April 20, 2007

Bad Laws

This blog tries hard not to be overly unsympathetic to the government- its easy to throw stones from the outside whereas making the decisions is hard. It is hard on occasion to maintain a sympathetic attitude- especially when leglislation is passed that would make victims guilty if they failed to report a crime committed against them for fear of reprisal. Unity has dug up a bill which does just that in cases of domestic violence and of course there have been suggestions to the same effect from the Chief Constable of Merseyside this morning in respect of gun law (I am reliant throughout this piece on Unity's intelligent analysis of the legal issues over at his blog). Unity highlights the effects of such laws upon witnesses and the legal process- and I agree with him- both acts would be counterproductive and lead to miscarriages of justice- such a law risks putting people in jail for being intimidated by violent spouses or by armed gangs.

At the moment, the only crime (with the exception of the ones above) that you are required by law to tender witness to is terrorism. The problem with this law is that it prioritises catching people over the rights of the innocent bystander. In the case of a terrorist atrocity- the threat to the community can be much greater- as Patrick Mercer, the former Tory Homeland security spokesman recently warned apocalyptic scenarios of terrorist atrocities cannot be ruled out- and hence it is probably true that witnesses should be forced to give evidence despite the fact that the law in that case as this makes them a criminal even if they are not a participant in the terrorist activity. Terrorism is different- particularly as most terrorism investigations are conducted unlike ordinary criminal ones before rather than after the fact. As a society we don't lock up potential murderers despite the fact that they haven't committed a murder, we do lock up potential terrorists.

Overall though this does look to be an indefensible set of moves both by the government and the Chief Constable. The Domestic Violence leglislation, which is on the statute book, in particular looks incredibly odd- as Unity argues it would effectively penalise an 18 year old who had fled home because they had been abused but who regularly saw their younger siblings and would threaten that 18 year old with a fourteen year prison sentence. I'm not sure whether I can, as I usually try to do, give the benefit of the doubt to the government on this one- can someone else defend their measures? This looks to me like bad law and should be repealed and the gun law that the Chief Constable wants should never be passed.

April 19, 2007

Walter Benjamin's Books

Walter Benjamin was one of the geniuses of mid-century Europe who was consumed by the horrific events of that period. Amongst Benjamin's pieces which range across the historical, philosophical and literary genres and combine astounding erudition with an incisive logical faculty, is a charming piece about Benjamin's private career as a book collector and a book enthusiast. (It can be found in the collection of his works published by Pimlico called Illuminations) There are many reasons to laud this piece- but I think one of them is the way that Benjamin discusses our relationship between that which we are and that which we own. The essay is a simple one- it starts with a simple antithesis- the way that the disorder of a library and the order of a catalogue to the library reflect the mind of the reader that collected and put together the library. But swiftly that simple reflection of the reader's mind onto that which he owns is overturned and Benjamin begins to draft a much more interesting and exciting thesis.

Benjamin suggests that this new relationship through his discussion of the collector, for he points out that the collector is the most childlike of individuals- finding new meaning and new excitement in a world filled with the mundane and the repetitive. He suggests that a collector beleives that his possession of a book enthuses that book with a new life- a new meaning a new place in the world. The lust for collecting he shows can rule our own lives- he cites a wonderful story of a man who unable to afford books proceeded to copy out the text of every book he found in a bookshop, rewriting his own library- and suggests that this is the state of the modern writer (even one might say the modern blogger). As you can see Benjamin's text illustrates the principles of his argument- it does not proceed by rational influence- but he browses his bookshelves in order to make his points about the ways that collecting books might influence the collector. Seeing a book reminds him of when it was bought- and how he bought it. As he says quoting Anatole France the only certain things about books are their publication dates- everything else in their meanings is invested by the collector- and yet his investments in those books, his histories of them become his history of his life.

