In defence of free speech (again)

Mal- mis- dis-, a neo-Marxist twist?

This is not the first time I’ve written about the importance of free speech on this blog. Since my last post on the subject, however, Western society’s commitment to the ideals that underpin free speech has waned further. We have endured not only sinister revisionist attacks on ‘problematic’ heritage statues; not only the mainstreaming of the censorious concept of ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crimes’; but also an entire, carefully orchestrated, campaign to eradicate free speech on the internet, including the mainstreaming of some outright ludicrous euphemisms like ‘malinformation’. At least, it would be ludicrous if the stakes weren’t so very high – the wholesale collusion of government in managing the flow of public information is beyond dangerous, as evidenced both by Laura Dodsworth’s excellent book and the Twitter Files.

Questioning the effectiveness of face masks and SARS-2 vaxxines has been the subject of official censorship

The diarrhea icing on this shit cake is the rise of the most revolting class of idiots in the Censorship-Industrial complex, the odious legions of ‘fact checkers’. Really, these are just self-appointed, highly-opinionated urbanites of the burgeoning Laptop Class – rebranded journalists with hutzpah – but it’s remarkable how easily everyone fell for their sham-show, and how effective they have been in fostering acceptance for the abolition of free speech online.

I find myself wondering whether the very act of advocating for free speech might soon be targeted by the censors – is it not, after all, the crime of ‘incitement to mal-, mis-, disinformation’?

I don’t agree with your cliched Voltaire quote, but I’ll defend to the death your right to use it as a section header.

It’s always good to hash over the core arguments for allowing even the most outrageous opinions to be voiced as ‘free speech’. First of all, if the goal of inhibiting free speech is to safeguard against falsehood, then censorship does an appalling job. This is because it presupposes not only that censors have pure motives, but also that they know what the truth is to begin with. As the Covid debacle showed clearly, this is not the case. In fact, it is precisely through the freest and most open exchange upon the marketplace of ideas that we begin to approach truth – an asymptote at which we never arrive.

Second, on a purely practical level, even when it’s well targeted at actual falsehood, censorship is mostly self-defeating. The ‘Streisand Effect’ takes hold, and people’s natural instincts draw them to the very pink elephant you are trying to get them to not think about.

Third, censorship is like pregnancy. You can’t really have a little bit of it. Because even when a case can be made, theoretically, for blocking speech at the extremes – for example shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre – it tends to slip, over time, towards more and more authoritarian restrictions on speech. Interestingly, even this censorship straw man doesn’t hold up very well. Try actually shouting fire in a theatre and see how many people stampede. Probably none. It may be that once upon a time, with lower fire standards, such a thing might have happened. But then the solution wasn’t censorship, it was better fire-resistant building materials and sprinklers.

The case for ‘free hearing’

And yet, the recent debate has caused me to realise that none of these classic arguments against censorship is the most compelling defence of free speech. What matters more than all of the above is the effect censorship has on the audience.

To understand why, consider what effect free and open debate has on those who listen to it and participate in it. Much of what is said will be false, or only partially true. When anyone is free to claim anything, it becomes more important to use one’s own sense of discernment in analysing those claims. At its worst, of course, censorship stifles inconvenient truth. But even when it is at its best, it diminishes the audience’s capacity to exercise the mental muscles of discretion. Like people who use Google Maps to get around, the minds of the audience under (even benevolent) censorship regimes become lazy and less able to navigate their way towards the shimmering city of Veritopolis.

This is an important point to consider. Because the right to ‘free speech’ is often defended as an individual right. Yet the right to ‘free hearing’ is a social right. It is the right we all enjoy to be tricked and fooled, the right to believe something stupid, to learn from that experience and to become more discerning. Especially for the malleable minds of young people, this is a right that must be exercised widely; all the way ‘from the river to the sea’.

