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Quite a short update today I’m afraid. It was my youngest son’s 12th birthday yesterday and being with him and making sure he’s having a nice time have kept me busy. Longer one tomorrow, I hope.

Moral Relativism and the Collapse of the Rule of Law

A riot policeman faces a group of rioters in London in 2011

This is a blog post I wrote for the Telegraph in the immediate aftermath of the riots that engulfed many of England’s cities for four days in the summer of 2011. It was published on 11th August 2011. I thought I’d post it today, given the disturbances we witnessed in London yesterday.

Towards the beginning of Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s masterpiece about a group of teenage boys marooned on a desert island, a scene takes place in which the most vicious of the boys, Roger, throws stones at a younger boy whose sandcastle he’s just knocked down:

Roger gathered a handful of stones and began to throw them. Yet there was a space round Henry, perhaps six yards in diameter, into which he dare not throw. Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of the old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins.

Rupert Myers, a barrister, quotes this passage in an interesting article about the riots in the Lawyer. He makes the point that the law cannot be upheld by the naked exercise of state power alone. To a great extent it depends upon consent. There is a whole network of feelings and beliefs, some of them conscious, others not, reinforced by conventions and taboos, that underpins the rule of law. Once these constraints fall away, the whole edifice becomes much more fragile. If the sole bulwark against anarchy is fear of getting caught – fear of the police and the punishment the lawbreakers will receive if they’re hauled before the courts – then the centre cannot hold.

It was this fear that evaporated in some of England’s cities on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights. Among crowds of young people, the collective belief in the power of the state collapsed and, to paraphrase Yeats, the blood-dimmed tide was loosed. There was a kind of mass realisation, reinforced by the television coverage, that if enough people broke the law simultaneously the police were powerless to do anything about it.

It’s tempting when assessing the causes of these riots to blame the police and the courts for being too soft – and, by extension, the social liberalism of politicians on both side of the divide, with their concern for human rights and reluctance to appear too authoritarian. (See John McTernan’s column in today’s Telegraph for a powerful expression of this view.) Certainly, the immediate remedy is to strengthen police numbers, give them the license to respond to outbreaks of disorder more robustly and instruct the courts to hand out tougher sentences. Who knows, these changes may even become permanent as public opinion on law and order takes a hard Right turn. In light of recent events, Kenneth Clarke’s proposed reforms of the criminal justice system and the Government’s cuts to the police seem completely idiotic – a gold embossed invitation to criminals to run riot. The Sun and the Daily Mail had it right.

But in the long term we’ll have to address the deeper causes of these riots. Fear of getting caught will never be enough – the rule of law depends upon consent. By “deeper causes” I don’t mean social deprivation or youth unemployment. The eye-opening revelation of the Court hearings today and yesterday is that there’s no such thing as a typical rioter, as Andrew Gilligan makes clear in his vivid account. So far, those arrested and charged include an 11-year-old girl, a 31-year-old primary school teacher and the 19-year-old daughter of a company director who is currently at Exeter University. The participation of those from relatively affluent backgrounds, either in full-time education or full-time employment, makes a nonsense of the knee-jerk responses of Ken Livingstone and Harriet Harman, blaming cuts to the Education Maintenance Allowance, among other things.

However, the fact that the rioters defy easy classification should also give conservatives pause for thought. In the House of Commons today, David Cameron said that tackling gang culture would be a “national priority”, but the 17-year-old ballerina who appeared in Westminster magistrates court for stealing two television sets from the Croydon branch of Richer Sounds isn’t a gang member. Some of the rioters in London were African-Carribean teenage boys, to be sure, but we don’t even know at this stage if they were in the majority and, judging from the television pictures, most of the rioters in Birmingham and Salford were white. It seems likely that those involved in the disturbances were not, predominantly, from one ethnic group or from any particular socio-economic background. The sickness that David Cameron referred to on the steps of Downing Street yesterday is endemic and all-pervasive.

The root of the problem is that the bonds of civilisation – the whole panoply of conventions and taboos that Golding refers to in the above passage – have become too weak. In our increasingly diverse and multicultural society, the only values that command anything like universal assent are procedural ones – ethics, rather than morality. We’ve been taught to value tolerance and mutual respect and to abhor racism and homophobia – essential conventions if all the different “communities” are to get along – without being asked to believe in anything substantial to anchor those conventions in. On the contrary, the prevailing orthodoxy that’s taught in our schools and universities is that one set of substantive moral values is no better than any other and to claim otherwise is to risk appearing racist or sexist. Indeed, there’s a widespread belief that the survival of the procedural conventions depends upon a general skepticism about anything deeper or more meaningful – that the one strengthens the other. In fact, as we witnessed in England’s cities earlier this week, moral relativism does not lead to peace, love and understanding but to a kind of Hobbesian nihilism. Far from propping up the procedural values we’ve come to depend on, moral relativism has left them fatally weakened. As Yeats observed in his prophetic poem, the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

