Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thatcher and personal responsibility

The Last Ditch has highlighted a remarkable quote from Margaret Thatcher—revealed in the Margaret Thatcher archives that have opened recently—and quoted (as evidence of her inhumanity, netch'relly) in The Grauniad.
Morality is personal. There is no such thing as collective conscience, collective kindness, collective gentleness, collective freedom. To talk of social justice, social responsibility, a new world order, may be easy and make us feel good, but it does not absolve each of us from personal responsibility.

This is something that I absolutely believe. Don't get me wrong, I am aware that I was raised in a reasonably well-off home with parents who gave two shits about me and my progress in the world. Most people would say that this makes me unbelievably favoured—lucky, in fact.*

But I have never understood why someone who was abused as a child should become more likely to abuse their own children. If you did not like it when your drunken father came home and beat you and your mother half to death with whatever came to hand, then why the fuck would you do it to your own children, to your own wife?

"Morality is personal", and the fact that you had a shitty childhood "does not absolve each of us from personal responsibility". It is why someone's shitty upbringing should never be accepted as mitigation for their crimes.

To blame one's bad or evil decisions on one's parents is a cowardly thing to do; it is also indicative of a rampant self-deception: we all have the ability to think and to act for ourselves—this is what makes us human.

We are all individuals and we are all—all of us—able to make our own decisions, to make our own choices. Those who abdicate their decisions to others have no more moral right to the privileges enjoyed by adult human beings than some beast.

Less, in fact, for the wild animal lives or dies by its own decisions—those moochers in our society who derogate their welfare to others are parasites on society. They exist on the product of better people's hard work and offer only laziness, violence and misery in return.

Worse, they provide an existence—through justification and through the ballot box—for the armies of bureaucrats who regulate all of our lives in the name of those who claim to be able to take no responsibility for their own. And it is wrong.

There is another Thatcher quote, one that is usually taken out of context, which is also spot on.
They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.

This last line was partly the inspiration for this off-the-cuff polemic, which included these lines...
For a moment, lay aside those dutiful thoughts of those starving millions beyond your gate, and think, instead, of those within your own household—within your own family: would you not rather protect them first?

Of course you would: they are your kith and kin and you would expect—would you not?—that everyone, like you, would defend theirs against you were you the one holding the gun.

The government has now utterly removed from you the means of protecting yourself and your family against the man with the gun: indeed, you dare not defend yourself because you fear that it is you, not the mugger, who would end up in the dock.

For the government is the man with the gun, demanding tithes from you: the government is here, at your door.

As I have constantly argued, the state is the cause of this "broken society"—whether intentionally or otherwise. After all, when you need not look to your friends and family for help in bad times, then you can be free to discard them at your convenience. If the state will pay you money, or treat you, regardless of your activities, then of course you will shun those difficult or distasteful decisions.

In short, the state makes it easy to live a hedonistic life, to ignore difficult moral decisions, because there are no consequences.

Thatcher realised, I think, that the state also stifles innovation and risk-taking, because it is safer to do nothing.
I came to office with one deliberate intent: to change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society — from a give-it-to-me, to a do-it-yourself nation. A get-up-and-go, instead of a sit-back-and-wait-for-it Britain.

Indeed. But it goes further than this because, as Tom Paine notes, people were once active in society because the state was not.
["social theorist" Jonathan Zittrain] mocks the people who "police" Wikipedia (always 45 minutes from destruction by spambots without their unpaid work). If there was a really big Star Trek convention, he sneers, "...who would be minding the store?" But those diligent nerds are doing what their ancestors did in meatspace, before Sir Robert Peel gave us our professional law enforcers. The hue and cry roused by a simple cry of "Stop, thief" was the only policing until then.

Libertarians are so often portrayed as cruel and heartless, but nothing could be more wrong. We believe in people. We trust them. The statists of right and left do not. They see humans as fundamentally evil; to be controlled at all costs. We see evidence everywhere (despite the odious exceptions on whom they focus) of humanity's essential goodness.

Indeed we do: we believe that people are essentially decent, that they will help others in need and that a society can be free, and rich, and the state curtailed without recourse to workhouses.

When I point out that Americans give far more money per capita to charity than those in Britain, many people admonish me. "Ah, but America has a culture of charitable giving that we, in Britain, do not."

Have you never wondered why that is? Or whether it was always so? After all, socialism has had a relatively short tenure in this country. After all, the seven great hospitals of London were all built by private charity, and maintained—to a large degree—by private subscription.

