Right-wing vs Left-wing Libertarianism

MoronWatch came into existence to take snarky aim, on Twitter, at right-wing stupidity, religious/superstitious fundamentalism, bigotry and state brutality – a mish-mash of interests which all come under the umbrella of “moron-watching”. Those who have followed my blog for a while will realise the wheels began to come off this objective a couple of years ago, as my eyes were opened to immense depths of stupidity on the left as well as the right. Having been active on the left for a while in the 80s, I’ve been shocked and saddened by the intellectual decline that has taken place on the left while I’ve not been paying attention.

I’ve had to acknowledge the hypocrisy of attacking science-denial among fundamentalists (evolution) and conservatives (climate change) while ignoring science denial on the left (GMOs, nuclear power vs fossil fuel, biological determinism). Even more deeply, I couldn’t continue to comment on right-wing attacks on freedom while ignoring that the left has become every bit as authoritarian – or often even more so.

The intellectual collapse of both right and left has been met with an anti-politics trend that is mostly even less intelligent than the mainstream. The idiotic idea that “it’s all broken” and needs smashing is brutish and dangerous, and is as prevalent on the Farage-supporting old-white-man right as among the infantile Russell Brand “revolutionaries”. Smashing everything appeals to the ignorant and the elitist, but risks making things far worse, and turning back the clock on centuries of progress.

A New Enlightenment

The problems we face today have been faced repeatedly before. The solution lies in crowd-sourcing, to use a modern word for an old idea: people power. Not the power to storm parliaments in masks (that inevitably appeals to an elitist few who think they have all the answers), but the power to apply intellect and provide answers. How can our 7 billion brains (as well as our man-made thinking machines) be best applied to finding solutions to problems?

The answer is centuries old, and was provided by the most powerful thought revolution that has shaken humanity: The Enlightenment, which laid down a set of simple principles:

Liberty and Free Expression: The fewer restrictions there are on expression, the greater the variety of ideas that can enter the shared meme pool. A free marketplace of ideas, allowed to flourish, will allow the best ideas to triumph over the rest. No elite can be allowed to restrict the flow of ideas based on its own idea of right and wrong. Expression must be protected on principle: all of it. No individual or group has the right to suppress ideas. The antidote to bad ideas can only come in the form of better ideas. Censorship is a fundamental obstacle to human progress.

But how will such a process select the “right” answers among all the wrong ones? The second principle is:

Reason: Non-scientists tend to see science as a list of disciplines, each with their own lists of facts. But at its core, science is a method for allowing good ideas to float up, while the bad ones sink and die. In place of censorship, there is reason. In place of dogma, there is objective examination of evidence. Ideas are measured, not based on their popularity at any given time, but on the strength of the reasoned argument that backs them. Right answers always begin as minority positions, but given the application of reason, and the maintenance of a free marketplace of ideas, they will become majority ones in time.

Liberty and reason cannot thrive in a society without a commitment to…

Equality: A free marketplace of ideas cannot work without equal access. While plenty of lip-service is paid to equality, in practise it comes under attack constantly. In the recent past, equality was mostly threatened by the unfair treatment of women, racial and other minorities. But following the great political and cultural battles of the 1960s, laws were enacted against discriminatory behaviour, and the culture rapidly changed in response. But increasingly, denial of equality comes from the left rather than the right.

Where Has the Left Gone Wrong?

Today’s left has largely abandoned the very Enlightenment values that led to the birth of left-wing ideas in the 19th century.

On liberty, the left is worse, if possible, than the right. Sexual freedom – once the preserve of the left – now comes under more frequent attack from the left than the right. Recent attempts to ban prostitution in Europe have come about via a bizarre alliance of feminists with the religious fundamentalists. Similarly, music videos (especially by black artists) have been deemed “too sexualised” (with vicious slut-shaming attacks on Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, among others), and there are regular calls for music videos to be censored. The banning of “offensive” speech is championed with equal enthusiasm by Daily Mail readers and Guardianistas. Student Unions have taken deeply censorious approaches towards what can or can’t be said on campus. The last Labour government introduced some of the most draconian censorship laws ever seen in the UK, to deal with the phantom problem of “extreme porn”. In practise, these laws have been used to attack the sexual activities of consenting adults. The Exhibit B art exhibition was closed down in London on the (almost certainly false) grounds that it was “racist”. Free expression – including bad, offensive, hateful expression – must be defended on principle.

On reason, the left appears to have lost its mind. Last week, the EU sacked a senior science adviser for telling the truth; a truth that upset an alliance of left-wing and environmentalist campaigners: that genetically modified foods are not harmful. Science that disagrees with left-wing dogma is attacked viciously.

And the left has largely abandoned its quest for equality. Instead, special rules are put forward for “oppressed” groups. Thus, non-whites are deemed to be incapable of racial bigotry, and women – as with children – are to be given special protections that men don’t need. The fact that male bodies are considered “safe” for public display, but not female ones, is one of many examples of where the left has quietly abandoned the quest for equality. Special treatment has replaced equality, and comes in the form of privileges in response to “oppressions” that are ill-defined. The left is increasingly stuck in the swamp of identity politics, determined to find oppression where none exists, and to rectify it by creating new remedies that deepen rather than solve inequality.

A Cross-Spectrum Libertarianism

Fascism could be defined as a nationalistic, ultra-conservative movement that rejects Enlightenment values. On that basis, today’s left and right have both become tainted with fascist ideology. Ironically, in UK politics, it is the Conservative Party that has tried to shake off its most backward instincts (inadvertently helping build UKIP), while the Labour Party has collapsed into a new conservatism.

Today, libertarianism is associated with right-wing attitudes – but it doesn’t have to be so. In response to the new rise of fascistic attitudes in Europe, the response must be for the left – as well as the right – to rekindle the Enlightenment. Thus, the left-right political spectrum has become relatively unimportant – what instead matters is a commitment to liberty and reason across the political spectrum. Cross-spectrum libertarianism would establish Enlightenment values as the foremost goal, to stop and roll back the spread of fascism, with differences between left and right to be treated as a secondary “problem”.

What is Left-Wing Libertarianism?

Right-wing libertarianism uses tricks of language that first need to be unravelled. The “state” is seen as a uniformly bad thing, but in fact libertarians tend to use the word loosely to mean three separate things:

The Security State: The state is the apparatus for maintaining control of society, and typically acts to maintain the status quo: the rule of the wealthy. The state includes the police, prison system, army and bureaucracy. To libertarians of left and right, the state must be seen as a necessary (or perhaps unnecessary) evil, and shrunk to the maximum extent possible. It’s fine for left and right libertarians to argue among themselves as to how quickly, and to what extent the state should be rolled back.

