15-20
(18) Krauss, p31
(19) Krauss, p34
(20) White, p20
(21) Parsons, p21-26

Science: Pandora’s Box?
So much for what we can't do. With those things which it seems we will be able to do, though they may not be fully possible at present, the problem lies in the dangerous consequences they may have. It is often the case with progress that its harmful effects balance the good ones. Technology can allow things to be done more efficiently but also dehumanize or destroy initiative. Science causes problems simply by enabling people to live longer and protect themselves more effectively against illness and disease, which adds to overpopulation. Machines and techniques are invented which, as they are perfected, become potentially more dangerous in the hands of criminals, terrorists or aggressive nation states (here computers present a particular problem). Society can become dangerously reliant on a new – but in the nature of things always imperfect - technology, particularly if it has a strong appeal to those who like to think and to show to others that because they can master it they are modern and “with it”, as well as competent. Lastly, progress can create agonizing dilemmas of the sort which were never encountered in the past, when the techniques which are proving so controversial simply weren’t possible.
A view often expressed is that Man’s scientific abilities have outstripped his moral development, with the result that we are creating technology that is ever more destructive before we have evolved the wisdom to use it sensibly, and that is the cause of many of our problems. This may be true, but one could put things somewhat differently – although at present our technological development is certainly outstripping our intellectual development, with the result that we may not see the wisdom of curbing the former when we need to. It isn’t necessarily the morality of society - not all of society, at any rate, since whatever our faults not everyone is like the Nazis – which is the problem. It’s rather that the inherent weaknesses within both the general world we live in and our own human nature, which can’t entirely be eliminated no matter how hard we try, both impel us to make scientific and technological progress and result in us suffering from their effects. We don’t know just how much, or what, will be possible in the future or why someone might want to do it but it’s a pretty safe bet that some things would not be attempted anyway.
I don’t know if ultimately a way could be found to breed an army of giant spiders, nor what the point of doing so might be, but it’s virtually certain no-one, probably not even a madman, would try it; people don’t like spiders. There remain though vast areas where there is a perceived need, on the part of a sufficiently large number of people, for progress to continue but where the things concerned are controversial. There would never be unanimous global agreement that the research should be outlawed; some countries would uphold the ban and others not. And laws are always subject to appeal at some future date. But what seems clear to me regardless of the politics of the matter is that where there are dangers, these cannot be avoided without an impractical reversal of the course human history has taken over the past three hundred years.
Many of the dilemmas are medical in nature; two in particular spring to mind. One consequence of advances in the science of tissue transplantation and organ donation is that they enable parents to have a child primarily to serve as a donor to keep an existing child, whose DNA is sufficiently similar to its own and with whose tissue it is therefore compatible, avoiding rejection problems, alive (at no physical cost to itself) when they would not otherwise have had it. This to many debases what ought to be the whole purpose of childbirth; the child should be brought into the world purely for its own sake, in other words not as a useful commodity for the benefit of others, which dehumanizes the process. There is undoubtedly something disturbing about the practice. It cannot be denied that without the need to provide a suitable tissue donor for its brother or sister the child would not have been born; there is bound to be the risk that when it eventually learns this it will suffer severe emotional shock, even if the intentions of the parents towards it once it is born are the best possible, and that is in addition to the other dangers which stem from this inescapable fact. In those cases which have already occurred where a child has been conceived to keep another alive, the parents have professed their willingness to love and care for the donor child as much as they do the first; it may well be they are sincere, and that most other parents in this situation would also be sincere. How, though, could one possibly be sure that anyone else would live up to this promise in the long run? If in enough cases they do not, serious moral and spiritual damage is inflicted on society.
What can be done in a noble spirit can also be done in an ignoble one. Even as it is, with no medical dilemmas necessarily involved,
there have been plenty of cases where parents’ feelings for a child have evaporated once it has been brought into the world, leading to neglect or ill-treatment, often precisely because more affection is felt for one of its siblings. They might in any case be merely professing good intent so that the law will give them what they want. But this is altogether a very finely-balanced issue. Since, where the existing child is terminally ill, the parents would have lost both children anyway, or condemned the existing child to a lower quality of life – the quality of life being one essential reason for preserving it – one might be inclined to think there is every justification for what they are doing. It is nonetheless done at the cost of setting a very dangerous example. In practice, if not entirely in principle, it is only a few steps from breeding humans for spare parts anyway. The trouble is that once the principle is accepted that you can conceive and bear a child for primary reasons other than the child’s own benefit, it can be misused at a later date by those whose motives for wanting the child to be born are less altruistic than we would prefer. If the idea of the practice, which has now become established, appeals to people sufficiently they will not bother about the principle. It may depend on whether it is done by parents or by the state and what the reason for it is. Since the trend in Britain at any rate is towards governments who have got into the habit of being increasingly more authoritarian, because of the nature of the problems they are faced with, we ought to be particularly worried. The full dangers of it may not yet have materialized, but they might do so in ten, twenty or thirty years’ time. Yet in the meantime, who would deny the chance to give life to at least one of the children? Human nature determines we must do that which contains within itself fortune’s Trojan horse.
The scenario might be thought to be less tragic if the donor child were given up for adoption, perhaps because the parents felt they could not cope with two, the second having in any case been conceived partly for the benefit of the first. After all, adoption is not illegal. But like the very conception of a child for reasons unconnected with its own wellbeing, to bear one which would not be incorporated into the family unit but given to another, especially if it happened on a fairly widespread scale, would be a dehumanization and thus a degradation of the parent-child relationship and what it represents. In what is meant to be both a biological and an emotional/spiritual experience – and it’s that in which its sublime nature consists – the child is potentially at any rate a member of the family into which it is born, even if it was illegitimate and unplanned, as may be the case, and the “family” consisted of just a single mother. The severing of this relationship wouldn’t be permanently harmful if we could be sure the parents would establish contact with the adoptee at a suitable time later on, and restore their family relationship with it, but if they were of the selfish kind (possessive towards the one child and uncaring towards the other) they would turn their backs on it once adopted and regard the matter as being permanently out of their hands.
An equally agonizing dilemma stems from our ability to freeze sperm so that if a child is desired, but the present time is for some reason not thought a convenient one to have it, it may be conceived and born at a later date instead. As a recent high profile legal case demonstrates this can lead to complications if, in the meantime, a relationship breaks down. In the example I have in mind the father won a high court case in which he had defended his right to prevent his former partner using the sperm to impregnate herself. It is another finely balanced issue, and one where I personally would tend to take the father’s side, while not doing so lightly. Once the sperm is in the woman’s body and a child has been conceived by it it cannot be retrieved in any case without terminating a life already begun (and going against the mother’s wishes, which means the pro-choice argument in favour of abortion does not apply). Most people would rightly regard such an action as abhorrent. But if the sperm is not yet in the woman’s body it can still be regarded as the man’s property, not to be used without his consent, and redeemable without causing physical damage to another individual. There is a need therefore to uphold the father’s wishes, to which the fact that he may be being mean or cruel in denying the prospective mother the right to use the sperm makes no difference, I’m afraid – despite the psychological damage caused her by refusing her request.
Some might disagree. But whatever the rights and wrongs of this matter, the dilemma will only affect individual cases, whatever legal precedents are set. Since the matter is at least controversial, it being possible to argue that if we stop a woman using her husband’s frozen sperm to conceive we may as well stop her having a child by him anyway whatever the means by which she became pregnant, it is not quite so much the case here that any moral damage is being done to society. The distinction between having a baby using a man’s frozen sperm and having it by him in the normal fashion is not sufficiently clear-cut to resolve the issue in the public mind, once it has been seriously considered. The damage arises when something that can more clearly have negative moral consequences as well as positive ones is accepted throughout society. Meanwhile, though, the dilemma is no less tragic if it does only affect individuals. It can result in a situation where either a man is left feeling that his body or an intimate product of it, particularly intimate because of its nature in this case, is not his property but has in a sense been made that of the state so another person can procreate – or a woman is agonizingly denied what may, for reasons of age among others, be her only chance to have children.
In the future authoritarianism will extend to very personal areas which should ideally be a matter of individual choice. What science makes possible, supposedly for Man’s benefit, the law might have to ban because of the practical consequences of its effect upon society and culture. Apart from legal wrangles and emotional damage – though it can certainly cause those – there is another problematical consequence of being able to freeze either embryos or sperm. It has a lot to do with the nature of the times and the way we live now. Because there is so much more to life the sacrifice, in terms of one’s free leisure time, of having children and caring for them – an often stressful business - will be greater. They like to think they will have a decent innings without such ties. A parent’s obligation towards their child conflicts not only with the former’s very understandable desire to have a good time, which one would after all wish for the child when it was their age, but also with their career aspirations. Many professional people in their thirties are saving having children until a later stage in life, often freezing the husband’s/male partner’s sperm until it is ready to be used, or will take this option in the future. And these days, because of improved medical care which has to some extent slowed down the ageing process, “young” can mean up to the age of forty or even after it. The consequence of this is that there will grow up a generation of children whose parents are too old to really cope with them when they misbehave, or to play and thus bond with them. The psychological and social problems, which will include and result in crime, will need a lot of time, money and resources to deal with.
The generation born in the 1960s and 70s is in many ways a tragic one. It is inevitable, perhaps, that it acts the way it does but such behaviour can have disastrous results, not least for itself. Because we can now have children at a later stage in life, medical advances again being responsible, and this trend is set to continue with the period of fertility probably being extended even further people are jumping the gun, the outcome sometimes being children who are stillborn or do not long survive their birth – an otherwise rare occurrence nowadays. And that is apart from the even more damaging, in social terms, consequences of the wider generation gap between parent and child, which will imposed severe strain on the social services at a time when, as everything else in this book makes clear, they can least afford it.
Still more, if not most, of the dilemmas originate from our increasing ability to understand and influence genes. Genetic engineering will be, in the twenty-first century, a scientific advance comparable in its importance to, say, railways in the nineteenth. The Human Genome Project, which allows us to map out the entire human genetic code, gives us the ability to identify those genes which will lead to disease or deformity (or to characteristics such as homosexuality which, although not everyone would classify them as diseases, are nevertheless still seen by some people as undesirable) in an individual prior to their birth, and thus manipulate them to remove the problem (something easier done when the embryo is still developing in the womb than when it is a fully formed, live baby). It also raises the possibility that parents will be able to design their children and, if wealthy enough, also buy their genetic characteristics for them - since there would probably be a fee for it - as they can buy their education. The ultimate debasement of life is to make any part of it a financial commodity.
Genetic science is starting to make possible the removal of genes from a human or animal or the addition, perhaps to replace what has been taken out, to that human or animal of genes from another human or animal; if the latter, the donor may be of an entirely different species. The aim again is to give the recipient new qualities or eliminate those that are undesirable. To mention just two of the technology’s applications, crops can be made hardier and beans given human genes to make them produce human proteins that can be used in medicine.
It’s even possible that artifical fibres could be replaced by genetically – or molecularly – re-engineered organic, or semi-organic, materials which could be programmed to change their form as desired by their owners, whether for aesthetic or practical purposes. This would presumably mean you could change your clothes, and perform a wide range of other tasks which were previously more complex and called for more sustained effort, at the mere touch of a button.
Genetic engineering potentially covers a very wide range of activities and techniques, and it is impossible to say what exactly we will be able to do with it in the future; just as one cannot say with certainty that all its applications will to a greater or lesser extent be harmful. Nonetheless the possible dangers, should they be realised, will be far greater than with, say, cloning or stem cell/embryo research.
There is much controversy about the supposed hazards of, for example, genetically-modified crops. It is claimed that there is no evidence such crops behave abnormally, producing adverse environmental consequences. That would still leave the moral ramifications. There is the seeming hideousness of putting genes from a human being into a tomato, for example; it just feels wrong, even if in practical terms there is nothing to worry about. The issue may well have resolved itself in any case; there has been so much public disquiet over it, whipped up by the media for the understandable purpose of increasing newspaper circulation and viewing figures, that GM crops could be finished anyway. Partly because of the public's reaction, scientists and politicians will be very careful not to allow anything dangerous to happen, and won’t permit commercial availability until trials are complete. But if all the confusion and hysteria has destroyed any prospect of genetically modified crops being fully introduced, that may be unfortunate since they are a means of feeding an ever-growing population (though it should be pointed out that however resilient they may be they are not immune from the effects of global warming, which may in the end wreck their effectiveness).
The Human Genome Project is not something which in itself can be considered dangerous; we have a right and a need to increase the extent of our knowledge, and the crux of the matter is rather the use to which that knowledge is put. I’m sure that use will be carefully regulated by law. However, there will always be individuals, organizations or governments who do not respect the law.
One problem with genetic engineering is, as mentioned above, the nature of some its applications - even where there are obvious benefits (making it easier for farmers to grow a wider range of crops in a wider range of conditions is perfectly OK, as far as it goes). They seem physically grotesque both in themselves and because they are so clearly against nature. It is something that is not physically quantifiable and indeed altogether difficult to describe in words; it’s just the idea of it which gives rise to a certain feeling of revulsion. The best I can do to explain and justify my position on this matter is to say that if we can mix the genes of vastly different species, or our own genes with those of animals – or for that matter transplant animal organs into human bodies as part of surgery, although here there’s a much more immediate justification in terms of benefiting lives, it is such a departure from what has normally been considered right and acceptable that if we are prepared to see nothing wrong in it we will see nothing wrong in anything else either.
Perhaps the most commonly (and by now, it has to be said, rather predictably) expressed fear about genetic engineering is that the ability to implant or remove genes before birth will result in the creation, either by parents or the state, of a supposed “master race.” We are obsessed with this bugbear because of Adolf Hitler and his belief in Aryan racial supremacy, one of whose expressions was the experiments carried out at the Auschwitz concentration camp by Josef Mengele; the latter included attempts to change characteristics like eye colour using chemicals. Our master race scenarios therefore involve the creation of armies of identikit blue-eyed, blond-haired (and therefore white) supermen and women of the Aryan physical type, as if this was the only form biological racism could take. There is, in fact, no reason why black racists (they do exist) of the kind to which Malcolm X at one point in his career, and some Black Power activists of the 1960s and 70s, belonged shouldn’t try to genetically alter whites or to give their own race properties which would enable it to become dominant, since black people aren’t so stupid they don’t understand science. (Incidentally, one cherished belief of the more extreme black activists of the late twentieth century was that whites were the creations of an evil scientist). If the science could be perfected then it could be used by any one ethnic group against any other, racial antagonism being something which can affect all human nations and societies as the whole history of Mankind makes clear.
In some ways the "master race" fear is exaggerated. Most of us know that it is not intelligence, strength, good looks, ethnicity, or cultural talent which makes someone a good human being, but virtue, which is something the current, "imperfect" version of humanity can still possess. A child created by Nazi-style genetic manipulation and breeding would not be any more or less a human being than anyone else in this respect, despite the circumstances of its birth (although Hitler did not of course have access to the scientific techniques currently being perfected, those children who were born and raised as part of Nazi breeding programmes, with the aim of creating a pure Aryan race, and who are now adults behave just like anyone else). Since the child had no say in the manner of its creation, no blame accrues to it, as most people at least would accept. Nor could it be guaranteed that it would share the philosophy of its creators, unless that is something which can be bred into people scientifically and not through education and environment, which I doubt is the case since we must be capable of having our own thoughts in order to possess any self-consciousness. If it had virtue it would at least try not to use any exceptional powers it possessed to oppress those less superlative. Nor, in one respect, is it a foregone conclusion that if Nazis came to political power in any given country, with all the modern science of genetics (in the form it’s predicted to take in the future) at their disposal, events would necessarily follow quite the same course they did in Germany in 1933-45. Hitler’s regime practised euthanasia against people who were mentally or physically disabled, or merely had some kind of imperfection. But if genetic engineering could be used to get rid of genuine defects either at birth or afterwards, such might be a good thing because the Nazis would do that rather than actually kill the people concerned (who would themselves probably want the defects removed in the first place). There’d be no point in the latter. Nor I suspect would the Nazis actually seek to create a whole nation of people who were uniformly blonde and blue-eyed; in practice, especially where what we might call basic desires are concerned, they’d probably prefer a bit of diversity. Though they might mistreat people of other genetic types, they would also recognise, if not for the right reasons, a need not to wipe them out altogether. It’s worth remembering here that fair hair and blue eyes are far from universal even in the parts of the planet most associated with those characteristics, such as Germany and Scandinavia; and that has probably always been the case. Blondeness from the point of view of aesthetics works best as something relatively rare, in the world as a whole, and thus more appreciated; cause it to become too common and the result would be a state of affairs rather dull and also, somehow, a little scary, even I would imagine to diehard Nazis.
Nonetheless, there does seem to be a preference in the West, and to some extent outside it, for certain physical characteristics against others. That “gentlemen prefer blondes” is to a great extent true, as surveys have revealed, and many women take to dyeing their hair in order to gain favour and advancement, and not just achieve the kind of look they feel comfortable with. There often seems to be more interest in celebrities who have blond(e) hair, or concern for people with such characteristics when they appear to have been abducted or otherwise placed in danger. Whilst it might not want to make everyone quite the same, there is a danger that the wrong sort of government could try to influence ethnic minorities from before birth to acquire the physical characteristics of the majority race; it could seek to ensure, for example, that everyone looked at least reasonably white and Caucasian even if blondes remained a relative minority of the population. Individuality would be preserved, but only within members of a particular ethnic group. That race could also be given powers which bestowed advantages on them over other people; by implanting within them genes from certain individuals or from the right animal species they could be made physically stronger and more resilient, among other things rendering them highly effective as soldiers. There are limits to how useful this would be – they would presumably for example be unlikely to survive a nuclear blast – but they’d still have an unfair advantage over others, and one which could make them physically dangerous in certain circumstances. Genetically augmented individuals could also be cloned so there’d be more of them to serve as soldiers, policemen, spies or in any other capacity where they could be useful to the ruling regime. A cloned/genetically engineered army wouldn’t necessarily be without any thought or will of its own, but it could be controlled by the same means that any regime uses to enforce its servants’ obedience, the psychology of discipline and threat of punishment (which in totalitarian states could mean execution and perhaps victimsation of one’s family). The leaders of the regime would be reasonably safe provided they made sure they possessed the same powers as their soldiers, to prevent the latter successfully rebelling against them. There would then be no more likelihood of them overthrowing their rulers than with a normal army, and at the same time there’d be the additional benefit of their super powers.
It would be most alarming and potentially dangerous if it was the state that had the power to reshape human genetic make-up. But there are dangers enough if parents or other relatives could do it; in other words, if it became a fashion among the public to have children with certain characteristics. They might prefer a blond(e) child over a dark-haired one, or a male child over a female, or seek to give their offspring the qualities that would make them an Olympic standard athlete (they might not have the mental inclination to develop their physical attributes in that way, their interests perhaps lying more with the intellectual side of things, which means they would have to be mentally influenced as well – a rather nasty idea – if the genetics were capable of having that effect). Now I don’t know what the overall effect on society would be if the number of fair-haired people were to undergo a significant increase, but it’s apparent that if you influenced people to think a certain way, or gave them abilities which if they decided to misuse them could be highly dangerous, we might all suffer in moral and material terms. And too many of one sex as opposed to the other would gravely effect society’s ability to reproduce. In a more general sense the "designer baby" is undoubtedly an abhorrence, even if it’s the next of kin who are exercising the option. The child itself may not be anything grotesque or evil, but the process by which it comes about is certainly disturbing. The wonder of childbirth in the normal fashion is of course so sublime that it is difficult to express in words; suffice to say the whole beauty of a child is that its form is a product of nature rather than conscious human planning, something that delights us precisely because we did not know how it was going to turn out exactly, even it is sure to be like us to some extent. If you can correctly analyse and predict, or deliberately fashion, it all that wonder is destroyed. We may of course be justly proud of something we have created in this way, as with a painting or novel, but it’s clear to all of us that that isn’t why a child is valuable. To contrive it in all its mental and physical details cheapens and degrades it.
In fact, I expect laws would be passed to prevent parental control, or for that matter anyone else’s control, over a child’s genetic development. Though like all laws they would sometimes be broken, or exemptions be granted for one reason or another, I believe the will is there to apply them generally – always assuming, that is, we remain under a democratic (whatever one considers that word to mean in real life) system where there are proper inhibitions about doing questionable or dangerous things. The fact that not everyone wants to take the opportunity to even know the sex of their unborn child, preferring it to be a surprise when the time comes, suggests that parents themselves will probably approve of the laws. It remains possible that individuals might themselves wish to be changed genetically, supposing the technology were ever such as to permit this to be done post-natally (using viruses as the carrier for the implanted genes might be one way). Here there would be less controversy, since for one thing people ought to have a right to choose their physical appearance and configuration. It’s already possible for people to change their sex and the general opinion of society is that they should be allowed to if an imperfect world has resulted in them not being happy the way they are; the practice is harmless – it doesn’t happen often enough to upset the balance of the sexes – and shouldn’t be condemned. People can also choose to look like members of another ethnic group (if that was what Michael Jackson was trying to do when he had his plastic surgery, the results of which might fairly be described as outlandish). We can also change the profile of our face, the shape of our chin or nose or the set of our jaw, on the operating table; dye our hair. In some cases the desire behind the revamp might be questionable, indicative of psychological weakness or trauma to which a different and probably healthier remedy might be found if the person concerned only put their minds to it; we shouldn’t be so obsessed with what we look like or ashamed by it. Or there might simply be a genuine wish for self-improvement. We can also choose to find their choice not to our aesthetic liking. Whatever the motive, however, there is a public acceptance that those who can afford any or all these alterations ought to be allowed in a free society to have them; genetic engineering would simply be a change in the means, not the end. The only cases where it could be objected to would be those where someone wanted to give themselves abilities, such as telekinesis or exceptional physical strength, which could be harmful to others if, for example, they lost their temper; here, all things being equal, society would see every sense in prohibiting such a choice.
Unfortunately, even if it were a case of freedom of choice being exercised by generally responsible individuals that wouldn’t eliminate any moral dangers involved. There is a likelihood that genes (or for that matter genetically engineered life forms intended to perform certain tasks for humans) could be patented, the whole business thus becoming commercialized. You couldn’t buy genes for your child because, as we have seen, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to use them and you couldn’t guarantee that the child once old enough to have a choice would want to do so itself; but you could buy them for yourself. Even where the genes came from an animal – and perhaps especially if they did - there’d be something horrible about this, whether implanted in another animal or in a human. It seems an offence to the dignity and the wonder of nature, which is sublime even when humans don’t come into the picture except as observers – and if you are religious, also against God who after all in your view made the whole thing in the first instance – to treat these building blocks of the natural world as a saleable, purchaseable commodity. This seems so even if adult animals can be bought and sold as pets or livestock for farms and no-one, give or take a fairly small minority, sees anything wrong with it. If it’s hard to say exactly why it’s wrong, then that is in fact an indication of why I might be right to be uneasy about these practices; if the sublimity of the thing is something that can’t be described in words (and it is) then so too will be the reasons why that sublimity can’t be debased. And if it’s an offence against decency and dignity to do it with animals it has to be even more so to do it with human genes, even if the donor gave them up willingly.
The creation of a whole genetically-engineered life form (GELF), the bringing of a new organism – even a non-sentient one – into existence, where it did not exist before, purely to benefit Mankind also seems questionable. Some might argue that it’s merely an extension of our using animals for food or, in earlier times, as beasts of burden. In fact, if the GELF fulfils some vital need which has to be satisfied or people will die then its creation in my opinion would be justified; there would have to be laws against ill-treating it in any case, but permission to create it cannot be dependent upon those laws being observed as that would effectively imply an animal’s needs were as important as or greater than a human’s. If there were an overriding good reason for making a GELF and the laws were observed I don’t see that it would be a bad thing or that most people would object to it.
Genetic engineering seems most justifiable when we are talking about curing an undoubted illness or disability (“gene therapy”). There must be many people, not just parents, who, given the chance to eliminate undeniable mental or physical defects in a child, would do so. I suspect most of us would. We may leave aside here those rather scary people who embrace a narrow-minded and very fundamentalist kind of Christianity and think that if a child is born with spina bifida it is in some way God’s will and that they should not try to change it. It’s possible for their views to be admirable; in fighting against a disability and its effects they and the child have an opportunity to build character and acquire strength through adversity. But if you can fight against the condition at all, you can equally choose to prevent it before birth – which, after all, we are told is better than cure. The desire to do that is so natural and human it cannot be objected to. The real problem is that while it is understandable, and to such an extent that it’s also permissible, it can by curing diseases that may be terminal or removing a predisposition to them add to the overpopulation problem the way medical advance in general does. On the other hand this will be offset from the point of view of the harm caused to society by the money saved that would otherwise be spent on caring for sufferers, while (a) there will remain plenty of diseases that one can die from simply by being human, (b) people can still die in accidents etc, and (c) if one’s worried about the effect on moral fibre there’ll still be plenty of opportunities to acquire it, because of (a) and (b) and because not all one’s problems are of a physical nature.
Unfortunately this doesn’t eliminate the possible social problems since there is some controversy over whether or not certain things should be regarded as illnesses. Getting rid of the latter is fine as it’s something we would all do if we could. But what about the gene that causes homosexuality? To some the condition is an illness, and the fact that the political correctness which insists it isn’t happens to be common among a sufficient number of influential people for that philosophy to be dominant makes no difference to their views. To others the gene merely disposes one to behave in a different way from most of the rest of society. Both views can be held with passion and sincerity and this makes the issue being raised here potentially more bitter and divisive. Parents who honestly believe that homosexuality is undesirable, or who wish quite reasonably out of love and compassion to spare the child the psychological trauma that often accompanies the realization one has desires they may not be entirely comfortable with – even if that trauma can be overcome by counselling plus a strong will - will want the gene removed. Gay rights activists, however, will see this as insulting because of the implication that their lifestyle is based on something harmful. Still others feel that a person should have the right to choose his or her sexuality, regardless of whether their choice is right or wrong. Obviously, identifying and removing the "gay gene" before birth is not according them that right. I concede that it’s a matter of opinion whether homosexuality is a good thing, a bad thing, or morally neutral; and if it is eradicated, we will therefore be imposing on them our own particular view of what is correct. Besides that, it is in such matters as making the choice and overcoming any psychological torment uncertainty over sexuality might cause that we build character and become fully adjusted to life’s vicissitudes. And yet I suspect that most parents would, if they found out that their child was a potential homosexual, seek to have the offending gene removed; it might seem ludicrous not to do so and thus avoid any possible future hang-ups on the part of the child. For one thing, they might by their action be ensuring that they had grandchildren to carry on their line – a selfish but also thoroughly forgiveable motive – if it turned out for whatever reason that no other natural child of theirs survived. Given this and the desire to give the child a life free of potential complications, it seems thoroughly wrong to deny them their wish. There is a potential here for conflict between different approaches which could very well lead to violence. The matter wouldn’t be resolved by keeping the existence of the gay gene, once identified, in unborn babies a secret, because the parents would be very angry at not having been told.
The other, more general problem with genetic engineering is that if, by the nature and variety of the different genes people were given, it resulted in immunity against a wider range of diseases, injuries being healed at a much faster rate, and the ability to perform strenuous tasks with a minimum of effort – or have a genetically-engineered organism do them for you – it could result in a life so easy much of the time that we’d become idle and weak from lack of exercise and lose any incentive to improve ourselves. The fact that we might still suffer from mental adversity wouldn’t reduce the social damage created, which would be worse if the idea were to benefit everyone rather than particular groups within society (a policy of levelling having been thought best in the long run). Whether the genetic engineering had been performed at one’s own wish or that of one’s parents, before birth, would make no difference. It’s likely that there would be some exclusion at the outset, whether or not it was anyone’s specific desire, because all new technology is initially quite expensive and thus denied to a significant section of society. If the genetics included making one physically stronger the super-rich could then dominate the rest of us more easily and perhaps prevent us from ever acquiring the same benefits as themselves. The aim would not necessarily be to create a master race in the sense of benefiting a particular ethnic group but there would have emerged, as a consequence of events and of human nature, a new plutocracy. Even if the technology didn’t work that way those who hadn’t had the augmentation would feel themselves at a disadvantage contrasted with those who had, fomenting social unrest and creating new divisions within society.
Terminal boredom, threats to the moral tone of society and potential for causing social disharmony are, one must assume, likely hazards of genetic engineering. Yet it seems totally ludicrous not to take any opportunities it offers, once they have become fully available, to cure obvious and damaging illnesses and diseases. That is the dilemma. Putting up with the various ailments might seem the safest option, if hardly a palatable one, given that they are problems we are at least familiar with whereas genetic engineering presents us with a whole minefield of uncertainties. But the human mind isn’t made that way – perhaps if we were that objectively rational we wouldn’t be human - and we may have no choice in any case if global warming means the incidence of many diseases and other natural hazards will increase, along with their range. The diseases and natural hazards may become such a threat to life and health that people will demand gene therapy if it enables them to cope with the that threat, and make a fuss – quite possibly a violent fuss – if they don’t get it.
The fact is that there is no sure way of knowing whether or not someone could use genetic engineering to create a “master race” or achieve any other dubious purpose. Another problem with it is precisely that while some aspects of it are dangerous and impermissible others aren’t, and so there is a particular danger of taking a few, in themselves excusable, steps until one falls over a cliff.
A word or two needs to be said here about genetic art, though it’s a concept which at the moment belongs more to the realm of science fiction. It’s been suggested that organisms might be created, or genetically fashioned, purely to look nice. There’s undoubtedly something disturbing about the concept when it’s Man who’s doing it; although a Christian, for example, believes that God created the world in all its beauty purely for its own sake, God (a) had the right and (b) knew what He was doing. The life forms involved would probably be fairly simple, unintelligent creatures, but how could we ever be sure what we were doing to them wasn’t causing them any pain or distress?
If we found the results of the genetic art were attractive, we would not want to outlaw it. There would be a temptation to keep it. Could artists claim that because art is art, they should be allowed to do whatever they like to them? And if we legalized genetic art, the creation or modification of life simply because the result looks nice, we will also be tempted to do anything else with genes, including dictating a child’s appearance at birth, because we will have established the principle that genes can be manipulated for aesthetic purposes. Genetic art would be the route by which those forms of bioengineering which are unethical and dangerous could become accepted within society, bypassing the inhibitions and restrictions against them. Actually, I’m not convinced there’s much likelihood of this. There seems something so fundamentally abhorrent about the principle that most people, including most artists, wouldn’t countenance the creation of life purely to look nice. It would however be acceptable if their role as art was secondary, if they had been created in the first place and were being used to meet some vital practical need of Man’s without which he couldn’t survive (the only excusable reason for the technology), though I don’t know what that need would be. Then, reconfiguring them or making them behave so as to form attractive patterns would be no different in principle from Crufts. (Dogs, horses etc, which have a far more developed nervous system than the lower forms of life, don’t seem to mind taking part in such shows and may even appear to enjoy it, so we would have to assume the GELFs weren’t suffering from what was being done to them). There would still be laws against someone creating GELFs entirely for the sake of art. Some people might try to break it, but this would be no more likely to happen than with any other crime, including some things equally reprehensible, and thus society would not be especially debased, certainly not the whole of it.
When a particular technology or ability - any particular technology or ability - is dangerous in terms of the powers it gives people yet cannot be uninvented, what do we do with it? If we tried to restrict it to an elite that elite could use it to oppress the rest. The elite could fall out among themselves and destroy each other by fighting with the power, enabling others to seize their chance and grab a share of it. But it was widespread throughout society, people could end up fighting each other with it and causing untold damage and suffering. If it was not, they would protest. As long as we are flawed and human, we could never hope to avoid such outcomes.
As well as genes, we have come to understand much about the process of cell development in living matter and this has led us to the science of cloning. In its best-known form cloning, still a relatively new practice, involves taking the nucleus of a cell from a living organism and implanting it in a reproductive cell of an organism of the same species, from which the nucleus has been removed. This is then inserted into the womb of a female of the species where it grows into an embryo, a foetus and finally a baby before being born in the normal fashion. The new organism is an almost identical copy of that from which the cell it developed was taken, since it didn’t come about in the same way – at least, not directly – as one growing from an egg fertilized by a sperm usually does, i.e. through sexual intercourse between a male and a female partner.
Animals have been successfully cloned and the cloning of humans is thought to be not far away. The cloning for purposes of medical research of human embryos – leaving aside for the moment the question of whether it amounts to the same thing, and of whether embryo research should be permitted at all – is allowed and has already taken place, although only at a very early state of the embryo’s development. The intention is that the embryos are destroyed after their fourteenth day of life, which is when the earliest signs of a nervous system can be seen (so in terms of physical pain and suffering, no wrong is being committed). This is cloning in a different sense from creating Dolly the sheep, recreating Shakespeare or bringing into existence a vast army of super-soldiers.
At the moment, it seems likely to be some decades before the technical problems involved in cloning are solved in such a way as to permit the creation of a complete human baby, which will grow into a normal adult individual, out of the tissue of another (reproductive cloning). Some people are opposed in principle to the use of animals in scientific/medical research, but it would hardly be more ethical to experiment on humans without having first done so on animals as is the current procedure, where new and possibly dangerous (for the subject of the experiment if not for others) techniques are concerned. Consequently, animals are the only example we have to go by and there the success rate has not been high; Dolly was born only after 277 eggs were used to create 29 embryos, which only produced three lambs at birth, only one of which lived. Seventy calves have been created from 9000 attempts and one-third of them died young; Prometea (the first horse clone) took 328 attempts to create. Although Dolly’s early death is thought to have been due to a respiratory infection common among sheep raised in certain conditions, there does seem to be some fear that cloned tissue may be particularly liable to degeneration. If these problems do exist and cannot be overcome, there is no doubt that full human cloning would never be allowed, since it would be undoubtedly cruel for the clone if it could only degenerate and die, nor would anyone see any point in attempting it.
But supposing the problems can be overcome, what are the practical and moral objections to cloning? It occurs to me that it could add to the general population and thus to overcrowding, or maintain it at its present large and growing size, at a time when we can least afford it. But this depends on what scale it is practised. Large-scale cloning would only be thought necessary if there had been a massive loss of population, and since the present trend worldwide is towards population growth it is unlikely for the foreseeable future to be attempted. Otherwise, there are no purely practical problems in terms of the effect on society – apart from reintroducing extinct animals, perhaps from a well-meaning desire to make up for Man’s past ecological crimes, in environments where they would no longer be appropriate. The latter would probably, however, be a disaster on a small scale only; it is unlikely that it would happen on a large enough one to cause serious problems to Man, nor would the escape of a significant number of cloned animals lead to overpopulation among the species to which they belonged, because the nature of the process is not such that new animals are turned out at the rate of a million a minute as if off some kind of conveyor belt. The escape of even one cloned animal from a laboratory might be a problem if it was of a species that was poisonous or in some other way dangerous, but this kind of thing happens from time to time without cloning.
With animals, cloning would be morally acceptable if it took place for zoological research or conservation purposes, or if there is a shortage of livestock on farms because of disease or famine, or if it could be established that recreating the dodo or the great auk or the thylacine would have no adverse ecological consequences. With humans, the most defensible reason for doing it would be to help couples who have fertility problems and who have not benefited from in vitro fertilisation, which doesn't always work (it is allowed in such cases). It can either be used to create a child who cannot be brought into the world through the normal means, or to assist research into the causes, not always known to scientists, of infertility and miscarriage. In the latter case it would be a form of what is called therapeutic cloning, and might well render reproductive cloning unnecessary anyway. In the former case, where reproductive cloning is desired, the parents would either not have been able to conceive in the first place or the aim would be to replace an individual who had died (presumably from a sample of their tissue), one or both parents then becoming infertile for some reason. The latter scenario might not be all that common but it could happen. In these cases it would be both humane and probably harmless to permit the cloning. There might have to be laws to stop the parents making multiple copies of the child; it’s not clear why they would want to or what exactly would be wrong with it if they did, but the point is that the cloning would not be wrong in itself. The only complication I can see is that there might be some confusion over the clone's exact relationship with its progenitors and how to describe it, but no more so than is sometimes caused by marital breakdowns and remarriages. A system of designations and associations could be worked out that would satisfy most people. Much depends on whether the child was cloned from the tissue of a dead brother or sister or, because they were infertile or none of the sibling’s tissue was available, one or other of the parents themselves. If from a dead brother or sister, they would still be the son or daughter of their parents because they’d have originated, indirectly, from the same set of cells as the sibling – cells which grew from a union of their mother’s egg and their father’s sperm. The donor would still be their brother and sister, though dead, and the donor’s parents their parents too. Any children the clone had would be its parents’ grandchildren, its parents’ sisters and brothers would be its uncles/aunts. Things seem a little less acceptable if the clone is derived from the tissue of one of the parents; since it was biologically related only to that one, the other would be not its father or mother but something analogous to its step-father or mother, and you’d also be raising as your son/daughter what was really your brother/sister. Even here, though, it’s possible to ask how much harm has really been done. Lots of people have had stepfathers or mothers, or siblings of a different age group, and got on perfectly well with them. And when you grow to maturity your relationship with your parent changes, in the sense that as well as your still being their child the two of you are blokes (or girls) together – friends, in the same way that two people of different ages or sex groups can be. The situation is in a way no more daft or problematical than having an uncle or aunt the same, or a similar age, to yourself (of which there have been quite a few examples). We have to remember that there are plenty who live quite happily with foster parents who aren’t biologically related to them at all, except through the common bond of being human, and can adjust to not even knowing who those parents to whom they do have a biological connection are (sometimes they may not want to know!). Once this is taken into account there’s less reason to suppose cloning will necessarily lead to irresoluble and damaging confusion in inter-personal relationships, though this may be more so when it is a matter of replacing one (dead) child with another than when it is the parents themselves, or one of them, who is being cloned. For much the same reason, if cloning involves surrogate motherhood rather than the cloned cell being replaced in the womb of the female from whom it or the donor originated (I believe it does in some cases) then this too could be seen as acceptable. Though surrogate motherhood, because there is a potential danger of emotional confusion and conflicting attachments, should only be permitted when it’s the only way for a child to be born, the fact that there are people who don’t even know who their parents were, let alone if one of them was a surrogate, yet manage perfectly well nonetheless perhaps means it needn’t be seen as that much of an evil. (However surrogate motherhood can cause problems, not the least of which are battles over custody, and divided loyalties). The real difficulty with reproductive cloning is that although there are grounds for thinking it will cause no more psychological harm to the clone than results from being adopted – some people suffer shock and distress when learning for the first time that they were, but that doesn’t mean we ban adoption – we cannot be altogether sure, precisely because the circumstances haven’t come about in the first place. It will be a completely new phenomenon which no-one has yet experienced and whose effects can’t be predicted with any certainty. It’s likely that reactions to finding out one is a clone will vary according to individual personality and strength of character. But if any widespread harm is caused, and depending on how often cloning actually occurs, there will be maybe hundreds of people requiring counselling and other help and putting yet more strain on overburdened social services. Yet to ban cloning on these grounds would be to condemn some parents to the agony of childlessness.
The other main reason for reproductive cloning would be to recreate an individual, or individuals, whose skills might be needed for a particular and very important purpose. What this might be is hard to say but the cloning would perhaps be justified if the cloned individual’s talents could be used to save lives; the good of the many would outweigh the good of the one (if its being born is somehow an injury to the clone). Not everyone however would be prepared to take such a utilitarian view (I’m perhaps just a bit more ruthless than others). And as with having a child to serve as a tissue donor for another, once you have established the principle, however correct, that someone can be brought into the world primarily for the benefit of others it leaves the way open for all kinds of misuse of science, particularly by totalitarian governments; genetically engineered humans (or other life forms for that matter) to serve as slave labour is one possibility that comes to mind. This would be so even if one made every effort to ensure the clone was treated with the same respect and accorded the same dignity, rights and opportunities for happiness as anybody else. That’s not the issue anyway since once the clone was old enough to think about such matters it would obviously be grateful for the fact of its birth, assuming it enjoyed at least a reasonable quality of life and could come to terms with its parenthood, and most would see no reason not to provide it with all its needs. Even if we did not approve of the process by which it came into the world, to regard it as tainted and a bastard for that reason would in today’s society be as absurd as stigmatizing illegitimate children once was. It’s debatable whether someone would be cloned for the reasons we’ve just been talking about anyhow, since a clone is not from the start a fully-formed adult; once born it has to be allowed to grow to maturity and it may therefore be some years before you can reap the benefit of their skills. This mightn’t matter if you didn’t need the skills just yet, but could do in say twenty or thirty years’ time (again I don’t know what the precise situation making all this necessary would be). Yet even so there remains one important variable which could render the whole process pointless, from the point of view of its utilitarian value to society. A clone isn’t a completely identical copy of its original because any organism developing from a single cell undergoes mutations; it’s part of natural selection. The clone may not actually have all the skills you desire so sorely to harness. Or it might not have the mental inclination or aptitude to make full use of them – this is a different business altogether – and then to avoid the whole thing having been pointless, and make sure society’s needs were met, you’d have to force it to work for you, which raises once more the whole nightmarish spectre of an alliance between science and totalitarianism, even though the clone would probably be prepared to comply if the danger to society was great enough to threaten itself. Any danger less serious might not have been of sufficient magnitude to justify its being created in the first place, but if it were only a relatively small number of people who were endangered we might still find ourselves in the awful position of needing to bring some human lives into existence to benefit others.
Therapeutic cloning involves the taking of undifferentiated “stem” cells from embryos and using them to grow organs for transplanting, or to regenerate diseased parts of a body. Personally I can’t see that there’s a great deal wrong with this, especially when the embryo is of necessity at a very early stage in its development, and recent research suggests it should be possible eventually to obtain stem cells without taking them from an embryo anyway. There remain obstacles to applying the technique in full, which may require years of further research to overcome; evidence indicates some stem cells assist in the proliferation of cancer or act as cancer stem cells themselves. But if these difficulties are ironed out I can see nothing wrong in stem cell research, in itself, if the embryos used are just a collection of cells that have barely begun to differentiate, and a long way from anything we would normally call a human being. Even if embryo research became commercialized, like everything else in a still basically Thatcherite society, with private firms buying embryos or the stem cells taken from them to use in their research, the wrong committed would not be that great. If research on stem cells (not embryos) is acceptable, so then must commercializing it be, unless you’re objecting in principle to a capitalist society.
And growing a new ear, say, from a stem cell so that it can be grafted onto someone who has lost one may sound gruesome but it is not in itself unethical. The real moral problems lie elsewhere. I argued above that if we can mix our genes with those of other species, or receive organs from them, it is such a departure from what has normally been considered right and acceptable that if we are prepared to see nothing wrong in it we will in due course see nothing wrong in anything else either; this would apply to the creation of chimeras, fusing human and animal embryos, which has recently been accomplished. It would also apply to things which whatever their medical value are nonetheless grotesque, especially when at the same time they may be turned into a saleable commodity. Something about the commercial marketing of a complete, disembodied human ear sitting in its culture dish in a laboratory – rather than just its surgical implantation - chills the blood. The thing to be borne in mind is that with the medical advantages so obvious, and increasingly important in a world which is becoming more and more dangerous with global warming threatening to spread new diseases and revive old ones and where the strain of caring for the seriously ill is placing an intolerable burden on the ability of health services to cope, it will be impossible in the long run to resist pressure for the research to continue. If any debasement of the human condition is involved, whether through embryo research itself or the uses to which it is put, it will be impossible to avoid it. It is the contention of this chapter that something in our nature makes certain courses of action irresistible despite their dangers, and this will be particularly true when there is an obvious benefit to be gained from the point of view of such an important consideration as saving life.
About some applications of embryo research, such as creating an embryo that has three parents, I know too little to be able to comment, except that there is probably no damage done if the embryo is not human. Where it is, I suspect that what is being planned is such a ghastly distortion of what is natural and normal that it wouldn’t be possible anyway.
Cloning isn’t something that’s wrong in principle. It doesn’t deny the sacrosanct individuality of each (God-created, in the Christian view) person because a human clone would in practice be no more different from an identical twins, who (a) represent a form of natural cloning and (b) aren’t 100% identical anyway. Whether it’s wrong depends on why it’s being done and whether in each case the arguments for it outweigh the arguments against. There are still too many uncertainties for us to say what problems it will cause in practice. Certainly, like genetic engineering it’s not something whose effects can be seen as necessarily bad and for this reason I believe it will probably be permitted for reproductive purposes in the long run; the arguments in favour of it are such that people will be inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. It does nevertheless, once the myths are dispelled, involve possible dangers whose full extent, should they be realised, can’t be predicted.
It is often suggested that cloning, IVF and similar techniques may eventually lead to the total separation of sex and procreation (which is what in fact happens with IVF). This would undoubtedly be something awful, though not in any purely physical sense. The child is ennobled by having been the result of an act which is a sublimely - and, depending on the circumstances, innocently - beautiful experience for the partners, even though it cannot consciously share in it. This is why at a child’s funeral a priest says “We give thanks for the love in which s/he was conceived”. For this reason it isn’t desirable that children should be conceived through any other means than sexual intercourse. Just because these things are difficult to describe in words – it would infinitely cheapen them if they were – doesn’t mean they make no sense, as secular materialists probably believe.
There is an excuse if the baby cannot be born otherwise. This sound motivation prevents what is done from being grotesque. To conceive by IVF all the time, unless there were some good reason for it, i.e. something caused us to all become infertile for some reason, would of course be terrible but resort is only had to it in any case when the normal means of conceiving will not work. With IVF the mother still, it should be remembered, has to give birth in the traditional - and sometimes painful, though perhaps less so in the modern age - fashion. (Otherwise, if people wanted a baby at all they might as well do it, in their eyes, through sexual intercourse, which also has the benefit of being highly pleasurable).
In fact, sexual reproduction may always be necessary; it’s suspected that the more an organism gets cloned the more mutations, some of them harmful, are likely, perhaps explaining some of the problems already encountered with the technique and ultimately making it unworkable. Doing things the traditional way avoids that problem. Even if our children are clones, they themselves will need to have sex to reproduce (unless they inherit the genetic deficiencies which made their parents resort to IVF and it’s found those deficiencies cannot be cured by scientific means). It’s also the case that fathering children through sexual prowess (hopefully with just one woman!) is seen by men as a mark of virility and manhood. Artificial means will only ever be a supplement to the natural method of procreation, to be used when things go wrong, and no more.
This is just as well. While recognising that some might question whether sex can ever be totally divorced from procreation, Parsons nonetheless thinks it could happen. He suggests that by the 51st century everyone will be bisexual, like Captain Jack the Doctor Who character from that period {implying that the genes for bisexuality have somehow multiplied and spread to everyone, whereas those for red hair, for example, haven’t}: “You might question how realistic this is…reasoning that evolution should favour heterosexuals in order to keep population numbers up…{but} as new technologies enable humans to transcend the limitations of biology, it may be that 3,000 years from now we’ll no longer need to have sex to reproduce. “The imperative then will be sex for pleasure,”, says Petra Boynton of University College London. “And any form of sexuality will be valid if you’re just having it for pleasure.”(1)” Apart from the fact that sex for pleasure has never been necessarily the same thing as sex for reproduction in any case, I do question how realistic this vision of the future is. I don’t BELIEVE that everyone will become bisexual in the future. As with homosexuality, whether a person is bisexual in their orientation depends on whether they are genetically inclined to be in the first place, and as with any genetic characteristic (hair colour, height, etc) not everyone will be. More seriously, there are also social and moral implications in what Parsons and Boynton suggest. If everyone is bisexual, then given that intercourse with a partner of the same sex is meant to parallel that with a partner of a different sex, the scenario Parsons envisages would amount to infidelity. And as made clear above, the whole business of separating childbirth from sex is in any event grotesque. There’s also something very alarming, and very dangerous, about believing that “any form of sexuality will be valid if you’re just having it for pleasure”. Not only do some people, not necessarily bigots, seriously believe that homosexuality for example is wrong – however much it may be politically incorrect to let them say so – but there are other forms of sex, such as that with animals, which undoubtedly are distasteful, lowering the tone and compromising the dignity of society and individuals. It’s true that someone with no other outlet for their sexual desires might be forgiven for trying it on with a dog or farm animal, but Parsons is talking here about sex as a lifestyle choice. With respect to him, his views are a symptom of that kind of free-for-all individualism which has become too dominant in Western society during the past few decades and which seems to think that in some areas anything goes which isn’t obviously illegal, regardless of the finer moral points involved.
But the scenario envisaged by Parsons and Boynton will never become reality. Neither cloning, nor IVF, nor any form of genetic engineering will bring about an end to sex itself, because we like it too much). The parents of a test tube baby may still experience orgasm; the man can still climax and ejaculate. It won’t separate sex from procreation because if you want to both enjoy the first and bring about the second it makes sense to do both at the same time. If you want to have kids then you may as well do it by a process that’s pleasurable to yourself, which kills two birds with one stone. It doesn’t even eliminate the indignity of childbirth because someone, the mother or a surrogate, still has to go through it (might as well be the mother). At the moment there’s no reason to suppose it’ll ever be possible to grow an embryo into a baby in a test tube (a “test tube” baby isn’t that) and so, applying the principle of William of Occam’s Razor, there’s no call for the idea to enter our calculations.
Another reason why cloning will never become the sole means of reproduction is that it would lead to too many people who looked similar to each other. They shouldn’t be despised for that, as for one thing it wouldn’t be their fault, but we’d still find it boring, scary and, since our normal relations with people involve recognizing significant physical differences between them would probably be disorientating even if we learned after a while to register what features, not perhaps noticeable at first, did distinguish them from each other. This is why even Nazis wouldn’t want to create too many identikit blond supersoldiers, who were identical to the extent that clones are. By combining the two sciences they might still create, and clone so as to have as many of them as possible, genetically-engineered organisms of some kind to serve in a military capacity, but it would be as much the genetic engineering that was responsible for the problem as the cloning.
We can alter and control our bodies not only through genetic engineering, but also through chemical means, using drugs - which will be able in the future to act directly on the genes - and hormones. In the not too distant future, safer (meaning they have less side effects) and more effective drugs will appear, capable of working on the appetite centres of the brain and the DNA that controls metabolism, so that we can eat what we like, and as much as we like, and still keep our weight down, or will be content to eat what is good for us rather than what is pleasing but unhealthy. It appears that by means such as this we will eventually be able not only to ensure that we are healthy and able but also slow down the ageing process and even make ourselves immortal. We can see at once that all these things wouldn’t actually be for the better. The drug that can cure you of your craving for cigarettes is rather alarming in its implications – it means drugs might be developed that can determine any aspect of your behaviour and inclinations. In the wrong hands…and there’s also the problem of immortality, along with rejuvenation, leading to overcrowding and the complications of too many people able and wanting to do the same things. The harmful consequences of immortality couldn’t be avoided by not having children, who would seem less necessary in the circumstances, because people could still die in accidents in such an event you’d like to think someone was around to carry on your genes. Lastly, if all conflicting needs could be balanced in the way suggested above, without much trouble on the part of the individual, we would lose our ability to build discipline and strength of character. Reaching a sensible compromise between what is good for us and what we like but might be dangerous if we are tempted to take it in too large quantities is one way to acquire moral fibre.