Benjamin argues that owning books is not a utilitarian activity- one collects not for use (as the mad man in His Girl Friday beleive)- but for the sheer fact of collecting. Benjamin talks of the way that his bookshelves expanded as soon as he realised that it was not reading but collecting that enthused him. The essay allegedly is about unpacking crates of books and as he unpacks, Benjamin realises that he has made so much of his books that they have become part of him, they have become his markers in a world of chaos, his way of understanding his own past and his relationship to it. Not merely that but he shows how it has developed his faculties and developed the way that he is- the way that he can search through catalogues and the way that at least here he writes, with aphorism succeeding aphorism in a display of purposeful erudition.

At a time when the status of another form of collection- the collections of American gun owners is under pressure both politically and indeed from the internal consciences of American gun owners, it is worth rereading Benjamin's essay. I don't want to debate the rights or wrongs of gun ownership on this post- but there is something interesting about why debates like that over gun ownership or say should one ever arise (in which I would have a far more personal interest) book ownership or fishing or whatever get so heated. It isn't merely the rights or wrongs of the activity which are at stake but its the fact that for the people that perform that activity, that activity has become part of the person themselves. The relationship of owning and collecting is as Benjamin rightly says is deeply private. Any other relationship that we have, and here I go beyond Benjamin's explicit utterance to my own thought, is public, it is with another- but my relationship with things is solitary, hence depressives take comfort in books and films when they cannot cope with people, hence politically its difficult to disrupt such a relationship- as intense as a love affair, the relationship between a person and their things only can be broken by injuring the person concerned, with regrets and nostalgia as the scars of the rupture. It may be neccessary to do so- noone thinks that a collector for instance of nuclear weapons has the right to keep them- but it is always painful.

To end this piece, and to substantiate my and I think Benjamin's point, its worth pondering on the last lines of Benjamin's essay on book collection for they encapsulate the points I am trying to make in a wonderful way- demonstrating how closely capitalist man is bound to the notion of property in a Lockean sense as part of himself,

For inside him there are spirits, or at least little genii, which have seen to it that for a collector- and I mean a real collector, a collector as he ought to be- ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside as is only fitting.


As an end to an essay- combining artistry and argument- that is flawless- and invites me back to my bookcases!

The Rise of Radical Islam in Europe

This is an interesting talk from Jonathan Paris in London about the problems of Islamic radicalisation in Britain and France. The basic argument of the talk is that the real problems of British and French islamic radicalisation are problems of what he calls preceptisation. He argues that tackling the preceptors of such a faith is a very important part of the war on terror and a part that is neglected. Neither dealing with the problem as the Americans do using the instruments of military power nor dealing with it as the Europeans have done up until now by using criminalisation- banning the terrorists and not political Islamists. He suggests that political Islam- the kind of Islam which stresses that all Muslims have the same identity and should reject other claims of identity- that a death in Palestine is more important to a Muslim Yorkshireman than the death of a white Yorkshireman and that they should feel that more. He argues that there is a slippery slope whereby Muslims are influenced by Imams into the Muslim Council of Britain and then into Hizb and then into terrorism- he suggests that a wide tolerance of political Islam allows a few to cross the borders into terrorist activity. I should add that the talk and the discussion afterwards is worried but not hopeless- as the speaker brings up there have been cases- Indian immigration from Uganda to Britain- and as participants bring up- Sri Lankan immigration- immigration can work and there is no reason that it can't work.

There is an interesting discussion afterwards about demography and about the integration of Iberian Muslims into their societies and Pakistani Immigration not to mention any generational gaps- these are all interesting points and deserve to be raised. There is an interesting problem brought up to do with general (not just Muslim) identity shopping and Belgian problems with Islam. Personally on the demographic argument it is worth remembering that population change is often accompanied by a change in the nature of the population- so for example its not a problem to have 100 million non-political Muslims and see your entire population change its complexion doesn't matter if those Muslims are not politicised. Muslims are not the same and neither is their evolution into political Islam inevitable. Another question raised is the problem of indigenous terrorism- particularly anti globalisation movements and the religious right.