This is what Angela Merkel had in mind when she talked about the failure of multiculturalism and what David Cameron meant when he said we had to reject the wishy-washy liberalism of the progressive Left in favour of something more muscular and robust. Where they’re both wrong is in thinking that the problem lies with ethnic or religious minorities who refuse to embrace our liberal democratic values and the framework or rights and responsibilities that goes with them. Clearly, that is a problem when it comes to certain sections of our Muslim populations, but the bigger challenge is how to persuade our indigenous peoples to embrace those values. As Daniel Hannan points out in a blog post today, the response of Tariq Jahon, a Muslim, to his son’s death in Birmingham on Monday night was more authentically British than the behaviour of the Caucasians who looted the Bullring. The same goes for members of other ethnic groups who stood up to the rioters:

The Turkish shopkeepers and restaurateurs who patrolled Dalston, the Sikhs who stood with drawn swords before their temple, are reacting as generations of British people reacted in similar circumstances. Rather than simply whining about the failure of the state, they took responsibility.

The problem with multiculturalism is not that different ethnic and religious groups can never peacefully co-exist, or that certain immigrant groups can never be persuaded to embrace our way of life. Rather, it’s the taboo it introduces against the teaching of substantive moral values to anyone, not just members of particular “communities”. It creates a general reluctance to promote any values other than procedural ones. The result is far too many people cast adrift, black and white alike, imagining they believe in something only to discover, when social order breaks down, that they believe in nothing.

Perhaps the root of the problem is the progressive Left’s conviction that mankind is essentially good. After all, if you think human beings are fundamentally benign and altruistic, then failing to teach them about right and wrong isn’t going to pose any major problems. They’ll just get along regardless. But the lesson of Lord of the Flies is that this is sentimental and naive. Released from the bonds of civilisation, human beings will quickly descend into cruel, atavistic creatures who pursue their own selfish interests at the expense of everyone else’s. Sigmund Freud got it right when he pointed out that men are not gentle creatures who just want to be loved. On the contrary, they are fundamentally territorial and aggressive:

As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. Who, in the face of all his experience of life and of history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion?

That’s what we witnessed during the four days of rioting – Homo homini lupus. It’s a mistake to see the rioters as belonging to a particular ethnic group or as being “outsiders”, as some local MPs claimed. They were just ordinary people who’ve been insufficiently socialised, members of all communities and none. What they lack isn’t material wealth or meaningful employment, but a moral framework that enables them to see that smashing shop windows and setting fire to cars – and stealing – is wrong.

For four nights, those precious six yards that protected the boy in Lord of the Flies were breached. Unless we reject the moral relativism that has led to this sickness, they’ll be breached again.

Professor Lockdown Blows Himself Up

Dr Neil Ferguson launches nuclear rocket at Boris, momentarily forgetting he’s strapped to it

Great column by Dan Hodges in today’s Mail on Sunday entitled “Professor Lockdown tried dropping a dirty bomb on Boris… and blew himself up“. It’s about Neil Ferguson’s attempt to blow up Boris when he testified before MPs on Wednesday by claiming half as many people would have died from COVID-19 if the UK had just locked down a week earlier. As Dan points out, Professor Ferguson wasn’t saying that in the run-up to lockdown in March, as the SAGE minutes make clear.

Shortly after the story broke about his study that triggered the Government into imposing full lockdown, Ferguson was asked if Ministers had been too late in safeguarding the nation.

“Overall, I think we have got the timing about right,” he responded. So whatever brought him to last week’s assessment that lockdown was too late, that wasn’t his view back in March, when it actually mattered.

But there is another major problem facing Ferguson and his fellow revisionists. For months the Government’s opponents have been demanding publication of the famous ‘SAGE Minutes’.

These tablets of stone would, we were told, finally reveal the truth about the extent to which Boris and his Ministers really were ‘following the science’, and how far the fight against COVID-19 had been undermined by political expediency.

And those opponents were right. When they were published a week ago – to little fanfare – they did reveal the truth.

Worth reading in full.

Latest Death Data, Deconstructed

The virus has all but disappeared from Britain’s shores

A reader has been in touch to point out that today’s NHS England’s headline figure of 27 deaths only includes four that were recorded yesterday. The 27 were made up as follows:

  • 11/4 – 1
  • 1/5 – 1
  • 28/5 – 1
  • 10/6 – 2
  • 11/6 – 3
  • 12/6 – 15
  • 13/6 – 4

The total for the whole of Britain today is 36, a 53% fall on last Sunday’s total of 77.

