Tuesday 31 March 2020

Scratching my head

Over the years, the issue of head lice in schools has cropped up a few times in relation to the grandkids. Some parents out there obviously don't bother to check their kids for the little blighters and those who are more careful have to deal with it. Daughter-in-law thinks girls with long hair are the main problem.

Anyhow, whenever the issue has cropped up, we adults suddenly seemed to acquire an itchy scalp. Just talking about it was enough. Mrs H and I have both experienced something similar during the coronavirus debacle.

Before the lockdown we got up early for the school run and were in the habit of going out again almost every day, either for a walk in Derbyshire or just for the sake of getting out of the house for a coffee or whatever. Lots of fresh air, lots of walking.

Since the lockdown and the intense, unrelenting propaganda storm, we have both noticed a tendency to feel as if we just might have something vaguely similar to a distant relation of a mild flu-like condition - sometimes, on and off, when we think about it. We don't feel quite as fit as before, not quite as healthy.

We know the sensation isn't real - it's like that imaginary scalp itch whenever we mention head lice in schools. It is certainly interesting though. Will the intensity of the coronavirus propaganda cause a major increase in hypochondria? Has it done so already?

But not necessarily sensible

UK police officers have been told to take a "consistent" approach when ensuring people comply with emergency measures aimed at curbing coronavirus.

Grant Shapps says they are being sensible but that's political-speak and not the primary aim. Consistent is the primary aim - it always is with bureaucracies.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said police forces were doing a difficult job and being sensible about enforcing social distancing measures.

Monday 30 March 2020

One reason for the lockdown

There are likely to be a number of reasons for the coronavirus lockdown - fragile political confidence in the NHS is probably one of them.

1.3.16 United Kingdom 

16th place, 728 points. A 2014 survey to the public of the UK, asking about “What is the essence of being British?” got the most common response “Having access to the NHS”. Nevertheless, the UK healthcare system has never made it into the top 10 of the EHCI, mainly due to poor Accessibility (in 2018 only beating Ireland on this sub-discipline) and an autocratic top-down management culture(?). The country, which once created the Bletchley Park code-breaking institution would do well to study the style of management of professional specialists created there4 ! Mediocre Outcomes of the British healthcare system have been improving, but in the absence of real excellence, the tightened 2017 criteria puts the U.K. on par with Estonia and the Czech Republic in the middle of the field.

Sunday 29 March 2020

More contrarian virus views

More contrarian views on the coronavirus debacle from off-Guardian.

Dr Anders Tegnell is a Swedish physician and civil servant who has been State Epidemiologist of the Public Health Agency of Sweden since 2013. Dr Tegnell graduated from medical school in 1985, specialising in infectious disease. He later obtained a PhD in Medical Science from Linköping University in 2003 and an MSc in 2004.

What he says:

“All measures that we take must be feasible over a longer period of time.” Otherwise, the population will lose acceptance of the entire corona strategy.

Older people or people with previous health problems should be isolated as much as possible. So no visits to children or grandchildren, no journeys by public transport, if possible no shopping. That is the one rule. The other is: Anyone with symptoms should stay at home immediately, even with the slightest cough.

“If you follow these two rules, you don’t need any further measures, the effect of which is only very marginal anyway,”

Politically Boris will have to keep his ear to the ground because the UK lockdown is beginning to seem like an over-reaction which may yet become a gross over-reaction.  Apart from anything else, stimulating the loons could have significant long term political effects.

For example.

Saturday 28 March 2020

A bit of a flout

Police have dyed the normally bright blue water of a beauty spot in Buxton black, in a bid to deter people from gathering there.

Flouting government instructions to stay at home in a bid to slow down coronavirus, groups were reportedly meeting up at the disused quarry at Harpur Hill, near Buxton.

This has been done before so presumably the black dye doesn't last. The media are certainly consistent though. If they approve of the official line then to go against it is to flout it. They challenge but we flout. 

It's a strange thing to do though - messing around in limestone quarry lagoons. There are a number of them in Derbyshire but they certainly do not look inviting. It's the wrong blue - looks more like a chemical soup than clear blue water. I posted a picture of another one about a year ago.

Friday 27 March 2020

Neanderthal panic buying

Until now, many Neanderthal sites had shown only small-scale use of marine resources; for example, scattered shells. But now archaeologists have excavated a cave on the coast of Portugal and discovered a huge, structured deposit of remains, including from mussels and limpets, dating to between 106,000 and 86,000 years ago.