Another of the most common fears about the consequences of scientific progress is that the machines which automatically peform many of the essential tasks of life, or will do so in the future – robots, computers or any device which is controlled by a computers and may therefore be said to have some kind of brain, enabling it to “think” in one way or another, will end up taking over. In the science fiction scenarios which express this fear the machines, developing the ability to think for themselves, decide that because they can now do so many tasks more effectively than people Man is therefore redundant and should be either destroyed or, because he nonetheless may still come in useful at times, be pressed into service as a slave (though why a thinking agency should necessarily come to these particular conclusions isn’t clear). Usually there is a central computer (such as Skynet, originally developed by the military, in the Terminator films) which controls all the machines and can mobilise them against the humans. A scenario less commonly encountered, but potentially just as dangerous for the running of society if it actually happened, is one where the machines develop different personalities and fight among themselves for control, resulting in general collapse and anarchy.
In one sense the machines probably will take over, but they are unlikely to do so in that of making a conscious decision to destroy, or conquer and enslave, Mankind. For one thing, humans would probably have built in some kind of safeguard against such a possibility. They certainly would not WANT the machines to take them over. The computers wouldn’t have been programmed to assume control; they will if anything have been instructed to obey humans, not to give them orders. So for it to decide to appoint itself boss, a computer would have to have undergone a major malfunction, which could affect it in other ways, impairing its efficiency and making it possible for the humans to regain control; or (b) be experiencing a conflict between its directive to obey humans and its directive to do things by the most efficient means possible. At a guess the latter would cause it to shut down; it’s a bit like the conflict between duty and survival which androids sometimes go through in sci-fi and is used by Doctor Who in one of his stories, Earthshock, to confuse one hostile example long enough for it to be overcome. There is no way, in normal circumstances, for the computer to get from the state of being an obedient servant to the state of wanting to be master of all. So if machines do decide to take over it will be as the result of an accident, and would therefore be less likely to happen. The only way to get round this would be if the computer decided to forego purely logical thinking and instead become like a human – emotional and often irrational, even though it may nevertheless still be capable of reason. It might, among other things, develop a lust for power. But this might require it to have a conscious intelligence – it is perhaps an open question - and the only conscious intelligence with which we are acquainted is that of an organic being (Man) who evolved it over millions of years. We can’t be sure, but there’s no reason just yet to suppose it could be possessed by an inorganic machine designed for a utilitarian purpose. In any case we’re assuming in this scenario that the computer wishes to dominate the humans out of a desire for self-aggrandisement, or the aggrandisement of its own kind, and a contempt for Man’s weakness and stupidity. It would then be no different from the various organic beings in science fiction who want to rule the universe because they are ruthless, arrogant, cruel (or, at best, misguided). That would be bad enough, but the computer would have lost any advantage it might have gained from being a machine.
So the machines will only take over in any sense if we let them. From laziness we might allow them to do everything for us and become weak and atrophied as a result, but the machine could not consciously take advantage of that decline to conquer us. In the first instance there’s no proof machines will ever be able to think, in the sense of conscious reasoning and self-awareness, at all. They aren’t generally meant to do so because people’s intentions are simply that they do their jobs, jobs which they after all perform automatically – that is, without thinking about what they’re doing. A computer that did think for itself might decide to rebel and not do the task it had been programmed to carry out, something the humans would find inconvenient. However efficient a computer might be, when it appears to think its internal processes are merely an analogy, a far from exact one, of what a human brain does; it is in any case always responding to a programmed series of instructions, no matter how complex these are, and so can never be said to act for itself in any significant sense. When asked a question any extrapolation from its instructions to form a conclusion, which might not have occurred to humans and might also be correct, would still be an (indirect) result of the programming and of the properties the humans had built into it (the conclusions would multiply blindly, once left to themselves, evolving in the way natural selection does) rather than anything conscious. And there are obstacles to it always giving the correct answer, since scientific discoveries, for one thing (much of the time, the computer would be being asked to find solutions to scientific problems so that practical needs could be met and more learned about the universe) often depend on intuition – a characteristic of a human, rather than a purely logical, mind - as much as anything else. (Many theories are, after all, an attempt to build a model of the universe, necessary to have something to work from, based on what seems most likely at the time to be the truth rather than an unmistakeable identification of the latter; otherwise it would not be possible for them to be discredited and superseded by other theories (even if the latter are themselves wrong), as happens. For the computer to always hit on the actual truth it would have to be infallible, and nothing ever is, however fantastic it might be in other respects).
While humans possess the advantages that emotion gives them, and know they do, they are less likely to allow machines to replace them, at least not entirely, unless it is for humans’ own benefit. There remains the possibility of creating a synthetic organic being which can be designed to function the same way as a computer, while possessing human feelings, but once something, whether organic or inorganic, has acquired both emotion and the ability to reason – is, in other words, an intelligent life form - it becomes a matter of debate whether it should be forced to work for you anyway.
Machines cannot become either physically or mentally superior to humans. To be the former some of them at least would have to have bodies which were the equivalent of organic ones, perhaps made from synthetic tissue, since organic matter is in many ways more flexible and adaptable than hard, unresisting metal. To be mentally superior they would need, as the above makes clear, to have emotion as well as excellent reasoning abilities. They would end up altogether not much different from humans mentally or biologically, so it’d be hard to see why they should bother trying set themselves up as a master race. They might perhaps have a greater ability than we do to balance emotion with reason and so run society better, but such perfection would put them on a par with God and we’d then be functioning within entirely different parameters if not going off the scale altogether.
A particular scientist or team of scientists, working for a particular organization, might specifically aim to see if a computer with human-like, in every respect, intelligence could be developed but at present we’ve no reason to suppose they’d get very far. They might think they had. If a computer were particularly good at solving problems we could perhaps award it a degree. But this would, all things considered, be rather silly. As with sporting excellence, academic success depends to a greater or lesser extent on the dedication and ability of the individual, even if most people once they apply themselves have a good chance of getting the right qualifications. A computer is only as good as what others have programmed into it and if one computer scored higher marks in a test than another computer this would only be because the company that built the other were less efficient, perhaps using outdated techniques and equipment. Nor could the computer be capable of feeling the emotional satisfaction that would make the degree really worthwhile.
The machines may not take over; but will we become the machines? Here the dangers are on the whole much more real. We already have cybernetic surgery to some extent – artificial hearts, hip replacements, pacemakers. These by themselves do no harm whatsoever and in fact, quite clearly a lot of good. It’s a long way from becoming like the Cybermen in Doctor Who or the Borg in Star Trek, heartless creatures whose organic bodies have either been destroyed, except for the brain, or so augmented with mechanical parts that they have come to see themselves merely as components of a machine (which functions like a collective intelligence, possessing no individuality) concerned with a particular task, and accordingly banished emotion as irrelevant. There is clearly, however, an increasing trend towards “cybernisation”, and it is hard to say where exactly it will end. Research has demonstrated that electronic cameras can feed images directly into the brain’s visual cortex. In 2005 a scientist at a university in Belgium announced he had implanted prototype bionic eyes into two blind patients. The devices work by recording images and relaying them to the optic nerve, where they are converted to electrical stimuli. It is thought artificial eyes could eventually enable a person to see in all spectrums – infrared, ultraviolet, X- and gamma rays as well as visible light. This is in some ways an extension of the night-vision goggles soldiers use to detect infrared radiation. Parsons reminds us that the ability to “see” in these wavelengths would allow one to see through walls and inside the bodies of other people. “Virtually nothing would be secret any more.”(2)
Then there is ultrasound vision. In 2002 Professor Kevin Warwick, cyberneticist at the University of Reading, had a radio receiver and transmitter implanted in one arm, surgically linked to his nervous system and the nerve fibres and used to link a host of computers and electronic equipment with his brain. By picking up signals from an ultrasonic sensor, the chip enabled him to identify objects and avoid obstacles, when blindfolded, using sound.(3)
Kevin Warwick has also had a sensor chip implanted in his body to serve as a transponder; other sensors would detect it and open doors and switch on lights for him. To avoid potential medical complications it was removed after nine days, during which Warwick felt entirely comfortable with it both physically and mentally. In 2002 he had another chip implanted, directly linked to his nervous system, through which he could transmit signals to his computer by hand movements. The signals could then be played back and received by the chip in an attempt to replicate the same movements. He also found that emotional responses, such as shock, could be picked up by the chip, recorded on his computer and played back in the same way. His wife had a similar chip implanted and via the internet the two were able to send signals directly to each other’s nervous systems. Warwick even used his implant to control a robot hand at Columbia University in New York via the internet from his lab in Reading.(4)
Certain beach clubs in Rotterdam and Barcelona require members to have microchip implants which can be read in order to pay your bar bill. It is said they have a waiting list of people who want the implants. The American Medical Association is looking at implanting chips in patients {presumably with their consent} in order to access their medical records. And one firm specializing in medical technology has produced brain implants which can send signals that block those responsible for the tremors experienced by sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. In recent years a number of disabled people have been given implants which enable them to operate their home computers, as well as change the channel and volume on their TV sets, by thought alone. Kevin Warwick thinks developments of this technology could eventually allow amputees and paralysis victims to control prosthetic limbs or regain control of their normal ones via artificial nerves. The benefits go beyond medicine. Warwick believes cybernetic implants will one day, through the links with computers and the Internet, vastly improve our abilities at mathematics, allowing us all to solve highly complex equations and also, for example, visualize what a ten-dimensional universe {if there can be such a thing} looks like, “a feat way beyond the capacity of our present organic brains.” Through the Net we could obtain instant access to an almost limitless amount of information and also link our brains directly to one another via the chips they contained, communicating at a faster rate and in a more effective way by transmitting our thoughts as electronic data rather than speech. Cybernetic components will also be of benefit physically, giving us greater speed, strength, agility and endurance.(5)
If anything that’s normally done organically can be done even better through cybernisation – replacement with mechanical components that parallel their function – and we intend to take full advantage of that (taking this path rather than that of genetic engineering to achieve perfection), the logical outcome will be a human being who is almost completely cybernetic. I say “almost” because there are some organic features and functions we might prefer to keep. We might still prefer to be organic on the outside because the idea of not looking like a flesh-and-blood human being isn’t appealing, not according to the current way we think. And basic instinct might incline us to have sex the traditional organic way. But are there any circumstances in which we could become entirely mechanical, except perhaps for the brain, and at the same time emotionless, like certain creatures in science fiction, putting cold logic before everything else? This would certainly count as a nightmare scenario.
My conviction is that it is not realistic. Admittedly, although an intelligence without emotion is hard to conceive of, it seems wrong to deny one could exist just because we haven’t so far encountered one. But if I think it couldn’t it’s because of philosophical reasoning (with which you may or may not agree) rather than because of anything which is lacking or otherwise in my experience. An intelligent life form whose brain was functioning rationally would orientate its behaviour around some kind of purpose. Our own example, which is the only one we have to go by, suggests that the pursuit of happiness, in whatever form, is the only purpose there could possibly be to life. Although history has known many people who have wreaked havoc and caused misery on a massive scale in order to satisfy their negative emotions, there has never been anyone who has consciously tried to eradicate emotion altogether, from their own life or the lives of others, because they believed that to be sensible or for any other reason. There are undoubtedly people who lack humour, and sometimes seek to deny others the opportunity to experience pleasure; these people, however, act in the way they do because they have been unsuccessful at achieving happiness. There is usually some sort of psychological trauma at the root of their attitude. Some individuals, if they were particularly perverse, might seek to eradicate emotion from society out of spite, because it would make for a dull and uninteresting existence, but we would still be talking about an attempt to satisfy an emotion, albeit a negative one (i.e cruelty). They’d make themselves an exception to the rule so they could gain the greatest possible malicious pleasure out of what they’d done. It’s not that likely they’d do it in the first place, because cruelty essentially involves causing unhappiness in others, through mental or physical pain, and unhappiness is an emotion.
Similarly, if the Cybermen or the Borg pursue the way of logic because it has for them a kind of beauty (as it does to many human philosophers), or because they think they will be happier without the hang-ups and stress emotions cause (despite this being a paradox) then their ultimate motive is still emotional. Logically, one can only either like to exist (or not like to exist, i.e. be in a suicidal frame of mind - in other words be acting emotionally, the emotion experienced being sadness), or simply exist. If the latter is the case, the existence is simply existence. It has no purpose and is therefore illogical, unless one is a life form which has no concept of "existence" at all - in other words is not sentient. For this reason a sentience which does not possess emotion is to me inconceivable. Of course, in a person who has been drugged emotion may be dulled or even suppressed entirely, but in their drugged state they could not in any case be counted as fully sentient.
Since the gratification of emotions is the only purpose for the

existence of sentient life forms, to reject emotion would if

anything be illogical. If, therefore, creatures like the Cybermen

could actually exist in real life, it must be accepted that they

would not, strictly speaking, be emotionless, although they might

perhaps believe themselves emotionless, or find it advantageous to

portray themselves as unemotional to other races (thus appearing

less vulnerable, and so more frightening, to them). A desire to destroy emotion and replace it with logic would itself constitute an emotion; so if we are not talking about a contradiction in terms, the Cybermen must at best have feelings of a sort practising emotion of a sort which is simply different from that experienced by humans. The cause of pure logic would have to be a passion in itself, and if believed in sincerely enough would have to be pursued with sufficient emotional intensity for the whole point of it to be destroyed. Maybe this is what has happened to the Cybermen, although they do not realise it or for one reason or another don’t care to admit it.
The removal of emotion from themselves by the Cybermen was probably done in order to adapt to their new, wholly mechanical existence. But if they had been real, they could never have adapted to it in any case without ceasing to be fully conscious; they would have to be mere robots, simply obeying a set of programmed tasks essential for their survival, their higher faculties (including the ability to feel emotion) suppressed so that they could cope better with their situation. Not a very satisfactory state of being. Perhaps this is what happens with cybernetic races; we won’t know until it actually does happen. But someone who was not cybernetic would have to be controlling them, and could use them as an army or labour force for whatever possibly unethical purpose took one’s fancy. No-one would let themselves be put into such a state willingly, but it could nonetheless be done without their consent. Let it suffice to say that we are talking about something very different from a whole race becoming cybernetic through its own negligence or deliberate intent.
Since they could not fail to be, in truth, emotional no intelligent life form would find a fully cybernetic existence possible, for reasons already gone into. The psychological shock and damage would be too much. Nor would emotional beings wish to become Cybermen in the first place, if given a straightforward choice, because our emotions incline us to think such a course unappealing. Sensual experiences could perhaps be simulated, as if one were still physically organic, but not to be able to feel emotion would prevent us from appreciating them.
The chances are, therefore, that cybernisation of an entire race would take place either very slowly or so suddenly that no-one realised what was happening and could try to stop it. Regarding the scenario in which it occurs slowly, it’s certainly true that bad things can creep up on us without our being aware of them. But where the process is slow it’s equally likely that we’ll be able to realise what’s going on and have time to stop it – and with total cybernisation, the nature of the danger would be so awful that there’d certainly be a considerable incentive, among some people at least, to do that. The cybernisation would be much more likely to come about swiftly as the result of action by a single individual or group of individuals against the will of the majority. Their actions might be evil or they might, if undemocratic, be nonetheless altruistic in spirit. If evil – to create slave labour for a particular purpose other than the (supposed) wellbeing of the slaves – it would have to be for the benefit of one’s ethnic group or nation, at least, and not just for oneself plus one’s followers. The perpetrators would exempt themselves from the cybernisation and thus limit drastically their scope for company in the future; they wouldn’t want to associate too much with people who were incapable of showing or reciprocating emotion and who’d probably for that reason make them feel uneasy. It’s more conceivable that hardline racists, Nazis for example, could do it – a labour force to serve the master race, one which won’t complain or rebel and will at the same time be more efficient in technological terms. But there’d always be the uneasy suspicion that something might go wrong, however unlikely that was, and if it did the stakes would be that much higher; your cyber-slaves could use their superior strength and machine-like imperturbability to pain to overcome you with ease. It’s unlikely, in the end, that cybernisation could be carried out by a small elite (who presumably would not be so noble as to submit to the same process themselves) because they would still want the company of enough normal, unaugmented humans and they could not take the chance that some factor wouldn’t destroy most of their own number.
I’m not being naïve in arguing that the motive for forced cybernisation would probably be altruistic. Environmental disaster, disease, pollution and famine – all problems the human race really does face – could make it impossible for us to function as organic beings. To do it as a temporary measure to save the human race Cybernisation in at least the short term, while a more lasting, and congenial, solution was worked out would then be a sensible option (for it to be possible at all implies a technology of a quality which could also regrow the original organic body, or allow it to go on living within a cybernetic outer body whose components would take the place of its various functions and also act as a life-support system). But this would be a non-starter because when would we ever improve enough to run the world properly, at the best of times? And people still wouldn’t care for it despite the noble motives – they might be drugged or otherwise conditioned to make such an existence bearable but what if, for some reason or other, the conditioning wore off? It would have to be down to our theoretical “noble but misguided” individual and their chums; because their motives were noble, they would derive from them a strength and courage different from what you get from the mere knowledge that you have power, and therefore in many ways much greater, and they might therefore be able to endure the loneliness of the situation they’d placed themselves in. Trouble is, of course, that human beings are flawed, and if the non-cybernetic ruling elite fell out with one another – easy to happen in a small community – there might follow a destructive civil war with the “Cybermen” as troops, if one side could programme them to obey only itself. Or, since power corrupts – a cliché by now, but true all the same – the rulers, or some of them, might decide to return some of the Cybermen to organic form, once the crisis had passed.
In the end, then, cybernisation would probably be a gradual process which we would be able to arrest once we knew it was going too far, or which would be overtaken by all the problems which are currently threatening to destroy us. But I doubt if anyone in the long run would willingly take the option to the extent seen in science fiction. It’s true that when people are surly and depressed they also become lazy – meaning that if they are mentally crushed by living in an atomised and overpressurised society where they are not sure of their identity, it is more likely they will rely entirely on computers and mechanical devices, perhaps implanted in their very bodies, to do everything for them, until they become entirely cybernetic. But even if this kind of social malaise could ever produce such a result anyway, it’s unlikely to while there are other ways to work it off – the ones humans traditionally use, i.e drinking oneself to death, withdrawing into oneself, indulging in anti-social behaviour.
If not Cybernised like the machine men from Doctor Who, we might be absorbed into a collective like Star Trek’s Borg, whose members would transmit their thoughts to one another in the form of radio or electronic impulses using the Internet, into which they could plug themselves physically and mentally, as the medium, to the extent that they become effectively a single consciousness. This is still too far away for us to fully envisage, but the technology is at least conceivable. Whether the result will be as predicted, and as hideous as it somehow seems, is a moot point. First, there is the matter of whether “thought” really functions in this way. Secondly, given the current state of the art, the implants if perfected at some point in the future would be unobtrusive affairs, not even visible except at close quarters, and a human plugged into the Net in the manner of an electrical appliance would look visually no more grotesque than someone wearing headphones. And a collective mind in which all individuality was suppressed would not emerge as long as you had control over whether to receive someone else’s thoughts or transmit your own – as by and large is the case with current methods of telecommunication - and it is hard to imagine that such safeguards wouldn’t be built in, not least because the public would be in favour of them. Privacy, and protection from “calls” which might be threatening or obscene, must be maintained. Whether any situation could result whereby someone wanted to remove the safeguards and succeeded in doing so is difficult to say. That person would not want to be a part of the collective themselves - most likely they would be seek rather to be in control of it so it could be exploited for their benefit and that of associates – because no-one would. Except where political restraints are desired (usually only by influential minorities, despite efforts to persuade everyone to the contrary), society currently favours an arrogant individualism which brooks no limit to self-expression; this would be compromised by subsuming one’s own identity within a gestalt. On the Internet, as with anything else, people want to leave their own personal signature to what they do; that’s why they set up their own websites, to make what are in a sense personal statements about themselves. There’s no prospect that I can see of it destroying individuality, whatever other harm it might do. If thought is different in nature from a radio impulse a true collective intelligence would be impossible anyway without actual telepathy, which we don’t at the moment possess and in any case would create its own problems.
There could still be some applications of the Internet which would be disturbing and dehumanizing. We’ve been hearing talk of using it to send orgasms via e-mail, by transmitting electrical impulses which simulate the sensations experienced during sex(6), the implant establishing a connection between the computer and one’s nervous system. There undoubtedly would be something grotesque, as well as not entirely satisfying, about this. Sex to be really pleasurable needs two people in actual physical contact, it can’t be done impersonally in the way being suggested. And in the form in which it ought to take place, i.e. between two people who love each other and if not married are at least in a stable relationship, it is something so sublime that no transmission from an inorganic machine can possibly compare with it; for that very reason, to attempt to do such a thing would be demeaning. It’s important though to appreciate that whereas any sex outside the parameters mentioned is a departure from what ought ideally to be, this particular example of it doesn’t dehumanise in the sense of turning one into a machine. For sex to happen in this way will be degrading, but no more so than when someone goes to a brothel. It is merely an extension of the sad debasement of sex, and of society, that has come about in the modern world. At the risk of being vulgar, one can get what are called “cheap thrills” by masturbating over a pornographic magazine, riding a bike down a cobbled street or standing against a washing machine when it is in operation. I imagine Cybersex would be an extension of this which people could enjoy in moments of boredom or sexual frustration (when it might perhaps be excusable), and might be more satisfactory than the cobbled street or the washing machine, but it’d still be no substitute for the real thing (even if the latter were a loveless act that you had to pay for) and so the real thing would be preferred if you could get it - the same applying to any other natural pleasure which it was sought to imitate. If the technology were advanced enough you could probably achieve a pretty good simulation of the sex act, but most punters wouldn’t substitute it for a visit to the local red light district unless they had to. There is undoubtedly a mechanical, robotic kind of way in which one can perform casual sex or hook up to and view an Internet porn site, but it is still a organic, natural desire which is being gratified, however illicitly, and an emotional one too in that the frustration of it for some reason would presumably make one unhappy or angry. The process still leaves one in most respects an organic, emotional being.
In science fiction Virtual Reality experiences often involve use of a hologram or android (to lower the tone of things somewhat, Arnold Rimmer in the first Red Dwarf novel has an encounter with an android prostitute, who in pleasuring him nearly removes an intimate part of his anatomy, while boy and sheep ‘droids are available if he wishes). It is questionable whether this kind of experience would be possible anyway. By definition, if a certain substance or arrangement of substances, a particular juxtaposition of molecules, is needed to create a given object or make it behave in a given way, and thus constitute an experience which some people find desirable, then it and only it will have that effect – it’s simple logic – and nothing else. Consequently, and whether the pleasure sought was sexual or of another kind, an android or a hologram could not possibly give the same sort of satisfaction as the real thing. An android would have to be composed of real flesh – not synthetic flesh, or any inorganic substance – to be any good as a hooker and a hologram would be even less likely to please for it would have to be at least solid, and then wouldn’t be a hologram. A robot composed of organic flesh and genetically engineered to do the job, probably being programmed with no more intelligence than it needed to do its job, might be an alternative, but the whole idea makes one feel sick if it is to be working as a prostitute.
Either the hologram or the android could dance or perform acrobatics, say, and might make a very good job of it, nor need anything dubious be involved. But using them for sexual pleasure wouldn’t work – unless, where the sex was paid for, it simply rendered the experience even more cold and loveless than usual. And it might be considered immoral, depending on whether one sees prostitution as sometimes a necessary evil. So maybe people shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing anyway. But if an android or holographic prostitute couldn’t give satisfaction in any case, ignoring the ethics of the matter, nor by the same token could holographic wine, a comfortable holographic armchair, holographic food, holographic water for swimming in, etc (presumably the hologram is an attempt to provide experiences which in a certain environment would not be possible in the normal fashion, or too expensive). A physical, but synthetic, substitute would be better than the hologram but still wouldn’t do the trick. The people and objects one encounters on Star Trek’s Holodeck solve this problem by being not true holograms but actual solid matter created, if I have understood correctly, using the patterns (of real things) programmed into the Enterprise’s transporter beam so it can lock onto a particular person, or object if desired; but even though these simulacrums are not intended to be sentient and supposedly follow a strictly controlled behaviour pattern (which doesn’t, intentionally at least, include prostitution, of which Starfleet would presumably not approve), the idea still seems grotesque to me.
Simulating living people is particularly repellent if the intention is to imitate the finer aspects of human nature rather than or as well as sensual gratification (the latter can be good in itself but only, in any other sense than a pragmatic releasing of sexual tension, when it proceeds from love). This would be making a claim that is at best presumptuous. On page 107-8 Krauss, while admitting that a hologram’s lack of actual physical form would render it useless for a lot of things, suggests rather disturbingly that Star Trek: Voyager’s holographic doctor could nevertheless dispense “a good bedside manner and compassionate words of advice, which are at the heart of good medical practice…as easily as by the real thing.” Hardly, because real compassion (which must be intentional, and thus proceed from a thought as much as an emotion) can only, to be itself, come from an actual sentient and conscious being. To be fair to be Krauss he may be suggesting the hologram in this case actually is sentient – I’m not familiar with the series so I don’t know – in which case the question is one of whether such a being could actually exist and be happy to do so, bearing in mind it cannot interact with physical objects and may accordingly be limited in the kind of pleasures it can enjoy.
Matter replication, when involving only inanimate objects, is something different from holography (as made clear above) and by itself doesn’t involve any moral issues, though it would have to be regulated in case it resulted in an overabundance of certain commodities. In terms of quality it could be a more satisfactory substitute for a hologram.
Holography is one branch of human science which will never be of value for other than artistic purposes, clever though it is. But simulating objects and people in more than optics, for whatever purpose, would at best achieve no more than an ersatz parody of the real thing. Virtual Reality if developed to such an extent might not render society much more depraved than it is at the moment – in matters of sex it may replace rather than add to existing “perversions”. But it would certainly be another symptom of its degradation by being enslaved to the cold, mechanical and (though we may not think so) second-rate; or it simply couldn’t happen in the first place.
An obsession with sex has come to characterize modern Western society precisely because it is a way of countering the dehumanization of mass technology. It’s a very basic, natural, human (though also animal) desire. Human affairs, and the problems encountered in them, are still a matter of the appeasement of such desires - sex, status, territory etc, which are threatened by the increasing complexity of global society and the pressures caused by change (and also come into conflict with our higher needs and ambitions). Some things will never change, but they will come into disastrous opposition to those things that will.
I expect the wisdom and desirability of taking cybernisation any further will be questioned when (a) we feel it is taking away too much of our organic humanity; (b) it starts to make everything too easy and thus boring; or (c) it compromises our individuality by standardising everything too much. Or all, or any two, of these things. The real danger will come about precisely because we will be unwilling to sacrifice our humanity, in this and other ways, and yet progress will logically mean going into areas that have this dehumanizing effect. Whatever path we choose the result will be stagnation and ennui.
Now we have, one might say, chosen in a sense to make progress in an inward rather than an outward direction these last thirty or so years. When I was a child/teenager the most exciting thing about the future seemed to be the prospect of exploring and colonizing outer space; of moonbases, manned landings on Mars and the other planets of our solar system followed by the establishment of permanent colonies there, and finally a great break-out into the wider Universe with starships shuttling between galaxies to establish contact with exotic alien life forms. Disappointingly in many ways, this hasn’t happened (it may yet, although personally I doubt we’ll ever get to that stage). Partly because of the cost (which rose after successive oil crises and global recessions) and technical difficulties involved, along with lack of public interest, we have instead chosen to scale back manned space exploration, relatively speaking, and concentrate mainly on scientific missions using robot probes; putting most of our effort into advancing technological progress here on Earth, through industries like telecommunications and computerisation with which we have developed a dangerous obsession. Cybernisation will be an extension of this. Of course the manned space programme isn’t entirely dead; there’s still the international space station, a stepping stone back to the Moon and from there to Mars, although public interest and thus media coverage was so sparse I’d no idea it had been built. The need to dispel post-modern boredom by rekindling the pioneer spirit, to find clean and safe sources of energy which can meet both our potential fuel shortage and the need to be green (there are minerals on the Moon and perhaps elsewhere which it’s thought could help here), and to relieve our overcrowding problems by maybe finding new territories where people can settle, justifies a renewed assault on the “final frontier” whatever the practical and financial obstacles. Civilisations and societies have often in the past been given renewed life and vigour by the opening up of new physical territories, creating new markets, new opportunities for expansion, and new safety valves. This might divert our attention from our current obsession with computers etc and the developing interest in cybernetics which is not unrelated to it; we would still continue to explore those areas, especially where the space programme required it, but less intensively than hitherto. But there are grounds for scepticism. I’ve already mentioned the cost. Secondly there isn’t enough out there, so far as we can see, to make space appealing enough; that is, there are no inhabited or habitable planets and no exotic aliens. That means it won’t serve as enough of a distraction from Cyberspace – inner space, in a way – where the public, inventors and business entrepreneurs alike are concerned.
Assuming there is a roughly midway point at which people will be able to arrest the process of cybernisation before it destroys their organic or psychological humanity, but where they will be able to enjoy the significant advantages that it gives them, conflict could arise between those who have cybernetic implants (because they can’t yet afford them) and those who don’t. But whoever does have the implants will suffer as a result, the damaging becoming more widespread the more common the technology does become. Their purposes, beside those already discussed, will be to augment the functioning of the brain so that people will all be able to learn faster, handle mathematical equations better, and become better at sport in so far as this activity requires mental ability and agility (as it does to some extent, through the need for quick reactions to an opponent’s move). The awful culmination of this will be that ability at any activity, whether or not it is competitive, becomes so standardised that no individual could ever take personal pride and satisfaction in their success at it; it would not be they which had triumphed, but the implants. The outcome would be particularly tragic where the business was competitive; it would be little different from athletes taking drugs to boost their performance, even if the practice was legal. Since everyone would (presumably) be able to improve themselves to the same level there would be no such thing as competition anyhow, which removes the whole point of sport, or of quiz shows (which amount to the same thing). Of course, precisely because people are individuals, to a greater or lesser extent, in terms of their character, inclinations and abilities the implants would probably be made by different companies who wouldn’t always get things right (unless their personnel had the implants themselves); some cybernetic implants would be more effective than others. But then it becomes a competition not between the people who have the implants but between the manufacturers of the implants – just as, if drug-taking among athletes becomes too common, sporting events effectively turn into a contest between the manufacturers of the drugs, whether or not they as opposed to the drugs’ actual users have done anything illegal.
This isn’t a state of affairs we want to bring about. That possibly means it won’t become a reality; since ego is still important – to anyone, but especially those sportsmen and women who it must be said are a bit big-headed (this is one of those things that never change!) – people taking part in any competitive activity wouldn’t like the fact that it was the implant winning, not them, and would spurn its use. Chances are the implants would be regarded by sporting authorities as giving an unfair advantage anyway, and banned. That doesn’t mean people wouldn’t use the implants illegally, but they also use drugs illegally, just as they also (though not athletes, as a rule) from time to time rob banks or defraud old ladies.
However, there’s always a certain satisfaction, not necessarily egotistical, in having a (natural) skill others don’t, whether or not it serves as the basis for competitive sport. And the implants might be desired not necessarily for the benefit of sportspeople, but to give humans in general a better chance of surviving life’s diverse hazards and accidents; of leaping out the way in time when an out-of-control car hurtles towards you, for example. Since this would obviously make our existence much easier and safer, the demand for the implants will be impossible to resist. This will mean we won’t be able to avoid their less healthy consequences. We could arrange for the implant to be switched off while someone was taking part in a sporting event, so that they were using only their natural, biological skills whenever they threw the javelin, lifted a heavy weight, won the 400 metres or scored the winning goal in the world cup. But accidents, which can sometimes leave people permanently crippled, happen during sport and what if the implant would have prevented it? No-one would want to expose themselves to that vulnerability, to any likelihood of serious injury or of death, for any length of time once it had been removed. To take the smooth would mean taking the rough also, and in this case it’s a very big “rough”. It wouldn’t only debase sport, it’d also debase life in general because no-one would succeed at anything they put their mind to through their own efforts and there’d be no focus for personal pride in oneself. We all need that sense of triumph, of successfully meeting a challenge; not just champion footballers, athletes or cricketers or successful authors and artists. Without it, life would have no purpose. I can’t experience any sense of satisfaction at completing a three-mile run, whether it was done just for the pleasure of the exercise or in order to win a trophy, if it wasn’t down to me but rather my artifical implant. The implications might not affect the creative arts, where success is down to something very different from practical ability, whether mental or physical, and can’t be measured by any objective, calculated standard. But there would be so many other activities where an implant would be used, and would take over from the person given it, that the quality of life is sure to be lowered. And yet while they mean we will be better able to sense danger and avoid it, when otherwise our very lives might be lost, we will always be tempted to have the implants. If the government bans them we will seek, by direct action if necessary, to overturn the ban – although the government will be subject to the same temptation to use them as ourselves. Because we value our children, we will want them to be given the implants at birth or even in the womb, so that they will safe – safer, at any rate – from hazard from as early a stage as possible.
I am sceptical as to how far the cybernisation will go without subjecting humanity to a psychological and sociological crisis from which it will not recover. But there is evidence that in some cases the dehumanization has already begun, though in the example I am about to cite it isn’t cybernisation itself, as such, which is the problem and the subject isn’t Man but rather his best friend. In 1999 Japanese electronics company Sony launched the first of its Aibo robot dogs, which can allegedly see, hear, touch and make decisions of their own. They have personalities which evolve over a period of months, depending on the personalities of their owners, which they imitate, and on their surroundings. This is simply emergent behaviour, arising from the machine’s programming as the only logical consequence of the combination of that programming and the particular situation the machine is faced with, and observed by scientists over a period during tests. But whatever its explanation, the Aibo seems to be popular. One would have thought nothing could replace the company of a real, flesh-and-blood dog, the bonding which comes about between the animal and its owner because of the former’s loyalty and the affection the latter shows it. Parsons tells us however that in 2000 Kevin Warwick replaced a family’s well-loved dog with an Aibo for a week, as an experiment; at the end of that time the family were asked if they wanted their original dog back or to keep the Aibo. They said they wanted to keep the Aibo. I mean no disrespect to them, but as with so many of the predicted technological changes discussed in this book, either this kind of thing won’t catch on or there will be something very scary about it if it does.(7)
Augmentation by cybernetic implants could also give us information overload, through enabling us to see the full spectrum of light and hear sounds that otherwise would be too low for our ears to detect (telepathy might well have a similar effect). The succession of extra data, in addition to what our five natural senses can already tell us, bombarding our brains would be more than they could cope with unless we really did become fully cybernetic, the brain no longer functioning like a human one at all, and I expect this would be a step way beyond what any of us would be prepared to take. Kevin Warwick thinks we would adapt to the change fairly easily (in the same way, perhaps, that a blind person develops exceptionally acute hearing, though we would still be left in full possession of all our faculties). Warwick suggests (this is in Parsons’ words) that “the brain would spread its processing power intelligently across the senses, depending which senses were most important at a given time. In the same way that you might not hear someone talk to you when you’re engrossed in a good book, so perhaps smell or taste might temporarily diminish to let us make the most of a night-time vista in infrared.”(8) Unfortunately, we’ll have no way of knowing whether this will be the case until the technology is possible at all. If Parsons is talking about an inbuilt property that the brain has, then maybe he is right; if it’s something that has to be acquired through evolution, there is a question mark. Evolution can happen relatively fast, over thousands, or even hundreds, rather than millions of years, but it could still be that the technological advances are taking place so fast they are outstripping its capacity to keep pace with them. In any case the real problem may turn out to be the social consequences rather than the physical, even if these might vary according to culture. As we’ve seen, for society to function properly secrets need to be kept, at least for a time, and privacy ensured. This enables proper social conventions to be maintained and people to feel secure, knowing that their dignity has not been compromised, and nothing has been seen or heard that might be dangerous in the hands of others, whether individuals or society as a whole. X-ray vision, giving you the ability to see through walls or a person’s clothes – through any solid structure, perhaps – and enhanced hearing would take away all the safeguards. You’d always be seeing or hearing things others wouldn’t want you to (and which, sometimes, you wouldn’t want to either). It’s true that few of us are a Venus or Adonis, but no decent person would feel comfortable knowing their naked body was constantly on show; apart from nudity being, in all except some tribal cultures, still a powerful taboo save for within the confines of one’s own home, in specially reserved areas or within the pages of certain magazines, the sight of it might entice some people to rape. As with teleportation, the lack of which allows people you may be at loggerheads with to be kept out of your way until you’re ready for a fight (so to speak), enhanced sensory perception may also have unfortunate consequences for the politics of the office, home or club. Your colleague or professional rival might hear/see you planning something that affected them or their aspirations in ways they didn’t like. If, as soon as their improved senses had given them information, they acted on it these matters would become more aggressive and confrontational. The ability would of course be two-way but that’d only make the dispute fiercer. In national and international politics the effect could be even more disastrous; although people get annoyed whenever any matter of importance is kept from them, there are times when revealing the existence of a threat to public safety before measures had been put in hand to deal with it would only cause panic (for which the public themselves wouldn’t be grateful).
Even if it doesn’t dehumanize us or lead to embarrassing social situations, there are other potential problems in becoming too reliant on mechanization. The logical consequence of the way technology is going, at some point in the future, will be to have everything done by computer, or some other machine which may well be automated and probably doesn’t even need to respond to the touch of a button, though if did it wouldn’t make a great deal of difference. We quite naturally do not do anything ourselves if there is someone, or something, else that can do it for us, because it always seems pointless whatever the downside. It would seem we have an emotional and psychological impulse, which is impossible to resist, to do what is disastrous for us. It is not, I think, in our nature to refrain from inventing or making use of machines which can do tasks previously performed by humans on the grounds that it would make the latter into lazy, unhealthy beings with no sense of purpose. And yet it will. Why leave one's house, or even a particular room within it, to do learn this or that piece of information or do such-and-such an activity if it can be accomplished simply by plugging oneself into the Internet or some kind of Virtual Reality machine? It is a serious danger precisely because, even though the effects on an abstract level may be thoroughly harmful, it will inevitably seem stupid not to use the tool when you have it.
Even if it doesn’t lead to physical and mental stagnation the trend towards greater and greater mechanization and computerization can still prove fatal for us. As science progresses, so in proportion do the potential effects when criminals, terrorists or the agents of aggressive powers, who are always keeping pace with developments, exploit it for their own nefarious purposes. This applies with any new invention, but in particular with computers. As more and more of the world comes to be controlled by them, the consequences of the wrong people learning how to manipulate them and so cause havoc become potentially more alarming. The aim might not be to bring about the total destruction of human civilization, but the effect of such sabotage, especially if the aim behind it was political, could nonetheless be widespread and shattering. At the very least the criminals and the terrorists could gain a valuable advantage at the expense of causing disruption and misery to many. A war between two or more states conducted by computer virus could be catastrophic even if neither side succeeded in gaining a permanent advantage over the other. Not that the catastrophe need be brought about deliberately. The more is computer-controlled, the more devastating the results will be if systems “crash”, especially if all computers everywhere are linked for the sake of greater efficiency and ease of communication (I expect this will be the trend as society becomes more and more complex and harder to run unless by such a rapid-fire process). A very large reserve body of people would have to be recruited in case this happened, so that they could step in and put everything back on line. But unless they are frequently being used, human skills will ossify. To keep them in the state of readiness they need to be in if they are to do the job when the occasion demands it, when they are necessarily inactive most of the time because generally the system operates efficiently would be virtually impossible. The only sure way of averting disaster, in the case of preserving vital records, would be to have a paper backup for everything. But there would be problems finding the space to accommodate it all, and meeting the cost of producing and storing it. It’d eliminate the whole point, or an important part of the point, of computerization, which is to generate and store information much more easily and cheaply, in the form of tiny electronic impulses, than is possible with manual filing cabinets. Computerised systems already encounter this problem to some extent but may be expected to do so on a much bigger scale in decades to come.
Computers and the Internet are something of a Pandora’s Box, precisely because they are too valuable an invention to be discarded (I’m typing this on a computer, in case you hadn’t guessed). For one thing, they allow rapid access to information that might be urgently required, in a way that wasn’t previously possible; I’m still staggered by Google, and if I had to name one good reason why we should have them it would be that. But they are all the same a double-edged sword. Because they allow such speedy gathering and processing of information, and because to be computer-literate and thus more effective is a bit of a status symbol nowadays, we invest so much in them that we forget their downside to our cost, and leave ourselves without the kind of backup that’s maybe a bit old-fashioned but essential in an emergency. Some material that once upon a time would only appear in book, or at any rate paper, form is now being committed only to the Internet. This has the obvious disadvantage that if the system crashes you are unable to access the information, whereas a printed book or booklet is solidly there on your shelf whenever you want it. The problem is that since the Net is the most common, and commonly used, means of storing the data most of the time it may not be cost-effective, efficient in economic terms, for a company or even an individual to produce the book. This is a particular contradiction, a particular dilemma, of our modern high-tech, fast-lane society; that something can be practically efficient in one respect but practically very inefficient in another. Here one might also observe that while computers save money by effectively miniaturizing storage systems, they also at the same time run up your electricity bill. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that they, wonderful and dazzling and indicative of status as they are, still have one vital thing in common, which has been discovered for over two hundred years and without which they could not function. We have already mentioned it – electricity. They’re all as likely to shut down if the plug or its equivalent is pulled as a light bulb made by a nineteenth- century scientist.
There’s something rather sinister in the way those who control so much of society in a Thatcherite, business-dominated world, the employers, regard the Net. A Washington Post news story explained the benefits of e-mailing thus: “It increased employees’ productivity by 1.8 hours a day because they took less time to formulate their thoughts.”(9) This is reminiscent of the military philosophy that one is not paid to think, which is alright within the armed forces themselves – though not perhaps universally applied, or appreciated there - but certainly highly disturbing in civilian life. It rather suggests worker drones conditioned to be such, as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World except that computers are the agent of control rather than selective breeding, surgery or genetic engineering.
The social problems caused by computerisation, the way they serve to widen the gap between rich and poor, will be dealt with in the following chapter. We may here discuss, however, one consequence of it, often talked about, whose effect without the computers necessarily being implanted in us is to dehumanise - not in the same way that cybernisation might, though it does involve the latter to some extent. Warfare is becoming increasingly automatised. Fighter planes, for example, are so heavily computerised in most of their functions that it is predicted human pilots will soon become redundant. The soldier on the battlefield will probably go the same way, as tanks for example, will be computer-controlled too. You could have the soldier wired into their vehicle/aircraft via implants, so (s)he controls them directly as an extension in many ways of his/her own brain. Or better still, do without them and have the craft operated by remote from your base, by someone who effectively isn’t a soldier while they’re doing their job but rather a computer technician playing a glorified (and to those on the receiving end of it, deadly) game of Space Invaders (remember it?). This person might still need implants to interface with the computer and thus the weapon it was controlling, or they could get by with just goggles and a headset – I suspect not, if reactions needed to be of a certain speed – but if any dehumanisation were involved it would only be while they were actually engaged on the task in hand. At any rate, it wouldn’t be warfare alone that turned them into a machine. But they’d never see the enemy personnel, the people they were ultimately fighting, nor vice versa. Of course, if it is sadly necessary to fight wars at all, and this is the best way to do it in the twenty-first century, then so be it. But it will mean the complete destruction of the military ethos and way of life, with all that is good about it as well as what’s bad. If warfare is reduced to a group of technicians on opposing sides monitoring the progress of automatic tanks, aircraft, warships and submarines on a screen which could be thousands of miles from the battlefield it becomes depersonalised, with the loss of all the opportunities it can present for valour and for magnanimity towards the enemy when called for. By extension, Mankind in general will become dehumanised too since feats of courage (rather than technical skill or mental agility, which are all that’s needed in a computer war) and acts of nobility by a country’s army are what maintain or enhance that country’s dignity, one might say its greatness, and allow it not just to have pride taken in it by its own citizens but also be respected by others, thus imparting some decency to international relations and helping prevent them becoming too embittered. When you never see your enemy face-to-face, or at any rate at close quarters, it’s impossible for one side to appreciate the other’s bravery or to show goodwill (as far as is possible in war) by helping its wounded, allowing it to collect its dead without being fired upon, or spare the lives of its troops when killing them as opposed to some other action would serve no purpose. Nor could you develop the team spirit and moral fibre you’d otherwise gain from working in partnership with those on your own side, and backing them up when things get tough and you can help them out without compromising the success of your mission. Platoon it ain’t.


“Evolutionary biologist Professor Christopher Wills of the University of California, San Diego, says there’s growing evidence that human evolution is accelerating. “It is true that people who might otherwise have died can now survive, but such relaxation of selection will have little effect on our gene pools over hundreds or even thousands of years,” he says. Instead he thinks that evolution is taking off apace in other areas. The genes that are changing the fastest are those involved in brain function. As our application of technology makes our environment increasingly complex, so our mental abilities are improving in order to deal with that. Wills adds that as well as overall brain power, the evolution of our species in also selecting for diversity in brain function keeps the human race stocked with specialists in every field, from nuclear physicists to musicians. He thinks that this trend will continue in the future.”(10)
It is, however, quite clear that evolution in some areas is being offset by regression in others; by the cultural phenomenon which has become known as “dumbing down”, and of which more will be said in the next chapter. At the same time, it’s often been asked whether improved medical technology has resulted in our circumventing the process of natural selection, with people whose genes are “weak” and thus ill-equipped to carry them through life’s physical adversities now surviving; meaning effectively that we have ceased to evolve. Wills thinks not. The workings of evolution are still imperfectly understood, so it’s impossible to prove or disprove him. However, the fact that with such a complex society as ours hazards may be mental as much as physical, and by their nature much harder to develop a standardised let alone effective remedy for, suggests Darwinian natural selection will continue, if mental qualities are carried in the genes as well as physical ones, since mental problems require a mental solution even where physical factors are also involved. Only by eliminating emotional and medical problems altogether, through complete mental and physical cybernisation – something either dreadful or, perhaps because of that very dreadfulness, unworkable – could we escape its influence. Any part of us that remained organic would still be subject to it.
Nobody’d mind in any case whether evolution had stopped or not as long as we all lived reasonably happy lives. It probably wouldn’t harm us biologically as there are some species still living which haven’t changed much since the days of the dinosaurs and aren’t any the worse for it. I’m minded to conclude that we don’t need to evolve, if we can get by without doing so, and should be grateful for that; it would be cruel to let people die because of natural selection if it could be avoided. But perhaps in a way we have reached the end of our evolutionary line. The increasing complexity of the society we live in is the cause of many of our current problems, problems which both seem insoluble and are potentially disastrous; it doesn’t look as if evolution has so far managed to keep pace with that complexity and so enable us to cope with it. We may well end up being destroyed before our genes have a chance to change much further; the mere fact that genes do change, allowing organisms to adapt to altered circumstances and life-threatening hazards, doesn’t automatically guarantee a species’ survival, as the high extinction rate makes clear. At present we are likely to die out before continuing evolution or the lack of it has had time to take effect. Our scientific abilities give us a natural advantage in the daily struggle to meet our needs; for example, if our nature and our scientific skills (for which there must be genes) cause us to design artificial perfumes whose scent makes a woman attractive and thus more likely to secure a mate - in effect playing the same role as pheromones (which humans may or may not have) - in the natural world, they are merely an extension of our and other species’ natural abilities. But while in some ways they merely extend what nature does, at the same time they also replace her. How much we have really gained by doing this is hard to say. But as science progresses, so in proportion does the harm it can do, as well as the good. In a flawed world the gene for it can have destructive consequences, whatever its short-term advantages.
I’ve spoken of its being misused by the evilly minded; but there need be no element of deliberate intent to do harm, accidents will be enough, especially when there is a military application (we are supposed to have come close to World War Three on several occasions during the Cold War era because a flock of geese on a radar screen were mistaken for NATO or Warsaw Pact missiles). With plenty of atomic weapons still in existence, their number increasing if anything with nuclear proliferation, and new issues arising to create global divisions and raise international tension, the opportunity for such calamities to happen, because of technical failure or misunderstanding, will in future be even greater. There operates a scale in which the dangers of progress are in proportion to its benefits and although most of the time they may not be misused, the consequences if they are are that much greater.
Even where the scientific effort is directed towards peaceful purposes, and there is no doubt whatsoever as to its good intentions, it’s not being unduly pessimistic to suggest the negative consequence will balance the positive ones and even outweigh them. Delaying, or even preventing altogether, the ageing process will have both physical and moral implications. I suspect we know, and always did know, that they would be problematic. In some respect the dangers can be exaggerated. Women staying fertile longer, because the menopause has been stopped and they can have children in their 40s, 50s or even 60s and 70s, will not by itself lead to an increase in population if they are simply delaying childbirth, as will very often be the case given current trends and aspirations. But there remains the general pressure on resources, much alluded to already, from a generally bigger population and also from an ageing one. In the longer run, as I have pointed out there will be psychological problems to face, if the physical ones have not by then already brought about political and economic collapse. It will surely not have escaped our notice that increasing our lifespans will mean, as well as an extended youth, an extended middle age and - even worse - an extended old age. This means a long decline which in its later stages will be very depressing for those having to undergo it as well as very expensive for the state which has to provide the medical care.

The world of the future will be one where, thanks to computers and other automatic devices, or genetic engineering, or cybernisation, or some combination of these things we can do whatever is necessary or pleasurable for us without even getting out of bed. Wherever we are in the world, we will be able to order food and other essentials, cook meals, make business appointments and indeed carry out any other vital task via our own websites operated remotely by a mobile phone link or some other gadget.(11) There’s a justification, indeed a necessity, for this if you have to do it and you’re stuck in a traffic jam miles from home or in another part of the world on business. The trouble is, if we can do it in those circumstances then we’ll want to do it at home as well. It’s predicted that clothes, along with all other practically or socially vital commodities, can be programmed to behave the way we want them to by computer, radio message, or genetic engineering. In the latter case they will actually be specially created, or modified, living organisms, assuming any moral or legal qualms about creating a life form – rather than breeding an existing species such as a cow, chicken, sheep or horse - simply to serve a practical purpose have been overcome. It is hard to say whether such practices would be outlawed or the courts decide that they are no different from what farmers already do with cattle (what we currently do with horses, and is seen as quite acceptable, might be viewed as even more unethical since they are now bred mainly for our recreation, not being food animals and no longer, in developed parts of the world, required for transport most of the time). Even if genetic manipulation of this kind didn’t occur, we would still be making use of computers and other artificial devices in the ways described; and we might not see anything wrong in letting our own bodies do the job if genetic augmentation became a fad. How far the latter would happen is difficult to say but the dangers of increasing automation and of advancing genetic science does seem particularly dangerous when considering modern society’s obsession, except during economic recessions which no-one wants, with fashion and leisure.
In the future, provided the technology can be perfected, we will be able to put on and take off our clothes partly, or wholly, by remote control, and create them instantaneously using a spraycan, once the right instructions have been input; change our hair or eye colour and skin tone simply by triggering the implants which had earlier been inserted in us and which can also secrete pheromones to make us attractive to the opposite sex; carry out repairs and redecorations in the home indirectly through tapping in a certain code on the keyboard of our personal computer every now and then. If almost any physical action, whether its purpose is to make us look good or ensure that we and our families are properly fed and watered, then we will end up very unhealthy and unfit. If we were sufficiently depressed, as we ought to be, by our scrawny and wasted physiques we could of course programme ourselves to look like Venus or Adonis, independently of our diet and lifestyle, but we’d gain no sense of pride and achievement from doing so, not if (a) it was done just by pressing a button and (b) everyone else was doing it too. If the mundane tasks no longer provide a necessary and healthy opportunity for mental and physical exercise, there might to compensate for that be a renewed interest in more challenging activities such as mountaineering, orienteering, diving and the exploration of hostile foreign environments such as the jungle, desert or polar ice cap. But even if the dangers involved didn’t still put us off, there are the practical problems of organising such activities if everyone wanted to do them. And there wouldn’t be sufficient demand for them if Virtual Reality could simulate both the physical and the mental sensations involved in the experience; if you could be a deep-sea diver or a polar explorer just by putting on a headset and plugging yourself into a computer. These exploits need to be pleasurable as well as good for the physical body, and if the sensations can be had just as easily at home an important part of the incentive to do them is taken away. Given that, people would see less justification in exposing themselves to possible danger. The thrill of the experience would be lost, since Virtual Reality obviously isn’t meant to involve actual hardship or peril.
But we will, nonetheless, be suffering psychological damage as well as physiological. Without challenges to overcome, and the joy that lies in the overcoming, life becomes mundane and boring. From endurance of strenuous, dull or irritatingly difficult tasks, we learn the virtues of patience, perseverance and stoicism. Meeting adversities such as illness and injury leads to the development of courage and moral fibre, so the moral tone of society will be lowered. We will lose initiative and imagination and originality, because it is always adversity that produces original thought. We are also (potentially) capable of ennobling ourselves, proving our moral worth, by resistance to the temptation to be embittered by suffering, and this temptation will be eliminated if the push-button world, once the technology becomes affordable by everyone, makes life significantly easier and less stressful, in some ways anyhow. Finally there is the very practical consideration that with automation in all kinds of occupations making it less necessary for people to work the state would have to pay vast sums to vast numbers of people more or less to do nothing; after all, it wasn’t their fault that they became unemployed.
Boredom could lead to mass suicides, or to people seeking entertainment by inappropriate means such as the inflicting of cruelty on others, like those serial killers who torture and murder for kicks. Maybe we could turn the problem to our advantage by having our cyber-implants programme us to be happy. What a horrible thought; true happiness is something so wonderful that it’s debased by being instantly attainable at the touch of the button, and in fact it’s all the more rich from having its origin in endeavour, sometimes even adversity.
Science has the ability in the modern world to create particularly agonizing moral dilemmas, both for individuals and for society as a whole, as seen in the case of bringing a child into the world to help an existing one live, or of deciding between a man’s right to do what he likes with his own sperm and a woman’s natural desire to have a child. The problem is that where the issues are so finely balanced there will seem in the case of each side less reason to refuse its desires, and thus more bitterness when the desires are refused. In some cases there will be social unrest, anger and violence. At the same time, as well as the social tensions caused, the nature of the issue will be such that whatever side of the fence one comes down on permanent damage will be caused. It is doubtful, you will object, whether any moral issues have ever been satisfactorily sorted out; but now the stakes are much higher than ever before, and the consequent damage to society, whichever course is taken, greater, and increasingly so unless scientific progress actually ceases or is reversed.
The advance of science will make it possible for people to do certain things which, because of the damage they will or may do, will have to be prohibited by law. The justification for such prohibition will be clear, but since we would still be obstructing fundamental desires there would inevitably be the feeling that we lived in a Fascist state, which would lower the morale of society. Since the advances cannot be reversed the problem would be permanent, as with the other moral and practical consequences of progress.
Technological progress also creates problems with the represen-tation of itself in popular culture. In the recent Thunderbirds film, a remake of the 1960s fantasy television series, the new versions of the Thunderbird craft were supposed to be more high-tech than the old ones. The trouble is that as scientific and technological advance continues, there will be no difference between the machines in a fantasy adventure film or TV programme and those which are a daily part of our real lives. Hence these films will lose their power to excite and enthuse. They have always depended for their appeal on being able to present a future world that is not unbelievable yet enchanting and gripping in its wonder. Once they cannot do that, where are we going to look for the escapist entertainment which is a vital, because extremely healthy in hectic and stressful times, part of our lives? The films could attempt to deliver the goods on the level merely of drama, but we have always wanted more than that, and spy thrillers or sci-fi movies are appealing partly because we like the genres concerned, finding in them a (psychologically important) escapism if nothing else.
This may not be the case if society kept on progressing indefin-itely with there being for each stage of progress a conceivable future stage the prospect of which is even more dazzling. But there is a limit to how far it can advance without shooting right off the scale. The next stage in the development of aircraft technology is thought to be a flying saucer, but a flying saucer is just that; its plain geometric simplicity makes it uninspiring. Perfection usually does involves simplicity, for the more complex something is the more it is likely to go wrong; but simplicity is boring.
History seems to be moving towards a goal. Certainly what is undeniable is that the trend is towards scientific progress; the fact that the process takes place in leaps and bounds, much of the change having been compressed into the last 250 years, should not surprise us for it merely parallels what happens in biological evolution, which doesn’t take place at a steady rate either. There was technological progress before the industrial revolution began around 1750, even though it may not have been so rapid. It is, it could be argued, mainly the West which goes through these rapid periods of change, but that is only another manifestation of the complexity of the world and the differences between its various cultures. Even tribal cultures don’t remain entirely static, as Fukuyama points out. But given the tendency for one culture to dominate, and the fact that we live in a global village, the West’s scientific advances undeniably affect the rest of Mankind in fundamental respects.
Logically, if events continue to take place according to a certain pattern then they must have inevitable consequences. Using the methods of science itself, and going by observable data, if something appears to be a fundamental trend then it will continue unless some powerful external factor intervenes. If the trend is towards greater automation/mechanisation in everything we do it must lead to totally cybernetic, in many ways manufactured, human beings or a state of affairs where we are so reliant on technology to do things for us that we become little more than mindless vegetables. Logically scientific advance, like any kind of process, must either continue, halt or reverse. It cannot halt because that course is not consistent with the way people’s minds work, their aspirations. It seems the case that once certain things acquire a momentum they become unstoppable, whatever their consequences. We have become accustomed to the excitement that the prospect of change brings. If it continues it must take people into areas which must be disastrous. Yet abandoning new technology would always seem stupid in view of the advantages it gave – the human mind is certainly (and inalienably) structured on the kind of lines where one thinks this – and so we can’t escape from its harmful consequences. And if we halted scientific progress to avoid this dystopic outcome we would become terminally bored simply by token of the fact that nothing was changing.
Either we will not be able to continue to progress – there are still significant obstacles to the development of a lot of the technologies I have mentioned – or it would take us onto too dangerous ground if we did. Either way we face stagnation. This will have profound and damaging psychological consequences, removing any purpose or appeal from our existence. I suggest the result would be mass suicide. If all this seems too far-fetched to be believed it is because we have never experienced these problems before, science having only now created the possibilities which have led to them. It reinforces the assertion that we cannot say, because we have faced ethical dilemmas and other pressing problems before and overcome or learned to live with them, that we will be able to do so in the future.
The important thing which should be remembered is that given the nature of scientific and technological progress, these disastrous developments (a) are imminent within a relatively short time and (b) will be irreversible. If there is some earthly way of solving the problem, human progress is simply taking place much too fast for it to be identified and have time to work. When we considers the incredible pace of change during the LAST century, the differences between 1900 and 1999, it becomes clear that we will have reached the point of inevitable catastrophe well before 2100.
We cannot solve the problems science creates by a deliberate technological regression, either. Fukuyama:

“But let us examine the more extreme case, where the choice is not voluntary but forced on us by some cataclysm, either a global nuclear war or an environment which, despite our best efforts, attacks the physical basis for contemporary human life. It is clearly possible to destroy the fruits of modern natural science; indeed, modern technology has given us the means to do so in minutes. But is it possible to destroy modern natural science itself, to release us from the grip that the scientific method has held over out lives, and return mankind as a whole permanently to a prescientific level of civilisation?
“Let us take the case of a global war involving weapons of mass destruction. Since Hiroshima we have envisioned this as a nuclear war, but it could be the result of some new and terrible biological or chemical agent. Assuming that such a war does not trigger nuclear winter or some other natural process that makes the earth completely uninhabitable by Man, we must assume that the conflict will destroy much of the population, power, and wealth of the belligerents, and perhaps of their major allies, with devastating consequences for neutral onlookers as well. There may be major environmental consequences that would make the military catastrophe merge with an ecological one. There will also likely be major changes in the configuration of world politics: the belligerents may be finished as great powers, their territory fragmented and occupied by countries that managed to stay out of the conflict, or else so poisoned that no-one would want to live there. The war might come to envelop all of the technologically advanced countries capable of producing weapons of mass destruction, demolishing their factories, laboratories, libraries and universities, eliminating knowledge of how to fabricate weapons of such enormous destructiveness. And as for the rest of the world that escaped the war's direct consequences, there might emerge such a great aversion to war and the technological civilisation that made it possible that a number of states would voluntarily renounce advanced weaponry and the science that produced it. The survivors might decide, more forthrightly than now, to reject policies of deterrence that manifestly failed to protect mankind from destruction and, wiser and more moderate, seek to control new technologies in a far more thoroughgoing way than is the practice in our contemporary world. (An ecological catastrophe such as the melting of the ice caps or the desertification of North America and Europe through global warming could lead to a similar effort to control the scientific inventions that led to the disaster). The horrors inflicted by science may lead to the revival of anti-modern and anti-technological religions, whose effect would be to erect moral and technological barriers to the creation of new and potentially deadly technologies.
“Yet even these extreme circumstances would appear unlikely to break the grip of technology over human civilisation, and science's ability to replicate itself. The reasons for this again have to do with the relationship between science and war. For even if one could destroy modern weapons and the specific knowledge of how to produce them, one could not eliminate the memory of the method that made their production possible. The unification of human civilisation through modern communications and transportation means that there is no part of mankind that is not aware of the scientific method and its potential, even if that part is currently incapable of generating technology or applying it successfully. There are no true barbarians at the gates, unaware of the power of modern natural science. And as long as that is true, the ability to use modern natural science for military purposes will continue to give such states advantages over states that do not. The pointless destructiveness of the war just past will not necessarily teach men that no military technology can be used for rational purposes; there may be yet newer ones which men can convince themselves will give them decisive advantages. The good states, that had drawn moderating lessons from disaster and sought to control the technologies that caused it, would still have to live in a world with bad states that saw the disaster as an opportunity for their own ambitions. And, as Machiavelli taught at the beginning of the modern era, the good states will have to take their cue from the bad ones if they are to survive and remain states at all. They will need to maintain a certain level of technology, if only to defend themselves, and indeed will have to encourage technological innovation in the military sphere if their enemies are also innovators. Even if in hesitant and controlled ways, good states that sought to control the creation of new technologies would slowly have to let the technological genie back out of the bottle. “Man's post-cataclysmic dependence on modern natural science would be even greater if it were ecological in nature, since technology might be the only way of making the earth habitable once again.
“A truly cyclical history is conceivable only if we posit the possibility that a given civilisation can vanish entirely without leaving any imprint on those that follow. This in fact occurred prior to the invention of modern natural science. Modern natural science however is so powerful, both for good and for evil, that it is very doubtful whether it can ever be forgotten or "uninvented" under conditions other than the physical annihilation of the human race. And if the grip of a progressive modern natural science is irreversible, then a directional history and all of the other variegated economic, social, and political consequences that flow from it are also not reversible in any fundamental sense.”

But although Man may have reached the end of the line, in that the moral and psychological dilemmas, and practical dangers, which science creates will destroy us if nothing else does, the actual cause of his demise may be something altogether different. What destroys us will be the political and other conflicts taking place within society itself, whether or not they have been worsened by the impact of scientific developments, and long before we face the choice of whether to turn ourselves into Cybermen or live permanently within a Virtual Reality universe.