My review of Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We all remember the pain of reading Shakespearean plays in school. Sadistic English teachers with shattered dreams of being something better forcing us to learn whole passages by rote …the quality of mercy is not strained…, without once reflecting on the irony of their own lack of mercy.
If you had intellectually snobby parents like mine, the closest to sympathy their innate veneration of the Bard would allow, would be the grudging admission that, “well, really Shakespeare is not meant to be read. It’s meant to be performed.”
Actually, during the later years in which my own intellectual snobbery got me reading his plays autonomously, I never found this to be true. Unless you’d already studied Henry CXXII part VI, live performances went too fast; you missed too much of the subtle word play or the historical context. Idem for Ibsen. As for my favourite playwright Miller, I always found the dialogue to be so supremely evocative of the scene that if anything a live performance introduced risks of spoiling the perfect acting I imagined in my own head.
However, for Tennessee Williams, I don’t think this is the case – at least not as far as ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof‘ is concerned. I read the play, never having seen it staged nor having watched the film. My first impression was the dialogue came across as hammy, overdone and at times (needlessly and repetitively) redundant, (such that the point could have been made with fewer lines and more subtext). To wit, the titular feline metaphor is hammered into the reader’s ears in Act I. Not once, but twice.
Moreover, if you are looking for an entertaining plot or clever character arcs, you have come to the wrong place. Williams is writing as an American realist – he sees little scope for moral progression, at least not in a story that takes place over one steamy night in the big house of a Southern plantation. This left me wondering what the big deal with Cat might be, whether it wasn’t just a mediocre script that benefited unduly from good timing and a nascent American Empire, hungry to grow cultural roots in the fertile soil of its burgeoning economy.
On reflection, though, it occurs to me that these shortcomings would be somewhat attenuated in a live performance. There, we can imagine how strong performances might make the Southern nouveaux riches sparkle: the droll alcoholism in the fallen favourite son Brick, the desperate aching of womanhood in his wife Margaret. The bellicose, base honesty in his father, Big Daddy.
Indeed, Cat might be as much about the atmosphere as the story. It evokes a particular mood and feeling; which perforce comes alive not in the words themselves, but in how they are spoken and in the silences that can unshroud a deeper meaning. This is not a finished piece of literature. Rather, it is a set of instructions to the actors and director, and should perhaps be read by them and them alone.

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Non-fiction is just fiction written by authors who are too lazy to think up a good story

Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sure, non-fiction is a way of getting a lot of ‘facts’ down on a page – some of those facts might even be interesting. But you can do that in fiction too; oftentimes much better. Think of how much historical context is written into Trollope’s Vanity Fair; how much social history of the early 19th Century, all effortlessly woven in to a cracking good yarn. Without the constraints of a good story, non-fiction authors often give in to the temptation to dump an enormous amount of information in an unstructured, unsorted way that leaves the reader overwhelmed, confused or just plain bored. This is why I don’t read a lot of non-fiction.

For Keith Houston’s Shady Characters, I made an exception. This was partially because the subject matter – the origin stories of punctuation symbols, weird and common – was sufficiently quirky and yes, so incredibly nerdy, that it seemed bound to read a little differently, even for non-fiction. It was also because the book fell into my hands at a moment when I had nothing else to read.

In all, the book was not a complete disappointment. I learned some wonderfully useless things about punctuation marks I never knew existed, like the interrobang – a short-lived 20th Century hybrid of the question mark and the exclamation point, which looks like this: ‽

More usefully, the twisted road to modern typography takes you past some genuinely interesting historical waypoints. I was particularly fascinated by the detailed description of the typesetting used by Johannes Gutenberg for his 42 line bible, which was, after all, the ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ of books. It blows my mind to think that with all the algorithmic typesetting we have today, the line spacing used to justify the first ever printed book is so perfect that it remains, to this day, the best typeset book in the history of print.

Another plus point (see what I did there?) was Houston’s clever use of the punctuation, fonts and even writing styles he describes, in that respective chapter to illustrate the examples he’s discussing.

