Category Archives: religion

Limits of ISIS terrorism in the UK

This is the 3rd article in my short series trying to figure out the level of terrorist danger ISIS poses in the UK, again comparing them with the IRA in the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’. (ISIS = Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. IRA = Irish Republican Army). I don’t predict the level it will actually get to, which depends on too many factors, only the limits if everything goes their way.

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/isis-comparison-with-the-ira-conflict/ discussed the key difference, that ISIS is a religious group and the IRA was a nationalist one.

http://timeguide.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/a-pc-roost-for-terrorist-chickens/ then discusses the increased vulnerability in the UK now thanks to ongoing political correctness.

IRA

Wikipedia says: The Provisional IRA’s armed campaign, primarily in Northern Ireland but also in England and mainland Europe, caused the deaths of approximately 1,800 people. The dead included around 1,100 members of the British security forces, and about 640 civilians.

It also gives a plausible estimate of the number of its members :

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was estimated that in the late 1980s the IRA had roughly 300 members in Active Service Units and about another 450 serving in supporting roles [such as “policing” nationalist areas, intelligence gathering, and hiding weapons.]

Sinn Fein, (which was often called the IRA’s ‘political wing’) managed to get 43% support from the nationalist community at its peak in 1981 after the hunger strikes. Provisional IRA approval ratings sat at around 30%. Supporting violence is not the same as supporting use of political means – some want to fight for a cause but won’t do so using violence. That 30% yields an IRA supporter population of around 75,000 from 245,000 nationalist voters. So, from a supporter population of 75,000, only 300 were in IRA active service units and 450 in supporting roles at any particular time, although thousands were involved over the whole troubles. That is a total of only 1% of the relevant population from which they were drawn – those who supported violent campaigns. Only 0.4% were in active service units, i.e actual terrorists. That is an encouragingly small percentage.

ISIS

Government estimate of the number of young men from the UK that went overseas to fight with ISIS is around 500. According to a former head of MI6, 300 have returned already. Some of those will be a problem and some will have lost sympathy with the cause, just as some men joined the IRA and later left, all the way through the troubles. Some will not have gone overseas and therefore can’t be identified and tracked the same way. Over time, ISIS will attempt to recruit more to the cause, and some will drop out. I can’t find official estimates of numbers but there are ways of making such estimates.

Building on Paddy Ashdown’s analogy with the IRA, the same kinds of young men will join ISIS as those who joined the IRA – those with no hope of status or fame or glory from their normal lives who want to be respected and be seen as heroic rebel fighters by holding a weapon, who are easy prey for charismatic leaders with exciting recruitment campaigns. The UK Muslim young men community faces high unemployment.

ISIS draws its support from the non-peace-loving minority of the Muslim community. Citing Wikipedia again, a Pew Research Centre poll showed 72% of Muslims worldwide said violence against civilians is never justified, surprisingly similar to the equivalent 70% found in the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland. They also found in the US and UK that over 1 in 4 Muslims think suicide bombing is sometimes justified, not very different from the world-wide level. (A 2006 survey by NOP found that only 9% of UK Muslims supported violence. Whether attitudes have changed or it is just the way questions are asked is anyone’s guess; for now, I’ll run with both, the calculations are easy.

The 25-30% figures are similar to the situation in Northern Ireland in spite of quite different causes. I lived a third of my life in Belfast and I don’t think the people there generally are any less civilized than people here in England. Maybe it’s just human nature that when faced with a common grievance, 25-30% of us will consider that violence is somewhat acceptable against civilians and support a sub-population of 0.4% terrorists fighting on our behalf.

On the other hand, the vast majority of 70%+ of us are peace-loving. A glass half full or half empty, take your pick.

The UK Muslim community is around 3 million, similar to the USA in fact. 28% of that yields a potential supporter population of  840,000. The potential terrorist 1% of that is 8,400 and 0.4% is 3,360.  If we’re optimistic and take NOP’s 2006 figure of 9% supporting violence, then 270,000 people would be supporting 1080 terrorists if the right terrorist group were to appear in the right circumstances with the right cause and the right leaders and good marketing and were to succeed in its campaigning. That puts an upper limit for extreme Islamist terrorism in the UK at between 3 and 11 times as big as the IRA was at its peak if everything goes its way.

However, neither is the actual number of UK ISIS terrorists, only the potential number of terrorists available if the cause/motivation is right, if the community buys into it, if the ISIS leaders are charismatic, and if they do their marketing well in their catchment communities. So far, 500 have emerged and actually gone off to fight with ISIS, 300 have returned. We don’t know how many stayed here or are only thinking of joining up, or aren’t even thinking of it but might, and we don’t know what will happen that might aggravate the situation and increase recruitment. We don’t know how many will try to come here that aren’t from the UK. There are plenty of ‘known unknowns’.

Some of the known unknowns  are good ones though – it isn’t all scary. In the Middle East, ISIS has clear objectives and controls cities, arms and finance. They say they want to cause problems here too, but they’re a bit busy right now, they don’t have a clear battle to fight here, and most of all our Muslim community doesn’t want to be the source of large scale terrorism so isn’t likely to be cooperative with such an extremist and barbaric group as ISIS. Their particular style of barbarism and particularly extremist views are likely to put off many who might consider supporting another extremist Islamist group. There also isn’t an easy supply of weapons here. All these work in our favor and will dampen ISIS efforts.

So the magnitude of the problem will come down to the relative efforts of our security forces, the efforts of the peace-loving Muslim majority to prevent young men being drawn towards extremism, and the success of ISIS marketing and recruitment. We do know that we do not want 3,360 home-grown ISIS terrorists wandering around the UK, or a similar number in the USA.

Finally, there are two sides to every conflict. ISIS terrorism would likely lead to opposing paramilitary groups. As far as their potential support base goes, ‘Far right’ parties add up to about 2%, about 1.25 million, but I would guess that a much higher proportion of an extremist group supports violence than the general population, so some hand-waving suggests that a similarly sized opposition supporter population terrorist group is not unlikely. We know from elsewhere in Ireland and other EU countries that that 2% could grow to the 25-30% we saw earlier if our government really loses control. In the USA, the catchment group on the ISIS side is still only the same size as the UK, but the potential armed resistance to them is far greater.

In summary, ISIS is potentially a big problem, with 300 home grown potential ISIS terrorists already here in the UK and trained, hundreds being trained overseas and an unknown quantity not yet on the radar. If all goes badly, that could grow to between 1000 and over 3000 active terrorists, compared to the IRA which typically only had 300 active terrorists at a time. Some recent trends have made us much more vulnerable, but there are also many other that lean against ISIS success.

I have a lot of confidence in our intelligence and security forces, who have already prevented a great many potential terrorist acts. The potential magnitude of the problem will keep them well-motivated for quite a while. There is a lot at stake, and ISIS must not get UK terrorism off the ground.

 

A PC roost for terrorist chickens

Political correctness as a secular religion substitute

Being politically correct makes people feel they are good people. It provides a secular substitute for the psychological rewards people used to get from being devoutly religious, a self-built pedestal from which to sneer down on others who are not compliant with all the latest politically correct decrees. It started out long ago with a benign goal to protect abused and vulnerable minorities, but it has since evolved and mutated into a form of oppression in its own right. Surely we all want to protect the vulnerable and all want to stamp out racism, but political correctness long left those goals in the dust. Minorities are often protected without their consent or approval from things they didn’t even know existed, but still have to face any consequent backlash when they are blamed. Perceived oppressors are often victimized based on assumptions, misrepresentations and straw man analyses rather than actual facts or what they actually said. For PC devotees, one set of prejudices and bigotry is simply replaced by another. Instead of erasing barriers within society, political correctness often creates or reinforces them.

