Just lent my copy of P.J.O'Rourke's Give War A Chance to a friend, so decided to replace my lost copies of Eat The Rich and Parliament of Whores, to re-read them (and extract a few quotes for this site in the process). Went into the local W.H.Smiths and couldn't find an appropriate section. Would it be Politics or Philosophy or Economics or Current Affairs or Humour? Strangely, there didn't seem to be sections for the former, or anything targeted at the over-14 age-bracket in the latter. There were, on the other hand, several bookcases devoted to "Tragic Life Stories" (a sub-genre of autobiography that I hadn't realised the need to distinguish, like the big sections for the "life-stories" of 22-year-old footballers and media celebrities). Rows and rows of fantasy books and puzzles, too, but nothing too taxing.
Decided I must just be being obtuse, so asked at the desk. "Is that P.J. as in the letters, and how do you spell O'Rourke?". Oh dear. Nothing in the computer. Curiosity piqued that they seemed only to offer books for the lobotomised, I enquired where I would find the sections for P or P or E or CA. "We don't really have a section for them, but you might find something in the History section." A bit of lateral thinking required: "Where do you keep your Boris Johnson, then?" This is Maidenhead, and Boris is not only hopefully a well-enough known celebrity even to oiks, but MP for the neighbouring constituency of Henley. Must be a bit of Boris on the shelves.
Taken to look at the History section. Logical enough, given his excellent Dream of Rome. But no Boris in History, which is 80% Military History, and 80% of that about WWII. Instead, tucked away amongst the Spitfires and Shermans are a couple of shelves of "General Interest", which is intended to cover P,P,E, CA and much else besides. Finally, there is Boris, but sadly Maidenhead's intellectual capacity will only stretch to his book on cars (gives you an idea of the range of interests intended to be covered by those two shelves). That, it seems, is all we want to hear about from our politicians and pundits.
Maidenhead is typical of every bland High Street in the country, and it seems that, judging by their reading tastes, the typical shopper in the typical High Street in England is BRAINDEAD. Mind you, some more than others. At least Maidenhead's Smiths carries some current-affairs magazines, though tucked away at the back as though they are a little ashamed of them. And so infrequently attended that they are still displaying the Spectator from the week before last.
Still, that beats Newton Abbot, where I once got stuck for a couple of hours on the way back from Torquay. Looking for some reading material, I walked into town, stopping into each newsagent for a current-affairs magazine. After three failures, I asked the shopkeeper if he had anything suitable - something like The Economist, or Time or Newsweek, or some other obscure intellectual magazine like them. "Not much call for that round here." But there was clearly plenty of call for magazines about tractors and carp-fishing. Jethro is not exaggerating about the west-country.
Anyway, to the point. Below the General Interest shelves (back in Maidenhead) was one for books to help with your Citizenship test (another sign of the times). The Government's official publication, Life in the United Kingdom - A Journey to Citizenship, caught my eye. A theory and a game suggested themselves.
The theory: I have just started reading George Walden's excellent Time to Emigrate?, a letter about the state of Britain to a son who is thinking of emigrating. In it, he notes that though there have been episodes of mass immigration before, and occasional episodes of mass emigration, there has never before been a time when mass immigration and emigration have coincided as today. If the country is so great that lots of people want to come here, how come it is also so bad that lots of people want to leave? My answer: because we are realistic about the governments and societies we know, but optimistic about those we don't (grass is greener...). For many of the second- and third-world immigrants, Britain is a genuinely better place than the one they are leaving. But our ranks are also being swollen by first-world immigrants from places like France and America, disillusioned with their own country and imagining that Britain offers something better. Maybe we do in some respects. But for a large number of educated Brits, these benefits are outweighed by the disadvantages. Can the mass-wandering of the educated twenty- and thirty-somethings of the first-world indicate anything other than a desperate and failed attempt to find somewhere, anywhere in the world where they feel at home? And do they find it? I doubt it. I myself have often imagined getting out, and abandoned the plan because I cannot think of anywhere in the world that is any better than Britain, not because Britain is good but because the others are equally awful. The whole first-world is abysmally run and falling apart, and all we get is the choice between one or another incompetent managerialist looking for the centre-ground and avoiding the tough decisions.
But is the immigration fiasco all part of the managerialists' plans? The pressure for a radical alternative to the Third Way should be close to bursting by now, but by replacing many of those who were so fed up with the place that they left, with legions of immigrants who must accept indocrination in the centrist philosophy in order to pass their Citizenship test, the managerialist parties of all hues can ensure that the majority remains in the centre, even as experience suggests that the centre fails. It's a sophisticated form of international gerrymandering.
