Identifying pre-terrorists

The tragedy that struck on Westminster Bridge two days ago not only affects three families who have lost their loved ones who were innocently going about their daily business, but was yet another indication that the issue of religious fanatics — Muslim in this case — are not yet being identified early enough in their lives to be medically treated or, at least, taken away from normal society before they become dangerous when adult.

It is said that there are about 2,500 extremist supporters of Islamic State out of a population of about 2.5 million immigrants in this country in the last 20 years.  But in order to keep close surveillance on the potentially unstable would require an enormous secret service.  Our own culture would be very unhappy about this.   It is only in childhood and adolescence that worrisome signals can be recognized easily.

If, for no other reason, additional amounts of expenditure should now be applied to nursery and junior education in order to afford many more teachers and experts.

Kitting-out new ideas

An innovator or just a highly curious research scientist needs other people if his idea is ever to see the light of day. He needs to belong to a close group of friends he can trust — and who trust him — and/or professional colleagues who have both sufficient managerial experience and further contacts with an investor or financial intermediaries such as banks and venture capitalists.

Best of all is if the original creator of a new idea makes direct contact with an investor and is thus already articulate enough in more financial language but also and, most importantly, with a good potential managerial team behind him — or her — eager to carry out the project.

We all have good ideas most days of the week but we invariably become distracted very quickly. That’s the way the brain works. It is always looking for new information. The ideas that actually persist in the brain and have support of what is described above and get to the market place must be fewer than one in a million.

Pushing human nature forward

If a scientific research group of, maybe, a dozen members, A to L, decides it badly needs three foreign researchers with special skills then, other things being equal — e.g. funding — then the leader, A, will invite them. Because such a research group has a precise objective then new members M, N and O will find their acceptable rank order fairly quickly.

Not so if, by any chance, the new group, A to O happen to live near one another and develop a rich social life between them. If A to L tend to come from one culture — the indigenous one — and if M to O from another then there are likely to be problems. This is due to the enormous number of differences in the way that each group expresses itself — trivially  or substantively.

There has been a cloudburst of major discoveries about human nature in the last few decades. The quicker these get into the curriculums of schools and universities the better.

The edgy Middle East

The Saudi Arabian royal family almost succeeded two years ago in bankrupting America’s nascent shale gas industry. It came very close. Over 2,000 shale wells were priced out of existence and only abut 500 were profitable. However, those that remained have been assiduously developing all sorts of improvements and, today, can make as much profit as those of two years ago.

From now on, the Permian Basin being as extensive as it is — occupying almost the total width of the country — and investment funds of the oil majors being as large as they are, then we can be certain that the Saudi Arabian oil and gas fields will not have the same price-setting powers that they once had — or that they thought they had. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is going to use its large national surplus in order to pay for the education and training of its young people — now clamouring for attention and relevant jobs.

All this is yet another busted spoke in the wheel that we call the Middle East. The whole region is edging towards some sort of catastrophe.

Saving the komodo . . . saving ourselves

Had the komodo dragon been another animal that peacefully grazed on the African savanah or the Asian steppes then it would undoubtedly have been extinguished — along with the woolly mammoth and many other species — by early man with his atlatl and, later, bow-and-arrow.

It is fortunate indeed that the komodo survived because it may be the answer to one of the most serious problems now facing man — the resistance of many bacteria, such as tuberculosis, to the limited range of anti-biotics that biologists have been able to develop so far. It now turns out that the bloodstream of the komodo is awash with venal bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, but these are kept to ultra-microscopic unharmful quantities by a supervisory body of at least 28 special peptides which act as if they were anti-biotics.

If one dragon bites another then the recipient can quickly make whatever special peptides it needs to counter the bacteria entering its blood-stream. However, if it bites a prey then the latter will either die almost instantly or within an hour or two, having no ability to resist the fast multiplying bacteria in its blood-stream.

We’ve saved this komodo dragon but have there been other ‘komodos’ we haven’t been able to — not realizing at the time of the benefits it might have had. We might never know.

A new species of higher intelligence?

In his comment to my blog about man dividing into two breeds, and possibly two species ultimately (“Will we become two species?” 26 February), Arthur Cordell reminds us of the brilliant science fiction writer, Kurt Vonnegut and his book, Player Piano written 50 years ago. It was then just a glimpse of an amazingly prescient mind. Today, we know from scientific research that it has happened in the past. There’s no reason why it might not happen again.

