ON THE COPERNICUS MOMENT
This is the last of a set of seven essays, in which I have been trying to understand and to diagnose the political, economic and ethical ills of our times. Today, I’ll try to pull together all the strands I have explored, and to sum up where we are today. And I’ll seek to “turn the corner” towards the not so small matter of how to cure these ills.
I’ll briefly summarize what I found. In the first essay, I looked at the forces which bind human beings together into communities. First, species – that is, shared humanity. Next, kinship or family; teamwork, trade and good leadership; and a shared belief system. Next, proximity or patriotism; a love for the land and the people of a particular area. Then, shared culture, including a set of values and customs. And last, for most people the Enlightenment, which freed our minds from shackles religious and political. I examined a tenth possible binding force, which I called nation; but I could not be sure that it truly was a binding force.
In the second essay, I looked at the mental disorder of psychopathy, and its relation to current political systems. I found that these systems, and in particular democracy, not only attract psychopaths, but also favour them for positions of power. Resulting in the giant collective insanity that is politics today.
In the third, I uncovered a deep rhythm of history; of the rise of institutions, of their corruption and decay, of the battles between those who favour new ways and those that hold on to the old. And of the tipping points, the times laden with uncertainties and contradictions, in which everything seems to be falling apart, and yet at the same time new possibilities are unfolding.
In the fourth essay, I looked at the political state: “Institutionalized violence and dishonesty” is how I had characterized it earlier. I saw that the state, along with the idea of nation with which it is so often identified, had ceased to bind people together – if, indeed, it ever had done so. I saw that the state is an out of date, failed system. And that, despite this, the political classes are trying to make a world-wide Leviathan, a super-state from which there can be no escape for anyone. I concluded, therefore, that the political state has got to go.
In the fifth essay, I listed many of the troubles of our times, and I came to the conclusion that a tipping point is approaching. Despite all their ruses and ploys, the political classes are losing credibility and support among the people. And in the sixth, I identified two opposing “armies.” One, convivial people, who in the main treat others peacefully, tolerantly, honestly and justly, and respect their rights. And the other, the politicals, that promote, support, enforce or take profit from damaging, unjust or rights-violating policies of political governments. I went so far as to compare this divide to the long-ago species split between homo sapiens and Neanderthals.
Such claims, of course, require evidence. That’s where my first two series of essays come in. The first twelve essays were about the politics, ethics, science and philosophy of our times. The second group of seven were about economic matters.
In those earlier essays, I said much about the modern political state. I told of its 16th-century origin and 17th-century heyday, and of the moral privileges and immunities it grants itself. I told of the evil political ideologies, that the state allows the powerful and unscrupulous to impose, by force or threat of force, on everyone. I told of the fig-leaf called “democracy,” and of how it divides people from each other. I told of its inevitable decay into squabbling factions, then into a war of the powerful against the people.
I told of the economic woes, which we all suffer at the hands of a rapacious political class and their hangers-on. I told of the cronyism and corporatism, through which vested interests suck up to the state, and make themselves rich at the expense of the ordinary people. I noted how life has become more and more difficult for working people. I told of how bad laws have taken away access to the market, and so the earning power, of many productive people, including myself.
I told of the lies and dishonesties, which the political class routinely use in their attempts to “justify” their harmful policies. I told of the resulting bad policies, such as making energy unnecessarily expensive, and seeking to force us out of our cars. I told about the corruption of science, which governments have actively encouraged. I told of their perversion and even inversion of the precautionary principle. And I told of the desire of the political classes, at the behest of green fundamentalists, to destroy the industrial civilization which has given us so much over the last two centuries.
God, Government and Gaia
For thousands of years, human minds have been shackled by two sets of received ideas: God and Government. Both have been constantly used, by the rich and powerful, to hold people down and make them acquiesce to being ruled over. Recently, they have added a third, which I call Gaia; in essence, the idea that we should not leave any permanent mark or “footprint” on our planet.
