13 July 2024

The impoverishment of the English aristocracy

P.G. Wodehouse was one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. His most famous fictional creation was Jeeves, the knowing and somewhat manipulative valet to feather-brained young gent Bertie Wooster.

In the following extract from Wodehouse’s 1953 novel Ring for Jeeves, Jeeves has temporarily become butler to the impoverished Earl of Rowcester.

[Lord Rowcester:] ‘I haven’t a bean.’

[Jeeves:] ‘Insufficient funds is the technical expression, m’lord. His lordship, if I may employ the argot, sir, is broke to the wide.’

Captain Biggar stared.
‘You mean you own a place like this, a bally palace if ever I saw one, and can’t write a cheque for three thousand pounds?’

Jeeves undertook the burden of explanation.

‘A house such as Rowcester Abbey, in these days is not an asset, sir, it is a liability. I fear that your long residence in the East has rendered you not quite abreast of the changed conditions prevailing in your native land.
   Socialistic legislation has sadly depleted the resources of England’s hereditary aristocracy. We are living now in what is known as the Welfare State, which means — broadly — that everybody is completely destitute.’

From: The Jeeves Omnibus Volume 3, Hutchinson, 1991, p.98.

22 May 2024

The work ethic and its decline

I have noticed over the last forty years that it has become more and more difficult to find anyone willing to do useful work in a polite and efficient manner.

Dissident sociologist David Marsland commented on the work ethic in his 1988 book Seeds of Bankruptcy:
Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism has been subject to extensive criticism ever since its publication in 1904-5. Some of this criticism is certainly valid. It remains, nevertheless one of the few genuine contributions by sociology to the advance of real knowledge. Its fundamental insight into the requisite institutional and psychological underpinnings of capitalism remains to this day incontestable.

What Weber enunciated — indeed celebrated — was the indispensable role in the development of capitalism of active and positive attitudes to work, and of values justifying such attitudes. Surely he was right. Among the prerequisites of the survival of liberal democratic capitalism, none is more essential than systematic, enthusiastic commitment to effortful work on the part of at least a large proportion of the population.

Commitment to the work ethic presupposes in its turn a number of other characteristics in any society which intends to become or remain capitalist, and to avoid entrapment in feudalistic, authoritarian, socialist, or other forms of serfdom. [Each of those characteristics] has been increasingly subject to attack in recent decades. Sociologists, as evidenced by the teaching material I have examined, are in the front rank of anti-capitalist critique of work and the work ethic. Undermining work is one of the major effects of the arguments deployed by sociologists in their prejudiced, negative treatment of business, freedom, and capitalism.*

A recent Daily Telegraph article was entitled ‘How the UK lost its work ethic’. The following is an extract.
‘Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music.’

So said a now notorious passage in the 2012 book Britannia Unchained, co-authored by Liz Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore. Naturally, headlines were made by such an accusation, not least because the British have traditionally prided themselves on their ability to graft, assisted by a temperate climate and an ingrained national culture of invention and ingenuity.

But it seems all that may be on the slide. Last week, Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s former chief economist, stated that a ‘sandwich generation’ aged between 35 and 50 were footing the bill for younger and older generations who had dropped out of the workforce. An ever-diminishing number of earners is alarming enough, but then the Wall Street Journal reported that many corporate leaders advocate that employees should never give more than 85 per cent, as complete dedication is unsustainable and leads to burnout.
* David Marsland, Seeds of Bankruptcy, Claridge Press, 1988, p.54.
Chart taken from B. Duffy et al, ‘What the world thinks about work’, Kings College London, 2023.

27 March 2024


A young graduate who had read English at Oxford, and with whom I was corresponding, once referred to jokes about ageing. Certainly they are common.

The first thing one notices about them is that they all depend on the implicit or explicit introduction of ‘other people’ into the situation. In some way or another, they all say, ‘I am living out a life-cycle as other people have done before, or as my contemporaries are also doing now.’ I do not think you could make a joke out of being the first or only person to find himself enmeshed in the conditions of mortality.

Two questions arise: what makes this reference to the widespread occurrence of mortality funny, and how is one to account for its sedative effect? (Plainly, the effect of the joke is one of reconciliation to the situation, rather than a spur to action.)

