Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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- Breaking my Samizdata silence
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- Crane lamp
- Headlights with cleaning brush
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- Tate cat
- On meeting an American lady friend who likes to read my stuff about cricket
- A birthday party with difficult lighting
- On the unappealingness of classical music on the internet
- Bright buildings in front of dark sky
- Waiting for …
- The ballerina and her support act
- Having a baby can change or ruin your voice
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Family
Regulars here, or for that matter there, will know that I have for many years now been at enthusiastic fan of the French historian and social scientist Emmanuel Todd. In recent years, this enthusiasm has at last started to become a bit more widespread.
Two of the world’s most important Todd-enthusiasts are now James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus. Quite a while ago now, they sent me an email flagging up a piece they had contributed to Hungarian Review, which contains some interesting biography about Todd, and about how his own particular family history contributed towards making him into the historian of the world that he later became.
Todd developed this grand theory, about how literacy triggers particular sorts of political upheavals in particular places, depending on Family Structure, and then when the political dust has settled fuels economic development, But what got Todd thinking about all this?
According to Bennett and Lotus, the starting point was: How Come The French Communists Are Doing So Badly And Never Seem To Do Any Better No Matter What They Try?
He was the product of an extended family of French Communist Party activists and journalists, and grew up hearing his father and relatives arguing around the kitchen table. Anglo-Americans had tended to regard the French Communist Party of that era as formidable, successful, and continually on the verge of seizing power. From the inside, Todd grew up hearing his family lament the eternal failure and futility of the Party. (He left the orthodox Communist movement quite early, and in fact was one of the first scholars to predict, in 1976, the coming collapse of the Soviet system.) For some reason, the Party was well established in certain regions, and completely without support in most others. The Socialists were dominant in others, and it was noticed that the same social classes would tend to support either Socialists or Communists, depending on the region, but never split between the two, and when they failed to support the one, would not switch to the other, preferring alternative parties. In other parts of France, neither party had a foothold, and the same social classes that supported either Socialists or Communists in their stronghold regions supported entirely different, and not particularly Marxist, parties. The reason for this split was constantly debated in Todd’s family circle, but no possible explanation seemed to hold water. It was a great mystery.
Once Todd began studies at Cambridge, and encountered what we are calling the Continuity School, he began developing a social analysis that perfectly predicted the voting patterns that had been such a mystery in his family’s kitchen debates. France is far from homogenous, and in fact is a patchwork of quite different cultures and family systems. When Todd saw the distribution of the various family systems of France, as established by inheritance rules and customs, he saw at once that both the Communist and Socialist electoral strongholds corresponded to the areas dominated by two distinct family systems. Where other systems prevailed, neither the Communists nor the Socialists could gain any real foothold.
You can see how Todd was perfectly primed to generalise the principle from France, and then England, to the entire world.
In the course of my Todd readings and meanderings, I probably was told (perhaps by Todd himself in his book about French politics (which I have long possessed (and which I see you can now get second hand for £2.81 (in English)))) that Todd had been raised by baffled and frustrated Communists. But I had not really taken it in.
Incoming ("A quote you may like") from Richard Carey, who gave a great talk at my home last Friday, at my latest Last Friday, about The English Radicals at the time of the Civil War:
Here’s a quote from Algernon Sidney’s ‘Discourses on Government’, which lost him his head but gained him the admiration of Jefferson and others. Somewhere into the second paragraph, you will know why I have sent this!
The book is a riposte to one by a fellow named Filmer who wrote in support of the Divine Right of Kings, a notion Sidney found odious and false.