The preceptor argument is one I have some sympathy with. Solutions to it are very complex- throwing out people from the country is something I have some sympathy with- the British government needs to be tougher on this than it has been, though there are obvious problems- the question of people's rights is important- in my view we ought to be tougher in our interpretation of the laws on inciting racial hatred which for instance would catch many radical speakers for their attacks on Jews. Excluding the Muslim Council of Britain from discussions seems to be a sensible position and from government funding- why exactly the Muslim Council should be argued with when they are elected by no-one I have never understood- especially as their ambition is to create a Muslim constituency which would vote and sway power in order to acheive the aims of Political Islam. We should bear in mind though, unlike one questioner that Halal food in schools is not threatening- no more was the fact that my school had kosher food- when it comes to male doctors and women that is a different matter but rigidity on secularism is not sensible. He is right to call upon the West to look to moderate Muslims- a recent British initiative which is anti-sectarian- the New Generation Network run by Sunny Hundal and others is a step towards that, towards a view of the community which is anti-racist but also anti-MCB. Considering moves forwards is difficult, getting girls and young women involved to resist models which are avowedly sexist is a good step- women are a natural constituency to overthrow the preceptors. The solution also lies in stating again and again that Muslims are different from each other and not similar, and that under the skin we all share a common humanity.

There are plenty of issues here to consider- one interpretation is not sufficient- Olivier Roy has a different idea whereby he ties together nationalism and Islam in a synthesis. One paper isn't the answer- but the preceptoral model is a useful one- and quite how you erode the influence of imams, cousins or youth workers is an interesting one- or even Al-Jazeera- is a great problem. This is an interesting discussion- I don't think that this paper gives final answers- there isn't much detail in his talk and its more principles and also there are no Muslim voices in the audience, something that would be interesting to hear in such a debate. This is a contribution- probably better than some- but this represents a contribution- not a final one and I'm tired so I may not be commenting well- its a beggining though and we need more discussion.

Occasionally the conversation slips into what I have called Islamic Essentialism (mostly on the part of the questioners and sometimes but seldom of the speaker talking loosely about demography), but the chairman at the end sums up what I think is an important point that the place we want to arrive at is where citizenship embraces all citizens irrespective of race or creed in political allegiance and in peace.

By the way I don't have any answers- but am merely thinking on my feet largely as I listen to the talk- so my analysis may be faulty- there are other perspectives that should be acknowledged as well- but the idea of preceptorial roles being at the centre of this is I think an interesting one and we do need to think about how we deal with the ideological threat that convinces people to blow up their fellow citizens.

April 18, 2007

Rope: The Constraints on Pure Reasoning.


Rope is one of the more interesting pieces from Alfred Hitchcock- Hitchcock made the film in just around a dozen takes and the takes are very long, ending on someone's jacket or on the opening of a chest door. It was also one of the first films to concentrate on a possibly homosexual couple, the screenwriter Arthur Laurents definitely thought that that was the main subject of the film. Despite both the technical gimmickry and Laurents' stress on the homosexuality in the text, I think there is more going on in this small piece of drama- much more and much more interesting things are happening within the story.

Rope is a piece which concentrates upon a murder- a murder that happens in the first frame of the film. The body is then stashed inside a chest within a room and the murderers begin organising a dinner party. Having a brilliant idea, they have invited the murder victim's family and girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend along with a teacher to the house to a dinner party and serve food off the chest in which the dead man's body is placed. Of course this is the cue for Hitchcock's macabre humour to be let loose- and for him to explore all the suspense of the murderers' fear of being discovered.

The film though really focuses upon the justification of the murder- why the murder happened rather than the how or the who, all of which we know within minutes of the opening. The reasons for the murder are explored by the lead character within the two murderers, Brandon (played by John Dall, standing centre in the photo above). During the party, we become aware that amongst the guests, one of them Rupert Cadell (played by James Stewart), the boys' old teacher has a particular opinion which his student, Brandon the most charismatic of the murderers has absorbed: we can see that in this exchange of conversation

Rupert Cadell: After all, murder is - or should be - an art. Not one of the 'seven lively', perhaps, but an art nevertheless. And, as such, the privilege of committing it should be reserved for those few who are really superior individuals.
Brandon Shaw: And the victims: inferior beings whose lives are unimportant anyway.


