usual apologies

Looking back down the page, I notice that the entries here have been increasingly trivial. This is, I know, my fault. I have added at the bottom of the recent posts listing a feed to my more serious pieces on Comment is Free. When I am less busy, I will try to do more than just link blog here, but the book comes first until it is finished. Next week I am off to Stockholm for three days, on a foreign ministry freebie, arranged at very short notice.

In the meantime, a thought about Melanie Phillips: Steven Poole has been wondering why she is such a passionate Global Warming denialist. Obviously, she passionate about it because she doesn’t do calm and reasonable any more. But why so perversely disbelieve the evidence? Why should just this have become a right-wing cause?

I think in her case the explanation is personal. She was a friend of a good friend of mine at the time when she began her swing from the Left. It was sparked off by the discovery that the local state school was no bloody good even though, at the time and since, there were great numbers of experts asserting that British children have never been so well-educated and so forth.

Similar things happened when she started to study social policy, and discovered — rather ahead of the pack — that things like absent fathers really matter.

So two of her formative political experiences involved the discovery that all the respectable experts were wrong (cf also Conquest’s Law, that everyone is a reactionary about the subjects that they understand). Something similar happened to her beliefs about social policy, where it also turned out that a lot of large and inconvenient truths were being suppressed in polite discourse. A non-loony, non-conspiracist version of this is found in the work of “Theodore Dalrymple”.

So I think she expects everything else to fall into the same pattern of a self-serving bureaucracy bamboozling the public. It’s a credible stance because such bureaucracies do appear and are sometimes influential. In any society that is failing at something important, a lot of expert opinion is spent ignoring or denying the bleeding obvious for dishonourable motives. Other examples would be

  • almost everything said officially about church membership in the last forty years
  • almost everything said by respectable American commentators about foreign policy

(Yes, yes: I know that MP’s views on foreign policy are passing strange as well. But they are differently loopy and not driven at all by this particular dynamic.)

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7 Responses to usual apologies

  1. I don't pay says:

    I’ve never heard that called Conquest’s Law before, presumably for Robert Conquest. If you know a subject, you see the difficulties, the crudity of the proposed solutions, the failure to properly formulate the questions, and on and on. Still, as you present it, this Melanie Phillips appears to have a kind of perpetual immaturity about her. How old were you when you realized that slogans didn’t encapsulate the truth, that partisans lied and deceived themselves, etc.? Twelve? We have some inkling at an early age, and our toleration of it grows as we do. Every once in a while, often with leftists turned rightists, you meet somebody who appears to have swallowed everything whole, so that the discovery of mendacity utterly destroys their faith.

  2. Rupert says:

    Some campaigners for right-on and zeitgeisty causes like personal identity and privacy rights, IP reform and so on, get trapped in the campaigning mindset. When something comes up which seems to match their preferred bete noir, even if subsequent research shows otherwise, it earns the same level of instant emnity and if you argue, you’re the enemy.

    It can be quite a shock when it happens. I wonder if I do it.


  3. acb says:

    Idontpay: yes, for Bob Conquest. I think that MP does have exactly the angry fifteen-year-old quality that you ascribe to her. She keeps going on the inexhaustible idiocy of her opponents — but this, whatever you believe, is a resource which will last until the sun goes nova. There is always someone really stupid crass and villainous to disagree with even when you’re wrong.

    Rupert, I don’t think so. I was talking to Henry Porter last night about ID and the rule of the law, which is germane to this, but I think that I will shove that into a blog post.

  4. I don't pay says:

    ACB, I’ve a question about your current project. What is the name of the, I think American journalist who popularized the notion of Sweden as a middle way, as early as the 1930’s? I’m blanking on it. This had a distinct North American variety, partly driven by our upper midwestern Nordicism, that may be distinct from the English form, and very prevalent among educated progressives, although you may have incorporated that into your study. There was a trace of this utopian admiration and admonition in many popular things I encountered as a child in the fifties and sixties, from marriage manuals to accounts of the Winter War.

  5. acb says:

    IDP: I don’t know. The earliest book popularising Sweden that I have is — no: the earliest is Mary Wollstonecraft’s diary — but the earliest one which depicts Sweden as being on its way to a progressive Utopia is “Modern Sweden” by Cicely Hamilton. She was an interesting character, a determined feminist actress and playwright who wrote, in the Thirties, a whole series of “Modern …” books. But I don’t know how influential she was.

    I would have thought that it was the Myrdals, writing in English, An American Dilemma and so forth, who did much to popularise the notion of Sweden as a middle way. But, again, I don’t really know.

  6. I don't pay says:

    Marquis Childs. The account in this piece is a good summary of how a sensible No. Am. progressive is likely to think of this stuff. You may disagree, or have a somewhat different emphasis, but that nice woman at the food tasting who seems to know and have done everything, and maybe flew one of Von Rosing’s planes in Biafra, would be inclined to think about like this.

  7. Paul says:

    A more pertinent example would be the benefits of immigration and (dread word) “diversity”

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