So, Richard having already supplied me with this excellent SQotD, penned by John Lilburne, we now have this:
Implicit Faith belongs to Fools, and Truth is comprehended by examining Principles
Whilst Filmer’s business is to overthrow liberty and truth, he, in his passage, modestly professeth not to meddle with mysteries of state, or arcana imperii. He renounces those inquiries through an implicit faith, which never enter’d into the head of any but fools, and such, as through a carelessness of the point in question, acted as if they were so. This is the foundation of the papal power, and it can stand no longer than those that compose the Roman church can be persuaded to submit their consciences to the word of the priests, and esteem themselves discharged from the necessity of searching the Scriptures in order to know whether the things that are told them are true or false. This may shew whether our author or those of Geneva do best agree with the Roman doctrine: But his instance is yet more sottish than his profession. An implicit faith, says he, is given to the meanest artificer. I wonder by whom! Who will wear a shoe that hurts him, because the shoe-maker tells him ’tis well made? or who will live in a house that yields no defence against the extremities of weather, because the mason or carpenter assures him ’tis a very good house? Such as have reason, understanding, or common sense, will, and ought to make use of it in those things that concern themselves and their posterity, and suspect the words of such as are interested in deceiving or persuading them not to see with their own eyes, that they may be more easily deceived. This rule obliges us so far to search into matters of state, as to examine the original principles of government in general, and of our own in particular. We cannot distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or know what obedience we owe to the magistrate, or what we may justly expect from him, unless we know what he is, why he is, and by whom he is made to be what he is. These perhaps may be called mysteries of state, and some would persuade us they are to be esteemed arcana; but whosoever confesses himself to be ignorant of them, must acknowledge that he is incapable of giving any judgment upon things relating to the superstructure, and in so doing evidently shews to others, that they ought not at all to hearken to what he says.
His argument to prove this is more admirable. If an implicit faith, says he, is given to the meanest artificer in his craft, much more to a prince in the profound secrets of government. But where is the consequence? If I trust to the judgment of an artificer, or one of a more ingenuous profession, ’tis not because he is of it, but because I am persuaded he does well understand it, and that he will be faithful to me in things relating to his art. I do not send for Lower or Micklethwait when I am sick, nor ask the advice of Mainard or Jones in a suit of law, because the first are physicians, and the other lawyers; but because I think them wise, learned, diligent, and faithful, there being a multitude of others who go under the same name, whose opinion I would never ask. Therefore if any conclusion can be drawn from thence in favour of princes, it must be of such as have all the qualities of ability and integrity, that should create this confidence in me; or it must be proved that all princes, in as much as they are princes, have such qualities. No general conclusion can be drawn from the first case, because it must depend upon the circumstances, which ought to be particularly proved: And if the other be asserted, I desire to know whether Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vitellius, Domitian, Commodus, Heliogabalus, and others not unlike to them, had those admirable endowments, upon which an implicit faith ought to have been grounded; how they came by them; and whether we have any promise from God, that all princes should forever excel in those virtues, or whether we by experience find that they do so. If they are or have been wanting in any, the whole falls to the ground; for no man enjoys as a prince that which is not common to all princes: And if every prince have not wisdom to understand these profound secrets, integrity to direct him, according to what he knows to be good, and a sufficient measure of industry and valour to protect me, he is not the artificer, to whom the implicit faith is due. His eyes are as subject to dazzle as my own. But ’tis a shame to insist on such a point as this. We see princes of all sorts; they are born as other men: The vilest flatterer dares not deny that they are wise or foolish, good or bad, valiant or cowardly like other men: and the crown doth neither bestow extraordinary qualities, ripen such as are found in princes sooner than in the meanest, nor preserve them from the decays of age, sickness, or other accidents, to which all men are subject: And if the greatest king in the world fall into them, he is as incapable of that mysterious knowledge, and his judgment is as little to be relied on, as that of the poorest peasant.
My googling abilities are wayward, to put it politely, but based on a fleeting mention of a Micklethwait who was the grandson of “the physician”, the physician Micklethwait does appear to have been quite distinguished. And since he’s a Micklethwait, spelt Micklethwait (without, that is to say, any terminal e), that makes him a relative of mine, or so I have always assumed.
In the course of this googling for ancient Micklethwaits, I also came across this picture, which the National Portrait Gallery has in its collection, of my paternal grandfather, who was a lawyer. Hopefully the sort of lawyer whom Algernon Sidney would have been content to consult. Grandpa Micklethwait died when I was four and I think I must have met him, or at least been shown to him, but I have no recollection of this.
Ever wondered what a Quagga is, or even if such a thing exists? Wonder no more.
Yesterday I visited Englefield Green, where my home was for my first twenty years of my life. Whenever I go back there, I still think of myself as going “home”. But our house there will soon - possible very soon - be sold and demolished. When I now return to Englefield Green, I am starting to see it with the eyes of the outsider that I will soon definitely be.
It was with my outsider’s eyes that I first looked, really looked, at one of the pubs in Englefield Green:
What a very unfashionable name that is.
I’m guessing the flags are there because of the wedding. The Holly Tree, just up the road, also has flags out, presumably for the same reason. Is there any significance to the fact that the flags outside the Holly Tree are Union Jacks, i.e a celebration of Britishness, while those outside the Armstrong Gun are specifically English?