Researchers say the discovery shows that Neanderthals systematically collected seafood: in some layers the density of shells was as high as 370kg per cubic metre.

370kg of shells per cubic metre sounds very much like evidence of panic buying to me. Were the police involved in the excavation? I hope so. 

Thursday 26 March 2020

A sense of totalitarian delight.

Road checkpoints are to be used in North Yorkshire to determine if drivers' journeys are essential.

It comes after people across the UK were urged to stay at home unless absolutely necessary to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The move is being introduced to ensure motorists are complying with government restrictions, North Yorkshire Police said.

The checkpoints will be in place at different locations across the county.

A subterranean current flowing all the way through the coronavirus debacle is a sense of totalitarian delight at the draconian government response. A vast number of people seem to revel in it while piously deploring what in the UK is currently a small number of deaths. A suspiciously small number of deaths in my view but that's another story.

They seem to want a strong all-embracing government which tells everyone what to do. They really don't want and don't really understand independence and don't see why anyone else should be allowed to have it.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Viral madness

One enjoyable activity at the moment has been to scan a few of the anti-Trump media narratives linked to the coronavirus debacle. Some people just can't let go. If Trump were to invent an infallible cure for the coronavirus outbreak tomorrow in front of dozens of reputable witnesses he'd still get no more than grudging credit from much of the mainstream media. There is no doubt about it, strong political allegiances send people mad.

Apart from that we've been enjoying the sunshine in the garden and getting a few jobs done over the past couple of days. At the moment, not rushing around enjoying ourselves is proving to be quite enjoyable.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Government by hysteria

Government by hysteria was Mrs H’s phrase after the Boris lockdown broadcast. Here in the UK and elsewhere, public hysteria it is where many political boundaries come from. Government activity is promoted or constrained by media hysteria rather than hard-nosed analysis. 

It is not only the mainstream media but celebrities, pundits and social media all committed to government by hysteria as a way of bypassing the hard slog of actually analysing such matters pragmatically. A way of bypassing ordinary voters too.

Boris had no real choice in the coronavirus policies he has followed to date, even though they may make us worse off than we need have been. If he hadn’t taken this drastic measure, he risked a storm of hysterical denunciation which even a benign outcome would have done little to mitigate. He had to do it whatever the risk of a genuinely disastrous outcome, even if it is minute. 

A second possibility is that his scientific advisers now expect the situation to become noticeably more benign over the next few weeks, in which case the government needs to take the credit for tough action whatever the actual cause.

The second possibility seems unlikely at the moment – hysteria avoidance is the more likely motive. This is how things are done now.

Monday 23 March 2020

If the cure is worse than the problem

President Donald Trump has said the US will make a decision at the end of a 15-day period on 'which way we want to go' to fight coronavirus, implying that the country could re-open - just hours after New York City went into lockdown at 8pm on Sunday.

'We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,' he said on Twitter.

Obviously we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself and equally obviously that is the core political problem. Not a technical problem but primarily a political one. When will we know? Again Trump is probably right - about 15 days could clarify this issue. 

Unfortunately it would be no great surprise if many people, including many media people, do not care if  the cure turns out to be worse than the problem itself. The cure is their brand of politics and that's the nature of modern political life.

Saturday 21 March 2020

Stir crazy

Strewth - this social distancing game is a bit boring. We're actually getting some jobs done in the house instead of going out but we'll soon run out of those. I've even been sweeping the drive.

So we're off out for a walk tomorrow - sod this staying in lark.

Thursday 19 March 2020

Not so far from the madding crowd

Today we had the bright idea of driving to a car park with a view - to catch some quiet moments away from the virus frenzy. Should be quiet on a dull day we thought, so we took our Kindles to pass an hour or so reading. When we arrived the place wasn't packed, but lots of other people had had the same idea. Of course they had.

It's the modern world I suppose. It is possible to get away from the crowds, but for anywhere attractive with a car park it is almost impossible.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Virus IV

Another contrarian view on the coronavirus debacle, this one from Tony Heller who mainly covers climate change issues. Also a hostage to fortune this one, but an interesting take on the logic of what we are being told.

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Virus III

A contrarian view from Principia Scientific. A hostage to fortune perhaps, but with that in mind it is a pleasant change from screaming headlines. 

