A Childish Analysis

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Normally I’m wary of importing market-esque thinking into non-commercial policy spheres, but in the case of the interminable ‘Why aren’t younger people more inclined to vote?’ debate I wish more thought were given to the simple economic possibility that if you want people to buy, you have to be selling things they want. (Even an ‘entrepreneur’ appears convinced of the opposite, that people ought to vote for platforms they disagree with in the hope that future platforms will get more attractive as their reward for participation. As though, if you wanted wine but nobody was selling it, you should start buying beer from the local brewery, in the hope that your patronage of its beer would encourage it to plant vineyards instead.)

Instead we seem to get a lot of sociological speculation, such as an article that tries to be insightful about the possibly shifting nature of adulthood in the modern world, but basically ends up insulting people by suggesting they’re just too immature to be interested in voting. In its analysis, many people now incur delays in entering ‘the world of work as full adults’ because of such childish matters as, er, ‘the painful search for jobs’. That the painful search for jobs might itself be a source of maturation, very much an adult’s problem, and every bit a reason to be interested in what political parties propose to do to the economy, gets hand-waved.

I wonder whether people of any generation have ever truly thought that they reached ‘full adulthood’ once it was bestowed upon them by an employer. (Maybe in the era of guilds and apprentices and journeymen...? Though child labour in agriculture and in factories and up chimneys went on rather later than that.) Much like all the rot about ‘digital natives’, this kind of analysis sounds novel and exciting (much more so than the thought that adult unemployment is still much the same phenomenon it was during the Great Depression), but all it really does is put a distorting filter between you and the people you’re trying to comprehend.

Space Storage Space

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The BBC recently ran a short article on the ethics of leaving stuff on the Moon. It draws mainly on environmental ethics and space law; not much on space heritage, although it does note the historical value of the remnants at the Apollo landing sites.

I wrote a piece on celestial objects as heritage for a forthcoming essay collection on space ethics, but I was writing more about making alterations to the objects (through mining them, say) than about storing or abandoning things on them. I’m not sure what I think about moral objections to considering the near-pristine, vacant lunar surface as ‘storage space’ instead of preserving its natural condition. I mean, if the comparison is with storing things in Earth’s environments...

Anyway: courtesy of the article’s link to NASA’s records of human artefacts on the moon, I’m pleased to learn that there are towels on the lunar surface, and that NASA knows where its towel is.

The Identity Angle

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Until now, you might have had the impression that identity politics was one of the leading obsessions of British political life. ‘Community leaders’, ‘ethnic arts’, multiculturalism versus integration... and of course the Saltire-waving crescendo of a nationalist campaign to chop off Scotland.

This week? Now that the discussion concerns English representation, I find myself reading weirdly abstract ideas about the administrative utility of regional ‘governance units’. Even people who are advocating political representation for England as a whole seem to be basically concerned with fairness (equal devolution); I’ve seen little that speaks of England as (like Scotland) a kingdom within the U.K. with a national culture and identity shared amongst its people. There seem to be more people fretting about ‘the sleeping giant of English nationalism’ than actually grappling with the real existence of the English nation; and that’s leading people to write silly things proposing ‘governance units’ that would ignore the connections people actually have, even if they were given names like Wessex and Mercia.

It’s not that I want this debate to be taken over by identity politicians. I’d just like to know where they’ve gone...

No Country for Young Men?

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Commentary on the Scottish bid to tear a country apart – that country, of course, being Scotland – is already settling down to some precriminations about the result, whatever it may turn out to be. Whatever happens, most of the comedy will surely come from Alex Salmond’s task of forging national unity; though if his promise of an eternally left-of-centre state comes true, then its (various and sometimes venerable) internal divisions might prove to be the only force countering its slide into complacency and the stagnation of a cosy Establishment.

The division in which I’m most interested, however, is generational. Previously we were hearing that the youngest voters were largely No-leaning, which makes easy sense. They have the longest to live after the oil runs out, however long that takes. Many of them have country-wide job searches in their near future, with which a narrowed country would hardly help. Nevertheless, recent polling suggests a lot of volatility. We may be about to find out how well a cry of ‘No more Tory governments!’ resonates with people who’ve never actually experienced a solely Tory government.

Last year I wrote about how strange furious clashes over Thatcher’s legacy can seem to someone whose detailed political memories begin with Blair. (You know: with that era when Clement Freud could be asked to speak for Just a Minute on the Scottish parliament, and remark that if you were to imagine a parliament with a Scottish Prime Minister, a Scottish Speaker, a Scottish Lord Chancellor and a Scotsman in charge of the Exchequer, that would of course be the English parliament.) So I wonder how moved Scotland's younger voters will be by the legacy of a dead woman from the past (and ‘younger’ in this context means anything up to something over thirty; unfortunately, the attempts I’ve seen at making sense of the polls have tended to talk about a 25–44 bracket).

I also wonder how things will play out socially if the future of Scotland is swung to Yes by people who will spend less time living with the result. The literature on intergenerational justice generally doesn’t deal with generational responsibility for breaking countries apart; and I really have no idea what an independent Scotland might make of itself in two or three decades’ time, if it proved to be ruled by a British-born generation of people who’d been largely opposed to Scotland’s ever existing in that cut-off form.

Spending Motivation

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Here’s a piece of guesswork about moral psychology. Suppose you are aware that purchasing antiquities without a clear provenance might result in money going to organisations like Hamas and ISIS/Islamic State. Suppose you've seen remarks like this one from Conflict Antiquities:

[P]otential buyers need to ask themselves one key question: ‘What are the chances that my money is going to buy bullets?’ (Or, as Paul Barford rephrased it, ‘what are the chances that they are not[?]’)

Wishing to do good rather than ill, you choose to spend your money elsewhere. And how do those wishing to do good in the world spend their money? One way, you might think, is to donate it as foreign aid. Except that you might have seen another recent blog post, this one from Civitas...

Leading development economist Paul Collier [...] finds that 40 per cent of African military spending is inadvertently funded by aid. Over 11 per cent of development aid “leaks into military budgets”. Because military expenditure by African governments is influenced by both aid and the level of military spending of neighbouring states, they conclude that “Where aid is common across a region, as in Africa” it “inadvertently has the effect of escalating a regional arms race… In Africa military spending is almost double its level in the absence of aid.” Britain’s foreign aid has exacerbated the instability politicians claimed it could solve.

If you were of a hard and cynical mind, you might reason like this: if I buy murkily sourced antiquities, I contribute to messing the world up but gain some antiquities for myself. If I try to make the world a better place through charity, I contribute to messing it up anyway (as I already do through my taxes), and gain nothing for myself. So trying to do the right thing here is futile and unprofitable.

I don’t know whether anyone does reason like that. Certainly it’s reasoning of doubtful soundness. Still, it reaffirms that the task of discouraging trade in dubious antiquities is one that isn’t enjoying the most helpful of wider contexts.