(1) Paul Parsons, The Science of Doctor Who, Icon Books 2007, p65 (2) Parsons p117-119
(3) Parsons p100-101
(4) ditto, p100-104
(5) Parsons p102-4
(6) The Metro 28/2/00
(7) Parsons, p213-14
(8) Parsons, p118-19
(9) Lynn Truss, Eats Shoots and Leaves, p201
(10) Parsons, p162-4
(11) Daily Mail 1st January 2000
(12) Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press 1992, Hamish Hamilton 1992

Culture and Anarchy: 1

This chapter is inevitably wide-ranging. Any healthy society must not only preserve its cohesion and maintain law and order but also meet the needs of culture, maintain proper standards of decency in everyday behaviour, and ensure that all its members regardless of race, sex, class etc can meet their aspirations: sexual fulfillment, an at least reasonable degree of financial prosperity, recognition of individual skills and talents and success in finding lasting employment, if not necessarily with the same organisation. In other words, the needs of modern society are manifold and to meet them all an increasingly difficult task.
At the moment we are failing to do so. That failure has a damaging effect upon both society’s physical and also its moral and spiritual wellbeing. As has been indicated in previous chapters, its problems are being or will be made even worse by the effects of scientific and technological progress and the disruption caused to settled populations through environmental disaster. But for whatever reason, it is not happy; there are too many groups who feel themselves in conflict with one another or to be disadvantaged and marginalized, and are therefore a threat to social harmony.
What is particularly alarming about some of the problems society is currently experiencing is that they appear to amount to a gradual breaking down of the entire social fabric. Communities are fragmented, people having little social contact with one another even if they live in the same street or apartment block. Families often don’t talk to each other either, because of the distractions provided by television, DVDs, computers and the Internet (overindulgence in which can also result in children who cannot communicate effectively, whose cultural horizons are limited, and who are physically and psychologically unhealthy). This, along with the rise in the divorce rate and its social consequences, is bringing about the disintegration of the family unit – of the basic building block of society. There is a lack of discipline in the home and school, combined with and exacerbated by disrespect for one another and for authority; a lack of good manners; and a feeling of social exclusion, of alienation; a decline in good manners. It means that (a) disagreements are more likely to flare up into violence, and (b) people will both covet something that somebody else has but they don’t, and be less inhibited in taking it. The consequence is a rise in crime and anti-social behaviour (which can also be explained by children and teenagers seeking a distraction from a bored and sterile existence). Broken homes are producing bad environments for children to grow up in, so that they become difficult to control in the classroom (and outside it) and have no desire to learn. Lacking an identity in our fragmented and multi-polar world, and resenting their relative poverty compared to the more affluent and successful members of society, they become more assertive in getting what they want – either individually or as part of a “gang” - to the point where it becomes violent aggression. They also take out their frustration on those they don’t for some reason happen to like, or pick on someone simply to provide entertainment, so that school bullying or general crimes against the person reach alarming proportions. Young teenagers are generally more outspoken and uninhibited, more verbally and physically violent. The bad behaviour often extends to adults, who suffer from the same social malaise and feelings of isolation; they then of course set a bad example to their children and the children of others.
The crime they too often drift into has become increasingly sordid and vicious. There is not even any class or wit among villains nowadays. Taking drugs, as so many of them do, makes them more violent; it must also impair their mental faculties to some extent, probably making it easier for the police to catch them. But when they are caught they are replaced by other villains of exactly the same kind, and the cycle repeats itelf over and over again. There is a rapid turnover of people who are lacking in any exceptional moral or intellectual quality. Though crime is, of course, never acceptable at the best of times there is something incredibly depressing about this. Old-time villains did have a certain style and even their own brand of virtue and honour; the Kray twins, vicious though they may have been within the environment they inhabited, generally only picked on other criminals. The villains of today’s world simply don’t care who gets in their way.
Increasing crime is partly a consequence of increase in population. The tendency of Western societies over the last two hundred years has been to become more and more populous, and numbers are making us aggressive. The problem is made worse by immigration, especially when immigration challenges national and local identities as well as adding to overcrowding. More people also means more traffic on the roads, and thus greater potential for accidents especially when motorists are often not taking the trouble to drive carefully. The tendency of numbers to cause aggression is manifested in what has become known as “road rage”.
As the population grows in number so, logically, will particular groups within it. They may remain in relative terms minorities but in absolute ones they will have undergone an increase. This means that in each generation there are more natural blondes, (until such factors as racial admixture and recessive genes start to take effect), more people who support a particular football team, more people who squeeze the toothpaste from the end of the tube. Unfortunately it also means, since crime is a problem no society has ever been able entirely to eradicate, that there are more criminals. There are more people who – for example - commit indecent acts against children, so that public anger mounts, leading to witch-hunts, and there is over-protectiveness towards minors on the part of parents and the authorities. Other kinds of crime increase by the same token.
At the risk of being thought snobbish, it can't be denied that the worst of the violent – verbally or physically - crime emanates from that section of society which in the past has been called "working class". This has always been a dubious choice of description because it implies the rest of society does not work, which is patently false and also insulting, as any overworked middle-class businessman suffering from stress will tell you. I am not sure what the correct term for it is but it is time one was found other than the clumsy “income groups 5 and 6.” Whatever the precise words we should be using, it is evident that there is working class and working class. Many members of this group are highly intelligent and law-abiding; but as common experience proves there is a certain section of it, at least, which is more prone than the rest of society to be verbally and/or physically aggressive. It has been alleged, probably correctly, that violence by middle class people is on the increase; however, there is nowadays a certain trend (a reversal of what was once the case) for some of them to adopt working-class manners of speech and behaviour - including the London accent which tends to be identified with being “working class” – while still being considered middle class in economic terms, and this confuses the situation, especially when it is taking place at the same time as a general decline in standards of behaviour which makes it hard to distinguish what is a working-class fault from a symptom of the overall degeneration of society. (It also means there is less justification in regarding class misleadingly as defined by wealth and occupation rather than culture and outlook, which are the real markers).
Are the supposed proletarianisation of society and its vulgarisation the same thing? We may be looking at two trends which are happening simultaneously but are not necessarily connected. The problem is that the London accent, a marker in that it is traditionally regarded with or without justification as signifying “working class”, is becoming more widespread and displacing the “posh” Home Counties one anyway, so it is hard to tell whether the violence and vulgarity are working-class bad habits which are spreading to other social groups, or something which is affecting everyone.
The middle-class violence often takes place for similar reasons to the working-class violence, because some of the things which explain it – falling standards of behaviour, the staleness of popuar culture, atomisation and loss of identity within an increasingly urbanised society – affect everyone. Whatever its cause, it only renders the state of society even worse. Nonetheless, although middle-class people may share its prejudices, or for that matter have prejudices of their own, it has been true in the past and remains true today that the rougher element within the working class, this “class within a class” as it might be called, is more likely to express its negative feelings, when social and economic factors create discontent, through verbal or physical nastiness. The physical aggression violence is of course undesirable while the verbal aggession suggests the possibility of it, apart from being repugnant in itself, and thus alienates. The effects of this may not be quite so serious, relatively speaking, when working class and middle class people are living in separate communities, but now that they are increasingly found side-by-side, cheek-by-jowl, often on the same road or housing estate, it poses greater problems. As social discipline continues to break down the violence and general yobbishness will have an increasingly distressing and dangerous effect on the rest of the population (including the law-abiding working class). Those middle-class liberals who deny the existence of the problem and therefore think those who say it does exist are merely snobs, tend to live in areas which are not quite so socially mixed or simply happen, for one reason or another, to have a low crime rate.
We have failed to be aware of the issue because we have pretended for political reasons – a desire to avoid class antagonism, something we have in fact utterly failed to do - that the working class does not exist. It does exist, and is distinguished from the rest of society not because it works and other people don't, or even because of the kind of work it does, but through having a different approach to life. That approach is more blunt, less fastidious and refined, than the middle-class one. It is not necessarily a bad thing, though it can have a divisive effect by making the middle-class seem excessively fussy, and it does not necessarily indicate rudeness or lack of intelligence. However in a significant number of individuals it is manifested as aggression and a tendency to make simplistic and wrong (and therefore dangerous) assumptions. The tendency to suspect people of paedophilia on scant and laughable grounds is a good case of this. Undoubtedly, particular ethnic groups and social groups have their own particular faults – to give another example, the black community in Britain is volatile and has a disproportionately high crime rate – and as we become more tightly packed together and highly stressed in our overcrowded community the effects of those faults will be ever more serious and irksome to those adversely affected by them. The general decline in standards and sobriety will affect the “bad” working class more because they are more verbally and physically violent. For the same reason they are also more dangerous when they suffer from the mental illness which is often a symptom of our overheated and stressful society, and which the pressures on the health services make more difficult to deal with, because it is more likely to result in verbal or physical aggression.
As with the question of "dumbing-down", of which more later, it is impossible to do much about the problem because of the danger one will simply be accused of snobbery - another aspect of political correctness. The bad habits of the "working classes" are creeping up the social scale because of the way society is changing. The point is not that the middle class are better than the rest of society - they have attitudes which are just as damaging to its fabric, in the end. What I am saying is that it has become politically and socially impossible to oppose to the tendency towards yobbishness and dumbing-down a way of conducting oneself which is more civilised, refined, intelligent and law-abiding. Because those mores and values tend to be identified with the middle and upper classes, it will be seen as implying that those groups are better than the working class, and thus provoke a violent reaction not just from the "proletariat" itself but also from those middle-class left-wingers who defend them. Political correctness means that middle-class faults are condemned while working-class ones are indulged, just as with race white faults are more often highlighted than those of non-white minorities, and thus it is impossible to deal with the working-class ones as they become more widespread; which is a very dangerous thing bearing in mind their violent aspect. Letters in the paper dismissing complaints about yob culture as snobbery are extremely unhelpful. Political correctness also means that whether one is working-class or middle-class has to be decided according to economic factors. We are supposed to call the working-class “Income Groups 5 and 6” these days. The reason is that it’s politically less controversial and inflammatory to do this than to distinguish according to manner, speech or dress, which might be regarded as snooty. But the fact that class divisions have, indeed, become a little blurred in recent years due to greater social mobility shouldn’t lead us to think they don’t still exist. Economic factors actually have little to do with the matter because a working-class person can rise, and a middle-class person fall, in wealth and social status, while both retain the mannerisms, speech patterns, outlook etc of the social groups from which they originally sprung. (Though it depends on the individual, some economically middle-class people who came originally from much humbler backgrounds retain the more negative characteristics of the class from which they sprung – aggression, vulgarity, getting one’s own way through a overbearing roughness - and don’t discard them just because they have put on a suit and tie, if among those who have a mind to do so, and come in to work at an word processor in an office. A lot of trouble can be caused this way, as I know from personal experience). One aspect of prevailing misconceptions is that someone who speaks with a “posh” Home Counties accent – which some people find superior and bossy, forgetting that a rough London accent can also come over (if unjustifiably) as vulgar – is
automatically identified as wealthy even though they may be anything but, and indeed are experiencing long-term unemployment along with general financial hardship. The latter has certainly been my experience, and I can’t shake off the suspicion that the accent might have had something to do with it.
If the working class is becoming vulgarised and more violent, the middle and upper classes are too obsessed with material wealth and status (as is the working class, which gets nasty when those things are denied it) or with enforcing a misguided and sanctimonious liberalism which in fact often originates in a closeted background and is no substitute for proper education – one area where the less privileged members of society have been grievously let down, everyone else suffering as a result from crime and poor workmanship. The remnants of the upper class often are superior in outlook, having little interest in anything other than dogs, yachts and horses, and the jetsetting life – on which they spend so much that they neglect listed buildings in their care – which is not necessarily culture. There is no reason to suppose middle or upper-class people will necessarily be morally and intellectually superior to their working-class fellow citizens. They may be – we shouldn’t wish to be guilty of inverted snobbery - but equally the reverse can be the case. Adopting a London accent or becoming less formal, a little less polished, in one’s dress and behaviour doesn’t of itself make one a yob and may simply be a social change one must accept. But at a time of general and increasing decadence, this “proletarianisation” merely means that the bad habits of the working class get transmitted to the rest of society.
Altogether we are dealing with problems which affect the whole of the community, whether or not they work through a particular part of it, and have both practical and spiritual dimensions. Their causes are not going to go away in a hurry, if at all. To pick just one example, the breaking up to some extent of mining communities in the Midlands and north of England after the pits closed in the 1980s and 90s was due to the fundamental difficulty of keeping any community together, in the sense in which it has previously been so, where it has traditionally relied on a single main source of livelihood which is now taken away. The modern, diversified, service economy which has in so many cases replaced heavy industry is the sort where people will often be working away from home. Whether or not Margaret Thatcher desired a confrontation with the miners in order to lay the ghosts of 1972 and 1974, and so brought the process forward unnecessarily, the coalfields would inevitably have been exhausted at some point anyway; we are talking about a historic process and an economic law which cannot be ignored or prevented, not least where finite commodities are involved.
But whatever their cause, the problems are there, and the most serious of them is the crime. Even if the rise in its levels is only relative it can still have horrendous consequences not previously seen in this country. There are two reasons why this should be so, though they may amount in the end to one.
(a) Even if statistically most people will probably never be victims of violent crime, the fear of being mugged or murdered will always be there. This fear is likely to mount when there appears to be a good reason – as there is now - to believe the crime rate is going up, and fear of what might happen can be as important as what actually does happen, in home affairs as it has been in international political matters. There may still be relatively few crimimals compared to the total number of people in the country but the point is that no-one necessarily knows who they are or when they are going to strike. It is that fear which has such power to paralyse and to eat away social cohesion. Whole communities can be held in a grip of fear, with many people (and not only the elderly and more vulnerable members of society) being afraid to leave their homes even to buy essential commodities.
(b) This problem, along with the scale on which actual crime is committed, will become so serious that eventually the government will be forced into taking more effective action than is possible given the current restrictions within which the police and government have to work. We will have to either implement highly draconian measures or see the country permanently paralysed by anarchy. We cannot bank on the problem going away and so saving us from this dilemma since there is no indication as yet that it is going to do so; it has been long suspected, and now virtually confirmed by the Metropolitan Police, that the apparent fall in incidents of violent crime is actually explained by people not bothering to report them because they have no faith in the ability of the police to do much about the problem. Their frequent slow response in dealing with incidents is due to the scale of lawlessness, a shortage of new recruits as people baulk at joining a profession which involves having to deal directly with increasingly nasty forms of crime, and the current insistence, in an overreaction to past brutality and miscarriages of justice, that the police give a detailed account of everything they do during the course of a day’s work, which means much time is spent on paperwork and data entry that could otherwise be employed in catching criminals. The burden might be eased to a great extent if more civilians took up clerical jobs with the police, but it seems difficult to get them to do so. I suspect this is because the more serious the crime, the nastier the job the police have to do, and the more reluctant the public are to be associated with them. Perhaps the thought of working in a police station with exceptionally violent criminals on the premises, who might be locked up in a cell or in handcuffs but could inflict who knew what harm if they should happen to get free is too scary. It’s a not unfamiliar Catch-22 situation: the nature of the problem is such that people won’t do what is necessary to solve it. Perhaps it’s simply the scale of the operation which is the obstacle. Whatever the truth is of that particular matter, the severe workload they have to cope with, the damage to their morale from such things as the McPherson Report and the tendency for the judiciary to be too lenient on offenders has reduced the effectiveness of the forces of law and order. I know this from personal experience. On two occasions I have witnessed an assault and reported it to the police only to be told there was nothing they could do unless the incident was repeated in a more serious form (involving presumably not just striking someone but actually causing injury!). On a third I reported a couple in my block who had behaved towards me in an intimidating fashion and who I therefore had cause to believe I was in danger from. The same applied – only now it was myself who had to wait to be beaten up before benefiting from the due process of the law! The police were simply trying to save themselves the hassle; it may have been for good reasons but was no less worrying for that. The strain on resources and manpower prevents them from investigating all but the most serious complaints, with the effect that crime is going up because the criminal knows there is less chance of being caught. In this situation, mere cases of threatening behaviour – that is, verbal aggression and menacing posture - are not likely to be investigated by the police, and judges will let off those accused of offences not involving murder or serious physical harm in order to ease prison overcrowding. So the moral tone of society (something dependent on people actually being punished for a crime, whatever its relative seriousness) will be lowered as a result even if no-one is actually murdered. Because these are the crimes that most people encounter the bad effects are actually more widespread. Nor do people cease to be afraid to go out, because there is always be the fear that threatening behaviour might mushroom into actual violence or killing, as it sometimes does.
There is both a worrying spiritual and an equally worrying practical, in terms of protecting life and health and liberty, dimension to the issue. The latter has itself many aspects. One in particular comes to mind. With the growing problems of discipline faced by schools, we really need them to be regularly patrolled by police, and have alarm systems linked to the local station, and teachers to be trained in self-defence. Unfortunately it is questionable whether the cost of this would not prove prohibitive and whether an increasingly short-staffed force would be able to provide the personnel. Nor would many teachers be willing to undergo the training as not everyone will be of a type that can envisage itself chucking recalcitrants about like James Bond or Emma Peel. The likelihood therefore is that the problem will worsen and that more and more teachers will leave the profession. This will have a Catch-22 effect by making it more difficult to educate young people properly; the less educated they are the more they will use violence to get their way, and the more the educational establishment, along with society as a whole, will suffer from soaring crime.
It has been alleged recently that the police are picking on the middle classes. If they are indeed doing so, the reason is fairly apparent and is to do with the type of crime each class commits. It’s a lot easier for them to focus on middle class offences, which may involve minor infringements of the law or such things as putting out your dustbin on the wrong day, considered a serious matter by officialdom in an age of intrusive bureaucracy, than it is to tackle working class crimes which in the nature of things are more visible, more frequent and in many ways more serious, and so harder to deal with when you’re overstretched.
But the upshot of what I’ve been saying is that we can no longer entirely rely on the traditional forces of law and order to deal with the problem. Certainly we are unlikely to solve it through attempting to reason with the yobs, because this is notoriously difficult to do. For one thing you can’t confront them with the main reason why they behave anti-socially, i.e. that they have been badly brought up by their parents. This will meet with an angry if not abusive response. With many people from this social background, the only loyalty is to one’s immediate family and thus what is clearly meant to be a criticism of them will sting. Consequently it’s rather difficult to get to the heart of the matter.
There are are number of possible outcomes to all this. It is clear that if the problem does continue to worsen, and the government cannot find a way to deal with it, vigilantism will result as people are pushed beyond endurance and their desperate need to do something about the crime outweights their fear of arrest. They will simply have no option but to take the law into their own hands, either killing or maiming known criminals both as a means of punishment and a deterrent to those thinking of committing offences in the future. Forgiveable though this may be, it could lead to things spiralling out of control. Apart from the legal - and I think moral, because of the example it sets - undesirability of it war could break out between the criminals and the vigilantes in which both sides, and innocent bystanders, would be hurt or killed; vigilantes could claim to be acting in the public interest when they were merely out to settle old scores; and innocent people could suffer if mistakes were made. An overstretched police force will be unable to deal either with the original crime or with the vigilante, and the vigilante will take advantage of this.
One can envisage the government bringing in the army to deal with criminals, vigilantes or both, and indeed they might have to, but this somehow has a nasty taste to it. It would come across as an undesirable militarisation of society, and since use of the army to quell civil disturbances is seen as a mark of totalitarian governments would give the impression that we were living in a dictatorship, especially when we also have to put up with excessive bureaucracy. It’s also worth noting that some army officers feel conscripting yobs into the military (one other possible solution to the crime problem) would coarsen it, and they’re probably right since soldiers, with due respect to them, tend to be a rough lot anyway! This would be more likely to happen the more yobs there are, and the increase in anti-social behaviour means there are more yobs. Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea, since it could mean the army becoming an even more undesirable instrument of oppression if it ever had to be used to keep internal order (or to carry out missions overseas, for that matter). Furthermore, if the top brass are unhappy about conscripting young offenders it is likely they will also be unhappy, and for the same reasons, with the army taking them on in the streets. As well as right to feel that way. And the danger lies not only in the moral and spiritual effect of the policy but also in its maybe involving the recalling of troops from places like Afghanistan, if the problem were severe enough, which could be geopolitically dangerous given the need to keep Islamic militants out of the neighbouring nuclear state of Pakistan. Bringing foreign subjects in to act as policemen, on the scale this would need to be done to solve the problem, would add to overcrowding problems, since those people would need like all other citizens to be provided for in all kinds of ways.
The two other possible outcomes likewise involve the government dealing with the crisis rather too successfully. The first is that it finally releases police from the stipulation that they fill in vast amounts of paperwork to describe and justify everything that they do. The danger is that there is so much pent-up frustration and resentment on their part at not being allowed to do their job properly that the removal of this obligation could result in going to the other end of the scale. There could be a return to the more widespread police brutality seen in the 1970s and 1980s. The knocking away of one of the major pillars supporting the politically correct edifice could have a certain psychological effect, acting as a signal that police officers, and maybe other professions too, needn’t bother too much about giving an account of their actions and respecting the sensibilities of the public. This roughness and insensitivity could spill over into the treatment of ethnic minorities, a thorny issue for the police in the past. There is no way that this would be accepted by a black and Asian population which in recent years has become more aware and assertive of its rights, its expectations being raised by the advent of a more liberal era, and thus less willing to put up with prejudice and victimisation.
The other remaining possibility is perhaps even more hideous. It is well-known that the issue, referred to above, of prison overcrowding due to rising crime is a serious one. It has led to judges being increasingly lenient and either letting offenders go free or imposing non-custodial sentences which are less likely to deter. This of course only makes the crime problem worse because a hardened, opportunistic criminal (all criminals are opportunistic) is likely to simply take advantage of their freedom to commit more crimes, especially given the increased viciousness and cynicism which motivates wrongdoers nowadays. It offsets any benefits we might gain from there being, for example, an increase in the number of police officers. There would still be the same number of criminals – and more – causing the same problem. There is an obligation, which must be paramount, upon the government to deal with that problem, and it is likely to be backed in the future by mounting public pressure. But to do the job they must have somewhere to put the criminals they arrest. Prison overcrowding, along with the cost of building and of staffing (assuming the personnel are available) new prisons to which there would be understandable not-in-my-back-yard public hostility, especially given that criminals are known to be getting more and more nasty and so more of a danger should they escape, means that they very often don’t. They will be even less likely to in the years ahead, going by current trends. The public pressure to do something will worsen the overcrowing by making it politically impossible to go on letting criminals off with non-custodial sentences.
It seems to me that in the end the only logical solution will be the physical removal of the criminal from the equation. By this I mean bringing back capital punishment, and not just for murderers but for anyone guilty of a serious crime, such as rape, abduction or grievous bodily harm – if necessary, anyone whose behaviour had been persistently antisocial - since actual murder is still relatively rare compared to other offences, which along with the scale of the overcrowding means there would otherwise be little saving in space. There would be questions as to whether or not women should be exempt, or the execution retrospective, killing people who had been convicted of a crime before the law came into force. But whatever criteria is adopted, the scale of the crime problem will have grown so much that the numbers executed could be considerable. And since a lot of offenders are young people in their teens, with the consequence that exempting them would make nonsense of the policy, many of the dead would be minors. It would all involve changes to the European Human Rights Act which, if not permitted, could lead to Britain having to leave the EU – assisting the growth of an isolationist nationalism which may not turn out to be very savoury, particularly if at the same time we are introducing some very harsh domestic policies, such as capital punishment itself. This resort to such a chilling solution would be taking place at a time when there is general concern about encroachment on civil liberties and the governments becoming increasingly authoritarian (while in some areas fussing too much about civil liberties in a way people don’t actually want).
Taking such a step would harden our leaders. Once they had introduced such a harsh measure they would find it easier to be ruthless in other ways too, human nature being what it is. When this coarsening is combined with a growing disregard for democracy it will be particularly dangerous and disturbing. Although the reintroduction of capital punishment would have a practical motive, without which hopefully no-one would have contemplated it, it could nonetheless come to be seen as a form of eugenics, desirable because it could help to solve many of society’s problems, and that has very alarming implications indeed. Necessity will form a lethal, highly toxic combination with what has come to be habit.
Similarly ominous for the moral tone of the nation and the future of democratic politics would be the option of chemical castration (we may presume, or at least hope, that it would not be physical castration) because it involves a disturbing level of control over the individual’s mind and body; or a policy (probably not practical in logistical terms) of exiling criminals to one of Britain’s overseas island dependencies (who’d want to go and live there to look after them, and would the native population be happy?) What is perhaps the most acceptable of the possible strategies, that of placing the offender in suspended animation – effectively a coma, but not one that is necessarily harmful - and keeping them in that state as long as no other solution to the problem has emerged, does not for the foreseeable future appear technically possible; so far the only success in this field has been with mice and for short periods(1). And somehow it still has a sinister ring to it.
If only at the cost of anarchy, the decline in the number and quality of the resources available to the state in enforcing law and order might work against these frightening scenarios ever happening, once those offenders already in custody had been dealt with; it might be difficult to catch the criminals in the first place. I have already suggested that the army might be brought in, but that was in the context of a still “democratic” state using conventional methods to apprehend and punish criminals. The idea of its being enlisted to help round people up for execution, however necessary the policy might become, is even more repellent than using it at all. Vigilantes if allowed to assist in the task would be tarnished by it however necessary it might be, and foreign troops doing it would be resented because they were foreigners.
Things would reach a state where highly unsavoury methods were being used to deal with convicted criminals, in order to relieve the overcrowding in prisons caused by those who were caught, but enough murderers, thugs and rapists remained at large to make those methods seem ineffective and therefore less acceptable. One only puts up with Orwellian policies where they actually seem to be doing some good. If the army is not to be used to solve the problem there comes to mind only one possible solution. However it’s either unworkable or, like all the other options, would be horrible no matter how far it actually worked. Monitored by a relatively small number of people from a control room, it would involve the use of satellite navigation and remote-controlled robots, ever-present so they could get to a crime scene quickly, to track a criminal’s movements, then locate and identify the miscreant and capture them, overcoming any resistance by the use of taser devices with which the robots, which I would envisage as flying drones, would be equipped. They would somehow secure the criminal and return with them to the nearest police station. This is not entirely unfeasible given the astonishing advances in technology, many of them with worrying civil liberty implications, that we’ve seen in recent years (there would have to be TV cameras everywhere, detecting a crime as soon as it happened and transmitting the image to the robot so it could then identify the offender by pattern recognition, to avoid its arresting the wrong person) and the difficulty of accurately predicting what will, or will not, happen in the future. But it comes across as chilling, the mechanisation and impersonality of the business only serving the highlight the sense of totalitarianism. It reminds one of Blake’s Seven and other science fiction worlds where soulless robot guards apprehend people in the service of ruthless dictatorships with all the latest space-age technology at their disposal.
So the eventual outcome of the present situation is that we will be faced with a choice between anarchy and an effective but brutal totalitarianism (which would be worse where it was NOT effective). It might be considered that the threat of reintroducing capital punishment would be enough to put people off committing serious crimes – so that the measure would thankfully be unnecessary in any case - but that is a bone of contention; there is some evidence from the United States that it doesn’t. It’s conceivable that in the kind of nation Britain is becoming – increasingly restive at the pressurising effects of urbanisation, overcrowding, social injustice and official authoritarianism, and with young criminals rendered even more aggressive and irrational by drugs – it would fall some way short of achieving the desired result, yet from popular pressure and the need to be seen to do something about the problem it would still be implemented.
Sometimes the danger to liberty may arise from the need to deal with a particular problem which, due to the nature of society, has become more severe than it was in the past. A good example is seen in the issue of how one should treat paedophiles. This problem has not, of course, come about because a large percentage of society indulges in such practices, but because, as pointed out above, as the population grows in number there will obviously more people who, because they don’t have the skills needed to establish the relationships which are necessary before you can get sexual fulfilment from other adults, seek it from children with whom the problem doesn’t arise because they can be dominated. They need to be locked up until they are cured because the interests and welfare of society as a whole need to be put first (and, even after they are cured, it clearly won't remove public suspicion, given the hysterical attitude of those people who hound even suspected - i.e. not proven, and therefore possibly not guilty - paedophiles). The trouble is, because a paedophile may be in every other respect a normal, healthy, decent, reasonable, harmless person (who may be unhappy about their condition and trying to do something about it) it will look very fascist.
An even better example is that of the mentally ill. Here the problem stems from the controversy over the policy of "care in the community", which has led to mental patients murdering members of the public. Since it would be both morally and politically unacceptable to allow many more such tragedies to occur, the government will have no option but to bring in legislation permitting the locking up of those thought to be dangerous before they have been fully diagnosed (for all I know it’s already done so). Unfortunately this appears authoritarian and could certainly encourage authoritarianism; it will be particularly unfortunate if mistakes are made and the arrested people are not actually mentally ill (especially if they find themselves in the company of people who are, and maybe get killed or injured).
In other areas, much of the trouble has come about because we have been abusing our freedom. Liberty has been our watchword these last few decades; the trouble is that the cult of individualism, which carries with it the suggestion that one should be allowed to do whatever one likes, has led us to behave in irresponsible ways, and in an increasingly complex and overcrowded society the effects of this irresposibility will grow ever more serious. Unless we stop behaving in this fashion the freedom will have to be taken away - out of sheer necessity if nothing else. Many problems and much stress have been created by misuse of the right to complain about perceived or imagined grievances and of the cars which we seem to regard as status symbols to flaunt, toys to play with as we please without really understanding their complex workings and thus be a danger to ourselves and others. For one thing, they result in a lot of money being spent which a dangerously overcrowded country with many social problems and public services under severe pressure can ill afford. Huge compensation payments and the cost of treating people injured in road traffic accidents place strain upon the national exchequer and drain off money that is sorely needed elsewhere.
A conflict has grown up between freedom and the need to take into account the practical consequences of how we use it. We value our liberties, but fail to realise that we purchase them at a price. Abuse them and we may find them taken away, even if the process happens gradually and not necessarily with the conscious aim of creating a totalitarian state. The danger posed by irresponsible driving and antisocial behaviour is that as the problem gets worse and, in a populous and complex society, starts to have more and more potentially damaging effects, more autocratic measures will be necessary to counter it. There is such a thing as the swing of the pendulum; such phenomena as equal and opposite reactions. The latter are common to human nature and society as well as Newtonian physics.
It is possible that the years to come will see, for example, the end of care in the community – a policy that seeks to meet what are thought to be the needs of a minority, in this case the mentally disturbed, regardless of the risk of violence to the majority – and limits on compensation payments. In themselves these measures may not do too much harm. But one thing tends to lead to and to reinforce another; taken together, they may amount to something disturbing. Once you have established authoritarianism in one area it becomes easier to do it in another. The measures will all become necessary, and be introduced when the need for them gets impossible to ignore, at the same time and this will assist the swing of the pendulum.
Politicians prefer to implement policies because they like them and believe, mistakenly or not, that they are for the common good rather than because they are unpleasant but necessary. Doing it for the latter reason would make their job too depressing, especially if we are talking about a whole host of measures comprehensively affecting the whole of society, constituting their cherished blueprint for running it. So they will develop a way of psychologically justifying the new policies to themselves and becoming enthusiasts for them, and since human nature is such that enthusiasms can easily get out of hand, the new more autocratic approach will spread to all sorts of other areas where it will not be justified by its being in the interests of the majority as axing care in the community, however harsh, would.
To counter some offences, particularly traffic offences, we will need more TV cameras in public places. You may say we already do have lots of TV cameras in public places and we are not yet in the kind of situation I am afraid of. Even if that is true, and it might not be, all I’m saying is that if we are to drift towards a "Big Brother" state in the future the technical and other infrastructure to create it and maintain it in being is already in place. There have already been a few instances which have given cause for concern.
Authoritarianism will extend to very personal areas which should ideally be a matter of individual choice. What science makes possible, supposedly for Man’s benefit, the law might have to ban because of the practical consequences of its effect upon society. Apart from legal wrangles over custody there is another problematical consequence of being able to freeze either embryos or sperm. It has a lot to do with the nature of the times and the way we live now. Many professional people in their thirties are saving having children until a later stage in life; because there is so much more to that life the sacrifice, in terms of one’s free leisure time, of having children will be greater. The consequence of this is that there will grow up a generation of children whose parents are too old to really cope with them when they misbehave, or to play and thus bond with them. The psychological and thus also social problems, which will include crime, will need a lot of time, money and resources to deal with. They can only be avoided by infringing the liberty of parents in what must be a fundamental respect. We would look as if we were – and effectively we will be – enforcing participation in a social engineering scheme designed to ensure that society functions in a more effective manner, regardless of the wishes and liberties of the individual.
We can see that we will be in trouble if we don’t deal with the causes of social fragmentation and collapse. Unfortunately they do not easily admit of solutions; not ones that can be put into effect without causing problems of their own. The changed patterns of work are a product of historic economic and sociological factors about which little can be done, although the change might in some cases have been carried out too fast (it is probably a fair comment on Thatcherism that it was a good idea badly executed). The rise in population can only be dealt with by harsh measures which would threaten civil liberty, even if welcome in themselves: for example ID cards, armed police at ports and airports. Immigration is one of the factors which adds to the rise, partly because immigrants are often from the ethnic groups who tend to have more children, but also because in many areas the newcomers are necessary to do essential jobs which native-born people are not interested in, finding them too boring and dirty – part of the culture of having multiple lifestyle choices. There is undoubtedly a tendency, socially dangerous, for employers to prefer cheap immigrant over more expensive native-born labour, but that is not the same thing. Keeping the immigrants out would make it necessary for the government to compensate for labour shortages by dictating what professions people should enter (and remain in), if society were not to collapse. The result would be a highly disturbing state of affairs where the conduct and future career of the individual were regulated, one might say regimented, in a manner more akin to ants and bees with their soldiers, worker drones and queens than to humans – and certainly reminiscent of the most repressive totalitarian regimes the world has seen during the past century. If we were not to countenance such a step the only other way of halting, and if necessary reversing, the population rise would be to pass a law banning a couple from having more than two children. However necessary, this would not be what we were accustomed to and would be seen as another oppressive and undesirable totalitarian measure, especially when the consequences, in cases where all the couple’s existing children were lost in some tragedy and they were too old to conceive any more, would be emotionally destructive. Targeting particular groups that have a high birth rate, such as the Afro-Caribbean community, would smack of discrimination and be inflammatory; the chances are that it would be perceived as politically motivated even if it was not. The white population would resent being included in the measure along with everyone else when they might want more than two children against the possibility of all their offspring being killed in some accident and when it was only really being done to prevent the other ethnic groups feeling they were being picked upon. Selecting and killing a certain number of people at random to reduce numbers would both be, and be considered to be, horrible; a sign, whether or not one were needed, that totalitarianism had arrived since genocide, planned or in the form of arbitrary slaughter, is a hallmark of such regimes.
The issue of the “haves and have-nots” I want to look at later, when discussing the profound impact upon British society of the premiership of Margaret Hilda Thatcher.
Where the dangerous influence of computers and the media are concerned, we cannot – unless, again, we want a degree of control over people’s lives which in its implications was chilling - interfere with the personal freedom of children or adults to spend their time on these things if they like; nor can we reverse the technological and scientific progress which has given them the opportunity. As well as leading to a generation of children who can’t communicate and are unhealthy, and assisting the process of social fragmentation, the other main concern about TV and computers is the violence on them. It isn’t really a problem unless there is already a deep malaise within society; if parents don’t exercise enough discipline and let their kids stay up beyond the 9pm watershed. But we have established that there is already a deep malaise within society. As for what the various media show, as opposed to the hypnotic influence of their simply being there, certain controls are both possible and desirable. But their effectiveness is limited, because you could never be sure without putting TV cameras in private homes whether they were being observed there (there would presumably be some Draconian penalty for anyone who tried to remove or sabotage the devices to avoid being spied on in this way). The best solution might be to ban all sex and violence from the screen entirely, but this is neither feasible or desirable. People will get up to both activities, licitly or illicitly, whatever happens and to erase them from the media so they disappear from our consciousness would result in the general population being dangerously naive and ill-equipped to understand and handle the problems of the real world. To a great extent the media must inevitably reflect all the nasty things which go on around us; it can't avoid being realistic. The real problem is its effect on children, as well as on mentally unstable adults who are likely to be incited by it to commit crimes. Unfortunately one cannot always tell who the latter are. And what good is it trying to prevent children watching video nasties if their parents (who may have bought the video for their own entertainment) let them do it? The reason why children consistently behave badly is usually that their parents are not bringing them up properly. And one cannot make them do so without gross interference with personal liberty. There is no way of compelling a parent to either ban their child from watching certain material in the home, or making sure they don’t watch the TV, play computer games, or surf the Net at all for longer than is healthy for their social development.
One problem with trying to insulate children from dangerous influences is the fact that they are growing up too early (or earlier, at any rate), knowing more about sex, wanting to do more (this outstripping the development of a mature attitude, which is dangerous). This is however a social and biological change which need not have a harmful effect on society if it is adapted to (and we have perhaps been slow to do that). The trend is only dangerous because of general decline in social morals; only dangerous because society is badly managed. But children are probably approaching the limit though at which they can be recognised as adults without causing too many problems, which suggests the end of history (because history is about change) and things coming to a head.
Just as we can’t take children away from their parents, except where there has been obvious abuse or neglect, or dictate what people should do in their spare time, we cannot force people to generally behave properly towards their fellow humans. Giving schoolchildren lessons in (secular) morality, as has of late been frequently advocated, is unlikely to work because morality isn't something you can force on people and in any case, once they have grown up there is no guarantee they will abide by the precepts they have been taught; particularly when the teaching lacks the authority gained from the stamp of a personal, and thus real, God who can use the threat, at least, of eternal damnation to encourage good behaviour.
The effect on social standards of the deterioration in the quality of popular culture will be dealt with later in this section. In the meantime two other reasons for their decline come to mind:
(1) The behaviour of personalities in the media and in positions of authority – police, politicians, judges - which leads to cynicism and creates bad role models. When people see those to whom they should be looking up in respect behaving badly they feel under no incentive to behave respectfully themselves.
(2) Excessive leniency on the part of judges, which makes yob parents, or lax parents, think they can do or not do what they like.
(2) is really an extension of (1) as it leads to loss of the esteem in which judges, who should be authority figures, are held. The problem with the police force is that the principal reasons for the state it is in it are difficult to remove without serious risks. The dangers of empowering the police themselves too much have already been mentioned. Then there is the McPherson Report and its negative consequences, which demoralised many people within the police force by suggesting that they might find their conduct constantly and minutely scrutinised for signs of racism, which they felt would be equally a hindrance, an annoyance and an insult. It has probably also deterred many civilians from joining the police. The problem of McPherson could only be dealt with if the report was publicly disowned, and because he is regarded as a hero by the black community there would be serious problems with that. The difficult, perhaps impossible situation might be partly the fault of white racists within the Force but that makes no difference to the fact that it is there.
The effectiveness of the police and thus their public image is reduced when liberal judges acquit the criminals they have tried so hard to track down and arrest. It also, like McPherson, damages morale and explains why people both leave the Force and fail to join it. The overall result of all the damage, especially when combined with financial restrictions in a complex society, with many problems, which is increasingly difficult to fund is that crime soars. The very same problems mean that the police will be unable to cope with the vigilantism that will eventually result or with the social unrest that will spread as more and more people, feeling that their various needs and demands are not being met by the existing political system, turn to direct action.
The legal system has in recent years been a cause of concern because of miscarriages of justice and failures to convict the true perpetrators of serious crimes. Sometimes the reason for those things lies in the basic imperfection of the world. There may be no sure way of knowing who committed a crime unless the criminal is actually observed in the act of doing it by more than one reliable witness. Often that does not happen. But generally it comes about that an arrest is made, a prosecution is decided upon, the case goes to trial, the jury reaches its verdict, the judge decides whether or not there are any extenuating circumstances and passes sentence. There are various points along the way at which something can go wrong. The jury system is supposed to be a safeguard against injustice but juries have convicted people wrongly before. They are composed of ordinary people, with all the faults of the human species - in other words, their verdict may not be right. And it is always possible to manipulate them. There is no way to avoid someone influencing the verdict by being selective in the information that is made available to jurors. Some legal systems, such as the Scottish, do not have juries at all, but if they did there is no evidence that they would serve as the safeguard they are intended to be. Some have suggested that there should be an independent body deciding on the quality of evidence and whether it should be put before a jury. But would that body itself be above reproach? It merely begs the question. (also note that important information may not come to light in a trial because judge does not ask the right questions – and any attempt to volunteer additional information, especially if the significance of that information wasn’t recognised at the time, might be thrown out as extra to the proceedings and thus not admissable as evidence.
The problem is made worse by what might be called strange behaviour. The dangers are emphasised by the decision on a recent paedophile case not so long ago that the accused should be acquitted because they had "suffered enough" from hounding by the press and public. Sympathy for the perpetrator of a crime, however justified, cannot be allowed to come before the overriding moral and practical need to protect the lives and wellbeing of the public. The judge's decision will serve only to confirm the dangerous isolation of the judicial system from the rest of society, and an equally dangerous diminution of its credibility. There have been one or two odd decisions on racial matters too, as we will see later. If one is looking for an explanation for this craziness, it is probably found in the higher ranks of the judiciary being still overwhelmingly dominated by the middle and upper middle classes. When political correctness, itself a middle class creation though not entirely welcome, came along sections within this group adapted to it, and indeed turned it into a new way of being snobbish; they conceived a tendency to feel better than others because they were politically correct, using all the current PC terminology and displaying all the right PC attitudes. It was very much a professional thing, since professions are frequently characterised by their own sometimes incestuous, and peculiar (in the sense of being odd) world views. Sir William McPherson himself, with his recommendation that racist remarks in private should be reported to the police despite the alarming civil liberty implications, was a symptom of the problem. It has also perhaps become a way of surviving, allowing the dominant middle-class establishment in certain professions to preserve its independence against the forces for social and political change by appearing to support them. It has got to the stage where, in one recent case, some people who were afraid to intervene to prevent a rape because they feared they might be charged with using excessive force.
As for the judge ultimately wrecking things by making a stupid decision, deciding there are extenuating factors when all sensible people would disagree with him and either letting an obviously guilty person go free or reducing their sentence, that problem can only be got round by a potentially dangerous interference in the freedom of the judiciary. There is no way one can avoid the consequences of its being infected by ideas and attitudes which are harmful, as long as it insists on clinging to them, unless one dangerously circumvents its independence, whether by overruling its decisions or by determining the kind of people who are appointed to senior positions within it. The principle of the separation of the judiciary from the legislature (government, or in theory parliament), the executive (the police), or any other agency which might seek to control its actions is a vital cornerstone of constitutional democracy – of any constitutional democracy, not just Britain - but as with our personal liberties we fail to appreciate that it is kept in being at a price, namely that it is not misused. I said “any other agency which might seek to control its actions,”; that includes public opinion, which might not be informed or rational. That judges aren’t swayed by it could be said to mean that we have, to some extent, a judicial dictatorship. This alone should give us pause for thought, necessary though it probably is. Judicial dictatorships are only tolerable when they are in tune with the people on matters where the latter know they are right, as opposed to those where they may not know they are wrong. Where it is the judiciary which is wrong and the rest of the country perceives it to be so there is a potential for constitutional crisis, at best, and at worst mob rule or dictatorship, if enough is felt to be at stake.
Although for the above reasons government is sparing how far it intervenes in judicial matters it is nonetheless possible for judges to be leaned on whenever enough is thought to be at stake; in other words where a case has an obviously political dimension, as is widely believed to have happened in the Lockerbie trial. This could be for pragmatic reasons but it still represents a problem, and where it is not justified it is even more of an evil.
There is no way of ensuring that the system is free at any time from manipulation, corruption or eccentricity. A certain relief can be had from foolish laws by recourse to the European Court of Human Rights in Brussels. The dilemma here is that the Court itself passes as many bad laws as good ones, and the more one uses it the more its legitimacy, and thus its ability to enact such measures, is upheld. It would look extremely hypocritical to attack the Court while nonetheless being prepared to use it when it suited you. (To be fair to UK judges, many of them are being leaned on by Europe).
Even at its best the legal system is unable always to effectively punish the wrongdoer. There may not be enough evidence to convict someone who is almost certainly guilty, not without setting a dangerous precedent which could lead to abuses across the board, resulting in the innocent being punished as well. I’ve spoken of the difficulties of securing justice in political cases (which may be that regardless of what politicians choose to call them). Then there is terrorism, especially when practised by one country against another. It is difficult to say whether terrorism really works, as one writer on the subject pessimistically claimed in the BBC book States Of Terror, published in 1993. Its greatest value to those who perpetrate it lies in its focusing attention on the cause it is intended to further (which it undoubtedly does, as the terrorists intended). To admit this, as one must, is extremely painful for all those who revile terrorism and/or have been personally affected by it. But focusing attention on the issues is no good unless it assists in resolving those issues, which won’t necessarily be the case. If anything, terrorism stiffens the resistance of those it is directed against, because it usually involves at some point the killing of innocent civilians. But some governments are notoriously pusillanimous in their dealings with terrorists even though their own citizens have been mercilessly slaughtered by such people. It does not seem that the activities of the IRA have brought a united Ireland any nearer, whatever extreme Unionists might claim. Undoubtedly the extreme callousness of the IRA and its offshoots in targeting innocent civilians both in Ulster and on the mainland has been a factor in steeling people not to give in to them. It is worth noting that the relative success of peace moves in the Middle East between the late 1980s and mid-1990s was due more to disturbances within the Palestinian areas themselves than the blowing up of women and children on airliners. The author David Yallop wrote of the Intifada in a 1994 book (whose chief subject was the terrorist Carlos), "young boys with stones have achieved in a few short years immeasurably more than the entire Palestinian leadership."
Terrorism may work - though not always - in the sense that terrorists are successful both in carrying out an atrocity and avoiding capture, even if that does not mean it achieves its political aims. It is often state-sponsored, and terrorists may be protected (before and after retirement from active service) by countries who it is politically unwise to offend. There is a substantial body of opinion, armed with convincing arguments, which believes that Syria, working for Iran, and not Libya was the perpetrator of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. Unfortunately, after 1990/91 both countries were needed by America as potential allies against Saddam Hussein should he cause any further trouble in the region and thus threaten Western interests. Not only have Western victims of the atrocity failed to secure justice for themselves but the need to find a scapegoat has meant that the Libyan people have suffered far more than they deserve, through sanctions and their effects, notwithstanding the irresponsible conduct of Colonel Gaddaffi. Sometimes, the terrorist (or war criminal) may actually have become the head of government, as in the case of various Israeli Prime Ministers (Begin, Shamir, Sharon), and then it will be (a) impossible to touch them and (b) necessary to negotiate with them. When a particular political dispute is resolved, or efforts towards that end make any significant headway, it is often considered necessary as part of the process to release those on one side or the other who have killed in pursuit of their aims. This has certainly been the case in the Northern Irish peace process, to the great distress of relatives of the terrorists' victims, or those who have to live with injuries. It would be tempting for those with the means to track them down and kill them. But apart from the moral questions involved they would be heavily protected, by friends, family or police, and the savage and volatile nature of Irish Republicanism would see their killing as a dastardly plot by the British, the subsequent reaction wrecking the peace process and jeapordising yet more innocent lives.
In fact this is a problem not just in cases of terrorism, but also where a political system which has committed crimes against its citizens and thus earned their hatred is replaced by a new regime more in line with their wishes. For the sake of political peace and law and order there has to be an amnesty for those crimes. In South Africa for example the need to ease white fears of a witch-hunt has meant that many people who have probably committed atrocities and so deserve life imprisonment have had to be left alone. This clemency may be irrational or it may be sensible, but it nonetheless means that justice is not done.
Though terrorists would undoubtedly prefer to be free, their fanaticism and willingness to suffer for their cause means they are able to find prison less of an inconvenience than would otherwise be the case, and even to relish being martyrs of a kind. They are also alive, reasonably well-treated and able to practise their religion (not to allow them to do the latter would have politically damaging consequences, especially where Islam was concerned).
The legal establishment has been the object of much public derision and disgust due to the number of libel cases that are almost frivolous, being brought for the purpose of attracting attention or making money if case is won (are they in league with someone who can fix the outcome, as it would be financially damaging to them if they lost?), at great cost to the taxpayer while the trial is in progress. The only way of stopping this would be by having an independent body which decided whether a case should be allowed to go to court in the first place. Apart from the fact that we could not guarantee that body would be above reproach, the consequences for liberty and justice if it made the wrong decision would be extremely serious.
The adversarial system too has come under attack for creating too intimidating a courtroom environment, but unfortunately there are good reasons for it. Barristers and judges can't afford to be too nice as a defendant, plaintiff or witness who is unscrupulous, and it would be naive to think such people don't exist, may take advantage of it and a harsh, confrontational attitude may be the only way of guarding against it. Everyone has to be defended if the legal process is not to be a sham, and that inevitably means, in some cases, attempting to argue that someone who is in the right and has a perfectly justified grievance against the defendant or plaintiff, or is an honest and reliable witness, is deceitful or has done something immoral.
To turn now to the politicians. The reason for the decline in the quality of our political leaders is dealt with in depth in a later chapter and is really something which cannot be reversed without some extremely traumatic social upheaval, because it is so much to do with the fundamental nature of modern society and of human beings. Suffice to say that there are obstacles, which will be outlined in that later chapter, to state funding for parties and thus to tackling the corruption which disillusions people so much.
The disenchantment is fuelled by the media which engenders hysteria and false conclusions by sensationalist reporting, sometimes making things seem murkier than they really are. At the same time there is often no smoke without fire. But whatever the media’s role in things, one reason society is falling apart is that the various professional groups which administer its needs are no longer trusted, either by each other or by the population at large. This both leads to anti-social behaviour on the part of those individuals or groups most likely to commit it and to a deeper malaise, a current of fear and mistrust, which affects society as a whole. I’m not just talking about those involved in government and the preservation of law and order. Doctors are no longer trusted as they were, because of blunders which arise from the pressure the NHS is under and probably also anxiety to meet quotas. I had problems in 2000 and 2007 with two doctors who should have signed me off sick because of the cumulative stress of years of fruitless job searching, yet did not – the first failed to understand the problem and I suspect the second was merely concerned to follow instructions from the government to get as many people back into the job market as possible. Their motive was simply to boost their image by making it look as if they were doing something about the problem; the doctor simply had no choice but to comply, but it wasn’t very helpful from my point of view, whereas forcing employers to change their views towards the long-term jobless would have been. Inevitably it engendered a certain suspicion on my part towards the medical profession. There is also the danger, for some people, to physical health. If doctors are not trusted the public will not go to see them any more, with the result that ailments which threaten their lives and welfare go untreated.
The disillusionment extends throughout society to anyone in positions of authority and responsibility in any organisation, private or public, which provides a vital service. Anger, conflict (which in times to come will grow even more serious), arises because organisations are not thought to be providing that service properly, are charging too much for it (especially galling when they are not thought to be doing the job properly either), or are not accepting culpability when things go wrong and the disaster could have been avoided (as with Railtrack over the various train crashes at Paddington, Ladbroke Grove etc). The harm it does to society is a bad thing even where there is no physical disaster. Again a crucial factor is the media, who are forced to be sensational and to distort things (without necessarily lying) in order to increase their circulation. This is part of the logic of capitalism (an economic system which, as I will make clear in a later chapter, we are stuck with); if they don't do it they will lose out to their rivals, who most likely have the same aggressive approach. It is the same with TV companies and with any private business which has a product to sell. It’s mutually self-generating. Where politicians, or indeed anyone in a position of responsibility anywhere, make a mistake, are forced to do something that is unpopular, or come into conflict with each other they are led to be dishonest or even smear people in order to discredit them because of how the media may interpret and portray their words and actions, or fear that it will take their opponents' side; because of what others will, perhaps unfairly, make of what they are revealed to have done, or fear of the public who after all are not necessarily right. Those with poor intellectual resources - and as will become apparent, the intellectual quality of people in all kinds of important positions has declined - will have no recourse but to lie because they will not be able to identify any other way out. Lying and corruption arise from not knowing how to manage a difficult and complex situation and fear of how the media, public and governmental authorities will view you. The media need not be involved; it could be a case of political manouevring because in a society which is so image-conscious so much more is at stake – and when we are so greed-based as well as, for sound reasons, obsessed with financial security we don’t want to lose our high salary or our pension. The problem gets worse when the two departments involved in a certain process insist it is each other's fault when things go wrong. The preoccupation with covering up mistakes is due not just to fear of how the public, or the media, or both will react but also to the power politics within large organisations.
All this was ever so, of course; but it is more so now than it has been for a long time. The moral tone of society and the principle of trust both suffer – the two being of course closely related.
The general unspoken rule is, don't admit to mistakes because they will be bad for your image and you will have problems promoting yourself, losing profits if you are a businessman and prestige, along with your salary, if you work in government or the public sector. The compensation culture has a particularly harmful effect here. And the scope for making mistakes becomes greater the more complex society gets, especially when combined with the general imperfection of the world and the random factors, the variables, you'll encounter from time to time such as chance accidents and human error, weakness or wickedness.
Another result of the complexity of society is the complexity of the administrative structures of the organisations which serve it and which, if large, can have hundreds of employees at the same branch and thousands nationwide. The head of the company, of any fair-sized organisation in the public or private sector, is far removed from the person on the ground and breakdowns in communication will inevitably occur, resulting in mistakes.
The fear of being shown up explains why things go wrong in the first place. I have been told (on good authority, by a clearly able person who was running one of those get-you-back-to-work schemes) that it is not the people who are able and do their jobs properly who get to the top in business or politics today. Because human affairs are so much about status and not losing face, especially in an image-conscious society such as ours has become, the small-minded person does not like to promote their cleverer, more talented, more visionary and imaginative colleague, particularly if it is to a high profile position (which involves working closely with them) in case their own limitations are shown up by contrast. It means that the intelligent and able person is more or less excluded from positions of authority, which can have disastrous consequences for society, especially at a time when its complexity and the multitude of difficult problems it faces demands the application of talent. And it helps to explain why firms collapse, damaging the economy and placing their customers in severe difficulties, why important matters are overlooked or gross errors made in handling them so that vital services, of whatever kind, are not run efficiently or safely. The small-minded will cover things up because they don’t know how to avoid taking the flak. And the consideration of saving face means people don't admit they're wrong; their consequent determination to defend themselves leads to acrimony plus more opportunities for money-grubbing lawyers and journalists. At the same time the policy of spin is essential to the small-minded, and thus embraced by those in top positions (except in politics where, after Alistair Campbell, it is seen as too dangerous), because it covers up their deficiencies and makes them seem more able than they really are.
The reason why this problem has become so serious is something like that which explains the history of Japan between the two world wars. Because of the high population density and overcrowding society became very regimented in order to manage it safely; the dissenter and the individualist were frozen out, and a militaristic and totalitarian way of thinking became dominant which stressed conformity and allowed the ruling elites to impose their philosophy of Japanese superiority over other races. Britain today is experiencing a very similar problem although the results may not be quite the same. The overcrowding and high urbanisation means that the maverick, the individualist, the one who does not conform, is tolerated less. The more populous, complex - and thus difficult to govern easily - society becomes the more insistence there is by employers and politicians on standard ways of running things because there is so much fear of the consequences if other methods, the revolutionary ones that a person of exceptional intelligence and courage might come up with, do not work. Employers are more likely to pass over employees who are, or appear as if they might be, the sort who will have their own way of doing things (which may not necessarily be the wrong way), who therefore might disagree with them and therefore make their job difficult. It has the paradoxical effect of cutting out those people who are most likely to carry out the difficult task of managing such a complex world effectively. Mavericks are seen, if anything, as adding to the pressure of living in an overcrowded and stressful society. That the divergence may be the result of personality and outlook, and not a tendency to be awkward for its own sake - in the long run, the subordinate might still be prepared to do things the boss' way, after all they have no right to act as if they are running the show - makes no difference.
This all has a bearing on the issue of unemployment. If you are one of those individuals who are picked on; whose face "does not fit"; who those in authority are not comfortable with and who is seen as an impractical maverick, your faults will be exaggerated, magnified in the eyes of employers. You won’t last in jobs and this will give the impression that you are less competent than is actually the case - certainly that you are less competent than the norm. And since other employers are not to know the truth, and will want to play safe, they won’t employ you. Those who sack you will want to make out your problems are your own fault as a way of absolving themselves of any blame in the matter, a necessary means of convincing themselves they are not responsible for any hardship or distress you may suffer as a result of your situation. If, as well as being clever, you are one of those people who the boss doesn’t feel they quite gel with and are already looked on with suspicion or (concealed) dislike, then in a society where mediocrity for the reasons given above is prized you will be even more likely to lose out. It is a problem suffered in particular by those with a condition like Asperger Syndrome, but experienced by many “normal” people as well. As well as not being promoted or will be among those made redundant when cutbacks need to be made, especially if you are in your first year of work at the company or a casual employee, and thus lack the legal protection needed to stave off what is in essence unfair dismissal.
The current employment rights situation, the way the job market is managed, the ascendancy of the control freak, and the general way in which modern society operates means that everyone is afraid of everyone else because they do not how they will react to a given action statement; whether it will lead to censure, to loss of job or something similarly unwelcome. As a result people don't speak out when they think something the company is doing is mistaken, nor do they come up with ideas which are too different from what top management have made clear they favour, for fear of offending their superiors or simply being seen as going against the grain. Young members of staff who want to get on in their jobs and therefore have to do what the boss says are pressurized into compliance, which when blunders occur will make them look incompetent by association, often undeservedly.
The more control - which means the manager(s) running things in the particular way he, or they as a group, want to - is seen as important the less dissident views, even if expressed politely and through the proper channels, are looked upon favourably. The result is that the company fails to achieve the right quality of service, and independence, initiative and novelty are stultified. Neither the company itself nor the public at large benefits from this. There is too much concern with status and style, and image, rather than either moral principles or practical efficiency. Of course when products are not manufactured or delivered to the right standard stress mounts for the customer. The consequences are equally damaging in politics.
Leaders (of a country or of a particular institution), who may not be ungifted and might be well-meaning but who are limited in intellect, like Margaret Thatcher, John Major or certain people I have known, tend to act through bullying or deceit because they aren’t clever enough to know any other way of getting what they want, and unfortunately this sets the tone of the institutions they preside over. To inculcate moral fibre in people requires a certain intellectual skill. Since we take our cue from our leaders, society as a whole will behave in the same way or will simply lack moral qualities, concentrating simply on acquiring material benefits or prestige. There will be a myopic preoccupation with the most immediately obvious practical necessities, such as making money, whether for the sake of the organisation one works for or the country as a whole. Young, impressionable people, not knowing that there is a moral standard here which is failing to be upheld, will simply imitate the way their political leaders and employers behave, perpetuating the moral decline that will have been begun. Or they are simply ambitious and don’t want to harm their chances of advancement by going against the grain. People pack the organisations over which they preside with their friends and supporters as an easy way of getting what they want, leading to the hideous phenomenon of cronyism which has been so damaging to the intellectual and moral tone of British politics, because they do not have the skill, the acumen, to otherwise handle opposition and overcome problems - and know they don’t, being uneasily aware of their own limitations. Harold Wilson may have started the rot with his pioneering of showmanship politics (though he learnt it from that other Harold, Macmillan) but at least he had a savoir faire which is totally lacking in many people in positions of authority and power today (though David Cameron may be an exception to the rule).
It will have been seen that related to the above considerations is the issue of increasing materialism, because of both need and greed. In a complex modern society people need money if they are to fulfil all their needs. And because the rich pickings are potentially so much greater in a more affluent society the greed is that much more intense. The fact that the dividing line between rich and poor is actually increasing makes no difference as long as one has a reasonable chance of entering the former category, and in fact resentment at the gap will result in a determined attempt to close it where possble. And we crave also status, which for some means the thrill of being associated with powerful, often shady people, especially where there is an aura of sleaze and glamour; they like to think they are acting out the events of a Jeffrey Archer or Harold Robbins novel.
In no small measure all this is due to the policies of Margaret Thatcher during her premiership from 1979 to 1990. The rigid free-marketism to which she and her followers subscribed had its origin in an almost pathological fear of the kind of situation which characterized Britain in the 1970s – inflation, economic decline, strikes – and which, because this was an era when the public sector was dominant, led to the latter becoming identified with such unwelcome things. The events of that period, which they had no wish to see repeated, left a scar on the minds of patriotic right-wingers. The drive towards privatization stemmed also from the contrast between what Thatcher was trying to do and the stagnation and totalitarianism which was a feature of the Soviet Union – seen at that time as the ideological enemy, and suffering from the effects of what was clearly not a free market economy.
The support for Thatcher’s style of strong authoritarian leadership, which made the whole experiment possible, was also a reaction to the dilatoriness of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, who had failed to curb the extreme left of the Labour Party or deal firmly with economic crisis. The irony was that to combat totalitarianism, in so far as it affected economic policy at any rate, meant being totalitarian (with the opposite aim of reducing state control of the economy). Essentially, the belief of Thatcherites was that in a complex society, where it could be particularly disastrous if things went wrong, there was a need to turn everything over to the free market which was surely a much more efficient way of doing things - because a capitalist would have an incentive to do his job well or he’d fail to sell his products and so lose money - than state ownership which had proved liable to cause stagnation and inefficiency.
The reason why Thatcher’s governments made so many cuts in public services and public sector spending was not so much that they were cruel as that they honestly believed doing everything by private enterprise (which is more or less the system we live under today) was the right way ahead. The cuts were to clear the path for the privatization of British society, a process which had not been completed by the time of Thatcher’s resignation but which gathered pace under her successor John Major and the “New Labour” government of Tony Blair. This is the only thing which can explain what some see as diabolical heartlessness, which I am sure was not the problem. (Insensitivity, combined with a dangerous inability to know where to stop, yes). She was enabled to implement her programme because of the weakness of a faction-ridden Labour opposition and the negative effect on the image of the Labour movement of such figures as Arthur Scargill and Derek Hatton, who were seen as megalomaniac and spoiling for a fight for its own sake.
Thatcher & Co hoped to make everyone into a capitalist, but failed to realise that in an imperfect world this was not possible. (A), because of the very fact that we are all different (Thatcher herself would have claimed that she was opposing rigid conformity and allowing each person to develop their individual talents), meaning that not everyone has a business mentality and can therefore participate effectively in the kind of world she was trying to create. Supporting her simply because she seemed, in contrast to her divided and ineffectual opponents, to offer the best prospect of strong government, most people were either apathetic towards her great experiment (it was commented at the time how few people, out of the bulk of the population, rushed to buy shares in privatised companies) or considered it was harming their interests and that of the country. And (B), in our imperfect, and increasingly complex, modern world it is not feasible for a individual person to provide for all their diverse needs by their own efforts; much of it will have to be supplied by government, and the relevant organisations must therefore be able to do their job properly, which requires financial support. (C) If services are to be provided by private companies, who of course charge for their products, there will inevitably be a price tag on everything. This makes it harder for those not already very wealthy – again, we are not all born to be entrepreneurs – to cope, especially if they have families to support and/or are on benefit or low incomes, and in time of economic recession. Luxuries have to be cut back, which means that one is simply doing what is necessary to survive – buying the essentials – rather than achieving the prosperity, and the quality of life, which Thatcher promised to give us all and which are a mark of success, of realised ambition. And even then, it is often still difficult to manage. To become the wealthy success story Thatcher wanted us all to be requires a strong financial base to begin with, and that’s just what is being denied to millions of people, unless they have the kind of ruthless ambition that is not common to everyone and must, because of the obstacles involved, often require harsh practices to succeed – some do steal, often by running some financial scam, but that only damages society both morally and economically. I might have got out of the rut of my unimpressive (because of the difficulty of finding lasting work) cv by starting my own business or lying at interviews, but I just didn’t have the right kind of outlook for the former (why should I have been expected to?) and the latter was ruled out on moral grounds, thankyou very much.
What actually happens is that many are caught in a poverty trap, for some a benefit trap, which they can’t escape from. It may be noted that the very poor cannot save up for long periods for the sake of future prosperity without suffering extreme hardship, and so can’t meet the high standards of thrift and “good housekeeping” Thatcher so approved of. My own personal experience was that whenever I did get a job much of my salary went towards my rent, my Housing Benefit being cancelled because I was deemed no longer to need it; this left me little better off than when I was unemployed and although I stuck it out as long as I could would not have been – is not – a great incentive for people to find work. The gap between rich and poor remains stubbornly open, creating an unhealthy social malaise and fuelling the fires of future social unrest. The problem existed well before the current recession due to the basic nature of the system Thatcher created, and cannot be ascribed to exceptionally harsh conditions which it is hoped will only be temporary, as defenders of Thatcherism (even if it is no longer called by that name) would try to do.
The more complex, heavily populated and therefore expensive society is to run the more the price of everything will have to be put up to pay for it, which hits those on low incomes or unemployed. If it’s a private company doing this it may be resented more because whereas those working in the state sector, for the government, would simply be doing their job, and performing an essential service into the bargain, someone running a private company would be trying to make a profit for themselves.
The belief that leaving everything to the workings of the free market will necessarily result in greater efficiency, because entrepreneurs will naturally make the decisions that will result in a good quality product and therefore an advantage over one’s competitors, is erroneous. It will make no difference as long as there continue to be poor standards of training and education (both being areas recent governments have neglected and which will suffer further because of the current recession), for these affect performance regardless of which company one has decided to work for. If every company is suffering from poor workmanship, then none has any advantage to be lost in relation to another, nor will they appreciate what they should be trying to gain. That it is not the most able people who get to the top in business rather defeats the objective of allowing private enterprise to build a more efficient economy.
Though Margaret Thatcher herself is no longer in power, we still continue to be governed in effect by Thatcherism, even if it is not explicitly referred to as such. The free market is king. The general trend over the past twenty years has been to transfer more and more vital functions to private organisations, not less. As the size of the population and thus the complexity of society continue to grow, the more politicians and businesspeople we hang on to monetarist doctrines as supposedly the sole means of managing such a vast and intricate structure efficiently. And the more they become accustomed to Thatcherism, the more managers whether political or economic view the alternatives as unfamiliar territory where we may lose our way and stumble, risky experiments which could result in disaster if they went wrong. With the “credit crunch” and the resulting recession there has been some degree of nationalisation, a rolling back to some extent of the frontiers of the market, but there is no sign at present of a fundamental change across the whole of society, the discarding of one formula for living in favour of another. A return to normalcy no doubt means in the eyes of tycoons and politicos a return to fully-fledged monetarism.
Thatcher will probably die reviled by the vast majority for her dictatorial style and the harmful effect of her policies, but we are most of us quite happy to embrace the system she created and to profit from it, or at any rate aren’t prepared to actively work for its destruction. The former can be explained by greed, the baser aspects of human nature which the emphasis on quick profits, for the sake of the economy as a whole, unfortunately gave widespread opportunities to. As for changing the system, it is so deeply rooted in the attitudes of those at the top that the job could only be done by violence (which is probably what we’ll get).
Whatever Thatcher’s standing at the time of her death, she will have left a legacy. We are all her children, even though some of them are too young to remember the premiership of the woman who shaped the society in which they live. We are either the beneficiaries of her policies or their victims. But what exactly is her legacy? It is manifested in a variety of ways. In practical terms, it has been a decline in the quality of public services (as well as to a great extent of those provided by the private sector) and the widening of the gulf between the rich and the poor, the employed and the unemployed. The individual in straitened circumstances is trapped within a society which has made their aspirations too expensive to fulfil and left them feeling they are undervalued because they have not been successful, little recognition being shown of their worth simply as a human being. We have supposedly been enjoying a strong economy these last few years, a period of unprecedented growth, but everyday experience suggests this is not the case if prosperity is reckoned according to the amount of money in the pocket of the average citizen. It simply means that private companies are doing well and their chief personnel making a lot of money. It means that those people who are wealthy are remaining wealthy or getting wealthier, not that the prosperity is evenly spread throughout society. If people are capable of putting personal gain before everything else, they are capable of being selective in the way they interpret and present the data with which financial analysts work; and they are afraid that if its failure to fully meet the needs of ordinary citizens is highlighted the resulting criticism will undermine the system in which they have invested so heavily out of fear of change. A lot of the prosperity which has been enjoyed by the more ordinary members of society has been bought at the price of incurring massive debts, which is now resulting in misery as recession means they are unable to pay them off.
Since there is no reason why private companies will always perform their functions effectively, or everyone think there should, there really ought to be a state sector in the water, gas, electricity and communications industries – in fact, in each of the public services – if Thatcherites are really concerned about competition. It doesn’t seem fair that there can be private and public schools, and private and public hospitals, but not for example private and public power stations. The trouble is that to reduce the financial and administrative pressures on government in a complex and populous modern society the government will not perform a particular role when a private company can do it instead – and any duplication of responsibilities would be wasteful – especially if it believes state control is a generally less efficient way of doing things. So except in those areas where it would be too controversial for things to be wholly privatised, such a health and education, privatisation has to be across the board, which makes it rather a closed shop. Is the reason that private companies are entrusted with so much to do with the financial and administrative strain placed upon central government and the public sector by the increasing complexity and thus expensiveness/strain of running modern society? If it is then this is understandable but still a serious problem. Because there is no reason, unless certain structural problems are dealt with and bearing in mind human nature, why a private company should necessarily do the job better than a public body.
The social and economic implications of Thatcherism are many and varied. Generally, financial affairs have become even more ruthless than they were in the past. Even where the urge to triumph over your competitors doesn’t lead to corruption (of which even the virtuous may in certain situations be guilty, for all I know), basically decent people are forced to behave ruthlessly, raising the cost of whatever service they offer – whether it be the products displayed on their shelves, reproduction of already existing material as when an illustration is photocopied, or hire of facilities – transport, venues for parties and conferences - because if they don't others will for theirs, and so gain an advantage over them. Fear of losing out in the race leads to cutting corners, sharp practices, and aggressive and annoying marketing techniques in order to maximise profits and the speed at which they are made, because the pace at which things are done by everyone means that to put your foot even slightly wrong at any stage, or lag behind your competitors just a fraction, can be disastrous. We have all become trapped in the system and at heart I suspect many of us would really like to break out of it, feeling it to be both pressurising and debasing. But that, in order to avoid giving one company an unfair advantage over another, would involve the government acting as referee, in effect knocking all private companies’ heads together by imposing a limit on the amount each is allowed to earn or to charge its customers. At the moment it shows no sign of wanting to do so.
The trend towards rising prices originates partly in the decline in intellect, imagination and ability on the part of those at the top in business. Rather than get a larger number of people to buy a cheaply priced product, the approach which served clever entrepreneurs in America, Britain and elsewhere perfectly well in the past, they maximise profit by simply raising the price. This proves contagious for as one trader does it others follow suit rather than lose out. As members of the public, requiring things for their own personal use, traders have to pay higher prices for consumer and other commodities than before (and may also be living in a time of recession and spending cuts). To make life easier they understandably charge more for the products they sell in their capacity of trader. Not only is this unwelcome to the consumer in any case but the cost of all kinds of things is going up in proportion to the decrease, in the current climate of employment and redundancies, of people’s ability to pay, further lowering the quality of life. We are constantly told that this or that product is good value for money; it isn’t if you can’t afford to buy it in the first place. To be fair, the increasing expensiveness of everything is partly due to shortage of the essential commodities out of which it’s made, as the supply of minerals out of which plastics, for example, are made becomes exhausted, and this is a problem which is only going to get worse with time. Apart from the practical consequences when the minerals finally run out it causes a lot of trouble when an industry is still essential, but the commodity on which it is based is becoming rare and so is more highly priced, making life harder for its users. We are starting to see this with oil, the petrol protests of 2000 being a relatively early manifestation of the problem. In some areas, one way out could be government subsidies but with so many issues facing us in an increasingly complex and populous society this will divert funds from other equally important sectors. Sometimes the quandary arises from technological process and social change rather than dwindling resources. With more people using the Internet for communication, from habit or because it’s less expensive, the price of “snail mail” has gone up – it has to be raised for the sake of the trader, to compensate for the slump in demand. The trouble is, the postal service is still essential for sending all kinds of physical commodities – items of a precious nature, some cheques and bulky documents – and these days, using it for that purpose bites deeper into your budget.
And although a lot of our economic hardship may not be the fault of the business sector itself, if some means were found of remedying the shortage of essential oils and other minerals or compensating for it I don’t think we could be assured the problem was solved. It is a perfectly natural desire to better ourselves in terms of material comfort and security, which requires wealth, and once people have got into the habit of making lots of money by charging high prices it may not be easy to change their behaviour.
As prices go up charities are forced to be more and more persistent, even aggressive, in their campaigning; apart from the fact that this alienates people and makes them less inclined to give, they are angling for money which often isn’t there, because the public are having so much trouble trying to make ends meet that they can’t afford to be generous. The causes the charities are set up to further suffer with or without a recession to worsen the situation.
As well as requiring maximisation of profits and the slapping of a price tag on everything the pace of business today means that older workers are frozen out because they are, or are thought to be, less likely to cope with the stress; because they are also abler and more experienced the efficient conduct of the business, and therefore of society as a whole, suffers.
When a company or other organization has a particularly large number of people to cater for, thus straining its resources, and where there is not a culture of giving it government subsidies, it will resort to penny-pinching devices to give itself the money it needs (e.g. the Post Office charging the recipient for insufficiently stamped mail). Yet another offshoot of the profit-based society, and arising in part from its fundamental inability to benefit everyone the same way, is the compensation culture. Mere greed, envy, resentment (often justified) at the high salaries of the “fat cats” compared to one’s own circumstances, coupled with the need to escape from a relative poverty which makes it harder to meet your aspirations, leads people to devise whatever schemes occur to them for making money, debasing themselves in the process. It leads to corruption (dragging society down ever deeper into the moral mire), opportunism and chicanery, creating and reinforcing an unpleasantly ruthless and devious mentality which will end up being applied to all other matters. In today’s world people get their way by this means rather than overt abuse, rudeness or intimidation – it is no less horrible. Money is demanded for trifling injuries or inconveniences, and with payments which are in principle justified – fees for reproduction of copyright material in publishing, for example - the actual figure insisted upon is higher than it really need be, whether or not there has actually been any dispute, any legal proceedings. In matters where there is disagreement lawyers, who are not immune to the greed and corruption spreading throughout society, happily agree to take on the case in order to increase their own profits. The compensation culture also explains excessive health and safety laws, with which it dovetails nicely in what must be one of the neatest examples of symmetry it is possible to think of; it is fear of being sued for an exorbitant amount which explains why all kinds of organisations enforce rules which they might otherwise be happy to ignore, or not apply so stringently.
Even where commercialisation doesn’t necessarily have a morally damaging effect it can prove dangerous in the example it sets, as well as absurd and highly irritating. Many organisations are not actually privatised, but have been forced to conduct their business as if they are. Public sector employers have become keener to cut costs by making people redundant and introducing casualisation (it was in the civil service that the actual term “casual”, as opposed to “temporary”, to describe an employee’s status, was more likely to be used), and may also take decisions on the basis of what is likely to generate profit rather than what is actually needed in practical terms. This is harmful enough. But something in the whole way of thinking we’re seeing here sends a shiver down the spine, for reasons other than its more obvious human consequences. English Heritage now has a “Customer Services” rather than an “Enquiries” or “Public Relations” branch, and is thus more like a department store or a bank than an organisation peforming a vital social and cultural function. I found this out when writing to it to protest at the granting of planning permission for the conversion to flats of an old mill which, since its original plant remained more or less complete, ought to have been preserved as a working museum, or something like that, rather than converted to living accommodation. The latter would not have relieved the housing shortage, since we are talking about the adaptation of an existing building, of a now comparatively rare type, in the country which would serve as a gimmicky (because of its distinctive appearance and original purpose) home for relatively wealthy people). I felt something like disbelief. If we are to engage with an issue, a job that needs to be done, such as the proper preservation of historic buildings, we need to use the language, the appropriate terms of reference, and thus have the mindset which is necessary to perform the task properly. A member of the public who is acting as an advocate for the preservation of part of our industrial and architectural heritage, for the benefit of future generations, is not a “customer”. He or she is not buying anything, possibly for no more than their own personal material gain, but performing a cultural function, which is something different. The wording suggests that historic buildings, the reason for English Heritage’s existence, are a commodity which is bought and sold – perhaps for no more than short-term convenience, as many commodities are - rather than a cultural asset which should be protected and held in trust for the benefit of the community. The whole philosophy we see here is disturbing as well as laughable. The change of name in fact complements, appropriately but sinisterly, English Heritage’s insistence that the conversion of the mill was justified: after all, estate agents and developers have “Customer Services” departments. However, having a “Customer Services” department isn’t any good if the “company” doesn’t actually do the job it was set up to. As it is the whole thing seems at best pusillanimous and at worst a deliberate attempt to extend the frontiers of privatisation even further. Incidentally I raised this whole issue with English Heritage seven months before the time of writing, at the same time as my complaint about the mill and was promised that one of their staff would get back to me. I am still waiting for them to do so. Oh, and another thing; if my query is going to a “Customer Service” department, then if I wanted the mill not to be converted and it was can I sue, or apply for compensation?
People are especially powerless against the system where attitudes among employers, which politicians are reluctant to correct out of an aversion to infringing their freedom of action under a business-oriented philosophy, mean they can be too easily sacked and then after dismissal find it that much harder to get back into work in the long run. These days "contract" working has replaced casualisation, probably because casualisation has become too much of a dirty word, due to its harmful consequences. It is the same phenomenon under a different name. If an employee's face is not thought to fit or the boss has acquired an unreasonable dislike for them, or it was never intended to employ them on more than a "hire and fire" basis, then all that has to be done is for the contract not to be renewed.
The thinking, of course, is that for businesses and thus the economy as a whole to be efficient and healthy, (a) costs must be cut, and (b) they must have the right people working for them. The first objective is met by taking people on on a short-term rather than a long-term basis, usually with a lower salary than that enjoyed by more senior and permanent staff. Posts are filled with a succession of people who it is cheap to employ and who are not in the job long enough to be able to demand pay rises/preference in promotion (which is rather a pity from their point of view if they have to pay rents, bills etc). Casualisation also enables those who are considered not up to scratch to be weeded out in their first year, at an early stage, when they do not have the employment rights to be able to fight their corner and so make things difficult for the boss who is trying to build a leaner and fitter team. In this situation those who the boss doesn’t favour are clearly vulnerable. In fact it is probably because their faces don’t fit that they were taken on as a casual in the first place; they wouldn’t be around long enough to do any damage. Those who are applying for a higher, permanent position and who do happen to gel with the person who interviewed them will by contrast be much luckier; casualisation isn’t something management could anyway introduce at the higher levels of a business as it would be impractical, disrupting the system of command and thus the whole business operation. A sort of professional class system emerges, valued permanent (even given the generally higher staff turnover rate in companies nowadays) higher grade employees over dogsbody transient lower-grade ones, which parallels that developing in society as a whole. A permanent AA can perhaps progress up the ladder but not a casual one, especially when preference is given in matters of promotion, in deciding how jobs are allocated or who stays in their job at all when times are hard, to existing long-term employees, which by definition works against the interests of the ambitious casual.
Militant left-wing groups still hate casualisation, as the stickers they place on lamp posts and in other places reveal. These people are often unsavoury in their methods and language but for that very reason it’s rather a shame that they are the only people focusing on the problem and willing to make a fuss about it. It does prove that casualisation is an issue and one that causes concern to those who, whether from noble motives or ignoble ones such as hatred or the desire to cause trouble, are willing to speak their minds.
Because there is less job stability there is less commitment to a job, less of a work ethic – or an ethic of loyalty to the company itself, since where it is not investing in the employee’s own future by taking them on permanently, and so necessarily developing a proprietorial concern for their development, the employee does not see why he or she should feel any attachment for it, have any interest in its long-term wellbeing, either. It’s only natural. The position is seen simply as a short-term money-making exercise for the person who holds it, especially when at the end of the day another position job can be found without much difficulty, which will be the case for most people. Often there isn’t even any desire to work hard when in the job, to show one’s gratitude to the employer by helping to make the company successful and wealthy. After all, what has the employer done for you? So standards slip, and both the company and the public suffer from the resulting poor performance. The damage is not only in practical economic terms. Since loyalty to the employer, along with loyalty to one’s family, country, church etc., is one of the factors which bind people together and reinforce community spirit, casualisation helps to dissolve the social fabric and create an atomised, spiritually bereft world where the only principle is self-interest. The tendency for a lot of jobs not to be done in-house but hired out to other companies can have the same effect of breaking down corporate spirit. Since you can’t be sure those other companies are morally upright it also results in unethical or even illegal practices, which those guilty of them don’t have scruples about because they believe everyone else is doing the same. A recent example is the rigging of quiz shows and phone-ins by BBC staff, which were linked to the fact that aspect of programme making was being hired out to small private firms or to temporary employees. When you have some direct control over, some responsibility for, something it seems all the more important to do it properly for the sake of the company’s success and its good name. When you don’t, or if you won’t be working with the company long enough for such things to seem important, it’s easier not to care. But the bosses insist that casualisation is necessary to ensure efficiency in modern industry and the government is afraid to go against their wishes, so the rot continues.
In one of the Kurt Wallander crime novels by Henning Mankell a man is sacked because he is regarded as having no ambition above the post he currently holds. Competently written, good quality fiction (such as this is) usually has some basis in reality, and since the stories are set in Sweden, while hooking up with the general way the private sector does things now in the West, we may assume this is a Europe-wide phenomenon at least. Because not everyone, by any means, is cut from the same kind of cloth as the ambitious high-flyer we can only assume that large numbers of quite able people (who the economy can ill afford to lose) are being dismissed from their posts. If you’ll forgive me quoting from a character in one of my own novels, who is perplexed by the situation, everything has to be dynamic, exciting, sexy; partly for the sake of image, which matters so much nowadays, and partly because of a conclusion, that isn’t necessarily warranted, that what isn’t dynamic isn’t efficient (it depends on the post). But image isn’t the same thing as efficiency, isn’t always matched by the reality. In the past there were plenty of people who were quite happy in whatever position they occupied in their workplace – regardless of whether it was a public or a private concern – and exercising their responsibilities perfectly competently, while it is possible for such people’s replacements to be less good at the jon than they were. The policy actually has the reverse effect from what was presumably intended, i.e. to benefit the economy. If the aim is to benefit the company, then the latter’s interests are being put before those of society, with disastrous consequences.
Casualisation, lack of proper training and education and of an apprenticeship system, too much casualisation, and ageism in the job market freezing out the older and more competent employees, all result in services of all kinds not being performed properly, creating stress on the part of both the customer and the manufacturer/supplier of products. Adding to this problem is the tendency not to build products to last (or even, I suspect, deliberately run them down by building in defects) so that the company will be more frequently making a profit from repairs/replacements.
Greater affluence and greater choice as to what profession to join, neither of which we can decently forsake, due to the diversity of modern industry have actually created as many problems for us as they were designed to get rid of. Plumbers and electricians, for example, are ever harder to find because young people are not joining either profession. Unfortunately in a prosperous, relatively affluent, leisured, modern Western society people have grown accustomed to, and prefer, the comforts and privileges that go with a university education and a university lifestyle. So they don't go into apprenticeship. This can have a harmful effect on some services that remain essential. I once worked for a subcontractor for British Gas who were changing meters in the Thames Valley/West London region. Because there were so few young people going into the business in the affluent south most of our fitters had to come from up north where people were poorer and desperate to work. Because they lived so far away and had to commute down south they often didn’t make it to work on time on Monday mornings (they'd been home over the weekend) and their appointments had to be cancelled, causing great annoyance to the customer; or the company was reluctant to sack those fitters who broke appointments with the result was stress for the customers, the clerks and the management.
With companies able to force us to buy the products they like, whether or not we really want them, by running down the alternatives, putting their profits before the wishes of the consumer (more of this later); with effective organisation in all walks of life being seen exclusively in terms of private enterprise; and with the government generally reluctant to go against the wishes of big business on the matter of prices or recruitment, it can truthfully be said that we in the West in the early twenty-first century live in a plutocracy. It is a mistake to confuse, as Margaret Thatcher did, liberty for the private company with liberty for the individual. Because this sort of thing can’t openly be admitted to it is attempted to convince the public it is not the case, but the deception is easily seen through. “Never forget,” the character Sir Julian tells his golfing partner in the regular Private Eye cartoon The Directors, “the consumers are in charge of society.” “Well they’re a funny lot then,” replies his companion. “They must like being loaded with debt and getting sacked.”
Indulging the private sector like a (spoiled) favourite son is dangerous. The recession of 2008 and after in the West came about because the economy overheated, in that greed on the part of consumers and the banking sector led to too many things being purchased on credit (i.e., the “I want it NOW” syndrome) and to money being loaned to people who couldn’t afford to pay it back, either because they had spent too much or, because of other things that were wrong with society, never had it in the first place. Banks and consumers equally to blame. Even though sheer necessity has led to their being reined in to some extent the bonuses leading bankers and businessmen still receive, at a time many people are suffering financial hardship yet expected to be frugal in how they spend, remains a matter of controversy and a cause of social tension.
Spiritually the damage is just as serious. After all the ethos of capitalism, its prime motivating factor, has to be the desire to make a profit for oneself. This has always been the case to a greater or lesser extent, and it needn’t make one a bad person. But the view that it was essential in order to run society efficiently, that the alternatives had proved disastrous and so completely discredited themselves – as seen in runaway inflation, for example – meant that it had to be pursued with a particular dynamism, one in which social considerations tended to be disregarded and corners cut, and at the same time extended into as many areas of society as possible (I feel sure that Thatcher would have privatised the health and education sectors had this been politically possible; she certainly allowed privatisation to nibble at the edges by contracting out essential services within them, such as cleaning, to private companies). Capitalism has to be selfish to a certain degree, but the more society is commercialised, with not only essential services but all others too privatised, the more its selfishness permeates the whole of society, including areas where it is not really appropriate. The flaws in human nature allow the darker side of capitalism to affect everything; Thatcher’s doctrinaire rigidity prevented her from seeing the dangers in what she was doing. As a consequence we have, generally, become more selfish, ruthless and single-minded in getting what we want in all walks of life, in achieving wealth, status and a certain image, whether through aggression, manipulation or slick posturing (all tactics which businesses use at some time or other). And less deterred by the possible effects on others. Since image is a crucial way of selling ourselves, financially or metaphorically, we often become more concerned with the image of a person (ourselves or another) than with whether or not they can do a job properly. As argued above, it leads to inefficiency and paralysis. The preoccupation with image also furthers the celebrity culture which makes it more difficult for ordinary people to get by and also combines disastrously with the general moral decline evident in society. If someone sells, by attracting high viewing figures or by association with one’s cause or product, then they will be promoted and given a high profile even when their behaviour is offensive and morally corrupting. Because sections of society have become debased enough (partly due to the dilemma of post-modernism) to like them despite or perhaps because of their behaviour, television executives etc. are reluctant to sack them as opposed to, at most, suspending them for a short period because it is feared the company may lose out to its rivals in the ratings war. Even when they haven’t done anything particularly bad on screen (and when one has a sneaking liking for Mr Russell Brand, who does make things a little more interesting), the need for money and thus glamour, sensation even, leads to some celebrities being promoted even when their dissolute lifestyle, foul language, irresponsible behaviour and multiple marriages contribute to setting a bad moral example to the rest of society, particularly to the young.
The cult of celebrity which the desire for money, and thus glamour because glamour sells, promotes has spread to other areas of society, everything being interconnected. This cult is another great evil of our time; another thing which makes it harder for the talents of those who don’t have an established track record of fame and success to be recognized. They may be more deserving of fame and success than those who get it, but are not considered quite so marketable. It adds to the alienation of ordinary people and the crushing of their ambitions.
In setting and preserving social standards, a lot depends on how people in the media itself. Another bad example is set by the aggressive style of interviewing characteristic of certain TV presenters. I am thinking in particular of Mr Jeremy Paxman. “Paxo” may be commended for his reluctance to let evasive politicians off the hook. He’s also opinionated and rude. It surely need not take an awful lot of mental effort to appreciate that the aggressive and impolite nature of society as a whole is in no small measure influenced by what they see on screen. What is particularly important here is that Paxman's style of interviewing is not seen as a cause for concern, and may even be regarded as positive; he received an award despite (or because of?) it. It could of course be pointed out that the late (and I trust much missed) Sir Robin Day was also, at times, rude and aggressive; but what should be borne in mind is that he balanced this with an old-fashioned, gentlemanly courtesy. It might be that the only alternative to the Paxman style is for things to become very dull and staid; but that only serves to emphasise the dilemma of post-modernism.
The contribution of the media to the moral decline of Western society has been mentioned before. It has an important role to play in maintaining proper standards of behaviour but too often sets a bad example. It is also forced by economic considerations, the need to maintain and often increase circulation and ratings, to be sensational which means that it makes shocking allegations about celebrities, institutions and political figures which lower the moral tone of public life, cause offence, and induce unnecessary gloom, fear and disillusion on the part of the public; all of which is socially damaging. Unfortunately, the problem cannot be solved without a dangerous interference with freedom of speech. A free press is an essential aspect of a free society, however much it abuses its liberty, and as with the judicial system efforts to curb that liberty increasing the power of government to a very alarming degree.