Rupert's views are outrageous- and one of the guests, the father of the victim, makes clear the fact that he equates such opinions with Naziism. But the way that he puts them forward is witty and charismatic- he tells the guests that it would solve problems of unemployment, busy theatres, queues and overbooked resturants. Its outrageous but there is a kind of witty seduction in it. Brandon though doesn't have Rupert's witty appreciation of the meme- rather for Brandon the words matter and mean something- they aren't just a frivolous opinion for a dinner party conversation, they represent an ambition and an aspiration- he tells Phillip (played by Farley Grainger- standing opposite Stewart in the photo) his partner in crime and maybe other things that he wants this murder to be his piece of art- Rupert's later words are a witty echo of Brandon's more sinister comment.

What this all means becomes revealed in the end- and I have to say if you don't want to ruin the film don't read the next paragraphs- in the end Rupert discovers the killers and confronts them. The confrontation is very powerful because it demonstrates the quality of Rupert and Brandon's beliefs. Rupert beleives that society will avenge the death of the victim David- that Brandon had no right to kill David and that Brandon has perverted his words. Brandon tells Rupert that he hasn't perverted the words that Rupert spoke- and indeed there is no sense in which we can say that Rupert's words were perverted. But what we can say is that Rupert thinks that Brandon has an obligation to society, that he is wrong because he can't say that he is a superior being and can't therefore take the right to murder upon himself and that he is wrong because he lacks human sympathy.

The distinctions between Brandon and Rupert's behaviour boil down to distinctions in their personalities. Hitchcock shows us that both Rupert and Brandon have an amazing amount of charisma- they are both witty, the lives and souls of the party. They share many character traits but crucially Rupert has more of a sense of empathy- whereas Brandon beleives that his superiority is guarenteed and is happy to offend people, Rupert has a slightly less aggressive strategy, still happy to be outspoken there is more of the sense that he entertains a party rather than offending people. He withdraws rather than maintaining an argument- essentially Rupert's views are subject to the consensus view whereas Brandon's aren't. Brandon as a student has absorbed all the teachings of his teacher and taken them literally- for that is the other aspect to this- the way that Rupert's words have become Brandon gospell but they aren't Rupert's. The words have become Brandon's instruments of actions- but for Rupert they aren't as important, society's suggestions override them, personal delicacy overrides them.

When Brandon does his murders- he does them by controlling and manipulating his partner- Phillip- he also does them obeying the words and beliefs of his mentor Rupert. Rupert though wouldn't do this because he hears the words of society rather than his own words, however sincerely meant. Hitchcock introduces us therefore to a person without empathy- whose words are his laws, whereas he suggests that in the case of most people, our words aren't our laws, instead we act under a mixture of influences and outrageous beliefs are bent backwards by the force of taboo. The danger though is that when we repeat those statements we make those who have no taboos beleive our beliefs and without the taboos, they are free to act anyway they want. Rupert tells Brandon he would never do what Brandon has done, that his words were never meant to summon up murder- but that is of course what he said- why he couldn't do it is because the beliefs that he acts on are not the beliefs that he speaks of, rather than being logical Rupert is constrained by taboo. It is his normality which saves him from the noose.

Brandon though, a great manipulator of men, a very logical man, lacks that sense of societal constraint, indeed lacks the empathy that constrains us all. Hitchcock points out that it isn't the beliefs alone which result in the murders- Rupert shares them- it is the fact that Brandon doesn't have any constraints upon himself, bound in with his own sovereign, proud ego he performs the actions his beliefs have pushed him towards, meeting no resistance they have led him on a road where Rupert would not go, a road to murder.

April 17, 2007

Good Blogging

This is a truly special example of what blogging can do at its best. It is possibly the best piece of blogging I have seen this year- go to it.