Recently I filled in the Census, after I had been politely but firmly reminded of my legal obligation to do this by a man who rang my buzzer. (I had been intending to ignore it, but an actual fight with a real life public official is not something I relish.) And I realised, after I had posted it, that I had described myself as English, rather than British.
Here’s a birthday card you don’t send very often:
Which is why I photoed it before sending it.
It’s for a semi-relative, a sibling’s mother-in-law to be a bit less vague about it, and I posted it by something called Guaranteed Delivery (£5.05), which means they really, really will deliver it. The reason I am so keen to be sure that this gets to its destination on time is that I am sending this more on behalf of my brother, who is, it so happens, closer to the centenarian in question than I am. But elder brother is in hospital, having bust his hip joint. So he said could I organise it? Glad to.
Elder brother suffered his mishap on his sixty fifth birthday. Yes, rotten luck, and very painful, apparently. But the good news is that replacing bust hip joints is now routine, and he is recovering nicely. Which is all part of why people now quite often live to be a hundred. Imagine a bust hip you just had to put up with from then on. You’d be very lucky to make it to a hundred after a few mishaps like that.
I was recently reading a book about the Industrial Revolution, which said that longevity is connected to prosperity, but in a way that (although surely extremely obvious to many others) I personally hadn’t thought of until now. Obviously prosperity feeds people better and cares for people better, and people accordingly live longer. But also, people who live longer are more determined and patient savers. Ergo more capital to invest, in such things as industrialisation. It’s a positive feedback loop.
Which suggests that if life expectancy continues to grow, economic development will get a lot more developed, so to speak. Imagine what serious life extension, to something like a time when you get “200” on birthday cards as often as you get 100 now, would do for saving.
There may be a flaw there, because obviously people who live longer also consume more. I may be jumping from one obvious effect to assuming that there are no other effects of consequence, commonly done when you think about economics. Even so, longevity clearly changes the shape of the economy, in ways that are not all obvious.
Then there’s all that theorising that concerns how economic cycles are linked to the human lifespan. Bad times recur every seventy odd years, because every seventy odd years everyone has forgotten the previous bad times, and all the idiocy that precipitated them. Longer life spans change all that too.
This is my favourite recent photo, despite its technical imperfections. It would never make it to the short list in any photography competition, I realise that. But here it is anyway:
Click to get it bigger, but frankly, not a lot better.
So yes, that was taken from Englefield Green, which is about twenty miles away from the centre of London, and up on a bit of a hill. The family house, which is still in the process of being sold, is a few dozen yards further up the hill from there. But despite having lived there all of my early life and having gone back to visit numerous times since, I only discovered this view last Sunday. I was back to say hello to the younger of my two elder brothers, who is caretaking for us. We were walking back down to Egham station, me to get to the station and him to keep me company. The weather, having been very fitful earlier in the day, was perfect, not a cloud in the sky. And there it was, between a couple of the little suburban bungalows set back from the road. At first I wasn’t entirely sure, my eyesight being only what it is. But there is no mistaking that shape, is there? Taking the shot involved a spot of mild trespassing in someone’s forecourt, to get past nearer obstacles, but through the big front windows it looked like no one was in, so, what the eye didn’t see ... And yes, the focussing is not all it might be. Maybe I’ll go back and try again, although I doubt I’ll ever get better weather for it.
I have several times photoed this view, although never even this clearly, from the also quite nearby Air Forces Memorial which you can climb to the top of and look out from, over nearby Runnymede (of Magna Carta fame) and beyond that all along the Thames valley from Windsor Castle on the left to Heathrow centre right and beyond it to London on the right to far right, very far right just before the view stops being where the Gherkin is just about visible. But I never knew until now that you can see any of London from even nearer to home, which is how I still think of it and will continue to think of it until the developers smash it up.
And I dare say that some of my readers will regard these two topics as a lot more closely connected than I do.
After the Scott Styris volcano erupted, Surrey became demoralised and suffered a string of t20 losses. I even got an eyewitness account from Michael J of their demeanour when losing to Middlesex at Lords. Very bad body language, said Michael J. They didn’t seem to be trying, said Michael J. My understanding of “body language” is not that they weren’t trying, but that they weren’t succeeding which is rather different, but however you account for it, Surrey were definitely doing very badly.