In fact, 50 years ago there were four different breeds of man — Homo erecctus, Home Neanderthalensis, Homo Denisova and Homo Sapiens. There is but one now but that would be able to divide into two different breeds if the environment threw in a new factor to which only one of the breeds could respond abundantly.

Today, when a highly complex economic system is overlaying the natural environment a new selective factor might be coming to the fore — high educability or intelligence. The signs are, in the advanced countries, that this is becoming important and a division is already occurring.

Observing the next era

So far man has lived through three grand eras — hunting, agriculture, metals-based industry. Each one has a characteristic social structure — small groups, massive pyramids with strong personal weaponry guarding the leader, dense urban cities congregated into nation-states much smaller than empires because they are becoming complex to govern.

There is much evidence and anecdotal comment that it’s now the turn of the nation-state to crumble. The most obvious evidence of a new social structure just dawning is that there is a fantastic burgeoning of specialist jobs, each with its own hierarchical power structure. Each silo has a leaders and a top small community of two or three or four and it is this group that seeks privileges from the government and the regulatory bodies of the day.

Due to increasingly intensive global business competition in the years to come, profits will tend to zero, thus normal saving will not be taking place. Investment in scientific research can only come from government taxation. Dispersal of funds to different projects is something that various scientific research bodies do already.

What else can one say about the new mainly-services era? Not a lot. Too much is still unrevealed. It’s a fascinating prospect for any younger reader.

Where terrorism is coming from

A recent detailed study reveals a significant difference in the causation of acts of terrorism between those immigrant Muslims — or sons of immigrants — when it is high among those who come from localities of high Muslim density or low from those whose families are well scattered among the host population. Birmingham, for example, gives rise to far more terrorist acts than Manchester. Even though the latter has a far higher population, its immigrant homes are far more widely distributed.

In the former case a prone individual is exploited by extremist networks and groups around him — as well as being trained and given resources — and taken onwards to feelings of greater intensity. In the latter case, without the ‘support’ from others, planned projects tend to falter along the way.

The report, appearing in this week’s Sunday Times, was written by David Anderson, until recently an independent reviewer of terrorist legislation. He covers almost 400 offences and 269 individual convictions from 1998 to 2016.

Bill Gates is wrong about taxing robots

When someone as rich and notable as Bill Gates makes a suggestion you assume that it has been well thought through and holds water. He’s made a suggestion on the robotics problem. If automation continues to displace normal human jobs, why not tax the robots — just like normal employees?

If, however, you propose taxing the robots sufficiently to cause the human jobs to be retained then your tax becomes a subsidy and a small number of workers benefit from higher wages. But the price of the product necessarily goes up.

When the price-hike subsequently cycles into the general economy it means that all customers are paying a little bit more for everything than they otherwise would have done. It’s so little that government politicians affect not to notice it. Nevertheless it means that the general standard of living of the population is diminished by a little bit.

Why large organisations always fail

The huge difference between the large business corporations of today — which effectively set the economic scene for the whole world — is that each of them only have one ambitious leaders at the top. Bearing in mind that every hunter-gatherer group depended on having at least one ambitious person per ten or twelve mature adults, then where are all the ambitious males in a modern corporation?

They are, of course, scattered about at all levels within a large corporation — indeed, in every very large organisation — for example, the UK civil service, or the National Health Service. All the ambitious males, frustrated by lack of sufficient routes to the very top do the next best thing and build up their own departments in order to gain personal power — and, of course, earnings.

Ever since the beginning of civilization abut 8,000 years ago its by-product, empires, have never lasted for long. Internal inefficiency grows, as does dissention between frustrated males. Their demise is inevitable. A warning sign to prime ministers and chief executives? Not that you’d notice so far.

Trapped populations

China and half-a-dozen of the most advanced countries of the world (England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and America) can make all — repeat, all — of the latest high-value status goods and services that the whole world — repeat, whole world — can afford.

This means that the remaining 180 countries will only be able to make reconstituted lower-value fashions and versions of these goods and services. The businesses of the 180 countries will have nothing to offer the businesses of the above first mentioned, but only for businesses and consumers in similarly inferior countries. In other words, the standard of living of the 180 countries will become trapped at various levels below — sometimes well below — those of the advanced countries.

This will apply for at least the next 150-200 years until the governments of the 180 countries adopt de-population policies seriously enough to compensate them for their poor economies

Sympatry all over again

After 40 years of a governmental one-child per family policy China is finding it difficult to raise the worker/retired person ratio in the population — and thus pay for the latter’s welfare and old age pension.