When she was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was often accused by her critics of wanting to create an elite. As I see it, she didn’t seek to do that so much as get everyone to think the way she did, to accept free-market capitalism because even if not everybody became entrepreneurs on the Richard Branson model they would at least enjoy a high standard of living, monetarism being in her view the most efficient economic system there was. But apart from the fact that it simply widened the gulf between the wealthier members of society and the not-so-wealthy – she had assumed the people whom she was empowering, the successful capitalist entrepreneurs, would pay their employees better because in a time of prosperity for the company they could afford to, without reckoning on simple greed – an elite was what this ended up creating. Fukuyama’s thesis in The End of History that scientific and technological development will bring about capitalist democracy and equal opportunities because of the social changes it involves, creating a need for a highly trained and educated workforce who will have an increased sense of status that leads them to demand a say in the political process, can be refuted. The widening of the electorate to meet the demands of a rising industrial middle, and then working, class, a process which began in Britain during the nineteenth century, has simply been cleverly harnessed and exploited by the governing elites to make things look egalitarian. The apathy and excessive stoicism in the national character of a people may lead them to accept what they eventually come to realise is merely another form of oligarchy, and this obedience, or at any rate acquiescence, is of course exploited by the elites in power. The nature of the elite changes over time; it was originally aristocratic in nature, now it is a complex phenomenon composed of a number of different groups (including the remnants of the upper class), the most important of which are the media (which has the power to control events by the way it presents them) and big business (regardless of the social origin of its members). The will of the people can make a difference as to who is actually in power, but it doesn’t mean they will enact the policies that the people want. Merely appearing more dynamic than your opponents may be enough to get you elected; it doesn’t mean people will like your policies once you are in office. Occasionally the popular will can force the abandonment of a hated policy, as with the poll tax in 1990, but such cases are the exception to the rule, Britain’s participation in the 2003 Iraq war being one example in recent years when the will of the majority was conspiciously ignored. And in terms of who has the power to realise their aspirations and achieve the highest possible standard of living - or at least an acceptable standard of living – there is certainly an elite. Elitism characterises not only economic affairs but culture too; here I’m talking about “pure” culture, which is not designed primarily to make a profit but is practised for its own sake.
Here group and professional attitudes may dominate. The problem is made worse because in addition to the relatively new elitism of the entrepreneur, and in politics the politically correct liberal, over the rest of society there persist, in some areas, older elitisms and prejudices; professional and academic, as well as social, cliques. One of my keenest interests as an adult has been philosophy and I am eager to find an outlet as a philosopher. A few years ago I joined the Royal Society of Philosophy. I wanted to contribute something to its journal, but found that people without qualifications in the subject were not allowed to do so. I said I thought non-academic philosophers should be allowed to contribute and was told the society would shortly be bringing about a new journal, called Think, which was intended for non-academic philosophers. I think the officials of the society may have misunderstood me and thought I was talking about the audience the society’s literature was aimed at, not who wrote it; that apart, even though the content of Think was so basic as to be easily digestible by people much less intelligent than myself, actual contribution to the magazine was restricted to non-academic philosophers as had been the case with the journal. I still couldn’t write for it. I naturally found this deeply insulting as well as frustrating. There seems to be no way for an intelligent layperson with an interest in the subject, who wants to put that interest and that intelligence to the service of themselves and of culture by expounding their views in a suitable forum, to break down this barrier; they are excluded as an outsider and an interloper. Snobbery can of course be academic, intellectual, as well as social.
But elitism prevails throughout society in general, and regardless of whether one’s opinions are right-wing or left-wing. Unless already qualified in a field, your views on it will not be promoted. Scientists too trumpet the virtues of popular science yet will not like to have their theories questioned by someone without scientific qualifications even if that person may be (a) highly intelligent and (b) right. They also want to keep other disciplines, like philosophers, out of the picture.
We encourage people to do certain things then restrict progress in that field to those with qualifications. All this does is create an underclass which feels it is being patronised. The implication is that those with letters after their names are usually right and those without them, however clever they might be, wrong. This may not always be the case. It’s not only socially divisive but intellectually dangerous. Since original thinking has very often come from outside mainstream systems, it leads to cultural stagnation. We may by this token be prevented from spotting things which could be of vital importance to our survival as a society, as a species, in both spiritual and practical ways.
There may be good reasons why someone is very interested in and active in a certain area but has no academic or professional qualifications in it. Qualifications cost time and money to obtain and that is often prohibitive, especially in today's world where (a) there are so many other things we have to attend to, such as family and other responsibilities, (b) everything comes at a price, and (c) personal wealth has actually gone down for those not lucky enough to win the lottery. It is part of a society where either need, because of the complexity of things and thus the greater expense involved in running them, or greed puts prices up. And yet as part of the drive towards professionalism qualifications are demanded. We have tended not to notice or to promote people in a given field unless they are qualified in it or seeking to be. The more we trumpet the wonderful richness of life's tapestry, and encourage people to be proficient and successful (which means being noticed in as many ways as possible), the more we push the talented all-rounder onto the sidelines. It seems contradictory and daft; if in fact it is merely inevitable, that is even more worrying since it can’t be changed whatever happens. Sometimes, apart from the damage done to the intellectual and other aspirations of individuals, it could be the talented all-rounder or the maverick individualist without qualifications who is right, yet the complexity of society is such that we are too afraid of letting in the maverick in case it doesn't work. The trouble is that to the expert in any field, talented amateurs are a problem because they may be encouraged to think they are clever and more qualified than they really are (they may fall into this naturally rather than through egotism), which may be dangerous, and encroach on the professionals' territory (which will also be a blow to the latter's prestige and position). So they are never really going to be encouraged unless it is within strict limits. This creates a paradoxical situation whereby we are always encouraging people to do what we will not allow them to. As the narrow elite of professional managers becomes more insulated from the rest of the intellectual, business and political world, like an exclusive club, it becomes more dangerously myopic. There will come a time when it needs to change, as things don't always stay the same, and will it know when that time has come? Flaws in our nature and in the world at large will cause us to perpetuate the very problems we are trying to avoid. The more complicated the world is the more the establishment prefers the slick professional, who we believe to be competent enough to run everything efficently (but often isn’t), over the talented amateur – another offshoot of the supposedly libertarian philosophy of Thatcherism.
It is clear then that the harmful effects of monetarism and deregulation are many and varied. Unfortunately it isn’t going to be very easy to change things. It is the thrill of being able to earn astronomical amounts, with no upward limit to those earnings, which appeals to many businesspeople about capitalist enterprise. It's part of the psychology of capitalism, and there isn't necessarily any greed in it. But it presents us with an insoluble problem. Privatisation may cause difficulties in that people can put profits before safety in certain industries. But mass renationalisation is not feasible because it goes against the whole culture which has grown up in this country in the last twenty years. You can't have it both ways. State control is discredited because of Britain's poor economic performance during the times when it was the order of the day and the stagnation and collapse of the Soviet Union. The whole culture in Britain is one of individualism, and if that is the case in one area it will have to be the case in others too. One might as well dismantle it everywhere.
I still find myself wondering from time to time what has happened to those stern, sometimes eccentric old matrons who used to run National Trust properties, for example, and would lecture you diapprovingly on why your behaviour was irresponsible and damaging to the fabric of the building or run at you when you drove up to the front door shouting that the place must surely be closed when all the publicity indicated the opposite? They are not considered politically correct or user friendly nowadays. One reason why they were so common and able to remain a feature of national life until the 1980s was that so many places were run entirely as private trusts, with private money, or financed by government subsidies. You could open them to the public at the same time, but it was easier to survive with only a part of your revenues coming from admissions. But in an age where it is considered desirable for them to fend for themselves, which means revenue has to come from visitors – involving means customer service and user friendliness, or people won’t come and you won’t be able to make money from them – the sometimes inhibiting, off-putting elderly matrons have had to go. They were pensioned off and are now dead or perhaps lingering on in care homes. It is in many ways sad that they have gone; but it’s also very hard to imagine them coming back. For one thing, the methods of the old school were often wrong. There were many of them who were not so much eccentric, or old-fashioned, or a little too stiff and formal (though they were all those things as well), as downright rude and unpleasant. We don’t want a return to those ways. And the old-fashioned eccentricity, apart from itself sometimes being a problem and an irritant, doesn’t fit in with the way society is today, political correctness apart; for today, people expect an efficient and immediate response to an enquiry, to be able to get what they want without any hassle. The trouble is that if you get rid of one part of the old culture, you might as well get rid of all of it; likewise if you bring back one part of it, you have bring back the rest too.
The present way of doing things may be unwieldy and efficient at times, just as the old one was, but it does have some positive aspects. Thanks to the current emphasis on "customer service", it is noticeable how much more polite people are when you go to the bank, station, supermarket etc. This would be likely to disappear with renationalisation. When there is only one organisation providing a service, there is less incentive to be polite to customers because there is no danger that they will show their dissatisfaction by taking their custom elsewhere.
I argued earlier that the desire to see everything in terms of the slick professional manager, apart from its value in giving firms a more dynamic image, was in some ways a response to the fact that things are more complex and difficult to organise. We are stuck with the phenomenon because society is not going to go backwards, reverting to a less complex state, unless there is some cataclysmic and therefore terrible disaster. Trouble is, the complexity is such that it often can't run properly, whatever happens - which means that (a) we end up running on the spot, and (b) managerialism appears merely irritating, especially when there is much that is controversial at the best of times. The "control freak" has killed such delightful things as the English eccentric, the talented amateur and the maverick, and when it has rendering society so stale and joyless by doing so its failure to achieve a better state of affairs renders it less tolerable. But what is the alternative?

(1) Parsons, The Science of Doctor Who (see previous chapters), p135-7
(2) Private Eye 2nd October 2009

Culture and Anarchy: 2
Many of the problems which currently afflict society are due to the underpromotion, or overpromotion, of particular groups within it. One group which is excluded are the long-term jobless. To a large extent this problem and that of ageism are the same, because it is older people who, these days, are the main victims of discrimination in the job market. But anyone who, for any reason, has been out of work – or out of steady work - for a long time faces serious obstacles even if they are doing their best to rehabilitate themselves. The past few years have seen the appearance of "training providers" - companies whose job it is to help these unfortunates back into work by providing training (as their name suggests), advice and facilities to assist with one’s “jobsearch”. Such organisations are of no value unless employers' attitudes towards the long-term unemployed can be changed, and so far there is no sign of that. The government refuses to force employers to do what is necessary to solve the problem because it is reluctant in a Thatcherised society to go against their wishes; the boss is king. It is thus paralysing itself where the issue is concerned. There is no point in a "training provider" grooming someone to be a reliable employee if the employer looks at their cv, sees they have been out of work for a long time, or as is often the case, have only been able to obtain short-term employment and thus have a fragmentary work record, and decides they have either been "out of it" too long to be able to perform effectively in a work environment or are simply unreliable. They will result in inefficiency and profit loss, or require substantial rehabilitation and retraining which will get in the way of the profits. The situation for the long-term jobless is therefore bleak. It is also depressing for the more genuinely altruistic of the training providers, for those who care tend to suffer.
Nor do the much-vaunted “work trials” represent a way out. The idea behind them is that you approach companies and ask them if they are willing to take you on, free of charge, for a trial period (there is nothing to say they are obliged to accept the offer). In other words, the principle is effectively no different from sending out speculative letters. Since I sent out many hundreds of those in an earlier jobsearch "push" without getting any luck, why should I expect any joy out of work trials?
The most disgraceful aspect of the situation is the practice, prevalent under New Labour in particular, of claiming that those on job training schemes are actually employed, and that this is a triumph for the government’s policies – when for most people the schemes do not result in a return to lasting employment. Someone from a work training scheme, deemed unreliable because they have been unemployed for so long, may be given a casual or fixed-term (the term need not of course be renewed) post, because from the employer’s view it involves less risk, but that is all. But of course, all the government has to do is claim that it shows people are getting back to work, and do the same again for the next batch of jobless, despite the fact that the previous lot, whom they have given the impression are now safely back in the world of steady work, have in the meantime gone back on the dole and been trapped there again. They have already done their job by featuring in a statistic which makes it look as if the government is getting things right, so there’s no further need to bother about them. Apart from this being a shabby way to treat people, it is also dangerous because it disguises the true scale of the problem.
It is not that nobody is aware of that problem. In March 2007 I saw a TV news item on the long-term unemployed and efforts to get them back into work. Someone (not a jobseeker) was being interviewed and said the problem was that too many LTUs were only going back into temporary and casual jobs – precisely my own experience.
In neglecting the true interests of the long-term unemployed and making it difficult for many of those who do get work to find anything more than short-term, casual posts – the latter issue was raised as long ago as 1997, at a question-and-answer session for canidates in the general election of that year - we have created another discontented underclass which feels itself to be marginalised and which may, among other things, vote BNP as a means of signalling its anger. The long-term unemployed can to some extent relieve themselves from the stress they have to undergo by retiring, once they reach the age when they can do so. But they will not have a lot of money to retire on, and will therefore face a very grim old age. And if, as many people believe will happen, the retirement age is going to be raised to 70 (as it may have to be to bring older and more experienced people back into the workforce) they face a prolongation of their suffering which does not bear thinking about.
Unemployment – a problem made worse by the current obsession with image, which explains why employers are liable to judge by first appearances at interviews – seemed by the mid-2000s to have become much less common that it was in, say, the Thatcher years. But those people who were unemployed were even more marginalized than before, finding it increasingly harder to get back into work. They were powerless, and not helped by the apparent overall reduction in the scale of joblessness, which led people to say “no-one’s unemployed now” and to doubt whether anyone could encounter the kind of obstacles and go through the kind of stress I did. I even had a vicar express such a view to me, which showed not a lack of Christian compassion but the extent of the dangerous misconceptions about the problem on the part of the public. Another thing which did not help the LTUs, and has been referred to already, was the misrepresentation of them as working when they were in fact in training – not actually the same thing – on schemes which actually did them very little good in the long run. Here we see the most vicious consequence of this particular government policy, which serves to stress its deplorable nature.
Right now (January 2011) it looks as if things might be changing. The present coalition government is being forced by the current budget deficit to consider cutting benefits but is clearly uneasy about the effect on those who genuinely find it hard to get back into work. They have indicated that those who need support in doing so will get it; this will be part of the new benefits system which comes into force from April. But we have had promises before of a transforming new approach to the issue – remember New Deal? – which came to nothing. “With support” must not mean simply a return to the old system of useless training projects which result in a false view of the situation and depend entirely on the willingness of employers to take on able and hard-working jobseekers permanently – something which cannot be guaranteed. Unless David Cameron is prepared to confront big business over the issue by introducing a measure of coercion, and I see no sign that he is, there is no chance of its ever being resolved.
There is an age aspect to the unemployment question. The people who are not taken on permanently, who are only given casual posts, or who are made redundant are often older. Political correctness, lately the dominant philosophy in social and political matters, has proved itself highly hypocritical. Firstly, our society is horrified at any suggesion of bigotry towards women, blacks, Jews or gays, but sees nothing wrong with the kind of ageism which in the job market treats those over thirty as if they are old-age pensioners, passing them over in favour of younger people who are often inexperienced and therefore less competent. The situation reminds me somewhat of the 1970s TV series Logan's Run, which was set in a future world where anyone remotely approaching middle age was executed. Our society does not kill the over-thirties but denies them a job, and thus, in a sense, a life; which in some ways at least is the same thing. Thirty, or even forty, is a much younger age now than it was in the past, and yet the attitudes of modern employers is in gross disproportion to this trend.
As well as unfair it is extremely dangerous. In an increasingly complex - and thus more difficult to manage successfully - society, exposed to diverse severe strains, the need for older, more experienced workers is greater. If, instead, less able and less experienced people are preferred the consequences are disastrous, especially when recession means there is less investment in training. The quality of public services will decline, causing stress and even physical harm. It is not, of course, just the mere fact of being young which inevitably makes an employee less experienced and competent. The issue ties in with that of declining educational standards. Poor teaching makes students do badly at A-levels, a problem which has been recognised for some time. Universities and employers deal with this by simply adusting their own standards of recruitment (though not officially), as on a sliding scale, and although this obviously doesn’t solve the problem there is very little alternative to it. If all these young applicants are refused entry to jobs on grounds of their poor qualifications there will be a serious labour shortage. It is a choice between workers of insufficient quality and no workers at all, or not enough of them. It means a society less efficient and thus less able to meet its manifold needs and cope with its increasing size and complexity. On the other hand, older workers can be caught in the casual labour trap and so chucked out of their jobs for insufficient or morally dubious reasons. This being a relatively recent trend, older workers will not have been affected by it. But once we move up the scale with the years, and they will have been affected by it, there’ll be problems. And in any case, the older workers are not getting the jobs.
The fact that young people can get jobs without having to work too hard or too efficiently encourages them to be slapdash, as well as sometimes arrogant and conceited. At the same time the current state of society results in a situation which isn’t fair on them either; they are poorly educated and poorly trained to carry out jobs which may be difficult and stressful, are insufficiently nurtured in their chosen professions because of casualisation and the lack of apprenticeships, are expected to carry out bad policies by their employers which usually makes them targets for the resulting anger on the part of the public, and are forced to be part of an aggressive marketing culture which has become increasingly unpopular. In social and cultural affairs, they are led by the sterility of the post-modern world to debase themelves by worshipping celebrities whose conduct is vulgar and morally harmful, thereby lowering their own self-respect and rendering themselves spiritually bankrupt.
It is likely that the ageing of the general population will eventually leave the government with no option but to force a change in attitudes; but the trouble is that in a complex society jobs may be too demanding and stressful for those over 35. It is another Catch-22 situation. And while jobs are filled with younger people who are less able and so make mistakes, the fact that the older workers are being frozen out of the job market means their skills will ossify; it may not be possible to deal with the problem by bringing them back. We will be creating an impossible situation.
All this, and the general bias in the modern western world towards the young, creates or will create serious social divisions. The young, and those (perhaps a few years older) who want to promote and patronise them to the exclusion of other age groups, will find themselves in conflict with an older generation which is not prepared to be discriminated against when its only crime is to be just the wrong side of thirty, particularly when the discrimination is in favour of less experienced and able people and thus makes their lives along with everyone else's difficult - and which is active, vociferous and still very much in possession of its faculties. Thanks to improved medical technology and an extended life-span older people, meaning those over forty-five or fifty, are generally fitter and more active in mind and body than they used to be, and thus more assertive. They dislike being sidelined, the more so because they are conscious of being more active, and thus having more to contribute, than in the past. And they are moe likely to fight their corner.
As well as in the workplace, there is scope for particular conflict in fields such as sport, where older athletes staying in the field longer will prove frustrating for the younger ones, who are eager to get to the top of their profession as quickly as possible.
That kind of problem will happen whether discrimination enters into relations between age groups or not. As it is, there is discrimination and it has the potential to be extremely harmful and divisive. The trouble is that the more vibrant and progressive the capitalist economy is, the more it promotes and advertises young people as embodying those qualities. It is not just in the job market that there is discrimination against the middle-aged and elderly; their very image seems to be unwelcome, as we saw when the character Captain Bird’s Eye underwent a miraculous rejuvenation on the publicity material for his fish fingers, which proved to be short-lived as too many people complained about this freezing-out, if you will pardon the pun, of those over a certain age.

I touched earlier upon class. In some ways it is the disappearance of the traditional upper class, its distinctive manners and accents – for it is a culture as well as an income group, and sometimes the former when it is not the latter – which is the problem here. It certainly has cultural consequences. An important ingredient of satire, for example, is the deflation, by poking fun (not necessarily with malice) at those in high authority, and much authority is still held in Britain by the upper class or those who talk like it and attempt to copy its lifestyle. A “posh” accent is seen as a marker of being in power since it reflects grandeur, dignity, status. If everyone, including the Queen, speaks in an “Estuary” accent, as is gradually starting to happen, we therefore cannot make fun of dignitaries so easily. This is another example of things in the post-modern world getting beyond satire – a development which isn’t very healthy and leads to staleness and boredom.
I know people whose accents, along with the expressions they use, have changed markedly in recent years. It will result sooner or later in an interesting but very problematic situation. At the same time that adopting the culture and accent of what has traditionally been called “working class” becomes, for sociological reasons, more widespread there is a political desire to favour that class because excluding it is reactionary, elitist and snobbish (though elitism is tolerated in other ways). In economic affairs it also means more money; appealing to the masses, the “lowest common denominator”, means more more wealth is generated from merchandising. “Masses” mean either the working classes or, more probably nowadays, those who have working-class manners and outlook while being economically middle-class. As we have seen, there is a difference between being working-class by culture and way of speaking and being middle-class by economics. The view of the liberal intelligentsia which is so influential in the media, and particularly the BBC, nowadays is that there is no walk of life from which the “working class” should be excluded. This is perfectly reasonable, but its logical outcome will be the news being read in a Cockney accent, with the glottal stops which, it has to be admitted, sound so hideous and slovenly, even though thoroughly nice people like the actress Billie Piper are guilty of it (it’s a habit they have got into because so many other people have also). This would totally destroy the authority of the proceedings, as it would in other areas. There are some things for which members of a particular group within society are naturally more suited than others, and to say so is not the same thing as being socially prejudiced. We can’t have Cockneys reading the news, as the whole thing would quite simply turn into a farce and collapse, but nonetheless at the same time it will become politically impossible to keep them out of it.
To be quite honest I suspect my own accent is gradually changing, though I try to keep hold of it as much as possible. If the traditional culture, mannerisms, and speech patterns of the upper and middle classes die out as a result of social and economic change then there may be no option but to accept it but if it is as a result of prejudice that is quite another matter. Because there is still class antagonism, class feeling. A comedian at a pub I was patronising one evening in September 2008 referred to the scene in the film Titanic where Kate Winslett’s character was trying to get away from “that boring posh bloke”, as he put it, to who she was engaged. The juxtaposition of the two words is significant, as in “blonde bitch” or “black bastard.” The aristocracy are evidently vilified even more than the middle class; not long ago a guest speaker on BBC breakfast television, during an item on current sociological trends, commented “you will be pleased to hear the upper class are dying out”. It is deplorable and perhaps significant that the presenters did not at least politely question what was effectively class hatred. At best the remark came over as fatuously left-wing (the speaker’s accent was pretty upper-crust itself). One lads’ magazine, commenting on “Ladette to Lady”, a TV programme (designed essentially as a publicity stunt, though in a way all TV programmes are) in which a group of what might be termed yobettes underwent training in elocution and deportment in order to improve themselves, complained about the transformation of fun working-class girls into “boring” posh ones (“posh” being a term applied to either middle- or upper-class people who speak in a certain way, thereby supposedly identifying themselves as members of a particular social group or groups). The idea seems prevalent among working- class people who like to behave badly that to do so is cool and that posh people are boring killjoys who try to stop you doing it.
I mentioned earlier in this book the belief that the middle- classes were being targeted unduly by the police. It’s partly because working-class crimes are in a physical sense more serious and thus more stressful to deal with. But even if there is a kind of justification for it it is still going to seem like victimisation. Since most police officers come from a working-class background there may well be an element of class prejudice in it. The fact that the middle-class, accustomed in recent years to success and comfort and understandably wanting to continue experiencing them, nowadays tend to stay out of the police, not wishing to take on what had become an increasingly nasty and unrewarding job, doesn’t help bridge this particular gulf.
Because traditionally the middle class have been wealthier than the working class, and the gap between rich and poor has widened in recent years, they are attacked and vilified because of their supposed prosperity and privilege, regardless of the fact that in the current recession many middle class people, even if only relatively, are having a hard time too. There is not necessarily anything ideological about this, as in radical forms of socialism, though it may still be called political; it is basically a simple envy, amounting to hatred, for those who are perceived as having what you do not and wanting to boss you around at the same time. It’s unfortunately made worse because a “posh” accent is one that tends to sound bossy and lecturing even if the person who has it does not actually possess those faults. The working-class feel disadvantaged and the middle-class put-upon. Not only are the latter economically under attack from the recession, they are politically under attack too. And the more they feel beleagured and unhappy the more they will retreat into themselves as a group. Yet at same time they are under more and more pressure to recognise social changes whatever the psychologically damaging effect those changes will have on their own identity and status. Like everyone else they are going through a crisis. Simultaneously they have become more and more wedded to a sterile affluence where technology, wealth and status matter more than anything else. The working-class has done the same as the difference between itself and the middle-class in terms of income and wealth blurs to some extent, but this leaves that section of the working class which is not so empowered and wealthy feeling embittered and excluded, while those people who have gone up in the world still see themselves as socially working class and resent the continuing political dominance of the middle-classes whom they are still able to identify to some extent by such markers as accent. Some middle class people have also withdrawn ideologically into a sanctimonious liberal ghetto, all the more sterile because it is frequently hypocritical, as their way of adapting to political correctness.
We may all be committed, or helplessly sucked into, a Thatcherite consumer culture but as members of particular groups we may still feel aggrieved and be inclined to dissent, either because discrimination prevents us fully benefiting from supposed prosperity or because there are attitudes within society which in political matters frustrate our aspirations, cause offence or make us feel undervalued. As well as age and class, society may be divided also by questions of race and sexuality. Particularly divisive is the issue of homosexuality and whether it is socially and morally acceptable; it is divisive because it is not a question that can easily be debated in rational terms. This is likely to make it a particularly heated and emotive one. There is a sizeable body of people, not necessarily fools or bigoted reactionaries, who have a strong and unshakeable conviction that it is something immoral and indecent which must be opposed, and yet it is not easy to say exactly why it is wrong; after all, if homosexuals take precautions against contracting AIDS and other STDs and do not try to force their sexual practices on others there seems no reason why they should not be perfectly decent and useful members of society. Nevertheless, the anti-gay rights lobby must follow their convictions. As long as there are differences in sexual orientation thre will be the likelihood of conflicts over them. On past experience these could get very nasty.
You could argue that all of us are at least bisexual, in one sense anyhow. And this is true. Friendly relations with people of our own sex, which are essential for being a whole person, would not be possible if it wasn’t. We do after all inherit genes from both our mothers and our fathers, giving everyone a masculine and a feminine side. The feminine qualities in men probably explain their more sensitive side, which enable them to appreciate beauty and the arts; the masculine qualities in women, the ability many of them have to run businesses and exercise power with authority and determination. Very competent or successful women, and very artistic men, probably have slightly more of the masculine/feminine genes than usual.
But this is not what is generally meant by “bisexual”. Some futuregazers, probably largely those with more politically correct leanings, predict that because advances in cybernetics and biotechnology will mean we won’t have to have sex to reproduce, sex will be performed solely for pleasure which means any form of it will be valid; thus one day everyone will be bisexual in every sense of the term, and with impunity, which would solve the problem and end any conflict or discrimination. I have already discussed this suggestion and rejected it, in chapter four; you may disagree with me but I don’t think it offers a way out somehow. The only thing I would add to what I said before is that if some people believe sex with someone of the same gender is wrong, in itself, they are not likely to be appeased if you have heterosexual intercourse as well, any more than one is likely to give a clean bill of moral health to someone who is very kind to children and animals but also steals.
As well as conflicts over sexual orientation there is the age-old battle of the sexes, which since the 1960s and 70s, at any rate, has exhibited a dangerously embittered, though not always overtly so, aspect. The “Women’s Lib” movement reflected a belief that women had historically been oppressed and subjugated by the men who really ran society, and that this was still the case, with them being effectively excluded from too many important positions, prevented from venturing outside their tradional roles as housewives and mothers, and regarded degradingly as mere sex objects. Militant feminists became something of a joke in the 1970s and 80s (in the latter decade they were part of the frequently parodied counter-culture to Conservatism); this was in no small measure due to their insistence on presenting a hard, aggressive and often physically unattractive image as a way of countering the patriarchal society they felt saw them as merely decorative. Since then we have seen the emergence of what’s become known as “postfeminism”, and is basically a reaction against feminism on the part of women who felt it was prescribing for them the way they should live, as much as were the traditional male leaders of society:

“The 1990s saw a sharp reaction against feminism. Women began to feel alienated by what they saw as the policing of their sexuality. While previous generations had embraced feminist emancipation, younger women claimed to be restricted by what they considered to be prescriptive attitudes on how women should experience their sexual identities. Feminism became reductively identified with political correctness and "victim politics". And yet paradoxically these same women are searching for an ideology to express their sexual identities. Postfeminism has emerged in response to this need by retaining a desire for empowerment without telling women how to experience their sexuality. By celebrating difference postfeminism invites women to explore the complexities inscribed in the construction of the sexual subject.” (1)

Put simply, women sought to assert their independence both from sexist men and from other women, equally bigoted, who were likewise telling them how they should live and in the process actually obstructing their self-expression, as well as degrading them by presenting them as passive victims of male exploitation. A notable aspect of this has been greater interest by women in pornography and in exploring their sexuality. The former is not something that in itself can fairly be objected to, even though it scares men a little especially when the woman is seen admiring the naked male form or assuming a posture of dominance over the man. In a porn industry which is entirely controlled by men the women run the risk of being exploited, without getting anything back in return – even if paid for their services they may nonetheless consider the business degrading, especially if they are only doing it for the money. It can also be dangerous when things get out of hand, seeing that men are the physically stronger sex. As for exploring one’s sexuality, whether it is a male or a female sexuality, that isn’t wrong in itself unless you’re excessively prudish and strait-laced.
There is, however, a downside to this new female assertiveness. The problem with feminism now is that it expresses itself not by women being radically different from men in their behaviour and view of the world but by their attempting, often aggressively, to do the same things as men - this combines with the breakdown in moral standards and law and order to produce a situation where women attempt to ape the less likeable male characteristics, indulging in binge-drinking, urinating in public (which I have seen with my own eyes) and generally behaving badly. It is probably not a political thing, embodying any actual understanding of a particular ideology, but merely an attitude of assertiveness, carried to the point of aggression, which is fostered by a too permissive society where self-expression has been put before considerations of morality and decency (and which is generally more lawless). In other ways too feminism has developed an increasingly nasty aspect. Anecdotal evidence suggests many young career women are treating their boyfriends/partners very badly, viewing them as an encumbrance, and often refusing to have relationships in the first place. How far this is ideological and not political (the two aren’t necessarily the same thing) is difficult to say. Ideologies can be implemented on only one level, or on two: (1) on the esoteric plane whereby a small minority of intellectual and political ideologues, whose views are not necessarily shared by the majority, prescribe them; and (2) on the general, popular level where they represent changing attitudes within society as a whole. How far the two are interconnected is a moot point; most people are not politically minded in an ideologically partisan sense and often not educated well enough to to know what ideologies are, yet mass communication nonetheless makes it possible they can be influenced to some extent by the views of politicians and philosophers.
At the same time the hard ideological kind of feminism does survive in the 2000s; like so many other things it has become more subtle, in the sense of cunning, than in the past and thus has been able to institutionalise itself, to the extent that it no longer needs a formal expression. It has been helped by the political need for the Labour party to appease its left-wing to some extent. New Labour permitted a legal system which prevents fathers from seeing their children once a family has broken up but doesn’t impose the same restriction on mothers – if the idea is that men are more prone to be physically violent, then it needs to be pointed out that this doesn’t mean they necessarily will be, or that a woman can’t be; one of the symptoms of post-feminism is that violent behaviour on the part of women is in fact on the increase. Where there is a risk of violence in an individual case one would expect the meeting not to be permitted anyway, or to take place under certain carefully controlled conditions. The policy, which as far as I know is still in force, is hopelessly discriminatory. One also suspects that Harriet Harman’s proposed bill – persumably scuppered for the time being by Labour’s defeat in the General Election of 2010 - to deal with the sex trafficking of foreign women into Britain by criminalising those who engage their sexual services is designed as much to bash men (who wouldn’t necessarily be using foreign prostitutes) as to help oppressed women, and failed to understand the weaknesses which leads the male sex to sometimes patronise an undoubtedly sordid trade. Prostitution is a social evil, but there are women who are forced into it by poverty and men who need their basic desires satisfied but are unable to form lasting emotional relationships with the opposite sex, creating a mutual dependence, a symbiosis. The problem needs to be worked at, dare I say it, from both ends, and will take a great deal of time, care and thought to solve. Suddenly blocking off the outlet some men need for sexual gratification is not the right thing to do; it might well, given the nature of the male sex drive, lead to rape and although this is a common excuse used by people who want prostitution to continue there is no way of knowing how valid it is unless the practice actually was banned, which means some poor women might have to be violated before we could be sure.
What infuriated me most about the whole thing was its cynical and mealy-mouthed deviousness. The aim was to punish men who sought prostitutes either in the street or behind closed doors in “massage parlours”, and regardless of whether they knew the woman was being controlled by a pimp or not; if both these strictures are laid down, then effectively no man will visit prostitutes at all, for fear of being arrested! The police may know that trafficking is taking place or a pimp is otherwise involved, but the punter might not. This is so obvious it gives the lie to Harman’s insistence that she was trying to outlaw prostitution altogether; she must have known the measure would have that effect, assuming it worked at all. The measure might have done a lot of good but it was conceived in the wrong spirit, which is really the point I’m trying to make, and could also have done a lot of harm. Harman has little sympathy with the anguish likely to be suffered by the men who might be unable to form proper relationships and desperately need release of sexual tension, but at the same time will be terrified of the humiliation and general social consequences of being “named and shamed”, as she proposed to do to them. It is probably from a desire to put men who assist in degrading women in their place, this being seen as the real priority, that there has been a switch in emphasis from police operations which specifically target known or suspected trafficking operations (they have had their funding cut) to a approach obviously intended to put a stop to prostitution altogether. As Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith was probably implicated in the whole business. It is quite likely, and would not entirely be a bad thing, that some at least of the the traumatised ex-punters would be led to seek counselling or seriously consider celibacy as an option; but we can’t be sure all of them would, nor is it right that this should be brought about at the bequest of dictatorial feminist politicians (Harman, it must be said, is a known left-winger), resentment at whom would probably have led a lot of men to ignore the measure.
Whether the problem is political correctness – a doctrine imposed on society from above by influential liberals – or simply social change, it does seem that those groups who in the past were dominant within society are now experiencing, in many ways, an astonishing turning of the tables. On January 11 2001 the following article appeared in the Metro:

“WOMEN have finally won the battle of the sexes - if men are to be believed.
“In a survey of 1,000 men under 35, most said they were faithful to their partner and fancied her no matter what she looked like. They also claimed that, when it came to sex, a woman's pleasure was more important than their own. Researchers found most men were happy to have a female boss, while nearly half said they would be reincarnated as a woman if they had the chance.
“Results of the poll, commissioned by women's magazine Cosmopolitan, seem to represent a marked shift in attitude from the "laddish" behaviour which emerged during the 1990s.
“Cosmopolitan itself described the findings as "unbelievable". Editor Lorraine Candy added, "women have emerged as the victors in the sex war. Men are no longer from Mars - men are now from Venus too.
“They won't cheat on us, they love our curves, they want to spend all their free time with us, they want to marry us and work for us, they want us to have more orgasms than they do, and can you believe it, they want to be us."
“Psychologist Ron Bracey said the study showed women had developed the communications skills necessary for success and men would have to learn to work with them.
He added, "Men see the future as being a woman's world, as the female of the species becomes increasingly successful and happy."

