London Diary VI

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by Gene Callahan by Gene Callahan

Wednesday, Jan. 12: Back in the UK

I find being back in London quite disorienting. It's familiar enough that being here doesn't feel like being on vacation, but still foreign enough that it doesn't feel like coming home. I picture myself standing with one foot on each side of the Atlantic, unstable but unable to guess to which side I will fall.

Monday, Jan. 17: Denying Responsibility

I’m presenting at LSE next week, and here is how I’m listed on the events web page:

Thursday, 27 January 5:00–8:00 pm PLURALISM IN ECONOMICS SEMINARS Eugene Callahan Mises Institute Does Economics Suffer from a Confusion of Categorically Distinct Inquiries?

In March I will present at the Mises Institute, and here is how they list me:

“Ideal Type Theory: Its Development and Application” Gene Callahan (London School of Economics)

Obviously, both organizations are quite sensible, and want to make sure that all blame for what I say falls on the other one.

Monday, Jan. 24: Writing from the Provinces

Bob Murphy recently made a post hinting that I should comment on a particular matter because I don't live in America. But he has made a mistake: He thinks I live outside the US, simply because I live in the UK. Not true! I live in an overseas province of the US. This is obvious when you consider the fact that, if the UK were an independent nation, it would have its own foreign policy, based on its own national interests. Instead, what happens here is that our colonial administrator, Toby Bear or something of the sort, whenever faced with a question related to foreign policy, flies to Washington and asks George Bush what to do.

George, of course, has no idea, but he asks Dick Cheney, and then tells our administrator to do that. And our fellow complies. So there you have it.

Tuesday, Jan. 25: Breaking the Rules

While getting on the escalator at the underground station tonight, I noticed a sign reading:

STAND ON THE RIGHT HOLD THE HANDRAIL NO STROLLERS DOGS MUST BE CARRIED

Well, I was standing on the right, I was holding the handrail, and I certainly had no stroller. But I wasn’t carrying a dog!

Luckily, no one noticed. But I’m thinking of getting something small – a rat terrier? – so as to avoid trouble in the future.

Friday, Jan. 28: What Floats a Politician's Boat

My local MP (Barry Gardiner) sends out a little promotional pamphlet to the houses in the area he represents. In it, he quotes Councilor Jim Moher as saying, “Nothing has given me more satisfaction this year than the road resurfacing in the Bush Grove Estate.”

Could you imagine if this were true?! The most satisfying thing in Jim’s life last year was a bit of road resurfacing! If you ever think your life is boring, just remember Jim.

Saturday, Jan. 29: Our Undeniable Genetic Programming

Today I’ve been watching Serena Williams play Lindsey Davenport in the finals of the Australian Open. Williams apparently has some problem with her stomach muscles and is having difficulty moving. On one point, Davenport forced Williams into her backhand corner. Williams returned that shot successfully, but pretty much straight up the middle and without much force behind it. I suspected that Davenport would return that shot to the opposite corner, forcing Williams on a long run. And so did Williams, who began moving back toward the middle of the court.

But, instead, Davenport sent the ball even deeper into Williams backhand corner. This forced Serena to change direction, putting a strain on her sore stomach muscles, and left her further from her forehand corner than before. She again returned weakly up the middle. Now, Davenport hit a line drive into Williams’ forehand corner. Williams didn’t even run after it.

Some of you out there might mistakenly be thinking: That was a very clever decision on Davenport’s part. But you’d be wrong! You see, humans are only vehicles for genes to reproduce themselves. We don’t really make decisions; we just follow our genetic programming. What you fail to realize is that our ancestors, in their generations of life as hunter-gatherers on the African Savannah, were programmed with an instinct that hardwired the following response into our nervous system: When you find yourself in the finals of a major tennis tournament, facing a dangerous opponent, but one whose mobility is limited by injury, try to force her to move around the court a little more than usual. Therefore, when the “game-situational perceptive programming” through which evolution has enabled us to recognize certain court situations as matching one of hundreds of eidetic patterns stored in our genes indicated the above situation held, Davenport automatically sent a second shot into the backhand corner.

It’s amazing that certain people can still believe outlandish explanations of events that involve implausible things like “human choice”!

Monday, Jan. 31: Fuzzy Old England

My impression, from watching Monty Python, The Avengers, and other British TV shows from the 60s and 70s, was that England is a vague and somewhat out-of-focus place. I can now assure you that it is not the case – objects are every bit as sharp and focused here as in the US, and their colors are no more or less washed out than are the colors of American objects.

However, against the above, I must mark in the surprise-on-the-downside column the fact that England is chock full of very tiny steps – oh, like an inch high or so. English architects seem to have precisely determined the height at which a step is just too small to be plainly visible, but still plenty tall enough to trip you. A favorite place for these mini-steps is in pubs, perhaps as one transitions from one room to another, but maybe just hanging out halfway across a single, large room.

