Wednesday, 14 January 2015

We're healthier, wealthier, safer and happier because of liberty. Let's not spoil it.


Baron Evans of Weardale used to be the head of MI5 which means that, when he expresses a view on security matters, journalists and broadcasters go into sombre, stern nodding-dog mode. So Evans gets away with saying this stuff unchallenged:

“Inadequate security will breed vulnerability and fear and that in turn will tend to limit people’s ability to contribute to civil society, will tend to provoke vigilantism and will tend to diminish people’s ability to exercise the very civil liberties and human rights that we wish to sustain.” 

My problem with this is that there is precisely zero evidence of 'vigilantism' in the UK. Nor is there any indication that - other than oddly in a little Pennine village - people are organising themselves in gangs to provide security or exact vengance.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not suggesting that we don't need the security services or security for that matter. Merely that the sort of language used by Evans is designed merely to frighten, to operationalise the H L Mencken definition of politics:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

I will however give Evans the benefit of some doubt - having spent a lifetime looking almost exclusively at the relatively small number of bad guys in the world, it's understandable that his mind is set to see those bad guys as the central problem facing democratic societies. Thus we get this observation from our retired spook:

...the world faced a build-up of trained terrorists not seen since al-Qaeda ran training camps in Afghanistan before 9/11. 
We are, of course, expected to take this at face value. But it really is rather meaningless. So al-Qaeda ran training camps in Afghanistan but Evans gives no indication of numbers or the operational capability of those terrorists being trained. The reality is, I suspect, that we're talking about at most a few thousand (most of whom are safely losing a war in Syria against other Muslims) and Evans' former colleagues know who nearly all of them are. But by referring to 9/11, Evans takes us to a dark moment in our history - the worst terrorist atrocity in recent times.

The events in Paris remind us that there are people who would tear down our freedom and destroy the peace in which we (most of the time) live our lives. But we should not allow such doomsayers as Evans with their jaundiced view of humanity to set the security agenda. The truth is that, if we get vigilantism, it will be because people like Evans scared the pants off us not because of anything al-Qaeda, ISIS or Anjem Choudhary do or say.

What Evans should be doing is trumpeting the success of peace and freedom - that the world is now a safer place than it has ever been:

...while there's still plenty of war, hunger, sickness, and poverty in the world, things are much better than what they were only a few decades ago—not to talk about centuries ago. We are still far from utopia, but the data is stubborn: We are getting there. Fast.
However you assess the evidence and wherever you look people are safer, healthier, wealthier and happier (at least on average). The cynic would suggest that the likes of Lord Evans are conjuring up those hobgoblins so as to keep the security business going whereas others point to more powers for such folk as part of the reason. They are wrong, the main reason for the world being better is that more people have more freedom. It shouldn't be a surprise that the least safe, healthy, wealthy and happy places are places where security is absolute and government dominates everything.

And when we look at the Muslim world, we need to stop looking at it merely as the breeding ground for murderers like those in Paris but as a place where millions of people discovered they have a voice and are beginning to demand it's heard - by the military and traditionalist leaders as well as by the upholders of religious orthodoxy. The Arab spring may have turned into a pretty lousy summer but the new leaders of these places (as well as those in other places not touched by that spring) cannot put the voices back into a box.

Indeed that hope is there still. Here's Abdelbaseer A. Mohamed talking about his home city of Cairo:

So what to do? Integrate different kinds of people with each other by removing barriers and improving connectivity. By reintegrating street networks we can create valuable urban space. Arguably, allowing people to meet and interact in public urban spaces won’t threaten the security of the country and won’t corrupt morals as old players may fear it will. Rather, it might bring tolerance and promote reconciliation and reduce crime rates. Additionally, it will help in building trust between the regime and people.

My article is a call for a new strategy in which ‘anti-territorial’ programmes that are designed to break down boundaries between communities by encouraging social mix through increasing people’s freedom to construct bridges to other communities and overcome their isolation. In this respect, a new borderless Cairo might foster economic integration and urban competitiveness. I think that is the first step in security sector reform, otherwise this open plan jail will collapse and the prisoners of Cairo will be released.

The last open question that I will leave for the future to answer is: how long will the division between rulers and ruled remain?

This is the antithesis of the position that Evans and the security experts adopt. They want to manage - limit even - interaction, to ban certain activities, to control speech and to determine the sorts of fun that are permissable. Such people are brothers to both the fussbuckets and to the religious absolutists, to people who believe absolutely how people should behave in public and who use arguments about health, wealth, safety and happiness to promote their authoritarian agenda.

Forgetting of course that the thing making us healthier, wealthier, happier and safer isn't government but liberty. It's free trade, free enterprise, free assembly and above all free speech not armed policemen and snooping spies that makes for a healthier, wealthier, happier and, yes Lord Evans, safer world.


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