Here in Western Europe there’s been a similar vast decline in fertility even though it’s not governmentally imposed. It’s simply the fact that young adults’ wages have declined so much over the past 40 years that many would-be parents can’t even afford one child while they are saving for a deposit on a house. An average of just over two children per family — necessary for replenishment — has long gone in almost all countries in Europe. America is now just on the cusp of it now.

A counry’s population can go down, even to the point of extinction, or it can totally recover. Or — a big or — it can go two ways simultaneously — part of it disappearing, part of it growing again — as discussed in my recent blog (Will we become two species?” 26 February)

If we are to survive for a lot longer

It cannot be emphasised too much that modern man is as much a hunter-gatherer as he and his predecessors were 10,000 years ago, evolutionarily trimmed by the exigencies of living on the African savannah for millions of years beforehand.

The result of all that? Most anthropologists are fairly united in saying that a hunter-gatherer clan of more than 100 or 120 individuals didn’t exist without splitting into two smaller groups. At around that maximum figure, then there’d be about a dozen young and mature adult males in which a crisis would be building up as to who was to be the next leader. Around a successful leader, able to remain in power for more than a short time, then there would need to be a particularly loyal group of two or three supporters who would be guarding against any further take-over of the leadership.

And that this is precisely which we find in all organisations of the modern world, whether of governments, businesses, organised religions. charities, scientific research, sports and entertainments. It’s always the case that there is one leader only and that he or she is then supported by a small group of loyal followers who make sure that strategic decisions are conveyed decisively throughout their respective organisations.

All this is beyond coincidence. This is a subject that needs a great deal of further study if we are to survive a great deal longer.

. . . . On the other hand

Despite the claim made in my posting yesterday (“Will we become two species?”) an equally logical case can be made out that two co-existent populations can never occur, at least in an advanced country. This is that in times of increasing hardship for the majority and the poor, the number of voluntary charities increases substantially.

Most of these are faith-based. Though they ensure more than ever before that everybody who needs help is assessed at least once and, in practice, many times, they don’t have the effect of increasing worshiping congregations.

What it does mean, however, is that in the years to come any individual can be repeatedly identified as being what Victorians called a ‘deserving person’. Sooner or later every average-to-poor person is able to be helped — so long as he has the intelligence and social skills — to up through the pecking order to find his natural group for both work and relaxation.

Will we become two species?

For years I’ve also been writing that a serious social divide is taking place in the US and the UK — having very similar economies — but also in Germany, Holland, Belgium, and France. In today’s Sunday Times, concerning the US, Irwin Stelzer writes: “For every man between the ages of 25 and 55 that is counted among the unemployed, there are three who are neither working or looking for work.”

In short, in the most advanced countries there are gradual accumulations of so-called ‘jobs’ — as defined by economists — which have neither the financial incentive, skill-attractiveness nor social satisfactions that even the meanest jobs had recently as, say, 30 or 40 years ago. A cultural phase change is going on in which — at the top end — the number of specializations is growing, incomes are rising, and education requirements need to be higher than ever.

There is already something like a 10-points IQ divide between those in the social elite — about 15% of the population? — and the average of the remainder. This would not be so serious if there were a fair degree of intermixing of marriage — and subsequently of talented children — between the two halves. But this is not what happens.

Those who have interesting, well-paid jobs tend to meet similar partners at the elite universities. As for those who don’t make the grade in the superior part they will, of course, tend to drop out before they produce their children. Also rare, but running counterwise, are exceptionally talented young adults in the majority population becoming accepted by the elite and joining them for marriage and jobs — with bright children as a consequence.

In the advanced countries we might therefore be at the beginning of a widening division between two parts of the population. There is nothing unusual in this. It is called sympatry in biology and has already happened many times in man’s past. Is it happening again? Will we become two separate species living side by side or will the high profile part of the population ‘defeat’ the other in some way — in survival efficiency perhaps — it’s an intriguing question.

Profound changes to follow . . . as night follows day

I’ve written many times in the last few years that we haven’t had a uniquely new status consumer item in the last 50 years, the last one being colour television.  So far no-one has contradicted me.

There are two apparent exceptions at the present time.  One is the smartphone and the other is the electric automobile.  But neither of these are uniquely new, both being developments of items that were originally genuine signs of social status 100 years ago.  The latest versions confer brief status but this soon goes as sales of both rapidly expand.