Unlike conventional religion, which is largely separated from the state and allows advocates to indulge with little effect on others, political correctness has no such state separation, but is instead deeply integrated into politics, hence its name. It often influences lawmakers, regulators, the media, police and even the judiciary and thereby incurs a cost of impact on the whole society. The PC elite standing on their pedestals get their meta-religious rewards at everyone’s expense, usually funded by the very taxpayers they oppress.

Dangers

Political correctness wouldn’t exist if many didn’t want it that way, but even if the rest of us object to it, it is something we have learned to live with. Sometimes however, denial of reality, spinning reasoning upside down or diverting attention away from unpleasant facts ceases to be just irritating and becomes dangerous. Several military and political leaders have recently expressed grave concerns about our vulnerability to a new wave of terrorism originating from the current Middle East problems. Even as the threat grows, the PC elite try to divert attention to blaming the West, equating moralities and cultural values and making it easier for such potential terrorism to gestate. There are a number of trends resulting from PC and together they add to the terrorist threats we’re currently facing while reducing our defenses, creating something of a perfect storm. Let’s look at some dangers that arise from just three PC themes – the worship of diversity, the redefining of racism, and moral equivalence and see some of the problems and weaknesses they cause. I know too little about the USA to make sensible comment on the exact situation there, but of course they are also targets of the same terrorist groups. I will talk about the UK situation, since that is where I live.

Worship of diversity

In the UK, the Labour Party admitted that they encouraged unchecked immigration throughout their time in power. It is now overloading public services and infrastructure across the UK, and it was apparently done ‘to rub the Conservatives’ noses in diversity’ (as well as to increase Labour supporter population). With EC policy equally PC, other EU countries have had to implement similar policies. Unfortunately, in their eagerness to be PC, neither the EC nor Labour saw any need to impose any limits or even a points system to ensure countries get the best candidates for their needs.

In spite of the PC straw man argument that is often used, the need for immigration is not in dispute, only its magnitude and sources. We certainly need immigration and most immigrants are just normal people just looking for a better life in the UK or refugees looking for safety from overseas conflicts. No reasonable person has any problem with immigration per se, nor the color of the immigrants, but any debate about immigration only last seconds before someone PC throws in accusations of racism, which I’ll discuss shortly. I think I am typical of most British people in being very happy to have people of all shades all around me, and would defend genuine efforts to win equality, but I still think we should not allow unlimited immigration. In reality, after happily welcoming generations of immigrants from diverse backgrounds, what most people see as the problem now is the number of people immigrating and the difficulties it makes for local communities to accommodate and provide services and resources for them, or sometimes even to communicate with them. Stresses have thus resulted from actions born of political correctness that was based on a fallacy, seeking to magnify a racism problem that had almost evaporated. Now that PC policy has created a situation of system overload and non-integration, tensions between communities are increasing and racism is likely to resurface. In this case, PC has already backfired, badly. Across the whole of Europe, the consequences of political correctness have led directly to increased polarization and the rise of extremist parties. It has achieved the exact opposite of the diversity utopia it originally set out to achieve. Like most British, I would like to keep racism consigned to history, but political correctness is resurrecting it.

There are security problems too. A few immigrants are not the nice ordinary people we’d be glad to have next door, but are criminals looking to vanish or religious extremists hoping to brainwash people, or terrorists looking for bases to plan future operations and recruit members. We may even have let in a few war criminals masquerading as refugees after their involvement in genocides. Nobody knows how many less-than-innocent ones are here but with possibly incompetent and certainly severely overworked border agencies, at least some of the holes in the net are still there.

Now that Edward Snowden has released many of the secrets of how our security forces stay on top of terrorism and the PC media have gleefully published some of them, terrorists can minimize their risk of being caught and maximize the numbers of people harmed by their activities. They can also immigrate and communicate more easily.

Redefining Racism

Racism as originally defined is a mainly historic problem in the UK, at least from the host community (i.e. prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior). On that definition I have not heard a racist comment or witnessed a racist act against someone from an ethnic minority in the UK for well over a decade (though I accept some people may have a different experience; racism hasn’t vanished completely yet).

However, almost as if the main purpose were to keep the problem alive and protect their claim to holiness, the politically correct elite has attempted, with some legal success, to redefine racism from this ‘treating people of different race as inferior’, to “saying anything unfavorable, whether factual or not, to or about anyone who has a different race, religion, nationality, culture or even accent, or mimicking any of their attributes, unless you are from a protected minority. Some minorities however are to be considered unacceptable and not protected”. Maybe that isn’t how they might write it, but that is clearly what they mean.

I can’t buy into such a definition. It hides true racism and makes it harder to tackle. A healthy society needs genuine equality of race, color, gender, sexuality and age, not privileges for some and oppression for others.

I don’t believe in cultural or ideological equality. Culture and ideology should not be entitled to the same protection as race or color or gender. People can’t choose what color or nationality they were born, but they can choose what they believe and how they behave, unless oppression genuinely prevents them from choosing. We need to clearly distinguish between someone’s race and their behavior and culture, not blur the two. Cultures are not equal. They differ in how they treat people, how they treat animals, their views on democracy, torture, how they fight, their attitudes to freedom of speech and religion. If someone’s religion or culture doesn’t respect equality and freedom and democracy, or if it accepts torture of people or animals, or if its fighters don’t respect the Geneva Convention, then I don’t respect it; I don’t care what color or race or nationality they are.

Opinions are not all equally valid either. You might have an opinion that my art is every bit as good as Monet’s and Dali’s. If so, you’re an idiot, whatever your race or gender.

I can criticize culture or opinion or religion without any mention of race or skin color, distinguishing easily between what is inherited and what is chosen, between body and mind. No big achievement; so can most people. We must protect that distinction. If we lose that distinction between body and mind, there can be no right and wrong, and no justice. If you have freedom of choice, then you also have a responsibility for your choice and you should accept the consequences of that choice. If we can accept a wrong just because it comes from someone in a minority group or is approved of by some religion, how long will it be before criminals are considered just another minority? A recent UK pedophile scandal involved senior PC politicians supporting a group arguing for reduction of the age of consent to 10 and decriminalization of sex with young children. They didn’t want to offend the minority group seeking it, that wouldn’t have been politically correct enough. Although it was a long time ago, it still shows that it may only be a matter of time before being a pedophile is considered just another lifestyle choice, as good as any other. If it has happened once, it may happen again, and the PC climate next time might let it through.

Political correctness prevents civilized discussion across a broad field of academic performance, crime, culture and behavior and therefore prevents many social problems from being dealt with. The PC design of ‘hate crime’ with deliberately fuzzy boundaries generates excess censorship by officialdom and especially self-censorship across society due to fear of false accusation or accidentally falling foul of it. That undermines communication between groups and accelerates tribal divisions and conflict. Views that cannot be voiced can still exist and may grow more extreme and when finally given an outlet, may cause far greater problems.