The Welfare State: In hindsight, the naming of the welfare state was unfortunate. It allows right-wing libertarians to blur it with the security state. Left-wing libertarians should separate these two things: one can accept that police powers should be reduced without needing to believe that universal healthcare or education are bad things. In fact, one can construct a libertarian argument for providing universal services, where the market has failed to deliver: using a pragmatic idea of liberty, rather than a dogmatic “liberty is the absence of a state” one, it’s clear that universal healthcare, efficient public transport systems and street lighting (for example) enhance rather than reduce individual liberty.

Government: Libertarians dishonestly confuse the state with government. All groups of people, left to themselves, will find that communities are better to live in with a set of shared values and services, and will naturally create their own governments to manage things. Government, so long as it is democratic and subservient to the will of the people, is not the same as the state. Government requires funding. The libertarian mantra that “tax is theft” is a near-religious mantra, not an intelligent policy position. Even the most libertarian village would eventually require every member to contribute to shared services. A pure libertarian society would last until the first cholera outbreak revealed the need for a collectively funded sewage system.

So it is quite possible for left-wing libertarians to defend the National Health Service, the welfare state, universal education, mass transit, etc. while defending Enlightenment values of liberty, reason, equality.

From a libertarian position, the left can show the flaws in right-wing libertarianism: for example, many libertarians are climate change deniers; not because the evidence is in doubt, but because they oppose coordinated government action on principle. Denying scientific fact that is inconvenient to your beliefs is a rejection of reason. The right must learn that markets are not the panacea to every problem, and that community action is sometimes necessary. But the left must also accept that market solutions are the best in many cases.

We need to stop worrying, for now, about our left/right identities and instead unite to reawaken the Enlightenment. This isn’t a luxury: it is the only antidote to fascism.

How To Deal With UKIP: Yes, Let’s Talk About Immigration

A month ago, I was at a weekend music festival with seven friends, all black (as I’ve explained before, I’ve long been accustomed to the role of token whitey). Misreading a headline on my phone, I announced that Jeremy Clarkson had been sacked by the BBC for – allegedly – mouthing the word “nigger”. My friends’ reaction was an immediate groan: yet another dumb, politically-correct decision made by rich white people in the name of protecting the feelings of black people. It’s not, of course, that black people enjoy being racially abused: but such abuse is, in fact, incredibly rare. There is a huge difference between having “nigger” shouted at you in the street by a stranger and having it said as part of a nursery rhyme. This is a difference that black people tend to understand, and the white middle classes tend not to. Similarly, no black people (to my knowledge) were offended when a radio DJ accidentally played a tune containing the word (for which he was sacked) or when a One Direction band member affectionately called a friend “nig”.

Let’s not be under any illusion: the white media and political establishment has not, all of a sudden, become the champion of black people’s feelings. Indeed, by blurring the lines between genuine race hate and words that they deem to be “racist”, they are setting back the cause of race relations by years. When I attended marches and came face-to-face with the thugs of the National Front, Combat 18, the British Movement and the British National Party, I don’t remember being supported by hordes of Oxbridge-educated BBC executives; and yet today, the white British elite dares to tell me, and others who risked our necks to clear racism from our streets, what words we may or may not use, regardless of the context.

There is no such thing as a “racist word”. There is racism for sure, and there are words that might have racist connotations depending on context, but in their irrational fetishisation of mere words, politically-correct cretins have opened the door wide for racists to operate with free rein. The rise of political correctness – which is itself a politically-correct term for censorship – has been a victory for the far right.

UKIP can thank the white middle-class left for its rise. Nigel Farage must laugh daily at the ease with which he can navigate the rules of political correctness: each time a UKIP councillor says a “racist word”, he expels them. And yet he can easily formulate genuinely racist messages that pass the moronic PC check-list. Whether Farage himself is racist (he probably is) is irrelevant. What’s important is that he has mastered what the Americans call “dog-whistle politics”. He is the master of rallying society’s bigots without breaching the “don’t say naughty words” rules. Can’t say “nigger” or “paki”? No problem – just hint that the “complexion” of our society is changing, or that “somebody” from “somewhere” is taking your job.

What is most perplexing is that the left’s spokespeople on race are those members of society that have the least experience of it. The white middle classes are the most ignorant on racial matters; and yet, because the middle class possesses an immense self-confidence in its own abilities (and quietly scorns the lower classes that it claims to defend), somehow the liberal narrative on race and immigration has been written by those who least understand these issues.

When I was active in the anti-racist movement, it wasn’t like this. The unions formed the bedrock of the mainstream left, and unions (love them or loathe them) were the very bodies that encompassed working people of all races. Long before the ascent of moronic political correctness, the most powerful black man in Britain was Bill Morris, who led the mighty Transport and General Workers’ Union and then the Trades Union Congress.

The Blairification of the Labour Party made the party acceptable to the middle classes, and won it a generation in power; but simultaneously, it removed the party from its bedrock working class support. Now, none of the big parties could understand working class resentments, and now, UKIP has filled the vacuum.

Today, political leaders are being urged to “talk about immigration”: but this is euphemism for accepting the far-right position that immigration has damaged society, and must be reined in. Yes, we must have an honest discussion about immigration if we are to see off the rising threat from the far right: and for that to happen, the moronic censorship rules of political correctness must be stripped away. The narrative must be wrenched away from pompous, privileged commentators and the voices of those who have been most affected by immigration must be heard.

Let’s talk about immigration.

Fact 1: Immigration changes working class communities

When, a century ago, Jews flooded into the East End of London, the locals had never encountered anything like them. They were alien people with strange ways of talking, a bizarre religion, and weird food. Despite being white, they clearly looked different from English locals. The animosity that flared between Jews and locals was hardly surprising. Of course, the upper classes scorned the fascist street thugs; but they also scorned the Jews. The same happened in the 1950s, when certain, poor parts of British cities – such as Notting Hill and Brixton – rapidly filled up with black people. The Notting Hill race riots of 1958 blew up because poor white people were confronted with a culture they had never encountered, and left by the establishment to deal with it. The problem was solved, not by PC language policing imposed from above, but by the community itself. The Notting Hill Carnival (in my humble opinion, the world’s best party) is the lasting result of that. The same happened in Bradford in 2001, when working class communities had to deal with an influx of Asians. Communities can resolve these problems, so long as government responds to ensure that housing, health and education services cope with the new population. Political correctness makes the problem worse: When the sneering PC response is to tell people not to say “Paki”, when they are facing rapid changes to their communities and ways of life, the effect is to drive traditional Labour voters to embrace the far-right.