The drone has been suggested.  But this is either an unmanned aerial vehicle used in warfare or a plaything  for boys and immature young men or a genuine production item as, say, Amazon wants to use them.  There’ll be hundreds, if not thousands, of similar innovative items in the decades and centuries to come.

The expiry of new status goods in the advanced countries speaks for a profound change in our economics and cultures in the years to come.

“He achieved the impossible during the election race . . . .

” . . . he may be doing it again.” So says a headline in my morning paper today. Nonsense! He may have been lucky with a fickle electorate. Trump will not be so lucky with his political advisors — no matter how extremist some of them are, or even more so, some of his specialist civil servants. He’ll not be allowed to be anywhere near as dangerous as some fear he might be.

If they decide to impeach him, as they were going to do in Nixon’s case, how will be react? There’s lots of fascinating events almost immediately ahead of us.

The why of social hierarchy

A recent essay discusses the reason why the pecking order is so interesting in our own and others’ lives.

The main point of social hierarchy in humans is why it should have ever evolved in the first place.  It is the social context in which the instinct of the female can operate when she wants a child.  She will always generally choose upwards towards the best males available for partnership with best abilities, intelligence and genetic fitness.  She will ignore the unfit and inept males, so that they will be unable to pass inferior genes onwards to children.

It is our quality control mechanism. Without our DNA would increasingly flounder in a morass of average abilities in in which a steadily growing number of harmful recessive genes and obfuscate the necessary genes for species survival.

The most permanent attribute of all

With his wild tongue, Trump has now gone far too far when describing judges as ‘so-called’ judges.   Judges don’t have to be the most honest people in the land nor the brightest nor the most knowledgeable about the law.  They happen to be the individuals given the responsibility of protecting the most precious attribute of any civilized culture — the permanency of a sense of justice.  When that is gone nothing remains.

Man’s prolific inventiveness

In the advanced countries we spend by far the most of our surplus income on ‘status’ goods (and services).  We gather these around us in order to show our friends, work colleagues, local neighbours and sometimes — if we are very rich — the public more generally, just where we think our social rank-order is, or ought to be.

As a simple check-list of what constitutes a status good rather than a necessity or a tool, does it satisfy the following criteria?

1. Originally, it was an exceedingly expensive hand-made unique item made only for the very rich;
2. It was later capable of being made in successive stages of automation until mass-producible and relatively cheap;
3. It is highly desired by individuals in all social ranks as a guide to show others during social interchange;
4. It has to be readily perceptible by others — visually, audibly and tactilily, particularly on first meeting.

We have run out of new status goods, but man’s prolific curiosity and inventiveness will no doubt continue  whenever it’s a case of “necessity is the mother of invention”.  Instances of these include environmental catastrophe, man-made mess, more energy-efficient infrastructure, and search for a better scientific hypothesis than the one in current use.

The unavoidable scenario

It is a deeply unfortunate fact of life that the medical knowledge gained in the last 250 years has also been the cause of the world population growing from about 1 billion people to about 8 billion as now — with a further 3 billion to come in the next 35 years as middle-aged poor people around the world proceed into old age.  Only then — around 2050 — is there likely to be a tailing off.

Already, half the population of the world is unable to eat an adequately nutritious diet.  This will become immensely more serious in the next 35 years as the middle-aged hump mentioned above grows older but also as 0.5 billion Chinese people and perhaps as many Indian proceed to a better proteinaceous diet.  This will require something like 10 times as much grain to be fed to farm animals and fish as now, so the total result will be a diminution of the present barely adequate diet of 0.5 billion people.

Ir will take at least 200 to 250 years for the world population and adequate food supply to get into pre-1750 balance again.  Not a single growth economist has yet produced a model to show how this scenario can be avoided.

Incalculable investing in the new era

About 30 years ago it suddenly became politically incorrect to use First, Second and Third World without somehow demeaning all those countries who were not Firsters.  Instead, we had “developed” and “developing”.  I’m sure others besides myself become confused sometimes.  Perhaps they ought to be typeset as “developed” and “developing“.

As a reminder, First World countries are the Seven which first set the industrial revolution going in the early decades of the 19th century — Britain, France, Belgium,  The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and the United States.  Between them they presently monopolize fundamental research across every scientific faculty that has yet been set up.