All that said, Shady Characters succumbs to the original sin of non-fiction books, allowing its author to indulge in detours and asides that made certain paragraphs seem like we would never get to the next ¶ (which is called a ‘pilcrow’, in case you never knew).

Even more irksome is the New York Times-reading, smug intellectualism of the author. Just as the nouveau-riche indulge in conspicuous displays of wealth in a way ‘old money’ never would, American intellectuals like Houston always try too hard to be literate and clever, made desperate by their transatlantic cultural inferiority complex. In doing so, they sacrifice something of the message in pursuit of their ostentatious displays of learning. Bad writing is when, while reading, you can hear the sound of the author typing. In reading this book, there were moments when the sound of Houston’s ego echoed with every keystroke.

With fiction, it is the story that acts to curb the author’s ego, because he or she is bound by the plot and by the fictional characters, who – once defined – begin to tell their own stories. In this book, Houston had no characters to whom he had to stay true (at least not in the figurative sense).

I ask you, is it so hard to weave knowledge into a true yarn‽

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My review of Graham Greene’s ‘The Power and the Glory’

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is often said of writers that they must first read, and that if you want any hope of being a great writer, you must be a great reader. I don’t know if that’s true – I have known very gifted writers who read very little, and voracious readers who could not string a sentence together. One thing, though, I can say: certain books are so brilliant that they inspire me to want to be a better writer. There is no particular genre, or subject or period in history that these books belong to. What they all have in common is that they touch upon some ‘essential truth’, something that the writer himself knows to be true, and the force of his conviction leads me to be intrigued by his truth, to accept it into my own canon.
Graham Greene’s ‘The Power and the Glory’ reeks of exactly this kind of essential truth. A devout Catholic, Greene naturally questioned the shortcomings of his own Church. Like all thinking members of the Church of Rome, he must have been deeply frustrated with its contradictions, pettiness and displays of pomp and pride. In ‘The Power and the Glory’ he lays bare this frustration, by showing the Catholic Church at its most essential.
No, this essence has nothing to do with the Pope in Rome, or any great bishops, or the inner machinations of Opus Dei. Rather, it is a disgraced Mexican cleric of low rank – the ‘Whiskey Priest’ – on the run from the communists who control that state. These communists have a fiercely atheistic zealotry; one that is deliberately reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition.
The priest’s persecution is set up to be deliberately Christ-like, in that he must endure hardship, insults and deprivation. And yet, just as deliberately, we are given ample reminders of the fact that the Whiskey Priest is no Christ figure. He is a grievous sinner, guilty of all seven of the deadly variety. His life before the Communist revolution was one of pride; of lust leading to the fathering and abandonment of a bastard child; the sins of gluttony and sloth; and all of this seasoned with an unhealthy dose of envy of those of his peers who had risen higher in the Church than he.
Now a fugitive, every policeman in the state hunts him. Yet he manages to elude justice for weeks. The pious peasants respect his office even if he no longer does, and they pay a huge price to hide him from the Communists. His fugitive status is not even a form of martyrdom, because he fails to uphold even the most basic offices of the Church with any remaining shred of dignity, despite the people’s need for his spiritual guidance. Rather, he flees because he is a coward.
The story is made gripping by the detailed, gritty descriptions of the scenery (beetles exploding against the walls, swamping hot rivers with lazy, rusted boats anchored) and the people (the odd-ball ex-pats, the corrupt police lieutenant, the indolent villagers). But its true appeal lies deeper. We want to know the Whiskey-Priest’s faith precisely because his whole persecution amounts to a deeply religious confession – a path to God and the religion he had never truly known, all through the glory days of his priestly reign. His path to God only opened up the day he was tested.
Yet Greene is too good an author to allow his Whiskey-Priest moral redemption on earth. In the brief moment in which he achieves safety and a degree of comfort, we see our anti-hero quickly revert to his old, sinful habits. The message from Greene is clear: there is no path out of sin except the unconditional acceptance of God and belief in His divine mercy.
As a religious person, I relate to this story on many levels. But though its essential truth resonates with me, I cannot say how it would strike someone with different philosophical leanings.
Would the power of Greene’s faith, exposed through this wonderfully crafted tale, ring as true in the ears of a 21st Century atheist, an adherent of the cult of The Science? I somehow believe it would.
But then again, I’m the sort who believes lots of things – like the only son of God dying on a cross outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago.