Is the Two-Metre Rule Heading For the Scrapheap?

The Prime Minister at Westfield Stratford

Rishi Sunak appeared on Sophy Ridge this morning and gave the strong impression that the two-metre rule is not much longer for this world, given the drag it will impose on our economic recovery. He told the Sky presenter that the Government is “urgently” looking at whether the social distancing rules can be relaxed to boost shops and allow more pubs and restaurants to reopen.

Later in the day, Boris went on a walkabout in Westfield Stratford and talked to shopkeepers preparing for tomorrow’s reopening. He also gave the impression the two-metre rule will soon be ditched. He told reporters:

As we get the numbers down, so it becomes one-in-a-thousand, one-in-sixteen-hundred, maybe fewer, your chances of being, two metres, one metre or even a foot away from somebody who has the virus are obviously going down statistically, so you start to build some more margin for manoeuvre, and we’ll be looking at that and keeping it under constant review.

The tricky thing will be persuading the public that it’s safe to abandon the two-metre rule, given how successful “Project Fear on steroids” has been – a point made in this piece by the Telegraph’s Chief City Commentator Ben Marlow. A YouGov survey of almost 3,700 adults has found that 58% wanted to preserve the two-metre rule, with just 24% favouring a reduction to one metre and only 8% wanting it scrapped. Give me strength.

Powerful Critique of Epidemiological Modelling by Theoretical Physicist

Lockdown Sceptics has published an original article today entitled “Canaries in the Mine” by Dr Rudolph Kalveks, a retired executive with a PhD in theoretical physics. It’s a powerful critique of the models relied upon by Professor Neil Ferguson and others in trying to predict the course of the pandemic across a range of countries and argues that simpler, less sophisticated models provide a better fit with the data. This is his conclusion:

Countries across Europe have been easing their lockdowns since May 4th and, if only 10% of susceptible populations had been exposed to Covid, the potential for a subsequent sizeable second wave would be significant. However, no such signal has appeared amongst the fatality statistics to date. This in turn undermines the claims of the UK Government to be “following the science” when it persists with a lockdown and introduces travel quarantine measures (that would normally be associated with the early stages of an epidemic) at a time when a straightforward epidemiological analysis of the data indicates that the epidemic is substantially over.

I’ve created a permanent home for this piece in the right-hand menu as a subpage of “How Reliable is Imperial College’s Modelling?” Worth reading in full.

Can’t Get a Birth Certificate? Contact Your MP

Carrie Symonds with Wilfred Johnson

The reader who got in touch a few weeks ago to say she wasn’t able to get a birth certificate for her newborn has been in touch to say she’s now managed to get one.

About two weeks ago I decided to email my local MP explaining that I couldn’t get my daughter’s birth certificate. Within a couple of days Lambeth were in touch with me and today the certificate arrived… annoyed I didn’t think to do this sooner and also very surprised it worked.

Any parents of newborns out there, you now know what to do.


And on to the round-up of all the stories I’ve noticed, or which have been been brought to my attention, in the last 24 hours:

Theme Tune Suggestions From Readers

Just the one suggestion today: “Time Loves a Hero” by Little Feet. Relevance? The lustre of heroes, including those we put up statues to, fades with time. Incidentally, the pollster Opinium has found that over half of UK adults (55%) say they disapprove of the protestors who pulled down Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, versus only 25% who approved. Approval for the protestors is highest in London, at 42%.

Small Businesses That Have Reopened

A few weeks ago, Lockdown Sceptics launched a searchable directory of open businesses across the UK. The idea is to celebrate those retail and hospitality businesses that have reopened, as well as help people find out what has opened in their area. But we need your help to build it, so we’ve created a form you can fill out to tell us about those businesses that have opened near you. Please visit the page and let us know about those brave folk who are doing their bit to get our country back on its feet.

Shameless Begging Bit

Thanks as always to those of you who made a donation in the last 24 hours to pay for the upkeep of this site. It takes me many hours every day, which doesn’t leave much time for other work. If you feel like donating, however small the amount, please click here. Alternatively, you can donate to the Free Speech Union’s litigation fund by clicking here, and join the Free Speech Union here. Incidentally, the Mail on Sunday has a good piece about Stu Peters, the Manx Radio DJ suspended for challenging the concept of “White Privilege” whom the Free Speech Union is defending. And if you want to flag up any stories or links I should include in future updates, email me here.

And Finally…

This video of Michael McIntyre visiting a fortune teller before lockdown is very funny. The first thing the fortune teller tells him, after gazing into his crystal ball, is that he won’t be working as a comedian soon, but as a substitute teacher and amateur hairdresser and the uniform he’ll be wearing to perform these jobs will be track suit bottoms and the T-shirt he slept in the night before. I know how he feels.