The Seven were joined in later decades by another seven — Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Israel, Sweden and Russia — which rapidly caught up by copying Western technology.  Between them all fourteen produce, and trade, high value goods and services almost exclusively with one another and have reached the highest levels of cultural pursuits.

Two World countries are those which might, in due course, break through into the fourteen above.  They are Brazil, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and about twelve former communist countries of eastern Europe.  These have yet to show that they are capable of developing scientific research of the relevant depth and width to be able to innovate the new goods and services of tomorrow’s economy and thus get to share the First World’s standard of living.

This still leaves about 170 countries which have registered as nations with the United Nations Organization.  These can only be regarded as Third World countries because they have little to offer besides food and other low value resources for exports to mainly First World countries .  They have no education system worth speaking of — never mind scientific research.  They have little by way of adequate government and most will be suffering one way or another under dictators.

There will be some, though, with superb ecologies that make them attractive to both scientists and holiday makers. Taking care in developing these for sophisticated tourism and saving their wild life  at the same time will probably become highly profitable to some countries and their people in decades to some. But their one and only master strategy is, of course, to get their populations down — to approaching the sizes they were about 250 years ago.

This is a totally different scenario from the one that most orthodox economists were assuming — if not promoting — in the years before the 2008 Crisis.  This is that the world economy could keep on growing for centuries to come.  But this will be impossible because it would need a parallel growth in the use of high intensive energy.  The world economy has to stabilize at some stage, and it may be that we are not far off that now.

And we are also entering a world of advanced service occupations in which heavy investments — in education and training — will have to be made.  The rub is that, unlike now, when reasonable calculations can be made of what the returns might be, this will not be possible in tomorrow’s world.

How virtuous are you?

What makes you what you are — and our success in life?

Let’s assume that the basic bedrock of success is intelligence.  If we ask psychologists what makes for intelligence there is general agreement that it’s 50% genetic and 50% environment.  We could now speculate a little by suggesting that 50% of the environment is due to the culture you absorbed from your parents, and 50% due to the external environment experienced after puberty.

Further, the latter could be due to physical circumstances — and contingent shocks — but also the friends we make and the socialization skills we acquire in the work and social groups we are comfortable with as we approach full adulthood at around the age of 30.

For most individuals with normal levels of testosterone their future lot is largely settled at around the age of 30 years.  For the more ambitious it depends on whether they have sufficient intelligence and ability to practise a myriad of new social skills in order to insinuate themselves into a higher social level.  More gratifyingly, members at a higher social level like what they see and offer a way into joining their group.

If we add up all the percentages for average individuals we have something like — 50% +25% +12.5% + 6.25% + 6.25%.  There’s not a lot of room there for individual decision-making is there?  If we do the same for an individual too ambitious to stay for long in any one adult group before moving upwards, we have — 50% +25% +12.5% + 6.25% + x% + y%, ‘x’ being environmental circumstances, ‘y’ being individual personality change and genuine free will when it comes to taking decisions. How virtuous are you?

When will they be sending for the men in white coats?

The American Constitution was the wisest political document of its time.  Having got rid of the British government in the 18th century, America rightly decided that the biggest problem of its time was that others would rush in to obtain absolute power.

It therefore decided that future potential power holders — the president, other elected politicians, sivil service, lawyers, military, business, church, trade unions, must be expunged permanently from the possibility of power or modifiable.  The three seen to be the safest to govern were the President, Congress and the Supreme Court.

Presidential decisions — except for declaration of war — can be modifiable by his immediate advisors, such as the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, Congress before being instituted, or, after the event, by Congress as a cricket back-stop. Or it can also be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as a boundary back-stop or by the shouts of the people in the streets outside the ground as an ultimate back-stop after a disastrous decision has been made.

Also, as an important point which I now haven’t the time to develop further but must be mentioned is that the highest grades of American graduates that are actively recruited by the potential power-holders and mentioned above should also, these days, include media journalism.  In condemning the media, as he has done, Trump confuses the gutter press with the quality press. In recent years, it has only been the quality press that has exposed high level corruption.

At least a dozen decisions by President Trump in his first week have greatly disturbed half of the more thoughtful Americans, as being against the whole style of American culture.    While Trump is intelligent and an expert is property transactions, he is a case of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.  He is already being talked about as “mad” by individuals who’ve been high in government.

The Republican Party, which must now take responsibility for allowing Trump to take their name while he was campaigning, will probably have to impeach Trump for incompetence before too long and sending for the white van.  At least a quarter, perhaps a half, of those who normally vote Democratic will support such a decision.  It seems to me that it’s just a question of when.