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Bonne rentrée – 17ieme lettre

Dear Daniel,

I am writing to you in English in the hope that you will have learned some English at school by now and can read this.

The summer is over! I hope you had a nice break and got plenty of sunshine (but not too much heat!) in Southern Europe. We avoided going south this year because the heat is just too much. Instead, I took your sister horseriding in Ireland and we visited England and also Normandy. We also went camping in the Ardennes (which is full of Dutch people).

Anyway, now it’s back to school. I hope you have a great start to the year – good teachers or at least tolerable teachers – and that you are enjoying seeing your friends again.

As always, I think of you a lot – especially when I am doing things like cutting wood or building the woodshed at home. It makes me a little sad that I can’t do these things with you, as a father really should.

Maybe one day.

Meanwhile, all the best from me.



The Parable of the Twin Kingdoms

Once upon a time, there was a fair, prosperous land known as the Twin Kingdoms. It was so named because it was divided neatly in two halves by a swift river. These two halves were left by the dying king to his twin sons – the right half to Prince Cleo and the left half to Prince Tharm. The King thought both to be strong, honest rulers, who loved each other and their subjects. Their father had fought many wars to bring them peace and prosperity, and both princes swore to him they would work to protect it.

When it came time to marry, Prince Cleo searched wide and long, threw many balls, until finally he made his choice: Hannelore – she was neither the wealthiest, nor the wisest, nor the fairest of the maidens in his realm, but rather was a good mix of all these things together. She loved her fiancé and he loved her.

When the banns were announced, his brother Tharm – full of love – embraced Cleo and wished him every happiness. However, as the wedding day grew nearer, Tharm began to have jealous thoughts, for he had yet to find a bride of his own. The night of the wedding, when all were dancing in celebration of Cleo and Hannelore, Tharm’s eye fell upon a lesser nobleman’s daughter – frail as a flower and as beautiful as a whole bouquet. Prince Tharm danced with her for so long that the noblewomen all took note. Her name was Mischa, and her beauty far surpassed that of Hannelore’s.

That very night, just before the newlyweds departed to their honeymoon, Prince Tharm stumbled atop a table, took a draft from his ale and declared aloud that he too had found a bride. He lifted the frail Mischa up in his strong arms and she blushed as he kissed her full on the lips. The crowd erupted in applause, and declared this the most joyful night in the history of the Twin Kingdoms. Only Cleo and Hannelore, who had grown in each other’s confidence through their long courtship, exchanged a quick glance of concern.

For many long years thereafter, all seemed well in the Twin Kingdoms. The harvests were good and the Twin Kings, as they were now known, made good on their promise to rule wisely and selflessly. Queen Hannelore bore Cleo seven children – and after each new prince or princess had come, Queen Mischa seemed to follow, as if to preserve the balance, or perhaps to compete.

Then one year, when winter fell, a violent storm swept across the Twin Kingdoms, uprooting trees and sending them hurtling down the river, destroying the bridge that linked the the Left Kingdom with the Right. Both Kings took action, riding out into the storm with their bravest men to secure the granaries, save the flocks and lead the peasants to safety. Queen Hannelore sat in her high tower, comforting the infant prince at her chest, while the other children gathered about her.

Suddenly, there was a fluttering at the tower window. A crow entered the chamber and to Hannelore’s astonishment, it transformed into a woman – tall, unnaturally pure and pale, with jet black hair and black eyes to match her long black velvet dress.