And we are all far richer—almost unimaginably so—than when those hospitals were founded. We used to have a culture of giving to charity—look how Scrooge is excoriated for refusing to do so in A Christmas Carol.

The fact is that we have forgotten charity, forgotten those in need. We have all abrogated our responsibilities to the state. This can—and must—change. But it will not happen any time soon, since our politicians like their position of power.

Even so, Cameron would do well to bear in mind another Thatcher comment.
To me, consensus seems to be: the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that need to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?

Perhaps this lack of principle is why the Tories seem unable to create a decisive lead in the polls. After all, I think that most people in the country will, at the next election, vote against Labour—but there is no appetite to vote for the Tories.

Not everything that Thatcher did was right, by any means. But at least she stood for something: she believed, fundamentally, in people's right—and ability–to rule their own lives and to fulfill their own desires.

Cameron seems to believe in nothing except his own fitness to rule—the coutry at large, it seems, does not share his conviction.

* And there are some who would like to tax luck—what should my surcharge be, Chris?

29 comments:

Optimistic Cynic said...

"But I have never understood why someone who was abused as a child should become more likely to abuse their own children. If you did not like it when your drunken father came home and beat you and your mother half to death with whatever came to hand, then why the fuck would you do it to your own children, to your own wife?"

It's about how children see things as normal behaviour. Our moral compass is highly influenced by our parents.

In your case, you got some good examples. Other children don't.

But this isn't a problem of "society" - it's an individual problem, and while we can say that there is a link between upbringing and behaviour, we can also say that such behaviour is unacceptable and to try to help them to change their ways or just keep locking them up.

The dangerous line from the socialists is that this is society's problem, that people behave like this because of a lack of opportunity or not enough job creation schemes, and it's utter nonsense.

Nor do I particularly trust the Conservatives to deliver therapy under the NHS. It's a hugely complex and personal area and being appointed someone through the bureaucracy isn't going to work.

Devil's Kitchen said...

OC,

"It's about how children see things as normal behaviour. Our moral compass is highly influenced by our parents."

Yes, this is what the wife said.

I reject it.

Children understand what pain is: they know that they don't like it.

They know what someone in pain looks like (even supposing that they cannot empathise): they know that pain is bad.

So stuff this parental upbringing crap: everyone has a choice.

For some, those choices are harder—but then that is why we, as a society, often venerate those who win against all the odds.

DK

TheUKLibertarian.com said...

You totally nailed it. Echoes of Atlas Shrugged here:

"Less, in fact, for the wild animal lives or dies by its own decisions—those moochers in our society who derogate their welfare to others are parasites on society. They exist on the product of better people's hard work and offer only laziness, violence and misery in return."

Poetry.

TheFatBigot said...

Mr Paine is quite right in these words: "We believe in people. We trust them. The statists of right and left do not. They see humans as fundamentally evil; to be controlled at all costs."

There are two curiosities in this aspect of the Socialist creed.

First, if people are fundamentally evil it seems to follow that the controllers also carry that flaw; in which case the whole exercise is doomed to a perpetual cycle of oppression.

Secondly, if the controllers are a breed apart, what makes them different? Where do they get the special skill and personal characteristics that places them in a better position to judge how the little people should live than the little people themselves?

Perhaps there was room on the curriculum at Eton for classes in "How to know everything better than everyone else", but I know there wasn't at Haywards Heath Grammar.

The State's ability to control lives and lifestyles is the same as its ability to run heavy industries and pick winners in the manufacturing sector. When they interfere directly in business they prove that they have no special skill or knowledge and, in fact, know and understand less than the ordinary folk who actually work in the field. So it is with their meddling in our personal habits.

It just doesn't work. It never has and it never will.

John R said...

I fully support all the quotes, excellent post.

On charity and the State, for me it comes down to: "the more you tax me the less I'll give".

If we're having money stolen from us left, left and centre by the State through its amazingly complex network of direct, indirect and stealth taxes then we feel "everything" is now no longer our problem as the money to fix "everything" is no longer ours either.

The reason the Americans have a "culture of giving" is because until recently their government didnt steal it all. I suspect things will change in the next few years unless Obarmy's new taxes are removed. Unfortunately this will just confirm the State as the source of all support. Not a good idea, look at its effects here.

Nurse Anne said...

DK, reading this blog keeps me from going over the edge sometimes.

Thank You.

Anonymous said...

I've long held that Margaret Thatcher's view of self-reliance and self-development is far closer to the origins of the Labour movement than traditional patrician one-Nation Toryism (read "The Intellectual Life Of The British Working Classes" by Jonathan Rose for a fantastic introduction to the days when learning was the great means of escape for the working classes, rather than the disgusting course to self-promotion that Labour now view it as). It's also a million miles from the views of the socialist nincompoops we have in charge, which is why she is so utterly despised by the authoritarians and the statists of right and left.

