A No to Nato rally at Conway Hall on 25 February, at which I was due to speak, has been cancelled after the venue received threats and abuse online that made them concerned both for staff safety and for funding.
This is just another symptom of the serious threat to free speech in modern society. In fact we are now at the stage where we might say free speech has already been lost.
Neither state nor corporate media would give any space to the views likely to have been expressed at Conway Hall. The war raging in Europe is not allowed to be discussed in any terms, other than as a straightforward conflict between good and evil, with the West as the good guy and Russia as the evil.
Social media posts saying anything else are rigorously suppressed. Because of the successful creation of corporate gatekeeper sites like Facebook and Twitter, the readership of this article will be at a quarter the level of a year ago, due to rigorous suppression of my posts linking here.
Now my position on the Ukraine war is a great deal more nuanced than most of the speakers at the No to NATO debate. I oppose NATO because it is an agent of neo-imperialism and a mechanism for the diversion of huge amounts of resources to the super rich, via the arms and military industries.
But I am plain that while provoked, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia was nonetheless illegal in international law. I view those who regard Putin as a defender of democracy or of workers’ rights as seriously deluded.
Putin is a very bad man, and the West is only just achieving the levels of wealth inequality that Russia has experienced (with a push from the West) these last three decades. The oligarchs and military industrial complex rip off the ordinary man in Russia, just as in the West.
This is a disaster for the people of Ukraine, for the people of Russia and for the people of the World. It is going to end with Crimea absorbed into Russia and some kind of autonomous status inside Ukraine for the Donbass regions.
That outcome could have been agreed without war, before thousands had to die and millions be impoverished. It could be agreed today. All the death and destruction and weapons systems will achieve nothing – except massive profits for the wealthy.
Responsible politicians would stop the fighting now. But no politician sees a personal interest in doing anything other than escalating and pouring in more and more weapons systems to mince human flesh.
I worry hugely about the abysmal quality of public debate. I am not sure whether bad education, social media or a race to the bottom in broadcast and print media – which are mostly about commentators not about news – are most to blame.
But quality of thought and depth of understanding are abandoned almost entirely in what passes for public debate in favour of risible extremist positions.
Ukraine is one example, where we have an establishment view that NATO and Ukraine are perfect, that there was no constant pre-invasion shelling of Russian speaking civilians or banning of Russian oriented political parties or the Russian language and publications, and definitely no Nazi influence in the Ukrainian armed forces.
Then you have those brave enough to suggest a counter view, but who claim that Putin is perfect and Russia a workers’ paradise, that all Ukrainians are Nazis, that there are no Ukrainians in the Donbass, and that Russia is only prevented by self-restraint from total military victory.
These are both ideological positions which are self-evidently ludicrous, but the first is in fact adopted by Western governments and the entire mainstream media.
I find I receive continual abuse from both sides for not adopting one crazed narrative or the other.
The market for reason has become very small.
On three current major controversies – Ukraine, covid and trans rights, debate is extraordinarily polarised, and the slightest deviation from the official narrative is heresy. Those who see themselves as heretics despise all but their own, equally extreme, interpretation.
On Covid, the official narrative is that it was a uniquely devastating virus and that humankind was only saved from a serious disaster by a combination of ruthless lockdown and revolutionary vaccines.
On the other side we have those who believe Covid was an engineered virus designed to make a fortune for big pharma and to justify government measures to reduce civil liberties, and that the vaccines are themselves deadly.
Personally, I believe neither of these opposing narratives.
My own view is that covid-19 is a respiratory disease which, in its initial outbreak, was similarly lethal, or possibly a little worse, than one of the major flu pandemics. The “Hong Kong flu” of 1968/9 I vividly remember. I knew a healthy child who died of Hong Kong flu, and my whole family caught it.
The Hong Kong flu killed an estimated 1 to 4 million people worldwide. The famous Spanish flu pandemic from 1919 killed an estimated 25 million.
