Friday, January 28, 2005

links clearout #2

Two rather more serious links now, and both a little out of date; both come from sources (Harry's Place and the Adam Smith Institute Blog) which are well worth regular visits, although you'll get very different messages from each. Harry's Place, like a lot of other blogs, has spent a lot of time musing over Islamophobia in recent months; to get the full gist you'd need to read through the archives. But having watched 'The Power of Nightmares' this week (it bears repeating, that programme is dazzling) this phrase jumped out at me as one worth preserving:

"The islamophobe regards extremism and oppression within islamism as somehow special in nature. Muslim extremists - like the jew or "zionist" of fable - have fantastic powers. They are plotters, dissemblers, manipulators, murderers of children, fanatics. Anti-gay rants in parliament and the press are one thing, but in the mouths of bearded clerics they are something else.

The point is this. There is nothing alien and exotic about islamism, in either its content or its style. The extremists of the islamic and christian/post-christian worlds share a common heritage; they are both self conscious revolts in the romantic tradition against modernism and liberalism."


As Adam Curtis intimates in the final part of his excellent documentary - the threats offered by 21st century terrorism are not new threats. We've survived them before. The final moments of his documentary saw him saying:

"But the fear will not last, and just as the dreams that politicians once promised us turned out to be illusions, so too will the nightmares."

*

The Adam Smith Institute is a 'free market think tank', meaning I get really annoyed every time I read it. One article which was published on their blog recently did interest me, because it was on the subject of 'happiness', or rather an idea about happiness which is put forward in Richard Layard's new book (which takes the word as its title). There is a paradox, he writes, 'at the heart of our lives':

"We all want more money, but as societies become richer, they do not become happier. This is not speculation: It's the story told by countless pieces of scientific research. We now have sophisticated ways of measuring how happy people are, and all the evidence shows that on average people have grown no happier in the last fifty years, even as average incomes have more than doubled."

Predicting that progressive taxation might help naturally incurs the dissaproval of the Adam Smith Institute.

"Many philosophers have proposed that happiness lies in moderation, and that the best goal is an above-average level which avoids the peaks of ecstasy and the troughs of despair. Few have followed Layard in suggesting that our personal happiness should drive public policy."

Most of the commenters agree:

"Jealousy of others is a destructive human weakness; taking from others (for example, through the tax system) to make yourself feel better is analogous to the school bully who pulls another down in order to build himself up."

It seems rather depressing that people still peddle this idea that jealousy is a result of human weakness, as if it is quite unreasonable in the face of excessive unfairness to feel hard done by and angry at your treatment. To label taxation of the well-off as bullying, and to do so while insinuating that such an action is in itself unfair is sheer lunacy. In modern society it is the rich and powerful, benefiting from low taxation, who are the bullies, building up their privilege at the expense of others. That's unfairness.

And if we do have an interest in happiness it is impossible to achieve without fairness. And only public policy can deliver fairness when the difference between rich and poor is so great. Perhaps one consolation to the free marketeers is that - even if they have to put up with a progressive tax policy (not that there's much chance of that under this useless government) - they might find an increase in fairness sees jealousy (which they hate so much) fall by the wayside. Maybe.

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