Lola said...

All true. It's the 'free will' thing. If God gave us 'free will' God was a Libertarian. We are free to behave badly or well. The vast majority behave well. Those that behave badly are an object lesson to us all. In many ways the defeat of Socialism by Thatcher/Reagan has left us with a problem of the lack of example of the bad things that leftyism does. We do not have the totalitarian example to measure our freedom by. A lot of this is to do with the appaling UK system that delivers what laughingly passes for 'education' after 12 years of New Labour deceit and distortion.

Shug Niggurath said...

I remember my liberal (modern version) Modern Studies teacher suggesting that the US Democratic party was just about the equivalent of the UK Tory party.

He was probably right if you look at what both these parties are now. Hijacked by social democrats who are really just authoritarian, tax raising, huge government parties. The only difference from the tories to Labour is that protestant puritanism that runs deep in the UK socialists.

And they all hate me, and they all hate you. All of you.

Nurse Anne said...

Yes Shug we know. You start talking about free market healthcare (which does NOT exist in the USA so America is not an example of failed free market health care) and you get surrounded by people who accuse you of wanting to see poor people suffer and die. They are perfectly happy to hand over their freedom in exchange for percieved security and it sucks.

I have also heard that about the UK concervatives being as liberal as the democrats in the United States. The republicans are not exactly a shining example of true conservative principles either. That's why I supported Ron Paul president. But he was shut out of the presidential debates for not being a republicrat as I call them all.

Nurse Anne said...

sorry can't type this morning.

Roger Thornhill said...

@Anon 08:16

"I've long held that Margaret Thatcher's view of self-reliance and self-development is far closer to the origins of the Labour movement than traditional patrician one-Nation Toryism"


That was before the Labour Movement was hijacked by Fabians and became the Labour Party.

They say that much of British Socialist thinking was modelled on the self-help organisations of the Welsh Valleys. Would those Welshmen and women liked to have coercion as part of the deal? Would they have enforced a monopoly? I doubt it, for that was just the thing the Mine Owners would do.

Socialism becomes the National Mill Owner. No escape and the force of law to boot.

Anonymous said...

An excellent post, should be read by all MPs and jobsworths. Although with todays educational standards perhaps they cannot read.

Derek

Richard said...

And remember Scrooge's excuse for not giving to society -
"And the Union workhouses," demanded Scrooge, "Are they still in operation?"

So the existence of tax-funded welfare is an excuse to avoid making charitable donations.

Get rid of the State funding (and the tax), and the charity will come back.

Shug Niggurath said...

Anne,

In my experience of the left, they do indeed screech that we want to see babies die. (It's ALWAYS the children with these people).

Bizarrely they don't seem to have the same problems with babies dying in socialist or totalitarian countries (at least until the US gets involved in their local politics).

I think the only people I despise more than politicians are people over the age of 25 who are still lefties.

Anonymous said...

"But I have never understood why someone who was abused as a child should become more likely to abuse their own children. If you did not like it when your drunken father came home and beat you and your mother half to death with whatever came to hand, then why the fuck would you do it to your own children, to your own wife?"

Jesus, you really don't have a clue, do you?

fuckgrapefruit said...

@Anonymous: no, he doesn't have a clue.

Chris evidently believes -- nay, insists -- that humans should function according to [his idea of] an enlightened, intelligent self-interest, and to the extent that people do not conform to this absurdly artificial model, then they are blameworthy.

Chris' failure, not to say willful refusal, to understand how humans actually work is embarrassing.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

Perhaps you'd like to enlighten me? Why is being beaten up by your drunken father an excuse for drunkenly beating up your kids?

fuckgrapefruit,

I know, I know: expecting people to behave like decent, civilised human beings is such a fucking stretch, eh?

Still, I live in hope...

DK

ChrisM said...

"Chris evidently believes -- nay, insists -- that humans should function according to [his idea of] an enlightened, intelligent self-interest, and to the extent that people do not conform to this absurdly artificial model, then they are blameworthy. "

I don't beat my wife either. How absurdly artificial of me!
Given that around 3-4% of the population are Sociopaths, I think we have all the explanation we need for why some people are complete cunts. We don't need silly excuses about how it is society's fault, or their upbringing or deprivation or any of the other bollocks that passes for nuanced and sophisticated thought amongst some.

fuckgrapefruit said...