Wednesday, Feb. 2: A Film I'd Really Like to See

I was at my friend Michiru’s apartment the other day. On his dresser, I saw a book sitting on top of a videotape. The two titles merged together in my mind, and suddenly I realized there was a film I really would like to see made one day: Prince and Wittgenstein Live from Las Vegas on Rules and Private Language.

Saturday, Feb. 5: It's Not That Bad… But Don't Ever Mention That!

Metro, a free UK paper, has a story today about an academic study demonstrating that heroin use is relatively harmless. “Edinburgh drug worker” David Pentland is quoted as saying: “To put this information out into society… is totally irresponsible.”

He doesn’t dispute the findings – he just claims that the truth should be suppressed… maybe because the demand for his services would drop should people realize that they’re not really needed.

Sunday, Feb. 6: Spring Is in the Air

Spring is fully underway in London. Snowdrops, forsythia, crocuses, and cyclamens are all in bloom. The daffodils will bloom soon. Shrubs and trees are putting out new buds.

Winter is a quite brief affair here, albeit dark.

Monday, Feb. 7: Celebrating Rand's Birthday

Since last Wednesday, February 2nd, was the 100th anniversary of Ayn Rand's birthday, I decided to have an "Ayn Rand day" of my own. Here's my report on what I did:

8:40 AM:

I rolled out of bed and enjoyed a symbol of the fire in man's mind. (I.e., a cigarette.) The previous day, in purchasing tobacco in anticipation of this celebration, I had been a little puzzled: just which brand is the most rational? Finally, I decided to buy a pouch of Golden Virginia and some rolling papers, as that way I could engage in productive activity (rolling) before smoking. (Of course, I bought a cigarette holder as well.)

After finishing my smoke, I showered, dressed, and got ready for my first big event of the day. I watched the house across the street out of my window until I saw all of my neighbors head off for work or school. Then I fetched the dynamite I had bought the day before, and headed over to get rid of the building. It's pretty architecturally hideous, one of those awful fake Tudors, so, like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, I figured it would be OK, especially today, to blow it up.

However, as I placed the dynamite, I recalled that in Rand's novel Roark freely admitted to having blown up the building. Hmm, the house was pretty ugly, but I wasn't sure it was so ugly that I was willing to do some time to be rid of it. I might be doing others a favor, but, then, to suffer in prison myself for their benefit would be altruistic, and acting unselfishly was surely no way to celebrate Rand Day. Let them blow up the building if they want. I shuffled back across the street and put the explosives back in my room. Crap, what is my landlord going to think if he finds enough dynamite to blow up a house in my dresser?

9:45 AM:

Well, time to enjoy the fire in the mind again — must remember not to do so too near the dresser! — so I rolled another fag and lit it. Fire, a dangerous force, was tamed at my fingertips. Well, maybe not quite tamed, since I hadn't rolled the cigarette too well, and a burning chunk of man's rationality fell on my trousers. Unfortunately, I was watching the smoke and thinking, waiting for great things to come into my mind, so I didn't notice the mishap until the ideas burned right through my pants and I felt the sharp, hot sting of the mental united with the physical on my leg.

After patting out the burning thoughts — I worried that such a response might be irrational, but, damn it, my leg hurt! — I decided it was high time to charge someone with plagiarism. I called my friend Bob Murphy and told him that I felt he had plagiarized his article on the origin of money from my work.

"What are you talking about, Gene?"

"Well, you write that money arose through indirect exchange, as some commodity came to be a commonly accepted medium of exchange, don't you?"

"Yes…"

"And don't I say the same thing in my book?"

"Yes…"

"And isn't it true that you read my book before writing that article? In fact, that you read it very carefully, taking notes on it, since the publisher paid you to read it before it was even published?"

"Yeah, but what about Menger…"

"No, my friend, I've got you nailed. I demand that you come to London for a trial. If you refuse, I will break with you and announce that you are a looter."

"Uh, yeah, whatever, Gene. Maybe you should cut back on the partying a little bit, huh?"

10:50 AM:

The plagiarism bit, I thought, had gone significantly better than the house demolition project. I had some more fire from within — oh, wait, that's the wrong guru! — some fire from the mind of man, and mentally prepared myself for my next challenge. I called up a friend of mine — for the sake of her privacy, let's call her Ann, even though her real name is Barbara Johnson. "Ann," I said, "I've always admired you. As the logical outcome of that admiration, I'm coming over to force rough sex on you in a way verging on rape. But don't worry, you'll enjoy it. Is that OK?"

"Um, Gene, first of all, if you're going to force sex on someone, you can't really ask them if it's OK. It kind of refutes the whole u2018force' idea."

"Oh, yeah… good point."

"And, secondly, I have a boyfriend. I don't think he'd like it too much if you did that."

"What, he doesn't want us to unite the mental and the physical in a way that expresses our highest ideals? Should we instead sacrifice our own happiness at the altar of some death-worshipping u2018morality'? Is he anti-life?"

"No, I don't think so. But he is a bouncer at a London night club, and a black belt in karate."