How much of the above is true I don’t know; perhaps quite a lot. What I do somehow doubt is that men are entirely happy with the whole situation. Biased political positions and positive discrimination such as that which the Labour Party adopted with its parliamentary candidates in 1997 and which the Tory Party is at least talking about have incited women to ride roughshod (or rather with their Prada high-heeled shoes) over men. Men today are facing a crisis. They feel undervalued, despised by their girlfriends and female colleagues, portrayed as lazy and stupid, discriminated against by political correctness; as if they are not allowed to be men, to express themselves the way a man wants to. The crisis may force them to fight back, and Fathers for Justice is a symptom of that. So too, partly, is the general phenomenon of “laddishness”, a kicking over the traces in protest at all the above. Except that of course women are being “laddish” as well, for different reasons.
The fact is that when society is divided roughly equally, numerically speaking, between the two genders – for which there is a biological need, because an imbalance in the relation of males to females can cause a species to die out, this being one of the factors which may have brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs - then it will either be male-dominated or female-dominated. Unless of course companies and other organisations adopt a quota system for everything which would be clumsy and unworkable, smack of an arbitrary, totalitarianism kind of social engineering, and dangerous if able people were excluded because they happened to be the wrong sex. A society where women dominated everything and were opposed by militant men, whom I guess we would have to call “masculists”, would be no less inherently unjust or conflict-prone than the opposite. It is more likely, on balance, to be male-dominated for the simple, basic, primitive reason that women are hampered by being physically less strong than men, which will work against them if it has to be a matter of physical conflict, and it will be, because men will no more wish to be dominated by women than women wish to be dominated by men, and for practical reasons physical advantages would have to be the ultimate yardstick.
The current situation will not last forever. Either men will be restored to their former dominant position in those areas where they have lost it or there will be lasting conflict between the genders, balance shifting from one side to the other at times but probably with neither gaining complete victory. Like so many others this conflict can be of a potentially nasty nature. Fathers for Justice say they are disbanding because they have been undermined by extremists of the sort who proposed kidnapping Leo Blair. Personally I think Fathers For Justice are being weak. Whatever methods some members of the organization may have used does not invalidate the basic rightness of their cause. For Fathers For Justice to give in is actually to promote the extremists. However if the organisation is to cease to exist it suggests that opposition to the things we don’t like about today’s society will increasingly take a violent and uncoordinated form, without any element of planning by a recognizable organization. It will be the more dangerous for that.
Would too much a backlash against feminism result in a return to the sexism of the past? There is little doubt that there is too much reverse discrimination, and political correctness as it is currently practised is going too far and creating tensions within society. That at the same time the old prejudices, on gender and other matters, are still around – partly as a reaction to the onslaught of the new ones - only serves to make the situation more complex and problematical. Women still get paid less than men, and there are undoubtedly still areas of society where ethnic minorities find it hard to get by; the police, prison and fire services being cases in point. We have a situation where ethnic minorities are in some respects still obviously vulnerable and in others have an unjustifiably privileged position, though to say so is never admitted to as it is deemed inflammatory. Continuing prejudice against those groups who have traditionally been the object of discrimination exists alongside new prejudices against those who were previously prejudiced; the latter is a reaction to the former, the former is provoked by the latter, in a two-way process in which both extremes feed off each other like ravening monsters. To solve this double problem will be a difficult task.
And for practical reasons as well as emotional ones. The need to equalise pay between men and women is recognised, and the issue an important one, political correctness apart. However this can only be done by reducing the pay of men or increasing that of women. The former will be seen as discriminatory and cause anger, as well as lower living standards, and the latter will mean spending money which the employer will be reluctant to pay, the general tendency nowadays being towards maximisation of profits (in the private sector because it is the done thing nowadays, in the public because the money is needed if the job is to be done properly in an increasingly complex, etc. society), which will in fact be reduced if more of them have to be spent on paying the workforce. Government subsidies to the employer would go against the prevailing political culture and also deprive other equally important areas of funds. By giving ourselves up so totally to the profit motive we have painted ourselves into a corner and cannot leave it without serious problems. Yet the current situation cannot continue. The problem was seen in the 2009 refuse workers’ strike in Leeds where the city council reduced men’s wages to make them equal to women’s, instead of raising the women’s – as a result the workers went on strike and rubbish piled up, creating a health hazard. Plus the longer women have to endure being paid less than their male colleagues, the more embittered feminists try to bash men out of revenge.

In view of the complexity and sensitivity of racial and religious issues, we ought to ask whether the disastrous collapse of just about everything which I am predicting in this book will include the demise of the “multicultural” society. To do so carries certain dangers. In the view of the politically correct liberals who are so influential nowadays throughout Western society – though in some countries more than others - there is a particular heresy in saying that multiculturalism is destined to break down, because multiculturalism is seen as necessary to avoid racism and racism is somehow more serious than any other social evil.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with being one colour, or living in one kind of culture, as opposed to another. We are diverse because we need to be to be interesting to ourselves; it is only because of the imperfection of the world that that diversity causes problems. Racism, whether one sees it as a venial – perhaps too deeply rooted in the way a society thinks to be easily avoided - has undoubtedly caused a lot of problems throughout history. All kinds of people can be guilty of it, as they can of other forms of prejudice, therefore it is something from which no society or nation has ever been free, whether its object lives within one’s country’s own borders or outside it. Geopolitically, the most important issue in the past has been the dominance, to a greater or a lesser extent, of the white races over most others – not because they constituted a “superior” order but because they simply had certain skills – or inclinations, such as that to expand territorially and economically – which enabled them to achieve military dominance where the rest of the world didn’t. It is doubtful whether in the last resort they were more racist than anyone else, but the position they were in enabled them to visit their prejudices upon other peoples more frequently than the converse; to the underdog, one can do whatever one likes. The consequences were colonialism and the slave trade.
Perhaps the principal factor in the racial equation at the moment is the increase in the numbers of the non-white minorities within predominantly white countries, which as we will see has a bearing on both domestic and global matters. It is happening in most of the major countries of Western Europe - Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. The increase is not only in the number of nonwhites but also in that of white people of a different nationality or culture to most of the population.
The change is most apparent in Britain because of the country’s former colonial empire, which was larger than those of the other Western nations. In the 1950s and 60s the immigration was undoubtedly necessary to replace those people killed in the Second World War; the newcomers were essential in public transport and the health services. From the 1960s there may also have been a certain guilt complex at work, a feeling that to compensate for the opression they had suffered in the past non-white Commonwealth citizens, former subjects of the British Empire – which most of the immigrants were – should be allowed the chance of a better life here in Britain if that was what they wanted, and had the legal right to. Whatever the reasons why the influx was permitted, what no-one could have foreseen, and has I think rather overwhelmed some whites, was the speed with which the nonwhite population grew in the urban areas. Because their birth rate was much higher they had large families all of whom, initially at any rate, were allowed to come over, leading to fears for public order and national identity. More severe restrictions on immigration were introduced later on but their effects have been largely offset by the increase in the size of the non-white population already here, and in those seeking political asylum, and immigration from the European Union in accordance with new EU laws. Reports in newspapers and on television all agree that much of the rise in population which has taken place in the UK during the last few years is due to new immigrants who want to stay in the country, believing they have found a better standard of living there, and who have large families.
There is little doubt that the demographic situation is changing and that if the current trends continue – and unless there is some unexpected development we cannot at present foresee, we must assume they will – whites will within the course of the present century become themselves a minority of the UK population. The white population is ageing and thus growing less fast than the nonwhite, even declining, while the ethnic minority, and particularly the black, population is a young one and therefore more fertile. When social scientists and administrators attempting to plan for the consequences of social trends speak of Britain as having an ageing population, what they really mean is that it has an ageing white population. If the non-white element is a young one, and is in the process of exceeding the white community in size, then it is difficult to see how in the long run Britain can have an ageing population. The ambiguity may suggest a reluctance to draw attention to things whose consequences not everyone is happy about, and so cause social tension. The need for obfuscation implies a lack of confidence that the “multicultural” society rests on foundations as strong as its defenders claim; in effect, an admission that the converse may be the case. Apart from the culture shock, even though the process is gradual, of becoming a minority and thus potentially vulnerable, being an ageing minority means you are less likely to be able to defend oneself if you do become the victim of oppression or exclusion.
Another symptom of selfconsciousness and soul-searching about the subject of race has been the number of programmes in the British media attempting to explore the subject of ethnic and national identity.
In overall terms people are becoming more rather than less sensitive, less excitable, about matters of race as time passes, judging by the number of cases that make it to the media and the fuss, involving intervention by disapproving authorities, that ensues whenever someone is thought to have said or done something offensive. One manifestation of it is the rush to bring to trial the remaining unpunished Nazi war criminals, despite their advanced age, out of panic that the Holocaust and its awfulness will fade from the public mind as time goes by. The trials are intended to remind people of the enormity of the crime committed, so that they are less likely to let it be repeated. I suspect however that for many people all they succeed in doing is making those pressing for the trials look vindictive by seeming to harrass old men who probably don’t have long to live anyway; and that despite the vileness of what they did. It is more likely to lead to cause anti-Semitic feeling than to prevent it. Sensitivity indicates unease, and unease indicates fear. The establishment is caught between the majority’s understandable fears about the effects of losing its dominant position and the natural desire of the minorities to advance themselves, and does not really know how to resolve the dilemma. In a bid to do so it employs various social and administrative devices, which are intended to create a sort of balance. One example from within the legal system is its overrepresentation of blacks and Asians at the barrister level (something which has been a cause of comment and of dissatisfaction of late), while keeping them out of the higher ranks of the judiciary (it was also commented that of recent appointments to senior positions in that walk of life not one was white). It’s a good old British compromise of the sort which ultimately will satisfy nobody. It is hard to imagine that the black and Asian populations will be content with this exclusion from the higher echelons of society, especially when the growth in their numbers renders it less representative and makes them feel more important in the life of the nation. To expect them to accept it would be unreasonable and degrading.
The establishment’s tacit acknowledgement that under the surface the racial situation is highly charged is also seen in the illogical decision by a judge in November 2005 that an attack on a white person by some Asians, involving one of them saying “that’ll teach a white man to poke his nose into our business” or words to that effect – language which if a nonwhite was the target would automatically be declared racist – was not racist because the Asians had also committed acts of violence against other Asians. Perhaps they did, but it was unlikely to be for the same reasons in any case. It is as if someone who harms a member of their own ethnic group (because they are prejudiced towards it???!!?) cannot be racist as well, something which doesn’t logically follow. There appears to be at work a fear that if the white community’s own vulnerability, individually or collectively, to racism were recognised it would lead to a triumphalism which would spill over into exclusion of or attacks on non-whites. By the way, in this particular case the murderers only received a sentence of fifteen years each.
Some years ago the leader of a minor political party which I was thinking of joining, having become disillusioned with the big players, in explaining to me its social policy spoke to me in a letter of “racists who think that immigration on a large scale {dilutes} national identity.” This was somewhat unfair; the fact is that large-scale immigration undoubtedly challenges national identity, in ways that members of the majority culture inevitably find uncomfortable, and therefore it’s understandable they should object to it even if one disagrees with their doing so. The implication of liberal attitudes is that either the increase in the non-white population relative to the white is not actually happening, which is nonsense, or that whites have nothing to fear from it. Is the latter supposition realistic? I suppose the worst case scenario could be set out somewhat as follows.
There are two ways in which demographic change might be thought to be damaging to whites. (1) They may suffer discrimination, amounting perhaps to actual physical harm. Any minority is likely to be vulnerable. Even though people shouldn't be racist, that unfortunately doesn't mean they won't be. We have to be practical if nothing else. We cannot assume that blacks and Asians as opposed to whites are never racist, because they are, after all, human beings. And as the ethnic minorities grow in number, in contrast to the white population, so will the number of blacks and Asians who are racist, along with the number who are short or tall, thin or fat, old or young, dull or clever, lazy or energetic, quiet or outgoing, male or female, etc. And the white racism of the past, the slavery and colonialism and discrimination in all its forms, makes it all the more likely that some, at any rate, from the ethnic minorities would have a motive to take revenge on us once we became a minority and thus vulnerable – vengefulness being another all too common negative characteristic of human nature. You may say that for them to have the whip-hand is unlikely because they are still underrepresented in many areas. It might be that the old-style racism (seen in exclusion as much as actual physical/verbal abuse) is still about in certain professions, but in the end, as the black population grows in relation to a shrinking white one, it will become impossible in any case to maintain this disrimination. Numbers will give the blacks/Asians too much power for that, and in any case there won’t be enough white people for them to fill most of the jobs.
It is no longer possible to doubt that white people in Britain today are discriminated against (would that they weren’t; if racism were only one-way it would make things so much simpler). The overrepresentation of minority ethnic groups in relation to the majority has already been mentioned and will be again. I have mentioned the judge with his odd ideas about what constitutes a racist attack. Here the discrimination takes place in a non-physical different way – though the assault itself was obviously physical - and is visited by the white community against the white for the supposed benefit of the non-white, for a further discussion of why, see later on in this chapter. The Austrian tourist who a few years back was raped and flung into the Union Canal was subjected to taunts about her white skin from her attackers. An acquaintance of mine recalls encountering a party of black girls in Brixton and being punched by one of them, for no apaprent reason save that she was white (to their credit her assailant’s companions were shocked). More recently I saw a feature on the evening TV news which actually dared to tackle the subject of anti-white racism in London, and included interviews with a white youth who had been the victim of an attack by some Asians and was clearly still very upset by the incident; also the parents of a young white man who had been murdered and who felt that the question of anti-white prejudice was being ignored, whereas other forms of hate crime were not. There is also the recent sad case of an elderly white woman abused by two black care workers. Reading between the lines, she had made racist comments (though the BBC in mealy-mouthed fashion only implied that had been the case, talking about the problems caused by such language but not attributing them to the woman in question). Of course most black people are not so unprofessional or bloody-minded as to react the way this pair did. But with their being strongly represented in the health service, an ageing (and thus vulnerable) white population and a young black one, and older people notoriously having difficulty restraining themselves from making racist remarks as their judgement deteriorates with senility – as well as being of a generation which was not brought up on political correctness – we should not be surprised if we encounter more cases like this in the future. Black people have done sterling service in the health sector in the past and no doubt will continue to do so, but not all of them are angels.
(2) Loss of identity. Besides, the experience of becoming a minority would be disagreeable whether it led to being badly treated or not, simply because it was not what one had been accustomed to. There are factors which make the problem worse. The number of times black or Asian people appear on official advertisements is strikingly large compared to the proportion of the population (slightly less than 10%) which they represent. If a poster appears featuring, say, four or five people engaged in some activity or other, it seems that at least one of those people must be from an ethnic minority, thus giving the impression that they represent some 20-25% of the population whereas, of course, the figure is much less. The same kind of tendency is encountered in the casting of television drama programmes. The number of black or Asian newsreaders also seems strikingly larger than one would expect. Most controversial, to my mind, was the poster for the Open University which depicted the faces of ten people - meant to represent potential recruits for the OU, as well as presumably an approximate cross-section of society – out of which only three were white, giving the impression that whites made up only thirty per cent of the population.
Even if there were not this over-representation, whites would still, in time, face a situation whose effects on them were undesirable. Self-consciousness, of being part of a race or culture as well as of one’s own individuality, needs expression. So a predominantly white society will mainly feature white people in its advertising. If whites find themselves featuring very rarely in official publicity, advertising etc, because they are a minority they will be unable to express their identity. Identity, which includes physical qualities because these correlate with cultural ones and so act as markers, needs to be visually represented, to be reinforced by being reflected in pictorial art (whatever its purpose) and in publicity material or it tends to suffer, the result being rootlessness, atomisation, angst, uncertainty. As fewer and fewer white faces appear on posters, promotional blurbs etc whites will be in the situation of the black children in South Africa who drew themselves as whites because they had no reference point with which to express their identity, white faces dominating in literature, official publicity and illustrations in storybooks. But it doesn’t have to be something that results from a deliberate policy of exclusion by someone else; the effect is the same whatever the cause.
We will have to assume, until there is evidence to the contrary, that the proliferation of non-whites on posters etc will increase proportionate to the disproportionate way in which society is representated under political correctness, as the nonwhite population grows. If, then, when they are ninety per cent of the nation, only three of them are shown out of a total of ten people on a poster, how many whites will be on that poster when they really are a much smaller percentage of the population than at present - none at all? The psychological damage, the sense of alienation and rootlessness, that would cause can be imagined. Such a scenario could only be avoided if there was overpromotion of whites within a mainly nonwhite society. This would be no less wrong than the converse, so morally nothing would have changed, and the point been lost.
It is not too hard to see why overrepresentation of minorities in the media is happening. Firstly, it is a way of assuaging the guilt complex that has arisen among some whites because of past under-representation. There is a conviction among politically correct liberals that white society is fundamentally racist, potentially or in practice, and that this is so deep-rooted it can only be tackled by going into overkill, any retreat from that overkill allowing the racism to flourish. The problem this causes is no less serious if the suspicion of institutionalised racism is correct. Secondly, the town has always been more multi-racial in its composition than the country and it is in the former, the urban areas, that trends are set and most of the fun is going on in all walks of life. Immigrants wanting to do well for themselves naturally, on entering their adopted country, made for where all the action seemed to be. As a result the Asian and Afro-Caribbean populations who emigrated to Britain in the 1950s and 60s, and subsequently, became heavily concentrated in the urban areas and thus more politically significant, particularly when combined with their tendency to increase in numbers relative to the indigenuous majority (unlike the Jews or the Irish or the Huguenots). The potential for and the consequences of social strife, if the minorities felt they were being sidelined, seemed much more serious. As a result the urban, "multi-cultural" values of London and the big cities are being imposed on the nation as a whole.
Text books tend to reflect the political and other realities of the urban environment in which they were published. I spoke to someone recently who has relatives with young children living in Dorset – a rural and more or less totally white environment. At school the children were given picture books to read in which a lot of the characters featured were non-white: this caused them some consternation. My point is that they would not be able to relate to what they saw as it was a portrayal of an entirely different world from theirs. Although in itself it might not be too worrying – after all, perhaps children ought to learn about worlds entirely different from theirs. However it gives some idea of the problems that might be encountered in the future. As the non-white population grows until it becomes the majority in London – the capital, where the decisions as to how the country is run are taken – and perhaps in all urban and suburban districts, the white schoolchildren in places like Dorset will presumably be confronted by textbooks and other literature in which all the people featured are black or Asian. They would not be able to picture themselves as whites – in principle exactly the same problem faced by the black children in South Africa. The only solution to this would be for the country to be federalized in the same way that the US is, so that largely white areas of the country would have the responsibility for producing their own promotional publicity, school textbooks etc.
Because the transition from a state of demographic white majority to demographic non-white minority will be gradual, happening progressively over time, whites will have no fixed reference point with which to define their status in the country – something that will be as problematical to them as if some sudden overnight change left them somehow a small fraction of the population. Do they see themselves as the majority ethnic group or as a small minority facing issues in defining its identity and ensuring its welfare? There will be confusion as to how they should perceive themselves, or the country as a whole. It will be like a nation - and in the case of the whites, a race - with a split personality. The trouble is that in multiculturalism the white population is expected not just to change its perception of ethnic minorities, but its perception of itself; and that is going to be much more difficult to do.
As you will never be a part of the new majority culture, and able to move about within it, in the same way as its own members, however much you eat Chicken Tikka Marsala, go to the Notting Hill carnival and listen to songs by black artistes, unless you deny your own identity which is impossible, you will probably have to revise your perceptions of yourself and your estimations of what you can do in terms of cultural expression, in a way which will not be desirable; causing social unease and leading eventually to social apartheid, social conflict, in order to resolve the problem. Even those who held strongly anti-racist views, since they belonged to a white culture would have to readjust themselves quite considerably, with attendant difficulties, once the white population became a sufficiently small minority within the nation.
All things being equal, the changes to Britain’s ethnic composition might not cause that much trouble; probably more research is needed on why some multicultural societies break down while others flourish, as I understand is the case. But the cultural angst experienced by white people as a result of the multicultural society and the challenge to their traditional perception of themselves, is made worse by the fact that it comes on top of the general social atomisation caused by breakdown in family relationships, cultural stagnation and decline, ghettoisation of populations (not necessarily on an ethnic basis), the lack of a moral and spiritual focus and values. Racial identities are important as something to cling to in an increasingly fragmented and multipolar world, which leads to greater anxiety when they are threatened.
A defining characteristic of political correctness is the terminology it uses. We constantly hear the phrases "multi-cultural" and "global village". These terms reflect the increasing internationalisation of everything, the bringing together of different cultures into what seems like a world community. The world is undoubtedly the biggest multi-racial society there is. But it is still divided into many different nations, which cannot be politically amalgamated because of the impossibility of governing such a massive unit either efficiently or democratically (despite what the European Union appears to think). Within those nations a particular ethnic group may still form the majority of the population, and this should be recognised. There is a tendency to project the international situation onto the merely national one, and this can be dangerous. The very word "multicultural" denies the fact that one ethnic group, the white, forms the majority of the population, and thus throws democracy out the window, because it defines the nation according to the numbers of different races within it rather than the proportion of the population each forms, and thus runs the risk of being unrepresentative. A conflict is arising between the universal and the particular, between those who in order to combat prejudice and preserve social harmony seek to emphasise the diversity of society – both globally and within a single nation state - and those who quite rightly want to stress the fact that the nation remains, in an important sense, monocultural.
If one's conception of the country of which one is a citizen involves the whole of that political unit - if it is not parochial, i.e. confined to one's own city, town, village or county, then one will be conscious of the overrepresentation of groups within it. And that overrepresentation causes problems by making it look as if the demographic changes is happening far sooner and on a much larger scale than I think whites can cope with. It puts us in a difficult situation because the introduction of a quota system in all kinds of matters may be the only thing that can prevent such an imbalance, in cultural and other matters, and yet it creates its own problems, among which is the danger that in the world of work people may be appointed to posts for other reasons than personal merit, which causes as much resentment as the situation the system was designed to deal with and also means that posts may be filled by incompetent people (of whatever ethnic origins).
As the black and Asian population grows in size it will become proportionately more influential in the government of the country, both nationally and locally. Will a government that is predominantly composed of blacks or Asians be willing to allocate funds to activities which may be more popular among the white population than the non-white, particularly if the whites have become a minority of the population and thus (justifiably) less of a priority in a democratic society?
Generally speaking it is not that there is a Machiavellian and sinister plot to subjugate and replace the white population, purely for its own sake. In the end, the ethnic minorities would be happy to remain just a relatively small minority as long as they were well-treated and their culture respected. No doubt they take a certain satisfaction from demographic change because (a) they will be less vulnerable to racism if there are more of them, and (b) they like to see their own kind being successful - one has a natural loyalty and attachment to one's own race the way one does to one's family.
But the demographic changes are happening, nonetheless, and they arise from cultural factors – principally, a tendency to have large families – which the minorities know are too much part of their nature to be avoided. Hence they cannot put a stop to what the whites find so alarming; though they probably sense that alarm and are uneasy it may lead to things which threaten their wellbeing in the country they have come to regard as their home. And if they naturally seek to promote themselves, because they feel there is safety in numbers (and if some of them are in positions of power) and because it is part of their collective self-expression, then logically anything which stands in the way of this rise will provoke a strong and hostile reaction. Given this, the underlying nervousness among whites at the changing face of Britain, if it results in attempts to halt the advancement of the minorities, will lead to civil strife. Any racism and exclusion, probably operating more subtly than before in order to get round political correctness, which the white population still practices is partly a reaction to rise of the minorities’ increasing assertiveness – and to their overpromotion by the white liberal establishment, something which blacks and Asians naturally take advantage of if it improves their prospects. Of course it runs itself the risk of causing antagonism and completing a vicious circle. The more assertive the ethnic minority population is because of its growth, and because political correctness has encouraged it to be assertive, the more it is likely to resent those bastions of white prejudice and exclusion that still remain, thus fanning the flames of conflict. We are naturally biased towards our own culture/nationality/ethnic group, and see things primarily from that group’s point of view. Therefore we tend to inflate or give particular attention to something if it is that group which benefits or is threatened by it. To a white person therefore the most serious social and cultural problem in the West today will be the threat to the status and identity of the white minority posed by multiculturalism. To a black person, say, it will be any the backlash against multiculturalism and political correctness, which might be in danger of acquiring a racist aspect, or any residual racism left over from the pre-PC era. Each side will be seen by the other as giving too much attention to its own fears and problems and ignoring the other’s.
If blacks and Asians pour scorn on white fears, one might reasonably point out that they do so because they are not, and never have been, in the position the whites of Europe are in now - that of a majority whose numerical dominance is gradually being whittled away by a growing ethnic minority. Even during the colonial period, although actual political rule was by whites their own ethnic groups remained a majority of the population, in contrast with the situation in the Americas. They have been minorities in countries they emigrated to or entered as slaves, but that is a different matter. In Zimbabwe and South Africa the whites were never in the position of being the majority, rather than a minority which was beleagured in the sense that the rest of the population and many outside the country wanted it to be dislodged from its dominant position and often actively worked towards that end - and never expected to be. There may well have been some nasty people who contemplated some form of genocide against the blacks, but for one reason or another this was not carried out. There never has, in fact, been a case where a white majority was replaced by a non-white one and so we can’t say for sure what the cultural effect on the whites would be and whether they would be persecuted. In that situation, people may not want to take chances.
What then can be done about the potential problem we are faced with here? Deliberate segregation will only lead to further polarisation. It may also be politically impractical: towns like Oldham and Burnley and Bradford (or for that matter villages like Moreton-in-the-Marsh, Gloucestershire) are too small to survive as independent political entities. To survive they will need to interact, and have dealings with, the wider white community. Forced integration will be resented and so will not work.
Granting more political power to the regions, as Tony Blair seemed to want to do at one point by mooting the idea of regional assemblies, will not solve the problem posed whites by the growth of the ethnic minority population in the centres of government, because to do so it would have to amount to full independence and as pointed out elsewhere in this book the regions would not be big enough to be economically viable and thus function properly as autonomous countries – or, for that matter, as states on the US model. There would also be the cost of maintaining separate regional infrastructures as well as those of the smaller local authorities, district councils and the like, which would have to exist if we were not to end up with monolithic, because larger, regional organisations that were inevitably remote from people in individual towns and villages. Federalising the UK to avoid the scenario of a non-white capital ruling the still mainly white rest of the country is no answer. The capital would have to give up all control over policy outside its own boundaries; if a non-white government committed the country to a unpopular foreign policy it would arouse as much resentment as an unpopular domestic one. And even with the best will in the world an urban, ethnically mixed polity would have little understanding or empathy with a racially homogeneous and overwhelmingly rural one.
If whites leave urban areas because the ethnic minority population within them has grown too big and they no longer feel comfortable there, or they wish to escape policies of forced integration which they see as an infringement on their freedom of action, more houses will have to be built in the countryside to accommodate them, thus destroying the character of rural England altogether and resulting in a depressing environment liable to breed crime and psychological stress. That is in addition to the enormous pressure which would be put on resources. And the decline of farming means one major source of rural prosperity is disappearing, making the countryside a less attractive place to live in from a practical point of view.
To try to solve the problem by having more whites move from the country to the towns will have the same effect as the reverse, entailing a massive outward growth of the suburbs, unless there is to be intolerable overcrowding with more people to each house than is comfortable or practical. It also by no means certain that rural whites will want to go to live in the towns. And we would be looking at the death of the countryside.
Declaring the rural regions independent would mean the end of Britain as a unitary state which served as a focus for patriotism.
People would have to revise their sense of national and cultural consciousness, in a way that would be difficult and painful, if not impossible, after all they had been accustomed to. It might also mean that the country functioned less effectively, because it was divided whereas previously it had been a single self-contained unit.
It is quite clear from the above that the separation of races, while necessary to preserve the cultural identity of whites, would result in an impossible and unviable situation. The only way for the problem to be resolved would be for one side to drive out the other from the nation - in other words, ethnic cleansing. This would of course be resisted, but the war would be horribly one-sided because most of the air- and other military bases are in the rural areas, where the whites are strongest. We would therefore be faced with the awful scenario of planes bombing districts of London and towns in the North and Midlands – killing civilians – in order to achieve the desired result. The reaction of black and Asian people in other countries can be imagined and the cause of good relations between the white and non-white races would be irreparably damaged.
The white race cannot preserve its position by somehow increasing its numbers generally because the resulting increase in the overall population of the country will lead to overcrowding and more pressure on resources. And people will not have more children, or have children at all, if it means the time they have to spend on them reduces the opportunity for leisure and thus the quality of life (not a selfish view as we would wish happiness on the children themselves, and their children too). Segregating ethnic minority areas from white ones and giving them their own police forces will not work. They will not want to live in a ghetto because this will restrict their prospects. Their desire is to be part of the wider community, whatever its racial composition. We can also anticipate law and order issues. What happens if someone goes into one of the white areas and there commits a crime, afterwards disappearing back into a black or Asian district? If white police were not able to enter the area to apprehend them, and the district’s own police failed to deal with the matter properly, there would be considerable anger on the part of whites. Apart from the possibility of violence authorities in the non-white area might be afraid to release the accused for trial because a white community now distanced from the non-white would be thought racist and unlikely to treat them fairly. At the very least, justice would remain undone.
The cultural consequences for whites of the growth in the non-white population can be seen in a variety of ways additional to those set out above, and which will further serve to heighten tension by causing problems that can never be satisfactorily solved. There are certain activities at which non-whites are superior, if I may use the term, to whites. If blacks generally are more successful in sport then it logically follows white sportsmen and women will be at a permanent disadvantage (except in swimming, where blacks for some reason do not perform so well) as the black population grows to outnumber the white, and there are more black sportspeople than white ones; the taking part is of course good by itself, but the aim is to win. It is an inevitability, and there is nothing racist in drawing attention to it. The only way of preventing the problem would be for whites and blacks to have separate sporting organisations and competitions - a ghastly form of apartheid.
There’s also the question of how the nation will view its history – a vital part of any community’s self-consciousness. Britain in the future will be a predominantly non-white country, but with a predominantly white history. Will a predominantly non-white country be comfortable with that history, in that it is able to relate to it; and if it decides it would rather teach black/Third World history instead what will be the implications for the whites who are left, seeing that the history and traditions of an ethnic group are a vital part of its self-consciousness and identity? There would have to be segregation, with whites teaching their children one thing and non-whites teaching theirs another. Again, the thought makes one shudder. The alternative would be to leave whites feeling rootless and therefore unhappy, especially at a time when their demographic status in present-day society would have changed, so that their past would become particularly important in preserving their identity as a group. The latter consideration renders it particularly disastrous for them, leaving them without any identity at all, if that past is portrayed differently from what it was. This may already be starting to happen. A couple of years ago there was a Doctor Who Christmas special on TV, set in Victorian London, which featured a surprisingly large number of black characters – surprising despite the fact that they were intended to be members of the city’s poor, and there has been a black population of some kind in Britain’s big cities for hundreds of years. We have established why there is this overpromotion, and also I trust that it is not necessarily a good thing, but it isn’t in the long run the only cause of the problem. Demographic change will eventually mean there aren’t enough white actors to go round in any case – and what happens then? There may be little option but to try and make it work, but the long-term implications of the “multi-cultural society” were not properly thought out.
Another potential conflict lies in the way national, as opposed to racial, identity is conceived of. Jeremy Paxman in “The English” quotes various black British people saying they were British but not English. Among the white population at any rate there is taking place a growth in English rather than British nationalism, because Scotland has developed its own assertive sense of separate identity in recent years, expressed in devolution, and because Scottish MPs are still allowed to legislate for England at Westminster despite Scotland having its own parliament – you don’t want to be in a club if the rules aren’t fair. As the black population in Britain grows relative to the white, one can see looming a head-on collision between two opposed views of national identity; one that has the potential to result in unrest and bloodshed.
Then there are such cases as the white teenager who was sent home from a technology college in Greater Manchester because her braided hair was against the school uniform policy, while two of her fellow pupils were allowed to wear braids because it was thought to reflect their Afro-Caribbean culture. The girl’s parents threatened to sue the school for racial discrimination(2). Plus the business of the Muslim schoolgirl who won the right to wear the veil in school instead of a uniform. No school uniform no discipline, but to exempt only Muslim pupils from wearing the uniform would be unfair. One Christian schoolgirl who wanted to wear a ring to symbolize her commitment to chastity was not allowed to because of the school’s policy on jewellery – whereas Sikh and Hindu pupils were allowed to wear bangles. The school was exempting the Sikhs and Hindus because it did not wish to appear racist, no doubt taking the view that they were merely acting in accordance with their culture, and yet the policy amounted to discrimination. However it could not abandon the rule on jewellery, which was designed to prevent showiness and vulgarity (and thus enforce proper standards of behaviour) as well as, if the motive behind it was a practical one to do with how jewellery if large enough could snag on things, troublesome quibbling over pieces of it that fell marginally outside the safety limit. And yet one can imagine the reaction, given the increasing assertiveness of minority communities and the influence of political correctness, of Sikhs and Hindus, or white liberals for that matter, if the wearing of bangles was banned.
One thing that matters in racial affairs, and is the cause of great sensitivity, is people’s wish to be called whatever they consider themselves to be. However there needs to be a certain amount of categorisation if we are to be certain we are combating discrimination against this or that group within society, in employment, law and order and indeed a variety of other matters. Undoubtedly people have been and are victimised because of what they are perceived as, and therefore in order to protect a particular group within society from prejudice it is necessary to identify it as one. There is no problem as long as people’s conception of themselves accords with how others classify them, and normally it seems to; however when it doesn’t, due to racial intermarriage of a sort which happens more frequently now than it did in the past and can’t reasonably be prevented, there may be trouble. One girl went to court to try to prove that she was white, arguing that she could not be black because she had red hair. The singer Mariah Carey regards herself as black, and asks that we call her that, because her father was – apparently in the USA your ethnicity is regarded as determined by that of your male parent. The trouble is, Mariah Carey doesn’t look that black. If I am to relate to people of other ethnicity (or of my own) I need to have some system for categorising them, according them an identity, and these identities correlate to physical appearance – that’s just how the human mind works, there’s no point in trying to change it because you can’t. If I refer to Mariah Carey as black, then I would also have to regard, say, Ulrika Jonsson, the Pope, the Queen, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and indeed most of the people I have dealings with on a regular basis as black – despite there still being a considerable difference in genetic type between Carey and Jonsson - and this would be absurd as they are in fact white. The consequence would be the abolition of whiteness; or at any rate that I would lose my own ethnic identity or any means of expressing it, since both depend on being able to recognise one’s own racial characteristics in others and describing them in a way that distinguishes them from different identities.
If you would prefer me to meet Mariah Carey’s wishes you might ask why I don’t simply adjust my outlook, and thus the terminology I use, depending on where I happen to be in the world, calling her black on occasions when I’m in the States; the problem is that my sense of identity and thus of the identity of others is something so fundamental to me that it will be the same wherever I am, whichever country I chance to be visiting or residing in. It wouldn’t be practical to keep chopping and changing all the time, especially when, these days, I might conceivably be travelling around the world rather a lot. In any case the global village and mass international telecommunications mean that if in England I call Mariah Carey white it will have whatever effect it does on things in America regardless of anything else.

Multiculturalists seeking to calm fears about the change in the racial composition of Britain frequently use the “so what, it’s happened before” argument, pointing out perfectly correctly that Britain always has been an ethnic mixture, a conglomeration of different groups of immigrants, in any case. However it’s not sufficient merely to do so. Everyone needs to have some sense of ethnic identity, especially nowadays when the decline of traditional social and cultural ties takes away other foci of belief and loyalty. That is why having been formed from a collection of different races (Normans, Celts, Saxons, Vikings, Angles, Jutes, Romans, Britons etc) doesn't diminish the importance of racial awareness (and I think one could exaggerate the extent to which we are mongrels, in that the temperament and culture, of the majority at any rate, is more like that of the Dutch, Germans and Scandinavians – in other words, Northern European – that it is anyone else’s). There simply comes about a new sense of ethnic identity. If, later, that new sense of identity is itself threatened then by definition, if ethnic identities are so important, the threat will be resisted strongly. The identities change but they don’t necessarily cease to matter. Nowadays British people who described their ethnicity on one of those endless forms which ask you to do so as Roman or Viking or Saxon would be regarded as mad; this merely proves that a common “white” identity has succeeded the Saxon or Viking or Roman identities we used to have, and it is this white identity which is being challenged. It all depends on the time factor; new ethnic identities need a long time in which to form because of the often difficult adjustments that need to be made. If the change happens on too big a scale and too fast, relatively speaking, it will be less easy to accept and will lead to conflict especially when combined with other factors.
Sometimes integration is urged because of the economic value of the minorities to the community. Germany, whose population is ageing like that of many white Western nations, is expected to absorb the 20 million immigrants she is told she needs for her infrastructure to function properly in the future, yet there is clearly no way this can be done without a shattering effect on national identity – on something which matters every bit as much as economic prosperity. Unfortunately because of her past it is politically difficult to discuss the problem honestly and admit to the validity of her fears. Speaking of immigration, if it really is the case that we in the West need it on a large scale to replenish a declining workforce, in health and other services, then we are trapped inexorably between two stools. We can only solve our economic problems at the cost of causing overpopulation (which by the pressure it puts on resources and the expense of providing for all those new citizens may offset any economic gains anyway), and also threatening our traditional identity and way of life in a way likely eventually to cause massive civil unrest. There is an irresoluble conflict between two equally important and conflicting considerations, like the tissues of an organism rejecting each other and so causing its death. However the British government is now talking about barring any further immigration into the country from non-EU countries, at least. But the advantage to any EU member from such a hardline policy will be negated as the EU grows, increasing the numbers who will be allowed into each country; we must remember that Turkey, for example, is expected to join within the next five years. And immigrants, of course, immigrate for political reasons as well as or instead of economic ones. If we let in all the economic migrants that the country needs plus those who are regarded as genuinely fleeing from persecution (of whom there may be rather a lot in the future, given the increasingly unstable nature of the world) it will all add up to a number we can't cope with. If we refuse to let in fugitives from persecution we may be condemning them to torture and execution – or appalling poverty and hardship if they are fleeing from environmental disaster, another hazard which seems to be on the increase in today’s world.
In the British case it might be pointed out that a lot of people are now actually leaving the country. But their numbers are being replaced by immigrants and the number of people entering is greater than the number leaving. So neither the cultural nor the socio-economic issues are resolved. It also means that the diminution of the native English-born element and its replacement by foreigners is accelerated, making the process even more dangerous in its effects. And most of the people leaving will be white because most people in the country are white, so at the very most no difference will be made to the ratio of non-whites to whites.
Civil conflict on ethnic lines is sometimes seen as implausible because we are all British now, with the exception of recent immigrants who remain unassimilated and in some cases embittered. It is true that living in what remains, for the time being, a predominantly white country will have some effect upon the outlook and culture of the minorities, and that black people living in Britain are not necessarily the same as those in Africa, Latin American and the USA. But there is still, obviously, a difference between black people and white people even if both regard themselves as being British in one way or another, just as there is obviously a difference between male and female and rich and poor, a difference which can cause conflict, regardless of common nationality, and especially at a time when social cohesion is breaking down and anger at the frustration of aspirations mounting. The conflict in the 1900s and 1910s between the British suffragettes and an establishment which largely resisted their demands for votes for women was often an unpleasant and violent one and the fact both sides in the dispute had lived in the same country for at least 1500 years, and would have considered themselves thoroughly to be citizens of it, made no difference to that. I believe the pressures operating upon society today are even more destructive than those characterising the history of the early twentieth-century period, which was itself a time of profound and sometimes violent socio-political upheaval.
One could avoid the psychological effect, perhaps traumatic and harmful, on the white community in Britain and elsewhere of being displaced as the majority by blacks and Asians by developing a new identity based on citizenship of the world, in which the globe as a whole, which would include more members of one’s own race than are found in just one country, is seen as the definitive polity. But as a necessary corollary, this would mean thinking in terms of, and being committed to as the practical expression of, an entity which could not in view of its size be governed democratically for it would be too vast and complex a task. Identity would have to be preserved at the cost of liberty if the new way of looking at things were to be taken to its logical conclusion.
One often hears the argument that intermarriage will solve all the potential problems to do with race. Presumably, if people are ethnically mixed rather than white or black, they will not see themselves as a distinct group which because of its distinctness is threatened, in terms of its identity and status within society, by the growth in numbers of a different group. Recently in the Metro a correspondent appealed for more mixed marriages in order to create a more tolerant and understanding society. The truth is, however, that there is little point in proposing this as a way of resolving ethnic problems because in the last resort, outside those cultures in which arranged marriages are an integral part, people will obviously marry who they want to and not who anyone else wants them to. To restrict the choice to any extent at all, by imposing ethnic or other criteria (I know we are talking here about a suggestion rather than an imposition, but the person making it obviously wanted it to be taken up) would debase the whole ethos of love.
There is no doubt that intermarriage is happening on a larger scale than it did previously, but for several reasons it would be over-optimistic to think this will necessarily ensure racial harmony. In the West characteristics such as blonde hair and blue eyes are revered among the white majority itself, as well as among non-whites for whom opposites attract. And yet if the trend towards racial intermarriage continues unchecked they must ultimately disappear, or at least become helplessly diluted, since they are relatively rare as it is, if one ignores the many women who use peroxide or highlighter. This relative rareness, at a time when the white population is ageing and dwindling compared to the ethnic minorities, means they have less chance of surviving once admixture begins on a significant scale. The probability is that sooner or later they will be bred out because the genes in question are recessive; brown hair and eyes are dominant to blonde hair and blue eyes, and blacks and Asians don’t tend to have the latter characteristics. One can of course dye one's hair blonde, but men tend to prefer the real thing. It is true that you can get people with fair skin and hair and negroid features. But our conception of a “blonde” is of someone with Caucasian, one might say Aryan, features, which are an essential part of the image of them we have in our minds – the reason why a black woman with peroxided hair wouldn’t satisfy us - and these would be diminished if there were too much intermarriage. Characteristics such as blonde hair help to define the white race, since generally other races do not have them. Most of us don’t seriously believe, like the Nazis, that blondeness makes people superior, but we do nonetheless place a particular value on the characteristic, because it is part of our nature - a cultural icon. If it were never natural would that not be overall, in certain respects, a minus, a detraction from what is desirable? It is aesthetically pleasing to think you've got the real thing, as with an old building that retains most of its original fabric and has not been largely rebuilt with new materials, rendering it to some extent a phoney. This is true for all aspects of human life and culture. One might argue that many blondes aren’t real anyway; but because the faking is done so well these days it is possible when wondering if someone is a bottle blonde or au naturel to give it the benefit of the doubt. If one knew that blondeness had been more or less extinguished as a genetic characteristic, this would not be possible.
As the everyday evidence proves, despite the claims of some scientists, greater racial admixture is creating greater diversity. In the future blondes will still be contributing to this diversity, because the characteristic would never die out altogether – genes are notoriously capricious, and it is difficult to completely eliminate any given genetically transferred property altogether - but they would be much less common and a change would be required to our perceptions and expectations which some might not find congenial.
Blondes in the West are a cultural icon (including among the young whites whose role in deciding what happens in the future is crucial). Logically, if one values something highly enough one will not do what is likely to result in its disappearance. It would be “white” characteristics in general, both mental and physical, that some will want to preserve since these too will be diluted through increasing admixture. There are those who simply happen to prefer their own kind in matters of marriage, without necessarily hating those who are of a different kind, or would marry someone who was. Or, racial considerations may not enter into the choice at all, which means that a given white person is as likely to marry another white as not. The effect of these factors will be to generate the continuing existence of a fair-sized white community which will feel itself under threat, in terms of identity and maybe other things, from the rise to dominance of the ethnic minorities and the way in which political correctness is practised. (And that is after leaving aside those who would actively seek to prevent intermarriage, through violence if necessary – motivated either by hatred or an understandable fear of losing what they value, but in both cases dangerous).
We cannot ban intermarriage, which would be an entirely wrong thing to do and ghastly if it was done. Nor can we do what Josef Mengele tried to do in the Nazi period and operate on people to give them “Aryan” characteristics, which would be equally repugnant. It is quite feasible, to my mind, that with the continuing advance of genetic science this could be done (Mengele merely succeeded in making people’s eyes sting, since his knowledge was less complete). But it could only be done at the subject’s own request. Although there’d be nothing wrong in an adult voluntarily altering their genes in certain respects, so they’d be natural blondes or redheads instead of having to dye it, to go further and change one’s whole ethnicity implies an unhappiness with what one is that would not be psychologically healthy anyway. You wouldn’t want to make yourself blonde because you thought it would be a pity if blondes died out. If the changes that individuals made to their own genes would be hereditary then we would face the controversial issue of whether to outlaw them because the parents would be binding their children; binding the future. And besides, if the technology existed for someone to make themselves blonde/white when they wanted to it could also, in the wrong hands, be used to make them so when they didn’t want to be. For parents – themselves of different races, but maybe not wanting certain genetic types to become extinct - to determine the ethnicity of a child, to create in effect a designer baby, would I trust be regarded as equally dangerous.
The colonisation of outer space, by spreading the human race out across the universe, might make it easier for particular human genetic/ethnic types to survive than if we were all confined to one planet where demographic factors could lead to their extinction. The practical difficulties involved in the exercise have been described in earlier chapters; these included the need to terraform other planets to make them like Earth, which would cause space exploration to lose its appeal if we desired to uncover the different and the diverse, since it was the particular geology and climate of this planet which explained why we have the racial types we do or indeed why Man exists at all. On our hypothetical planet with two suns, for example, none of the inhabitants would be fair-skinned, or white at all, as such skin types would have no protection against the intense ultra-violet radiation; assuming that human life could survive in such conditions anyway.
If the idea is that intermarriage by diluting racial identity means there is less to fight about, it is not in fact liable to have that effect. Apart from dilution of racial identity being precisely what some people, at least, won’t be happy about one needs to have a racial identity, even if it must be subsumed within a more general human one. To be raceless, to be simply human without there being distinguishing variations between different kinds of human, would render us rather dull, like standardised products off a conveyor belt. Obviously the differences between individuals, of the same race or different races, are as important in ensuring variety, but the sense of belonging to a distinct group can give comfort in the same way that belonging to a family, in the sense of procreation, will, without necessarily involving hatred of other groups; does the fact that you love your mother or father or brother or sister mean you hate all those to whom you aren’t, unless in the wider context of the entire human species, biologically related?
Even if intermarriage produced a different situation, culturally and physically, from that which prevails today people would still find it necessary to regard themselves as belonging to different ethnic groups, and they would be justified in doing so because the offspring of black-white relationships would be different in their characteristics from those of black-Asian and white-Asian ones. All three groups are different still from those whites, blacks and Asians who remain "pure". The potential for conflict still remains; things might even be made worse by our merely being given a six-way ethnic division, on a much bigger scale than at the moment. (Tension has existed in the past between the black and Asian communities, as well as between either and the white, and the possibility of violence between them can’t be ruled out).
What might offset this to some extent, but also creates its own problems, is that children from white-black relationships tend to be thought of as black rather than as a combination of black and white. I once attended a training course with a black guy who had mixed-race relatives and felt that he had no problems about how to classify and relate to them because as far as he was concerned they were black.
It is well known that being of mixed ancestry can sometimes cause one confusion, but most people who are, say, part white and part black eventually plump for one designation or the other because people have to have some sort of identity; it gives you a comforting sense of belonging and is also a source of pride and inspiration. This need to be in a category also affects the way one is perceived by others, since they need to decide how they are
to relate to you. For some reason, something which is probably deep-rooted and about which not much can therefore be done, general perceptions on the part of both white and nonwhite people are that the offspring of white-black relationships are black (though there are exceptions, as we saw above). Colin Powell, the former American Secretary of State, is regarded as black even though he actually has paler skin than I do. And of course there is Barack Obama (the prime example), whose mother was white and whose father was a black Kenyan, and who therefore is of mixed race whatever others might choose to call him. Many American blacks clearly have a lot of white blood in them, due to marriage between slaves and their owners, yet they are consistently thought of and described as black.
A report in the Metro of 19th January 2009 stated, “one in ten children in Britain lives in a racially mixed family. If trends continue, some ethnic minorities may vanish as mixed-race families become the norm…a study suggests almost half of black Caribbean men are in a mixed-race relationship, compared with eight per cent of men of Pakistani background {though this difference is not what really concerns us here}, the Equality and Human Rights Commision says.” In fact it is not likely to be the ethnic minorities who vanish, but the majority. Blacks won’t vanish if children from black/white relationships are called black, rather than “mixed race” (except perhaps on an application form, and that may depend on how they perceive themselves).
Labels are important for terms of reference, even if they aren’t always accurate, and therefore, inevitably, what is not called by a particular name will not be seen as having the identity that name is meant to signify. Whites will get a bit of a raw deal (even if being called “mixed race” rather than “black” would still diminish their profile within the nation). Rather than benefit the nation by abolishing race, intermarriage will merely achieve instead the domination of one race over another. Whites will feel that they are not really getting a good return for their investment in the multicultural society. If, like Lenny Henry in a Radio Times interview some years ago, the blacks and Asians are able to extol the virtues of intermarriage or at least be equable about it, it is because they have less to lose from it. If this were not the case would they be so keen on it, and would we have any right to expect them to be?
One response of political correctionists to the problem has been to pretend that race doesn't exist - an approach which may well backfire. In 2001 the Daily Mail (which is not, albeit, a paper noted for its politically correct approach to things) advertised thus a one-off radio programme called Race Myths: "Division by race has been the basis for many a conflict. But Professor Steve Jones challenges the basic concept. Armed with the fact that, genetically, there are more differences between two individuals of the same ethnic group than two different races, he looks at the creation, exploitation and cost of the idea of race." This seems to me to be a highly dangerous attempt to pretend that race doesn't matter. Only a small genetic difference can be very important (as with that between humans and apes). That this is so is demonstrated by racial conflicts themselves.
In another Channel 4 programme a while before Jones had tried to show that white people were not as white as they had thought, because black genes had entered the population through various sources, such as intermarriage with slaves from the colonies during Britain's imperial era. He suggested some twenty-five per cent of the white population had these genes. And maybe they did, but it is not something one observes in everyday experience. Since the black slaves were a very small minority of the population, their genetic influence would by the time it had been passed on to as much as a quarter of that population have become very diluted. A nation is not going to base its national identity on an ethnic group which amounts to a very small total percentage of the population, even if that group is influential through its concentration in urban areas. And even if they are not entirely pure genetically, an individual will obviously base their own identity on those racial characteristics which constitute the greater part of them. We are white if we only have a few black genes in us, despite the language some people might choose to employ on the subject. For practical purposes, whatever the exact scientific truth, what matters is how people perceive themselves or need to perceive themselves. We need to simplify things because otherwise the complex terms of reference we would have to use to ethnically categorise would make it very difficult to build an identity for ourselves. For me, Jones has merely served to increase concerns about white identity as well as anger at an attempt to deny it (in order, I think, that I should not regard ethnic minorities as being a threat to it). In some people, such resentment could have highly dangerous consequences.

