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West's weekly round-up: September 11
She fought the good fight, she finished the race, she kept the faith
The Queen is dead, and many tears have been shed. I find the idea of crying over a stranger’s death quite odd, but the Queen was obviously more than a celebrity. She was our leader, and as many have said, it is akin to losing a parent or grandparent, a kindly, protective figure who was always there in the background, and who looked on at us benevolently. She was also a selfless, dutiful and deeply moral human being. As with the death of parents, even when it’s expected, it’s still unexpected.
Before the big news of the week, I looked at the enormous social, economic and environmental cost of crime, and crime-avoidance; on Friday, I wrote about the New York Times’s vendetta against Britain, which led them to even attack Elizabeth II’s legacy within 3 hours of her death being announced.
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More than anyone, Elizabeth understood Britain’s sense of itself as an old country. Look at our biggest private companies: Unilever was originally founded by soapmaking brothers in the north of England, and HSBC began life as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Both date back to Queen Victoria’s reign. GSK, one of the world’s largest drugmakers, goes back further, tracing its heritage to a single London pharmacy in 1715.
Similarly, Simon Schama in the FT, in particular the importance of her role in reconciliation with Ireland. Being from a half-English, half-Irish background, and knowing about that bitterness growing up, she did a very good thing there.
But when the Queen opened her speech at the state banquet in Dublin Castle in May 2011 in Gaelic, A Uachtaráin agus a chairde, the effect was exactly the opposite of what had happened in Wales: a moment of conciliation, coloured with a kind of brave humility on the part of the Queen and deeply stained with the marks of inescapable historical truths.
When I said that nobody would design this system, that is not a criticism. Evolved systems tend to work better than designed ones, even if they can seem maddeningly irrational to those who presume to know better. Yesterday somebody posted extracts from an essay by Clement Attlee. As a socialist, Attlee might have been expected to oppose or at least be sceptical of constitutional monarchy, but he was a strong believer in it. Attlee was writing in 1952, a year after the end of his term as Prime Minister, and the same year that Queen Elizabeth came to the throne. When he refers to the monarch, he refers to her - one of those examples of how the Queen’s longevity stretches our perception of time. “You will find the greatest enthusiasm for the monarch in the meanest streets,” he writes. After qualifying as a lawyer, Attlee ran a club in the East End of London for teenage boys raised in dire poverty. He remembers one of them saying, “Some people say as how the King and Queen are different from us. They aren’t. The only difference is that they can have a relish with their tea every day.”
We easily forget, too, the breadth and depth of her influence reached. An illustration: My mother died earlier this year and this evening my six year old nephew told my sister, “That’s two people we know really well that have died this year”. I imagine there are countless small boys and girls across the country expressing similar sentiments tonight. If you wished a snapshot of the monarch’s significance then this will do.
Likewise, in moments of national distress the Queen could reach the country in ways no politician could hope to achieve. As she put it, perfectly, during the covid pandemic: “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again”.
Andrew Sullivan’s tribute was very heartfelt, in particular on the Queen’s total absence of the modern world’s overwhelming, ubiquitous fault — narcissism.
The immense difficulty of this is proven by the failure of almost every other member of her family — including her husband — to pull it off. We know her son King Charles III’s views on a host of different subjects, many admirable, some cringe-inducing. We know so much of the psychological struggles of Diana; the reactionary outbursts of Philip; the trauma of Harry; the depravity of Andrew; the agonies of Margaret. We still know nothing like that about the Queen. Because whatever else her life was about, it was not about her.
Part of the hard-to-explain grief I feel today is related to how staggeringly rare that level of self-restraint is today. Narcissism is everywhere. Every feeling we have is bound to be expressed. Self-revelation, transparency, authenticity — these are our values. The idea that we are firstly humans with duties to others that will require and demand the suppression of our own needs and feelings seems archaic. Elizabeth kept it alive simply by example.
The Crown offers an emotional focus, which otherwise might be drawn by more sinister forces, and Sullivan quotes the line by C.S. Lewis: ‘Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.’
Human beings are incredibly gentle creatures. Compared to us, chimpanzees are 150-550 more violent towards members of their own species, and that’s comparing chimps to hunter-gatherers, who are way more violent than people in any modern society. This is the subject of Richard Wrangham’s The Goodness Paradox, reviewed by Rob Henderson this week.
One theory, or perhaps it’s accepted as orthodoxy now, is that humans self-domesticated, weeding out the most violent individuals in a similar way to how we domesticated wolves; this was necessary in order to live in ever-larger communities, humans being almost eusocial by primate standards.