To say covid-19 was similar to a flu pandemic is not to downplay it: they are terrible things.
The Covid-19 pandemic killed, according to Wikipedia which is curated very close to the official line on these matters, about 6.7 million people – about a quarter of the number killed by the Spanish flu. According to the same source, without vaccines it would have killed about 17 million more, which would be about the same as the Spanish flu.
Although of course the Spanish flu still killed a much larger proportion than Covid-19 of the world’s then much smaller population. Indeed as a percentage of population killed, covid-19 is not out of the same league as the Hong Kong flu of 1968/9.
So Covid-19 is a very nasty virus, which also may have more debilitating long term effects than generally associated with a flu pandemic, but not dissimilar in its mortality rate.
There are difficulties in collating the statistics. The figures for historic flus are not very reliable. The practice of treating as covid-19 deaths anybody who died with the disease, when they actually died of something else, is also perplexing.
If you look at excess deaths (above the 5 year rolling average), it is undoubtedly true that at the minute excess deaths are as high in the UK as at the height of the covid-19 outbreak before the vaccine programme, even though only 5% of current deaths involve covid.
It is also true that they were this high in January 2015 and, in both cases, a severe winter flu paid a role. The official narrative to explain the current death toll features heavily health problems caused by lack of access to medical treatment during lockdown.
Some of my own views on covid-19 are these. The pandemic was comparable to a nasty flu pandemic. The panic caused went beyond the rational, and governments were involved in pumping that up. There was little danger to the young and to healthy mature adults, but real danger to the elderly and unwell.
Accordingly I believe lockdown was too severe and should better have focused on shielding the easily identified vulnerable, rather than placing harsh and unnecessary restrictions on the large majority in society.
There could have been massive infrastructure, physical, moral and psychological support offered by the state to those who needed to shield. Rather than lock down everybody else. Closing universities for example was completely unnecessary.
Just like all pandemics before it, the covid-19 virus is busily following its own self-interest by mutating into a less vicious form that can co-exist more comfortably with its host.
I welcome vaccines as long as they are voluntary. Medical science of course makes mistakes but in general has been a massive force for good. The argument that covid-19 vaccines are a fundamental threat to the world’s health seems to have as little evidence behind it as the argument that covid-19 was such a threat that economies had to be fundamentally harmed.
Vaccines should be voluntary and no sanctions imposed for not taking them. But I regard taking the vaccine, and sharing in any associated risk as well as any associated benefit from herd immunity, as the correct moral position.
I do not claim that I am uniquely right or particularly expect you to agree with me. But I am not in either of the two binary camps.
I am not in the camp that supported every authoritarian crackdown and wanted to put anyone in jail who did not wear a mask, nor in the camp that thinks it was all a sinister government plot.
As with Ukraine I urge you not to switch off your brain and join one “camp” or the other “camp”. Do not sign up to a pre-ordained set of opinions.
Forge your own opinions.
The other issue I want to explore today, on which what passes for “thinking” appears ridiculously polarised, is that of trans rights.
On the one side we have people who argue that it is an inalienable human right to live in the gender of your choice, and that all societal institutions and infrastructure must be organised around that individual choice, which may never be questioned or subjected to scrutiny.
On the other side we have people who argue that sex is immutable and determined at birth, that safe spaces and positive discrimination provisions for women are dependent on strict application of biological sex, and that much of the trans movement is motivated by sexual perversion.
A lack of any willingness to try and synthesise rights and obligations, and take account of the desires and motives of others, seems the defining characteristic of almost everybody actively engaged in this debate.
My own starting point is a libertarian one. I believe people should behave as they wish to behave and be treated as they wish to be treated, wherever possible, and that people should be kind to one another.
Therefore, if somebody presents themselves to me as male or female, I shall treat them as such in society. That seems to me polite. It is not for me to check their genitals, much less to make a judgment on their aesthetic appearance.
