Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Self praise for a budding History genius

Despite the simperingly polite self-doubting approach I try to adopt here (partly through an exaggerated value placed on courtesy, partly through early experience of the utter pointlessness of web-based posturing aggression, partly from a genuine respect for the Socratic approach of starting from doubt), I have a pretty high estimation of my intellectual abilities, most of the time.

Today I got my marks for the Global History Masters that took up most of 2006-7, and I sailed over the distinction level with great ease. I am now for the short term very pleased with myself. And reconsidering History if this foray into policy development goes nowhere.

Doubt is a good thing. The students in class who thought they could declaim on the history of slavery/causes of the Industrial Revolution/worthiness of Qing China after a few articles of reading were the ones struggling to get a good mark. The process of learning the course was one of discovering fresh areas where one had been wrong or misinformed. If you think something is obvious you need to look at it again. The trouble is, History is strewn with 'great' men who did not know how to doubt themselves, dogmatic wreckers and meddlers.

UPDATE: On the comment by jackart to the effect that support of the liberal democrats (or "massive intrusive state", to translate) contradicts my pro-doubt views. The obvious retort is that they are not equivalent, and such an argument could go back and forth playground fashion for, ooh, 20 years or so.

The more sophisticated answer is that the sort of big flabby government we are at risk of in Britain is not the undoubting tyranny I referred to above - the Napoleon Hitler model. In fact, the problem with the way huge flabby British government works is not an absence of doubts. Thousands of pages of reports on pensions, work, climate, schools, hospitals etc are produced precisely because it is a monopoly provider, because lacking no competition means that it has to go to endless self-doubting lengths to get anything done. This is too much doubt and consultation and paper. Beset by lobbyists, responsible to everyone and no-one, it is at fault as much for its vaccilation and inability to do anything quickly (see Crossrail) as for any tyranny.

The alternative model - competitive attempts that prosper or die, launched from below - is far better. no Plan, just a fair scrap between good ideas.

Christ, I'm giving this up, it really does take too much time. Seriously. Bye.


Jackart said...

Which is exactly why "Government" needs to be kept small.

Government is run by people and institutions who think they know better than individuals.

So far, you've praised doubt, but praised big, intrusive state interventionism. Contradiction?

Giles said...

How forgetful of me, I failed to notice the "three cheers for big intrusive state interventionism" bit. I thought I was in favour of decentralization, democracy closer to the individual, and a voting system less likely to hand all three levers of power to a party that wins just 40% of a 60% turnout. Silly me. Thanks for keeping me alerted to this.

I don't notice many of the Right parties being particularly successful at reducing the intrusion. They obviously talk it very well. Perhaps my borough of Wandsworth is one, but I guess it is easier to have lower council taxes when the average household is so rich and well ordered, and their intrusive traffic wardens are everywhere.