Now, I don’t mean at all that worshipping a god is a bad thing, if you’re that way inclined; as long as it’s your god, not someone else’s. Nor that all government is necessarily bad – even though, today, most of them are bad to downright awful. Nor that taking care of our planet is a bad thing to do. What I mean, when I talk of God and Government with capital Gs (not to mention Gaia), are the top-down ideas, that the politically rich seek to foist on us. They want to impose on us a particular religious view, a particular political agenda, or a particular vision of how our planet should be. They want to enforce their views on us from the top down. Such desires are the essence of what, in the last essay of my first series, I called “Downerism.”
The Copernicus Moment
Over the last century or so, organized religion has lost its grip on the minds of large numbers of people in many parts of the planet, particularly in Europe. Archbishops and popes are now seen by many, not as great spiritual leaders, but as crazed idiots. Meanwhile, governments – even “democratic” ones – have become steadily greedier, more dishonest and more repressive. And the Gaia-cult of environmentalism has grown in politics and the media to such an extent, that it’s become hard to close our ears to its lies, its hype and its screams of “catastrophe!”
But it’s clear, to those who look, that there is today a rising tide of resentment against politics. As yet, most people direct their anger at specific political parties, or even individual politicians. But some, like me, have come to resent and to condemn the political class as a whole, their cronies, and the system that lets them do – and get away with – what they do. We are coming to see that it is not just specific parties, policies or ideologies that have failed, but politics as a whole. We are the people, who have experienced what I call the Copernicus moment.
In the early 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus studied astronomy. The then prevalent view was that the Earth was stationary, and that the Sun and the planets revolved around it in more or less complex ways. But Copernicus formed in his mind a different picture. If the Sun was stationary, and the Earth and the other planets revolved around it, that would explain the observations better. It was simpler and more elegant than the old view. And, as we now know, closer to the truth.
With one small flip of the mind, one small change of perspective, Copernicus had changed the human conception of the Universe. That mind-flip I call the Copernicus moment. It was a revolution. But, like all real revolutions, it was quiet and peaceful. It sidled up to him, perhaps while he was thinking about something else; then, all of a sudden, it happened. And the human world was never the same again.
There is today, I think, a new kind of Copernicus moment, spreading – slowly, as yet – among us human beings. This mind-flip has as its subject matter, not astronomy, but politics. After you go through this new Copernicus moment, it is no longer God or Government – or even Gaia! – that has pride of place at the centre of the political Universe. Instead, it is the human being; the individual human being. From that moment, you see people as individuals. You judge each of them as an individual. And, having made that shift of perspective, you can never go back.
I myself went through this Copernicus moment almost two decades ago, soon after the events of 11th September 2001. I was very well equipped to be an early adopter of the new view. Not only had I been an only child, and so inclined to individualism in the first place. But I had also been trained in mathematics and science, making my thinking processes bottom-up rather than top-down. And back in 1988 I had encountered, for the first time, some of the philosophical ideas of individual liberty, and some of the people who promoted them. Moreover, I had lost all confidence in the political system and in democracy; I had not voted for any political party since 1987. What was my response to that moment? Instead of voting, I started writing. It has been a long, hard road to get here from there; but I still think I’m on the right track.
I’ll try to summarize the new view, as I now perceive it. Much of what I say here will be quoted or paraphrased from my earlier essays.
We are human beings. We are individuals. We have free will. We are moral agents. It is in our nature to be sociable, to behave convivially, and to “live and let live.” It is in our nature to form communities and societies, to build civilization, and to be creative. And we are naturally good, even though some among us fail to develop that part of our nature.
We use language, we can think abstractly, we can record our ideas for posterity. It is in our nature to take control of, and to leave our mark on, our surroundings. We can co-operate, and do business and trade. And we do best in an environment of free and honest competition.