‘Based on DNA analysis and findings from paleontology, Wrangham estimates that the self-domestication process began approximately 400,000 to 600,000 years ago. It started among the “Mid-Pleistocene Homo,” an early forerunner of Homo sapiens.
‘The book states that “the execution hypothesis” is key to the process. Capital punishment practiced in small human groups gave rise to a less aggressive psychology that uniquely defines Homo sapiens compared with other primate species.
Executing the most antisocial individuals selected against aggression in favor of greater docility and conformity.’
Some argue that this selection has continued into recent times, even accelerated by state-formation; England, for example, has had a pretty solid justice system since the 12th century, which has been consistently removing the most violent people from the gene pool. There have been opportunities where violence leads to reproductive success — the Hundred Years’ War made many fortunes as the scum of England rampaged across France, some of whom came home and built houses — but in most cases violence leads to early death. Dynastic conflict like the War of the Roses also helped to wipe out the more violent aristocracy and hasten its replacement by the gentle gentry.
‘I think a lot of the Reagan-bashing we see today is the result of intellectual laziness. Young conservatives know that Ronald Reagan was president, boomers worship him, and everything is woke and terrible today, so they assume there must have been something very wrong in Reagan’s worldview that led us to this point.’
So writes Richard Hanania, previously behind one of the best Substack posts, on wokeness being just civil rights law. This week he looked at what turned out to be quite a pivotal moment, when Ronald Reagan almost managed to overturn much of it. It seems like a better world was possible.
Zach Goldberg, who did much of the empirical research behind the Great Awokening, has new research showing how white liberal attitudes towards policing have radicalised in recent years.
If the luxury beliefs account is true, there are several empirically testable implications that follow. First and most basic, Democrats’ support for defunding and depolicing policies should increase as a function of socioeconomic status. Second, we’d expect support to be greatest among the most socioeconomically advantaged Democrats—namely, whites and Asians. Additionally, differences in support between racial/ethnic groups should shrink when all indicators of SES are held constant. Finally, we’d also expect support to decline for all groups as local crime levels increase.
During 2020, at the height of the crime surge following George Floyd’s death, one in three Democrats wanted reduced spending on police, up from 10% two years earlier. Abolishing the police is the ultimate luxury belief, perhaps, because crime victimisation depends so much on wealth and geography; it’s also perhaps the more hypocritical, because wealthier people go out of their way to avoid criminals by moving to nicer areas and ensuring those areas remain nice through housing restrictions.
‘Democrats are the real racists’ became one of the stupidest talking points of the 2010s, and like all stupid talking points from across the ocean, it’s firmly entrenched here now. Charlie Peters at the Critic laments Right-wingers adopting Left-wing talking points and standards in order to own the libs. As he writes ‘The only possible outcomes from conservatives adopting these left-wing strategies is that their opponents become more consistent in theiridentitarian arguments, which is obviously undesirable, and conservative institutions becoming increasingly beholden to these perspectives.’
But then I’d choose most of Britain over most of America, too. There, the problem isn’t a lack of diversity (it might be quicker, at some point, to list the US CEOs who aren’t Indian). It is too all-pervading a concern with the subject. After four years in the US, on both coasts, the sharpest relief since coming home has been the chance to have sustained conversations that do not in some way come back to identity. This is the difference between diversity and cosmopolitanism. The first is a physical fact. The second is an attitude towards it: a sort of insouciance. New York is diverse. London, where people one generation removed from Ireland or Italy won’t think to mention it, is cosmopolitan.
Finally, and most importantly, there seems to be good news coming out of Ukraine; Lawrence Freedman has written an explainer on what it all means.
The initiative is now firmly with Ukraine. The experience of the last few days will create doubts in the minds of Russian commanders about the reliability and resilience of their troops, and add to the predicaments they already face when working out how to allocate their increasingly scarce resources of manpower, intelligence assets and airpower. Might they risk a repeat of this operational disaster if they move forces to plug one gap only for another to open up? How much more can they expect from their forces, many who will now have been fighting for long weeks without respite and without much to show for their efforts? By contrast, there will have been a boost to the morale of even the more beleaguered Ukrainian forces (and as the Washington Post reports some of their units have also had a tough time). There may also have been a boost to their capabilities from supplies of equipment and ammunition captured in Kharkiv.
Things can move very quickly, but it’s looking positive for the Ukrainians. Let’s hope it continues, and the war comes to an end soon, although I’m not hugely optimistic.
Thanks for reading, subscribing and sharing. And God save the King.