Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment published on the Internet
Issue Number 34
14th August 1999
24 Fairly Crowded Hours
by Sean Gabb
I feel that I ought to produce another Free Life Commentary, but the weather makes me lazy. Here instead is an entry from my Diary. I have removed a few references to private matters, but otherwise have changed nothing.
14th August 1999
Tuesday 10th August 1999
Glasgow Airport, 6:00pm
I came up here earlier in the afternoon to record a Living Issues programme for Scottish Television, and am now waiting for the aeroplane back to London. The programme was about who should have disposal of our bodies after death. Some Liberal Democrat MP—Dr Evan Harris, I think is his name—is threatening a Bill to let the State harvest our organs without needing consent. He promises an "opt-out"—that is, we shall be able to say that we want our organs buried with us. Any idiot, though, can see the logical outcome of this proposal. We start off with "presumed consent" subject to our revocation. Then after the journalists have cried up enough specially chosen hard cases, we proceed to the harvesting of organs despite refusal of consent "to save the little kiddies", and we end with compulsory donations while alive of blood, and even perhaps of organs. "To each according to his need; from each according to his capacity." I don't have to imagine each link in the chain of descent. You only need look at any other "little" violation of rights by the State and what it has led to—how driving licences became identity cards, for example, or how gun control became gun prohibition—to know that these people are really about.
I found Dr Harris a smug, patronising creep—all sweaty hands and unsmiling eyes. During the recording, I sat next to him on the big studio sofa while my skin crawled. Late one evening last year, when I had business by King's Cross, I came across a couple of young beggars picking through a heap of litter and pulling out old chip wrappers to lick off the grease and scoff any solids they could find. It would be hard to say for certain that I'd rather have had their scabby, verminous bodies sat next to me—but I'm quite certain I'd rather have them in Parliament than Dr Harris.
Half hour programmes don't allow long arguments, so I kept my points simple. I denounced Dr Harris' scheme as "state cannibalism", and insisted that I owned my body as of right, not by some act of grace from the authorities. We also discussed whether we should be allowed to attach conditions when donating organs. This referred to the story that broke last month of someone who left his kidneys on condition they only went to someone white. My opinion on this doesn't need explaining: it has all the freshness of a multiplication table. But I did manage a nicely deflating attack on Dr Harris. He conceded under pressure that people did have the right to attach conditions—but that a really ethical doctor should always refuse organs with "unacceptable" conditions. "Putting political correctness before patients' lives" I sneered. I don't know if Scottish Television will leave that one in, but I had fun in the studio this afternoon.
The only bitch is that my aeroplane is delayed, and I shall be home later than expected. That's why I sit here in the airport writing out this entry for reading into the diary later tonight. What else should I report?
With Dr Tame and Russell Walters last night to see the new Star Wars film in Central London. I don't believe I shall ever forget the thrill of watching the original film back in 1978. It is a perfect film of its kind. It has a strong, well-paced plot, good acting, a marvellous score, and special effects that fitted in seamlessly with everything else. There was also just the right dash of libertarianism—not the preachy sort you get in Ayn Rand novels, but the message that evil empires can be beaten and that individual choices can make a difference. I saw it the first time with an almost religious awe. I must have seen it 20 times since, and still it moves me. Not only by contrast, but in itself, The Phantom Menace is a disappointment.
There is too much plot crammed into too little time. The background is interesting—a corporatist trade federation using force and fraud under colour of law to impose its will on a smaller rival. It's a barely covered attack on the New World Order, with echoes of the Spanish Armada and what is being done by the British and American Governments in Iraq. But the background is drawn too thickly—almost like a Soviet propaganda film. And there is too much else in the foreground. There is a planetary invasion, and chariot race, and a race of primitives, and an excursion into high politics, and the constitution of an ancient religious order, and even a virgin birth. All this is too much. I'm not sure if they were asked to try, but the actors have no space in which to establish the characters of whom they are playing. Granted, the special effects are impressive—though a film isn't to be judged by mere spectacle and movement—and the sets are often magnificent: some look as if taken straight from Lord Leighton and Alma Tadema. But the overall effect is flat. I came away reminded of a Schubert piano sonata generated by computer that I downloaded from the Internet – technically accomplished, but without the slightest trace of being alive.