Morally, we are all equal. What is right for one to do, is right for another to do under similar circumstances, and vice versa. Politically too, we are all equal; we are not George Orwell’s pigs. None of us has any innate right to rule over others. None of us deserves to be subjected to others. And each of us has rights – so called “human rights.” Importantly, they include property rights – because property is life. And we earn these rights by respecting the equal rights of others, and by accepting responsibility for the effects of our voluntary actions on others.
As to our relationship with the Earth, the planet is our home and our garden. It is in our nature to beautify our home; to make it warm, comfortable and convenient for us; to cultivate and tend our garden; and to strive to make our planet a better place for convivial human beings. It is our right to use the planet’s resources, as long as we use them wisely. It is in our nature to make our Earth a free place, a peaceful place, a just place, a beautiful place, a place we can be proud of. We know that things like clean air and wildlife are important; but the environment for convivial human beings is far more important. And we should never hold back human progress, or limit human freedom, for the sake of risks or alleged harms that are minor or unproven.
Even for those who have been through the Copernicus moment, the forces, which have bound human beings into communities for thousands of years, continue to operate. We are still bound by humanity and kinship, and by teamwork, trade and leadership. We have a new belief system; that is, that we focus on the individual human being as the centre of the political Universe. This belief system also inclines us towards tolerance of difference, for example in race or culture. Each of us may, or may not, also follow a religion or a secular philosophy; but none of us will try to force our particular religion or philosophy on to others.
We continue to feel proximity, a love for the land and people of our particular part of the world. We continue to share traits of culture, and customs and values, with people around us; though we are open to accepting ideas from other cultures, when they make sense to us as individuals. And we identify strongly with the values of the Enlightenment, of which respect for the individual is one of the most important.
But increasingly, we reject the idea (which I earlier called nation) that people are bound together by membership of a political state. We come to reject the state, its politicians and its politics, and those that benefit by hanging on to its coat-tails. We also come to reject the super-state projects, such as the European Union and the United Nations. Instead, we feel a new binding force, which I’ll call conviviality; the force which binds together convivial people. That is, those who in the main treat others peacefully, tolerantly, honestly and justly, and respect their rights.
Conviviality is not a matter of race, or received religion, or nationality, or place of origin, or of any other characteristic outside the individual’s control. Instead, it is a matter of conduct, and can be judged by observing individuals’ conduct. Thus, conviviality needs no secret Freemasons’ handshakes or the like. And when dealing with new people, convivials will tend to take a simple attitude of “trust, but verify.”
Convivial communities and convivial governance
A democracy relies on the assumption that the people in its territory form a society. That is, that they have a “general will,” and a shared set of desires as to the direction in which that society should go. And, therefore, they can and should be governed in that direction. This leads to the collectivist stupidities, which plague us all so much today. For example, political ideologies, the idea of “gross national product,” or collective targets or limits on pollution. Or the huge, unbridgeable gap between Brexiteers and Remainers in the UK, or Trump supporters and Trump haters in the USA.
But convivial people, since they respect the individual wills of others of their kind, cannot and do not have any such general will. The convivial people in a geographical area – for example, in the territory, or in a sub-territory, of a state – do not form a society. Instead, they are a community, bound together by conviviality, as well as by the other forces like culture and proximity.
For those in such a convivial community, the primary purpose of governance must be to defend themselves and their rights and freedoms against internal criminals or external attackers. For a community of convivial people has a collective right to defend itself, above and beyond individuals’ rights of self-defence. But it can have no other collective agendas. Such governance as it has, must do no more than adjudicate disputes, deliver objective justice to all, defend against external attack and internal violence, and organize the maintenance of the public areas within the community. I call this convivial governance.
Looking wider, there is an opportunity to build a world-wide community of all convivial human beings. This I call the convivial community. This community will be supported by a framework, which allows convivial people to live together in maximum freedom. For this framework I use either Frank van Dun’s name, convivial order, or Jason Alexander’s Civilization. It will be a de-centralized network of convivial governances, which in time will inevitably expand world-wide.