Freud would no doubt claim that the funniness arose from the reference to an underlying anxiety. The behaviourists would no doubt say that a thing was funny if accompanied by the action of laughing. I don’t feel particularly enlightened by either suggestion. There is only one nonsane joke: it is about attempting the impossible. It is extremely hilarious, but I do not think that it resembles any form of sane funniness. There is one other existential form of laughter: this is the laughter of relief. Again, I cannot feel that it sheds light on sane humour.

I will hazard a guess why sane people make jokes about growing old. What the joke means is ‘I am as degraded as everybody else, but at least everybody else is as degraded as I am.’ This is funny in the same way that other references to one’s concealed hatred of other people are funny, and it explains why the joke functions as a sedative. (‘At least I can see everyone else rotting at the same time I do; at least I can hear them screaming while I’m being tortured myself...’)

Come to think of it, does not all sane humour depend on references to one’s concealed hatred of other people? My studies of the Reader’s Digest certainly suggest this. ‘Human relationships’ seem to consist of continual reminders that your ‘friend’ sees you as identified with your most degrading limitations. (But loves you just the same, of course. That is, he wants you to be like that.)

Extract from Advice to Clever Children, pp.74-75.

26 January 2024

Genes and social class

It has been estimated that the proportion of a person’s intelligence which is inherited from his or her parents is upward of 50 percent.

However, there is great resistance to the idea of heritable intelligence.

A theory popular with some academics is that Victorian and Edwardian middle-class intellectuals believed in heritability because it fitted with the view that the class structure of society was fine as it was. Francis Galton, author of the 1869 book Hereditary Genius, is among those accused of defending this view. Galton was the first to study twins to determine the relative contributions of ‘nature versus nurture’, a phrase he coined. In a 2001 paper on Galton,* David Burbridge quotes history professor Simon Szreter who claims that:
‘Galton provided an important new intellectual leadership for the view that factors of heredity, and not environment, were the source of all observable class and race differences. ... Galton himself was almost exclusively interested in social class differentials in British society. [He was] one of the principal ideologues and champions of a professional meritocracy as providing the constitutional ideal for British society ... his hereditarian, professional model was the paradigm English meritocratic representation of social structure.’
Using the pejorative term ‘ideologue’, Professor Szreter makes Galton sound like an apologist for the class structure of Victorian Britain.

However, David Burbridge points out that whatever Galton’s private views on this issue were, in his public writings he was wary of making assertions of the kind that Professor Szreter attributes to him.
... nowhere does Galton put any weight on his study of twins to support a claim for a hereditary basis of the differences between social classes. But what in fact were Galton's views on heredity and social class? It is surprisingly difficult to answer this question. Galton’s published comments on social class are few and scattered. Nor, at least until very late in his career, do his private notes and correspondence show much interest in the structure of British society.
Academics hostile to the idea of heritability may find it useful to paint a picture of their opponents as dogmatic, and biased by personal interests. At least in Galton’s case, this picture, David Burbridge argues, is wrong.
[Galton’s] apparent reluctance to engage in any explicit and extended discussion of social class and social mobility may have stemmed from an awareness that quantitative data were lacking. On at least two occasions he called for investigations in this area. At some point Galton himself appears to have planned an enquiry into social mobility.

* David Burbridge, ‘Francis Galton on Twins, Heredity and Social Class’, British Journal for the History of Science, 34, pp.323-340. The quotation by Simon Szreter is taken from his book Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain 1860-1940, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

30 October 2023

Genes, leadership and monarchy

The idea that ability is partly inherited continues to be controversial, for reasons that seem to have more to do with ideology than scientific evidence.

If ability does in general have a heritable component, this would go some way towards explaining the existence of social classes.

Hereditary monarchy was for many centuries the most common form of political system, and the heritability of talents may help to explain this.

In 2013, researchers at University College London published evidence that leadership ability does have a genetic basis. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve at the UCL School of Public Policy commented as follows on the paper* by him and his colleagues which appeared in The Leadership Quarterly:
We have identified a genotype called rs4950, which appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations [...] The conventional wisdom — that leadership is a skill — remains largely true, but we show it is also, in part, a genetic trait.

* Here is a link to the full paper:

13 October 2023

Two brief essays on education

Good parents
In order to be a socially approved parent it is necessary not to ‘push’ your child. There is a social myth to the effect that great harm (of a quite unspecified kind) can be done by ‘pushing’ children.
   There is no corresponding myth about any harm that can be done by frustrating children; in fact, of course, ‘frustrating’ a child is not a possible concept. Even if it were ever admitted that a child had not been given opportunities for developing its abilities, this cannot possibly have done them any harm. This follows from the general principle that no social action towards an individual has any harmful consequences.

