The Free Press

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The events of the last week, and the intervention of number 10 and the Metropolitan Police in the last couple of days, surrounding the Sir Kim Darroch leak affair, has got my libertarian hackles up no end.

For Neil Basu to wade in and effectively threaten freedom of press, allegedly at the behest of the government, is very worrying. I would hope that enough heavyweights (including both prospective PMs) weighing in on the matter in support of the press should mean that the issue will die down quickly.

The press should always be free to print what they want. We don’t always have to agree with what they write, and they should always aim to be responsible in their activities, but reporters should be able to take the facts as they see them (accepting that they will never be complete) and draw their own conclusions from them. Combine that with editorial choice, business models, cognitive biases and marketing targets, within the context of a free market, and you should end up with something for everyone. This is as it should be.

The moment the government get involved and try to either suppress reporting to control its output, we’re all in trouble. Filtering events, true or otherwise, and promoting specific narratives, not only shows an arrogance on the part of those trying to control things, but is also an insult to the people they are trying to convince. You might get away with it in totalitarian situation, but it’s much harder and you’re going to look fairly daft in a democracy like ours.

The press should be able to report what they like, when they like. If they get it wrong, and they often do, they usually self-correct as more information comes to light. We all know that any paper should be taken with a pinch of salt. I like to read both the Telegraph and the Guardian most days as I think that somewhere between them, once you filter the biases, you get more to the core of the bigger matters.

Hit the Brakes

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Nick Timothy writes in the the Telegraph today of the hypocrisy of those who marvel at the wonders of the EU and berate the ‘beast’ that is the US. But when you look at the stats, he says, the US has done far more for international peace and the environment than Germany has in recent years, despite Trump’s apparently inward looking agenda.

He argues that Germany and the US both operate at a national level, and that their decisions are based on maintaining a balance between their own interests and relationships between countries, but generally will always put the former first. Neither countries, he says, is better or worse on it’s own merits that the other, and both are important allies to the UK.

The implicit argument is that national interests will usually trump the wider, international order, and so despite all of the EU’s calls for ever tighter integration, there is only so far people will allow it to be taken before they put the brakes on. The UK, never really part of the EU project in the same way as rest of the EU 27, hit the brakes early. But others will, sooner or later have their feet off the accelerator and hovering over the brake pedal.

To me, it feels like the European project is floundering, not because the dream is to be a United States of Europe, as was perhaps, I think, the original vision. If you look at how much more decentralised the US has compared to the way the EU is going, the vision, in reality is the giant State of Europa.

This is what, instinctively, the Leavers have picked up on and are balking at. Rather than finding the balance between national interests (like setting regional legislation that works for that specific country, much as each US state has its own legislature) and working together just on things that make sense to share, the EU wants a one-size-fits-all solution for everything.

There was plenty of talk at the time of the EU referendum around the fact that he US had been key players in getting the UK to join the EU back in the day (to point where De Gaulle kept vetoing our application because he suspected or knew this). But at some point, the goal changed, or at least the alleged US vision of a mirror to the USA, became something much bigger entirely.

I wonder if this was inevitable because in Europe we are so entrenched in our various diverse nationalities, that we naturally scale that national mentality upwards. We forget (or fail to understand) that the US was built by primarily libertarian thinkers from the top down, devolving power to the individual states.

Perhaps, if the EU had stuck more to the US model, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now in the UK, and the dream may still be alive.

Revolution

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I keep going back in my mind to one of the points Andy Beckett made in his ‘long read’ in Tuesday’s Guardian. My initial reaction to the idea that Conservatism developed as a way to preserve the power of the elites, was one of, ‘huh, typical paranoid leftie rationalising things too complex and coming up with random conclusions.’

But the more I think about it, the more I think he has a point, one that can more than likely be backed up by simple historical proof, should you need it.

Now, before you think I’m veering off to the left somewhere in my thinking, I’m not. I’m no fan of egalitarianism in its purist form. Forcing everyone to be equal would destroy the economy, stagnate design and development and generally make the world a worse place to be. I cannot in any way see this as positive, even if it feels on the surface like a nice thing to do.

On the other hand, it does feel to me like the Conservatives are in a bit of existential pickle. As I argued on Tuesday, if, since Thatcher, the Conservatives have taken Libertarian values to their core, when it fundamentally can’t work with them, then a party that is set up to maintain some kind of status quo where the ‘elites’ keep their power base, won’t help the situation, as these elites are the ones who wish to maintain society in their favour and keep those from the ‘lower classes’ in their place.

This might have worked well enough in the pre-digital age, but it’s not sustainable today. In a fast moving world where people can make large sums of money with their digital products, the whole power base is shifting.

So, the question is, if we should have ‘elites’, who should they be? I have no great truck with the class system, despite the British obsession with them. Perhaps it might be the entrepreneurs, the risk takers prepared to put their soul on the line to bring the next great products? If we were to let evolution take its course, various options may present themselves over time.

I suspect such a social revolution is probably already happening – and has been for some time. What Andy Beckett identifies merely as conservatism failing and a societal swing to the left might actually be something much, much bigger.

Zombies!

Manipulation Witch Zombie Cemetary
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Yes, I know I said I thought they were rubbish, but I’ve just finished reading an interesting article by Andy Beckett in the Guardian, “‘A Zombie Party’: The Deepening Crisis of Conservatism”, arguing that Conservatism is dying and that the Left is on the rise, and it’s rather got me thinking.

I have to say that I agree with Beckett to a point, yet as ever with left-wingers, not necessarily for the same reasons.