But a few days ago, they bounced back and beat Sussex. Nobody saw that coming. Surrey were on a bad losing streak. Sussex were top of the table, and still are. Perhaps that’s why Surrey won. Everybody involved just assumed they’d lose. Surrey relaxed and played well again. Sussex relaxed and played badly, most particularly their hitherto all-conquering top order:
1 2nb . . W . 1 | . . . 1 1 1wd W | 1 W . . 1 4 | 1 . 1 1 4 W |
4 1 . 1 1 . | . 4 . 4 4 . | 1 W . . . . | . . 1 . . . |
. 1 1 1 1 4 | 1 . 1 1 6 . | 1 . W 1 . 1 | . . 2 . 1 1 |
. 1 . 1 1 . | 1 . 1 1 1 1 | W . 1 1 1wd 1 1 | 1 . . 1 1wd 1 1 |
. 2 4 1 1 1 | 4 2 1 1 . 4 | 1 2 1 1 W 1 | 1 1 2 . 1wd 2 4
That was the entire Sussex innings, which Surrey were able to surpass with some ease. As you can all obviously see, Sussex slumped to 8-3, and, perhaps because so totally unprepared for such a circumstance, never really recovered. I knew you’d be excited.
Actually, quite a few people were a bit excited about this game, which happened in Sussex, because the start was delayed by what was described as “crowd congestion”. No doubt this congested crowd was likewise attracted by the certain prospect of watching Sussex crush their visitors. Arf arf.
The only way I could know the above numerical details of this game is if I copied and pasted them into a text file as they happened. Which I did. This takes me right back to my childhood when I used to score cricket matches in a score book. My elder brother, when small, used to have entire cricket matches going on inside his head. He would sit in a corner of his room, twiddling a dice, and all manner of cricket dramas would unfold, in, as I say, the secret chamber of his brain. Which is still a somewhat strange place.
As I get older this blog will get more and more weird, eventually culminating in the blogged version of senile dementia. If that happens, this won’t be the only blog thus afflicted. There will be numerous online versions of old gits and gitesses gibbering madly in the street to nobody, in fact I presume there already are. Although, actually, my family seems to consist mostly of people whose brains work perfectly (or as perfectly as they ever did), right up to the bit where they ... don’t. Which is good, I think.
One of the symptoms of Grumpy Old Manness is that you start to find socialising a bit of an effort. But, it is still an effort worth making. Not socialising at all is worse even that quite bad socialising, and quite bad socialising can usually be improved greatly ... if I make the effort.
My Dad was also like this. He also, as he got older, had to make a conscious effort to have a good time in company. In the hours before a social effort was required, he tended to be particularly unsociable. During that time, he was carefully charging up his limited reserves of bonhomie, and was determined not to eat into any of those reserves beforehand. Those in his vicinity as such times knew to keep clear of him, or if near him to expect a wall of grumpiness.
I greatly enjoyed the last three or four bits of socialising I have done. Before each, I very deliberately told myself to ... make the effort. And it worked. I don’t mean that I sparkled in the eyes of others, although that’s not impossible also. I merely mean that I had a good time. I learned things. Others sparkled in my eyes.
Why make the effort of being there, if you don’t then make the effort (if further effort is needed) to enjoy being there, and as a result instead just sit there waiting for it to end? That’s no way to live.
A busy blogging day?
Why my libertarianism has the look and feel of socialism
Alfie the cat answers the Elmlea challenge
Picture purrfection and a rather good Clive James piece
Talking with Toby Baxendale
Philippa Micklethwait - the Eulogy
It brightened up just enough
Thames river boats
It could be a rather small funeral
Some family education blogging
The shadow of Shipman – and forgetting things
Philippa Micklethwait (1914-2009)
My parents and my uncle and two aunts
Samizdata piece about caring for Mum
Englefield Green Xmas decor
When the carer needs to be cared for
More Englefield Green strangeness
On autobiographical ruthlessness
I have not been living beyond my means
The uses of Jesus
Quota photo of focussed flower with blurry background
Fred joins in with the pilates demonstration
Why it helps to be exposed to the lower classes and to dogs when you are young
Paying a visit to Mum
The return of Friday cat-blogging
Billion Monkey lady relative photos Christmas Day sunset!
Billion Monkey madness and a proper picture
Christmas day sunset
Here it is Merry Christmas
Just making conversation
Evening sun over Egham
Christmas and New Year’s Eve
My computer is improved - plus some London towers
Young People models for Old People
My mum’s tame blackbird