The message: yes, immigration has directly affected your community. This doesn’t make immigration a bad thing, but the authorities must take heed of your worries and problems.

Fact 2: Non-white people can be racist

Perhaps the single most ludicrous position of the politically-correct elite is to declare that only white people can be racist. This point (rightly) enrages people who live in areas of high immigration, and know from their own experiences that white people can be, and are, the targets of bigotry. It is a statement that can only be made by privileged white people who have had little, if any, contact with black or Asian communities. If any single sentence can be blamed for the rise of the BNP, the EDL and UKIP, it is this one. The truth is simple: some people are hateful morons, and those people exist in every community. To decide that a violent assault is more or less acceptable depending on who threw the punch, and who received it, is the height of idiotic thinking; and yet this appears to be the default position of today’s left. Those white people like me, who have spent much of their lives as a white minority in black communities know that there are a few people who hate us for the colour of our skin, not the content of our minds. When many Somalis migrated to the UK, it was primarily the black British community that resented their arrival, and violence between the groups was common. When I was at school, some black people turned on “Pakis”, pleased to find common cause with white skinheads. Many people in mixed relationships have learned that they experience far more bigotry from black people than from whites. This isn’t the “understandable” result of “racial oppression”, as too many white liberals appear to believe. It’s racism.

The message: No group is free from racial bigotry. Any victim of racism is as worthy of support as any other. This includes white people.

Fact 3: Free speech is ESSENTIAL

As the left has become increasingly dominated by the white middle classes, its messages have become increasingly ludicrous, and irrelevant to society as a whole. The new generation of left-wing journalists is called upon to comment on everything. Privileged white Oxbridge graduates from the shires write comment pieces on every subject under the sun, including race – a subject with which they surely have little direct experience. Even when they attempt to take on board working class views, they come across as patronising and ignorant. When editors select black commentators, they tend to pick those who will repeat the standard white narrative. The banning of “offensive” words has crippled the ability of the left to counter the UKIP threat. I urge those with politically-correct sensibilities to listen to the excellent N Word from the rap artist Greydon Square. As the introduction says: “There is no such thing as the N Word… the word is Nigger… how can we get past the word when we can’t even say it?”

The message: UKIP will not be countered by banning words. Political correctness has been the greatest friend of the far-right. It must go.

Fact 4: Some people have been disadvantaged by immigration

Economists are clear: immigration is a boon to economies. London, by far the greatest home to immigrants in the UK, is also by far the wealthiest city. This is not a coincidence. However, there have been both winners and losers. A bricklayer friend was clear to me that his wages dropped after mass immigration began from Poland. Prostitutes tell a similar story. This is not a reason to stop immigration; but the authorities must respond, identify those people who have lost out, and find strategies to help them. Scrapping university tuition fees for affected groups might be one of many ways to address the problem. One of the many disastrous legacies of Blairism was to close the door to working class people entering higher education.

The message: We accept immigration has not been a win for everyone.

Fact 5: Immigration is a good thing: long may it continue!

And once we’ve dispensed with the mealy-mouthed bullshit that has characterised the race debate for decades, we can make our case loud and clear. Immigration has enriched our culture. Immigration has enriched our economy. Sure, there have been inevitable cultural clashes, but these can be managed, as such clashes have been in the past. Yes, there have been losers, but we are richer as a society, and can afford the welfare state and education system that we need to fix these short-term problems. But ultimately immigration can and will continue, and will continue to make our country a better place to live. Let’s face it: much of the UKIP vote came from people least affected by mass migration. It came from the whitest areas of the country, and the older, more conservative individuals. It is an ultra-conservative reaction to inevitable change. We can sympathise with those who fear change, while pointing out that they’re wrong, they’re ignorant, and they will inevitably lose.

The message: It’s time to man the barricades. The right is on the march; it’s time to let Labour die, and create a muscular new left that can counter it.

Maria Miller, the Expenses “Scandal” and the Assault on Democracy

Knives are out today for the Culture Secretary Maria Miller. Having been caught over-claiming expenses, and forced to pay back £5,800, her latest crime was to issue an apology that was only 32 seconds in length. The public loves the spectacle of MPs, and especially ministers, in discomfort, and the press is unrelenting in pursuing this important story.

Except, it’s not an important story at all. Since the entire scandal over MPs’ expenses blew up in 2009, the press has revelled in its supposed assault on parliamentary corruption. But the biggest story to emerge was how tiny the extent of the corruption was, amounting to a mere £1m in total. Much of this was not really corrupt at all: MPs, having had their pay driven down in recent years, had been given a wink that they could use the expenses system to make up some of the difference. Only in a handful of cases was there a suspicion of criminal activity.

With honest reporting, the outcome would have been a handful of prosecutions, a review of MPs’ pay (which would probably have concluded that they are somewhat underpaid for what they do), and some national back-patting to congratulate ourselves on having one of the least corrupt political systems on the planet.

Instead, the incident has been endlessly replayed, twisted and exaggerated. I’m no fan of Maria Miller or her government, but I would point out that her original “crime” was almost insignificant; and pursuing her now on the basis that her apology was too short is pathetic.

Why has the scandal been so over-exaggerated? Because it has been used as an assault on our Parliament and our democracy. Five years of endless repetition have left the public with the idea that our parliamentary system is rotten to the core. It is one of a number of essentially false stories that are being used to weaken faith in democratic government.

Combine MPs’ expenses with other popular, but untrue memes: that the Labour government crashed the economy (actually this was caused by bad lending in the US); that the UK’s national debt level is unsustainable (it’s high but we could have paid it down without the need for Osborne’s cuts); and that open borders with the EU have somehow caused the country damage (although economists and business leaders are confident that the opposite is true), and you have a potent formula for undermining British democracy.

There’s no shortage of real scandals to obsess over, should the press decide to. Our police forces have recently been repeatedly exposed as being corrupt to the very top – far more so than MPs. We are spied on as a matter of routine. Our postal service was privatised at far too cheap a price, costing us around 750 times the cost of the expenses débâcle.

Many MPs are cowardly, display a faltering grasp of complex issues and fail to provide the parliamentary leadership we need. Many of them are morons. But they’re our morons. We created this Parliament by allowing ourselves to be distracted from big issues by dishonest reporting. By holding MPs to ludicrously high standards of behaviour that we apply to nobody else, we end up by filling Parliament with dull mediocrities. If we want better MPs, we should participate in politics, and elect better MPs. That’s a power we have, thanks to generations of people who fought for democracy.