PC often throws up a self-inflicted problem when a member of a minority group does or says something bad or clearly holds views that are also politically incorrect. PC media tries to avoid reporting any such occurrences, usually trying to divert attention onto another topic and accusing any other media that does deal with it of being racist or use their other weapon, the ad-hom attack. If they can’t avoid reporting it, they strenuously avoid any mention of the culprit’s minority group and if they can’t do that, will search for some way to excuse it, blame it on someone else or pretend it doesn’t matter. Although intended to avoid feeding racism, this makes it more difficult to get the debate necessary and can even increase suspicion of cover-ups and preferential treatment.

Indeed accusations of racism have become a powerful barrier to be thrown up whenever an investigation threatens to uncover any undesirable activity by a member of any ethnic or national minority and even more-so if a group is involved. For example, the authorities were widely accused of racism for investigating the ‘Trojan Horse’ stories, in a city that has already produced many of the recent UK additions to ISIS. Police need to be able to investigate and root out activities that could lead to more extremism and especially those that might be brainwashing kids for terrorism. A police force now terrified of being accused of being institutionally racist is greatly impeded when the race card is played. With an ever-expanding definition, it is played more and more frequently.

Moral relativism

It is common on TV to see atrocities by one side in overseas conflicts being equated to lesser crimes by the other. In fact, rather than even declaring equivalence, PC moral equivalence seemingly insists that all moral judgments are valued in inverse proportion to their commonality with traditional Western values. At best it often equates things from either side that really should not be equated. This creates a highly asymmetric playing field that benefits propaganda from terrorist groups and rogue regimes and undermines military efforts to prevent terrorist acts. It also decreases resistance to views and behaviors that undermine existing values while magnifying any grievance against the West.

PC media often gives a platform to extremists hoping to win new recruits, presumably so they can pretend to be impartial. While our security forces were doing their best to remove recruitment propaganda from the web, some TV news programs gleefully gave them regular free air time. Hate preachers have often been given lengthy interviews to put their arguments across.

The West’s willingness to defend itself is already greatly undermined after decades of moral equivalence eating away at any notion that we have something valuable or special to defend. Fewer and fewer people are prepared to defend our countries or our values against those who wish to replace liberal democracy with medieval tyranny. Our armies fight with threats of severe legal action and media spotlights highlighting every misjudgment on our side, while fighting against those who respect no such notions of civilized warfare.

Summary

Individually, these are things we have learned to live with, but added together, they put the West at a huge disadvantage when faced with media-savvy enemies such as ISIS. We can be certain that ISIS will make full use of each and every one of these PC weaknesses in our cultural defense. The PC chickens may come home to roost.

 

 

ISIS. Comparison with the IRA conflict

Paddy Ashdown just tweeted:

Young UK Muslims joining ISIS; no more typical of islam than young Catholic men joining the IRA, was typical of Catholocism.

It is very rare for me to tweet at politicians, but I think he is partly wrong this time (ignoring the twittery typos). So I responded, to the wrong bit.

IRA was drawn from IRISH Catholics for whom Ireland, not religion was their banner. ISIS is religious not geographic campaign.

I’ll also pick up on where he was right later. Paddy Ashdown is a brave ex-soldier, one of the elite. I normally listen carefully to what he says on TV, and he often makes a very good case, but he makes errors just like the rest of us, and has tinted glasses just like the rest of us. Occasionally he changes my mind on something, which is fine. However, it is a common misunderstanding among the British that the Northern Ireland ‘troubles’ were about religion. It was certainly a tribal conflict but it had mixed motivations. As an English Catholic living there through the troubles, changing religion and marrying across the divide, I got flak occasionally on both religion and nationality, but never any serious harm.

The IRA was fighting for a United Ireland, and drew its members and supporters from the Irish nationalist community, almost 100% of whom were Roman Catholic. Doubtless a few of the boys who joined up thought they were doing so to defend Catholics against protestants, but that wasn’t actually what the IRA stood for. The UDA and UVF drew their support from the protestant community, again with a mixed and variable brief of defending Protestantism, defending Ulster and keeping Northern Ireland British. The protestant community mostly descended from Scottish Presbyterians. The troubles were part sectarian and part about nationality, sovereignty and tribal descent. Because there was so much commonality of religious affiliation and being British or Irish, it often did degenerate into simple sectarianism, but that was never its primary driving force, which was whether Northern Ireland should remain British or revert to being part of a united Ireland. That is where Ashdown is wrong. ISIS may have its roots and some major goals in a geographic region but fundamentally it wants to further its cause of extreme Islamism as globally as it can, drawing its members from as wide an area as it can and to fight globally as far as it can. It is religious, not nationalist in its primary motivation.

Now to where Ashdown is right. The IRA and ISIS both draw their members from young men, easy to influence, and both organisations were good at marketing, motivating those young men to recruit and instilling fervor when they did. In both cases also, the young men came from a diverse cross section of the community. There were the intellectual types who had analysed it all and strongly bought in to the cause, and there were the less intellectual types who understood a more simplified message but really just wanted to be somebody, coming from areas offering little or no chance of life success or and chance of status, for whom picking up an Armalite of Kalashnikov rifle would make them someone, create at least the illusion of having respect and status.

The sorts of young men joining ISIS are probably doing so for diverse reasons too, but in their case, even the simplified messages are religious. A few will have fully understood and internalized the cause, many will have understood a very simplified message of doing their bit to defend Islam or Allah and becoming a martyr, but most probably just want to be someone, to have some status and respect. Sadly, very many of the young men joining ISIS will not fully understand what they are getting into or what they are meant to be fighting for. In that sense they are like the few young men who joined the IRA to defend Catholics against Protestants.

We may see this conflict coming to the UK. Our security forces expect people to try hard to make that happen, so they are on the case. Whether and to what degree they succeed we will see. If ISIS do manage to achieve some UK terrorism, we’re likely to see opposing paramilitary groups develop and grow. We’re already seeing a few contenders eager to size that role. If it gets badly out of control, it is possible that a Northern Ireland style conflict could result with extremist groups fighting against each other. The civilian population would be in the line of fire from both sides. Deaths would encourage young people to join up to have the chance to be heroes, and views can harden quickly, increasing the support base and the size of the community from which recruits can be drawn. In Northern Ireland, only a small number of men joined up to fight in the IRA, INLA, UDA or UVF, but there was a large community support behind them, which was occasionally estimated at around the 30% mark.

Our security forces know this risk and are doing their best to avoid it, taking down recruitment sites as fast as they can and trying to police movement across our borders. ISIS have also shown that they are good at the marketing side, managing to get lengthy adverts for their recruitment messages almost nightly on alarmingly cooperative national TV news programs. These news programs are helping to make it as seemingly cool and heroic to join ISIS as it ever was to join the IRA or its opposition. Terrorism can’t flourish without publicity, but these channels seem determined to give them it.

There’s another difference from the conflict in Northern Ireland. The paramilitaries in Northern Ireland didn’t normally decapitate their victims, and normally they would issue warnings before a bombing. ISIS make them look almost civilized.

As an after-thought, has the war on terrorism just mutated into a war on horrorism?

 

 

Is secular substitution of religion a threat to western civilisation?