The convivial army
Since the Copernicus moment, my thinking has evolved in many different areas. But when I meet others of a similar mind-set, they seem to be moving along much the same lines. This is, I think, a symptom of becoming part of what in my last essay I dubbed “the convivial army.”
As you move in this direction, you experience, first, a strong disquiet at what is going on. Then you become angry about it; then, you feel a need to take action, and to seek out others of similar views. You feel a sense of separation from mainstream politics, and from those that take part in it. You see that their system is broken, and there’s no point trying to repair it. You come to see those, that promote, support or profit from the current system, as the criminals and psychopaths that they are. You start to feel contempt and loathing for them; and you come to understand that they are your enemies.
You resolve, in political matters, to find out the facts before you make a judgement. You compare and contrast the arguments on all sides. You stop believing anything government, politicians or the mainstream media say, unless you can verify it for yourself or from sources you can trust. You reject all their bullshit. You reject all forms of collective guilt, and you don’t accept any guilt for anything at all until you have examined the facts.
You come to see those that promote or support the globalist and green agenda as the terrorists they are. You see that, for no better reasons than a pack of lies and a bunch of unproven scares, they want to take a wrecking ball to our human industrial and capitalist civilization. And that they are traitors to, and deserve to be kicked out of, our civilization.
You start to ask yourself questions like: Why should honest people care about the dishonest? Why should productive people care about the lazy? Why should peaceful people care about the aggressive or the warlike? Why should sane people care about those that have let themselves be gripped by a collective political madness? And, why should the victims of bad policies feel any fellowship at all for those that have done and are doing these things to them?
You want to get back at your enemies for what they have done to you. You see that they have no concern at all for you, or for any other human individual. You see them as the bullies they are. You see that their conduct has been cowardly; morally equivalent to punching you hard on the nose, then running away. You want to see them brought to justice, and made to compensate you and the other good people they have harmed – several times over. The politicals must pay for their crimes! And you don’t care a damn how much the punishment hurts them. Even if not yourself religious, you may feel the aptness of these words of the prophet Obadiah: “As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.”
Moreover, you come to feel common cause with others who have suffered through bad politics. With those who have been saddled with swingeing and unnecessary interest burdens on student loans, for example. With the young people who, through no fault of their own, are unable to earn enough to get their careers off the ground, and to start to build up assets and equity. With the old people who can’t afford to heat their homes, because of policies that make energy unnecessarily expensive. With those in danger of losing their mobility because of anti-car policies.
You acquire a new confidence in, and love for, honest business and industry; and a loathing for those that would curtail or extinguish it. You think: Save Our Civilization! You resolve to do what you can to help the convivial army of people, who are seeking to save and to renew the rightful human way of life, the “economic means” of honest work and trade. And to re-Enlighten those whose minds have been scarred by the foul poisons, with which the politicals and their hangers-on have been blighting our environment for so long.
Turning Our World the Right Way Up
When, in time, I come to assemble these essays into some kind of coherent whole, I plan for the above to be the title of the collection. For the Copernicus moment is the one, which sets in motion the efforts of convivial people to turn our world the right way up. To dismantle the current, failed political systems, and to replace them by an order which works for good people.
In such a system, order will be maintained by convivial governance. Which, to mis-quote Abraham Lincoln, is governance of convivial persons, by convivial persons, for convivial persons. It will be like an umpire, not the vampire that political government is today. And like convivial people as individuals, it will strive to be peaceful, tolerant of difference, just, honest and respectful of rights.
Convivial governance will also be studied, meticulous, and objective in its judgements. It will require criminals and politicals to compensate their victims, and will punish them as they deserve. And it must keep to the very highest standards of integrity, transparency and accountability.
How might such a system work in practice? And how do we get from here to there? It is to these weighty questions that, in the coming weeks and months, I plan to turn my attention.