Coronavirus Destruction – ‘Not By Virus, But By Panic’

Southern California native Dr. Drew Pinsky wants people to calm down when it comes to the coronavirus hysteria.

Pinsky, who earned his medical degree at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, has been extremely vocal in pushing back against coronavirus coverage and the conversation around the pandemic.

“A bad flu season is 80,000 dead, we have about 18,000 dead from influenza this year and 100 from corona,”

said Pinsky in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith.

“Which should you be worried about, influenza or corona. 100 vs. 18,000, it’s not a trick question. Everything going on with everyone using Clorox wipes and get your flu shot, which should be the other message… that’s good. I have no problems with the behaviors. What I have a problem with is the panic and that businesses are getting destroyed and people’s lives are getting upended. Not by the virus, but by the panic.”

“It’s a moderate flu season. If you put corona and the flu together, it’s still a moderate flu season,” said Pinksy. “Wash your hands, take precautions, do what you’re supposed to do. Get your flu shot. Having been a physician for almost 40 years, there’s certain things I just know. The homeless thing is something I talk a lot about. I know the homeless because they are my patients. When I saw excessive corona coverage in the press, I had to respond. The weird part on social media is that people are angry with me for trying to get them to see reality and calm down. I’m trying to help.”

Sunday 15 March 2020

Virus II

From The Indian Express

With the PSL being cut short and all sports affected globally due to coronavirus, former Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Akhtar lashed out at China for the spread of coronavirus, attacking them for ‘eating anything and everything.’

In his official Youtube channel, Akhtar said that he was ‘really angry’ and the Chinese have put the world at stake. “I don’t understand why you have to eat things like bats, drink their blood and urine and spread some virus across the globe… I’m talking about the Chinese people. They have put the world at stake. I really don’t understand how can you eat bats, dogs, and cats. I’m really angry,” Akhtar said.

Not everyone will put it like this, especially in the feeble West, but many people must see the coronavirus debacle in much the same way. How many people? Could be an absolutely vast number. Another of those developments which lie in the future. Interesting times indeed.

Saturday 14 March 2020


Not a novel suggestion this, but there is something odd about the coronavirus outbreak. Something which leaves a sense of unease not connected with daily statistics and infection risks. By far the most interesting aspect of the whole thing lies in the future. As we know there has been an enormous amount of speculation about the likely impacts and aftermath and even without the benefit of hindsight there are clues.

The mobilisation of global opinion, approaches to tackling the spread of the virus, guidelines for individuals, travel restrictions, banning large gatherings, cancelling sporting events. All of these things may not have been uniformly implemented across the globe, but they do suggest the likelihood of a more uniform response in the future. It is almost possible to hear planners rubbing their disinfected hands.

The whole thing has highlighted how we already have the nascent control structures of a global government. There are numerous national variations of course, but there is a powerful sense of an underlying global bureaucracy with an underlying global ethos. Which we knew was going on anyway, but the coronavirus outbreak almost feels like a practice run for taking it much further.

How will the virus outbreak and responses to it be rationalised once we have the benefit of hindsight? Globally is my completely obvious guess. The virus will be touted as a reason for more globalisation. Globalisation of what? Of everything.

Thursday 12 March 2020

The etiquette of sneering

Sir David Attenborough has spoken of his "desperate hopes" that a crucial climate change summit hosted by the UK this year delivers concrete action – and is not blown off course by the coronavirus crisis.

The 93-year-old said the COP 26 conference in Glasgow carried the hopes of the world, and urged leaders to keep their "eyes on the ball".

Here is an interesting question - how should a chap respond to Sir David’s concerns without breaching the rules of etiquette? He is very old so does one sneer quite openly? A purist would insist that sneering is never consistent with the rules of etiquette, but is this true in all cases?

Suppose we recast Sir David’s position -

On the one hand - an absurd fairy-tale about the weather where nobody has actually been harmed and probably never will be. 

On the other hand - a global pandemic which has already killed almost 5000 people.

Phrased this way, perhaps even the strictest rules of etiquette allow us a slight sneer at Sir David’s misplaced concerns. A brief curl of the upper lip perhaps.

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Old streets

Today was my annual Derby hospital visit. What fun. It all went well though - if anything this visit was slightly quicker than usual. However I’ll admit to a certain amount of viral unease about entering a hospital under current circumstances. There are so many ill people all over the place. Have you noticed that? Even the staff don’t look particularly healthy. Pasty-faced as my mother would have said.

