Notes On The News
By Gwydion M. Williams
I always found it suspicious that Japan suffered an odd economic crisis just at the moment the Cold War was over and the US was looking for a new global foe. It’s not in fact that they’re in crisis, just that they’ve stood still and ceased the dramatic growth that looked likely to make them richer than the USA. Given what happened to Ceaucescu in Romania, to Sukarno in Indonesia and to the Socialists and Christian Democrats in Italy, there was good reason to think that the USA had become a menace to old allies who were now unwanted. Even Saddam in Iraq fits the pattern: his invasion of Kuwait was an attempt to fight his way out of an economic crisis, burdened by debts he had built up while doing the West’s work in fighting Militant Islam in Iraq.
None of these countries were conceivably a threat to the USA, Iraq was possibly to Israel. Japan was a different matter, a conceivable threat to US hegemony, for as long as it went on growing. And then growth mysteriously stopped.
Which is why I was fascinated to read the following on page 21 of the Economist yearbook for 2003:
“The course of policy in Japan over the past ten years would be easier to understand if it had actually been the goal of the authorities to keep the economy in slump. It still seems as if this will be their intention in 2003.”
The remark is rhetorical: the author sees it as obvious that money is the core of existence and does not wonder if something much more subtle might be happening.
Japan’s economy remains static, but comfortable for most Japanese. Meantime there are large and growing ties between Japan and China, with China still growing fast and with an economy dominated by ‘connections’, the traditional Chinese model that is thousands of years older than the Anglo model.
[As of 2015, Japan remains rather static and China continues to grow fast.]
After the recent election in Turkey, a political movement that was defined as ‘extremist’ when it was on the fringes has now been redefined as ‘Muslim Democrat’. And as if to confirm that image, the new government is keen to negotiate entry to the European Union.
Turkey has been seeking entry for years, but Muslim and mostly-Asiatic Turkey has been left out in the cold while a whole stream of European states have joined or are close to joining. Turkey was fine for NATO, but not for an economic union that drops barriers between people.
My suspicion is that the new Islamic government is ‘boxing clever’, acting as if it aspires to join the European Union, knowing that there is no danger of actual admission. When they are shut out again, as is almost certain, then they have every justification for taking Turkey in a new direction.
In late November, news broke that almost all modern dogs trace back to a small number of wolves living in East Asia 15,000 years ago. Maybe three, maybe five, but these are assuredly the common mothers or ‘Eves’ of the canine world
This news came packaged with a study showing dogs as smarter than any other non-human animal at picking up signals from humans:
“In a simple experiment designed to compare their behaviour to those of wolves and our closest relative, the chimpanzee, the findings clearly showed that dogs – even young puppies – were far better at interpreting social cues from humans.” (BBC Online, 22nd November.)
And that’s the important thing about dogs. Chimps are in many ways smarter, but understanding people is different from analytical skills, while computers offer an ‘automated officiousness’ that does not deserve to be called ‘intelligence’.
Humans keeping dogs may have begun earlier, but perhaps those animals left few descendants into modern times. If there were two sorts of dog, one which just help you with hunting and another that gives every sign of liking you and understanding you, which would you choose? I doubt that our ancestors thought much differently, which may be why a small group of friendly dogs were preferred and came to dominant the ‘descent of dog’.
One aspect of the oddly curtailed trials of Royal butlers has been missed, as far as I know. The rules of English law mean that defendants can say what they like and slander does not apply, nor is it libellous to report it at the time. A damaging story that was too doubtful to be published as regular news could be circulated through the medium of criminal evidence, it would be reportable with no redress beyond the rules on perjury. Perjury is a criminal offence, certainly, but that means that it can only be punished if it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the evidence was an intended lie.
If morals are not what they were 20 years ago, why is this?
Iain Duncan Smith chose to use the Tory conference to declare that the Tories must loose their image as the ‘nasty party’. But then, for no clear reason, he chose to try to enforce party discipline against the notion that gay couples might be allowed to adopt. It was an obvious matter of conscience: most Labour MPs voted for but some against, most Tories would have voted against but some for, and some still did in defiance of IDS’s authority.
What we are seeing is the unravelling of Thatcherism. The basic incompatibility of the Libertarians and the Reactionaries. The lesson of the1980s should have been the accidental nature of the connection between middle-class or “bourgeois” social values and capitalist economics. Marxism was closer to the truth when it saw middle-class social values as self-destructive with its promotion of capitalism. The mistake was to suppose that capitalist economics might not carry on within some different set of morals.
The current situation is a set of shattered middle-class social values which have so far prevented anything else from replacing them. And Iain Duncan Smith is broken-heartedly discovering that most of his MPs are revolting.