Lord Trimble joins the Conservatives

Lord Trimble has joined the Conservative Party. It is interesting that he has taken this step- partly because he argues that the process in Northern Ireland now has finished- definitely given that he has led one of the parties one would think that he has acheived everything he wants to acheive. Trimble though makes an additional point, which is that he would like a less 'introverted' politics in Northern Ireland. In that sense this strikes me as a positive step- the more that Northern Irish politics is about the NHS and education and all the other issues that we all have, the more that the situation there will improve. A negative thing for the Tories may be that if they are in government say in five years time, with a former Ulster Unionist leader in their ranks (though an accomodating one) it may be more difficult to pose as a disinterested outside facilitator rather than a participant in the discussions in Northern Ireland. It will be interesting to see whether Trimble ends up in Cameron government- one would imagine that as a man who probably won't lead the party (from the Lords it would be difficult) but is definitely a big political hitter and has a lot of administrative experience, he would be a suitable candidate for a cabinet posting of some kind We shall see what happens- but it is an intriguing development.

I have published a more developed version of this article here- the argument though is the same.

Empire and Memory: The Representation of the Roman Republic in Imperial culture


Alain Gowing's latest book presents what is a fascinating subject, the way that the early Roman Empire or Principate remembered the Roman Republic, investigating a large variety of sources from Augustan historians and poets like Livy and Ovid forward to the reign of Trajan, the letters of the younger Pliny and the dialogus of Tacitus, Gowing attempts to describe the historical process of what happened to the Republic under the Empire. In a separate last chapter he takes us through the ways that Imperial Rome changed not merely its literary representation of the Republic but also the fabric of the city- and through contrasting the forum of Augustus with that of Trajan he is able to show the change that he describes in his sources, taking place in brick and marble.

Gowing traces the way that in the early Principate the memory of the Republic was deeply political. Remembering the Republic was something disquieting and it had to be redescribed to make the new regime palatable. Thus one finds Roman historians looking at the Republic and finding in it the roots of the Principate. Thus one finds little mention of the civil war and the violent incidents at the end of the Republic whereas more attention is paid to the Republic's political triumphs and the ways that the Empire has succeeded in continuing them. We find therefore in the forum of Augustus, that Augustus is represented as the culmination of Republican history- down each side of the forum you would see statues of the heroes of the past (carefully selected) whose biographies have been pruned of civil strife and remind one of the march of Romanitas- Augustus's statue therefore is centrally placed reminding one that this is the supreme political embodiment of the long Republican tradition.

Gowing's central argument is that by the time of Trajan that had all changed. The memory of the Republic in the works of Pliny the Younger- of even of Seneca under Nero- had become less relevant to the present political situation. Historians like Tacitus didn't write about the Republic because they saw it as a different time whose rules could not neatly be applied to the present. Rather the history of the Republic is used for its ethical and not its political content. In Seneca's letters the great figures of the Republic inspire one to personal moderation not to political liberty- indeed Seneca explicitly denies that as an option- lauding not Cato the Younger's resistance to Caesar and Pompey but Scipio Africanus's resignation and retirement to his estates. For Pliny the Younger the history of the Republic is a resource to show up the dimensions of Trajan's imperial rule- Pliny argues that Trajan has bettered all of the previous heroes of the Republic and thus through his rule Roman civilisation is maintained. The world has changed- and nowhere is that change more manifest than in Trajan's forum- unlike Augustus's Trajan's forum includes no reference to an irrelevant Republican past, rather the statue of Trajan himself dominates and maintains the forum, and the Roman people.

Such acts of memory are interesting- as is the turn from the public to the private ethic. In part its fascinating to observe a process which we can see happening in other revolutions- resignation- the turning inward upon oneself- the life of scholarly or stoic abstraction from events that one can no longer effect is fascinating. Its fascinating to observe in Gowing's work the way that the authors of Rome had to accomodate the new political realities- Republicanism became not merely unfashionable but as irrelevant as a discussion of the Corn Laws is to modern Britain. Whether for good or ill, what Gowing seems to show is the way that history faded in Roman eyes from a political example, to a moral example. The way that Imperial thinking turned inward and the consequence of tyranny was a focus on the ethics of private resignation, rather than the politics of public engagement which a man like Cicero would have enjoined.