Afterwards I took the chance to stroll through small part of the Derby suburbs, part of the area where I lived during my teens. Streets I haven’t walked in over fifty years. They haven’t changed much physically but in some ways they certainly have. Some areas near the ring road are beginning to look tired – not too far from borderline derelict.

The posher areas have hung on to their gentility quite well but busy roads and traffic roar don’t do them any favours. It casts a pall which wasn’t there fifty years ago. Hanging on to their gentility by their fingernails in my view.

Yet all of it would have been attractive when built and still attractive decades later - until the sixties or seventies probably. Then it all began to go wrong and slowly became uglier. It's easy to see, what it must have been compared to what it is now. Ugly buildings slotted into spare bits of land, building which were ugly from the day they were handed over by the builder. Boxy and cheap. Almost designed to be ugly one might say, because for some reason avoiding ugliness no longer mattered.

Then the roads became busier, louder, wider, more congested and more controlled by a profusion of signs, lights, white lines and yellow lines such that even the roads are now ugly. Everything that wasn’t ugly becomes swamped by everything that is. Even the most attractive, well-maintained houses have ugliness at the end of the road. Once there were lanes, fields and roads with no colossal lorries shaking the earth beneath gigantic wheels.

Towards the end of my short walk was a row of Victorian cottages near the main road which looked rather scruffy and neglected. When first built they would have had vegetable gardens backing onto open fields but those days are dead and buried. Sad really.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Is conspiracy inevitable?

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Adam Smith - The Wealth of Nations (1776)

Although we tend to be suspicious of conspiracy theories, it is obvious enough that the vast complexities of human discourse will generate conspiracies in an Adam Smith sense. Social groups discuss matters of mutual interest in social situations - obviously. That includes elite social groups – equally obvious. In which case suppose we rephrase Smith’s observation –

People of the upper social strata seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to further their own interests.

Today this would not be a traditional conspiracy but an inevitable outcome of hierarchy, social contact, human nature, modern communication and the extraordinary power of the virtuous narrative.

For example, it seems strange that we have such poor choices when it comes to UK general elections. Suppose we take our two recent elections. Our choice of leaders with any prospect of winning the election was in each case only two. Theresa May versus Jeremy Corbyn followed by Boris Johnson versus Jeremy Corbyn.

To my mind the choice in both cases was fairly obvious – it was necessary to vote against Corbyn. But it is rather like having to choose between BBC and ITV. As if there are too many powerful forces heavily invested in government largesse and government power - too many to make democracy work as well as it could.

Another example. The hysteria surrounding Brexit still echoes around political debates like a stroppy ghost which refuses to be exorcised. Within the political fabric of the UK there is an ingrained determination to keep the Brexit debate alive, a determination which seems at least partly due to decades of Eurocentric narratives. As if Brexit only just made it in time and another decade of EU propaganda would have sealed our fate.

Climate change is certainly a conspiracy, but again it is not the kind where furtive plotters discuss their nefarious eco-plans behind closed doors. The climate faithful are merely pursuing their professional or political interests - or they are following what they perceive to be the only side of a virtuous argument.

Mass immigration has been another conspiracy where a desire for cheap labour and a parallel desire for captive voters seems likely to have generated an enormous mix of unplanned and somewhat unpredictable consequences. Some of those consequences have been visible for years but rational debate has been off the table for years too.

This is how mediocre democracies seem to work. Conspiracies effectively become part of the furniture simply because vested interests exploit that same mediocrity and because the undemocratic nature of those interests cannot be openly admitted. We end up with conspiracies by default.

Monday 9 March 2020

Where are the basic questions?

I like the way Weinstein stands back and looks at the Jeffrey Epstein issue as an unexplained failure of journalism.

Where did the climate go?

One huge benefit of the wall to wall coronavirus noise is the eclipse of Greta Doomberg and the endless screeching by climate nuts. At least this latest version of imminent doom is one where we can actually do something practical such as buying up all the soap and toilet rolls. 

And bottled water from what we’ve seen in Sainsbury's, but I don’t understand that one. I thought lack of water was a climate nut prophesy. Maybe people are mixing up their dooms - if so it's understandable.

Sunday 8 March 2020

In the supermarket

"Look at these empty shelves - it's all this panic buying there's hardly any soap left."

Proceeds to load up trolley with what's left of the soap - one, two, three, four.