Since society is always changing, always evolving, there must inevitably come a time, at some point in the future, when political correctness can be said to have had its day, and is superseded by some other doctrine. What that doctrine might be is impossible to say, but given the tendency of Man to swing from one extreme to another, rarely locating and settling the middle ground (other examples are the way decades of sexual repression have been followed by too much permissiveness, and the replacement of too much state control with too much freedom for the private sector), the backlash against political correctness when it occurs may well take a form which is hostile to ethnic and other minorities or at least indifferent towards them. Because so often Man veers between opposed poles, the period of racism will be followed by one in which people are being very apologetic about racism and letting in a large influx of immigrants, afterwards showing favouritism towards them in various matters, as a way of atoning for it, to the extent that one forgets about or is not prepared to countenance addressing the problems this might cause.
At some point there will have to be a reorientation of attitudes and a shift of emphasis towards addressing the fears and problems experienced by white people in a society where they have become a minority of the population. This cannot be done if the politically correct conception is that to stand up for “white rights” inevitably involves encouraging white racial militancy and perhaps the BNP, and so political correctness will come up against a serious problem. As argued earlier in the chapter, to solve that problem by overrepresenting whites in a mainly non-white society would merely be to create a different kind of injustice.
The mere fact that whites are an ethnic group, with their own identity, means they must have their own particular problems, aspirations, fears and hopes for the future. To suppress any attempt to highlight those problems implies they cannot suffer or be wronged, which is implausible and fanciful. So why object when they say they are, and call it racist? It is just that they have never in the past had to defend their physical characteristics, culture etc. in the way that other ethnic groups have, and so until now the issue has not arisen.
The situation has been worsened by the tendency of white Northern Europeans, who in the past have been sober and stoical by temperament to passively accept things they don’t like, after perhaps a degree of initial complaining, in a way which misleadingly suggests they have become reconciled to them and so encourages political correctionists in what they do. They may grumble but not too publicly. Combined with racial temperament and an equally important factor in the situation is the fear of sanction if one does speak out. It may seem paranoid and reactionary to suggest this but if political correctionists are at all serious about what they do – and their whole behaviour in overpromoting minority groups, labelling those who attack PC as racist, and freezing out practices most have traditionally taken for granted but which they consider offensive suggests they are -
someone who expresses views critical of PC or simply raises uncomfortable issues will be less likely to get on in life. That person’s career prospects will genuinely suffer because to advance someone who has such opinions gives them a platform from which they may express them, the opinions having that much more force if they are voiced by someone in a senior position. Quite clearly, political correctionists would not risk it.
Mary Ann Sieghart, in an article in The Times of 15th October 1998, "The Chicken Tikka Of Old England", celebrated the decline in British racism, as manifested in the way young people of different ethnic groups mixed quite happily with one another, while opinion polls showed that only a tiny percentage of people were admitting to being racially prejudiced. So far so good, but Ms Sieghart attributed the main cause of this to political correctness, unreservedly applauding it for its role in this transformation, calling it "one of the great unsung success stories of British urban life". Alarmingly, Sieghart declared that she had started to "feel a surprising sympathy for the "loony left" policies {employed by Labour local authorities who showed what might be called excessive favouritism towards minority groups} of the 1980s." She commented that those policies can now be considered mainstream, an assertion which might be questioned and which, if it is true, is not necessarily a cause for celebration. They are not mainstream if the term means supported willingly by the public, and besides, those “loony left” policies were just what they are called, lunatic (if not perhaps in a clinical sense).
Later in the article we read, "It could be that the polls are measuring not a genuine fall in racism, but only a greater em-barrassment about admitting it. Even that is progress. Once it is no longer acceptable to say or do certain things, however people feel inside, society itself begins to change." This is effectively an admission that the attitudes of the political correctionists are not shared by the majority of people, no matter what the former think, and that a minority is successfully pressurising them into acting in a certain way by engineering things so that they feel uncomfortable if they don't. All political correctionists have done, rather unfairly, is to intimidate people into keeping quiet and then to claim that that silence is a vindication of their beliefs. Which as well as unfair is also dangerously misleading. Without a firm bedrock of sincere – that is, not obtained through what is in essence coercion - popular support political correctness is not likely to survive. And the fact that discontent is prevented from being openly expressed means it is more likely to build up until it explodes.
We seem to have lost the ability to discuss important issues, especially where they are as sensitive as that of race is, in a frank and sensible manner. And the more hysterical political correctness insists on being, the more angry and violent the backlash against it will be. The backlash will not be in itself racist but in the climate it creates it will be easier for real racism to flourish.
Not that long ago a regular early evening BBC TV programme on social and cultural issues included a feature on the state of race relations in modern Britain, which among other things noted that the country had the highest rate of interracial marriage in Europe. Without any intention of being racist - not something the BBC is noted for - this report also stated that white people had fears of losing their racial identity which would need to be addressed if a racially harmonious society was to be created. There is no indication that they have been addressed. And it is not likely matters were helped by, for example, the Asian lawyer who said openly on TV - out of thoughtlessness, one assumes - that it was "fantastic" that white people were regarded as disadvantaged in the legal system compared to ethnic minorities. He might simply have meant that at least it showed the latter were not, but the remark was nonetheless offensive and with a bit of thought could have been put differently – much as David Aaronovitch said of chauvinist comments by whites in a pro-PC article he once wrote for a leading paper.
Loss of cultural identity, or fear of same, and consequent loss of morale and spirit, of a sense of belonging on the part of the white community possibly explains the rise in antisocial behaviour. It is known that if aggression was directed externally, towards the ethnic minorities themselves, or towards the politically correct liberals whose attitudes and policies are making the problem worse, it would be punished as a crime with a racist motivation, and this has a deterrent effect. It means that aggression is instead directed inwardly, against other whites.
For some people the British National Party is the only means by which they can show their dissatisfaction and make some attempt to resolve their problems. But it may not in the future be an effective one. The BNP’s rule that the membership of the party is barred to non-white people exists because without it, it might easily be “crashed” by blacks or Asians seeking to undermine it (because obviously, such people would see it as a threat to their interests). They would join en masse in order to sabotage it, voting out any of its policies they disagreed with which in fact would be most of its policies. The Party has now been forced by law to drop the ruling. If this does lead to the effective sabotage of the party’s prospects this may not in fact be an entirely good thing. The BNP is the only outlet for the disaffected among the white majority to express their often valid, but usually ignored, grievances and it is not really fair that they should be deprived of it, however vile it might be. And it is at least a party seeking to operate within the parliamentary system. Neutralising it as a political force may cause people to turn to more direct violence to express their grievances. It may be bad for the country as a whole since the success of the BNP may force politicians to address the grievances many people have about the way things are and so actually reduce racial tension. Without the BNP discontent and anger will fester until they find some even more destructive and violent way to express themselves.
Reason dictates that if, in the end, most of them were prepared to accept it, and no-one was in any way persecuted or discriminated against, the absorption of the white population into a non-white one that had become the majority, along with all its implications - including the disappearance of blondes – would be preferable to a vast and bloody racial war, however regrettable the change might understandably seem to some. If I still found it hard to adjust to a situation in which, nationally, I was in an ethnic minority I would move to an area, probably rural, where the population was still overwhelmingly white, in the first instance rather than bother anyone. Though white people are concerned by the social, political and cultural implications of the implications of the growth in numbers of the ethnic minorities, I believe they also want to live in peace with them. While this life endures there is little option but to at least try to make the heterocultural society work, since the consequences if its collapse were to be a violent one might well prove at least as dreadful from the point of view of the majority – because of the civil war, the disruption – as for themselves to be a disadvantaged minority. Most, at any rate, do not object to someone simply because they are black. That is not the issue. The idea that there are such things as inferior and superior races has been proved by scientists to be completely false. There are merely different races, perhaps with different skills, different faults, different virtues. Black people (for example) may have different speech patterns, different mannerisms, from white people, and be perhaps a little more demonstrative; when we think they lack self-control, are aggressive or stupid or both, we have probably failed to understand them, although they can of course have those characteristics as individuals. We might consider them ugly, but they would not be so to themselves; it’s just that we naturally can’t see things from their point of view. Though we do measure physical attractiveness among them, we may nonetheless find the majority unpleasing to look at, but the ugliness is only noticed more (in so far as anything can objectively be “ugly” or “beautiful” in the first place) because they are a different ethnic group and we have a natural preference for our own kind, which is perfectly understandable and not necessarily wrong but should only go so far (but I shouldn’t have to say all these things in order to convince you I’m not a racist).
We ought also to recognise that (a) although they will always be a bit different from whites, blacks may genuinely consider themselves to be French, British, American or whatever, many of them having lived in those countries for over forty years, and certainly would not relish having to leave them; (b) a lot of the crime and poor educational performance we have seen in black communities in the past probably was due to racism that denied blacks opportunities to better themselves and damaged their self-respect; (c) the colonisation of Africa caused political disruption which partly explains the problems the continent has faced over the last fifty years; and (d) the effect on the indigenous peoples of the Americas of being demographically displaced by white settlers was devastating, leaving them rootless and depressed and prone in many cases to alcoholism. Finally, who would one prefer to associate with, a disagreeable white person or a decent non-white one? Would we mind who saved our lives in a perilous situation, or performed some other vital act of kindness towards us, as long as they did? The problem is not individuals, who may be very nice people, but numbers, the impact of which may have a dangerously fragmenting effect upon traditional ties and identities; this is the essential point Enoch Powell was trying to make and which his detractors so often miss.
Even so, will there really be “rivers of blood?” You may be surprised, considering all I have written above, when I say I am less convinced than I used to be that, all things being equal, the change in Britain’s ethnic make-up will eventually result in a horrendous civil war. In claiming that it would Enoch Powell – by inclination a scholar as much as, if not more than, a politician - was formulating a philosophical thesis, one which may turn out ultimately to be incorrect if there are factors which are not taken into account, as Powell himself would have admitted. He failed to consider the possibility, for example, that young whites might develop different opinions, have different feelings, on the matter than their elders, and be more happy to embrace the changes in society and the alteration in thinking that it involved, since they have not been exposed to the same influences and the same kind of environment. They might be able to find ways round the various dilemmas ethnic transformation presents. Whether I am correct in all my predictions of doom and gloom, on these or any other issues, there is a tendency as one approaches middle age to become distanced from the younger generation and its way of thinking, to forget them as a value in the equation, and this is something I need to watch.
But even here, all things are not equal. We cannot be sure young people’s views will not change as they get older (as has tended to be the case in the past). They may, sensing flaws in the philosophy of political correctness and the way it is practised and forced to consider where they stand in a demographically changing environment, rediscover their white identity and feel the need to protect it. Chapter four of Michael Haralambos and Martin Holborn’s Sociology: Themes and Perspectives (Harper Collins 2000), entitled “”Race,” ethnicity and nationality” did find that, racism and anti-racism apart, young whites in areas of Britain where their ethnic group had become a minority did experience some difficulty in reconciling their own white culture with the need to fully integrate with their surroundings.
It could be argued that in our overzealousness to implement liberal ideas we have filled young people’s heads with PC and not enough of other things, such as the proper education and training they need to do their jobs properly (and thus be truly happy in their work), and a sense of their own identity and heritage; the full realisation of this will lead to resentment and a rejection of the attitudes which brought this about. There is also the issue, mentioned earlier in this section, of older whites receiving mistreatment from blacks in certain sectors because of their attitudes; white youth may not like seeing their elders abused, whatever the reason for it. It is also not unknown, as we have seen, for young whites too to encounter racism from non-whites. I once saw a letter in the Metro from a white man who was turned away from a disco in a predominantly black area, for no reason he could see other than that he was white; if he was turned away from a disco he was almost certainly under fifty, probably under forty and most likely under thirty. Such experiences will hopefully not poison young whites, but it will nonetheless engender conflict out of a need to protect oneself. Practical considerations, apart from anything else, would require some kind of action to be taken to prevent the discrimination or at least escape its consequences. If someone is racist towards whites then they are racist towards whites; it will make no difference to them how politically correct the latter are.
Lastly, preserving racial identities is seen as a counter to the atomisation of modern society and the alienation it causes. Demographic changes within Britain are not taking place in a vacuum where other factors do not operate. And those other factors are evident in other Western countries too.
With the growing numbers of Muslims within society and the emerging tensions between Islam and mainstream culture the West is facing conflict not just over race but also over religion, which complicates the matter and makes it even more bitter and difficult to solve. This affects among other things the question of how policy will be affected on crucial issues. In a parliamentary democracy the vote of a majority of MPs decides what laws are passed and therefore affects the welfare, aspirations and happiness of the population. Someone may decide to vote for or against a particular law because their opinions and feelings on the issue stem from their religious beliefs – i.e. whether they are Muslim or Christian. Therefore, a Muslim MP may act as a Muslim in voting in parliament or in responding to lobbying from their constituents. If it is the votes of the Muslim MPs (of whom there need not be many) that tip the balance in the end on a given issue, because the vote is a narrow one, then this may result in a law being passed which is highly unpopular with almost 50% of the population, and perhaps seen as detrimental to their interests. The Muslims would be blamed for this. The problem would of course become worse as the Muslim population grew and the chances of the unwelcome law being passed increased. Their views would be seen as creating a situation that would be permanently disadvantageous for almost half the population; one which people would not want to put up with.

The identity of the white races, and their perception of themselves, is being challenged on two fronts: both in their home countries where substantial and growing non-white populations are changing the demography, and in the wider world, where they have in recent centuries been the dominant force. This complicates the situation.
The inevitability, unless some unforeseen factor intervenes, of non-whites coming to outnumber whites during the course of the twenty-first century is a phenomenon which isn’t just confined to the British Isles. It is set to happen in the USA, if Hispanics aren't counted as white, by the middle of the present century. As elsewhere in the West the white population is ageing and declining in number, becoming gradually superseded by the Hispanics, blacks and Asians, all of whom are emigrating to the States to among other things fill the gaps left by the whites’ demographic retreat, and have high birthrates. It is felt that the transformation is gradually eroding racial disinctions.
“Whites will become an ethnic minority in the United States in a generation as surging Hispanic and Asian populations transform the leader of the Western world. The US Census Bureau projects that whites, now 66% of the population, will make up less than half the total in 2042 – eight years sooner than previously predicted. They will be outnumbered by those who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, Native American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander…because of the growing number of non-white babies, the shift will start with children, among whom non-whites will be a majority by 2023. The US workforce will become majority non-white by 2039…the Census Bureau noted that by mid-century more than three times as many people are expected to identify themselves as multiracial – a total of 16 million people, making up almost 4% of the population,“ says William Frey, a demographer of the Brookings Institute in Washington. “{By 2050} the term “Hispanic” and the term “white” will have no meaning because there will be so much intermixing.”
“Mr Frey…predicts a growing divergence between the political concerns of the ageing white population, who focus primarily on healthcare and social security, and ethnically diverse young families, who are more interested in issues such as education and home ownership. “I think that is going to be a divide that national politicians, presidential candidates, will have to appeal to all through the country,” he said.” (3)
If in the long run people in Britain can adjust to the change from a predominantly white to a predominantly non-white country, because among other things young whites may find it easier to adapt to the situation, then this could also happen in other countries. But we need to look at what will happen if things don’t go according to plan; particularly since, as I argued above, it is not a foregone conclusion that racial distinctions can ever be altogether dispensed with.
The transition to being a minority in the countries where they were formerly the majority could eventually leave whites without a voice in world affairs, a means of promoting and defending their interests; and this is worrying considering the likelihood that, human nature being what it is, people could use the vulnerability that went with their new status to take revenge for their past racism and imperialism.
America is the most powerful white, or white-dominated, nation. If we lose our demographic status there the implications for us wordwide could be far-reaching and unwelcome. Yet trying to defend our privileged position would in any event go against the interests and aspirations of a burgeoning and thus politically more important non-white element, and thus lead to social conflict.
The above-quoted leader article insists, “Changes in the ethnic make-up of the US are no cause for apprehension. The demographic shift has immense domestic political implications for the US…for America’s friends and allies there is no cause for apprehension and much for admiration. The American nation is a uniquely benign and successful case of social engineering, which continually renews itself. Numerous nationalities have settled in the US and integrated into a single civic culture with a common language. The pattern is almost monotonously consistent. Consider the Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants who settled in large numbers early in the last century. Overcoming prejudice, they studied, worked and increasingly “married out”. The economic gap with other communities narrowed and then disappeared. The same can be expected of immigrants from Mexico, Asia and the Caribbean.
“The pluralism of American society is a potent force for Western values. It enhances America’s influence in the world, because it demonstrates that the nation’s qualities are universal. Bettering yourself and your family does not depend on where you were born, geographically or socially.
“There are economic benefits for America in this demographic shift. The white population is ageing. Its demand for healthcare will increase. Immigrants meet the demand, and in turn serve as informal ambassadors for America overseas. The Melting-Pot is the symbol of civilisation.”
But this is forgetting that identity matters as much as welfare. And I am not happy about terms like “white” coming to have no meaning. We may or may not also consider ourselves to be members of the overall human race, but we clearly need to belong to and take pride in being of a particular ethnic group, one reason why I am sceptical as to whether anyone really feels themselves to be “multiracial” by designation (as opposed to favouring interracial co-operation, which is different thing altogether). If we value our ethnic identity so much we will obviously want it to survive in the future. That aspiration is a part of our cultural selfconsciousness and if it is unlikely to be realised there will be a damaging psychological effect in the present. One is unlikely to want to invest in a future where valued identities are effectively destroyed because they have “no meaning”.
It’s quite possible that in US the whites will co-opt Hispanics as honorary whites to preserve their identity and position in a situation where the genetic and political predominance of northern Europeans is threatened by demographic change. In fact a large number of Hispanics are white, because of the genetic influence of the Visigoths. But leaving aside the question of whether Hispanics are white, I can still see problems. Most of the Hispanics come from Latin America where there has been a considerable degree of intermarriage with the native Indian population, the Spanish settlers not having taken many of their women over with them. Hence they tend to be of the darker and less Caucasian sort, in contrast to Spain itself where the influence of the Visigoths, a Germanic/Scandinavian people, is still evident. So the disappearance of blondes, of characteristics which we tend to revere in Western society, is still likely. Overall, the demographic rise of the Hispanics may not be seen as diluting the white element of the population that much but it would dilute the North European element of it; what we call the white race has more than one branch, as does the black and the brown and the yellow. Initially, at any rate, the effect on the white population itself will not be as damaging, in terms of identity or protection from discrimination, as in say the United Kingdom because in absolute terms it will remain very substantial, the US being altogether a much bigger country with a much bigger population. The real issue will be the implications for the world at large; if America, the world’s most powerful “white” nation, becomes predominantly non-white, whites globally will have less political clout, and growing non-white minorities in white nations will become more and more assertive and emboldened, with consequences not always benign. Whites may be able to retain its position of political dominance for a time, but as the demographic changes continue this will prove increasingly impossible.
In all the white nations there are substantial, and growing, non-white minorities (in Holland they make up 10% of the population). Is it too much to say that eventually there may be no nation with a white majority anywhere in the world? The whites will not have a nation of their own, which means they will be in the same category as the American Indians and other tribal peoples. If the white population of the world ends up a minority in those countries where it was previously the majority it will not be able to have a focus for its identity in the form of nationhood, and will suffer as a result, psychologically and perhaps in other ways too. In global affairs it will be at a considerable disadvantage; it will have less of a voice.
A halt to further immigration to mainly white countries could be defended, for the economic and cultural reasons given earlier in this chapter. But if it is those immigrants already in a country, particularly those who are reproducing at a fairly fast rate, that are the cause of the problem then that is rather more worrying than if it is just a matter of keeping out people who aren't in but want to be. "Repatriating" those who may have been here for fifty years or more comes over as far more alarming and controversial, generating bitter conflict between liberals and conservatives as well as being violently resisted by ethnic minorities themselves. The latter could not win a civil war, because the whites would still be in the majority and most of the military bases and airfields are in the rural areas where they are numerically strongest. The inevitable result will be that most of the ethnic minority population leaves the country. This will not necessarily be a good thing even if it reduces population pressures and removes a major source of social tension. The size of an ethnic minority community means that the consequences will be more terrible if serious racial conflict breaks out and is thus an incentive not to provoke that community into causing trouble. It may well be that a much smaller non-white population is something some people feel they can more easily afford to pick on. There would also be severe labour shortages in many sectors. And we have undoubtedly been enriched in many ways by the presence amongst us of cultures that are different from our own; their loss would make us all the poorer (the word that somehow comes to mind is “duller”).
At the same time the consequences for those leaving would not be pleasant either. There have been a number of cases of black Britons becoming targets of violent crime on returning to the West Indies, because everyone thinks they have wealth. They are undoubtedly different from those who remained in the Caribbean, and one may assume they will have trouble fitting in. Their emigration would also create considerable population pressures in whatever area they settled.
I imagine that if black and Asian people left Western countries en masse many of them would go to Australia and the US, whose increasing multiculturalism would make them feel safe and at home, and so accelerate the process by which both cease to be white nations. As well as possibly making the white population in those countries more vulnerable, it will add to the trend by which (a) the white race becomes generally vulnerable by losing its global political power, and (b) the world becomes dangerously and unpleasantly divided on ethnic lines. The expulsion of some people of a particular race from a country will be seen as an act of racism by others of that race, hardening hearts and creating division, and their departure be mirrored by a correlating apartheid on the international scale.
At the same time that "multiculturalism" in Europe is creating problems which may ultimately lead to its demise, we are seeing sad and worrying trends in those countries of southern Africa which have prominent white minorities. Robert Mugabe's behaviour in condoning atrocities against white farmers and their families in Zimbabwe, or at any rate creating the kind of climate in which they can occur and then doing nothing to stop them, is notorious. Large numbers of whites are leaving the country, while others are making plans to do so. The same is happening in South Africa, although more gradually because the situation there is not yet quite as serious. White South Africans fear the rising crime rate, a consequence of growing poverty, which creates a climate in which those blacks who seek to rape or kill them - any of them - in revenge for apartheid find it easier to do so. And not that long ago a black man was heard to make threats to the effect that when the "old man" (Nelson Mandela, who was humane and sensible enough to realise that whites should not be collectively punished for past injustices, and who although no longer President has immense moral influence in South Africa while he lives) died whites would get what they deserved.
In both countries, whites are being made the scapegoats for black Africa's failure to solve its own problems - something which can always be blamed on white imperialism, although that forms only a part of the cause. Nelson Mandela’s successor as South African President, Thabo Mbeki - who lacked his wisdom and magnanimity - typified the tendency with his absurd claim that AIDS was somehow entirely the fault of the white man, which all the evidence argues against; it was black Africans who started it, and its alarming spread in Africa is due to the unwillingness of the native population to take the precautions necessary to arrest it. As long as people insist in adopting such attitudes, and there seems no indication that they are about to change them, whites are not likely to feel entirely safe in black Africa. They will depart for countries like Britain - which are predominantly white - since they have family and ancestral connections there.
What we are seeing, then, and will see, is a gradual breakdown in multiculturalism and interracial co-operation. The resulting ill-feeling would among other things mean the end of the Commonwealth. This polarisation of the world into different camps according to the very sensitive issues of race – along with religion - is particularly serious when combined with the tendency for nuclear weapons to proliferate.
Times change; the fortunes of nations and civilizations, of cultures and races, wax and wane. This is an inescapable fact of human history. The white races have for the last few hundred years been in a position which has for the most part enabled them to preserve themselves from domination and oppression on a large scale by others. If that state of affairs is changing, for whatever reason, ought we not to accept it, recognizing that our turn has come to be the underdog and we must make the most of it, for however long the situation endures? It would not mean that we deserved to have it happen to us, rather that given the nature of things it was inevitable at some point. But it could still be a source of conflict and suffering when it comes.
It may be that what we get if multiculturalism breaks down is simply anarchy because there is a third factor, which serves to complicate the situation. That is the possibility that nonwhites will fall out with each other; that the blacks and Asians in Britain and other countries which historically have been mainly white will start to fight. The removal of the whites (who might have been acting as a sort of buffer) from a position of demographic dominance will bring them more into conflict with one another. If they start fighting to drive one another out, whites will prefer to wait to see if they annihilate each other, because from the whites' point of view that would be better than to be oneself involved in a nasty civil war in defence of one's interests. Or they may take advantage of the conflict to drive out both non-white groups. It is possible they may be happy to expel just one, because that would leave non-whites insufficient of a majority within the nation for whites to have worries about the future. If not, they will wait to drive both sides out. But even if the whites in this way effectively allied with one side (who would be grateful for their support) against the other, there would still be lasting bitterness on the part of the losing side against both whites and the other non-white group. And a lot of people might get killed.
It might be more defensible in the eyes of politically correct people to say that the multicultural society is only going to break down because everything else is breaking down too (if you accept my thesis that the End is imminent); its demise was never inevitable. We may never know. However, its rise and fall is an inalienable part of the prelude to the End. As argued earlier it is a tendency of Man, given his flawed nature, to veer between extremes rather than find a happy medium. So the period of racism and imperialism will be followed by one in which people are extremely apologetic about such things and will want to show their anti-racist credentials by allowing in a large influx of non-white people, if they want to come here, to the extent that one forgets about or is not prepared to countenance addressing the problems this might cause. So multiculturalism and its consequences are part of a historical process. Many (though not all) historical trends are explained by Man's flawed nature, his tendency to go from one end of the scale to another and think that two wrongs make a right.
As also argued above, the colonisation of outer space, the spread of humanity to other planets, is one of the things that might prevent the disappearance of certain human genetic types/ethnic groups or their political dominance by others, and thus any conflict that the likelihood of such things may produce; the more humanity is spread out among the stars, rather than confined to one world where the growth in numbers of some ethnic groups challenges others less numerous, the greater the chance of each race surviving. But other planets may not be habitable - certainly the ones we have discovered so far aren’t – and the technology to (a) make them so, and (b) get there in the first place may not have been developed before the crisis overwhelms us, assuming it is feasible anyway.
This all seems to paint a highly depressing scenario. But it is not the last word. Since God is not a racist, and Heaven is meant to be devoid of all the evil and suffering that make such a mess of this life, we may presume that in the next world there will be no racial conflict – and we should certainly desire such a situation, because we should desire to be saved from ourselves. In some way - how exactly we can't, of course, conceive - Heavenly society will be structured so as to eliminate the causes of it. Perhaps our perceptions of time and space will be different so that although there might still be different races and nations – certainly I should like to think one corner of it is forever England - any number of people, of whatever sort, can live anywhere without doing any damage to national and ethnic identities (since the latter are not in themselves harmful there is no reason why they should not survive). Given the horrible atrocities which racial disharmony, whatever its origin, has led to in the past and the general aggravation it causes today that is all the more reason for doing one's best to qualify for admission.
The time when we will be judged as to whether we do qualify will be preceded by dilemmas, hazards and upheavals that would destroy us if the earthly world were to continue because they affect everyone, whatever colour they may be.

(1) Sophia Phoca and Rebecca Wright, Introducing Postfeminism, Icon Books 1999, p170-171
(2) The Week 26 March 2005
(3) The Times Aug 15 2008: “Whites outnumbered in a generation as immigrants change face of America”

Culture and Anarchy: 3
The issues which affect particular groups also harm society as a whole; they contribute to a general air of conflict and can have a disruptive effect if the alienated groups feel sufficiently embittered to protest and take direct action. But there are also problems which impact on everyone without having their origin in the disaffection of a particular group within the community; problems which worry us and make us unhappy, often causing antisocial behaviour as a result. Opinion polls suggest a feeling of being unfulfilled prevails among society at large. With it goes a boredom, an ennui, which as we try to relieve it leads likewise to crime in one form or another. Various things combine to cause this angst and frustration. We are concerned about the political problems both Britain and the world in general are currently facing. Many people are still unemployed or in poorly paid jobs. There is cultural stagnation (and thus loss of morale) due to the repetitive and uninspired nature of modern music, the failure of publishers to take on new authors. Pressure on resources make it difficult to provide efficient public services. There is a lack of a spiritual focus in our lives. The rural environment is being lost due to urbanisation and overcrowding leading, to loss of personal space and thus psychological stress. There are valid fears about national and ethnic identity because of multiculturalism (something we dare not admit to and thus can't deal with), besides anxieties about global warming and the international terrorist threat.
We may have wealth, to a greater or lesser extent, but because expectations are so high it causes unhappiness when they are not met. Though we may be well off compared with our parents and grandparents’ generation we are nonetheless contrasting ourselves enviously with those who are even better off, and with good reason. For all but the most wealthy the rising cost of everything, or the fact that there is a price tag on it at all, offsets the beneficial effects of greater affluence (in effect, there is not greater affluence). We suffer from stress, and therefore depression, due to the rapid pace at which a vibrant free market economy on the Thatcherite model has to move; standard of living is not the same thing as quality of life. This stress is one reason why so many cry off sick from work, reducing the effectiveness of British industry and making necessary more casualisation. It is made worse by the fact that we lack some spiritual factor to help us cope with it, having no time these days for ideologies, which give us a powerful motivating purpose as we seek to put them into practice, or for religion. Where we have material wealth, in relative or absolute terms, we do not always have spiritual wealth. This means that even the fat cats are suffering, though they may not admit to it; for one thing managing a business at the top level can be as difficult and wearing as being badly treated by an employer who bullies, pays low wages or dumps too much work on you.
One reason why people have been spending so extravagantly of late, so that they are getting into debt and apart from anything else don't have enough to save up for their retirement (in a vicious circle, the debt only makes one more depressed and so more liable to booze, overeat and generally inflict even more damage on oneself and others), is that they resent the fact that the leaders of big business are getting wealthier and are thus able to do so many things the ordinary person can’t afford. They are trying to compensate by spending what they do have more widely, which is not always sensible. They are trying to have as comfortable an existence as the top 1000 or so managers - an act of defiance as much as a material and psychological necessity. The recession makes little difference because the wealthiest are still trying to hang on to their money as tightly as possible, and the government is reluctant to put too much pressure on them in the form of windfall taxes and similar measures.
Generally people are attempting to find solace, in the pleasures which money can buy, from an increasingly depressing and worrying world. They also eat more, and of the foods which they like and thus give them satisfaction rather than those which are healthy. It has been said that there is great comfort to be found in a cake. People are eating because they are bored (one of the main reasons why I do so!), depressed and anxious. Additionally this malaise causes them to consume more alcohol, as people in dire straits have often done but never on such a big scale as now, leading to the binge-drinking culture, which means more crime and more of the other social problems you get with alcoholism.
The danger is that in a complex and highly populated society whose financial and other resources are under considerable and increasing pressure we may reach a stage where personal freedom, defined by the range of options that are open to one, has to be curtailed if it is being used in a damaging fashion, as it will be if people eat or drink too much because they are depressed (or, in the case of the booze, are led by spiritual and cultural poverty to get their kicks by imitating a kind of peer behaviour that is negative). It cannot be guaranteed that people will use their freedom in the least expensive way or that which creates fewer practical problems for society as a whole. We would prefer to eat what we like and nothing else, but obesity and the illnesses resulting from it are subjecting the NHS to immense strain at a time when it has to cope with the needs of a large and increasing population. The sheer practical consideration of survival may have to be given a higher priority than the moral and political principle of freedom. We will have to ban those foods which contain too much fat and cholesterol (which may psychologically be the most satisfying, entailing that it may cause depression and restlesness if someone’s prevented from eating them). This would come over as dictatorship since it would clearly involve interference with freedom of choice. And since one thing can lead to another it would probably, by allowing governments to get into the habit of being authoritarian, result in dictatorship.
Such is society nowadays that we do not seek respite from our worries in spiritual pleasures but in material ones – basically, sex and money - and these, as well as not necessarily giving us what we're really after, often create more problems than they solve. But we do, of course need them, are even entitled to them, to some extent. Even Christianity talks about the resurrection of the physical body in the afterlife, and there is no reason we won’t find sex there, though presumably it comes without the problems it too often causes in this world. Material pleasure is not bad in itself; it needs to be coupled with spiritual joy for the best results, but at the same time the spirit needs a physical world to work through. Provided it’s not seen as the be all and end all of everything material satisfaction, by causing happiness, can lift a person’s morale and actually be spiritually beneficial. When we are deprived of it, or can’t enjoy it to the same extent as other people, there is misery and embitterment. We need a reasonable chance of doing well for ourselves and in a modern economy money is the only way of achieving that goal. Even if not everyone can be a millionaire – in this life, they never will be – we would hope that they can at least enjoy a decent standard of living, in which more than just the basics are affordable, with some possibility at least of further improvement.
With sex, our indulging of it – lads’ mags, strip clubs, pornography, internet blue movies etc – has to a great extent the same cause as our over-eating, over-spending, and our flaunting of our money because it makes us look glamorous. We do it partly because we are bored – a case perhaps of Satan making work for idle hands. But whether or not there is anything Satanic about it, there’s no doubt that people revert to primordial instincts, the satisfaction of basic desires, when culture becomes sterile and stagnant as it has done. Also and perhaps most crucial, sex, because it is something raw and primitive and natural – however licit or illicit the form it takes – consoles us in, and is a necessary counter to, a society where technology has perhaps dehumanised us to some extent. This explains the permissiveness of society since the 1950s/60s and particularly our current (relative) obsession with sex which, perhaps because we are becoming more like children generally (if you believe the article in Psychology News quoted below), has something very immature about it, though it may owe more to the filthy-minded teenager than the overenthusiastic two-year old. The more we become enslaved to computers and overworked, used as machines, by bosses anxious to make as much money out of us as possible or lose out in the scramble for maximum profit, the more we need sex.
I am saying that the permissiveness is inevitable to some degree in modern Western society, and not necessarily harmful. “Getting things out of your system” may be a good idea. Many people who were promiscuous to some degree in their youth are now happily married and their wives don’t necessarily mind or even bother asking about what they did in their younger days. If marriages break down it is not because one or both of the partners kicked over the traces a little before they got engaged (a lot of things prudists would frown at happened in previous eras, but we see the past through rose-tinted spectacles). A lot of damage could be done – we could end up with the kind of repressed society which actually led to the relative decadence of today’s world by being so much the opposite of it – by suddenly axeing all strip clubs, lap dancing establishments, pornographic magazines. It might be dangerous even to ban prostitution (whatever the circumstances in which it happens), even if it is an unsalubrious business at best and one which ideally we could dispense with. Whether it would actually lead to more rapes being committed, as apologists for prostitution claim, is going to be impossible to know until it happens, but as argued above I wouldn’t want to take the risk, decadent liberalism apart.
Nonetheless there is undoubtedly something very degrading about our obsession with sexual gratification as and when we want it. Paradoxically, although we need sex as an antidote to the dehumanising effects of mass technology and computerisation, enjoyment of pornography and casual sex can be performed in a repetetive and mechanical kind of way, especially when it actually requires the use of a computer, as with internet porn sites and Virtual Reality Sex. Even if this is something which the nature of this world renders inevitable and excusable (if not for everyone, since we’re all different), we should still want to escape from it.
The brief of this chapter is not to discuss sexual morality, which is a subject on its own, in detail. I am not going to debate whether strip clubs etc should be banned or any sex outside marriage regarded as immoral whatever the circumstances; I am merely saying here that we need happiness in sex as in other areas (apart from a small minority who are asexual), and without doing anything that is undeniably harmful, morally or physically. Too often, this is not what happens. The question is important because sex is perhaps the area where we most desire fulfilment yet in which, sometimes, the obstacles to getting what we want are perhaps greatest. Admittedly not everyone’s experience will be so bleak and unsatisfactory – there are still many couples who enjoy rewarding sex lives – but this is a field in which we should want everyone to be happy, as in all other fields.
Unless one is happily and faithfully married, in which case there is no problem, the most important factor where sex is concerned has been, since the mid-1980s, the threat of AIDS and the consequent need to protect oneself against it by practising "safe" sex. With recent medical advances people with the disease can live and remain healthy for longer but there is still no effective cure for it, no vaccine, nor any sign one will be developed in the foreseeable future, and we should not become complacent towards the issue – as happens with time - as perhaps we have been of late.
Not everyone has responded to AIDS in the same way. Some people are not permissively minded in the first place. For them, safe sex is never necessary (though some couples are nevertheless happy to practice it), and so does not cause any hang-ups. Others, even if promiscuous, have found themselves able to embrace it without any feeling of being inconvenienced. There are quite a few, however, who are not in that category. Of these, some are simply foolish. Still others are very highly-sexed. Being highly-sexed does not just mean that you need lots of it, but also that you need to get the maximum pleasure out of it. And there is inevitably some loss of feeling with a condom, however much people try to deny it because they want us to use one and so not get AIDS. This, I believe, is the reason why some do not behave sexually in what most of us would regard as a responsible manner. It is unlikely they would risk their lives lightly, knowing the facts about AIDS.
We ought to be able to understand how they feel. After all it is likely that many of us, if a cure were found for AIDS, would revert to the sexual practices we indulged in before it first became a serious threat to life, unless we have become monogamous or conceived a dislike for promiscuity in principle. In our sexual fantasies do we use condoms? Of course not. We want the best for ourselves. And we like our dreams to be fulfilled, otherwise there is no point in having them. People who I have spoken to about the matter all agree that sex is more fun without a condom. Unfortunately the only way of finding out for oneself is to try sex both with and without one and the latter, of course, involves the risk of catching AIDS.
It doesn't help that, for example, a character in Saul Bellow's novella The Actual (1997) is described, to emphasise his coldness and inhumanity, as "having a condom over his heart" (p14); or that a programme celebrating several decades of TV chat shows described a particular interview as "television without a condom" (i.e. it was more exciting). Such things help to plant the idea in the public consciousness that protected sex is a downer which we would much rather do without.
Safe sex is not just a case of making the mental effort to remember to take precautions, as with the advisability of taking an umbrella if going out on a day when it is likely to rain, or buy some sun-tan lotion before going on holiday to sunny climates. That effort does not actually involve a reduction in pleasure, whereas wearing a condom does. It may also be true that the very idea a condom might have that effect, once absorbed, means it will.
We are not supposed to say these things, however, for fear that people may stop taking the precautions. The words "many people dislike the feeling of no contact" had to be excised from a discussion of condoms in a recent edition of Dr Alex Comfort's The Joy Of Sex. This fear has resulted in a rather muddled approach to the problem. A leaflet giving advice on safe sex, with which I was issued on beginning a course at a West London institute of higher education in 1991, suggested that diminished pleasure ought not to be a problem given the greater sensitivity afforded by modern condoms, but then went on to add "and don't forget that that barrier may be the only thing standing between you and AIDS," therefore implying that it might be a problem after all - otherwise, why would you need to win people over by stressing the health risks? And the makers of condoms will obviously not want to give the impression that their products are passion killers, since they will lose out financially if people stop buying them.
The problem is that we have blithely expected people to adjust to the situation brought about by the appearance of AIDS without realising that some find it genuinely difficult to do so. When the nature of the threat which AIDS presented, and the changes in lifestyle that would be necessary to meet it, became apparent my reaction was one of horror. I was depressed about it, on and off, for a long time afterwards. Eventually with the onset of middle age (when some things cease to matter to you as much as they used to) I got over this feeling. And before then things had been made worse for me by Asperger Syndrome, which can make it hard for you to take long-term relationships with the opposite sex beyond just being good friends, and which most people I suppose don’t have. All the same I know how some young people must feel. To me, the precautions which are necessary to avoid contracting AIDS had taken most of the fun out of casual sex. I have a deep regret that I was not sexually active before AIDS first began to affect heterosexuals, even though, as someone quite rightly pointed out to me not long ago, AIDS wouldn’t have started in the first place were it not for sexual promiscuity. What makes it particularly galling is that the risk of catching something, although it cannot be disregarded, is relatively small, and one may be sacrificing one's pleasure for nothing.
My frustration was increased whenever I saw a picture of an attractive female with little or no clothes on (though really any attractive female had much the same effect). Such images undoubtedly feed our sexual appetite, leading to the thought of making love. The more excited I felt as a result of such stimulation the more I wanted to enjoy the act with the maximum of pleasure, and the more agonising it was that I couldn't. One could perhaps get round this problem by banning magazines which feature such images, but then we would simply go to the other end of the scale and have a society which was sexually repressed to an unhealthy degree (arguably, the kind of society which existed before the 1960s).
So I think we should be understanding towards those people who refuse to practise safe sex. We cannot, of course, condone their behaviour for that would be dangerous. What should we do instead? One can choose not to take any interest in sex altogether, but that option is not open to most of us, who are sexual creatures whether we like it or not (as the Catholic Church has recently begun to find out to its cost, with its policy of priestly celibacy only leading to the sex urge being manifested in inappropriate ways as the pressure to gratify it becomes irresistible). The other solution, of course, and the one which many sensible people of both religious and non-religious persuasions would advocate, is to go back to stable relationships and have no sex outside them. The good thing about stable relationships is that there is less need for "protection."
Sex has a particular potential to cause pleasure, and this is why problems with it matter so much to us. A survey in a British national newspaper in June 2002 found that suicide rates were higher among women who practised safe sex than among those who didn't. It demonstrates something of the difficulties we face and the need to surmount them, either in this world or the next.
Stable relationships are what we should be promoting in any case. But - condoms (which can of course split on you) or no condoms - we will, in certain circumstances or at a certain stage in our lives, be promiscuous. Whatever one might say about promiscuity when one is in a relationship, it is unavoidable for many single people. Wives and girlfriends do not grow on trees. And we would want people to delay marriage until, say, their late twenties or early thirties, when they are more mature and thus have a better chance of making their relationships work, precisely because we are interested in ensuring monogamy and stable home environments. During the time that one is looking for a partner, one's basic urges, urges that cannot be ignored, will need satisfying. Relationships can also break down, sometimes through no fault of one or both partners, for example when one of them dies - and what does one do then? What if one's prospective wife/partner wants children, as most partners do, and you don't, thus making the relationship a non-starter? For financial reasons, some people can't afford to live with someone let alone get married to them. Also, with sociological changes it is a part of modern Western culture that people are delaying marriage until a relatively late stage in their lives so they have the freedom to fully enjoy the opportunities for leisure and higher living standards which have arisen. Finally some, regardless of age, are not the marrying kind. Those who have difficulty being faithful perhaps shouldn’t get married, if they can stand being single. They may be attracted to different types of woman, and not just the type their wife is - may want black girls, Asian girls, brunettes, blondes, redheads, all equally - and know that promiscuity would get them into trouble with her and create a messy situation. For people whose temperament, along with socio-economic factors, makes it unwise for them to get married but who would rather not have to practise the rubber-insulated kind of sex the situation is agonising. The problem with casual sex is that although it is biologically inevitable, for many of us at any rate, it is also less pleasant than sex within a loving relationship, and the wearing of condoms renders it even less so, even if you can make them sexy to some extent. Those who are not suited, for temperamental or financial reasons, to marriage or any other form of permanent relationship but who have the same normal sexual desires as everyone else are forced because of the danger of AIDS to have rubber-insulated sex, which they may find less satisfying, for the rest of their lives.
If you want to only have unprotected sex you have a terrible dilemma to face (of course many people are getting over the problem by ignoring safe sex guidelines, which of course leads to a rise in sexually transmitted diseases). You might be prepared to take the risk and do without it but you can't be sure you won't later change your mind and try to settle down with someone you really love. If you do, it would be advisable to be tested for STDs. If it's AIDS you've got then you will clearly, unless you sacrifice your pleasure to some extent, be infecting your lover with a fatal disease, and the thought of that will be repulsive to anyone with a conscience. Some wives might in principle be tolerant of their husbands' infidelity, regarding it as a male weakness which is so fundamental it can never be eradicated, but if you need to enjoy both kinds of sex and to be unprotected when having them there is a problem. However understanding they may be they are obviously not going to be very pleased if you give them AIDS or indeed any other STD.
Another issue is fellatio; what if your wife doesn't like that sort of thing, and prostitutes or women with whom you have casual sex insist that you wear a condom while they are performing it on you (oral sex is thought to be the fastest-growing means of contracting AIDS at the moment)? You may like to feel you have had a good innings doing such things - which means enjoying them - before you abandon them, but this may not be possible.
One likes to think one is making love to an intelligent and sophisticated woman, for she is more likely to be sexy. But an intelligent and sophisticated woman is also more likely to insist on the wearing of condoms, since she will not take risks with her life.
There are attractions in both a single and an attached existence. Most notably, the former gives one a sense of freedom; the latter involves commitments and responsibilities which can give rise to a feeling of entrapment. But it is also the case that the former necessitates protected sex of a less satisfying kind. Nowadays, intercourse outside a stable relationship means either using a condom or running the risk of catching AIDS. Neither the (relative) loss of satisfaction which results from “taking precautions” or the worry caused by the fear of contracting the killer disease are pleasant.
The above demonstrates how attaining sexual happiness has become a complicated and difficult business; what in previous decades could be done at the drop of a hat now requres the taking into account of various different considerations, and not just the need to have a condom handy or go out to get one if it isn't. Apart from the bother of finding out which kind of condom gives the greater sensitivity, which one can only do by experimenting - a more lengthy and difficult process the more varieties there are on the market - if some brands are better than others, as will normally be the case with all commercial products in a capitalist society, then it will always be the case that someone somewhere is missing out. The brands which do give the maximum sensitivity may disappear and those which remain on the market may simply be the least insensitive.
A prostitute, of course, does her job in order to make money and not for the benefit of her customers. Consequently she is not inclined to take risks on their behalf. And today the fear of AIDS, of the awful consequences of contracting this at present terminal disease, means she is even less likely to do so. Many prostitutes more or less simulate the sex act, given that condoms can split on you, and sometimes actually do, or cause allergic reactions. They will also use the strongest, and therefore least sensitive, condoms, further diminishing the client's enjoyment. (It is generally a problem in balancing sexual pleasure with safety, whatever your relationship is with one's partner, that the most sensitive condoms are also the ones most likely to break). On the aesthetic merits of prostitution, it needs to be said that it is never an entirely uplifting experience in the first place, for either the supplier of the commodity or the purchaser. Those clients who get their kicks out of looking for prostitutes in the streets, precisely because it seems rough, are subjecting themselves even more to the danger of violence from a pimp or the prostitute herself; this kind of prostitution was always that, i.e. rough, and has no doubt become even nastier with the general worsening of crime and the decline in the tone of society. To seek it behind closed doors from those offering a “massage”, even if the premises are in truth little more than a brothel, may seem more sanitised, but the experience will never be entirely satisfying because most prostitutes, however they operate and whatever their feelings towards their customers (they aren’t necessarily bad people), aren’t in the business for love – whether they desire the money from greed or need.
If you are not good either at “picking up” women for casual sex or at forming a stable relationship, your only recourse will be either celibacy or the company of prostitutes. Popular fiction is filled with examples of golden-hearted older women or “good-time girls” who purely out of altruism offer to sexually initiate a young man on his rites of passage. I was a prime candidate for that sort of treatment myself, and indeed have met in my time a number of women who seemed the type to oblige, but they never did. The suggestion that such things do happen, and not infrequently, in real life is misplaced. Fiction is vastly different from the truth in this respect. People who have a flirtatious manner are not necessarily promiscuous in the intimate physical sense. The reason is that no woman offers her body to a man unless (a) he is her husband, (b) she is expecting money or promotion in return for the favour, (c) she is drunk (in which case it is wrong to take advantage of her), (d) she is cruelly leading him on, or (e) she is sexually predatory. The last category would probably prefer someone who already has sexual experience and so could make the act more pleasurable for them.
Unless she belongs to category (a) (where in a truly loving relationship the aim is to pleasure one’s partner as much as oneself), a woman will not offer sexual favours unless she does not know what she is doing or there is something to be gained by herself out of the encounter, i.e. financial benefit (however necessary) or the gratification of some illicit desire. If the aim is personal advancement of some kind she is unlikely to gain anything out of a shy, virginal young man who is yet to make his way in the world. There are women who are flirtatious, promiscuous even – though equally they may be neither – who genuinely feel sorry for a man who is sexually unfulfilled and would agree that he needs to “learn the ropes”. However their advice, in my experience, is usually to get off one’s backside and find a girlfriend. They might perhaps recommend a visit to a prostitute, if only to get the damn thing out of one’s system, but would not offer themselves for the purpose. It seems that no decent woman prostrates themselves sexually unless they are forced by poverty or the threat of it to sell their bodies, are suffering a momentary lapse of reason, or are working undercover for the police or security services. There seems to be a belief that unless it is for one of the above reasons, the body is not a commodity to be either sold or used in some kind of “demonstration”; it is an intimate, personal thing and one does not share it with another for any reason than the lasting mutual benefit of two individuals. Probably young people “getting it out of the system” would nowadays be seen as an exception to this rule, as might older people whose temperament and personal circumstances do not suit them for marriage, but in these cases there would be a mutual desire for the act itself and not an intention to help someone overcome their inhibitions. That’s not to say such things couldn’t happen in exceptional circumstances, such as being stranded on a desert island with someone; but in those circumstances they might well take place anyway, human nature being what it is. And they would be just that, exceptional. Besides which being stranded on a desert island might in other ways be extremely inconvenient.
In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when people were reacting, understandably perhaps, to the repression of previous eras, when they were experimenting to see what they could do and what they liked, there was something innocently naughty (if that makes any sense) about sexual promiscuity and pornography. Now the whole thing has become so tacky and jaded that we are bored with it. We get too much of it. The experience is simply dispiriting. And that sex for various reasons (including condoms, where their use is advisable) has ceased to be quite as enjoyable as it used to be may explain such things as violence, drug addiction and obesity. They serve as alternative attractions. The "high" you get from taking drugs is similar in many ways to sexual pleasure and may be seen as a substitute for it. There's also a sexual thrill in being able to wave a gun about and dominate others as a result, or in actually killing people.
We have become like children, bored children looking for fun and throwing a tantrum because we’re not getting it, in our unthinking pursuit of pleasure, of what appeals to us most. I found the following passage in Michael Crichton’s last novel (I am not sure if it is taken from an actual journal or an invention of the author’s) and feel it is worth analysing:

If you believe the adults around you are acting like children, you’re probably right. In technical terms, it is called “psychological neoteny”, the persistence of childhood behaviour into adulthood. And it’s on the rise.
According to Dr Bruce Charlton, evolutionary psychiatrist at Newcastle upon Tyne, human beings now take longer to reach maturity – and many never do so at all.
Charlton believes this is an accidental by-product of formal education that lasts well into the twenties. “Formal education requires a child-like stance of receptivity”, which “counteracts the attainment of psychological maturity” that would normally occur in the late teens or early twenties.
He notes that “academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature.” He calls them “unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”
Earlier human societies, such as hunter-gatherers, were more stable and thus adulthood was obtained in the teen years. Now, however, with rapid social change and less reliance on physical strength maturity is often postponed. He notes that markers of maturity such as graduation from college, marriage and first child formerly occurred at fixed ages, but now may happen over a span of decades.
Thus, he says, “in an important psychological sense some modern people never actually become adults.”
Charlton thinks this may be adaptive. “A childlike flexibility of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge” may be useful in navigating the increased instability of the modern world, he says, where people are more likely to change jobs, learn more skills, move to new places. But this comes at the cost of “short-attention span, frenetic novelty-seeking, ever shorter cycles of arbitrary fashion, and…a pervasive emotional and spiritual shallowness.” He added that modern people “lack a profundity of character which seemed commoner in the past.””

From Psychology News (quoted in Michael Crichton, “Next”, Harper Collins 2006, p219)

There may be a lot of truth in what is being said here. How far it is true I don’t know. But there are good reasons to think there is some truth in it. It does seem to me that there is indeed, in many people’s case, a lack of depth of character, an absence of intellectual and emotional complexity (which is particularly damaging where authority figures – politicians, police etc - are concerned). I do get the impression of being poorly understood whenever I raise complex issues, complex concepts, with people and use words which indicate erudition and a wide vocabulary. It presents us with the worrying choice between falling oneself to the low level to which society is sinking culturally and intellectually or hanging on to one’s standards and being isolated, and therefore ineffective – sometimes even despised - because you’re speaking a different language to the majority.
It leads to less vision in politics, less quality in the field of culture. It explains why politicians fail to handle issues competently and are over-concerned with style and image and the glamorous aspects of their job, to the detriment of more serious and important considerations. Tony Blair was a prime example of a politican behaving in a childlike fashion; his enthusiasm for reforming the constitution blinded him to any realisation that what he was doing might not be wise or just, and in foreign affairs, where he was similarly blinkered, he clearly thrilled at being associated with the most powerful nation on earth in sorting out, as he believed he was doing, the world’s problems. In the area of domestic family life the neoteny can be equally damaging for parents who themselves behave immaturely are not setting their children a good example.
It is do to with age to some extent. I must admit that my generation did find it hard to grow up, probably because since the 1960s there has been so much more to being a child or young person, with increased leisure opportunities (and, for a time at least, such wonderful programmes on television to cater for the age groups in question).
As the lifespan grows longer, everything obviously gets stretched out. The danger is that although this means people in later middle or old age are healthier in body and mind than ever before, and therefore ought to be dominating society as politicians and business leaders – as well as in all other walks of life – they are too inclined to retire relatively early as affluence renders a retired lifestyle more comfortable, they are pushed out by ageism, and the faster pace at which a business-centred, get-rich-quick Thatcherite society has to move means many older people (they still are that, medical advances or not) find the job too stressful and have to make way for a younger person. Hence, a more childlike behaviour and outlook on the part of those under fifty is not balanced by the wisdom and maturity of those over it.
The problem may to some respect be exaggerated; there are plenty of people nowadays whose manner and way of speaking is that of a younger person but are are nonetheless mature and sensible in their attitude to friends and relationships, to life-changing decisions. But those who do act in a childish, simplistic way are numerous enough to contribute significantly to the dysfunctionality of Western society. If we really are becoming more immature, it leaves us unable to solve the problems of a complex and overpopulated society, which only an adult intelligence combined with a mature and reasoning attitude can deal with. We are like children driving a car whose workings we do not understand and which is running out of control with us, heading for a rather nasty accident. “Dumbing-down”, by which the powers that be in media and advertising prefer what has mass rather than intellectual appeal since it makes the most money most quickly, is related problem to this, as it encourages a simple, perhaps childlike, non-intellectual way of thinking. I’m not saying the vast majority of people are stupid so much as that they need to be encouraged to use their cerebral side a little more, not least because it would be harder for academically snobbish people to ridicule them in a fashion which would be socially divisive. As it is, poor education probably has resulted in a section of society being less sophisticated intellectually than the rest of it, with simpler and less refined tastes. And dumbing-down itself contributes to problem, just as the problem, in return, contributes to dumbing-down.
Destroying imagination and sophistication in people leaves them with no option but to simply embrace whatever culture, whatever way of doing things, happens to be prevalent within society at the present time, regardless of its faults. This means clinging ever more tightly to political correctness and to Thatcherite-style monetarist economics. Those doctrines actually serve to stifle a free-thinking and therefore visionary mentality; they don’t like to encourage anything which might lead to their being questioned, the one because it might lead to racism and sexism, the other because of economic greed or paranoid fear of a return to the stagnation and state intervention of the Keynesian era. At the same time political correctness finds it to be wrong to talk down to people (it is, but so is not setting them a good example), while Thatcherism deems it as unwise from the point of view of selling your product. In the political sphere, complex and controversial arguments are harder to understand, with the result that they are more likely to cause offence and be derided and rejected; which is dangerous if they happen to be the truth and should be listened to. And being misunderstood is dangerous when the issue is a sensitive one such as race.
It is as a part of “dumbing-down” that there is a general trend towards populism, let’s call it that, in the media and in the presentation of the past in museums etc, and in culture as a whole; that questions are being made easier in school and university entrance exams, that there are courses in “media studies”. This causes cultural damage by preventing a proper academic understanding of the universe. It gives the lie to the idea that human evolution is continuing, even accelerating. It ought to be remembered that evolution is a process of change: it is not necessarily a process of improvement. Some characteristics are sacrificed for the sake of others, and a life form is in trouble when the disadvantages of the change offset the advantages. In some ways, we are going backwards. If these things are all determined by genes and evolution, then generally speaking the parts of our brains that allow us to understand and to use technology, especially in the area of computers and the Internet, are improving while those concerned with morality and interpersonal relationships are atrophying. Given the ability that technology has to socially dehumanise and to physically destroy, this is a particularly dangerous situation to be in, and its ultimate destructiveness may indicate that in earthly biological terms Mankind has reached the limit of its viability as a species.