In 1997 I delivered a presentation to the World Futures Society conference titled: The future of sex, politics and religion. In it, I used a few slides outlining secular substitutes for religion that constitute what I called ’21st century piety’. I’ve repeated my analysis many times since and still hold firmly by it, virtually unchanged since then. A lot of evidence since has backed it up, and lots of other people now agree.

My theory was that as people move away from traditional religion, the powerful inner drive remains to feel ‘holy’, that you are a good person, doing the right thing, on some moral high ground. It is a powerful force built into human nature, similar to the desire to feel social approval and status. When it is no longer satisfied by holding to religious rules, it may crystallise around other behaviours, that can mostly be summarised by ‘isms’. Vegetarianism and pacifism were the oldest ones to be conspicuous, often accompanied by New Ageism, followed soon by anti-capitalism, then environmentalism, now evolved into the even more religious warmism. Some behaviours don’t end in ism, but are just as obviously religion substitutes, such as subscribing strongly to political correctness or being an animal rights activist. Even hard-line atheism can be a religion substitute. It pushes exactly the same behavioural buttons.

I fully support protecting the environment, looking after animals, defending the poor, the powerless, the oppressed. I don’t mind vegetarians unless they start getting sanctimonious about it. I am not for a second suggesting there is anything bad about these. It is only when they become a religion substitute that they become problematic, but unfortunately that happens far too often. When something is internalised like a religious faith, it becomes almost immune to outside challenge, a faith unaffected by exposure to hard reality. But like religious faith, it remains a powerful driver of behaviour, and if the person involved is in power, potentially a powerful driver of policy. It can drive similar oppression of those with other world views, in much the same way as the Spanish Inquisition, but with a somewhat updated means of punishing the heretics. In short, the religion substitutes show many of the same problems we used to associate with the extremes of religion.

That’s the problem. The western world has managed pretty well over centuries to eventually separate religion from front line politics, so that politicians might pay lip service to some god or other to get elected, but would successfully put their religion aside once elected and the western state has been effectively secular for many years.  Even though they have gained acceptance in much of the wider population, because these religion substitutes are newer, they are not yet actively filtered from the official decision processes, and in many cases have even gained the power levels that religion once held at its peak. They feature much more heavily in government policies, but since they are faith based rather than reality based, the policies based on them are often illogical and can even be counter-productive, achieving the opposite of what they intend. Wishful thinking does not unfortunately rank highly among the natural forces understood by physicists, chemists or biologists. It doesn’t even rank highly as a social force.  Random policies seemingly pulled out of thin air don’t necessarily work just because they have been sprinkled with words such as equality, fairness and sustainability. Nature also requires that they meet other criteria – they have to follow basic laws of nature. They also have to be compatible with human social, economic, cultural and political forces. But having those sprinkles added is all that is needed to see them pass into legislation. 

And that is what makes religion substitutes a threat to western civilisation. Passing nonsensical legislation just because it sounds nice is a fast way to cripple the economy, damage the environment, wreck education or degrade social cohesion, as we have already frequently seen. I don’t need to pick a particular country, this is almost universally true  across the Western world. Policy making everywhere often seems to be little more than stringing together a few platitudes about ensuring fairness, equality, sustainability, with no actual depth or substance or systems analysis that would show reliable mechanisms by which they actually would happen, while ignoring unfashionable or unpleasant known forces or facts of nature that might prevent them from happening. Turning a blind eye to reality, while laying the wishful thinking on thickly and adding loads of nice sounding marketing words to make the policy politically accepted, using the unspoken but obvious threat of the Inquisition to ensure little resistance. That seems to be the norm now. 

If it were global then the whole world would decline, but it isn’t. Some areas are even worse crippled by the extremes of religion itself. Others seem more logical. Many areas face joint problems of corruption and poverty. With different problems and different approaches to solving them, we will all fare differently.

But we know from history that empires don’t last for ever. The decline of the West is well under way, with secular religion substitution at the helm.  When reality takes a back seat to faith, there can be no other outcome. And it is just faith, in different clothes, and it won’t work any better than religion did.

Things that don’t work but could

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The twin evils of religion and environmentalism

There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents….

Or in more secular terms, isn’t it nice when someone finally sees the light.

It has been interesting watching the scales fall from the eyes of James Lovelock recently, as he has finally started to echo what many of us have been saying for several years. That a lot of the stuff we hear from greens is just a pathetic liberal secular substitute for Christianity; that a great deal of the global warming or climate change hysteria fits neatly into the same category as religious fanaticism, with little more scientific credibility, and that many of the models and predictions derived from them are mere scientific trash, the same harnessing of human emotions of guilt and the desperate need to be seen to be good. I am particularly amused since some environmentalist a while back tried to dismiss my blog because I was saying exactly that but I wasn’t Lovelock, therefore I was wrong, or some argument along those lines anyway. But it’s nice to see him catching up (yes, OK,  I know he is far smarter than me, so no need to point it out, but none of us is infallible and he did get some things wrong). We all make mistakes, and at least he has had the guts to admit it, unlike a lot of people, so all credit to him. He is just the latest in a long queue of people jumping the fence as green dogma and climate hysteria  is being exposed as nonsense.

It has been clear to me for over 15 years that the decline of religion wasn’t simply leaving people with no religion, but had left a hole in people’s lives that was being filled by 21st century piety, a basket of isms, such as environmentalism and vegetarianism, anti-capitalism, even socialism and liberalism. For very many people, these hit the same reward centre buttons as religion. I first lectured about their religion substitution appeal at a World Futures Society conference well over a decade ago, and have often got into professional trouble by repeating the same arguments ever since. (Actually, I don’t think there is anything wrong with vegetarianism per se, just the daft attitude that you have to cook them veggie stuff, but they don’t have to cook you meat, because they are obviously better than you and it would offend their obviously higher moral stance. That is the pathetic religion substitute bit, and I have zero tolerance of it).

Let me be quite clear here, to minimise offence to the innocent: not all environmentalist are seeking a religion substitute, where they can place themselves on a high moral pedestal and preach at everyone else. They don’t all think they are ‘holier than thou’. Not all are far more interested in their own sanctification than protecting the environment.

Actually, a great many environmentalists care deeply for the environment. Some are excellent scientists doing excellent and unbiased work, and achieving excellent results, and I am sure many of those are sick and tired of having their field wrecked by the bad apples, and their credibility undermined by the distortions or incompetence of others – it is all to easy to tar everyone with the same brush and i don’t want to do that. Many have the highest regard for the principles of science and want to use it to understand the environment so that they can protect it better. Just like you and me, I hope.

However, there are some bad apples, some deliberately distorting the truth, hiding declines, making sure other scientists can’t get papers printed, reducing historic temperatures to pretend rises are higher than they are, or using dubious statistical techniques on cherry picked data to make ridiculously inaccurate graphs. Others are merely incompetent, ignoring major contributing factors in their climate models. Some try to use distorted science to further programs such as social equalisation that have nothing to do with the environment, and some advocate policies that actually harm the environment. Some mix all of the above. The reason all too often seems to be the religious appeal. Worse, liberals, vegetarians and greens don’t like being told they’re wrong and certainly not being accused of being religious, even when it is blindingly obvious to others, and some use pretty underhand combat techniques as a substitute for decent arguments.

