Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 16.5.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 

NOTE: Info on Galicia and my Guide to Pontevedra city here.  

Covid  

That newish Indian variant: Everything depends on its transmissibility . . . . If it is just 10-20% more transmissible, we will only see a mild bump in new hospitalisations. But if it’s 30-50% more transmissible, the numbers of infections will grow so large that hospitalisations will quickly rocket beyond the heath service’s capacity to cope. “At this point in the [UK]vaccine rollout, there are still too few adults vaccinated to prevent a significant resurgence that ultimately could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS, without non-pharmaceutical interventions. If the Indian variant does have such a large transmission advantage, it is a realistic possibility that progressing with all relaxation steps would lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations”.

Cosas de España/Galiza

Bad news? Diminishing optimism?

Good news? The government is reported to be backing off its proposal to make all main roads tollroads in 2024

Someone up in La Coruña has been defrauded by ‘a Frenchman’ who advertised a €30,000 watch on a false web page. I wonder if it was the owner of Inditex/Zara, the richest chap in Spain. I mean, who else buys a watch at this price?

I’m told you can get a quick turn-round PCR test in Vigo for €30. The UK price range seems to be €70-170. I’ve no idea what accounts for the massive difference, as there seems to be plenty of competition in the UK. 

The Way of the World/Social Media

Taking things to their logical extreme . . . We aren’t even free to to retain books in Navaho, Swahili and Euskara

Free society is finished if we fail to resist this new Dark Age of unreason.  See the article below.

Quote of the Day

I understand the requirement to “get things working again” post Covid. But could we not retain at least something of the modesty and simplicity that has been imposed upon us these past 15 months? Shopping locally, spending less, travelling less and taking a greater pleasure in the natural world? That may be the gift of Covid: a realisation that not everything we did before was terribly good for us, or for the planet.

Harry and Meghan are poster children for a strange new kind of ‘activism’ that manages to be cringey, preachy, narcissistic, faintly ridiculous and incredibly remunerative at the same time. 

Finally  . . 

This post is late today simply because I forgot, because of grandfather duties, to write it. And also because I now have charging and printing challenges with both my old laptop and my newish one which I’ve been trying to fix. Another thing I’m trying to do is not kill my daughter for causing one of the problems. Temporarily revised priorities, you might say.

THE ARTICLE 

Free society is finished if we fail to resist this new Dark Age of unreason. With the old arguments over, we’re living through an era in which rational debate itself is rejected: Janet Daley, The Telegraph

Many years ago someone who was not remotely sympathetic to Communism told me that he dreaded the collapse of the Soviet Union because the Cold War balance of threat between the two superpowers was the only thing preventing global chaos. If the USSR ceased to exist, he said, what would follow would be endless outbursts of nationalist territorial disputes and terrorist adventurism. What was then called the Third World (because it was outside the two main power blocs) would no longer be bribed and bullied into some kind of order by the competing interests of East and West and so would be abandoned to its own anarchic ends.

That may or may not have been a sound analysis. You may feel, looking at the Middle East and Afghanistan, that there was something in it. But there was an even more cataclysmic consequence of the end of that almost century-long ideological confrontation between the communist bloc and the West which we are living through now. The Cold War which dominated the politics (and culture) of the twentieth century was not just a military confrontation, it was an argument: a substantive, sometimes cynical but nonetheless genuine, disagreement about how people should live. To engage in it – even to understand it – required knowledge of basic principles, an ability to marshal evidence, a willingness to enter into debate.

In the West where it was legally possible to converse about these things, there was ongoing and very serious discussion of the merits of capitalism and private enterprise vs state ownership of property and a command economy. Occasional fits of repression, or attempts to suppress such debate, would flare up but they never really succeeded in extinguishing the fundamental notion that this was, by its very nature, a conflict of ideas which had to be examined on their merits.

Now that great argument is over. Totalitarian communism is either utterly discredited (as in Russia) or persists in name only (as in China where it has been replaced by totalitarian state capitalism). Both of those nations have more or less reverted to their ancient traditions of tyrannical rule without too much resistance from their populations. It is in the West where the vacuum has caused the most trauma.

In the void left by the absence of that huge, all-embracing disagreement, what has emerged? A rejection of rational dispute itself, a retreat from reasoned debate, of arguments that follow from first principles, of defending a conclusion with evidence or paying due respect to conflicting viewpoints: in short, a culture war in which no ground can ever be given.

Marxism and capitalism in their original doctrinal forms had grown directly out of the Enlightenment: the whole point was to construct political and economic systems that would be beneficial to the majority and which could compete for general approval. Both were corrupted and distorted by human frailties but their idealistic intentions were based on theories and values that could be articulated and defended. As indeed they were, so extensively and exhaustively that people, not infrequently, changed their minds – were converted or “turned” in the case of intelligence agents.

What has replaced all that? Public discourse does not consist of competing arguments any more: it isn’t a proper discussion at all. It is a diatribe in which one side tries to destroy, or prohibit, or totally suppress the other. We have returned to a Dark Age where reason and actual disputation are considered dangerous: where views contrary to those being imposed by what are often nothing more than activist cults can be criminalised. Not only must those who now hold opinions which breach orthodoxy be banned but historic figures who could not possibly have anticipated current social attitudes must be anathematised as well.

Where have we seen this before in the West? When religious authority determined the truth and could prohibit any dissent – when books that might lead to subversive, unacceptable thoughts could become prohibited texts forbidden to anyone not given specific permission to read them. By an extraordinary irony, the Vatican’s list of prohibited books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (which was only abolished in 1966), included two great Enlightenment thinkers, David Hume and John Locke, who are currently under attack by the new Inquisition which seeks to root out any historic connection with the slave trade.

What is significant is not the modern views that are being propounded but the way they are being enforced. The question is not whether you approve of these opinions but whether you accept that they must not be questioned, subjected to examination, or disputed. Much has been said about the “illiberalism” of what now presents itself as liberal opinion but what is happening goes way beyond simple intolerance. It is a return of something no thinking person expected to see again in the rational West: the banishment, or the hunting down, or the deliberate ruination, not just of explicit opposition but of coincidental association with a tainted position.

This isn’t so much the Middle Ages – which had its own high standards of intellectual rigour even when it was condemning Galileo for heresy: it is a kind of enforced blindness to the process of reason. As a result, the only arguments that may be permitted are about detail within the orthodoxy: do trans rights take precedence over those of biological women? Which forms of speech for describing contentious identities are permissible? How far back must historic guilt be traced?

So we are arguing about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. What is worse is that once you have devalued argument and evidence, you have no defence against superstition and hysteria: the lunatic conspiracy theorists and the social control fanatics have as much legitimacy as anyone.

This new Dark Age, with its odd combination of narcissism and self-loathing, is a threat nobody saw coming. If the institutions that should resist – universities, the arts, and democratic governments – fall before it, the free society is finished, defeated more resoundingly than it would ever have been by the old enemy.

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