Saturday 7 March 2020

They promise too much

Only Truth can give true reputation: only reality can be of real profit. One deceit needs many others, and so the whole house is built in the air and must soon come to the ground. Unfounded things never reach old age. They promise too much to be much trusted, just as that cannot be true which proves too much.

Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)

Following on from the previous post, it is worth pointing out that a media and entertainment organisation such as the BBC cannot possibly be impartial. Impartiality is not and cannot be a major aspect of mainstream media businesses. It is an ideal rather than some attainable state and in any event the audience for impartiality seems to be far too small. For mainstream media everything must be framed in a familiar way. The framing has to appeal to both stakeholders and to an audience - it cannot be impartial.

To take a very simple example - in reporting the activities of Greta Thunberg an impartial BBC would recognise that she exemplifies an appeal to false authority. She is not an authority on climate change and her lack of authority would have to frame all BBC reports about her activities. The puppet’s strings would have to be visible.

A related problem affects enormous swathes of BBC reporting. In general celebrities are not authorities on areas of life beyond their professional expertise. This is not to say that outside opinions have no value, but celebrity status rarely adds to that value. In world of mainstream media it obviously adds value, but in an impartial world it would not.

In a similar vein, whenever a minister or shadow minister makes some kind of claim, an impartial BBC would have to provide background sources to the claim - no misleading omissions. It would have to find out who advised the minister and on what basis that advice is deemed to be valid. Yet this is probably not what BBC viewers actually want. They want the cut and thrust of politics not the dull grind of impartial reporting. This is what the BBC clearly wants too.

Another problem would arise from politically influential people. An easy but powerful example has been provided by Jeremy Corbyn with his long history of sharing platforms with political extremists and fanatics who engage in or seek to justify political violence. Skating around Mr Corbyn’s inglorious political history is not impartial.

The BBC generally claims to have an even-handed approach to political debates, but even-handed is not the same as impartial. Mr Corbyn’s political history would be a major factor in any impartial approach to many political debates in the UK. It need not be an issue in the even-handed approach favoured by the BBC. Even-handed can be and often is far less than impartial.

There is no particular need to labour these points because the BBC quite obviously has a corporate culture and like all cultures it cannot be impartial, otherwise it would not be a culture. This is the problem which has to be tackled politically because the failings of the BBC are essentially political. It purports to be more than it ever can be. As Baltasar Gracian wrote over three and a half centuries ago They promise too much to be much trusted, just as that cannot be true which proves too much.

In which case the BBC has to evolve into a commercial business because only this would allow it to be tolerably open about its allegiances. As a media business it must project allegiances because it must appeal to an audience with similar allegiances, an audience which is not and never will be impartial.

Thursday 5 March 2020

Can the BBC be cured?

From the BBC we are told of moves to cure it of something. Apparently it must  "guard its unique selling point of impartiality" without having to admit that it isn't actually impartial. Oh well, it may be a step forward but it's a pretty hesitant one.

New UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said the BBC needs to do more to reflect the country's "genuine diversity of thought and experience".

Mr Dowden, who recently succeeded Nicky Morgan, made the comments in his first speech in the role on Thursday.

He also warned that the broadcaster must "guard its unique selling point of impartiality in all of its output".

And he questioned whether the BBC is "ready to embrace proper reform to ensure its long-term sustainability".

Trying to cure the BBC's cultural crony virus perhaps?

Okay I'll get me coat. 

No surprises here

Wednesday 4 March 2020

Tell and tell again but never listen

Another weird piece from the Guardian -

It’s that time again in the political cycle, where some of the finest leftwing political minds in the country come together to scope out a coherent, principled and sellable policy on immigration, and roundly fail. As part of her Labour leadership campaign, Lisa Nandy, one of the brightest and least entitled Labour politicians of her generation, managed to pull off a remarkable feat – she made a pro-immigration position sound craven...

This fear of looking weak is why the opportunity to take on the Conservative party, and the right in general, by presenting a clear counter-narrative is missed again and again. There is already someone “listening” to people on immigration, already a party that has achieved the job of not making people feel irrational or racist for having anti-immigration views. Labour’s task is not to provide more of the same, but to spell out clearly the colossal trick that the right has played on the country, in taking the despair that should be directed at austerity, the gutting of the NHS, the corporatisation and dehumanisation of the state, and saying clearly that immigration has nothing to do with it.