It will be seen that we have moved away from those problems which originate in a particular social group, by leading it to feel disaffected, to ones which affect society as a whole. We now undertake a further shift to what could viewed as esoteric and less relevant, since many of the issues discussed below might be thought to concern only intellectuals. They are undoubtedly more to do with the intellectual need for society to be going in a particular direction, to have a goal and purpose, and to be creating a constant supply of what might be called culture, the exploration of which enriches the human condition. Culture is defined here as the enjoyment of both existing forms, and the creation where appropriate of new forms, in art, entertainment, literature, fashion, music and architecture; it includes the preservation and appreciation of artefacts of all kinds from past periods of history on account of their beauty, academic value, and the moral obligation to preserve the fruit of a person’s labour, regardless of whether the artefact was designed for a practical or an aesthetic purpose (it can certainly have an aesthetic value in addition to its practical one, whether or not that was intended by its makers). Culture is vital for setting the moral tone of a society.
The problems are clearly of a very different nature to those we have been discussing up until now, but no less important, because intellectuals are people with a right and a need to pursue their favourite pastimes and so maintain their quality of life, and also because it cannot be concluded that it is only they who are or should be concerned about such things. I think we all are in a way. Some of them – the alienation and lack of purpose caused by the decline in the quality of popular culture and by the multipolarity of society - may affect the population in general, including poor and disadvantaged working class people, even if deteriorating standards in education make it difficult for them to express their feelings properly.
Social wellbeing is determined by cultural vibrance as much as other things, since culture provides a distraction from unpleasant matters, improves the quality of life, inspires creative achievement, and by raising the morale of society makes it less likely people will become stressed and bored and turn to crime. If culture cannot produce anything then it will lead to a lack of optimism and confidence in the future. Cultural stagnation leaves people with no stake in society; for if society can't produce a rich and dynamic culture it doesn’t have anything to offer and can't inspire loyalty to itself. There is disquiet among the aesthetic classes, though it may not always be evident on the surface, and surliness and boredom among the rest of society. Repetitive and uninspiring music, and films which concentrate only on action and special effects, result in a restive, disgruntled, and spiritually empty youth whose excitement is obtained by committing crime, or at least antisocial behaviour.
Raising and maintaining the tone of society is achieved also by great technological accomplishments and feats of exploration, just as it is is in valuing the works of the past. Preserving the past honours our forebears, which is the right thing to do, so by not doing it we are lowering the moral tone, leading to greed and crime, as well as the intellectual tone because there is so much we can learn from the past – it being part of our selfconsciousness and thus our identity. Unfortunately it seems we can neither preserve that past nor be adventurous, and thus inspire, with regard to the future. We were unable to save the twin towers of the original Wembley Stadium from demolition nor Brighton's West Pier from devastation by fire in what was probably a deliberate act of arson. At the other end of the scale the manned space programme is getting nowhere and Concorde, the world's only supersonic airliner, has been scrapped. This matters because technological progress and the opening up of new worlds in space provides a source of inspiration, of excitement, and so lifts morale, avoiding that dangerous stagnation and social ennui. Getting sucked inwards into cyber-space, as is happening to us at the moment, is no substitute because it merely dehumanises us and actually damages the cause of true culture.
Regarding the preservation of our architectural and industrial heritage, and the issues and dilemmas this cause faces because of the way society is now, my principal experience has been in the perhaps rather esoteric area of traditional windmills and watermills. The subject is worth mentioning here as a way of highlighting the problems faced by those with “fringe” hobbies, who of course have a right to pursue them just as people who favour more conventional pursuits have a right to pursue those. These buildings no longer have a practical justification for their existence (although things could change if there were to be a major collapse of modern industrial society), in the sense of being essential for our survival; flour for our bread and feed for livestock can be produced more efficiently using electricity than with natural sources of power (the electricity can itself be generated by wind, but there the relation is indirect). They have a claim to be preserved, and where possible restored to a working condition, because of their interest to students of technology and of the history of same, because they performed such a vital role in the community that our forefathers and thus ourselves wouldn’t have survived without them, and because of the beauty of their engineering and architecture; as has been observed by others than myself, the old-fashioned sail windmill is arguably the most aesthetically pleasing device for harnessing energy ever invented, which should make being interested in it less crazy and more understandable than it is in some people’s opinion. Their attractiveness is certainly appreciated by the general public even if the latter are not interested in the same way as a dedicated “buff” is; many people will drop in and take a look round, to satisfy a genuine curiosity, if they see that a windmill has been restored and open to the public, and when asked in a survey a few years ago whether they preferred the old-type windmills or the modern metal and concrete wind turbines a majority plumped without hesitation for the former as being much better to look at. The traditional mills thus provide a model for the design of the wind turbines, which need to be more visually pleasing if this environmentally essential technology is to be made more acceptable to the public and one major obstacle to its development therefore removed.
All but a couple of windmills went out of commercial use, in the sense that we would understand it, during the twentieth century. Vast numbers of them fell into decay and succumbed to the elements or were demolished. Today roughly between two hundred and fifty and three hundred remain in Britain: many restored as working museums by the individuals or societies which own them, some partially restored, some effectively derelict and some converted to houses. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has a special Mills Section which promotes their study and campaigns for their continued preservation, making representations to local authorities where necessary to ensure protection against decay and fight applications to convert or demolish.
Unfortunately, in recent years the movement is running into trouble. It has an ageing membership (its esoteric nature means it is less attractive to the young, since image and social acceptability depends on identification with a hobby which has popular status; and increasingly so in a society which has become so obsessed with image and wealth, the former leading to the latter by ensuring success). There are less people to run the mills that have been restored to working order, or at least conserved, to carry out the repairs needed from time to time for them to survive, and to fight the mills’ corner politically, campaigning on their behalf at public enquiries over listed building applications and on government policies that adversely affect them. Obstacles are thereby thrown up to both the maintenance of those mills which are already preserved and to the restoration/conservation of those which are derelict.
Furthermore, mills along with other kinds of historic building suffer from the profit-based ethos which Margaret Thatcher established as a dominant, if not the dominant, feature of British society. Where there is no prospect of turning them into a money-making venture, because they are in remote country locations (as is often the case) and thus out of the public eye, or the personnel are not available to take the project on, councils are not interested in them, and where there is any controversy over their future will go for converting them into living accommodation. It is the logic of a society where the profit motive is seen as so important; conversion will at least make money for the developers and the estate agents, even if neither the decision-makers themselves or the public as a whole, apart from the supposed benefits to the general economy of the developers as individuals having more money to spend when they go shopping, directly benefit from what is done.
House-conversion will mean that any internal machinery which remains is rendered inaccessible, perhaps permanently, to those interested in the history of technology, because people generally don’t like strangers nosing around what is after all their private home. The problem is that removing the machinery altogether would further diminish the value of the mill and prejudice the possibility, however remote, of its ever becoming a windmill again, either as a working museum or a static industrial monument. Windmills suffer from being both buildings and machines, in a way few other things are, and what is done to the building may harm the machine. English Heritage can do very little because it is at present a purely advisory body, with no power to compel owners or councils to properly care for historic monuments in their care - as the government in a neo-Thatcherite society probably no doubt intends should be the case, since it might get in the way of what the developers want. Generally local authorities prefer to leave everything to private enterprise because they want to take some of the strains off themselves in an overburdened and overpopulated society where they have so many different needs to meet.
Windmills and watermills are essentially wooden things – even if the main structure is of brick or stone the flooring and, usually, a fair part of the machinery is not. Wooden components include the roof and sails, the most attractive features. The stonework or brickwork of one, when nothing else is left, tends to look unappetising. For these reasons windmills cannot be made into controlled ruins, which is the only other option; they would not earn their keep as such, not being as popular as castles and abbeys. Councils will therefore go either for conversion (creating a gimmicky kind of home for the relatively rich person who can afford it and thus doing little, since there are not that many windmills left in the first place, to relieve the housing shortage) or for the creation of a working business enterprise which through opening charges and sale of guide books and stoneground flour for those attempting to follow a healthier diet can make money towards its own upkeep and also for the benefit of its owners. The latter actually contributes to the national economy and, most importantly of all, allows the mill to pay its way so that the council doesn’t have to spend any money of its own for the building’s benefit in an increasingly cash-strapped, expensive society which is complicated to run. You might think, “So much the better.” And indeed, if it works then that’s fine. But it often doesn’t, not in every respect. If actually owned by the council, the mill will probably be subject to excessive bureaucratic health and safety regulations which can, perhaps, be inflicted on the non-experts, who may not know what they’re missing but will prevent the buffs from seeing all they want to by closing off parts of the mill wrongly believed to be dangerous because of fears of the compensation culture and insurance claims in the event of accidents.
Many windmills or watermills which are restored as such are often over-restored. The people who tend to take the project on, because of the nature of the Thatcherite society, are those who put profit before everything else. They cut corners and in the interests of a quick profit they concentrate on getting the mill working again as quickly as possible to the detriment of authentic restoration. The heavy restoration that will be needed to get the mill back into functional order, with all components serviceable and safe to use, means that a lot of original material will be lost, which breaks the continuity with the past and causes loss of atmosphere, resulting in what to some extent is a phoney. At the same time the individualism which still prevails in rural areas means that actual preservation societies do what they want with their mills, ignoring expert advice and giving them features they never possessed in real life, contributing to the misrepresentation and undermining of history; yet these people are so important in getting mills preserved, given the shortage of able and committed “buffs”, that they can’t be ignored or offended.
The question of when to replace original – that is, in existence when the mill was last commercially operated – is an agonising one
at the best of times. To maintain the original fabric of the building or machine is necessary because otherwise it is a bit of a fake (and an expensive one) however accurate it is. But a working windmill, watermill, steam locomotive or traction engine will be more exciting and more likely to attract visitors, who can be charged admission fees and thus pay for its upkeep. The best way to preserve a windmill or a steam locomotive is to keep it at work, and that means parts will wear out and have to be replaced until eventually what one is left with is a replica. That parts would wear out anyway if the machine were not still used, through stagnation and rot, does not make the dilemma any less painful.
Councils don’t want to be seen to bully the little man, the owner of private property, in an individualistic society though they will do so in important areas where they have to do something but don’t know how to do it properly, because of incompetence or the nature of the issue. They will therefore not pressurise the frequently unsympathetic owners of mills into keeping them in good repair by serving a Listed Building Notice. Windmills may also be affected by the continuing urbanisation of the countryside as new housing makes access to them difficult and blocks the wind they need to function. The option of dismantling the structure and re-erecting it at an open-air museum, thus avoiding these problems, is not open because in disgraceful contrast to countries like Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden such places don’t have, in Britain, the funds they need to erect and maintain a large structure like a windmill. The evidence of several sad past cases suggests the collection of parts would remain in storage for years until it was split up and the components used in various other projects, so that the mill as an integrated historic unit would cease to exist. Whatever has actually benefited from Thatcherism, the free market and all the resources of a prosperous modern society it is not our industrial heritage.
This being such an esoteric walk of life, as opposed to castles and stately homes and to the relatively more popular “fringe” hobbies such as steam trains, vintage cars and traction engines, there is not the political pressure to ensure windmills are protected either from neglect or from overzealous restoration. Mill buffs thus don’t have the clout to influence the decisions ultimately made by local or national authorities where those are likely to prove damaging. The chances are that many if not most of our surviving windmills will fall victim to neglect; because their owners are resentful at not being allowed to sell them for development, thus generating a profit, the business centred upon the mill has failed and they have no interest in it except as a commercial proposition, or they think that if the structure does decay to the point where the workings aren’t salvageable they will then have an excuse to convert. Now although sound if treated well, those mills which have not been substantially rebuilt (rather than restored) in recent years are often a little shaky – though not likely to be dangerous if commonsense precautions are observed by visitors - and obviously not in as good a state as when they were working. They will not survive another lengthy period of dereliction without losing all remaining original material if and when they come to be restored again. In the current economic climate, what makes it more likely that this will happen is the tendency for local authorities who own mills to sell them off; they wish to ease the pressure on their funds by sloughing off as many of their responsibilities as possible. Understandably in cash-strapped circumstances it is the windmills, being something relatively esoteric, that have to be sacrificed. Apart from the difficulty of guaranteeing that the mill will be bought by someone who wishes to conserve it as a historic monument, and not a developer, private individuals may not have the resources to keep the building constantly in good repair.
Otherwise, the future seems to lie in Moreton-on-the-Wold Windmill PLC, with its visitor centre, website, video/DVD presentations. Apart from the drawbacks of such an approach, this commercialisation is but one aspect of a wider trend which affects the whole of our heritage, and has some questionable aspects. It can result in a form of sensationalism, seen in the “theme park” view of history and semi-dramatised documentaries on TV. This can have questionable features. At the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC:
“You are issued with an ID card, matching your age and gender to the name and photo of a real Holocaust victim or survivor. As you progress through three floors of the exhibition, you can push your bar-coded card into computer stations and see how well or badly your real life subject is faring. Will you (like him or her) in the end be saved, shot, gassed, incinerated? You'll find extermination camp bunks on which inmates lay unspeakably cramped, dying of malnutrition and typhus. You'll see the ovens in which victims of Zyklon-B gassings were burnt. Worst of all is the endlessly re-run video footage of Einsatzgruppen mass-killings squads at work, shooting, stabbing, filling ditches with piles of naked corpses. We are watching historical snuff movies.”(1) Reminiscent of this is the device employed at the Titanic exhibition at the Science Museum in 2004, whereby you were issued on entry with a card giving the details of a passenger on board the ill-fated ship, so that you could imagine yourself in their place, and at the end of your tour found out if he or she had survived.
Marshall McLuhan writes: "The media have substituted themselves for the older world. Even if we should wish to recover that older world we can do it only by an intensive study of the ways in which the media have swallowed it."(2) McLuhan contradicts himself here, in that being aware the older world has been swallowed up by the media implies an awareness of the former. Nor, I confess, do I quite understand the point Eric Hobsbawm is trying to make when he says, "The destruction of the past is one of the most characteristic and eerie phenomena of the late twentieth century. Most young men and women at the century's end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in."(3) Although it might be that the pace of change in the last hundred years has been so rapid, and the extent of it so vast, that young people are left with few or no visible reminders of the architectural achievements (generally a crucial memento) or the culture of previous eras, and so can’t be truly aware of them, thus losing an important part of their selfconsciousness and becoming psychologically and spiritually bereft. If this is indeed what’s happened, and it must have done to some extent, there’s little we can do unless we somehow reverse all the changes of the last hundred (or even three hundred) years, which would be both impractical and inconsistent with the human desire to experience the more enjoyable and positive aspects of progress. It is in any case a characteristic of human history, as of the evolution of life in general, that change occurs in sudden major leaps which take place, on a historical timescale, over just two or three centuries.
Both Hobsbawn and McLuhan are right if what they are arguing is that history has become overcommercialised to the extent that it is difficult to tell what really happened from what looks good (and so sells); or that poor education results in misapprehensions or lack of knowledge about the past on the part of both children and adults. Dangerously, the two trends go together. The kind of approach seen with regard to the Titanic and the Holocaust does have some positive aspects. It might seem tasteless but it could be argued that it assists one in empathizing with the victims of the tragedy, and in the case of the Holocaust serves to steel us in our desire not to let such things ever happen again. The danger is that the line between exploitation and what is legitimate becomes blurred, so that we may be debasing ourselves without realising it. What is undoubtedly a problem, probably the real one where this whole issue is concerned, is that it may become impossible in some cases to tell what is historically accurate from what is not; embellishment, as seen in those semi-dramatised documentaries I was talking about, may lead people to draw false conclusions, even though this was not necessarily the intention of the embellisher. The dramatised bits do not go so far as to misrepresent actual events but they do show scenes which might not have taken place in quite the way portrayed. The exact wording that was used, the gestures employed, by Elizabeth I seeking to assert her independence from her ministers or Stalin reacting to being told that Hitler has just invaded him may have been different from what is seen on screen – even where the incident was comparatively recent in historical terms and an accurate record of the proceedings exists, because drama has to follow different rules from hard literal fact. The intention is to involve the viewer by presenting historical figures as if they are living, breathing people signing treaties or taking major political decisions before one’s very eyes, because without such an approach the whole thing seems stale, and to force such a formal, rather dead way of doing history on people smacks of talking down to them which is neither politically correct nor likely to earn one money.
The dangers lie not in factual inaccuracy, because the essence of historical truth is not compromised a great deal and there certainly isn’t a deliberate intention to do so, but in the whole spirit which might be fostered with regard to portraying the past.
Once it starts to look like a matter of acting, of emphasis and conveying mood – even if nothing spectacularly violent, verbally or physically, occurs – there is a danger that by degrees we may become too concerned with the image and the atmosphere and start to take liberties with the truth. Embellishment can be as dangerous as deliberate falsehood since it misprepresents the sense of something, which can be as significant as what was actually said or done. Where the desire is to go for what looks more exciting, whether by showing heated argument or forcible action, or just to create suspense, it poses clear dangers in a culture so concerned with image, with video games and similar attractions, and with hedonistic enjoyment to the detriment of other things, especially as society becomes worse in these respects. It may encourage people to write their own versions of history, especially when declining educational standards mean they may have a poor idea of what actually happened. We may not not be seeing it now, but in the future, as the children today become the adults of tomorrow, we will.
State-of-the–art technology, the desire to use which is part of the modern mindset, can be similarly harmful to the cause of accuracy. There are hazards inherent in digitalisation, which can be used to fake or interfere with a photograph as well as enhance it, and the colourisation of old films which could well confuse or mislead future historians and archaeologists (or indeed people growing up now). The problem with technological progress is that we develop toys which we become addicted to, because they have genuinely beneficial and indeed necessary applications, but which for that very reason can lead us by degrees to do considerable harm.
It can also get in the way of the actual conservation of the past. The components making up the humidifiers that preserve historic documents will deteriorate with time, and not survive some catastrophe which wipes out the human race, to leave some record of our achievements – as we’d like to think they would – for anyone who cares to study it. Modern technology, though usually quicker and more efficient in what it does, is less durable and more fragile than what went before it. Though allowing it to perform a wider range of tasks, its complexity makes it vulnerable because the number of things which can go wrong is greater. Scanning printed material and preserving it in digital form, in addition to keeping the “hard” copy, doesn’t represent a better option because computers are in the long run vulnerable for the same reason as humidifiers – and in addition the data could be wiped by accident, deliberate sabotage or the electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear explosion. The modern age isn’t even leaving any mementoes of itself; we are getting reports from museums that plastic items, which are so fundamental a feature of life in the modern era and important for interpreting it, cannot be conserved because they deteriorate too quickly. Though it makes life better for lots of people and in countless ways, and one can have affection for personal possessions made from the stuff as much as for a much nicer-looking Victorian mahogany table, plastic is nonetheless meant to be a cheap, disposable commodity, not attractive enough for people to want to keep but replaceable at a cost, maximising profits for those who sell what’s made from it. Whether it’s a monument to greed or simply a manifestation of the particular kind of society we live in – which makes it so historically important - it’s ironic that what was once called, and still is although nowadays people would be more likely to define it by its reliance on the computer, the Plastic Age may find itself preserving for posterity very little if anything of the substance which gave it its name.
But I want to return to the problems affecting culture as it is now, in each of its different branches.
(1) Literature. This term can be applied to both fiction and non-fiction, especially if the standard of writing in both cases is good. A factual book is simply a matter of writing accurately, and in a sufficiently readable and entertaining style, about something that already exists or has happened. Fiction poses very different issues. There will always be stories waiting to be written and people happy to read them, despite its being acknowledged that the number of original plots is limited, because what counts in the end is characterisation and the fact that the reader does not know what exactly is going to happen next. But whether or not the well of ideas is bottomless, that isn't the problem; there are other things which are.
Each genre, each fictional world must have its own continuity, in which the characters do such-and-such at one point in their career
and no statement is afterwards made which contradicts it and thus diminishes the believability of the stories. This is encountered particularly frequently in science fiction worlds such as Doctor Who, where the action tales place at different points in time because of the main character's ability to travel in it. Here continuity becomes a straitjacket. It will become impossible to write such-and-such a story, in which the Doctor is in such-and-such a place, does such-and-such a thing, and meets such-and-such a person because we know he didn't. And that will limit creativity. The Doctor quite simply has too many adventures, but he's too popular to kill off. The BBC will have to adopt a device whereby some of his adventures take place in parallel universes, or rework everything by introducing a “Crisis in Time” as Marvel and DC Comics did with their characters.
This problem is inherent in all fictional continuities. With time, they all become full up, presenting us with more than our consciousness can cope with. But as Man is not likely to abandon the old fictional heroes, needing them too much, this difficulty cannot be overcome.
There is a problem with killing off characters in that if they are popular, the temptation to bring them back will always be irresistible, for some at least. It can even happen with fairly minor characters. But too many comebacks will be ludicrous, and prevent the stories from being plausible. You can't be sure that someone won't resurrect them at some stage. The only way to stop it will be to write something into one's will preventing it; but can one see this being done for every reasonably important character? Things are going to end up looking very silly, but there’ll be no way to stop it.
To revise everything as Marvel and DC did might seem the obvious solution to these dilemmas. But as we tend to live longer, and in the future are likely to live longer still, the probability is that we will go through several different continuities within our lifetime of following a particular genre, and will be getting constantly confused between the two (or more), all of them remaining within our consciousnesses.
While this is a hazard that will become most apparent in the future, at present the major problem in the field of literature lies with the nature of the publishing industry at present, which tends to stifle creativity and thus progress. It is extremely hard nowadays for new writers to get published. As well as ensuring that the quality of our culture remains high we need to ensure an individual’s right to participate in that culture, through their talents at writing or other activities.
I don’t think it is true that as Roland Barthes argued in 1969 we are seeing “the death of the author”. Barthes meant that readers create their own meanings, regardless of the author's intentions. This applied whether or not one accepted the structuralist theory of literature, by which a book was not the work of an author’s own individual, unique personality in any case but rather of the prejudices and customs of the time in which it was written.
What matters most about a book is that people enjoy it, thanks to the author’s ability to create suspense, so that we don’t know what is going to happen to the characters next and are dying to find out (a necessity whatever kind of genre one is in, and probably in the end the most important requirement in a book, if one had to make a choice, even though to lose the others would be disastrous); also their turn of phrase, their ability to convey emotion. Putting across an argument about the dangers of adultery or the iniquity of this or that political system, even though it may enter inevitably into a novel and arguably should, isn’t the only reason why people write and never has been. A very good English tutor once told me at school that I should get out of my head the idea that any fiction book necessarily had to have a “message”. (Concerning structuralism, although a book is necessarily the product of its time, whatever else it might be, and of the author’s own experiences, views and even prejudices, it is their individual talents and personality which express those things in a way that grabs the reader’s attention and allows any point the writer wishes to make to strike home).
Particular styles are still associated with particular authors by those who have intellectual discernment and so would be likely to be reading the book in the first place. The work is still registering the unique stamp which each author gives to his or her work, in one way or another. That author may well create their own meanings, largely unconsciously, because they have an active intellect and imagination but unless the author writes in an obscure and excessively highbrow fashion it should usually be possible to deduce what kind of message, if any, they are trying to get across. It may be evident from the effect of events upon the characters, if the writer is at all good at the conveying of emotions, even though different people will react differently to the same situations and honestly disagree over how right or wrong, positive or harmful in its effects, something is.
But Barthes’ words may be true in another sense, unanticipated by him.
In recent years there has come a growing realisation that publishers are so inundated with manuscripts, everyone wanting to be the next J K Rowling or Ian Rankin (because of the increase in opportunities for culture in the modern world, and the desire to achieve success in a consumer society where the book is another commodity that money can be made out of), that they have little option but to select a few at random from the “slush pile” and invent any reasons they can think of, however feeble, for rejecting something they haven’t even had time to look at in the first place. This has been confirmed for me by someone with contacts in the publishing industry. It’s a problem you can’t do very much about. You can’t decently object to, still less prevent, people having ambitions for themselves and making the effort to achieve them, even if, to be harsh, many of them will not be as talented as they like to think. Whilst this may exonerate publishers from being mean and narrow-minded it still leaves us with a serious problem - the nature of modern society means that aspirations are generated which cannot be met. The situation is particularly hard on authors who are experiencing financial hardship a state of poverty and need to make money by writing. Nor need the problem exclusively be to do with logistics; there is no guarantee that the readers who are employed to look at the manuscripts will not be governed in accepting or rejecting them by their own subjective tastes and opinions. It seems agents can certainly be guilty of partiality; one replied to a manuscript I sent her that that she was not going to help market it because it did not accord with her own personal taste.
But no; very often, publishers do not even look at new manuscripts. Nor, increasingly, do agents. A few years ago, this began to cause serious concern within the Arts Council of England, which was afraid that the next Dickens or Shakespeare or Hardy might die undiscovered, contributing to the cultural impoverishment of the nation. The Council decided to give an organisation called the Literary Consultancy £105,000 to look at manuscripts by unpublished authors. For a minimum £90 fee {which may be difficult for those on benefit or low incomes to scrape together} they were to provide a report on the manuscript and, in rare cases, recommend it onwards for publication.(4) What became of the scheme I don’t know. But unfortunately there is no reason why the new agencies - who get their money whatever happens, so don't have anything to worry about - should not be as liable to prejudice and subjective perceptions (perhaps rejecting something because it is thought too politically uncomfortable, regardless of its moral or artistic merit) as to what ought to be published as anyone else. They can only recommend – or not recommend - and in doing so may merely be following their own subjective views. The Evening Standard report itself stated that recommendation for publication only happened in rare cases. We are merely exchanging one little tin god for another - and for a price.
Yet another problem, and a rather perplexing one, is that even when publishers do look at manuscripts and like them it doesn’t necessarily make any difference. I had one rejection on the lines of “I like your writing style but unfortunately your submission does not fit in with our current publishing schedule.” It’s not clear what this actually means. If the book is good then it should sell and make a profit for the company; if for one reason or another it cannot be published in the immediate future it should be kept in reserve until it can rather than rejected outright. It seems that commerciality, and the way it thinks nowadays, has somehow become separated from the question of the actual quality of the book. Finally, writers who like to mix genres (and there should be diversity in literature) or say something which, while not necessarily offensive, might be politically controversial (which nowadays means being critical of certain aspects of political correctness) are probably at a disadvantage. The difficulty is that since in a monetarist economy the aim of capitalists is effectively to make as much money, and as fast, as possible, and a publishing company is a business concern, publishers are less willing to give something new and different a try in case the experiment turns out not to work, profits are lost and a tight fast-moving schedule upset. One mistake and you're out of the race. In all branches of culture this cautious and conservative (by the standards of the Thatcherite society) approach means there is generally less innovation. For a writer agents are supposed to increase your chances of success but if the publishers are adhering uncompromisingly to a rigid and narrow criteria in deciding what to publish, as appears to be the case, there is a limit to what they can do - and they must know it. Their endeavours on your behalf won’t achieve much when the publishers have set their minds on rejecting a particular book or kind of book. And when they won’t take on what they don’t happen to like they merely duplicate the role, as well as exhibit much the same attitudes, of the publisher, which leads one to question the purpose of their existence.
It is not just the factual accuracy or the moral tastefulness of a book which concerns publishers but whether or not its style is acceptable. The tendency is encountered even in the case of obscure non-fiction subjects. I submitted a booklet on the esoteric subject of Berkshire Windmills to a local history society who considered it for publication. I was told in a letter that there were various things to be corrected but that these were mainly "stylistic". Someone's style is one's own, a personal thing, and to curb it merely because it does not fit in with someone else's preferences, which may not be correct - how does one judge, anyway, for there is no established "accurate" opinion, and cannot be – is dangerous; the very thing which makes it easier for elites to form and impose their own favoured philosophy. Consequently, the current obsession with image in all walks of life leads to a kind of cultural Fascism. The difficulty of branching out independently means this unlovely regime is kept in being.
The practice of amalgamation, whereby various different publishing houses can be bought up by another - often the same - publishing house, becoming merely imprints of it, further stifles creativity. When, at the same time that there are fewer publishers to choose from, the same company will obviously have the same editorial policy there is less chance of an aspiring author finding someone who likes their work and is willing to help it see the light of day, unless perhaps they suffer their principles to be abandoned and their style to be cramped.
All these factors, and particularly the tendency for agents and publishers to have their own pre-conceived ideas as to what they want to publish, and automatically reject certain things if they do not accord with those ideas, limits creativity and thus denies society its benefits. It prevents many young and talented writers from being successful, from being heard about, from making their impact; which is harsh on them personally in addition to the loss suffered by society as a whole. As feedback from writers’ workshops will tell you, the experience of most authors today is one of constant rejections, constant failure, and in my case at least grinding depression because of them. There are two possible ways out, self-publishing and Print On Demand, but both are at least partly blocked by serious obstacles. Self-publishing can be very expensive if you don’t have the financial means; it’s best for small books/booklets but not for, say, a full-length novel. Equally unfortunately, many booksellers (and probably other people connected in one way or another with the literary world) won’t take on books that are either published by the author or produced by the Print On Demand process. Because they come from “outside” – that is, outside the normal publishing process – they are objects of suspicion, indeed of scorn because they are regarded as something tacky, second-rate, home made. However, the author taking either route may simply have been unsuccessful going by the conventional one, and the material not necessarily of poor quality. It may well be that most of the stuff which does get published is good – though in certain areas, drivel will always be taken on if it nets money, which annoys intelligent but unsuccessful writers. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s good that isn’t published.
The fact that publishers are extremely choosy about what they publish or even pick out from the “slush pile” in the first place is leading many frustrated aspiring writers to turn to the Internet; they can print off and post or e-mail the whole novel, or sections of it, at a price to any person who wants to read more. However this may not give them that much of an advantage. There are hundreds, thousands, millions of websites (and their associated links) in existence; although some get closed down, at the same time new ones are always being started. Even if one leaves out the personal websites where an individual may lodge their book or an advert for it, or simply talk about themselves, there would still be probably thousands through which a talent scout, or someone simply looking for a good read, would have to trawl. And at the risk of seeming harsh there’s no doubt the Internet has given a boost to all those geeks (may God bless, and where necessary forgive, them) who fancy themselves, sometimes with very little justification, as the next J K Rowling or Joanna Trollope or Frederick Forsyth or simply feel a psychological need to make some kind of personal statement because of their own inadequacies and vulnerabilities and their grievances with the way the world is. How is anyone going to easily distinguish, without many hours spent running up a massive electricity bill, between those whose work deserves to be read and those whose work doesn’t?
Far from the Thatcherite/Blairite tendency to promote the free market having enhanced the power of the individual to express themselves, it has if anything done the opposite. Being a capitalist philosophy it obviously benefits those who are already most successfully established as capitalists - i.e., the big companies - in the first instance, rather than the individual entrepreneur. And since they have a head start the individual finds it permanently difficult to prosper by comparison.
For one of the long-term unemployed the cost of having an Internet connection set up in the first place, and of making the subsequent payments is prohibitive. Put simply they cannot afford to be on it. Local libraries can only allow you to use their Internet facilities for an hour at a time, as there are of course many others who want to do so; and it takes a very long time to input an entire novel!
This is one of many ways in which technological advance has merely widened the gap between rich and poor. Those who cannot afford to be on the Internet, because they are unemployed or on a low income, are at a disadvantage compared to those who can. Writers, philosophers etc will have limited means of expressing themselves, of getting their views across. Their voice is being stifled. This limits creativity and thus retards progress. It can take the ideas of one person to change the world and that person may not be on the Net.
Of all the branches of culture covered in this chapter, literary fiction is the odd-man-out. It has an advantage over the other arts in that whereas it is possible to run out of ideas in music, pictorial art or fashion, literary fiction doesn’t have to have original plots. Any story works if the dialogue is crisp, the characters interesting and the reader doesn’t know what’s going to happen next (in other words, there is suspense). The real problem lies in the way it is disseminated.
It’s also the quality of literature, in terms of grammar, spelling and punctuation which are important for both aesthetic and practical reasons, that is under threat. This hasn’t happened yet in fiction, because the proofreaders still seem to be pretty good at weeding them out, but is certainly happening in general social usage on letters, posters, leaflets and notices, where things aren’t subjected to the same lengthy and comprehensive process of checking. (Nonetheless I have noted a definite rise in the number of printing errors in fiction books in the past few years, which gives cause for concern).
These things matter because apart from being a bulwark against general sloppiness proper punctuation and spelling – with commas and semicolons in the right place, among other things - also prevent misunderstandings. Conventions are important in proper general conduct and in literature – and the speed and dynamism of technological change, which is part of its appeal, means that conventions are overthrown. Lynne Truss writes,

“Our punctuation exists as a printed set of conventions; it has evolved slowly because of printing’s innate conservatism; and is effective only if readers have been trained to appreciate the nuances of the printed page. The printed word is presented to us in a linear way, with syntax supreme in conveying the sense of the words in their order. We read privately, mentally listening to the writer’s voice and translating the writer’s thoughts. The book remains static and fixed; the reader journeys through it. Picking up the book in the first place entails an active pursuit of understanding. Holding the book, we are aware of posterity and continuity. Knowing that the printed word is always edited, typeset and proof-read before it reaches us, we appreciate its literary authority. Having paid money for it (often), we have a sense of investment and a pride of ownership, not to mention a feeling of general virtue.”(5)
What Truss is saying, among other things, is that it is the Internet, along with text messages, which is responsible for much of the trouble. And she is right, though I doubt if it is the only factor in the equation. The Internet is a wonderful invention, but it isn't necessarily what it's cracked up to be. People will only put on it what they want you to see, and they can’t be forced to do otherwise. But it has other, more damaging shortcomings, as we will see in a little while.
It was once feared that television and video recorders would lead to the end of the printed book and so of literacy. This didn’t happen, because something about the medium of the printed book has a particular appeal; you can do things with it you can’t on screen, describing a scene or the thoughts of a character (which, being thoughts, are invisible) in a detail which isn’t possible when you are shooting film sequences according to a schedule. For the same reason the Internet, which has emerged as what might be thought the book’s new rival, hasn’t replaced it either. People will continue to need the printed book where reading for entertainment is concerned because it is really the only suitable medium for doing so; it doesn’t strain the eyes as much as sitting at a computer screen. It’s also possible that the danger has been realised of putting all fictional literature on the Net only, and the system then crashing which would leave people with nothing to read; resulting in the young in particular becoming bored, restless and ultimately prone to antisocial behaviour. This is one area of human activity, at least, where it has been realised that it’s not practical to have everything in computerised visual form. The popularity of Harry Potter & Co, of Jacqueline Wilson, and others has stopped any tendency for the Internet to ease aside the printed book. There still are, and hopefully will always be, at least a handful of good writers and if they are good then people will read their books. The problem isn’t one of reading dying out but rather the general use of language within society, and the decline in its quality, and the main danger of the Internet the way it accelerates that process, along with its tendency to be wrongly thought the only reliable means of storing and accessing information for cultural and practical purposes.
One would think that a society which was technologically advanced would also be one which was highly erudite, knowledgeable and cultured. This assumes that progress is an even and straightforward process, and takes place in a vacuum where it is not affected by the quirks of human nature or the flaws of the world at large. To be superlative in one respect will not necessarily mean being superlative in another. Poor educational standards will mean technology makes little difference to our cultural and intellectual level and can even lower it; it is extremely unfortunate that the growth in transmission of information by electronic means, through e-mails and text messages, has coincided with a fall in the quality of teaching. While going forward we are also in many ways going backwards. The speed of technological development means that the educational standards, especially if poor anyway, cannot keep up with it. There’s also the fact that mobile phones and computers are seen by young people – a term now much broader in its definition than previously – and by some in other age groups too as a sign of status and empowerment rather than as having any educational or cultural purpose. The Internet has no spellchecker and nor have mobile phones for their text messages. It is considered to be, and would be, highly authoritarian and meddling not to allow a young person (or any person for that matter) to send a text message to a friend or family member if they wished until they had adopted the correct spelling for this or that word. Something about it is disturbing and therefore we can’t do it. (The message might also be urgent, and the spellchecking process hold things up with serious consequences). In a similar way, ability to use the Internet is considered a mark of freedom in the modern world (one reason why totalitarian regimes such as China seek to control it), and of status, while its main practical use is to facilitate swift access to and exchange of detailed information in a way that may not always be possible by letter or even telephone. To give it a spellchecker would either be, or be seen as, objectionable for the same reason as installing one in mobile phones is. The very ease with which a person using the Net can do so, and the very fact that it is intended to cut corners speedwise, leads people to make mistakes. This is admitted to by internet users themselves. “I write quite differently in e-mails,” people say; ”…especially in the punctuation. I feel it’s OK to use dashes all the time, and exclamation marks…it’s as if I’ve never heard of semicolons…”(6) I find that even I when composing e-mails make mistakes which I would not do when writing, because of the speed of the business. Apart from the sociopolitically sinister implications of the statement, the employer in America who commented that e-mailing increased employees’ productivity because they took less time to formulate their thoughts was putting their finger on precisely why the Internet is so dangerous from a literary perspective.
Apart from being generally sloppy, this deterioration in grammar and spelling clearly lowers the quality of literature (if letters can be literature, and academia certainly regards them as potentially being such, then so can e-mails). The person sending an e-mail may not themselves believe that the incorrect way they have spelt a word is actually the right one, but even if they don’t the recipient of the e-mail might especially if they were young and poorly educated (or middle-aged and poorly educated, for that matter). If things continue as they are, and adults perpetuate the bad habits they learnt as children, even literary fiction will not be spared this. The equivalent in the future of the next Harry Potter book will be peppered with howlers which publishers, readers and maybe even the authors themselves will either fail to spot or regard as perfectly acceptable, reacting with bemusement and even indignation when told they’ve got it wrong. In explaining why this matters, Lynne Truss writes: “We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and allusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable.”(7) Since language determines to a great extent the attitudes and behaviour of a society, sloppiness of language must inevitably lead to sloppy standards in other things, at work and in crucial matters of administration.
Text messaging and emailing are thought by some to have revived the written word, and actually resulted in a new form of language, heralding what is simply the next stage in its development. David Crystal writes in his book Language and the Internet (2001) that the internet encourages “a playful and creative (and continuing) relationship” with written language: “The human linguistic faculty seems to be in good shape…the arrival of Netspeak is showing us homo sapiens at its best.”(8) I doubt though whether poor spelling and punctuation could be seen as an example of homo sapiens at its best. It is simply poor spelling and punctuation. And whereas Crystal may be right to some extent – “CU B4 8” for “see you before eight”, on e-mails or text messages, is a perfectly acceptable way of shortening a sentence in the interests of speed, effectively a kind of code, and I would see nothing wrong in using it myself – in the context of a general decline in standards of literacy it is dangerous. A written word that is wrongly spelt and awful-sounding is as bad as, or not much better than, having no written words at all. There is a difference between words spelt wrongly, which is what we are seeing, and a different KIND of word. It is not the use of shorthand that’s worrying because we use shorthand anyway in various situations. What is worrying is when longhand words are wrongly spelt or spelt too often in a gimmicky way. Such gimmicks can have their place (“Beatles” was just a play on the word “beat” to describe a particular kind of music popular in the 1960s, rather than a deliberate or careless misspelling), but not as a standard form of English which is what they become, disastrously, if the quality of education deteriorates enough.
The fall in standards of literacy of course contributes to the phenomenon of “dumbing-down”.
(2) Music. This area is probably facing an irresoluble crisis in any case, because of the limited number of combinations of notes that are possible. Whether that explains its current situation is difficult to say, but certainly a much highlighted symptom of cultural decline is the repetitive nature of the lyrics of much popular music, which causes it to seem merely aggressive and, although it is not the only cause of the problem, explains by its psychological effect much of the antisocial behaviour we are currently getting. The young deny that the quality of music has nosedived; however it could merely be that they, being obviously more familiar with the music of their own generation than of previous generations, cannot normally contrast the different eras and thus become aware of the decline. It is difficult to be sure, although the large number of re-releases from earlier eras might be seen as strengthening the case for the prosecution. The decline started around the mid-1980s when Thatcherite-style commercialism first began to bite. In the interests of making a fast buck there was an increasing reliance on simple, bouncy, repetetive forms which appealed to the young audience at which, for commercial reasons, the music is targeted. It’s another black hole which we became sucked into almost unconsciously, and which in my view explains the downhill slide of Duran Duran after their first couple of years.
(3) Fashion (I think it is not going too far to describe fashion as an art). In clothes, which is what is usually meant by “fashion”, the problems are nothing to do with the well of ideas being exhausted; it's probably bottomless, largely because it doesn't abide by considerations of logic. The difficulty with fashion is that it’s becoming too revealing and indecent. But this is the only way it can go, unless we merely alternate between different styles which have all been done before, rather than continue to adopt new styles (with the occasional reversal to old ones) as we have done in the past, which would be a form of stagnation as much as would a complete end to change. Take for example swimwear (if you do not think it peculiar or ludicrous to do so). By the 1990s the bikini might be thought to have evolved as far as it possibly could without being indecent. It was brief and revealing, but none could object to it unless one had an unhealthy fear of the human form divine. Then fashions in the 1990s exposed the crotch in a way I at any rate found unsexy - indeed rather ugly - and indecent. The process has been arrested, but only by the comeback of the "hipster". Yet because change is always necessary at some point, stagnation or impropriety must ensue in the long run. We are condemned to venture into areas which will inevitably be damaging to morals and decency. It has been predicted that in a few years' time nobody will wear any clothes at all on the beach. I’m not looking forward to that. From an erotic point of view it’s best if you reveal nearly all but not quite all, besides which indecency and over-exposure tarnish eroticism as well as make it lose its allure.
Clothes are also becoming too informal. Mr Blair once spoke of the need to combat the "tyranny of the suit and tie." Apart from the strange sense of priorities this reflects – consider the host of far more important issues New Labour chose to neglect (though maybe the suit and tie had weapons of mass destruction!) – it’s also complete nonsense. Until the last decade or so wearing a suit and tie in everyday life was seen as entirely normal, and nobody thought we were being unfairly constrained by it. And clothes are important. Because, as is so often observed, they make a statement, and a suit and tie is smart the way a uniform is, formality breeds discipline; something the world, judging by its generally chaotic state, needs more of. Consequently where there is informality there is indiscipline, and society is already plagued by too much incompetence and childish squabbling, in public life especially. It isn’t the only cause of the problem, and clearly there are plenty of situations to don suit and tie would be excessively buttoned-up (in a manner of speaking) anyway. But at the same time we become more informal in dress we also become more careless in our use of written and spoken language, more impolite in our general behaviour. Part of the problem is that for much of the year the warmer weather caused by the greenhouse effect has made it less comfortable to wear the suit and the tie; an example of a harmful physical problem producing a harmful cultural one.
(4) The way in which old ideologies and fashions are replaced by new is something that has always happened but the process is speeded up by the rapidity of change since the Industrial Revolution. Nowhere is this better seen than in pictorial art. Largely because of the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment and the influence of political revolutions in France and Russia, art has gone through a variety of stages in the last couple of centuries: academicism, impressionism, abstractionism. The essential change has been the move from the realistic depiction of events, objects and people to a figurative approach. Logically, you can either present things literally as they are or in an abstract way (i.e. as they are not, in anything but a figurative sense). Once the two options are exhausted, there is not much left to do, not that’s new anyhow. One possible way out lies in “Conceptual art”, as it is called. This is nothing new, having begun as long ago as the 1910s with French artist Marcel Duchamp and his bottle rack (1914) and porcelain urinal (1917), and Kurt Schwitters’ sculptures made out of rubbish, but in general terms it is part of the trend by which art has embraced bolder and more radical forms in order to give itself a new direction, and in so doing eventually succeeded in eating itself. It has been seen more recently in Damian Hirst's exhibition of a dead sheep in formaldehyde (1994), or sculptures in the artist's own blood and urine, which echo Piers Manzoni in the middle years of the twentieth century, canning his excrement and selling it labelled “100% Pure Artist's Shit".
The conceptualists’ point is that a perfectly ordinary everyday item – commonplace, unglamorous, even in some cases disgusting - can be art if divorced from its original context; and they are right, although the art is necessarily of a bizarre, perhaps grotesque kind and thus not to everyone’s taste. But conceptualism fails to solve the problem of exhausted options. As with the issue of realism vs abstractionism, there are only two; either you depict the object in its normal context or you don’t. To do the first would be boring and pointless, to do the second will itself lose its novelty after a while and become stale.
Because people have run out of interesting ideas about how to represent the world art becomes simply a matter of representing life direct; presenting urinals, etc. exactly as they are, which isn’t in fact very interesting (to divorce an everyday object from its everday context need involve no more than just putting it in an art gallery, which to most people means that it is simply a urinal in an art gallery). “…{Jean Baudrillard stated that} “Art today has totally penetrated reality…he means that the border between art and ideology has utterly vanished as both have collapsed into the universal simulacrum. The simulacrum is arrived at when the distinction between representation and reality - between signs and what they refer to in the real world - breaks down. {This is mirrored in the field of humour by certain things having ceased to be objects of satire because they are satire, however unintentionally; which implies serious consequences if the matters concerned are important and also renders satire itself more sterile by restricting its choice of subject matter}. The representational image sign goes through four successive historic phases:
(1) Art is a reflection of basic theory.
(2) It masks and perverts a basic theory.
(3) It marks the absence of a basic theory.
(4) It bears no relation to any reality whatsoever, it is its own pure simulacrum. Reality becomes redundant and we have reached hyperreality in which images breed incestuously with one another without reference to reality or meaning.”(9)
In simple terms, what Baudrillard was really saying was that art had run out of ideas. “It would seem that the various successive art movements have shed themselves in the effort to innovate at a pace in rhythm with modernity's infrastructural advancements in technology. To put it simply, art vanished in the high-velocity quest for originality. Such a quest was inevitably and fatally terminal. Art can only progress towards its own self-annihilation.”(10)
The other way out, and one increasingly taken nowadays, is to resort to the shocking, the inappropriate, the bizarre or the absurd just for the sake of doing something different - and perhaps for that of doing something at all. This the conceptualists do, as witnessed by Manzoni and the other examples mentioned above, and more recently some of Tracey Emin’s and Damien Hirst’s work or Gilbert and George’s experiments with excrement a few years back. It is seen in the two other main forms of pictorial art, sculpture and architecture. Statues of pregnant women appear in Trafalgar Square where, with respect to Marc Quinn, creator of the example I have in mind, they have no business to be. Unless you’re excessively prudish there is a place for such things, but it’s in an art gallery; the fact that “Alison Lapper Pregnant” was displayed somewhere designed rather for national war heroes is itself a symptom of the tendency to go beyond acceptable boundaries in a bid to beat post-modern ennui. An example of silly (in itself, rather than the choice of situation) sculpture that comes to my mind is one erected about 5-10 years ago in Staines High Street. It is best described geometrically as a rounded column with a thumb-shaped top, and on its upper half, following the latter’s curve, is a bas-relief of a horse. We may see horses as horses, or depicted in stylised form, but nowhere do we see them apparently draped limply over the upper halves of strange columnar objects. And from some angles the erection, if I may be so bold, looks just like one – a phallic symbol, which if intentional shows it was meant to shock, and if not makes it unintentionally comical. (I should add I’m not against erotic art in itself, I just think it should be kept in its place). Speaking of horses, I make no apology for saying that I can’t possibly take seriously a logo for the 2012 Olympics which, however unwittingly, looks like someone doing something indecent to one – and is otherwise completely incomprehensible. Meanwhile recent architectural trends have added to the skyline of London a building that looks like a giant gherkin, and another – the headquarters of the London Assembly – which reminds me of those twisty coiled springs children liked to play with at one stage in the late seventies and early eighties. The bizarreness of modern art and architecture makes it difficult for the average person to relate it, to understand its message; they will therefore find it disturbing, and thus alienating.
In art a realistic approach will obviously still be essential for official portraits, and there will always be those who like abstract art, but to innovate, in the sense of creating wholly new styles, has become difficult unless in ways which are harmful. Overcommercialisation isn’t the problem, for you can’t market excrement – Manzoni was trying to making a point – or a dead sheep in formaldehyde, which was the whole idea of conceptualisation, i.e. opposition to consumerism. Nor is the fact that art can’t be rationally quantified anyway a solution to the problem, which is essentially one of running out of ideas as to how to quantify it.
I don’t know whether music and fashion could be described as bizarre in their current forms. They can be, of course, and don’t necessarily cause much harm when they are unless the particular circumstances aren’t right. After all music is only heard when it’s played, and clothes seen when you see the person wearing them, whereas a building is meant to be permanent (although sculptures may not be, they will probably be replaced by other sculptures which likewise exhibit the contemporary style). But the desire to explore the shocking, the aggressive and the inappropriate in order to break new ground or cater to what current tastes are thought to be is found in many other walks of life and of the arts. It explains why swimming costumes are sometimes indecently revealing. It explains the aggressive, even rude style of interviewing characteristic of TV presenters like Jeremy Paxman. It explains Russell Brand and why he is popular among many people despite leaving offensive messages on Andrew Sachs’ answerphone and claiming that he had had sex with the actor’s granddaughter. If we need to be like that, because it expresses an inalienable feature of modern society – social change or the problem of post-modernism, it does not make the problem any less worrying.
(5) In the section on literature it was made clear that language was going through a crisis; but this crisis is not due only to the negative side of technology. Language does of course change with time; the pace of modern society and its insistence on excitement, which means novelty, means that this process happens much faster than it did before. Society ends up simply using different words to describe the same thing, exchanging new terms for old whenever the latter have become too stale and familiar; in popular vocabulary “spin”, for a possibly specious exercise in promoting an individual or organisation and their views, means essentially the same thing as “PR”, which was common until not really that long ago. This actually makes language more sterile; what we are seeing, if one imagines it (for the sake of argument) as a commercial product, is last year’s, or last decade’s, model rehashed, dressed up to look different and so give a sense of vibrancy, of dynamism and change. Its falseness is no less unsatisfying than an insistence on using the same words all the time would be. Officially, public relations are not now called by that name, or termed simply “publicity” (either used to be favoured by many organisations) because government likes to present itself as something new and sexy. (Nor of course are they called “spin”, not officially, because apart from being basically a colloquialism “spin” in the public mind is associated with something dishonest and harmful, lately recalling in particular the dangerous degree of influence enjoyed by Mr Alistair Campbell and his interference in matters which were not his rightful province). This left only the option of “Communications”. Campbell was head of “Communications” during his time working for Tony Blair’s government and the term is now almost universally used to describe the area of publicity/public relations. Now “Communications”, although any contact between government and people is obviously that, rather calls to mind radio, television, the telephone network, e-mails and the postal service. As far as radio and TV are concerned the word seems appropriate, given the obsession of governments nowadays with managing the media, but that obsession is by no means harmless, and otherwise “Communications” is misleading because it suggests involvement in providing services which in so far as they are under government control ought to be the responsibility of the Department of Industry (if it’s still called that – one loses track of all the name changes). As in art, unless things are going to stagnate there’s nothing left to do except use silly forms like “narrative” for ideology, “offender manager” for prison guard or probation officer, or “sex worker” for “prostitute”. This accounts for politically correct terminology as much as an actual political agenda.
Some would actually deny that modern jargon is silly. All I can say is that for a form of language to be taken seriously, for people to feel comfortable using it so they will subscribe to it, there must be no possibility of it being satirised so as to leave it open to ridicule. “Snow event” is used to describe a kind of severe weather condition but it suggests people toboganning and ski-ing, presumably having fun while doing so, rather than something which inconveniences and possibly harms them. The contrast between the form of language adopted and what it is intended to describe prevents the former from being useful.
Post-modernism combines with the general desire in today’s world for greater personal freedom to bring about a junking of conventions, of traditional standards of speech and dress, even where these may be necessary for social discipline and to keep the moral tone of things high. It’s understandable that hotter weather should make people want to dress more casually. But the greater recourse to four-letter words to express one’s feelings is less excusable, are so many other features of modern society. Unfortunately, there’s not much one can do about these things. If people want something that is morally dubious or corrupting, such as pornography or drugs, or to be able to swear with impunity regardless of the circumstances, then we have a stark choice between going with the tide of permissiveness, with apalling consequences, or basically dismantling democracy which could be equally nasty. It is notable, and worrying, that when a presenter on breakfast television used the word "pissed" while on air, he tried to defend himself later in the programme on the grounds that the word was now in such common usage.

So where does Man stand at the beginning of the twenty-first century in terms of how he lives, and wants to live, his life? A feature of postmodernism is that people cannot break out of the shackles of consumer capitalism, cannot see things in any other terms than those it lays down. It’s a consequence of running out of ideas in culture and the arts. “In the absence of any aesthetic criteria, money is the only yardstick. All "tastes", like all "needs", are attended to by the market(11).” It is partly because we cannot intellectually see any alternative and partly because we have become so wedded to it that we think any retreat from it will bring about a disastrous loss of prosperity. Consumer capitalism is one of the two dominant forces in people’s lives today, the other, as we shall see, being political correctness.
There has been much speculation on whether we in the modern world have finally discredited “narratives” such as religion, Communism, free-market capitalism as practised by Adam Smith and Margaret Thatcher, Darwinian evolution and Freudian psychoanalysis. Narratives are ideologies, sometimes conflicting, which serve as prescriptions for how society as a whole, or an important part of it, should be run, - a textbook for living, in a way - and for a world view, a universal view, which gives Man the sense of purpose and identity he is always seeking. Even leaving aside the question of whether a doctrine that narratives are outmoded and unreliable and should be discarded is itself a narrative, the answer is probably that we haven’t discarded them. The curiosity in our nature means we will always seek to learn more about the universe, hence the continued search by scientists for a “unified theory of everything” which encompasses and binds together gravity, electromagnetism, atoms and all the other physical forces that govern the Universe. If we ever succeed in formulating that unified theory, it will be a narrative, and one which will have the advantage of being scientifically proven (which you can’t do with religion or with the worth of Communism or capitalism; it’s possible to view these as being matters of faith or opinion, the validity of either being, at best, only absolute in particular situations where no workable alternative seems apparent). The mere fact that scientists are searching for it proves they believe there might be narratives (one, at least). Psychoanalysis and Darwinian evolution, which remain fundamentally crucial to modern science but which it has been accepted do not explain everything, and even relativity will be subsumed within the unified theory since anything, including the workings of the human mind and the mutation of genes, can be accounted for in terms of the position and behaviour of the particles, or particles and waves, of which the entities within the universe are composed. And even though there are recognized gaps within at least two, if not all three, of the scientific doctrines mentioned they are still regarded as basically correct in as far as they go; and so they remain in effect narratives. It is because many of these things result in, to some extent, a dehumanization and atomisation of society that we of the post-modern world are impelled further towards formulating the Unified Theory. If we can fully understand how the universe works then we can master it; we will feel as if we are in control, and not just mindless cogs in some vast impersonal machine. But are our minds really capable of attaining such understanding, at any rate through science alone? And does understanding necessarily mean curing?
Assuming that quantum mechanics don’t prevent the unified theory ever being arrived at in the first place – my personal view is that they do not - I very much doubt whether our limited human brains, however clever and informed they might be, could ever scientifically discover the ultimate truth behind everything; even if we knew how it all worked, I’m not sure we could fathom why it existed in the first place. Even if we could, there remains the danger of our political conflicts destroying us all before we can succeed in the task. It is really in the field of politics, and matters which have a bearing on it, that there is this issue of whether or not we have exhausted all possible narratives. By “narratives” is merely meant “ideologies” – such as Communism, Fascism, and if you like religions along with their various denominations – systems of thought and belief, also describeable to some extent as cultures and ways of life because of the way they influence values and behaviour – which in the view of those who follow them serve as blueprints for a better world; better both for the individual and humanity as a whole. Political correctness – itself actually one of the current two dominant “narratives” - discourages use of “ideology” because, and especially after the events of the twentieth century, it seems associated with unpleasant conflicts over differing and highly dogmatic systems of thought. By that same token, it avoids application of the term to itself in case people find it as unappealing as they should Fascism or Communism (though one suspects that many political correctionists, being the ideological descendants of the far left of the 1960s-80s in the West, are more congenial towards the latter than the former even if hard realities compel them to accept that it is finished for the time being as an effective political force). For myself I would prefer to stick to “ideology”. “Narrative” is confusing because it would seem to refer to a fictional story rather than to the history of societies which did or still do exist; we are back to the question of language in the post-modern world and the absurdity of PC terminology. In any case, why not call something what it is instead of trying to obscure the truth; if “ideology” is considered offensive, then one might as well say we shouldn’t use the term “knives” because some people are wicked enough to use those objects to kill others.
Another major theme of the post-war world, obviously related to the question of narratives, is relativism: the belief that one person’s way of life is as good as any other’s, and that therefore nobody should try to change it even by non-violent methods. It can be called a form of political correctness, and is principally aimed at ideologies with all their attendant destructive effects. The religious and political conflicts of the last four hundred years – those arising from the Reformation in the sixteenth century and the French Revolution in the eighteenth, the First and Second World Wars, and the “Cold War” between the Communist Eastern Bloc and the capitalist, supposedly democratic West – have to a large extent discredited the belief systems which gave rise to them, or at least the idea that they should be promoted through armed warfare and the persecution of their opponents. Politically correct social engineering does not by itself explain the retreat from ideological partisanship, since it is assisted by a certain fatigue within our collective selfconsciousness at the divisive and destructive effects of the conflicts. There remains to some extent nationalism, an older cause of wars though, until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as much to do with the personal ambitions of monarchs as patriotic or xenophobic feelings among their subjects. But nationalism was a major cause of the conflagrations of 1914-18 and 1939-45, and although it prevails as simple patriotism, in which form it remains important to many people, revulsion and weariness at the harm done by wars whose effects are still with us and of which younger people have been made abundantly aware – so that the feeling is communicated to them, albeit at second hand – means it is less likely in Europe at any rate to be expressed in military aggression. Things may be dfferent in other parts of the world (although the tension and rivalry between the two Asian nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, partly nationalistic in origin, may ultimately be contained by fear of the consequences of atomic war). In any case, nationalism doesn’t necessarily mean wanting your country to take over the world, as opposed to making it regionally dominant or simply asserting its independence; other forms of ideology, such as Christianity or Communism, intend or at least desire to make themselves universal, practised and believed in by every human being on earth, even if they use peaceful means to spread themselves or don’t actively seek converts at all.
Francis Fukuyama writes:

“{Modern man is the last man because} he has been jaded by the experience of history, and disabused of the possibility of direct experience of values. Modern education, in other words, stimulates a certain tendency towards relativism, that is, the doctrine that all horizons and value systems are relative to their time and place, and that none are true but reflect the prejudices or interests of those who advance them. The doctrine that says that there is no privileged perspective dovetails very nicely with democratic man's desire to believe that his way of life is just as good as any other. Relativism in this context does not lead to the liberation of the great or strong, but of the mediocre, who were now told they had nothing of which to be ashamed. The slave at the beginning of history declined to risk his life in the bloody battle because he was instinctively fearful. The last man at the end of history knows better than to risk his life for a cause because he recognises that history was was full of pointless battles in which men fought over whether they should be Christian or Muslim, Protestant or Catholic, German or French. The loyalties that drove men to desperate acts of courage and sacrifice were proven by subsequent history to be silly prejudices {there remains only material gain, which reinforces the Thatcherite capitalist society}(11).”

