Category Archives: Quote

JS Mill’s Cauldron Of Ideas

I’m reading a great Dorling Kindersley illustrated book on politics called…. The Politics Book

It’s an introduction to politics aimed at 16-18 year olds and is beautifully illustrated by James Graham. It is also got me thinking.

The section on John Stuart Mill says this:

“Even when societies received wisdoms were true, Mill argued that it was important to maintain a profusion of ideas – for a true idea to keep it’s vitality and power, it needs to be challenged and probed. This was particularly the case with ideas about society and politics , which can never attain the certainty of mathematical truths. Testing ideas is best done by hearing the views of those who hold conflicting opinions. If there are no dissenters, their views must be imagined. Without this discussion and argument, people will not appreciate the basis of even true ideas, which then become dead dogmas, parroted without any real understanding. Even correct principles of behaviour and morality, when they have been converted into barren slogans, can no longer motivate authentic action.”

In other words, No Dissent; No Democracy.

The section is introduced by this quote from Mill:

“That so few dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of our time.”

I would perhaps rephrase the quote to add that this in fact the chief danger of our species. As social animals being part of the group is far more important to most people than being an individual. Combine this with a pathological bourgeoisie fear of conflict and disagreement and we end up with the type of oppressive liberal consensus I posted about the other week, whereby those who dare to say things at odds with the current orthodoxy find themselves demonised, excluded and silenced. History is full of this sort of stuff of course and the social tyranny of the majority can be just as much a tyranny as that of a tyrannical state or capitalist corporation – especially when the outrage of the orthodox can be manipulated by state and corporate power to suppress those who resist that power.

Yet this phenomenon of social tyranny does provide a contradiction for people like myself to contend with. Indeed, this blog is explicitly framed to address this problem – how to reconcile our individuality and diversity with our natures as social animals?

My answer to this is that the only way I can be free is if we are all free, and that to be free does not mean simply to be free from constraint, it also means having equal access to the means of fulfilling our potential. i.e. I am arguing that freedom necessarily implies equal opportunity. I would also say that freedom does not just mean freedom from an oppressive state, it also means freedom from the exploitative and oppressive power of private capital.

Thus just like classic liberals I believe in the primacy of individual freedom but I believe my freedom can only be guaranteed as part of some form of an egalitarian society and I don’t see capitalism or entrepreneurial business as anything to do with freedom but rather as just another form of triumph-of-the-fittest tyranny, not really structurally different from the brutal aristocratic warlords and state Empire builders of previous eras.

In any society those who think and act in new ways (across science, culture, politics and social relations) provide a benefit to everyone (including conformists) because by being willing to take risks they ‘test’ new ways of thinking and doing and the resulting innovations in technology, thought and behaviour that prove to be useful and desirable can be adopted by everyone.

Thus for a healthy society, individuals should be free to think and act according to their own conscience (as long as they don’t harm others). Often this doesn’t happen because of the tyranny of the majority. Which leads to conformity and hampers the testing out of new ideas and ways of life.

Innovation and progress comes about through the thinking and actions of odd-balls, weirdo’s, rebels, radicals, nonconformists, malcontents, bohemians, punks, hippies, geeks, dissenters, nutters, outsiders, loners, mavericks and eccentrics – not conforming, middle class, middle-of-the-road, corporate ‘professionals’.

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Power concedes nothing without demand

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Frederick Douglas

The fruits of the earth belong to us all…

You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all and the earth itself to nobody.

Jean-Jacqueline Rousseau

In the beginning everything was common to all.

In the beginning everything was common to all.

Francisco De Vittorio (c.1483-1546)

What are governments but great bands of robbers?

If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 ce)

Free School And Academies Myth Busters

Myth: Academies and free schools raise standards and outperform local authority schools

The first step in any push for an academy or free school is to brand existing local schools as ‘failing’ – and that is the first myth. The government has continually changed the criteria for what it deems to be ‘underperforming’, with it now encompassing many schools that the system previously considered to be improving well. Nevertheless this is used to give a sense of urgency to the establishment of academies and free schools: the old lie that ‘there is no alternative’.

Yet academies’ and free schools’ results aren’t all that brilliant. According to schools inspectors Ofsted’s 2012 report, half of the sponsor-led academies it inspected were rated only ‘satisfactory’ or below, compared with less than a third of schools overall. Conversely, 69 per cent of all state secondaries were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, but only 52 per cent of sponsor-led academies.

One of the first free schools in Britain was Discovery Free School in Crawley, West Sussex, which opened in September 2011. In June it was rated ‘inadequate’ and put on special measures by Ofsted, who wrote, ‘Too many pupils are in danger of leaving the school without being able to read and write properly.’ Ofsted also noted that the school’s managers ‘believe the school is far better than it is’. As of June 2013, Ofsted has visited 11 free schools out of 81 that have opened. Four were rated ‘requires improvement’ or below. None have yet been rated ‘outstanding’, a status held by one in five local authority schools. Continue reading

Myth: The national economy can be run like a household

From ‘Austerity Illusions Debt Delusions‘ from the Centre For Labour Studies.

Reality: The Coalition has repeatedly used the metaphor of sticking to a ‘household budget’ to justify drastic cuts. But this is not only a misleading comparison, it is also dangerous. Government finances are not at all like household finances, but even at this level their analogy doesn’t work because borrowing for investment is a normal and sensible thing to do at the family level. For example buying a house to invest in the future of your growing family, investing in repairing your car to make sure you can still get to your job, which pays your income and enables you to pay off your borrowing.

What seems appropriate at the personal domestic level is quite wrong at national level. Take the ‘maxed-out credit card’ – while family borrowing is very important as shown above, we all like to live within our means. But if we all cut our personal debt at once, the economy would go into catastrophic depression. This is because what you or I spend, keeps others in work, and what they earn and spend keeps more people in work. If we all cut spending at once, economic disaster arrives like a flash.

Falling real wages amounts to cutting wages. If everyone has lower wages, they have less money in their pockets to spend. When less people spend, the economy shrinks. This applies to savings too. If we all save at once, there is no consumption and no
spending to stimulate investment so the economy goes into a downward spiral.