It's like Germany after the failed 1848 rebellion. 1848 was the high tide of German liberalism (a tide that has since ebbed so far that the phrase nowadays sounds like an oxymoron - so much for the thought that the pendulum always returns). The reaction against the liberals following the rebellion (which had been in part a reactionary response to unpopular liberal policies, such as freedom of enterprise and toleration of the Jews) and Bismarck's establishment of authoritarian government, led to most of the German liberals abandoning the country. Germany's loss was America's gain (as witnessed by the names of many of America's great commercial and political dynasties, and the opposite course of political philosophy in the two countries), but ultimately the world's cost. The evacuation of liberals from the political sphere in Germany left a void in their politics that was occupied (and remains so to this day, apart from a short interlude following WWII) by two authoritarian/socialist alternatives, distinguished only by the greater emphasis placed by one on authoritarianism and the other on socialism. Kaiser Willy and Adolf Hitler were the natural products of a society in which authoritian socialism was accepted as the only option and liberalism was wholly discredited and unrepresented. The Germans may not have been aware of the significance of the demographic changes, any more than we are aware of its significance in Britain today, but that did not reduce its slow but irreversible impact. The result was, in many ways, the worst century in history and a legacy that tarnishes Europe even today.
Britain was the only European country sufficiently individualist to hold out against the authoritarian/socialist tide, but what Napoleon and the Germans failed to achieve, we are managing to do voluntarily to ourselves. And so are our brethren in the other Anglo-Saxon countries. Maybe this is the fulfilment of Schumpeter's prediction that capitalism would destroy itself, or maybe the situation can be turned around if we wake up to the threat, but running away will not solve the problem - there is nowhere left to run to. We have to stand firm in defence of our traditional culture - the culture that brought modern prosperity to the world, in contrast to the medievalism of many of the incoming cultures. That means proudly defending (and expecting incomers to support) our secularism backed by a Judaeo-Christian ethic, the primacy of the individual over the state, our democratic and common-law institutions, property rights, free markets, respect for the law and so on. What are the chances that the Government's Citizenship book adopts that approach?
Which brings me to The Game: Before I lent out Give War a Chance, I was reading the hilarious chapter on Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter's book. As you might imagine, P.J. does not think much of that book. He invented a series of games to play with it, such as "D-U-M DUM", where one competes to find the dumbest sentence, and "Finish that thought", where one provides the logical conclusion to one of the phrases. It occurs to me, having read more bullshit from the Government than anyone ought, for the sake of their sanity, to read in a lifetime, that a New Labour guide to British life is likely to provide suitable material for this sort of game.
The first sentence does not disappoint. John Reid's personal introduction leads off with:
"The first edition of this handbook became a best-seller when it came out towards the end of 2004." You don't say? Now what does that tell us, John? Does it tell us that this is a rip-roaring read to compete with the latest Harry Potter, or does it tell us that there were a hell of a lot of immigrants in the country looking to take citizenship? Well, at least that's one upside to the overcrowding.
A random flick takes me to page 30: "Children, family and young people".
"Children in the UK do not play outside the home as much as they did in the past. Part of the reason for this is increased home entertainment such as television, videos and computers". And part of the reason is our disappearing green spaces and shrinking gardens due to bad planning policies, overcrowding, the sell-off of school sports-fields for redevelopment etc. And part of the reason is the fear of having their heads kicked in by thugs who the police are not allowed to touch and who will get no more than a ticking off by the courts if they are caught.
"Most young people take the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), or, in Scotland, Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) Standard Grade examinations when they are 16. At 17 or 18, many take vocational qualifications, General Certificates of Education at an Advanced level (AGCEs), AS level units or Higher/Advanced Higher Grades in Scotland. Schools and colleges will expect good GCSE or SQA Standard Grade results before allowing a student to enrol on an AGCE or Scottish Higher/Advanced Higher course. AS levels are Advanced Subsidiary qualifications gained by completing three AS units. Three AS units are considered as one-half of an AGCE. In the second part of the course, three more AS units can be studied to complete the AGCE qualification. Many people refer to AGCEs by the old name of A levels. AGCEs are the traditional route for entry to higher education courses, but many education students enter with different kind of qualifications." The ability to breathe and put one foot in front of the other is often sufficient. Anyway, have you got that? It should be perfectly clear (so much easier than that old O-level/A-level malarkey). We're going to test you on the tests you might have to take, so you'd better know your AGCEs from your GCSEs or....like all our tests, it won't make the blindest bit of difference, and you'll be guaranteed to pass anyway, even if all you manage is writing your name on the paper.
Many parents worry that their children may misuse drugs and addictive substances." As a modern British parent, you may want to show them the right way to use drugs and addictive substances.
I may be lucky on my first choice of page, or this may be rich-pickings. I suspect the latter, in which case I hope to bring more useful guidance to being a modern British citizen in future posts.