After we had said good night to Russell, I drove Dr Tame down the Embankment to Brian Micklethwait's flat. We had to sort out the literature for the big libertarian conference the LA is holding this autumn. There is something wrong with Brian's computer—probably the extreme age of his printer and the software he still runs, combined with Windows 95—but it took over an hour to print a few pages of text and graphics. So, while Dr Tame looked through some old issues of Encounter, Brian and I drifted into a full dress argument. It started with one of my casual assertions, that we are governed by a class of people who are resolutely hostile to all freedom and individuality. Brian replied with a denial. All the New Labour types he had come across had struck him as individuals in their own right and not at all hostile to individuality in others. Brian once told me that arguing with someone is like having sex. As the words flew between us, increasingly impassioned, I realised that I was being seduced into a exhausting session on his intellectual bed. The argument proceeded roughly as follows:
SG: Look at the actions of these people. They are dismantling the legal protections of freedom. The Home Office is pushing to abolish Trial by Jury. It has succeeded in getting the right to hide video cameras in our homes without a court order. The Department of Transport has replaced the old paper Driving Licence with a plasticised photo card, and is now pushing for a law requiring us to carry these at all times when driving and to produce them on demand—thereby bringing in what will soon become an identity card. Labour and the Conservatives are equally bad in this. The Tories passed many of the bad laws that Labour is now bringing into effect. For all they claim to honour individuality and diversity, they are systematically undermining the protections that make these things possible. BM: So why are they doing all this? That is the interesting matter. You have spent years in denunciatory mode and have acquired a devoted following—mostly among very odd Americans. But all your reams of denunciation have not yet started a debate with your enemy, and so you are wasting your time. You can't change the world simply by insisting how bad it is. Why don't you try thinking what are the stated justifications of the enemy, and see how well these stand up to scrutiny. Then you'd have a debate with these people, and might have some chance of changing their minds. Why do you think freedom is being destroyed? I assume—though only for the sake of argument—that it is being destroyed.
SG: The reason is because these people want absolute and unending power—for themselves and for various allied business and intellectual interest groups. To get this, they need to free themselves from democratic accountability and join an over-class of New World Order masters. They are behaving like a group of lazy company directors who lie and cheat the shareholders into giving up a majority stake to a big multinational. The directors are then confirmed in office and given day to day control over the affairs of the new subsidiary. Some of them even get seats on the main board. They lose control over long term strategy, but they also lose all those annoying shareholders crying out for diligence and economy. To do this, our masters must take from us the assured sense of autonomy in which resistance becomes possible. Therefore the combined attack on legal rights and on the conservative institutions which have been the outworks that in turn protect these legal rights.
BM: No, that is the reason you assume of these people. I can't think of anyone—not Hitler nor Stalin nor any of the other monsters in history—who was self-consciously a villain. Nor do I believe that people like Tony Blair are going about this alleged business with as clear a head as you are claiming. I want to know what are their stated justifications. For example, I suspect that Jack Straw wants to abolish Trial by Jury simply because he thinks it would save money and make for better law enforcement. Why don't you argue on those grounds? SG: Because abolishing Trial by Jury and other legal protection would save money, and would also raise the conviction rate—especially for those crimes that shouldn't exist. The problem with these people is that they can't even understand the value of what is being thrown away in their war on crime. Tell them that planting microchips in our bottoms would reduce social security fraud by a third, and they'd have the legislation ready in a week. They want to abolish liberty because they don't really see its value. Turning to their stated reason for abolishing freedom in general, they believe that a single a world government possessed of absolute power would abolish war and tyranny and alleviate poverty. They see themselves as the guardians of a new and stable and happy world order. They would rule and have all the pleasures of absolute power—but they would also have the satisfaction of believing that they ruled for the best of reasons. BM: But this is an argument. Instead of moaning about what horrid people our rulers are, you should be arguing that their New World Order won't achieve these stated objectives. They might then listen to you, and you might start winning arguments. SG: It isn't a worthwhile argument. Their New World Order would achieve at least the shadow and often the substance of what they claim. For example, it wouldn't allow world wars, or regional wars like the one between Iran and Iraq. Violence would continue to be used—but in limited, calculated doses, as against Iraq and Serbia. There would be no more Paschendaeles or Hiroshimas. It would be possible to claim that world peace had been brought about. It's the same with tyranny. There would be no more Fidel Castros or Saddam Hussains—no more people dragged into filthy cells and tortured with red hot pincers. And it's the same with poverty. Africa and other places would be saved from their half mad, half kleptocratic ruling classes, and put under a government willing to respect property rights enough for some property to be accumulated.
The New World Order would be a better place than now exists for the great majority of peoples. But for the more civilised portion of mankind—people like us—it would mean an immense levelling down. It would mean our enslavement. But this is not an argument for the likes of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Arguments about freedom just don't mean anything to them. And so I continue writing and arguing as I do to alert others to the danger of what is happening. We went at each other in this manner for over an hour, until Brian's printer spat out the pages we needed. My brief summary of how we argued does injustice to how interesting an hour it was. Brian is the best arguing partner I know—it may have something to do with his coming from a family of lawyers. It is sad to think that when we are both dead, the account given above and other equally thin diary entries will be all that remains of his verbal debating skills. And it is unjust that I seem to have given myself all the best lines in the account. I did win the argument, and felt very pleased with myself afterwards, as I don't beat Brian very often. Even so, the argument was more balanced than I describe it. It is a pity that I am not able to reconstruct the rhetorical and argumentative leaps with which Brian made and defended what I think in its essentials a very poor case. I can only assert that he did make and defend it with consummate skill. Perhaps I am mistaken in my strategy. Instead of addressing myself to the world in general on how rotten our rulers are, I should concentrate on persuading Brian—and then watch as he unleashes himself on the world. That would be both useful and enjoyable.
My aeroplane still hasn't been announced. I think I will buy some tea and biscuits and catch up on the lies in today's Daily Telegraph. I'm sure there will be something in it to confirm my most pessimistic beliefs.
© 1999 – 2017, seangabb.
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