But instead, the public (or its most moronic members, anyway) is increasingly convinced that democracy is failing, and that action must be taken. This benefits UKIP, the party that once pretended to be all about leaving the EU, but now openly stokes up hatred against immigrants. Never mind that Nigel Farage has claimed more in MEP’s expenses than any British MP – today, he is billed as the heroic outsider who will bring down a corrupt political elite.

The editors of the Mail, Times, Express, Sun and Telegraph (who each earn far more than an MP) know they’re stoking an anti-democratic insurgency. The dangerous rise in nationalism – whether the right-wing UKIP form, or the supposedly progressive variety in Scotland – risks destabilising a country that for centuries has probably been the most stable on Earth. And it risks destabilising a continent which is the most bloodthirsty on the planet, and has never needed a good excuse to go to war with itself.

MPs who over-claim expenses can be exposed and left to the electorate. We have far bigger problems to deal with than that.

Free Speech, “Rape Threats” and the War on Twitter

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

British leaders often invoke the idea that Britain is a “beacon of freedom”. Anyone paying attention though, will note that free speech has always been strongly restricted in the UK: far more so than in the United States, where it is constitutionally protected. Sadly, most British people seem to have a vague understanding of what free speech is, or why it is so important. This lack of love for free expression runs across the political spectrum; of the three large parties, only the Liberal Democrats show any real interest in protecting it.

But the rot isn’t just within the political parties. By demoting free speech behind “security”, “protecting children” or simply “protecting against offense”, our political leaders are merely reflecting the attitudes of their supporters. I’m regularly told, by both righties and lefties, that “free speech doesn’t mean all speech” or “free speech is all very well, but there must be lines in the sand”. Thus demonstrating they don’t understand the basic meaning of the word “free”. Protection of free speech must include “bad” speech, by definition. After all, the ideas that women should get the vote or that homosexuality should be decriminalised were once “dangerous” ideas.

Despite the regular self-congratulations about how free we are, Britain has always had a censorious, paternalistic culture towards “protecting” its citizens from the menace of genuinely free expression. Our television is the most censored in Europe, and our government regularly blocks bigoted loud-mouths from entering the country (as if we didn’t excel in creating our own bigoted loud-mouths). This situation was suddenly disrupted by the arrival of the consumer Internet around 20 years ago, which brought truly uncensored expression to British people for the first time. With the later appearance of Web 2.0 – meaning tools that allowed non-technical people to easily publish content – true free expression accelerated further.

So the powers that be – government, police and media corporations – have always had an unspoken desire to rein in online free speech; to take us back to the 1980s, when they could largely control the flow of information to the masses.

Twitter, a classic Web 2.0 creation, is quite probably the most free mass medium of them all. It represents America’s First Amendment distilled and productised. It allows people to publish what’s on their minds in an instant, and for popular ideas to be rapidly propagated. Twitter is the great leveller: it favours the unknown over the famous. Well-known individuals will always find themselves the butt of jokes and personal attacks, simply because they’re famous. On Twitter, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Needless to say, British authoritarians, control freaks and the fascist-minded hate Twitter. Our authorities have tried to keep American free speech at bay since the US Constitution was written, but now it has invaded our country: and we should be pleased of that. Since Twitter’s birth, it was only a matter of time before war was declared on the platform. The police have been flexing their muscles for some time. Since Paul Chambers went to court in the infamous Twitter Joke Trial in 2010, authorities have increasingly tried to take control of online speech. But Chambers attracted great public support; the authorities had chosen the wrong target.

The real War on Twitter began in mid-2013, when a well-orchestrated moral panic was launched. The clear aim of the panic is to create support for the idea that Twitter is a dangerous medium, and must be controlled. And sadly, many people – conservative and liberal – have swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker. The word “troll” – which originally referred to deliberately provocative posters in online chat forums – was appropriated by the media and redefined to mean “someone who is offensive online”. This now appears in a variety of contexts such as “abusive Twitter troll”, “misogynistic troll”, and so on.

Twitter has a block button, which easily hides future tweets from people one doesn’t want to see. I try not to ever use it (it would be pretty hard to watch morons if I did), but the mechanism works well for those who do. This means that the more delicate souls can forget that there are rude, foul-mouthed, abusive people on Twitter, if they want to.

The panic had clearly been primed and ready to go for some time. It found its perfect moment when a campaign was launched in 2013 to keep women on British banknotes, following the announcement of a new £5 note to be launched in 2016. A journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez, tweeted in support of the campaign, and received a number of offensive tweets in response: some of the abuse reportedly featured rape threats. Criado-Perez is an attractive, middle-class, young, blonde woman; the War on Twitter had its perfect victim, and operations commenced.

Another female journalist, who followed events on the day, tells me that Criado-Perez only received a handful of abusive tweets; and yet the event was picked up by the press and massively exaggerated. The tweets, from a handful of morons, became a “torrent”, and a “barrage”. A number of female journalists began an ironically patriarchal campaign, the subtext of which was that women are more delicate than men, and should not have to tolerate the nasty language that men do. Online death threats to men (of which I’ve received, and laughed off, many) are just boys being boys, but rape threats to women are beyond the pale.

Over the past six months, the campaign has been pumped up by the media on a regular basis. Learning from the Criado-Perez experience, the bulk of the coverage is dedicated to the online abuse of attractive young women. Feminists of the Women’s Lib generation might spot the misogynistic message being deployed here, but it appears not to have been widely noticed, with many self-declared feminists attacking “sexist Twitter trolls” rather than the sexist concept that women, unlike men, can’t handle nasty words being thrown in their direction.

Eventually, two young morons – a man and a woman, came to trial for abusing Criado-Perez. Yes, a total of two, despite the “torrent” of abuse reported at the time. The trial’s coverage was riddled with misogyny and class snobbery. Photographs of the overweight, unattractive pair were juxtaposed with the blonde demureness of Criado Perez. “Look at these oiks, abusing such a nice, middle class lady”, the news outlets (almost) screamed.

The hysterical coverage of “Twitter trolls” has set out to demonstrate that the problem of unregulated speech is real, harmful, and getting worse. The prosecution stated that:

“Caroline Criado-Perez has suffered life-changing psychological effects from the abuse which she received on Twitter”

The poor, delicate little thing (did I mention she’s blonde?)

I’m probably being unfair to Criado-Perez here; the Crown Prosecution Service were clearly desperate to get a conviction and extend British law into controlling what people can say in public. The prosecution may well have misrepresented and exaggerated her true feelings in their lust to increase their power over public discourse.