We often hear debates about the pros and cons of religion, how it may cause wars or homophobia or racism or whatever, and some of the criticisms are justified. However, on other hand there are the benefits of love and peace and caring for one another that also typically go with religion when it is exercised properly. In environmentalism, we see the desire to protect the environment as the superficial driver, and no-one can argue with that as a motivation, but meaning well doesn’t translate into a good outcome if your motives are then mixed with others, corrupted and polluted and then directed with little more intelligence than superstition and wishful thinking. Actual outcomes from environmentalism are all too often damaging. That is why environmentalism is now becoming just as corrupted as the Christian church once was, and why it can be argued that it is doing more harm than good. The environment may well be better off if we locked up all the environmentalists, or the greens anyway.

Although there were quite a few rubbish reports by others before it, the Stern Review was the first really important paper that drove environmental policies that resulted in great harm to the environment: inadvertently encouraging draining of peat bogs and chopping of rain forests to make room for palm oil plantations, thereby releasing huge quantities of CO2; the financial incentives of carbon trading mixed with inevitable and entirely predictable corruption forcing eviction of countless families in Africa; starvation of many people because of globally increased food prices because of the diversion of agricultural land being used to grow crops for biofuel conversion. I am certain that results like this weren’t Stern’s intention, he seems a decent enough chap, but a decent economist should be able to make the most basic and obvious predictions about how people might behave when faced with financial incentives – greed is hardly a 21st century invention – so his report must take some of the blame.

But Stern’s review can’t take all the blame for everything; there has since been a long stream of nonsense from the IPCC, politicians, parts of the media and a wide selection of climate research labs and environmental NGOs. Recently, it has been demonstrated that climate models are often less accurate than a purely random extrapolation. A garden snail would be better at it, literally. Hansen’s predictions have been laughable, as have those of our own MET office. All the research funding has been wasted on them. Religion may make you feel holy, but it really isn’t much use as a predictive tool. Some excellent work is being done on the actual extent and causes of climate change, but it is very often by those dismissed as heretics by the climate change church.

Since politicians grabbed the Stern review as a rare excuse to increase both taxes and their own popularity, politicisation of science has badly polluted many areas of environmental research, and the dirty tricks of politics have destroyed much of the credibility of science as a whole. The good science is there, but is mixed with trash. But far worse is the hijacking of environmentalism as a badly designed vehicle for social levelling. I am all in favour of helping the poor, but trying to do so by throwing money down the drain on environmental subsidies for inefficient energy production ends up being very bad at both helping the poor and helping the environment. It saps money from the economy, and simply wastes it. The result is an increase in poverty, not a decrease. All so that a few people can polish their halos. Everyone loses. If we want to alleviate poverty, it would be far better to save money by using more efficient technology and then spend it on programs specifically designed to help the poor directly.

Many people have observed the similarity between the church’s indulgences and carbon offset payments. The church’s great idea was that you can sin all you like providing you pay the fees to the church. The secular equivalent of carbon trading and offsetting almost begs criminals to exploit the system, and not surprisingly, they already have, and still are.

Another similarity between the evils of religion and environmentalism is the self-flagellation practised by some medieval monks. Anything that might help the environment but doesn’t hurt people enough seems to be rejected, such as shale gas, or nuclear energy. Shale gas is six times cheaper than wind energy and produces a lower CO2 footprint (CO2 doesn’t seem to be so problematic after all but that isn’t the topic of this blog). Nuclear is well-tried and tested and even many environmentalists accept that it is a good solution, being far safer than any other form of electricity production, and producing very low carbon emissions, if that’s your metric for goodness. But most environmentalists still want wind energy for reasons that seem perverse. They seem to want to find the most expensive, ugliest, least efficient system possible so that the pain is greatest. If eagles are chopped to extinction and small animals stressed so much they can’t breed, who cares? If millions of people are upset, all the better. They also want to waste as much as possible on solar before the price comes down to sensible levels, and lock in the high costs for as long as possible. To feel good about trying to maximise pain to as many people as possible while simultaneously damaging the environment does not even appear sane, let alone benign. It is as if self-flagellation isn’t enough; it has to be inflicted on everyone before they are happy. And as for the Spanish inquisition, that is echoed too. There have been ridiculous calls for anyone who doesn’t believe the lunatic rantings of the high priests to be locked up, or even murdered.

So it seems in some ways that the downside of environmentalist religion is even worse than the most perverted practices of medieval religion. But it doesn’t even offset it by giving benefits. Because so many of them despise science, environmentalist policies are often counter-productive. An excellent example is that in the 1970s, climate scientists were recommending sprinkling black carbon on the polar ice to increase heat absorption and thereby offset the coming ice age. Now, they seek to mess with the environment to reduce heat absorption to offset global warming. Now, it looks like cooling is coming after all, they will once again be doing almost the opposite of what seems to be required. There are very many examples of environmental policy damaging the environment from wind farms to coastal erosion to fishery management. The environment would be a great deal better if environmentalists stopped trying to help it. And we’d all be richer and happier.

What is a climate scientist? Indeed, are there any?

We hear the term frequently, but what qualifies some people and not others to be classed as climate scientists?  You might think it is just someone who studies things that affect the climate. But very many people do that, not just those who call themselves climate scientists. The term actually seems to refer solely to a group who have commandeered the term for themselves and share a particular viewpoint, with partly overlapping skills in a subset of the relevant disciplines. In recent times,it seems that to be an official ‘climate scientist’ you must believe that the main thing that counts is human interference and in particular, CO2. All other factors must be processed from this particular bias.

To me, the climate looks like it is affected by a great many influences. Climate models produced by ‘climate scientists’ have been extremely poor at predicting changes so far, and one reason for this is that they exclude many of the relevant factors.

I am struggling to think of any scientific discipline that doesn’t have something to say about some influence on climate. Many branches of chemistry and physics are important in understanding how the atmosphere works, and the oceans, and glaciers, and soil. We have some understanding of some natural cycles, but far from all, and far from complete. We need biologists and chemists and physicists to tell us about soil, and forests, and ocean life, and how species and entire ecosystems react and adapt to changing circumstances, with migrations or adaptation or evolution for example. We need to understand how draining bogs or chopping trees to make room for biofuels affects the climate. How using bio-waste for fuel instead of ploughing it into the ground affects soil structure, plant growth, and carbon interchange. We need to understand how cosmic rays interact with the earth’s magnetic field, how this is affected by solar activity, how sunspots form, and even gravitational interactions with the planets that affect solar cycles. We need to understand glacial melting, how glaciers move differently as temperature changes, how black carbon from diesel engines affects their heat absorption, how clouds form, how they act to warm or cool the earth according to circumstances. We need to understand ocean cycles much better, as well as gas and heat interchange between layers, how this is affected by weather and so on. I could go on, endlessly. We need to understand the many different ways we could make energy in the future, the many options for capture and containment of emissions or pollutants, or positive effects some might have on plant growth and animal food chains.

But it doesn’t stop with science, not be a long way. We also need people skilled in anthropology and demography and sociology and human psychology, who understand how people react when faced with choices of lifestyle when presented in many different ways with different spins, or faced with intimidation or eviction because of environmental policies.  And how groups or tribes or countries will interact and distribute burdens and costs and rewards, or fight, or flee. And religious leaders who understand well the impacts of religious pressures on people’s attitudes and behaviours, even if they don’t subscribe to any organised religion. Clearly environmental behaviour has a strong religious motivation for many people, even if that is just as a crude religion substitute.