@DK: who said anything about it being an excuse? I'm talking about an explanation. You seem to think people are just making this shit up.

Let me try an analogy: you raise some baby 'machine' in a 'bad home' where it gets kicked around and abused all day. What's the most likely outcome when that 'machine' 'grows up'? Is it going to --
(a) understand that kicking people is wrong and start to behave in a way that's unlike anything it has ever experienced before?
or (b) malfunction?

For your second point: yes, it is a fucking stretch. Frankly it's a wonder we're not all tearing each others' heads off nine ways till Sunday. I mean FFS look at the verbal aggression on your blog alone. Or mine, for that matter.

@ChrisM: So you really think the reason you don't beat up your wife is because of enlightened, intelligent self-interest? That's really how you think humans work? Well then, I congratulate you on your sophisticated and not-at-all-artificial model of human behavior.

ChrisM said...

Urm no, can you not read irony! The reason I don't beat my wife is the reason most people don't beat their wives; because I am not a sociopath.
You are the one with the simplistic model of human nature which apparently amounts to "Monkey see, monkey do".

fuckgrapefruit said...

@ChrisM: Oh, so you were somehow being ironic in *that* direction! So in fact you're actually saying that enlightened, intelligent self-interest is a demonstrably useless model of human behavior because it can't even explain why you don't beat your wife. Well then, we agree!

ChrisM said...

I didn't actually mention enlightened self interest myself and certainly not as an explanation for not beating my wife. In fact a quick perusal of the page shows that you are the only one who has used the phrase. So please don't go around concluding what I do or do not think about enlightened, intelligent self-interest as a model for human behaviour; I haven't said anything on it.

It isn't "not beating one's wife" that needs explaining"; it is the default mode of most humans. It is the beating of one's wife that is the deviant behaviour and needs explaining. The explanation you propose (Monkey See, Monkey Do) I find utterly unconvincing.

fuckgrapefruit said...

This is quite bewildering. You started by quoting my sentence about enlightened self interest, then you continued by saying that you don't beat your wife, which you ironically claimed was very artificial of you.

And now you say that your comments had nothing to do with the quote and indeed, that you haven't said anything at all about what you think of enlightened self interest as a model of human behavior.

Well, you certainly threw me off the scent there! It's not a move I've seen very often: quoting something and then immediately talking about something else that has no relation to the quote. I'm afraid I really can't keep up with conversational skills of that caliber, so I guess I'd better withdraw.

Before I go though, I would just like to point out that, contrary to your claim, and notwithstanding the fact that it does have certain merits, I nowhere proposed 'monkey see, monkey do' as a model of human behavior. If you're referring to my 'abused baby machine' analogy, that was a thought experiment, the meaning and purpose of which have evidently both escaped you in your blind rush to arrive at a false conclusion.

ChrisM said...

OK, I'll try again.
"Chris evidently believes -- nay, insists -- that humans should function according to [his idea of] an enlightened, intelligent self-interest, and to the extent that people do not conform to this absurdly artificial model, then they are blameworthy. "

No such belief or insistance could possibly be assumed by reading this article. And more generally there is nothing in libertarian thought that requires that people should function according to whatever the latest theory on how humans work happens to be. People shouldn't assault their wives regardless of whether people do or - do not - act out out of enlightened intelligent self interest. The principle that people should not beat their wives is most certainly NOT contingent on any particular model of human behaviour.


" I nowhere proposed 'monkey see, monkey do' as a model of human behavior."
I was paraphrasing your position. Irritating isn't it, when someone rephrases your position and then attacks their own words rather than those originally uttered.
I would say my summary of your position does at least have the merit of being more accurate. Your position that children who were abused will become abusers because they themselves were abused does boil down to "monkey see, monkey do".

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps you'd like to enlighten me? Why is being beaten up by your drunken father an excuse for drunkenly beating up your kids?"

I suspect you're being deliberately obtuse. Ask your wife to explain it to you again.

ChrisM said...

"I suspect you're being deliberately obtuse. Ask your wife to explain it to you again."

But then the rest of us miss out on the explanation. How about you explain it.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Anon,

"Ask your wife to explain it to you again. "

I would but unfortunately—having once been smacked by my father—I felt compelled to beat the living shit out of my wife with a tyre iron and she's unconscious right now.

Perhaps you can help...?

DK

Anonymous said...

"I would but unfortunately—having once been smacked by my father—I felt compelled to beat the living shit out of my wife with a tyre iron and she's unconscious right now"

Ha Ha. Which is exactly why I won't spare the effort.