Well, then, forcing sex on Ann was out. I was at a loss to imagine whom else I might take in the roughest way possible, until I happened to glance into the mirror. Suddenly, I knew what would happen, as I caught myself staring at me with a look of such smoldering passion that I knew resisting my life-affirming desire was futile…

Noon:

After that was over with, it was high time for a smoke before setting off on my next task. I traveled to central London, where I spent a couple of hours lurking in alleys and doorways, awaiting passers-by whom I could mysteriously accost with the question, "Who is John Galt?" Most of them just pretended that they hadn't heard me — clearly, those were folks who wanted to exist without thinking — but a few people stopped long enough to answer, "That fellow from Atlas Shrugged. Have I won something?"

Clearly, my question wasn't having the same effect that it had had in Rand's novel. Therefore, it was irrational to continue asking it. I played some Rachmaninoff on my I-Pod, lit another fag, and contemplated — quite rationally, mind you! — what I should do next.

More to come…

Tuesday, Feb. 8: What Is an Anarchist Who Has Been Mugged?

The old quip was that a neoconservative was a liberal who had been mugged. Well, let me tell you about my night on Monday…

I was walking home from the underground station at about 10:30, on my usual route through a small park right across the street from the station. (Cutting through the park is quite common for commuters, and it slices about 15 minutes off of my walk home.) Two “yoots” were standing about 20 yards inside the park. I had just passed them, when one of them said, “What are you looking at?”

(An aside: Just what is it with these ghetto kids and being “looked at”? I mean, it’s certainly not a “black thing” – my two housemates from Ghana never freaked out when I looked at them, nor did any of my reggae band mates over the course of a decade, nor have I ever met any black professional who got the heebie-jeebies when glanced at. And the white kids who grow up in the projects – that’s council flats, Brits – seem to have the same desire that others avert their gaze as the black ones do.)

Well, I just hate the idea that all decent people need to move through life cowering from thugs, so I turned around and said, “I was looking at you guys. But that’s only because you’re standing in the sidewalk, and I didn’t want to run into you.”

“Well, don’t look at anyone when you go through this park.”

“Look guys, I look at the tree there and that fence too – it’s not to dis them, but so I don’t walk right into them.”

Now, I can imagine that, after a minute or so of this, these chaps were thinking, “We’re going to have to kick this white boy’s ass or he’s never going to shut up.” But, in fact, I said good night, and turned to walk away, and it seemed they were going to let me go. But then I made what, in retrospect, I see was a terrible mistake. My cell phone buzzed, and I took it out of my pocket to answer it.

Two thoughts must have crossed my friends’ minds (such as they are) at that moment:

1) we can steal his cell phone; and

2) he might be calling the police.

The next thing I knew, I felt a tremendous blow to the side of my head. One of them had kicked me there! I fell over onto the grass, and both of them began kicking me as I lay there. I struggled to my feet, and was kicked in the head again.

Here, I must note some admiration for these yoots athleticism. It’s not easy to kick someone in the head who is 5’10″ and is standing. I imagine the British school system must have given them lots of training in football (soccer), to “keep them out of trouble.”

Luckily for me, another train had just come into the station. No doubt worried that others would be passing through the park soon, the lads demanded my money, scooped up my cell phone, and took off running.

Within a minute, a commuter on his cell phone – to the police it turned out – came up and asked me if I was OK. Another person helped me to find my glasses. The first fellow led me back to the station and asked for a first aid kit.

A little while later, two cops arrived and interviewed me. They were quite pleasant and sympathetic, and I believe that they really would have liked to catch my assailants, but they held out little hope that they could do so. They called an ambulance, which brought me to the local hospital. As I sat in the waiting room, my landlord and his girlfriend – who had been told of the attack by the police – showed up at my side. God bless them! I was checked out by a nurse, who told me I could wait a few hours to see a doctor. I asked if there was anything life-threatening about my injuries. She said “No,” and I said, “Then I think I’ll go home.” And so I did.

So, what is an anarchist after he’s been mugged? Still an anarchist, it seems. Other then sending around two pleasant blokes to chat with me for a bit, the state did nothing to either prevent or redress the attack. And, by severely restricting the right of British citizens to defend themselves, the UK government has doubtlessly given people like my park friends a great deal more confidence that they can pull off such assaults without, say, being shot in the head.

Nor did I become an anarchist in the first place because I think everyone is gentle and peaceful, or that everyone would be so if there were no state. Contra the author of one of The Federalist Papers, who wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” I have always believed that if men were angels, the state might be acceptable. It is precisely our non-angelic nature that makes the power of the state too dangerous for any human to possess. I cannot see how the viciousness of those who attacked me differs in any essential way from that of the state-sponsored thugs who have killed 100,000 Iraqi civilians – except for the fact that the actions of my attackers lacked official sanction

However, while an incident like that described above may not change an anarchist’s views, it can change the view of him. (See the photo to the right.)

February 15, 2005

Gene Callahan [send him mail], the author of Economics for Real People, is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and a contributing columnist to LewRockwell.com.

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