April 16, 2007

Indestructible Laptops


Alexander Rubio, a friend of mine, who is involved in the Bits of News site (in which I am also involved so that's your conflict of interest disclaimer there) has come up with a wonderful study from Sweden about which laptops are most disaster proof. It appears that if you should want to destroy a laptop, the Apple MacBook was the hardest model of the ones tested to completely wipe out. Having said that this sounds like the kind of science that would be fun- dropping laptops from high places with no concern about the cost to yourself in order to test them appeals to the boyishly destructive impulses in my psyche!

Carnivals

Just a note to suggest two carnivals to you- both of which linked to this blog this week but both of which contain interesting posts as well.

Ok to start with- its worth going over and looking at the Carnival against Sexual Violence which has many interesting posts, on the psychology of juries assessing attractive or unattractive victims of crime, on the recent Duke rape case and about all sorts of other matters.

The second carnival is a new one on the block- its the festival of good books- I've been wondering when a literary carnival would appear on the internet and this seems to be a first attempt so lets hope it continues and thrives.

Anyway I hope you find something in there to read- I definitely found things in both carnivals!

Defence Procurement

This is a good article on Labour Home by Simon Morley- it concerns Defence Procurement and is a review of a book written by a former naval officer, apart from some gratuitous swipes at Cameron (it is afterall on Labour Home) there are some interesting ideas there, which could be taken up by any or all parties. I have no expertise in the area so I'm going to demure from further comment because I have really no view on what he talks about- but there are interesting issues about how we spend the resources which we allocate to defence and they are something that I am interested if inexpert about.

April 15, 2007

Labrador Conservatism: A few clarifications and a few answers

Matt Sinclair has responded to my response to his article about Labrador Conservatism. Firstly Matt rightly rebukes me for using the wrong Harriet Harman article- he linked and criticised one on her blog, I assumed he was talking about a similar one published in the Guardian and went straight away and published my own article- such are the perils of blogging and I apologise to him for making the mistake.

Matt makes three interesting criticisms of my approach to what he has written, I want to answer all three- one at least is the result of my own slight linguistic confusion- but on all three I think Matt is actually wrong, that what he would proceed with doing would undermine the ends he wishes to acheive. That in short his policies would lead to a society which is in his own terms more not less moral than the society that we live in.

Going back to Matt's original article he argues for maintaining some sense of traditional morality in these terms:


However, a problem with this transmission of values is being identified by the new social conservatism which I discussed in my review of Dalrymple and Copperfield’s books. It is breaking down in large sections of the population and the costs are dire. Young women with multiple children by different partners searching in vain for a man who will prove responsible and often finding only the abusive. Huge numbers who believe that they are owed a living and the responsibility for looking after their children belongs to the state (which is not able to take their place properly).

I could have selected other passages of what he writes as well- but the point is that he doesn't argue for traditional marriage because it ipso facto is good, he argues for it because it promotes various social ends that he thinks are worth promoting. It is worth bearing this in mind as we go forward and I clarify some areas where my language didn't work- but I'm working on this basis- and if Matt cares to redefine his position later that is fine.

1. Matt criticises me for saying that his social conservatism is non-judgemental. Ok point taken: he is judging between the utility of various social forms, he is happy too, as am I, to condemn people who undermine responsibility which is his ultimate aim. But nota bene in his second article he doesn't tackle the hard case which is condemning a single parent who is bringing up their children responsibly, he tackles the soft case of condemning the single parent who is bringing up kids irresponsibly. Matt needs to clarify himself whether he condemns people who aren't married or condemns people who don't obey his criteria to be a good person (obviously marriage could be instrumental to that). What I meant by non-judgemental was a sense I still think that Matt's argument has- he doesn't judge marriage to be good, he judges it to be useful to promote for the acheivement of certain ends. It is more likely, he argues, that kids will be brought up well in a marriage than not- consequently marriage should be encouraged.