“Fear not, O Queen,” spoke the witch (for Hannelore knew it could be nothing else, and drew her children protectively around her. “I come with ill tidings, but I come also with a gift.”

“I want none of your tidings,” replied Hannelore. “Still less do I want your gifts. Leave now before I call the palace guards.”

But the witch continued as if she had not heard this. “The good harvests are over. Now disease and famine will come to the Twin Kingdoms.” She paused and cast her jet black eyes over the seven children gathered at the mother’s feet. “Many of the young will die and your own children will not be spared. Unless…” Here she drew from within her sleeve a vial, containing a shimmering colourful liquid. “…you accept to have them take this potion, which protects from all disease and will guarantee them long years of life.”

The thought of saving her children made Hannelore pause. “And what would you ask in return?”

“Nothing at all.” replied the witch. “Only that you hold me in better regard, for I wish to be a friend of the Twin Kingdoms.”

However, Queen Hannelore had grown wise. She knew that nothing was given for nothing. “Guards!” she called, and in a moment the doors flew open and the King’s men entered with halberds at the ready. The witch gave a ghastly cry, smashing the vial of potion on the floor and jumping out the window into the storm before the guards could reach her.

When the storm lifted, the Twin Kings saw that much of their Kingdoms had been laid to ruin. The winter that followed was long and hard, with snows lasting well into June. Just as the witch had foretold, hunger took hold of the Kingdoms, and disease began to spread, taking the weakest to their graves. One by one, Queen Hannelore’s seven children fell ill, and though she tended them with the greatest of care and devotion, all died, save the youngest prince, who bore his father’s name. This young Prince Cleo already resembled his father, and as the hard years went on, he grew to be a strong man in his own right; ever serving the Kingdom, ever by his father’s side.

Things were very different in Left Kingdom, however. To everyone’s astonishment, Queen Mischa survived the disease despite her frailty, and so did all seven of her princely children, and many others in her court besides. As the years went on, Cleo and Hannelore were made less and less welcome in King Tharm’s Court, though the witch was often seen there. Worse, rumours were spread among the common folk that Hannelore had denied them a great potion, and that they had suffered needlessly because of her vanity. Distrust was sown across the mighty river and the work to repair the storm-damaged bridge came to a halt.

When the springs came early again, and the summers once more grew long, King Cleo and his son crossed the river to meet Tharm and make common plans for a harvest. To his astonishment, he found his brother asleep, slouched in his throne and uninterested in making any plans.

“I have ceded my power to the Council of Seven Children. Together with their many advisors, they rule the Left Kingdom in my name.” He pointed to a long table set on a pedestal above the throne. At it were seated Prince Cleo’s seven cousins, four sickly girls and three weak, simpering boys. The heads of the princess and princes seemed hardly able to support the weight of their crowns. Behind each, a magistrate stood, wearing a heavy golden chain. At the head of the table sat the witch, smiling darkly. Behind her, in an attitude of fear, cowered Queen Mischa.

“Cousins,” Prince Cleo declared, for he had gone to the table already. “Our moment has come. Our fathers the Kings depend on us to resow the crops. To rebuild the granaries. To bring prosperity back to our people.”

“Many decisions to be made…” one of them muttered, while a magistrate whispered into her ear. “We must consider that the people are so very tired.”

“We cannot ask too much of them,” another said, appearing to repeat the words of her own magistrate.

“But work they must!” cried Prince Cleo.

“There must be equity. For on this side of the Twin Kingdoms, we are righteous,” another cousin answered, taking a sip from a vial of potion that lay before him. “Whereas your mother chose to let many die, we bear the responsibility for those who have lived and must now be kept safe.”

“And because your half of the Kingdom is strong. You must come to our aid,” the witch spoke at last. “For here, on our side, we cannot sustain ourselves. Ever have the Twin Kingdoms acted as one. You must start by rebuilding the bridge, so that grain can be brought in aid of our sick and our weak.”