Once upon a time a headmistress said of me, ‘It will be good for her not to be treated as an exception.’ I found it very difficult to understand how she could even imagine that she honestly meant something by this, let alone something benevolent, since the sentence seemed to me to have the status of ‘It will be good for this horse to be treated as a dog’. The use of the word ‘good’ in particular eluded me, until I reflected that there was in existence an expression ‘The only good Injun is a dead Injun’, and no doubt she meant something like that.

Taken from: The Corpse and the Kingdom.

06 September 2023

The cult of creativity

One weakness of the pursuit of creativity is that it focuses attention on what seems to you to be significant (which admittedly is the only way you have of evaluating what might be significant), so that the tension between the subject or observer and external (unknown) reality is relatively weakened.

This is clearly why creativity is so popular as an educational catchword. If everyone tries to do some multiplication exercises, there is an objective standard of what constitutes doing it right. People will succeed differentially, and get some feeling of their limitations vis-a-vis objective reality.

But if everyone is told to paint or write creatively, and express themselves, no comparison with an external standard arises in any obvious way. It is a popular educational position nowadays to ‘encourage’ children to write what they feel, and worry about the niceties of grammar and punctuation when they have become good enough at self-expression. Of course, they never do get round to the grammar or punctuation.

Another drawback of the pursuit of creativity, or ‘interest’, is that there is little scope in life for this sort of ‘interest’, and a population of people who have been persuaded that they should despise everything that isn’t ‘interesting’ is very much at the mercy of society. To get anything purposeful done seldom requires a great deal of inspirational activity, but does require a lot of activity of a kind which is by no means ‘interesting’ in itself. This is the way reality is.

02 August 2023

Out-of-the-Body Experiences

My colleague Charles McCreery has recently published his book on out-of-the-body experiences. This is available from Amazon.

Here are links to the Amazon UK page:
and the Amazon USA page:

The book should appeal to anyone interested in any of the following topics:
• out-of-the-body experiences
• hallucinations and apparitions
• lucid dreaming

08 July 2023

The common good?

Here is another extract from Ayn Rand’s book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Rand expresses scepticism about the ‘common good’, a concept popular with collectivists.
“The common good” is a meaningless concept, unless taken literally, in which case its only possible meaning is: the sum of the good of all the individual men involved. But in that case, the concept is meaningless as a moral criterion: it leaves open the question of what is the good of individual men and how does one determine it?

It is not, however, in its literal meaning that that concept is generally used. It is accepted precisely for its elastic, undefinable, mystical character which serves, not as a moral guide, but as an escape from morality. Since the good is not applicable to the disembodied, it becomes a moral blank check for those who attempt to embody it.

When “the common good” of a society is regarded as something apart from and superior to the individual good of its members, it means that the good of some men takes precedence over the good of others, with those others consigned to the status of sacrificial animals. It is tacitly assumed, in such cases, that “the common good” means “the good of the majority” as against the minority or the individual. Observe the significant fact that that assumption is tacit: even the most collectivized mentalities seem to sense the impossibility of justifying it morally. But “the good of the majority,” too, is only a pretense and a delusion: since, in fact, the violation of an individual’s rights means the abrogation of all rights, it delivers the helpless majority into the power of any gang that proclaims itself to be “the voice of society” and proceeds to rule by means of physical force, until deposed by another gang employing the same means.

26 April 2023

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand was the pen name of Alice O’Connor (born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum), a Russian-American writer and philosopher. Her most notable works were the novels The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957).

Rand condemned the initiation of force as immoral, and opposed statism and collectivism, but was also against anarchism. She was in favour of laissez-faire capitalism, and was one of the strongest supporters of liberty in her time.

The following quote is from her 1966 book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
In a capitalist society, all human relationships are voluntary. Men are free to cooperate or not, to deal with one another or not, as their own individual judgments, convictions, and interests dictate. They can deal with one another only in terms of and by means of reason, i.e., by means of discussion, persuasion, and contractual agreement, by voluntary choice to mutual benefit. The right to agree with others is not a problem in any society; it is the right to disagree that is crucial. It is the institution of private property that protects and implements the right to disagree and thus keeps the road open to man’s most valuable attribute (valuable personally, socially, and objectively): the creative mind.