2. Matt secondly criticises my argument against fiscal incentives to marry and stay married. Ok lets be clear- the argument goes like this. Firstly I don't think that fiscal incentives will work- in my view people get married because they fall in love, they don't do their tax returns and decide to get dressed up and go to a church. They stay married because they are happy together and there are benefits to marriage, financially and emotionally which far outweigh any politically possible tax incentive. Secondly lets imagine a world in which they did get married for financial reasons- so lets imagine I am wrong and that the tax incentive works- then will they get married and encourage the kinds of behaviour Matt wants to encourage. Is it the word that encourages this behaviour? I don't think Matt would think that, its the behaviour inside the marriage which encourages responsibility amongst children and cohesion in society. Matt doesn't answer any of the questions about what such couples staying together for financial reasons- something he obviously beleives might happen- would produce in children. He doesn't see that for instance if he was right, women might stay in a marriage where they were being abused. The problem is you see, that if I am right, his tax policies are ineffective, but if I am wrong they positively harm the end he wishes to promote.

3. Matt makes a major critique of my arguments in his second piece when he says that

I've criticised Gracchi in another thread for treating politics as some kind of machine with policy as levers which you pull for certain effects. For neglecting the importance of the debate around values and ideals. Politics is bigger than policy and should be concerned with our collective values.

The problem with what Matt says here isn't that he is wrong but that he mistakes what is going on. Lets put it this way, values are important to what we do in politics- they are the end that we aim for- so we aim for say a free, responsible society full of happy people (I don't know if we can all accept that but lets say we do for the sake of argument) then the policies we use are the mechanisms to acheive that. Of course we might rule out some policies because we deem them to be immoral- killing all the irresponsible people for example- but fundamentally they are a route to get where we want to get, I see no problem with that argument. If your policies are, as I would argue the only policy Matt has declared, is counterproductive to the ends or the values that you wish to promote, then it is legitimate to query what you say.

There is though an underlying problem with all of Matt's argument and I wish to restate it here because its the key one I want him to answer. Does he beleive that marriage in itself is a moral institution? Does he beleive that those that don't get married but have kids (for any reason) are immoral? Or does he beleive that we should promote marriage because it promotes the kind of behaviour that we like in society? Is marriage an instrument for him or an end? Would he condemn a family where the parent wasn't married but was raising their kids responsibly- ie those kids were learning and living without state support in a positive way?

Matt has said in his piece that my mind is an academic one of fractal subtlety- and I appreciate the compliment and criticism- but equally it is true that we need to make our distinctions and our thoughts clear. Society is a complex thing- when we alter it with policies we have unintended consequences. The society that Matt and I would both like to see (I think there is far more agreement than the aggressive nature of these posts seem to suggest) is one in which there are a lot of individuals living independent and full lives, backed by stable relationships. The problem is that I don't think Matt's policies will get us there. The further issue is that I think that there is a confusion in Matt's thinking, there is on the one hand the idea that marriage helps people and therefore is good and on the other that marriage is good in itself. We need to be clear about what we are doing here and why we are doing it. The first argument gives us utilitarian justifications for marriage, it is a good because it makes more people happy, and can be justified statistically ergo there will be exceptions where it doesn't make people happy and its better for them not to be married, just not many exceptions. The second is an absolute judgement- anyone not married is living in sin and therefore must be put down.

The first argument calls for what I would call the facilitation of marriage- so all the measures I outlined below plus say paternal leave when kids are born etc.. But because the first argument is that marriage is a utilitarian good that promotes happiness in society and responsibility and lots of other things- then any measure to promote marriage must be justified insofar as it adheres to that higher end as well. Because I beleive that tax advantages won't help marriage much and will make life more difficult for those who aren't married and who are bringing up kids- as Chris Dillow outlines here tax incentives will be actively harmful and won't help people that aren't married. If you beleive though that marriage is just good- and the consequences for society of defending it don't matter, then you have a different position where you don't care about the policy implications of defences of marriage- so you would endorse that tax move because it protects marriage and protects people from sinning even if it makes them unhappy. That's the issue Matt- which is it?