In my 25 or so years of online discussion, I’ve experienced far more abuse than I can remember. It includes threats of harm, anti-Semitic and racist comments, and endless personal attacks. And yet the idea of people being prosecuted for mere speech – however ugly the speech – horrifies me far more than the worst Holocaust joke I’ve seen. One of the preconditions for the Holocaust to take place was to silence Jews and other minorities. Free speech protects the most vulnerable in society. The idea that police should have any role in controlling expression is a horrific one, and can only have horrific consequences; and yet those who should be defending our free speech have fallen at the first hurdle because – shock horror – free speech means people might say nasty words to nice people.

It is tragic that, centuries after the Enlightenment, liberals still need educating in why free speech – even including nasty, bigoted, hateful speech – must be protected. Women, minorities and the poor are never protected by giving increased censorship powers to the state. In 1789, America’s founders recognised this and outlawed censorship in their Constitution. 235 years later, it’s about time Britain followed their example.

2013: Morons of the Year!

Sorry for being fashionably late, but I’ve been suffering somewhat from WTFDISS (“where the fuck do I start?” syndrome). Although I still (perhaps optimistically) believe global moronitude to be in long-term decline, we do appear to be experiencing an upswing at present. One can only hope this is short-lived.

I’ve also decided, for reasons of fairness, that this year’s prize should not be awarded to the American right, although they may well deserve it. Including them in a moron competition is akin to inviting Kenyans to join the Milton Keynes charity half-marathon. It doesn’t seem quite fair.

However, no round-up of moronic outbursts would be complete without America’s Craziest, so let’s start there.

Oklahoma Tornado Madness

Extreme weather in the US always brings out the morons. The increase in extreme weather events couldn’t – of course – be caused by greenhouse gases. What kind of gullible fool would believe what scientists say? So obviously, the explanation for the tornadoes in May that killed dozens of people, including 20 children in a school, lies elsewhere. Take your pick: our old friends at the Westboro Baptist Church said God did it because basketball player Jason Collins revealed he was gay. Another old friend, Pat Robertson, agreed that God did it, but because the people of Oklahoma weren’t praying enough. And conspiracy loon Alex Jones said the government has the capability to create and steer tornadoes, but (modestly) said he wasn’t sure if that’s what had happened in this case.

White-ish Supremacist in North Dakota

The tiny town of Leith, North Dakota, which has one black resident, was shocked when Craig Cobb, a white supremacist, moved there with the stated aim of turning the place into a haven for anti-Semitism and white supremacy. His plans began to unravel when he was DNA-tested for a TV show and discovered he was 14% black, after which his home was attacked by white supremacists. He was then arrested after staging an armed patrol of the town with his remaining supporter.

A New Pro-Life Twist

A Republican congressman from Texas, Michael Burgess, found a new reason to reduce the abortion time limit, claiming that foetuses begin to masturbate from 15 weeks, and so can experience pleasure. Although, since God slew Onan for spilling his seed on the ground, one wonders why Burgess would show mercy to a sinful foetus.

Megyn Kelly and White Santa

Megyn Kelly, Fox News presenter and serial moron, claimed, in a standard piece of Fox race-baiting, that Jesus and Santa were both white, before rapidly backtracking and saying it had been a joke. As ever, Jon Stewart delivered. It was pointed out to me on Twitter that Jesus was Semitic and Santa is based on Saint Nicholas, who was Turkish, so technically Kelly was right; however, since when did Fox News and its moronic, Muslim-bashing presenters accept Semites (Palestinians, for example) and Turks as white people?

Government Shutdown

Having failed to overturn Obamacare by democratic means, the Republicans, led by idiot Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz, decided to act like petulant toddlers and close down the US government, costing the US economy an estimated $24 billion and threatening to unleash global economic havoc if the US had been forced to default on its debts. The tactic was not just moronic for being economic suicide, but because it would clearly backfire on the Republican Party. World leaders and markets watched in fascinated horror as semi-literate Tea Party baboons dragged the economy to the brink of disaster; panic was only avoided because nobody actually believed Cruz and his followers could really be that crazy. The Republicans were forced to back down after 16 days. Scarily, Cruz is seen as something of a rising star in his home state of Texas; watch this space for more fun and games.

NSA and GCHQ

Thanks to the bravery of Edward Snowden, a contractor at the National Security Agency, as well as the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, we discovered what we had long suspected: “our” spies are spying on us. All of us. The extent of the spying was awesome (in a bad way), exceeding the guesswork of all but the most paranoid observers. The NSA, and GCHQ in the UK, are demanding vast amounts of data from email providers, tapping into key Internet connections, and breaking encryption that was previously assumed to be safe. As Greenwald comments, the NSA can literally watch every keystroke we make. Our data – phone calls, texts, emails and more – are being warehoused for future uses – whatever they might be.

North Korea and East Germany had previously been held up as the ultimate surveillance states, but the extent of the spying by the US and UK goes far further; only Orwell, in his book 1984, had accurately predicted what is now happening. While many world leaders reacted with horror, the British government merely tried to reassure us that we were being spied on for our own good. The endless stream of scare stories about paedophiles, immigrants and terrorists, from David Cameron and his ministers, is perhaps spurred by the need to build an even greater level of fear among morons in order to justify this new state terror.

The Labour Party once again proved itself worthless at defending civil liberties. In parliament, the Labour MP Keith Vaz, in almost fascistic terms, questioned the “patriotism” of Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger in choosing to make the information public. And sadly, the average British moron-in-the-street shows little interest in questioning or challenging the state’s right to watch what we are doing.

Israel

Once upon a time, it was accepted that stronger tribes could expand and take land from weaker ones; thankfully, such situations these days are extremely rare, but Israel’s genocidal treatment of the Palestinians and Bedouin stands out as a rare modern-day example of primitive land robbery, as well as unimaginable cruelty. While the world pretends not to notice, Israel has turned Gaza into a hellish prison camp, which is on the verge of collapse, deliberately deprived of clean water and power, and swimming in sewage. The US and EU avert their gaze rather than intervene to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Separately, Israel is rounding up tens of thousands of native Bedouin people from the Negev desert and putting them into government-built towns away from their homeland.

Netanyahu, however, is increasingly being recognised for the dangerous moron he really is, and is becoming marginalised on the world stage – so much so, that he decided not to attend the Mandela funeral, using the flimsy excuse that the trip would be too expensive. Israel has long been resisting the “Apartheid state” label, but it is losing that battle, and attending Mandela’s funeral would have tempted comparisons that Netanyahu is desperate to avoid.