I am frequently challenged over this and asked, do I believe that a man can actually become a woman? The answer to which is, that I neither know nor care. It is a matter of human interaction. Life is not a science exam.
The debate is currently focused on Adam Graham aka Isla Bryson, a convicted double rapist who is currently held in a female prison in Scotland, having declared himself a trans woman.
It is worth noting that this has happened not under Scotland’s new Gender Recognition Reform legislation, which is not in force, but under existing UK wide legislation, as interpreted by the Scottish Prisons Service under Justice Minister Keith Brown.
I have to confess, this seems to me self-evidently ludicrous.
There are no absolute rights in our society, beyond the right to breathe. The state can incarcerate you and effectively remove all your rights, for criminal acts or if you are dangerously insane.
That rights are not immutable meets with general acceptance.
I see no reason why trans rights should be different. Anybody who chooses to rape women will lose a lot of rights. They will be incarcerated. Subsequently they will be on a register and unable to live in certain locations, and barred from certain employments.
It seems to me entirely sensible that a rapist or sexual assaulter of women should lose the right to transition in law to another gender. It should be amongst those societal rights they forfeit by their heinous act.
The problem is, this kind of practical approach is unacceptable to both extreme ideologies.
On the one hand, you have those that believe that some people have a right, that may never be gainsaid, to an inner gender identity only they can identify, and that their sincerity may never be questioned.
On the other hand, you have those who believe that everybody should be forced to live a gender role determined by their physical characteristics, whether they want to or not, and no matter if they never hurt anybody in trying to do the opposite.
I am very conscious that it is wrong always to discuss this matter in terms of sexual offence, and the very large majority of trans people are entirely peaceful and innocent.
But that itself is why banning rapists and other serious sexual offenders from changing gender does not affect the principle: a few serious criminals are nothing to do with genuine trans people.
I find some of the “debate” simply baffling. I am sorry I cannot find it now, but I saw one tweet from a lady who had used a unisex toilet and was horrified to have to walk behind the back of somebody using a urinal.
Has she never left the UK? What is offensive about a man’s back? The extraordinary thing is, there were scores upon scores of replies about how disgusting it was to walk past a urinal.
I find myself genuinely baffled by this and by what has become an entire sub-genre about potential behaviour by trans women in changing rooms and toilets, where all of the projected behaviours would remain criminal with or without a gender recognition certificate.
I don’t claim any expertise or genius on the subject. I reject the strange absolutism of both extremist positions.
I do not accept either that we are forced to live in a role according to our physical make-up, nor that a professed personal gender identity may never be queried for sincerity in a criminal.
In comments two articles ago I was called both a transphobe and a pro-trans hater of women, by gender extremists on either side over the same article.
Now on none of these three issues did I set out by looking at varying positions of different camps and trying to find a middle ground. I simply considered the arguments on Ukraine, on Covid and on trans rights on their merits, and came to my views as the best policies for achieving maximum human happiness in difficult situations.
In doing so I find myself at odds with public discourse on both subjects which revolves around clearly defined camps, holding sets of received opinions and arguments to which they stick, and intolerant of anybody who does not subscribe to the same set.
This is a sorry state of public discussion, made much worse by the fact that in each case the government, media and ruling establishment is entirely signed up to one of the binary camps, and itself refuses to entertain any debate or nuance.
Indeed, those who query the Establishment line on any of these issues are subjected to ridicule, ostracism and even legal threat. That may be one reason why opposition is itself so unsubtle in its response.
It is also the case that on all these arguments people become angry, exasperated or impatient that anybody should hold a different view to their own.
The idea that reasonable, well-motivated people need not agree on everything and may agree to disagree on certain issues, is a fundamental basis of a tolerant society. It is an increasingly rare value.
I find that the market for nuance is small, and diminishing.
I want to stress again I am not claiming I have everything right. But I am claiming I have thought through the facts and arguments for myself, as best I can.
I hope this is of some assistance to you in doing the same.
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