Clearly immigration can be a problem if it is not managed in some pragmatic way which voters understand and generally favour. Acknowledging this politically is how democracy is supposed to work. There are caveats and limitations to immigration because there have to be and this is so glaringly obvious that even Guardian folk might be expected to see it. Apparently not.

Not really relevant but I'll admit to smiling at the political cycle, where some some of the finest leftwing political minds in the country come together. Not in the Guardian they don't.

I hope.

Monday 2 March 2020

Blimey who reads this stuff?

From the Guardian -

The Labour leadership contest has exposed new factions in the party

Until 2015, there were four main factional tendencies in the Labour party: the “old right”, the “hard left”, the “soft left” and the Blairites. The old right – rooted in local government and union bureaucracies – has campaigned against radical socialism since the 1940s. The political crises of the 1980s saw the Labour left divide between the hard left of Tony Benn and the soft left led by Neil Kinnock (and, later, Ed Miliband). The soft left wanted to update socialism for a post-industrial age, to expel Trotskyist factions from the party, and to make whatever accommodations it took to win elections. The hard left remained committed to the radical policy agenda developed in the 1970s, despite waning support for traditional socialism among the electorate. The Blairites, advocating free markets and globalisation, emerged as a distinctive section of the party elite in the 1990s, but never had an enthusiastic base among members; they always relied on support from the old right and the soft left to carry out their agenda.

Strewth - ideology certainly is a rum business. One might suggest that Labour party selection committees could narrow down their list of plausible election candidates using a fairly simple filter such as –

Don’t choose an ideologue – they frame things before understanding them.
Don’t choose a self-absorbed turd.

The two are not unrelated, but it isn't difficult is it? Yet I have an idea that simple little mantras such as these do not drive the Labour party selection process. 

Sunday 1 March 2020

You know what freedom means

“You know what freedom means.” But did he? Or, if he knew, had he got it? No, he had not got it. He had had it possibly once, but now it had been stolen from him — stolen from him by Bigges, who was pouring out champagne, stolen by the beautiful saddle of mutton, the currant jelly, the crackling brown potatoes — stolen from him by the cheque-book in his dressing-room table, the roses in the flower bowl, and the electric wires that ran behind the boarding.

Hugh Walpole - Hans Frost (1929)

Freedom is a rum idea isn’t it? Whatever it is I don’t think many people want it which at first sight seems an odd claim to put forward. Yet suppose freedom is essentially the freedom to understand. In addition, suppose that for many people it is possible to understand too much. This is one of the great historical criticisms of the middle class – they don’t understand if it doesn’t suit them to understand. It is genuine too - they really don't understand. Or rather some do but that's a different issue. And as the world becomes more and more middle class, perhaps this is a formidable flock of chickens finally coming home to roost.

For example, simple observation suggests that many folk have no wish to understand aspects of their own ethos, especially fashionable aspects which are supposed to be swallowed whole. Perhaps this still seems odd as an angle on freedom, but it appears to work rather well. It fits well with censorship, attacks on free speech, forbidden language and political attempts to hide, confuse and misdirect. All of these are attacks on our freedom to understand.

Yet when we add up the constraints of daily life as Walpole’s character does, it is easy to conclude that we have no real freedom anyway. On the other hand, the fact that we are able to think along these lines suggest that potentially we do have freedom because we understand how we could have behaved differently and the social effects of doing so.

Walpole's character knew that the beautiful saddle of mutton, the currant jelly, the crackling brown potatoes were trivial indicators of much wider constraints on his freedom. Merely rejecting the currant jelly wouldn't count for much when it came to wider questions of his freedom to think and act.

Even so, freedom still seems to be a matter of paying close attention to our options and choices instead of freewheeling all the time. We have to freewheel some of the time, perhaps most of the time, but not all the time.

This is Spinoza’s key point about understanding things as they are including our own role in things as they are. Not things as they ought to be but things as they are. Observe and understand what is going on, be truthful about it at least to ourselves and be content with that. In this way we may come to understand how and where we could have responded differently even when we didn’t. We may even understand why we didn't.

To my mind this is the great political divide, the one which cannot be bridged. There are those who try to understand themselves and their interactions with the real world and those who merely try to justify themselves. One leads to freedom and the other doesn’t. This seems to be why woke politics, the politics of political correctness is so bleak, repressive and totalitarian.

A diffuse divide as always, but still a divide. There are people who don’t want freedom and don’t want anyone else to have it either. They know they can reject the currant jelly and that seems to be enough. It's as far as they choose to go.