Nelson Mandela

I had long been bracing for morons to revel in the death of Nelson Mandela, and of course they were ready to scream “terrorist” at the top of their voices. But when the moment came, there was nothing the morons could do: Mandela’s legacy as the greatest leader of his era was set in stone. His former enemies went to pay tribute, fake smiles on their post-colonial faces. The African “terrorist” had secured his place in history ranking far above the “great” white Western leaders who had hated him. In dying a hero rather than a terrorist, Mandela cast new light on Ronald Reagan’s legacy of terrorism conducted in the name of “freedom”.

The attendance of America’s black President at the funeral of a great black world leader sent America’s “not at all racist” racists into a frenzy, and a meme quickly spread via right-wing commentators, especially Rush Limbaugh: why did Obama attend Mandela’s funeral but not Thatcher’s? To which the quick answers were: 1) Thatcher wasn’t a head of state and 2) Her much-disputed legacy pales next to that of Mandela.

Welcome Africa!

Speaking of Africa… the arrival of high-speed digital communications on the continent has had two major results: the fast-growing African economy gets a new boost as it connects to the global economy; and a whole new legion of morons joins the global conversation. For moron-watchers, the highlight of the Mandela funeral was the signer who didn’t know sign language, but perhaps should be nominated as mime artist of the year, as well as winning a story-telling award for claiming he had been under the spell of a schizophrenic episode (although he had been repeatedly hired previously for ANC events).

As I blogged in January, President Jammeh of Gambia probably should win the most-moronic-African-leader award in a highly competitive field. His recent achievements are legion, including the enforcement of a four-day working week for schools and public employees as an encouragement to attend mosque on Fridays.

As the year came to a close, Uganda’s parliament passed a law that would jail people for life for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality”. The law was first drafted four years ago but was shelved under threat of the loss of Western aid. As in other parts of Africa, the race card had been heavily played, with the fight against homosexuality being described as a war against immoral Western values. In his inauguration speech after being re-elected, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe took swipes at his two favourite targets: whites and gays.

War on Drugs

For most countries, 2013 was yet another year in one of mankind’s most moronic achievements to date: the so-called war on drugs. However, a few places deserve plaudits for beginning to resist the idiotic tide. Uruguay became the first nation in history to fully legalise cannabis, and the US states of Colorado and Washington followed suit. These examples look to be the start of an unstoppable movement. Those states that decriminalise and tax recreational drugs will quickly reap economic advantages over those that do not.

Morons are naturally outraged by the move towards legalisation – they tend to be allergic to common sense in any form – and were quick to spread a spoof story about a spate of “marijuana overdoses” in Colorado. It is, of course, effectively impossible to overdose on cannabis, but morons and facts are like oil and water, especially when it comes to drugs.

So we enter 2014 with most of the world still pursuing stupid, expensive and dangerous policies against substances which are mostly safe; the world is still around 99% crazy, but a small chink of sanity has appeared.

Woolwich and UK Nationalism

In May, an off-duty soldier, Lee Rigby, was brutally hacked to death in Woolwich, London. The murder became a terrorist act when the killers asked passers-by to film it and the aftermath on their mobile phones. Terrorism only works if morons are terrorised, and on that measure, this attack was immensely successful, helping to further feed a growing tide of nationalism and racism in the UK. The attack was undoubtedly one of the events that has helped UKIP gain support; it may not make sense that a murder could lead to a rise in anti-EU sentiment, but morons rarely make sense.

One might observe that the attack was tiny – one dead, zero injured; or that it was only the second fatal terrorist attack in the UK in the 11 years since British troops have been stationed in Afghanistan. The attack highlights the lack of a serious “terrorist threat”, rather than the existence of one. But morons have now swallowed the threat’s existence, and it is being used to erode a range of British freedoms.

eu

The Ascent of the UKIP Monkey

UKIP, presenting an “acceptable” (although judging from the appearance of its candidates, deeply inbred) face of nationalism, have drained the pool that the BNP and EDL swam in, and drawn away nationalistic supporters from both the main parties. Their arguments are laughable and based largely on false numbers, deep misunderstandings of economics and scare stories that play to closet racism. This year, the party made great mileage by claiming that there were 600,000 unemployed EU migrants in the UK – a false story run in various tabloids and quickly debunked. The Sun ran a small apology (see right), but the damage was done, and UKIP were in no hurry to admit their lie (the story is still on their site).

It may seem odd to conflate the issues of terrorism and the EU, but that is exactly what the nationalistic right are doing. In the absence of hard facts, a drumbeat goes on which is luring in morons in large numbers: “Terrorism… immigrants… EU… our jobs… housing shortage…” It may be an idiotic message, but it is still a potent one.

The idea that immigration causes economic problems is the reverse of the truth; when you do encounter economically-illiterate UKIP monkeys, it’s worth sharing this lovely video with them.

Will Norman Tebbit Marry His Son?

The gay marriage issue was firmly on the agenda, but the tide is now flowing strongly in the right direction. Both France and the UK legalised same-sex marriage in 2013. In France (which despite its “secular” label is still deeply Catholic and conservative) the move prompted large protests, but not so in Britain. Instead, we were entertained by the ageing Thatcherite loon, Norman Tebbit, who mused about whether he might be able to marry his son and avoid inheritance tax (answer: No) and also asked the important question: “When we have a queen who is a lesbian and she marries another lady and then decides she would like to have a child and someone donates sperm and she gives birth to a child, is that child heir to the throne?”

The Global War on Sex Workers

While conservatives are being forced to concede on gay rights as well as racial issues, perhaps (as I blogged in August) the new civil rights front-line is being defined by sex workers. Sex worker advocates have long campaigned for the trade to be brought out of the shadows into the mainstream, where female and male sex workers can benefit from the full protection of the law, as experienced by most of the rest of society. Instead, in countries around the world, prostitutes are treated as lesser beings. Moralists of the religious right attack sex commerce as ungodly, while moralists of the left claim they want to “rescue” the workers – without, of course, first checking whether they want to be rescued.

In America, police in various states were found to be using the possession of condoms as evidence of sex work, and so prostitutes have been forced to work without them, and HIV rates have risen. Perhaps this year’s most shocking case of official hatred of sex workers involved a Texan man who shot a prostitute for refusing to sleep with him; and was acquitted of murder.