Now the witch had lost her unnatural sheen and her pale face peeled away into yellow scabs. Prince Cleo grew angry at the sight of her. “By whose authority do you dare address orders to a Prince, you withered hag?”

“By the authority of the king!” It was King Tharm who spoke these words, roused from his throne below the Council Table. Prince Cleo looked to the table and saw now that each of his seven cousins had before them a vial of potion, from which they constantly took little sips.

“Be merciful nephew,” Queen Mischa spoke timidly, “Without the aid of her magic, they would soon die. She commands us now.”

Prince Cleo was enraged. His strong body flew into action, drawing a great long-sword from its scabbard. But as he lifted the blade to cut the hag’s head from her shoulders, his father the King stayed his arm and led his son away.

King Cleo and Prince Cleo sailed from the Left Kingdom back to the Right. The bridge was never rebuilt and the two Kingdoms grew ever apart – the Right one grew prosperous and stronger; the Left one slowly died, being sickly and false.

The Oracle and the Glock

The worst lies are a mosaic made of a thousand truths

We live in a world of noise. Information, almost infinite, is streamed at us relentlessly, bombarding our minds and overwhelming our capacity to distill truth. In such a world, it is very easy for narrative weavers to create truth. After all, there are facts everywhere, enough that they can carefully select the ones that suit their message and create a story that is not only convincing, but is actually full of true facts. The lie is in the selection of facts, and the choice to omit ones that do not serve the narrative.

And yet… I believe with even a modest degree of focus, most of us would be capable of separating out the informational wheat from the chaff. I think we could know more truth with a bit more effort, if we really had to. The question is, how can that be done?

The Oracle and the Glock

This takes me to the ‘Oracle and the Glock’. One imagines an omniscient personage – for the sake of visualisation a faceless, spectral figure dressed in black body armour with empty, luminescent blue eyes, in the fires of which glows the flame of perfect knowledge. This is the Oracle. She is armed with a Glock 9mm pistol, black to match her general appearance.

Her M.O. is that she approaches you and places the barrel of the pistol against your temple. She then asks you a question; a question to which she, in her omniscience, already knows the correct answer. The game is quite simple. If you give her this correct answer, you live. If you fail to answer or you answer incorrectly, she will blow your brains out. But because the Oracle has some sense of justice, she will allow you enough time to scroll through the internet in search of whatever information you need to support your answer.

The question is this: In such a world, would more people come closer to the truth than is currently the case? In other words, how much is the plague of disinformation a result of willful ignorance, laziness and dishonest self-interest, and how much is a genuine artefact of the digital age, or the pernicious activities of Russian bots?

Who has Dominion over election results?

Perhaps it helps to consider a concrete example. Let’s take, for instance, the results of the 2020 US Presidential Election, in which Joe Biden is said to have defeated Donald Trump. Imagine the Oracle asked you this question, “If the 2020 election had been run entirely absent electoral fraud, mail-in ballot stuffing or manipulation of electronic voting machines, would Joe Biden still have been declared the winner?”

If you are a left-leaning, college educated Coastal American or a middle class European, you would casually answer this question with a ‘yes of course’ while sipping a £10 craft IPA with your friends on the sunny terrace of a trendy London bar. But imagine the question came while you were in the Oracle’s dark crucible, on your knees, transfixed by the piercing blue light of her spectral eyes?

I hope you would at least take the time to go through the evidence carefully – after all, the Oracle is patient. I hope the pressure of the Glock’s cold steel against your temple would make you just a little distrustful of the first few hits you got from Google. I hope you would dig a little deeper. You might think, ‘obviously the election wasn’t rigged. But, well, what if I’m wrong?’. Maybe you would dig out the footage of the vote count in Cook County or Philadelphia and look, really look, at what happened around 11 O’Clock that evening. Maybe you would listen, for the first time, to what Trump said that night and the next day and search for the lie in his eyes. What answer would he give to the Oracle? And if he really believed it was rigged, is he just a crazy, egotistical old man? Or did he know something I don’t? Maybe you would read the documents submitted by the Republicans in all the court cases that were dismissed for lack of standing.