The trouble with relativism, where the doctrine has succeeded, is that it leaves Man spiritually empty and without a purpose. Championing the mediocre over the superlative leaves him emasculated and without ambitions; unfulfilled. Getting rid of ideology isn’t necessarily justified because of the harm ideology would otherwise cause, because it doesn’t have to be, and often isn’t, promoted or defended by violent means. And it leaves simply the aim of achieving material gain, which is as corrupting and damaging to society as the physical and other effect of ideological war. It can certainly be as divisive. Nor has relativism necessarily triumphed everywhere, bar the individual fanatic who kills for their cause. The idea that one religion is as good as another is not held by militant Muslims, who because of the fear terrorism causes are a major factor in global politics. Nor is it held by a fair number of moderate Muslims or Christians, despite their abhorring violence in general or any attempt to bring about conversion by force. To take such a view would devalue their beliefs; they would not be so much “moderate” as guilty of compromising their faith. To reject one’s religion must carry with it, for infidels and the faithful equally, at least the risk of eternal damnation, or it can’t be anything important. Religion is a vital element in the rivalry between largely Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. It is in fact against religion that relativism has been principally, and not always successfully, aimed, often, it has to be said, by embittered atheists with a grudge against one particular religion, Christianity, and thus themselves partisan; such people often seem rather more tolerant of Muslim extremism than they do Christianity when the latter is merely expressing what are after all its basic tenets, as attempts to ban carol services as non-PC in a “multi-faith” society testify. Communism was discredited because it had failed to bring about prosperity and political freedom, and collapsed because reforms intended to preserve the status quo in the most powerful Communist nation, Russia, ran away with the leaders who introduced them, and who at the same time made the perhaps fatal decision not to meet mounting opposition to the regime, which as with the French Revolution the reforms had if anything helped to unleash, with repression and military force. It could still return as the flaws and injustices in the neo-monetarist commerce-orientated society become increasingly obvious, and if it became dominant in any given country it could preserve its position there for a long time if national leaders were sufficiently ruthless in upholding it.(It survives in China, which has a quarter of the world’s population, but as a purely political system.) Fascism could be given a boost by reaction against immigration and multiculturalism.
Relativism has its origins in both the wishes of ordinary people – who in Russia don’t want to see Communism coming back in a hurry, and who generally are often apathetic about politics – and the attitudes of influential groups within the intellectual, educational and political establishments. It is the former which explains the decline of Communism, the latter the exclusion of Christianity from the agenda (it is true that British schools are required by law to hold Christian religious assemblies, but in a largely agnostic – whatever it might tell opinion pollsters – society this rule is probably unjust, regardless of its benefits, and partly for that reason is often ignored). Whatever else it might be, relativism is very much a politically correct thing, designed to promote social pacifism while attacking those belief systems which political correctionists simply don’t happen to like (and thus being hypocritical). The trouble is that relativism, almost by definition, is itself an ideology; the principle, whether or not specifically endorsed in an official form – as political correctness often isn’t – that doctrine in any form can only have relative value is inevitably a doctrine! And it is not a ideology which is universally subscribed to or whose permanent ascendancy is guaranteed.
The two principal ideologies which govern modern society are political correctness itself and Thatcherism; the former is a social and political philosophy, the latter an economic one but with social implications. We have already discussed the reasons why Thatcherism became, and has remained, so deeply entrenched. Political correctness arose out of feelings of guilt and distaste, on the part of influential elements within society, over the past misdeeds of the dominant group in the world – basically white, middle-class, western, Anglo-Saxon and at least nominally Christian men – combined with a need to meet the aspirations and remedy the perceived injustices suffered by those not belonging to that group, who in an increasingly democratic and less homogenous society were becoming politically more important. This goal is achieved by controlling the use of language, in terms both of what one does and does not say, by influencing the portrayal in the media of both the privileged and the disadvantaged groups, and allegedly by “positive” discrimination in favour of the disadvantaged in the job market and elsewhere, the latter being difficult to prove because it is often not admitted. There are probably other forms of it which one could identify, too. By some means which needs a book on its own to analyse and understand, the influential elements, initially white and middle-class, and confined to the academic and intellectual sector – school and university teachers, plus some writers and philosophers – gradually achieved success in disseminating their views throughout society, until politicians had little option to bend to them, whether or not they supported the new wisdom at heart. The ordinary people had and still do have little allegiance to or understanding of it as a doctrine, merely know that under it there are certain things they should or should not say, whether or not they would want to. Their private feelings towards it are often negative – and this actually includes some members of the ethnic minorities who feel that it merely patronises them without addressing the real factors causing discrimination within society.
Political correctness is more of a left-wing philosophy, on the whole, Thatcherism a right-wing one. I imagine the proponents of political correctness would deny that such labels as “left-wing” and “right-wing” have meaning any more, partly out of a kind of pacifist desire to avoid unpleasant social and political conflicts and partly because they want to gloss over and blur the issue as a way of neutralising opposition to their views (most politically correct terminology seems designed for this purpose; either it is a tactic to win support for a policy by making it seem less politically partisan, or it is intended to hide an unpleasant truth, for example when someone who receives money for sex is called a “sex worker” rather than the more negative-sounding “prostitute”).
“Left-wing” carries with it undesirable associations with the militant trade unionism of the 1970s or the cranky policies of the
“loony left” in unversities and Labour-controlled city councils in the 1980s. Admittedly, this won’t matter to those not old enough to remember those days. But the generation which does, that now aged over forty, is going to be around for a lot longer due to better health care and diet, and will thus be more politically important. Besides, where there are issues and political parties to form around them, as there have to be in a working democracy, views and policies tend roughly to divide into right-wing (in the sense of preferring to uphold traditional institutions and ways of life, or at least slowing down the pace at which they change) and left-wing (in the sense of being more inclined to reshape those things) categories. This is because you can only either keep things as they are, or seek to change them. This basic division of matters remains the case even where there is an active third party, believing itself to be superior to the extremes of left and right and by no means negligible in its political impact, such as the SDP/Liberal Alliance in the 1980s and the Liberal Democrats since.
Political correctness certainly did not originate with the right, and initially at any rate right-wing Tories were particularly likely to oppose it – giving the lie to any notion that the emergence of the new narratives marked the end of the old conflict between “Left” and “Right.” There still are people in Britain who don’t like it and who organise, however ineffectively, to oppose it – witness the Campaign Against Political Correctness. David Cameron might seem to be embracing PC more than his predecessors as Tory leader, with moves towards “positive” discrimination in favour of women parliamentary candidates, but one wonders how sincere is his commitment to these things, and whether he isn’t merely trying, for the sake of getting into power, to copy the tactics Tony Blair used to create for himself a constituency by turning Labour from a working-class socialist party into a middle-class politically correct party. We ought also to note that the relative increase in opposition to Britain’s membership of the European Union, seen in the emergence of the UK Independence Party, is a movement whose isolationist stance, designed to safeguard what are regarded as historical liberties and customs, are very much in line with traditional “right-wing” values. It’s not that “left” and “right” aren’t around any more, but rather that the goalposts between which each side aims to kick the ball have shifted position a little.
Monetarist – Thatcherite – doctrines permitting no intervention by the state in the operation of the free market, and the consumer cultures on which they must be based to stimulate industry and achieve their objectives, have become more or less dominant throughout the western world, and not just in Britain. Monetarism began intellectually as far back as Adam Smith in the eighteenth century, was practised by laisse faire governments to a greater or lesser extent until the twentieth, and was then revived and given a new dynamism by the ideas of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, eventually being adopted in some form or other by most western nations. In Britain, where it had been anticipated by the thinking of right-wing politicians like Enoch Powell, it was put into practical effect by Margaret Thatcher, who had the strength of will to do so (her intellectual contribution was limited because, quite frankly, she did not have much of an intellect), and consolidated and even extended by her successors of whatever political colouring, the commercialisation of society becoming so extensive in the 1990s and 2000s that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in many ways more Thatcherite than Thatcher. Political correctness evolved from the left-wing socialism that had developed in the West during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, existing for its adherents as a counterpoint to Thatcherite Conservatism and its many injustices, and later became “respectable” – the “Loony Left” perhaps taking over the asylum – by accepting, except for a small rump which remains militant and disgruntled, the Thatcherite orthodoxy and switching emphasis to enforcing certain linguistic and other policies in education and the media, from the late 1980s when it realised it had lost the battle on economic policy with the triumph of monetarism and the collapse of Communism.
As they emerged as prime movers within the society of the 1980s and 1990s, it was realised that monetarism and political correctness were not incompatible. The political correctionist is a creature who comes in to work to sit at a computer all day, priding himself on his acquaintance with all the technological tools which the modern capitalist economy needs to function properly - slick advertising, the Internet, text messaging, e-mails, digital photography - and takes a ruthlessly Draconian attitude to his staff, sacking anyone whose face does not fit the image of the company he is seeking to market, while at the same time subscribing to the principle that ethnic and other minorities, indeed all traditionally disadvantaged groups, should be appeased and promoted at every opportunity, even where it is taken to excess. In fact the two doctrines complemented each other in many ways, since a desire to make as much money as possible meant firms had to appeal to all sections of the community in marketing their products, and couldn’t afford to give a growing ethnic minority population the brush-off. It was the growing awareness of this which, dovetailing with the desire of political correctionists to change society, forged the society we have today. There remain, as always, inconsistencies and anomalies. Multiracialism in the media and advertising hasn’t prevented other prejudices such as ageism being a problem in those sectors, possibly because the growing non-white population is a young one (that’s why it’s growing) and definitely because we are obsessed with an ideal of physical beauty (and therefore of youth). Entrepreneurism, which involves presenting one’s products (and by implication, oneself) as superlatively good so that people will buy them, sits paradoxically with the left-wing principle that no-one should be discriminated against, even the mediocre and the ordinary. But these things are merely symptoms of how complex (and crazy) society has become, while basically crystallising around these two doctrines.
Political correctness has been around, in effect, since the 1960s but did not then have the name by which we have come to refer to it. It arose out of the structuralist philosophy common among left-wing philosophers and sociologists in the 60s and 70s. Structuralists believe that the language a culture uses, its cultural norms and traditional beliefs, shape the way it behaves and thus seek to change those things in order to create a society they believe to be just and free of intolerance. It is especially vital for them to influence the way children and young people think, by becoming influential in the teaching profession (as well as, through the media’s power to implant ideas in the mind, sections of the latter), for those groups are at an impressionable age where opinions can be formed and standards inculcated, and the way they think and behave will obviously affect the kind of society we have in the future.
The Left in the West had traditionally been characterised by an adherence to Marxism, or at any rate left-wing socialism, in the political arena. However Marxism was discredited when Gorbachev’s reforms exposed the weakness of the Soviet system, its inefficiency and stagnation and its moral bankruptcy, and the complete collapse of Soviet power in Eastern Europe put the seal on its chances. Marxism as a socio-economic system was finished (though there are some who still cling to it).
Having lost the economic argument, the Left compensated by stressing the socio-political one and insinuating themselves into positions of influence in certain sectors where they were able to disseminate it. The process had already happened to some extent before 1989-91; unable to successfully challenge the right-wing, Thatcherite, monetarist ascendancy in politics and the economy, the Left increased its influence in areas such as the arts, education and the media as a counter to it and an outlet for protest.
The other deciding factor in the rise of political correctness has been the growth in many Western countries of a large non-white population which is perceived (correctly or otherwise) to be volatile and which because of its increasing size and concentration in urban areas is becoming politically more important, so that offending it is likely to upset social harmony. Being anti-racist became particularly important and not only, I suspect, for those who had traditionally inclined towards the Left. In this context political correctness evolved as a means of crystallising anti-racist ideology and activity into a single coherent, if unwritten, doctrine, a single system, which was seen as a more effective way of doing the job. Anti-racism was the end, political correctness the means. But political correctness is concerned with the proper way to behave towards anyone in some kind of category where they have traditionally been seen as disadvantaged: women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, religious minorities (except Christians), homosexuals of either gender, and those with some kind of physical feature which might make them an object of ridicule. In theory at any rate it is against discrimination in any form, sometimes taking this to absurd lengths: allegedly, when a fat man was sought to portray the Fat Controller of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories at a promotion those placing the advert in the media were told they should allow a thin man to apply for the job as otherwise they’d be breaching Equal Opportunities legislation.
Logically, if there is this fear that antagonising and alienating a large, volatile and growing ethnic minority population might have serious political consequences, entailing that whatever might conceivably cause it should be avoided, the ideology designed to combat prejudice and discrimination – political correctness – must extend to all areas of national life. And indeed it has come to do so, though not necessarily with the aim of ensuring (as its devotees see it) racial harmony though that is certainly on its agenda. Because at one level politics means all human affairs – relationships in which people are constantly maneouvring to get what they want, for selfish or for altruistic reasons and by fair means or foul, often because they cannot be entirely sure of the other person’s intentions. There is a desire to avoid confrontation in everything and thus to properly control it. This leads to weasel words (such as, in employment matters, “we’re going to have to let you go” for “I’m going to have to sack you”, which merely annoy the person on the receiving end of them by making them feel they are not being treated in a frank and honest way – the aim being to shy away from unpleasant truths.
Political correctness undoubtedly falls into the category of a prescriptive ideology by virtue of its aim of eliminating sex discrimination, racial prejudice etc, and by so doing making society a better place. It also clearly implies a historical awareness of a time when its values were not implemented, resulting in a society which was unjust but which was succeeded by a politically correct one where the injustices were to some extent removed, constituting a considerable improvement in the state of things. In this sense it is a “narrative” if “narrative” is meant to mean a story, although the former word is intended to stand for “ideology”, a term which says what it means and should be good enough for our purposes. Political correctness sees “ideology” as being divisive, in view of the bloody conflicts which have taken place in the past over different systems of belief, yet in discouraging use of the term it merely succeeds in confusing the issue – which it may, in a way, be designed to do as those who are confused about things can’t take up arms over them. PC is certainly an ideology by virtue of its being a system of principles which are considered desirable and which it is sought to apply to society as a whole. It is merely harder to identify it as one because it has no official handbook, not on the lines of the Bible, the Koran, Mein Kampf or Das Kapital. The reasons for this are twofold: (a) it has found that it does not need one in order to be successful; and (b) it has its own doubts as to whether its tenets are really subscribed to, from choice, within mainstream society, and wonders if producing such a handbook might not be too wise a move.
Thatcherite-style capitalism remains a narrative despite not everyone being convinced of its virtues, in that we continue to embrace it from either fear of finding something worse or inability to find something better, and those who positively hate it have little option but to put up with it. One reason why political correctness has been little mentioned in the past when metanarratives are being discussed is that its adherents feel that to put it under the spotlight in that respect might highlight its faults too much. Although some have been bold enough to say “I’m politically correct and proud of it,” most people use its language and follow its principles because they know what will happen if they don’t, rather than for any other reason. It’s truly a love that dare not speak its name. Indeed many of its staunchest advocates don’t do so either because they believe, often wrongly, that politically correct policies and language are not that but simply what common justice and humanity demand; the striking absence from the argot of society of agreed terminology, in either slang or standard English, to describe an individual who follows politically correct practices (as if other people don’t) has the same explanation.
There are two principal aspects to political correctness:
(1) Insistence on the use of particular terms (e.g “traveller” for “gypsy”) to describe groups within society, in the belief that they are non-offensive and thus establish social relations on the correct footing, or at any rate remove an abuse.
It should be appreciated in the first instance that political correctness is not part of the natural evolution of language, because it has a specifically political purpose. It is not rooted in the hearts and minds of the people (and thus must surely fail eventually) but is an artificial construct originating in the excessive guilt complex a small but influential element within society, who initially were all white middle-class intellectuals, feel on account of the injustices of the past. Whereas generally language evolves as part of a gradual, organic and not necessarily planned process, to adopt PC language is seen by its advocates as something that must be done, and is so essential that it must be done now; it is therefore prescriptive, and imposed on society from above at the time it is conceived of. Its artificial, inorganic character explains why much of its terminology is clumsy and bizarre. Using “traveller” to indicate and to replace “gypsy” is rather silly when all of us “travel” at some point in our lives, most of us in fact doing it on a regular basis. Yesterday I “travelled” to Staines from Shepperton on the bus to do some shopping, but that doesn’t mean I’m a nomad who lives in a caravan. The offensiveness of “let you go” when you obviously don’t want to be sacked doesn’t really need highlighting. We are now in a situation where words are used in a way that suggests the exact opposite of what they are intended to describe, yet are evidently meant to be taken as an accurate reflection of it. Apart from the potential offensiveness of the expression, in the particular example being given the result can only be confusion, and the intention of language should be to clarify. Politically correct terminology, then, is no less absurd than a lot of the racist, sexist nonsense it replaced. It might also regarded as discriminatory. If the indigenous population of North America should properly be referred to as “Native Americans” and its black population “African Americans”, then why aren’t I a “European Briton?”. The answer is that I’m not regarded as being in need of such consideration. I’m a member of the ethnic group which has tended in the past to be responsible for most of the racism (or so it is thought), rather than the victim of it. I therefore need to be directed in how I describe people from other ethnic groups, who must be protected from further offensiveness. This has the effect of patronising the non-white as the victim and (whatever the evidence of history) sterotyping the white as the perpetrator of the offence, the villain of the piece. It’s not as if there’s any need for it. Whether you call someone “black” or “African American” has never been found to have any bearing on how well you do or don’t treat them. “Red Indian” is perhaps more controversial, although it may not be that uncomplimentary because the reddish tint “Native Americans” have to their skin is actually quite attractive. The “Indian” bit is certainly inaccurate, resulting from Columbus not quite knowing where he was going, but is what is inaccurate necessarily offensive? A lot of the terms we use to describe people and things are inaccurate, one might say ironic, which probably means no more than that God has a certain offbeat sense of humour, as opposed to anyone (God included) wishing to be rude. Of course in the eyes of political correctionists the inaccuracy is a bad thing because it highlights the ignorance and insensitivity of the white man in insisting on using a word it had been realised after a time wasn’t quite correct. But whatever the precise thinking behind them, one can envisage people growing tired in due course of being expected to use language they know is ridiculous, awkward, and discriminatory.
(2) The emphasis, through unwritten laws, on particular forms of behaviour, in the belief that it is unacceptable to talk about, or portray, certain groups within society in a certain way even if only in jest. Political correctness is a means of safeguarding the interests, and the sensibilities of ethnic minorities and other potentially disadvantaged elements. In connection with this certain issues are downplayed, or treated in a certain fashion, in the media and politics in the belief that they are sensitive and potentially inflammatory. One aspect of this is the tendency of Channel Four, whenever producing a programme which examines British cultural identity, to have it presented by a non-white even though whites, who would surely be interested in and affected by the issue, constitute the vast majority of the population, from fear that a white person would say what their ethnic group really thinks about political correctness and multiculturalism.
As we have already seen, political correctness is manifested in a variety of ways, many of which are potentially harmful. In addition to those already mentioned one could cite the recommendation in 1999 by Sir William McPherson, as part of the investigation into how the police dealt with the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in 1994, that racist remarks in private should be reported to the police, despite the alarming civil liberty implications (supposing the policy to have been workable in the first place). Malicious people could have used this to get people they disliked into trouble with the law by bringing false charges, and a whole lot of distress and aggravation might be caused for arguably no reason at all, since there can be controversy over what constitutes a racist remark and some people's definition of one is very generous. The proposal was quietly dropped after a suitable amount of time had elapsed, but the fact that it was seriously considered at all should give cause for concern. On the subject of the Lawrence murder it need hardly be stressed that the business was tragic and distressing, yet actual murder by violent thugs is only one aspect of racism and it is astonishing that the investigation should have turned, five years after the event, into an attack on the whole of British society – for McPherson’s recommendations clearly indicate he saw this as his brief. It was already well known that racism had sadly been a feature of that society in the past, and sometimes led to actual killing, so why this particular incident should have caused McPherson’s report to be so far-ranging is hard to understand. It suggests a hysteria which was very un-English and muddied the waters by giving white people something to legitimately complain about, the whole business becoming in the end a political football.
Comments by left-wing newspaper columnists at the time (1999), discussing the whole issue of racism and how to deal with it, frequently endorsed the idea racism was racism even if unintentional, which goes against all fairness, justice and common sense, the essence of a thing surely lying in the spirit behind it. A cherished belief of politically correct anti-racists, it carries with it the danger that anyone can decide that someone else has been guilty of unintentional racism – seeing it in potentially anything they might say and do – and place restrictions on them or make them apologise for nothing at all, thereby causing considerable aggravation.
Then there is what is misleadingly termed “positive discrimination” – preference given to ethnic minorities in employment and other areas. This is sometimes admitted to and sometimes not but probably goes on a lot more than those responsible for it would like us to think. There are both practical and moral dangers in it. If you are "positively" discriminating in favour of black people in the job market you are denying the white applicants something they need, i.e. the job (if they didn't need it they wouldn't be applying for it). Given than all that would be happening would be that a different set of people would be disadvantaged, the actual gain in terms of human happiness, as well as morally, would be nil. If the policy of positive discrimination is fairly widespread, and it will be if as many people as those in favour of it naturally prefer take it up, the white applicant may be turned down on successive occasions, so that their frustration and disenchantment mounts.
Political correctness is potentially dangerous and inflammatory in its thinking and operation. The anger felt towards it, though not allowed to be expressed, is partly because of its hypocrisy. It slams racism but permits discrimination within society on grounds of age. It also ignores people suffering from conditions such as Asperger Syndrome, which is an invisible disease whereas it is usually – though not always – obvious when someone is black or a woman. Asperger’s is a mental rather than a physical state and even there it is not so much a disability as a condition which produces characteristics employers aren’t comfortable with, according to that all-important (for some) modern consideration of “image”. It’s probably also true that because political correctness discourages us from showing our true feelings about things, since they are thought to be potentially offensive to some group within society or liable to create a climate of conflict, it has led in the West to the growth of a culture of deceit and insincerity.
The exact extent to which political correctness dominates our lives, and the way in which it does so, is perhaps a matter of conjecture. Since obviously there can be right-wing hysteria as well as left-wing hysteria, it is quite likely that some of the more alarming allegations are either without foundation or have been hopelessly exaggerated. Yet there’s no smoke without fire – there must be something called PC which is controversial if not damaging in its manifestations, and has entered the public consciousness, for there to be this effect. Indeed for a historian, political thinker, social commentator or philosopher part of the fun lies in sorting out what is truth, however, uncomfortable it might be to some people, from what is reactionary claptrap. In many ways PC is defined by what you don’t see rather than what you do – the absence of black, gay, lesbian and Muslim villains, especially with white people as their victims, in fiction or of rulings by judges that attacks on whites by non-whites are racist. Because this is negative evidence it is easy for the defenders of political correctness to pretend it does not exist.
The author Anthony Horowitz protests that he is not allowed to portray a villain who is gay, black or Muslim(12). We must ask the question, how does Anthony Horowitz know he is not allowed to portray a villain who is gay, black or Muslim? Has anyone actually specifically told him, verbally or in writing, that he should not do so? Either they have, which would be alarming enough, or they are censoring by some other means. Horowitz is a respected author; are we to be believe he is delusional or bigoted? There must be a reason why he feels this way. The conclusion we are minded to come to is that the censorship he is describing does exist, although it may operate through unofficial channels only and support for it not be openly expressed. No-one ever sat down at a table and said, “I don’t think we should publish stories with black villains in them, are we all agreed on that? Yes?“ There is no need for any actual discussion, let alone collusion, on the subject but everyone knows that everyone else has these inhibitions and is prepared to accept them rather than dissent and face being frozen out. It is a form of emergent behaviour. There is an unspoken agreement between those in influential positions not to do something or to allow others to do it because it is not to their emotional liking or they fear the political consequences. It’s the cumulative effect of enough people having this inhibition as a response to social and political change, of their sensibilties happening to coincide, that allows PC to be so powerful. The feeling originates in individual minds, but has a collective effect. Since it’s not our experience that anyone openly says there should be no black villains etcetera, the censorship must be operating by other means. The reader simply rejects an author’s submission if it contains elements that are politically uncomfortable, without giving that as the reason for the decision not to publish; they can pretend the reason was something to do with marketing. If PC really thinks certain ideas are damaging and wants to stifle them, it does not need to do this by declaring a fatwah, or serving a writ, or sending a policeman to caution one; it can merely refuse to publish or otherwise promote one’s work, giving any reason that it likes for its decision. I.e, it does not have to say that it is objecting to the work because it isn’t PC, it can pretend the decision was commercial and who is to know whether it is telling the truth? The device is beautifully simple and just as effective as physical repression. Because it does not come over as censorship, not obviously, political correctionists can get away with it. And since publishers being snowed under with manuscripts often mean they’re not read at all, how do we know, in most cases, whether they were rejected for that reason or from political correctness? But Anthony Horowitz, for example, must know there is an effective embargo on his portraying certain types of people as villains in his stories because no-one else has had novels which feature them published, or he can tell by the general tone of society where matters of race are concerned, even if it is set by a relative elite, that they would not be accepted.
It is easy to regard complaints about PC as mere whingeing. Because generally the establishment does not want to complain about such politically correct absurdities on the grounds that they are nowhere near as serious as the atrocities of Hitler or of South African racists (which in some ways is true), or because it is afraid of being thought racist, it is left to particular groups such as the right wing of the Conservative party (expressing its views in newspapers like the Mail), to protest. Because these groups are the ones which might be expected to complain about them, it is of course not difficult to dismiss the protests as the predictable moans of a bunch of chauvinists. This helps to maintain the ascendancy of political correctness. And the fact that if one starts attacking PC, if one starts arguing that it is unfair to whites in some of its manifestations, one is often labelled as a racist or at least viewed with suspicion, means that ordinary people too are afraid to speak out about what they find unjust - in addition to many people simply not being bothered - and so the complaining is often left to right-wing elements. The continuing influence of PC is made possible too by its being prepared vigorously to defend itself, and by its directly or indirectly vetoing anything which attacks it on the grounds that it is too controversially political or because those with responsibility for censorship are of a politically correct stamp themselves. This prevents those who genuinely feel PC is unfair from speaking out. Of course the political correctionists do not like such assertions because if PC is made to seen unjust it may end up being discredited, and in their view that will inevitably lead to an upsurge in racism, since it is prejudice which PC is designed to combat.
It follows by logical extension that if PC is not unhappy at certain views being expressed, believes that they will be unacceptably damaging, and thus is really determined to suppress them then it will not allow particular individuals who have those views to be promoted – in the sense of publicising their achievements and appointing them to positions of authority - because the higher their profile the more harmful is the effect of their opinions being aired. To promote someone means to create a platform for their views. So it may well be that PC harms career aspirations as well as freedom of speech.
A good case could be made for claiming that some aspects of political correctness, at least, aren’t worth complaining about. It might seem discriminatory if jokes are allowed to be made about Geordies, but not Asians. But Mark Steel writes in an article in the Independent in March 2001, headed "Let's end this exasperating PC war": "What both sides fail to realise is that it is all about exercising one's judgement. Making an anti-Asian joke, for example, is obviously more malign than making an anti-Geordie joke because Geordies are not, as a rule, subject to hatred. A little common sense is all we need to guide us through the PC jungle."
It is not really a matter of exercising judgement, for the fact that someone is not as a rule subject to prejudice cannot logically make it more acceptable when they are. Steel urges that we approach the subject in a logical fashion, yet his own use of logic is suspect. It is the principle behind the insult which is wrong, no matter how often it occurs in practice. And regardless of whether the target is black, white, Asian, Geordie, Liverpuddlian, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, blonde, brunette, or whatever. Steel – expressing one of the cardinal tenets of political correctionists - appears to think that one wrong is less serious than another, in the last resort, because it happens less frequently. Those on the receiving end of the wrong - including Steel himself, no doubt, if it were to happen to him - would disagree. Many would find Steel's conclusions discriminatory; therefore to suggest it is "obviously" true that anti-Geordie jokes are less serious than anti-Asian ones comes across as offensive. The PC war which he wishes to end will go on as long as some people seem convinced that two wrongs make a right. Unfortunately, society has lost in recent years the moral finesse that teaches us that being nasty about blondes or redheads, say, and only verbally is every bit as bad as victimising those who are more usually thought of as objects or prejudice (even if is hardly more serious). We merely throw our ammunition at what appears the biggest and most obvious target – anti-Asian and anti-black prejudice. We forget that the evil of something, as with its virtue, lies in the intent behind it irrespective of its practical manifestation. There is something very disturbing, I would use the word grotesque, about the morally relativistic implication that the seriousness of a sin (if I may call it that) depends on how often it happens, a comparatively small amount of it being acceptable. It shows how much we have declined.
Like all ideologies, political correctness and Thatcherism have their flaws, their inconsistencies, and their dangers, and may well end up being discredited one day, like Marxism – whatever that might lead to. Monetarism with its lack of price control and emphasis on profit renders the ordinary citizen vulnerable to the greed of the plutocrat – who knows government will not act to restrain him - and creates effectively a dictatorship of the businessperson over the rest of society. The exclusion and social unrest it leads to risks escalating into something nasty; and it is important to realise that the danger signs were evident, in resentment at high prices, rail fares and bankers’ bonuses, before the recession came along and made things even worse; those who would blame everything on what can be represented as an abnormal situationand so divert attention from the immense harm their policies have caused should not be let off the hook.
Not everything about political correctness is wrong. If it prevents people saying or doing what is undeniably bigoted and hurtful then that’s a good thing, though there still remains the issue on whether it should be forced on them. Its terminology may also be defended on occasions; Ms. is a sensible way to address a woman if you don’t know her marital status. But it should be clear by now that a lot of it is not good at all. PC is a philosophy designed to combat stereotyping, but which involves its own cultural assumptions, and merely exchanges new prejudices for old.
It creates its own absurdities, inconsistencies and injustices, just as did the kind of system it was designed to replace. It fosters problems by ignoring certain unwelcome but essential truths, it alienates the majority in trying to appease the minority. It is intrusive and obstructive. It is deadening, causing humour only by being the object of it (where such satire is actually permitted). It can in its own way be rather vulgar. David Dimbleby, Question Time's current presenter, rather pointedly says "the woman over there", i.e. not the lady as did Day, when taking questions from the audience; in other words he's saying, "Robin Day may have been old-fashioned and patronising and sexist but I'm not like that, no Sir." With respect to Mr Dimbleby, this is proof that political correctness merely provides a new reason to be self-righteous.
Sooner or later people will decide they have had enough of it. Even given the excessive stoicism of the British people, who will put up with an awful lot, it’s vulnerable as all ideologies are to the law of the swing of the pendulum. There’s no reason for either political correctionists or Thatcherites to think they hold the Ark of the Covenant, that they have somehow rewritten the rules in a way that can never be changed, that we can start ignoring the hard facts about human nature. In the end we’ll simply get fed up with making the obligatory diatribes against bigotry, of saying things merely because certain influential sections of society say we should. It is much more refreshing, intellectually as well as as in other ways, and interesting too to write stories which are truly realistic in that blacks and Jews can be just as nasty or as misguided as Anglo-Saxons. If you find it worrying I should think that way, it is only a symptom, albeit a personal one, of the backlash against PC. But there is a danger that PC and the restrictions it imposes on society may become so irksome that any retreat from it will be welcome even if it goes too far. Taken to excess, PC makes many people you yearn for some good old-fashioned racism. Even the mindless bigotry of an Alf Garnett will come as a welcome change (definitely NOT what Johnny Speight had in mind). Whether the backlash will itself prove an entirely healthy thing is doubtful. Though it’s my experience that not all members of minority or disadvantaged groups think PC’s all that wonderful – they may consider it patronising and counterproductive – it has raised the expectations of the people intended to benefit from it. Combating racism, sexism etc has become so closely identified with the philosophy of political correctness, in the minds of both its proponents and its opponents, that any backlash against it will seem to threaten them. Certainly the backlash could spill over antagonism to those groups it seeks to defend which will be all the more dangerous because resentment has been pent-up for so long. The potential for appalling civil strife is all the greater because the ethnic minority population is now so much bigger.
Reaction to past racism and brutality on the part of the police has resulted in a desire to have every aspect of their conduct subjected to intense scrutiny. This explains the voluminous paperwork they have to fill in to give an account of their actions. This extra bureaucracy has a damaging effect because it means diversion of time and resources from the actual business of fighting crime, resulting in an increase in the latter (criminals, being opportunistic, naturally take advantage of it). The consequences for society are disastrous. The problem needs to be remedied but if there were to be a reaction against the PC, involving the abandonment of this insistence on constant accountability, could it not go too far and result in too great a lack of accountability? We will not be able to balance the equally important considerations of dealing with crime and ensuring social harmony and civil liberty.

No metanarrative, or its absence, can alter the fact that we are heading for disaster and that it may well overtake us before the Unified Theory can be arrived at, however useful or otherwise it might be to us when it is. Whether or not the Theory succeeds in explaining everything its use is limited unless it is able to solve the problems – meaning by the term those things that cause mental of physical suffering, through political conflict among other things - which the world currently faces. Otherwise it will be of little real benefit to us, just as understanding any of its component parts, such as the theory of relativity, doesn’t deal with poverty in the Third World or stop the international trade in illegal and dangerous drugs. We may not have discarded narratives but those with which we are left – political correctness and consumer capitalism, along with if you like technology and the obsession with Cyberspace - represent the final form in Man’s earthly social and political evolution. This is firstly because after them there is nowhere left to go and because the flaws in these two final narratives will engender ultimately destructive conflict. It is the same with scientific and technological progress, as we saw in earlier chapters.
If the new, that is current, metanarratives don’t work then neither do the old ones (why Marxism isn’t a remedy for all society’s ills is discussed in the next chapter). The only option would be to alternate between old and new, between capitalism and Communism or other forms of socialism, between political correctness and something more nationalist and ethnocentric – and in art, between the literally representative and the figurative; dispensing with whichever of the two alternatives had lately been in vogue once it got boring, or its flaws became too apparent and too dangerous.
Nothing that’s been tried before can really be as exciting as something totally different and new, and this applies whether or not those currently alive have ever experienced it, since historical periods and their architectural and cultural forms enter our collective self-consciousness through our knowledge of the past and that preservation of its achievements, in concrete form in museums etc., which is an inescapable requirement of any civilisation not wishing to be culturally impoverished – hence alternating between familiar models could never solve the problem.
Apart from being depressing, being stuck on this endless merry-go-round in which the wheel repeatedly turns full circle doesn’t seem to be in line with what appears the fundamental characteristic of human history, that is a process, sometimes gradual and sometimes rapid, of change and development through a succession of different forms. So it must signify something. I believe that something to be the End of all earthly things, preceded by the Second Coming of Christ. It is often asked whether human history is leading up to some kind of ultimate goal and in my view it is; the goal being the end of time and the return of Christ, with the collapse of all human societies and institutions a necessary prelude to this.
To take the commercialisation of society further would mean utter debasement. The trouble is, it has gone so far that after it there is nowhere else to go. It is precisely because it is so extreme that it represents the ultimate. It is so much to do with self-expression that to retreat from it would be impossible. Having once tasted the heady cocktail of unrestrained free enterprise, of a situation where commerce is everything and they can reap the benefits of such a philosophy, having been on such a high, the business sector will not now want to come down to earth and accept restrictions on their freedom when setting prices, hiring and firing and awarding bonuses, etc. Even in a recession; and if the recession were to end they would of course lap up the cream all the more. It was only on their part that there was ever a commitment to Thatcherism and super-Thatcherism; as I think Thatcher’s governments found out the general public were not dedicated monetarist entrepreneurs and wouldn’t mind whether they lived under a state-controlled or a free market economy as long as they were fairly prosperous and society run in a just and reasonably efficient manner. But Commerce will seek to hang on to Thatcherism even though it has become more of a liability than an asset to us, and herein lie the seeds of social unrest.
There is an increasing shortage of various vital commodities. The consequent rise in their prices makes those commodities even more difficult for ordinary people to obtain (and makes those whose financial status allows them to purchase the stuff without difficulty further the object of envy). Unless there is to be suffering and unrest on a massive scale (which may threaten the position of the wealthy, as in the French Revolution), the prices are going to have to be controlled by the state. The best way to manage scarce and dwindling, but vital, resources (like fish, stocks of which are becoming exhausted) is not through the market, which is volatile and often irrational, but through careful planning and able administration. However, the more complex and populous society is – and the number of its citizens is predicted to increase even further - the more we will be seen as needing Thatcherite monetarism because state planning is too clumsy to deal with its needs and problems. So we will hang on to it all the more despite the many and varied ways in which it damages our lives.
The conflicts the current ideologies will give rise to, due to the very fact of their not being flawless or universally accepted, will bring about the final destruction either of the human race itself, or any chance it has to enjoy some quality of life. Certainly, the failure of western, liberal, consumer capitalism-orientated culture to neutralise all significant challenges to it and achieve fully global dominance, despite its international nature, is seen in the rise of militant Islam as reflected in the controversy over The Satanic Verses, the furore when a (white European) English teacher at a primary school in Sudan named a teddy bear Mohammed (without meaning to be insulting), certain cartoons in a Danish newspaper, and the terrorism of groups like al-Qaeda. Muslim militants are effectively mounting an Islamic challenge to the hegemony of the Western-style permissive plutocracy, in which it is sought, if not to kill non-Muslims where possible – though that sometimes might actually be the aim – then to deter them from using their freedom of speech to say things the militants consider offensive and also to ensure that Muslims in the West live under their own laws, whatever the problems this would pose for the legal, political and social structure as a whole. Globally too the aim is to at least create a kind of apartheid between Islam and the West by forcing the latter’s culture, and probably its people also, out of Muslim countries where they are considered a corrupt, imperialist and decadent influence. As the militants are naturally particularly strong in those areas with a Muslim majority, or at any rate significantly large Islamic population, they can be said to represent a North African, Middle Eastern and South Asian challenge to Europe and America (the geographical heartlands of what we normally call the “West”) as well as a religious one. With a growing Muslim population, among whom the militants can easily hide, in countries like Britain the challenge comes both from within and outside the West and is thus particularly wide and complex in its implications. As Islam is a fast-growing religion, most of whose members are probably not extremists by preference, it doesn’t even have to be a matter of how to respond to militancy. The challenge is there anyway, and there may still be differences of opinion which will eventually result in conflict if the non-Muslim majority feels its own traditional identity, status, customs and aspirations are threatened by the changes it will be increasingly under pressure to make in order to recognise the new reality.

(1) Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt, Post-Modernism For Beginners, Icon Books 1995, p122
(2) PM4B, p151
(3) Eric Hobsbawn, Age of Extremes: The short twentieth century 1914-91, quoted in PM4B p151
(4) Evening Standard 20th January 2003
(5) Lynne Truss, Eats Shoots and Leaves, Profile Books Ltd 2003, p178 – 203
(6) Truss, p281-2
(7) quoted in Truss p195-6
(8) PM4B, p54-55
(9) PM4B, p45 (These are the authors’ words and not Baudrillard’s)
(10) PM4B, p49
(11) Fukuyama, p307
(12) Edward Stourton, It’s A PC World (Hodder and Stoughton, 2008), p211

The Crisis Of Government
In all societies there is a need for political order. Without it, we cannot have the conditions necessary for economic prosperity or indeed any firm basis for doing many of the things which are necessary to promote happiness in the modern world. But opinions have always differed as to what kind of state is most likely to guarantee them.
These days, there is an international as well as national dimension to this question. The dream of all high-minded and progressive politicians in the modern age has been towards greater unity among nations, as a means of avoiding the horrors of war. To this end they have created international institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations. Do these bodies really represent an effective means of abolishing war and ensuring a better world?
Without political amalgamation there is no guarantee that some, if not all, nations would never pursue aggressive policies towards their neighbours or the world at large; for there is no sure way of making nations respect whatever international agreements they have been signatories to while they are left to their own devices. Beyond a certain degree, however, political amalgamation is itself dangerous. Far too much power would be placed in the hands of the leaders of any world government, maximising the damaging consequences if their policies were misguided.
A world government is generally seen as an impractical pipe dream; some degree of political unity between the nations of a particular region of the world is a much more realistic goal. Nor is political unity the (intended) aim of all international organisations. Integration in financial and commercial matters too may be seen as fostering greater partnership and co-operation, as well as greater efficiency.
One area where a serious attempt to realise this ideal is taking place is Europe, and the European case illustrates the obstacles such initiatives are bound to meet. If moves to enlarge the scope and powers of the European Union founder, it is unlikely to lead to war in Europe. But the obstacles do demonstrate how the prevailing spirit of the age can lead to trouble. Patriotism inspires people to great achievements and thus raises the moral tone of a society. But patriotism needs a focus, and it cannot have one if the character and quality of the nations's institutions is determined by laws passed elsewhere, in whose making the nation was but one factor.
It is not just for sentimental reasons, however important, that moves for unity between the nations of Europe are dangerous. The influence of a country over its own affairs clearly decreases proportionately if it becomes just one of a number of equal partners, no matter how democratic consultation procedures are. That is a matter of mathematics and of common sense. This would be particularly disastrous if the country had special problems and special needs which might cause it generally to vote one way, while most other countries in the union, their circumstances being different, voted another; it would end up being permanently disadvantaged. This dangerous dilution of sovereignty will obviously increase as the union enlarges to include all the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe.
The dilemma facing the EU's members is that no progress can be made on important issues without either unanimity, which in the nature of things can never be guaranteed particularly when one is trying to accommodate the often conflicting needs and aspirations of twelve or more different countries, or majority voting which would leave the minority at a permanent disadvantage. However democratic and accountable one makes the European Union - and at the moment it is not democratic or accountable - there will always be that problem. And in any supranational institution there will always be one or more powers which for some reason are more influential than others, and the consequences should their will prevail over that of the other members will be more damaging than it currently is if sovereignty is diminished too far. Insisting on unanimity first would hamstring everything, while not having it would leave nations outvoted on issues which matter to them feeling disadvantaged, and possibly contemplating leaving the Union.
The growth in the influence of the European Union parallels, and has to some extent become subsumed in, the general trend towards globalisation; that process whereby financial markets become interlinked through computers and the Internet, trade takes place across national boundaries without any restrictions, and companies in one country can take over those in another or own property there. The dangers of globalisation are twofold. Firstly, it means that the faults in one part of the system are more easily transmitted to the rest of it; as we have seen, economic recession in America, Rusia or the Far East is more likely to have a knock-on effect on prosperity in Europe. Financial crises can spread very easily. Secondly, globalisation in economic terms has much the same effect as subsuming political independence within a larger governmental unit. If a decision is taken in a foreign country which leads to my being made redundant, I have no control over it because the other country is (and should be) responsible for its own affairs. This of course has always been the case; it’s long been recognised that the mere fact of economic prosperity, and therefore jobs, being dependent to some extent on imports and thus on actions taken overseas by foreigners will result in this kind of situation. The only way to avoid the problem is to be economically entirely self-sufficient, which in the modern world is rarely possible. But the blow is so much harder to accept when the company you work for is itself foreign (and an increasing number of companies in the UK are themselves foreign), operating within your country by either national (because it is seen by the government as a necessary and desirable part of globalisation) or EU (taking advantage of the subsuming of one political entity within the larger, collective organisation) law. Then, the control seems more direct and personal. The consequences of not being able to regulate your employers’ behaviour towards you, and of that behaviour itself, are so much more dangerous and so much more resented. The idea that it is my own kind doing this to me, because we are all in the EU now, is nonsense because the EU is not seen by its citizens, particularly in Britain, as a single political entity to whom they have consciously pledged allegiance, even though the governments of the member states may have signed certain of their powers away to Brussels. To adopt a mindset which sees the EU this way would mean endorsing and giving one’s loyalty to the principle of a political entity that by its nature could never be democratic. There is something disturbing in people either doing so or being expected to do so.
Apart from the damaging effects on my own personal life, to my material wellbeing and perhaps mental health if I am made redundant, there is at the same time a feeling of anger – perfectly reasonable and understandable - at the injustice of foreigners taking actions which harm one’s interests and those of fellow citizens of one’s country. If you’re going to be mucked about, it’s better to be mucked about by your own people (which is bad enough). There is both a socio-economic and a psycho-political consequence. It can only be tolerated as long as things are going well, and as long as they are done fairly; and it’s the nature of life in the earthly sphere that they don’t always go well, just as they aren’t always done fairly.
Globalisation does not, as it is no doubt supposed to do, result in better times for everyone by benefiting ailing economies as well as strong ones. It isn’t thought to have achieved that in the Third World, merely extended to that part of the globe the power and influence of greedy Western companies whose policies benefit only a small section of the native population and leave the rest undertrodden. Even in the West itself it merely allows the younger, stronger, more dynamic economies, like Germany, to dominate the older ones that in relative terms, at least, aren’t doing so well (like Britain).
The fact that so many vital services required by the British people now come from other countries, such as India and China, merely emphasises the historical, long-term decline of Britain as a manufacturing power rather than does anything to reverse it. Globalism doesn’t remedy the structural weaknesses of a particular economy, merely exposes it to competition which it cannot cope with and must therefore be absorbed, to a greater or lesser extent, by the other economies; something liable to happen to any firm running into serious difficulties. Its rivals naturally don’t mind about that, whether or not any spite or triumphalism are involved, so long as they are making a profit.
Perhaps the loss of Britain’s independence in these matters is simply a consequence of our economic decline, a decline which is inevitable and part of the eternal (in this life) rise and fall of nations, just as the possible political consequences, if we did not have weapons of mass destruction, of our decline in relation to India and China perhaps would be. But at the moment, talking to ordinary people, one does not get any sense that they like this takeover of the British economy; they regard it as an inconvenient and complicating factor, because it means having to deal with what in practice is a distant authority not subject to the same regulations as a home-grown one (something made worse – and this is no racist whinge – by differing mindsets and incomprehensible accents) and damaging from a patriotic point of view. It also causes them to fear for the future. I suspect part of the reason for this is that thanks to the international media and mass communications, we are more aware of how angry and oppressed Third World countries are by their dependence on a fabulously wealthy (by comparison) West which seems to want to keep them in a subordinate economic position, just as we are more aware and for the same reasons of political hardships, human rights abuses and the like perpetrated against the citizen in those countries either by the West itself or by their own government.
In my opinion the nation state, a comparatively recent (nineteenth century) development in human politics, has not yet had its day. In fact, it is the only political unit which allows efficient government. Anything bigger runs the risk of being unwieldy and also undemocratic, since the problems involved in gaining consent for various policies would add to the difficulty in governing such a large area efficiently, leading some to bypass the parliamentary process either overtly or covertly. For these reasons I was chilled when my eyes fell on an item in a newspaper reporting how one dignitary had declared that the nation state was now dead; because the nation state is needed as a counterweight to the growing influence of supranational organisations like the EU, a means of preventing them becoming too powerful. For the foreseeable future, at least, we should not attempt to go further than creating and maintaining alliances between independent countries, if we wish to create global harmony. Yet European politicians are increasingly talking of creating a single European Army to which national armies would be subordinate; have created a European Foreign Ministry in what seems to be an attempt to replicate the functions of national governments (whose own departments would presumably be subject to their counterparts in Brussels); and have made EU law take precedence over that of each constituent nation.
All this is extremely dangerous, but so too, unfortunately, would be reversing the process by which Europe has extended its control over more and more areas of our national life and personal affairs. Whereas the European Court is responsible for much legislation that has a damaging effect on British life, both nationally and at the the level of the individual, and to use it encourages it to go on producing such legislation, it may sometimes be necessary to seek its help in overturning bad laws that originate with your own the government, as many bad laws do. Those laws may be just as harmful and need just as much to be thrown out. Inevitably, we will use Brussels whenever we need to and campaign for its withdrawal from British national life whenever we don’t. There seems to be no easy way of resolving the contradiction. While if Britain were to leave the EU but her governments insisted on continuing to inflict bad policies on its citizens, there might be no means of getting rid of those policies short of serious civil unrest.
There should be no attempt to bring about a single European currency – another thing Brussels is working towards. I cannot believe that it will not become a stepping stone to political unification. History suggests that the political unification of a region has always been proceeded by some measure of economic integration (e.g. the Zollverein in nineteenth century Germany). And if you have economic unity then you may as well have political unity too, for whoever pays the piper calls the tune. The trouble is that economic unity may be the only way for Europe to compete with the rising economies of the Pacific Rim region. We face an unappealing choice between economic, at any rate, domination by others, to the detriment of our own prosperity and aspirations, or absorption into a European Union which is increasingly corrupt and also, by virtue of the absurd and restrictive laws it passes in the civil sphere – its health and safety and civil rights legislation, which either allow too much (in the former case) freedom or too little – politically oppressive.
Offsetting to some extent the growth of the global super-state is the factor of regionalism, by which certain areas seek to free themselves from rule by governments whose politicies may not be wise or fair by declaring themselves independent nations. It has been particularly noticeable of late in eastern Europe where we have seen, since the end of the Cold War, the emergence of nationalist aspirations (indeed of whole nations).
It can sometimes be a potentially destabilising force. This is seen most closely to home, for a Briton), in the issue of devolution/independence for Wales and Scotland. Anglo-Welsh and Anglo-Scottish relations have certainly been far from untroubled over the centuries, the reasons being defeat in various wars followed by political and economic subjection to a government in London which it was felt put the needs of England first to the point of neglecting those of Wales and Scotland (having the largest population, the most successful economy and the capital city on her territory meant the English were naturally ethnocentric, and psychologically the geographical distance from London was also a factor). The history of the matter is the history of three nations whom circumstances forced into a relationship which was not equal. This was a source of frustration to the Scots and Welsh, since they were proud nations who valued their independence, and also at times to the English who had to foot the bill, when they bothered to pay it. This colours the situation that exists today.
In the later twentieth century there was a growing movement in favour of devolution, which eventually led to referendums on the issue. The Welsh and Scots voted for devolution by a narrow margin, one not considered wide enough by the government of the day to justify carrying out the measure in practice. Though controversial, there was some justification in the government’s decision since, if devolution had been implemented and enough of those who had supported it became disenchanted with it and changed their minds, it would have rendered the whole business ultimately pointless especially given the cost and administrative difficulties of setting up and then dismantling its apparatus. Subsequently, and most unfortunately, the policies of the Thatcher and Major governments left the Scots in particular feeling left out and disadvantaged and created a groundswell of opinion in favour of devolution which this time could not be resisted. It was enacted in 1999 by the New Labour government of Tony Blair, the Tories being much less enthusiastic towards it. The problem thus created lay in the way it was done (for which the motive was party political gain, Blair wanting to gain maximum advantage from the Tories’ lack of success north of the border; he wished Scottish Labour MPs to reward him for devolution by supporting him at Westminster when votes came up on important issues).
We presently have something like a two-tier system, whereby members of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments vote on matters reserved to those institutions, such as health and education, and members for Scottish and Welsh constituencies in the Westminster parliament vote on non-devolved matters such as defence and foreign policy. The grievance is that Scots and Welsh Westminster MPs can still also legislate on English matters whereas the converse does not apply because that right has been transferred to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies.
For some years the situation seemed to me both unjust and confusing, and in October 2006 I wrote to the Department for Constitutional Affairs asking for clarification of certain matters, receiving the following reply:

“In relation to your query over the voting rights of Scottish and Welsh MPs, a fundamental principle of the UK Parliament is that all members have equal rights. This means that each MP can vote on any matter brought before them, whether they represent constituencies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.
“The principle of equality is particularly pertinent when you consider that almost all Bills brought before the House of Commons have financial implications or require a money order. Any expenditure in England has a consequential impact upon the money provided by the Devolved Administrations under the Barnett formula. This principle was reflected by the Kilbrandon Commission on the constitution that stated: “Ability to vote could not depend on whether the matter at issue related to a reserved or transferred subject. Any issue at Westminster involving expenditure of public money is of concern to all parts of the United Kingdom since it may directly affect the level of taxation and indirectly influence the level of a region’s own expenditure.
“The vast majority of MPs are against removing this equality {is it not effectively an inequality?}, with the House of Commons rejecting a motion in January 2004 which sought to prevent Scottish MPs from voting on matters which did not ostensibly affect England by 377 votes to 142.
“Debates in the House Of Commons are by their nature seldom confined to matters that are wholly reserved to the UK Parliament. Bills are inevitably a complex intermingling of reserved and devolved areas. For example the Higher Education Act 2004, which introduced top-up fees in England, included provisions that related to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“In addition, the Executive derives its authority from its ability to command a majority in the House of Commons. If there are two classes of Member, the Government might have a majority on some other issues but not on others {but doesn’t that happen anyway?}. This would not provide a sound basis for effective government in the United Kingdom.”
While there might be an overlap, some measures might nonetheless affect England more than they would Scotland or Wales. In voting on them Scottish and Welsh MPs are exercising a control over English affairs which is by any standard unacceptable, as well as consitutionally illogical. It is a bit odd, and a little worrying, that measures should be seen purely in financial terms, that economics should be the determining factor; is there a financial aspect to the abolition of fox hunting in England, for example, and if so does that mean Scottish and Welsh MPs are allowed to vote on it? It seems very curious. I don’t think everyone does see all these matters, on some of which they feel very strongly for reasons unconnected with finance, in economic terms which is why they are not likely to perceive any justification for Scotland and Wales effectively being allowed to vote on them where they concern principally England.
“Debates in the House of Commons are by their nature seldom confined to matters that are wholly reserved to the UK Parliament. Bills are inevitably a complex intermingling of reserved and devolved areas. For example the Higher Education Act 2004, which introduced top-up fees in England, included provisions that related to Scotland and Northern Ireland.” If, on the vital question of finance, the countries of the United Kingdom are really still linked in this way, then why not have full and proper union as existed before 1999? Whoever is not financially independent cannot truly be politically independent.
“Any issue at Westminster involving expenditure of public money is of concern to all parts of the United Kingdom since it may directly affect the level of taxation and indirectly influence the level of a region’s own expenditure.” If that is the case, then we do not have proper devolution. “Seldom” is not the same thing as “always”, which implies there are some measures in which Scotland and Wales as opposed to England do not have an interest at all, but are still voting on. We have instead a half-measure enacted for political reasons, to appease the feelings of the Scots after the way they had been treated under Major and Thatcher and to leave New Labour with a grateful power base and source of votes in Scotland.
“In addition, the Executive derives its authority from its ability to command a majority in the House of Commons. If there are two classes of Member, the Government might have a majority on some other issues but not on others. This would not provide a sound basis for effective government in the United Kingdom.” The aim here is to avoid the complications inherent in a two-tier system. But although it seems to be working to the government’s advantage it is a two-tier system nonetheless, and one which is a little bewildering until it is explained to you.
It is a situation which pleases no-one. English people don’t like it, even if most of the time they can’t be bothered to complain about it more vigorously, and the Scots aren’t satisfied with it either as otherwise why would the Scottish Nationalist Party be doing so well? If Scotland is already voting independently on matters affecting her own finances then she is effectively already a separate state; let us therefore dismantle a constitutional arrangement which is a sham as well as unfair on the English. “The vast majority of MPs are against removing this equality, with the House of Commons rejecting a motion in January 2004 which sought to prevent Scottish MPs from voting on matters which did not ostensibly affect England by 377 votes to 142.” But the House of Commons happened at that time to have a massive Labour majority; the Tories were not so happy about the constitutional anomaly, although since coming to power in 2010 they have failed to tackle the issue, preferring instead to tolerate arrangements which are unjust and potentially divisive, from fear of doing something which would have the effect of pushing Scotland closer to an independence that might not be practical, and thus creating a problematical situation.
I understand that David Cameron seeks to avoid the implications, possibly violent, of Scotland being forced to cut itself off from England but not finding it feasible to become fully independent by having fewer MPs; the aim being that the inequality of the current constitutional relationship between Scotland and England will thereby be less. The trouble is that proportionately it will still be there; in fact it would be the same injustice and to the same extent, we’d merely be going by a sliding scale! It is of course the ethical principle that counts, and the injustice will still remain. Also, if the aim is to reform a system which is corrupt and remote from ordinary people then having fewer MPs will be less democratic, with such a large population as the UK has; and the votes of even one or two Scottish MPs could make a difference when matters afecting England come to be debated in parliament.
Since the whole thing (the creation of the 1999 system) was done largely out of party political gain, one would suppose the imbalance could be put right, by giving the Scots something like proper self-rule, without doing any great damage. But things were probably also done the way they were out of fear of the full implications of independence.
If Scottish independence is tried and does not work then the issue will be killed. But reversing it would not be acceptable unless it was a reversion to the situation created in 1999, since what the Scots certainly do not want is to return to the state of affairs before devolution when they had considerably less control over their destiny than at present. Yet the situation since 1999 is unacceptable to the English, because it is unethical, and feeling against it, though muted, remains strong under the surface (especially when it is combined with such inequalities as, for example, English students having to pay to go to Scottish universities when the converse doesn’t apply). It will not be possible to maintain it in the long run. What I’m getting at is that the best thing would have been for the pre-1999 situation – something it is not now possible to revert to - to have remained in being and that its dismantling opened up a can of worms. A return to the 1999 constitutional arrangement would not be acceptable unless Scotland were prevented from having any say in matters which also affected England and Wales, and then you may as well have independence.
If all Scottish and Welsh MPs were forced to give up their right to sit at Westminster this could cause problems. The abandonment would have to be complete since to leave them able to vote on foreign affairs, defence, and other matters affecting the security and perhaps the survival of England, when in every other respect they are not the same country, would be wrong. There would have to be full independence, yet would this be financially viable for Scotland and Wales? There persist considerable doubts on that score. A related question concerns the oil, a scarce and thus increasingly precious resource, still necessary to the world at large even if the aim is to try and use it less because of global warming; it is doubtful if anyone would let a relatively small country like Scotland become independent in case it grabbed what was thought to be too big a share of the stuff.
There is little doubt that for one reason or another an independent Scotland would not be financially so, which would destroy much of the point of it as well as be degrading for a nation which has always prided itself on its sense of dignity and honour (one reason why it’s never at heart liked having to be subordinate to England). From a practical point of view, it’s worth appreciating that one reason why the stronger English state never built on its success against the Scots in battle to actually conquer and annex Scotland was that the latter was not considered economically worth having. Being the weaker economy was also the prime motive behind the Scots joining, in the Act of Union of 1707, with a people they had no reason to love given the conflicts of the previous few hundred years, in the first place.
If independence is not viable, there would have to be essentially a return to the status quo before 1999. Scotland would be trapped in a situation where, after the mismanagement of the Major and Thatcher years, the memory of which lingers, she could not guarantee that she would be treated with respect and her affairs conducted competently. After the high expectations raised by devolution, the result would be a bitterness, anger and demoralisation which could not find constructive political outlets because they would not be practical.
If independence (though presumably it would only be that in as far as it was consistent with membership of the European Union) did work in administrative and financial terms, it would still raise thorny and divisive political issues. Given the close proximity of Scotland and England, their past association (albeit not an untroubled one) in a common nationhood, and their both being integral members of a modern European economy, wouldn’t it be absurd for people not to have joint citizenship? Well it would if personal convenience was the only consideration of importance, but I’m afraid it isn’t, certainly ought not to be. There is no halfway house by which Scotland can be independent in all but name, i.e. still be officially a part of the UK but only officially. The idea would presumably be that Scots retained a British citizenship, or could have an English and Welsh citizenship, which would entitle them to live and work in England.
Yet by moral rights, a Scot can only be an English person’s boss, maybe firing them and by doing so having a detrimental effect upon the quality of their life, if they are part of the same national community as them, as otherwise it’s not fair; in the same way that only joint nationhood enables Scots and English to govern, and make jokes about, each other. The English might of course grumble but not do anything – a common failing of theirs – just as they tolerate the totally unfair situation where citizens of other EU and Commonwealth countries can vote in some UK elections, but it would be rash to assume things couldn’t change in the future, either through gradual attrition or because of violent popular protest. A society that can change from being too restrictive in morals to being too permissive (as Britain, along with the rest of the West, did during the course of the twentieth century), and from being ridden with racial and class prejudice to being too politically correct can also change from being globalised to being more nationalistic, with an attendant concern to more strictly define citizenship and identity, using the law where necessary. Apart from the danger of anti-Scottish and anti-Welsh feeling if those nationalities were granted perks and advantages within England which it wasn’t felt was right, the Scots and Welsh would be denied economic benefits they might turn out to sorely need.
A complete end to Scottish MPs legislating for England would reinforce the split and cement Scots independence. If Scotland has complete mastery over her own affairs, she alone deciding policy that affects her, she may as well be completely independent. None of the intermediary stages would work. After the disillusionment of the Thatcher and Major years there is no way the Scots would accept a return to the status quo pre-1999. The present situation dissatisfies a great number of people on both sides (as seen in the Scottish case by the recent success of the SNP). But to assume that independence would work either is something of a gamble. When there are a number of countries in the same region of the world all producing similar commodities (the so-called “banana republics”), as is the case in parts of Africa and Latin America, they are not necessarily at a disadvantage compared to one another and can retain their independence however small they may be. For reasons of geography and population distribution among other things it is often different in the West. Nations seek to be advanced industrial economies but do not always possess enough resources to achieve that aim to the same degree as each other. In Scotland’s case, although there are nations in the world far smaller than her, she has not quite the size of population and abundance of natural resources compared to England to support an independent, prosperous, fully functioning modern economy. At best she could only survive on substantial EU grants in a way which if anything would be demeaning to her pride as a nation and sense of self-respect. Certainly she would be restrained in how far she could make use of her most significant economic asset, her oil – in the 1970s a factor boosting support for independence because it seemed to make it viable - quite apart from growing reservations on ecological grounds. As we have established oil is still a vital resource for many people. It is also becoming a scarce one. As it continues to do so the price of it will rise higher, yet the rest of the world will make sure by fair means or foul that Scotland sells her oil at a price convenient for them, not her, restricting her economically independent with respect to her greatest natural asset. And what is not economically autonomous might as well not be politically autonomous either.
In the case of Wales it will be even more difficult to resolve the potential running sore of the “West Lothian question” by granting full independence because Wales is less suited than Scotland to be fully independent, being smaller and with a smaller population. And she will not want to go back to the status quo before 1999 any more than the Scots do. The whole situation has been messy all throughout history, but it has been rendered irresolvably so by the partial break from London and the expectations raised by devolution. The nuclear submarines currently based at Holy Loch could be moved to Plymouth (at a guess: I’m not a defence expert) but from a practical, logistical point of view the fact that the SAS train in the Brecon Beacons and reservoirs in Wales supply towns in north-west England with vital water gives some idea how potentially problematical is the legacy of past mistakes and prejudices.

If the nation state, whatever its relation to other nation states, is to be the standard political unit, how should that political unit be governed? The short answer is that the legitimacy of a government depends on whether it is supported by the majority of its citizens, whatever people in other countries think of it. If it is, then it would undoubtedly be wrong for an external power to try and change the regime by force. Even where there is uncertainty over the matter (as would be the case by definition in a society which did not hold elections) it is questionable to do what might be going against the will of the people. The principle stands whatever kind of government one is talking about – democracy, monarchy, military dictatorship. Even the last of these may have considerable popular support, however repugnant many of its actions might be. My purpose here is not to debate questions of political philosophy, which is best done elsewhere, but rather to observe that governments of all kinds seem today to be under pressure of one kind or another.
Monarchies in Asia – Nepal, Thailand - whose survival was until recently tolerated whether from tradition or some other reason, have been subjected to violent overthrow or at least the threat of it. Those in the Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia, are under fire from both Islamic extremists (who would probably create a worse form of autocracy than that practised by the house of Saud, if the Taliban in Afghanistan or the mullahs in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini are anything to go by) and democratic protestors. With those dictatorships which remain fairly securely in power, such as the regimes in Burma and North Korea, the problem of course is that they are there at all. The Communists in China have liberalised the country’s economic system but remain politically as much in control as ever, practising an oppressive totalitarianism (brutal enough to tie up western protestors against its treatment of Tibet) which is meeting increasing resistance from its people; the upheaval, if there is protracted civil unrest or the regime falls, being likely to have shattering consequences in such a heavily populated and economically important country. In the Islamic world, in which democracy, where it exists, may be disregarded if it gives too much power to fundamentalists, as happened in Algeria – one can see a potentially destabilising conflict emerging between pro-democracy campaigners and religious militants of the kind who have proved by their behaviour over The Satanic Verses and the Danish newspaper controversy that they have no time for freedom of speech. The fight will be a three-cornered one where there are established monarchical regimes who regard both the democrats and the religious fanatics as a threat to their power and status.
Elsewhere, it seems generally agreed that democracy should be the order of the day. Most of us like to think that we are living under a system where each has the right to participate in choosing who is to make the decisions which affect our lives. Although the excitement of electoral contests would be lacking, it is worth reflecting that we wouldn’t care that much if we lived under a dictatorship or absolute monarchy (in practical terms they are the same thing) as long as it was relatively benign and competent at the task of ruling, ensuring an acceptable standard of living for its citizens and enough personal freedom to be able to do all the things one wants, short of actually voting. However the problem with dictators, as history shows, is that they get too drunk on their power and become brutal, as well as frequently incompetent, because they don’t think they need to worry about how they are perceived by the people. The uncertainty and excitement of electoral contests would of course be lacking in any state which had abandoned parliamentary politics.
But is “democracy” really much of an improvement? For one thing, it isn’t entirely democratic. It is undoubtedly more so than was Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, and is Burma today. In such regimes the people play no part in the political system at all, and their basic civil rights are curtailed to a greater extent than has lately been the case in the modern West. In that West the popular vote, however imperfectly it reflects the wishes of the actual majority, does determine whether the government of the day remains in office, and there is an unspoken agreement, a convention, that it will not seek to retain power by force regardless of general election results.
However, although the election may change the personnel of government it doesn’t remedy the fundamental defects of the system within which they operate. The will of the people can make a difference as to who is actually in power, but it doesn’t mean they will enact the policies the people want. They may make the choice (between the two or more major parties) but have no control over who they have to choose from, which can be serious if the general moral and intellectual calibre of politicians has tended to decline (otherwise it might not matter so much). One party may be preferred to another simply because it is the lesser of the evils, so to speak; and the lesser of the evils is still an evil. This explains why Margaret Thatcher was continually returned to power in Britain over her Labour and Liberal/SDP alliance opponents, who seemed less united and in Labour’s case ideologically too extreme, remaining in power for over ten years despite