Sweden has implemented a “progressive” attack on sex work, known as the “Nordic Model”, whereby the client rather than the vendor is criminalised. But the end result is the same: prostitutes are considered to be working underground, and do not receive the full protection of the law, or respect from the authorities; this was demonstrated in July by the murder of Swedish prostitute and sex work campaigner Petite Jasmine by her ex-partner, who had previously been given custody of their children.

Undaunted by the failure of the Nordic Model to protect workers, France set out this year to do the same thing, cheered on by neo-moralists across Europe, notably the once-liberal Guardian. The Rescue Industry has declared a full-frontal assault on the rights and incomes of prostitutes; attacking their right to work while claiming to “save” them. in practise, they’re being “saved” for lower paid work, or for deportation as illegal immigrants.

In Britain too, brothels were raided to “rescue trafficked women”, but as ever, no “trafficking victims” were found; instead the raids were used to deport illegal immigrants and clean up Soho for gentrification.

In Canada however, the Supreme Court struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws on the grounds that they endanger sex workers. It is unlikely that Canada’s insanely right-wing government will accept this situation, however: watch for more laws soon, probably couched in “anti-trafficking” language.

Miley The Slut

“Progressive” moralists were also in full voice this year to bully Miley Cyrus, who had the brass nerve to grow up from a sweet little girl into a young woman unafraid of flaunting her sexuality. She even dared to twerk and to employ black backing dancers! Which obviously makes her racist, right?

This was one of many moments in the year when conservative and liberal commentators became almost indistinguishable from each other in their joint hatred of sluttish behaviour, with the Guardian again excelling in couching conservative attitudes in liberal terms. Expect more attempts in 2014, from left and right, to push female sexuality back into the box from which it was liberated in the 1960s. Burqas for popstars, anyone?

And The Winner Is…

Commentators have asked in recent years whether Britain is sleepwalking into censorship. These days the debate is about whether we are sleepwalking, or running headlong.

big-brotherIn the summer, David Cameron announced an agreement with ISPs to introduce “porn filters”. Those who had watched the rising moral panic over “sexualisation” were in little doubt that the filters were a big step towards full-blown censorship of the British Internet. Sure enough, when the filters were rolled out in December, they blocked – either deliberately or accidentally – vast amounts of content, and almost none of it was pornographic. BT’s list of “adult” categories ranged from dating to drug information to sex education.

The filters are based on the premise that teenagers and children are the same thing, and thus block most “edgy” information that teenagers may want or need to access as they discover the world. The Internet had been a safe place for teens to explore their sexualities and psyches, but no longer. Whether parents have the moral right to block their children’s access to this information is unclear; but the cowardly ISPs, who (with one honourable exception) gave in to Cameron’s demands, have given them the ability anyway.

The initiative has caused concern globally, with exasperated American free speech advocates declaring the birth of the Great Firewall of Britain. As of now, many British people no longer have access from home to millions of websites. World censorship leaders, the Chinese have expressed their admiration for the UK’s plans.

Claire Perry, the MP who campaigned for the filters, had vigorously argued that no overblocking would occur; so it was with deep joy that campaigners discovered Perry’s own site had been blocked – presumably due to her obsession with pornography.

Ironically, the filters are very easy to work around; which means that teens will have no problem still accessing the pornography, sex education, drug information, “obscene and tasteless” and other content they wish to see, while their parents live in ignorant bliss.

So 2013’s joint Moron Award winners, for their attempts to censor the UK Internet, their encouragement of censorship worldwide, and their attempt to turn Britain back into a safe, 1970s-style (Jimmy Savile anyone?) pre-Internet nation are David Cameron, Claire Perry, and the leading UK ISPs – BT, Sky, Virgin and TalkTalk – who agreed to go along with their plans.

OMG! Miley Cyrus is Racist!!

I should start by stating that Miley Cyrus is not racist. This is just the latest moron meme in a series of increasingly moronic attacks on Cyrus from the Guardianista ex-liberal tendency. Cyrus isn’t the real target, but she has become a convenient scapegoat. The real target is black music and dance.

I blogged a couple of months ago on the Guardian’s opening shot in this story, in which Hadley “I Have Black Friends” Freeman launched an attack on Cyrus for her “racist” twerking episode at the VMAs. The claim was that Cyrus was racist. Because – wait for it – she’s white and had black backing dancers.

Since then, the Guardian, in true bullying tabloid fashion, has wheeled out one has-been after another to condemn Miley, or to patronise her. Yesterday, they outdid themselves, producing 73 year-old Christian singer Cliff Richard to express the hope that Cyrus “grows out of it”. If you’re starting to wonder where the line is between the “quality, liberal” Guardian and the “gutter, right-wing” Daily Mail, you’re not alone.

Perhaps realising that a parade of white faces screaming RACIST! at Cyrus was looking a little strange, the Guardian recently found a black person to do the same thing. Ikamara Larasi helpfully pointed out that she is a black woman, and she doesn’t twerk, but complains (in straw-man style) that she thinks people expect her to twerk, because she’s the same colour as Rihanna.

Don’t worry Ikamara, I don’t expect you to twerk. You see, Rihanna is a stunningly talented international music artist. And you’re not. Nor do I expect you to play tennis like Serena Williams, or be the First Lady like Michelle Obama. I don’t expect you to read the news like Moira Stuart, nor do I expect you to write incredible, moving novels like Toni Morrison. You see, while that kind of stereotyping does still exist, it’s fading fast, and it mostly exists among people like your Oxbridge-educated, Home Counties-raised, Guardian journalist chums. Most of us are perfectly aware that not all black women are amazing singers and dancers like Rihanna, and we’re happy to accept that situation. In fact, the only people I can see stereotyping anybody are you and your ignorant “lynch Miley” mates, who think that the average person is too stupid to tell the difference between you and Alexandra Burke.

Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with race. It is a continuation of the “ban all sex, help, we’re all being sexualised!” campaign which some individuals at the Guardian have been nurturing for years, and now appears to have reached fever pitch. Those who have been paying attention will know that much of the noise comes from a small group of individuals: Kat Banyard of UK Feminista, Julia Long of Object (who, together, are competing to be today’s Mary Whitehouse) and a small group of Guardian journalists who have somehow managed to turn a quality newspaper into the Object house journal. Ikamara Larasi, who stuck the latest knife in Miley’s back, comes from a “black feminist” group called Imkaan, which appears to be (like Lose The Lads’ Mags) another group linked to Object, and thus can claim Object privileges, including Guardian column inches.