I felt that Beckett got the fundamentals of Conservativism muddled with the fundamentals of Libertarianism. He argues that the Hayekian free-trade, low taxes, small government of Thatcher and Reagan were Conservative fundamentals, and that they’ve never really worked. Admittedly, many Conservatives think this way too looking at what some of the candidates vying for the PM post are saying, but I’m starting to think that while many Conservatives consider themselves Libertarian, Libertarian values are fundamentally at odds with Conservative values.

Libertarian values are rooted in the Extended Order, which is almost a kind of magical spiritual realm (at least in mine and Hayek’s minds), and more ‘Liberal’ in its operation than Conservatives would feel comfortable with. It will morph and change in a progressive fashion as society evolves. Certainly, I think this is the core of Hayek’s essay, ‘Why I am not a conservative’. The Extended Order will take the best of society, and run with it, the bits that don’t work falling away. It may drift to the ‘right’ or ‘left’ in the process, but ultimately it transcends both.

A central tenet of Beckett’s argument, which I think is right, is that Conservatism is a holdover from the days when the Elites where trying to fight the rising tide of the masses gaining power. I’m not sure this means that if society drifts more to the left (which it certainly does in London) then Conservatism is dead, nor that people under 45 today who are more liberal in attitude, will stay that way as they grow older (and not go all conservative, as they have traditionally done). That said, they might do, such is the wonderful way of the world, that’s the point! It will possibly never go the way you expect it too, it’s all so com-per-li-cated.

The Extended Order is fundamentally about evolution and change, something the liberal left claim to be for, and the conservative right against. The problem is that the magical nebulousness of the Extended Order is anathema to left-wing rationalists, who need facts and figures to justify what’s happening in society, something that can only ever be sought in hindsight, and usually too late as society has moved on before the data can be found to prove it. And data is notoriously slippery at best. Just look at the climate change debate, or read Foucault’s Pendulum.

And yes, I still think Zombies are daft.

Stand up

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Last year I undertook reading Hayek’s dense (but brilliant) The Constitution of Liberty. I must admit, I’ve only read the first third, but one uncomfortable truth for me that came out of it was that for society to work well, it requires the individual to stand up and be counted; to put themselves out there and make a noise.

That’s one reason why I started the daily blogging thing. For too many years, I’ve hidden my light under a bushel, afraid to speak out and too ready to run away from conflict. One colleague even accused me of ‘shy Toryism’, which would be fine if I could identify with the Tories, something I find particularly hard to do these days, even if there’s a reasonable Libertarian contingent in the party.

Time and again throughout my life I’ve let other people take credit for work I’ve done, or not spoken out when I thought things could be done differently.

One thing I have definitely noticed is that since I’ve started blogging daily, I’ve discovered a new-found confidence that I’ve never really known before. And I must say, I quite like it. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and publically stating what I believe in, has been somewhat transformative.

So here’s my simple tip for the day. Even if you can’t be bothered to start blogging daily, try to find ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone, it’ll help you and, hopefully, help society as well.

Stories and Beliefs

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What we choose to believe and the choices we make are, by and large, controlled by our subconscious, based on the stories we tell ourselves and those that we’ve been told by our parents, our friends and those we respect and admire. These, along with our life experiences, the autobiographical information and memories we store about ourselves, and many other factors are all integrated into a whole in our heads.

There is often no rational reason why we choose to believe some things; it’s a blend of so many factors. This is why in some respects debates around politics and, topically, Brexit are circular and fruitless, and we’d be better off finding our common ground and moving forward from there.

Rationalist thinking that beliefs are somehow malleable when subjected to rational scrutiny is not helpful. We have to accept that the choices we make are often arbitrary and nonsensical, and trying to put them into words is more often than not, incredibly difficult.

Our beliefs run deep, and it takes a long time for anyone to change their minds on deeply held beliefs. I would argue that Damascene conversions are more likely people finally letting go of old viewpoints, where their new ones were either a bit scary for them, or they just didn’t realised they’d moved on, and then something has given them the excuse to drop the old beliefs – a shift in perspective of the group around them or a move to a new group of friends/colleagues etc.

This is why a second Brexit referendum is pointless. Very few people will have changed their minds. If anything, I think a lot of people felt bullied into voting to remain, and have since seen that, while there were blatant lies on both sides of the argument, the lies on the remain side were malicious and designed to put fear into people. Not a good way to build trust.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography of Voltaire wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This is a hard premise to live to, but as a libertarian I truly believe this to be the core of society and getting along. We will never agree on everything – how dull would life be if we did? But to rationalise and dig your heels in and point fingers on a wave of Noradrenaline and say, “You’re wrong!” is to miss out on the magic of life.

Hello World

Hello World Computer Programmer
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Inspired by many accounts that daily blogging is a ‘good thing to do’, I thought I’d dip my toes in and give it a bash.

By way of introduction, my name is Andy Coughlan and I’ve spent most of my adult life split between careers in IT and Digital Marketing, and, at various times, trying to ‘make it’ as a writer, musician and filmmaker. I’ve been reasonably successful on all of those fronts, even if I’m not a household name living in a luxurious countryside mansion.

I make award winning short films with reasonably well-known actors, run a great little Sci-Fi anthology with one of my oldest and closest friends, enjoy working in London as a Digital Product Manager (and the daily commute on Southeastern’s High Speed link), have played hundreds of gigs with some top class bands (all of whom could have been the next big thing), and spend most of my spare time either adapting my favourite books into screenplays or writing new ones.

So that’s what you’ll find here; the outpourings of a mind struggling to make sense of all things creative, social, political, philosophical, and metaphysical. I have a deep interest in neuroscience and how that affects the way we deal with the world. Fair warning; I’m a libertarian (in the mould of Hayek and von Mises) and a firm believer in all things free (especially lunches – I’m usually available between 1 and 2!).