We even need people who understand animal psychology, how small mammals react to wind turbine flicker for example, and how this affects the food chain, ecosystem balance and eventual interchange with the atmosphere and the rest of the environment.

And politicians, they understand how to influence people, and marketers, and estate agents. They can help predict behaviours and adaptation and how entire countries may or will interact according to changes in climate, real or imagined.

And we need economists to look at the many alternatives and compare costs and benefits, preferably without ideological and political bias. We need to compare strategies for adaptation and mitigation and avoidance. Honestly and objectively. And we need ethicists to help evaluate the same from human perspectives.

And we need loads of mathematicians, especially statisticians. Climate science is very complicated, and a lot of measurements and trend analyses need in-depth statistical skills, apparently lacking in official climate science, as evidenced by the infamous hockey stick graph. But we also need some to model things like traffic flows so we can predict emissions from different policies.

And we need lots of engineers too, to assess likely costs and timescales for development of alternatives for energy, transport, entertainment and business IT. We need a lot of engineers!

And don’t forget architects, who influence energy balance via choices of shapes, materials and colour schemes as well as how buildings maintain a pleasant environment for the inhabitants.

Ah yes, and futurists. Many futurists are systems thinkers with an understanding of how things link together and how they may develop. You need a few of them too.

I have probably forgotten lots of others. The point is that there are very many factors that need to be included. No-one, and I mean no-one, can possibly have a good grasp of all of them. You can know a bit about a lot of things or a lot about a few things, but you can’t know a lot about everything. I would say that there are no people at all who know about all the things that affect climate in any depth, and therefore no group deserves a monopoly on that title.

So, if you only look in any depth at a few interaction in the oceans and atmosphere and ignore many of the rest of the factors affecting climate, as ‘climate scientists’ seem to, it is hard to see a good reason to continue to hold the title any more than anyone with another label like astrophysicist, or politician. ‘Climate scientists’ as we currently classify them, know a bit about some things that affect climate. So do many other groups. Having skills in a few of the relevant areas doesn’t give any right to dismiss others with skills in a different few. And if they consistently get it wrong, as they do, then there is even less reason to trust their particular viewpoints. And that’s before we even start considering whether they are even honest about the stuff they do talk about. And as Donna Lamframboise has pointed out recently, they don’t deserve to be trusted.

http://thegwpf.org/best-of-blogs/5864-donna-lamframboise-no-reasonable-person-should-trust-climate-scientists.html

It is time for parallel governance

The world used to be dominated by geographical separation. Travel was difficult  and time consuming. Most people stayed pretty much where they were born. Imports were expensive.  Governments governed people within a well defined boundary. Things have changed. It is easy to travel anywhere, we can transport goods cheaply, and with the 3D printer in rapid evolution, imports and exports of some goods will soon be replaced by downloads and local manufacture. The media keep us informed on events around the world as they happen, with just a few zones where news is limited. And of course, progress in the EU in recent days shows how many people want to be part of a large union.

But I don’t. Most people don’t. 60% of Germans and 70% of French don’t want to be in the Euro. I haven’t seen recent UK figures but suspect they are also high. Most people in Europe don’t want to be a part of a United States of Europe, but their leaders insist they know best and are trying to rush ahead faster.

But you know what? If a lot of people want to do so, and a lot don’t, there really is no reason we can’t just live in the same countries as separate communities. We could share the same infrastructure, and share essential services that can’t be provided separately, such as defence, but choose which lifestyle we want to subscribe to from a short list and live with the consequences of it. There could be a USE and those that support it could live under it. The rest of us could opt out and share the same land under a different regime.

It isn’t obvious at first glance how many ‘flavours’ of parallel governance you should be able to choose from, so let’s just pick the ancient divide of liberal or conservative to start with.

So, given this simple choice, you decide you are a liberal at heart. In the new system, you would make that choice and it would be recorded. There would be a cost to change your decision, a price to belong, and associated benefits. You can’t draw the benefits of that system without paying its price, and if your system has made a mess, and you want to swap, you may have to pay to join the alternative, an investment for the new benefits, a contribution towards the investments that community has already made. Your rights to vote on certain issues, or how much your vote is worth on that issue, goes with the choice you make.

There are a few parties to choose from within the liberal camp, and they would all compete for votes, and one would be elected, and only liberals may vote in that election. Since your community elected them, they would rule over you and make the decisions that affect you. Someone living next door who chose conservative would be governed by their decisions.

The different communities need not have the same geographic boundaries. If liberals want a united Europe and Conservatives want the UK to stay united and outside the EU, that is perfectly feasible. Europe would have a range of conservative style parties, one in each country perhaps, whereas there would be only one liberal party for the whole of Europe.

I am strongly attracted to that kind of future. I have friends in all parts of the political spectrum. They are different ages, genders, races, and they have different religious and political persuasions. I am happy to agree or disagree with them, but they stay friends. We manage to coexist peacefully and fruitfully, while following different motivations and creeds. We have to share some things that are dictated by geography, but most things aren’t.

Take a few examples. I send my daughter to a private school, some of my friends send theirs to state schools. I have to pay a high fee direct to the school, they pay theirs via taxes. What I don’t like is that I have to pay for their kids’ educations, but they don’t have to make any contribution towards mine. In parallel governance, the two communities would make their own decisions separately. Liberals would share state schools, while Conservatives would probably use an education allowance that could be spent on any school. Each ensures that all children get access to well-funded education, but the payment mechanisms allow choice of provision mechanism. The same could apply to health care. I choose the NHS at the moment, but if I choose to pay for private care, I don’t get any refund on the state provision. Many people want to keep the NHS, but why should they not therefore pick up the bill, while those who want to provide their health care via insurance are free to do so? In parallel governance, you would only be entitled to NHS care if you subscribe to the liberal government. Conservatives would be forced to buy health insurance or demonstrate alternative ability to pay, but wouldn’t have to pay taxes for the state system.

I wouldn’t like my friends any less if they were governed by a different party. I wouldn’t suddenly want to wage war on them, though we’d tease each other remorselessly about the incompetence of our respective systems or governments.

On many issues, there is a simple polarisation along part lines. On others, there isn’t, so there is room for different parties to compete for power, and room for negotiation. On some things, we just don’t have a choice. If we don’t defend ourselves, we would be killed or enslaved. All people of all persuasions would have to contribute to defence, since all benefit from it.  There would be fierce arguments over the level of funding, and on policy, but that is what politics is all about. We negotiate and argue until we get some sort of agreement that we can all live with. The point of parallel governance is that it is entirely possible on some things to just agree to differ and each do our own thing.

In the UK, we already have demands for parallel governance of sorts. Some Muslims want Sharia Law to apply within their community. Some outside insist that the laws of the land should apply to all. Personally, I think that there should be some basic rights and responsibilities that apply to everyone, but after that, it should be down to your declared allegiance. In parallel governance it would be simple. If you choose to subscribe to Sharia Law, and you’d have to officially and freely register that you do, then you must pay for it and accept its consequences as well as reap its rewards.