Sadly, Larasi’s intervention seems to have confused people who might have been more skeptical had a white woman penned such obvious nonsense. On Twitter, I was told (by a white woman) that I, as a white man, should pay attention when a black woman writes about race. Because, of course, ALL black people believe the same thing and Larasi is black, so is therefore a spokesperson for black people (or “people of colour” as she tweeted… I kid you not). I wonder what would happen when such a person encounters two black women with opposing views. Would her head explode? A (black) friend of mine commented, “Miley isn’t the first. Might as well burn Madonna at the stake for having black and gay dancers then…”

Another tweeter posted a link to a page showcasing The 9 Most Racist Miley Cyrus Moments, which I still can’t tell is a parody or not. Gems from this page include she wants her new album to have a “black sound” (OMG Amy Winehouse, Joe Cocker and Elvis were RACISTS!) and she pretended to perform analingus on a black backing dancer (only pretended? Damn… I’d pay good money to see that).

Miley is playing the morality brigade perfectly (this week, she allegedly smoked weed on stage in Amsterdam, and was met with fake shock from the coke-snorting journalistic fraternity), and I applaud her. When society becomes as pathetically (small-c) conservative as it has become again today, the best response is to shock the fuck out of it. That’s why the Sex Pistols topped the charts in 1977 with God Save The Queen (despite it being banned), and the Prodigy’s wonderful Smack My Bitch Up (watch it!) video won awards 20 years later (despite it also being banned).

Rather than scream at racism-that-isn’t-racism and sexism-that-isn’t-sexism we should take aim at bullying-that-is-truly-bullying. The moronic British media loves to destroy people, especially young women. Doubtless Guardian and Mail journos alike are salivating in anticipation at the moment Miley appears drunk in public, has a messy break-up, or is rumoured to have a drug problem. I’ve cancelled my Guardian app subscription, and will be investing the savings in Miley’s latest album. Why don’t you do the same?

Britain: Land of the Cowardly

Watching from the UK, America’s gun control debate seems bizarre, archaic, outlandish and fascinating. Like most progressives, I come down firmly on the side of greater gun control; but I’m not American, and don’t claim a right to participate in the decision making. But I do claim my right to help influence the decision as best I can. America’s guns aren’t just America’s problem.

They leak out, fuelling the Mexican and Central American drug war. And in buying so many guns, Americans have greatly increased the size of the global small arms industry, bringing down gun prices and creating a wealthy industry with immense lobbying power that can be used to modify the will of the people. A gun manufactured in Russia is as likely to be sold to an American consumer as to the Russian police. Without legal weapons in America, guns would be less numerous and more expensive globally. Wars in poor countries would be more difficult to fund, if only marginally.

And the “debate” over whether guns lead to an increase in violence is laughable. International data are now available at the click of a Google button. Any American can now quickly compare the murder rate in their country with that in any other, and discover that America is far more violent than any similarly developed country. America has 4% of the world’s population, yet the vast majority of mass shootings happen in the United States – more than 200 since 2006.

The pro-gun “liberty” argument is deeply flawed. The prevalence of guns tends to discourage, rather than encourage, free speech – as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gabrielle Giffords and many others have inadvertently demonstrated. With so many guns, it takes a brave person to stand up in a public place and espouse a controversial idea. Minority viewpoints are violently suppressed in the United States, usually not by the state, but by lone men with access to fire-power. One of the greatest limitations to the First Amendment is the Second.

And yet, watching the arguments from the UK, I also experience a genuine and strong respect for the importance that many Americans attach to liberty. Britain pays lip service to liberty, and yet this country appears to almost completely lack the libertarian attitudes that exist on both the left and right of American politics. Britons are far more accepting of state intervention in our lives than Americans, in many forms. The merest hint of a threat will trigger a moral panic in the media, and Britons are repeatedly happy to accept the need for a little more police power without considering the cost.

The gun libertarians may have picked a dumb fight, but at least they stand and fight for (what they believe to be) liberty. Meanwhile, over the past decade, the state has rolled over British liberties, cheered on by the media and both of the main political parties.

Last weekend, thousands of Americans demonstrated against spying by the NSA. Meanwhile in Britain, we discover that GCHQ is spying on us and sharing the information with the NSA. Here in the UK, we don’t demonstrate for our right to privacy or free speech. Nor do our leaders have the backbone to criticise the secret police; instead they issue threats against newspapers that dare reveal the erosion of our freedom.

It’s easy to draw up a long list of liberties lost in recent years, but what is most shocking is that these were taken without opposition.

  • Laws drawn up against a “terrorist threat” have routinely been used to attack other targets. When police brutality started to be routinely exposed by photographers, the police responded by using terrorist powers to harass photographers.
  • Carrying a knife is an offence punishable with prison time. The change in law came about following a moral panic over a “knife crime epidemic” which never happened. I’m not a huge fan of people carrying knives, but I’m even less of a fan of a police state with endless justification to stop and search people in the street, which is where we now live. We don’t need police stopping and searching our teenagers at their whim, especially since they choose to direct their actions against young black and Asian men – such police behaviour was a prime cause of the 2011 UK riots.
  • Possession of “extreme pornography” is punishable with prison time and addition to the sex offenders register. Possession can even constitute receipt of an “extreme” image by email. What constitutes “extreme” is the decision of puritanical politicians and regulators who seem never to have had sex lives of their own. This law is now to be extended to include “rape porn”. In practise, although sold as a law to “protect” people, this criminalises the recording of legal, consenting sex acts between adults.
  • We allow video and TV to be more tightly censored than most other democracies; now we are also ready to watch our free Internet access slip away, under the guise of “protecting children”.

Through moral panic after moral panic, draconian law after draconian law, British rights are eroded. But it seems the British people deserve this treatment. We fail to protest. We re-elect the Labour/Tory duopoly that competes to be “toughest” against the next non-existent threat to our safety. To their credit, the Liberal Democrats exhibit at least paper support for civil liberties; for this reason, it’s better that we elect Lab/Lib or Tory/Lib coalitions than either simple Labour or Tory governments.

We live in one of the safest societies on Earth. Crime in all forms has been falling for decades. And yet the average Briton seems more afraid and more prepared to surrender liberty than ever. We have become a nation of cowards (if we were ever anything else – our belief in our “glorious and courageous history” seems to largely be based on the courage of one man: Winston Churchill).

Liberty is often ugly. It means allowing people to do things that many people dislike or even fear. We’ve forgotten this in Britain, and unless we re-learn it, we will deservedly continue our slide towards living in a sham democracy where everything is monitored, and many harmless acts can result in police intervention in our lives. America, with its endless wars and regular suspension of democratic values, may not deserve to call itself the Land of the Free, but it has more right to do so than Britain does.