You might even listen, for the first time in your life, to what intelligent people on the other side think is the right answer to this question. Not because you necessarily agree with them, but because there’s a chance you might be wrong. I certainly hope you would search for the truth, as if your life depended on it.

Because I know I would.

The pretense of knowledge, or ‘how to draw a very accurate map’

When I was a child, I liked to draw maps. Even at an early age, I understood there was something powerful about the ability to render graphic representations of spatial relationships on paper. From memory, I drew maps of the United States of America. It didn’t take me long to realise that if you memorised the big ticket contours (the point of Maine, the rough bulge of the mid-Atlantic, the curve and hook of Texas…) you could supplement this rough shape with random but detailed ‘squiggles’ that would approximate the twists and turns of the actual coastline.

To the casual eye, the map would look much more accurate that way. I recall some of my teachers’ reactions to these visually appealing, detailed maps of the US which decorated the blank pages of my phonics workbooks – they took me for some kind of prodigy. Of course, if you were to compare the detailed squiggles with the actual contours of the coast, there would be no more overlap than what chance might throw up – after all, I improvised the squiggles randomly. But it didn’t matter, the pretense of detailed knowledge was enough to convince most people that the map was far more accurate than it really was.

Would that this little deception remained in the workbooks of a 1980s schoolboy. Alas, this technique of pretending detailed knowledge has since gone mainstream. It defines ‘the Science’ behind a great many, drastic policy choices that are being implemented at this very moment.

Consider the Imperial College Model developed by Neil Ferguson, and which was adopted and copied to provide justification for draconian lockdown policies across the globe. The ‘model’ is very detailed and provides point estimates to a high degree of specification on how different policy choices would impact mortality as the pandemic progressed. The problem, of course, is that these estimates fell well outside the confidence intervals that should have been attached to them. If the fake squiggles had not been included in the model, the real answer would have been ‘we simply don’t know how many lives could be saved from locking down’.

Now, three years later, we can compare the fake Imperial College map with the actual evidence and we see how wrong they got it. Estimates for how many deaths would arise in the absence of lockdown were at least an order of magnitude wrong.

The same trick is being used to justify unprecedented changes in energy policy. Point estimates are being provided for the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and increases in surface air temperature, with a degree of precision that completely belies the actual level of confidence ‘the Science’ could have in these numbers. In fact, as I argued previously, it is not possible to know whether the changes in climate the Earth is currently experiencing are at all the result of an increased concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, because the two bigger causes of atmospheric heat – solar irradiation and albedo – cannot be measured with the requisite degree of accuracy, much less do scientists have any idea of the dynamic interaction between the three effects.

Of course, the really big problem with the pretense of detailed knowledge is that it acts as an obstacle to the pursuit of real knowledge. Once I became adept at faking coastal squiggles, I stopped looking carefully at the outline of the actual Atlantic / Pacific coasts, because to do so would jeopardise the professed accuracy of the maps I already drew. The same is true for climate science. No one is spending time and money to figure out whether the intensity or composition of solar energy is changing in a way that would impact the climate, because the question has already been answered, and the Science is not a very humble religious institution.

The question now facing us is whether we, as a civilisation, are prepared to do better than a bored 8-year old sitting at the back of the class.

Papa Jack’s Café – first piece of animation

This is a rom com musical feature film I have been working on together with my daughter Anna. The first piece of finished animation is hot out of the oven (literally, because the Indian guys who did the animation have had to deal with a heat wave in New Dehli).

“We’ll Get There” performed by Anna Offergeld-Stull, written by Anna Offergeld-Stull and Graham Stull, arranged by Stéphane Collin

There’s also a GoFundMe if folks want to check it out, share and like and subscribe and pray to the tech gods….