In fact, this is a good model for how parallel governance might work. We must all have some basic rights, but there would actually be little disagreement on those. Basic rules of civilisation are shared by almost everyone. You wouldn’t be allowed to murder or torture or steal or deliberately damage and so on. We would still have some sort of common governance that implements basic civilisation, but under that, we’d have parallel communities sharing the same lands, living happily under different laws and rights.

Parallel governance requires mutual respect. It requires us all to accept that we are not all the same. We don’t all share the same goals or values. But there is no need to now. With the level of IT we have, it would be fairly easy to implement parallel governance and make it work. I believe it would be highly beneficial. I’d feel much happier not having to fund as many policies that I disagree with, and would be very happy to pick up the costs of those with which I do.

I don’t think it would end up with just two communities, liberal or conservative, though that is an easy (but simplistic) split to start with. I think it could evolve. There is no reason there couldn’t be sub-communities. So you could be under Sharia law and then under a Conservative government or liberal. There could be a choice of several flavours. Or you could have a single government laying down basic laws for everyone and pick and mix every policy separately from a price list.

The big advantages for everyone are not having to pay for someone else’s personal decision or lifestyle, and not having to live under a value set you don’t subscribe to. Ultimately this would give us all an increase in quality of life, whichever allegiance you declare. You’d feel you worked towards a goal you believed in. Your human dignity would be higher, regardless of whether other people agree with you.

It is time for parallel governance now. It is a better form of democracy, more democratic and less vulnerable to dictatorship of an elite. We have the means, the motive and the opportunity. I still won’t agree with you, but I promise to be a good neighbour. Bring it on.

Climategate 2.0

It is depressing watching what is happening in climate change science and even more the media and government responses to anything that develops. Any pretence that it is about science is long gone now. It is now a mess of politics, pseudo-science and pseudo-religious beliefs, with genuine scientists on all sides finding their voices drowned out by the roar of the crowd. The sad thing is that there is a lot of good science being done on both sides of the climate change debate, but it has little impact because many people refuse to hear the truth in climate science unless it aligns with their prior allegiance.

Everyone agrees that climate is changing, but not about why. Everyone also agrees that CO2 is one of the contributors, but not on how great its contribution is. What is known is that warming has stopped for 13 years now, and even some warmists are now accepting that we may see a few decades of cooling now because they have finally accepted that climate change is dominated by natural cycles, though coverage of such matters depends on which paper you read. The same facts can be ignored, glossed over, or even turned upside down depending on the prejudice of the author.

The new Climategate release is a perfect example. (A searchable list of what has been released this time is at http://foia2011.org/) Some papers have focused on what the emails reveal about the determination to drive the warmist agenda of some researchers, and their tendencies to hide or ignore any data that goes against it. Others have ignored the content because it goes against what they want to hear, and have instead focused on how awful it is that they were stolen and how much some climate scientists have to put up with. You buy your paper and you choose which bits of the truth you get.

The field is highly politicised and increasingly polarised along party lines now, with left wingers mostly claiming belief that mainly humans are causing climate change and right wingers mostly claiming that it is mostly natural changes with only a small human component. It has been hijacked as a tool by those who want to redistribute wealth via carbon levies, or to obtain huge subsidies for people investing in wind and solar energy, even as carbon dioxide is frequently shown by new studies to be less important in climate change than was once believed.

In the face of changed science and greatly lowered estimates of likely warming, if any, it is still more important for some politicians and newspapers to save face than to save taxpayers trillions of dollars wasted investment. The emails show that researchers have been encouraged to beef up the dangers, and some had been in support of their own agendas anyway. A lot of evidence has been destroyed, and a lot of papers produced by ignoring data that runs against the predetermined message. More emails have been deliberately deleted to stop the full truth from becoming known. It is quite sickening, and all the more so because some papers and TV companies are still trying to gloss over the filth, corruption and lies.

The result isn’t just that we will have our countryside ruined unnecessarily by wind farms. As a direct result of all the money thrown down the drain on wasteful ‘green’ energy schemes, many people will die needlessly because of fuel poverty, many companies will go out of business, and many economies will suffer, with reduction in quality of life for billions. But the environment won’t benefit, because environmental polices are very poorly thought out. Peat bogs and forest will still be cleared, corruption will still increase, money will migrate towards the greedy and the corrupt, and people still murdered to make land available for biofuels or solar farms.

It is morally wrong. It is overdue for us to have a new start on environmental policy, looking at the science and throwing out that which has been tarnished and corrupted. We will otherwise cripple economies, ruin lives and kill many people, and the environment will be far worse off than if we pursued good policies based on real science.

An (almost) Random Walk for Civilisation

Can truth be democratised? It should be obvious: of course not! The truth is the truth! But it isn’t that simple is it? Sometimes we can all look at exactly the same situation and disagree passionately on its interpretation.

I think the real answer is yes, and ‘truth’ already is democratised, along with its derivative, knowledge. We redefine truth daily based on our own prejudices, which grew based on the ‘truths’ we consumed yesterday. Today, with all the zillions of blogs, online encyclopedias and forums, raw data is generally lost, altered, cherry-picked, filtered, otherwise corrupted or swamped by the tide of interpretation. Our views are inevitably based on this interpreted information, but our natures make us tend mostly to read stuff that fits comfortably with our existing viewpoints. In a glut of opinion and data at any level of digestion, this self-reinforcement can lock us deeper and deeper into a mindset. If there is any ‘absolute truth’, we can no longer easily find it or identify it – we have to search hard, and in a busy schedule, few of us bother to do that very often. This is very dangerous. The bulk of the population will tend to be pulled in whatever direction the weight of opinion is facing and that is determined as much by the pre-existing weight of opinion as by any actual ‘truth’. When true objectivity is scarce, we only progress in random walks and often we head backwards.

Disagreement about the raw facts of a situation happens every day in the media and politics of course. Journalists or politicians commenting on exactly the same event routinely draw opposite conclusions by looking at the same visual inputs via very different filters. Whatever ‘actually’ happened, happened, but the ‘actually’ bit is very much is open to discussion since it depends on how it was observed and by whom – who or what will each of us choose to believe? We are long used to such filtering in media and politics, but now even in supposedly rational fields as diverse as climate change, basic physics, health and economics, the same polarisation is prominent. If we can’t even agree on the facts before our eyes, what chance do we have of proceeding towards a better future?

So we have democratisation of truth and democratisation of knowledge. At the most grass roots level, people can indulge themselves in a comfortable knowledge environment that really is little more than a self-reinforcing illusion. Even if we try to read broadly and get opinions from different points of view, the volume of opinion on one side or another still carries some influence. It takes a great deal of discipline and a thick skin to stay with a minority view, and also quite a lot of expertise in that specific field on which to base your input selections and weightings. Going with the majority view is usually easier. But the majority view usually depends on what the majority view was yesterday, with pretty much random steering by celebrity opinion formers who essentially pop up at random, or worse still, by politicians, who by their nature are skilled at manipulating mass opinions. And who amongst us would think that the whims of politicians and celebrities necessarily offer the best route to a prosperous future?

This is not good. Random progress is no progress. We are bathed in democratised information; what should be the anchor of true scientific investigation has been hijacked by politics, which is always locked in an endless feedback loop with public opinion. Religion has long lost its hold on the wheel (thankfully, though at least it did give direction of sorts). And now in our modern world, there is extreme complexity of interaction between all the various forces of influence on each of us. If there is any rudder at all that determines the direction we head as a community, or nation, or indeed a civilisation, it is any random force that is self-reinforcing.

And that to me is terrifying. It isn’t, and perhaps even can’t be truth that drives us any more, it is now random self-reinforcing forces. We can be a little more descriptive of these forces. Ultimately, the ones that matter are ideas. Let’s call them self-reinforcing ideas, or SRIs to save my fingers (I don’t want to use the term ideology because it isn’t quite the same). Although I don’t always agree with Dawkins, one of his better ideas is the meme, and SRIs are a particular class of meme. If you haven’t come across memes before, check out his works. But it isn’t memes generally that I want to discuss now, it is only those ones that are SRIs.

So let’s identify a few self reinforcing ideas, SRIs: then you have a think too and come up with some more. If we are to be slaves to them, we should at least know their names.

The easiest to spot is religion. I don’t need to say why, you have almost certainly done the analysis many times yourself. It has been an important driver for most of humanity for millennia.

Another is science. Simple enough. Look at what appears to be happening and come up with some sort of theory to explain it, test it, test it again, share the results with others and let them test them. Argue strongly and carry on arguing, while all the while at least partly accepting and building on those results that seem to be most solid. Continue ad infinitum. This process has been self reinforcing because it has conspicuously worked for centuries and given us huge rewards. That is, until hijacked in the last decade by political forces and possibly now polluted to a degree where its repair may take many decades. It will struggle on, but its benefits will be lessened greatly. As an SRI, it is temporarily weakened.

Another whole set of SRIs springs from religion, or rather its substitution as religion has started to evolve into our modern world. A lot of the people driven by religion substitutes would hate to recognise them as such, but that if anything only adds to their efficacy, since the believer gets the added stroke of self-atributed rationalism. We have many religion substitutes, and they arise from the same inner engines and rewards of wanting to feel yourself to be a good person or that your life is somehow worthwhile and purposeful. Some of these are more personal and don’t spread well, such as vegetarianism. A vegetarian might feel better about themselves because they don’t eat animals, but the idea doesn’t spread as well as they might like because for most of us, the desire for meat is strong.

A similarly motivated desire is environmentalism. We tend to agree that it is good to care for the environment, so that makes it self-reinforcing. But there isn’t the same opposing force here. It satisfies the same need for ‘holiness’ that religion did, and there isn’t necessarily any large personal cost. We seek out affirmation that we are good for the environment, and look down on others who we think aren’t. But just as the world’s religions create denominations within themselves, and various levels of elite within those, if someone builds up another layer to climb on within environmentalism, then some will strive to occupy and defend that higher ground. This has conspicuously happened now. Entire belief systems have formed, their advocates have sought to protect and reinforce their influence and rival denominations have even formed within environmentalism.Today’s environmentalism shows many of the same forces, behaviours and inquisitions as medieval religion.

Political correctness is another SRI from the same mould, even though it has many threads. Even though people often  recognise political correctness as a negative force, they can’t help getting sucked in. Certain parts of it appeal to our sense of fair play, but it is self reinforcing. As more people become politically correct, those left outside feel more ostracised until they feel obliged to conform. Conforming confers social acceptance and rewards the feeling of inner worth. If someone creates an even more politically correct form, some will race to occupy it, and then draw other in behind them. But although political correctness is today driven seemingly endlessly towards the left, it doesn’t really have any absolute goals. If everyone believes, you no longer get a reward for believing; the reward comes from doing or believing something that is somehow better than everyone else. So political correctness is inevitably driven by the extremes of the value sets at any point in time, and these will change over time. If it is defined by anything, it is the defence of minority interests. As I’ve argued often, it takes about 30 years for something to go from being totally unacceptable to fashionable. Today’s politically correct will in some cases be unacceptable thinking in 30 years time and vice versa. It is a random walk to nowhere, driven by the endless pursuit of something that is an illusion.

Economic and political  ideologies are also heavily self reinforcing (and of course are linked), so you might think we’d all have come to the same conclusion by now about the best way to run an economy or organise ourselves. Of course the reason we haven’t is that none of them looks after everyone’s interests equally. They all favour one part of a community over others. Everyone says they want fairness, but most vote for those who promise to give them most, even if that will be at someone else’s expense. The selfishness forces fully usually offset the SRI forces. Usually. There are exceptions. Firstly, a charismatic new leader with bold and exciting new ideas can change things. We crave excitement, but even more than that we crave leadership. Communism was once such an idea, and led millions of people into poverty and oppression for decades by promising equality, fairness, and utopia.  An SRI can win out over selfish forces if a strong enough leader takes it to critical mass. And once past critical mass, it drives itself.

I suspect very strongly that today’s liberalism will prove a repeat of that same false communist dream, and it has already achieved critical mass. It will drive us further and further to the left, dragging the centre of gravity as it goes, so that today’s centre becomes tomorrow’s right. Liberalism is a strong SRI, harnessing words like fairness and equality and progress, using religion substitutes as primary drivers, wrapping the wolf of oppression in clothing from the sheep of liberty, and relying on the fog from the democratisation of information to hide any evidence that it doesn’t work. I think it’s a bit like being drunk – motivators work better when inhibitions are reduced and judgement impeded. Liberalism is an SRI built for our age, thriving in the sea of democratised knowledge and political correctness, harnessing human nature in pursuit of false dreams, and it may well take us all the way to catastrophic economic and social collapse. It’s already doing pretty well on that score.

But liberalism isn’t the only player. While it may drag the West on an spiral downwards, the developing regions of the world have different pasts, and different SRIs are taking hold there. China is coming to the end of it communist era, discovering at last that people are actually motivated less by equality of misery and more so by the prospect of personal prosperity via personal effort. Capitalism is their SRI now, though it will certainly develop with different characteristics. India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, will all develop differently too, with quite different characters because they have very different situations. I don’t know enough about any of these regions to identify appropriate SRIs there. So the West may decline, but the rest of the world may well improve and eventually our SRIs will be driven by looking at their prosperity and starting to value their ideas over our failed ones. They’ll look fresh again by then.

SRIs are very powerful forces, but the world is large and diverse, and big enough for competing ones to exist and act in parallel. There are very few things that all countries agree on, and even the pursuit of common interests is often a weak force compared to local SRIs. But in an otherwise random walk, it is SRI’s that drive change, and most of us are little more than helpless passengers waiting to see where they will take us.

We can at least look out of the windows on our journey. Human nature is an excellent starting point both in identifying SRIs and working out their mechanisms. By Human Nature, I mean those internal brain architectures, perceptive processes, and even hormonal systems that determine how external ideas get processed into individual thoughts and eventual action. Maslow and many psychologists since have identified some of our major needs and rewards and I don’t want to list or debate them here. But whatever they are, SRI’s fit onto them and use them to  grow and spread.

But I come back to my starting point. The highly dangerous democratisation of knowledge that we have today sets us on an almost random walk. The direction of drift is determined by self reinforcing ideas. We can identify those, even if we can’t control them. And they are so powerful that very few people individually can have any real control over them. If we are to regain control over our own civilisation, we will need great leaders. Till they come, we will be dragged happily towards our peril, deluded that we are heading to some promised land. And I just don’t see those leaders. Do you?