Solar cell plus direct electricity

Arthur Cordell writes as a Comment to my recent blog about driverless cars and all-electric ones:  “Goodbye fossil fuels, hello electric cars. Where will the electricity come from? From nuclear of course.”

Only France derives a substantial proportion of its non-transport energy needs from nuclear power, but now that the first generation of stations is experiencing an increasing number of problems, the government cannot be  confident about the reliabilitly of the next generation.

Meanwhile, world over-population, following present trends, is almost certain to start decreasing steeply in 100 to 150 years’ time. The bulk of electricity demand will be more than taken up by shale gas power stations — with half the production of CO2 from conventional fossil fuels.

Meanwhile also, the further development of solar cells, production of electricity in desert regions plus the use of direct current transmission lines — that is, not alternating current —  into the major cities will bring down the costs of energy use enormously.

Perhaps Yes to the Wall

It is sometimes said that walls are ineffective when preventing the entry of large numbers of desperate economic migrants. This isn’t so. The energy mustered by the home population when protecting their territory is more than fully equal to the task. In many species of animals and birds, opportunistic males, however powerful or desperate, seldom manage to evict a resident male from his own territory.

The EU wall, or fence, starting in the northernmost tip of Finland — to keep out migrants coming through Russia — and zig-zagging southwards through the Balkans until it reaches the Mediterranean, is a good example. Over the course of a year it is probably successful within a dozen or two individuals. The only weak spot in the EU border is the sea-borne route between Libya and Sicily used by young Africans. What are now modest numbers of them are now accumulating in Italy — and still being refused jobs in a country which is on the verge of a declining population!

The Mexico-Texas wall was partially built in President Bush’s time, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be finished off relatively quickly. Perhaps it ought to be now in order to assuage half the American electorate but mainly to allow Trump to save face and greatly modify many other of his hastily signed Executive Orders, many if which are abhorrent to any modern advanced civilization.

Hudson’s Theory of Economics in less than 300 words

The industrial revolution was a unique event taking place between about 1780 and 1980. The first five decades were driven by a new class of middle class entrepreneurs aspiring to become aristocrats, and subsequently by working class people aspiring to become the new middle class. By then also, traditional mechanical principles were giving way to new scientific discoveries that had proceeded since the times of Galileo (around 1600).

By 1980, the repertoire of status goods was exhausted and the world financial sector had become deeply complicated by the need to somehow keep high consumer demand growing at previous levels — around 3.5% per annum. It didn’t succeed and the monetary system blew up during 2007/8.

By 1980, the same seven countries that had initiated the industrial revolution — Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany and America — still dominated world trading in high value goods because they had a monopoly of what was by then many centres of fundamental scientific research. They still do so today, keeping one another supplied with the very latest improved version of each of the status goods in the standard repertoire.

The remaining countries of the world will industrialise as best they can, but will never be able to break into the high-value trading ring of the seven advanced countries. They will become trapped at standards of living only a little more advanced than where they are now unless massive injections of high-intensity energy can be added into the world economy. This is unlikely to say the least. Otherwise, the world economy, being a physical system, will accord to the basic laws of thermodynamics, including “the law of least effort”. Thus they’ll stay approximately at a level of where they are now. Most of the countries of the world can only aspire to a decent standard of living by reducing their populations.

The fate of two innovations

Two major innovations for future consumers have been much mentioned in the last few years. They are driverless automobiles and all-electric automobiles. However, the former has hardly been mentioned in the media in the more recent months. This is a surprise, considering that Google (Alphabet) are developing it, and I can only conclude that the original motivation behind it is declining now.

The all-electric automobile is entirely another matter. We read and see mention of this every day of the week, not merely as desirable but of the highest priority if we want to live in healthy cities and avoid breathing toxic fumes and particles. Several major manufacturers are already planning to make electric vehicles.

They’ll be expensive to start with, and batteries that are quick-chargeable — and reliable! — need a great deal more development yet, but the final days of petrol and diesel engines are already numbered, at least among the social elite in the cities they espouse for work and leisure.

A space very much to be watched

Netanyahu is nothing if not quick off the mark. No sooner had President Trump started to sign off some executive actions on Monday, overruling previous vetoes of Obama, then Israel decided to activate a plan strongly opposed by Obama — to build 566 houses in the West Bank on land sold to them by their Palestinian owners.

Yesterday, even more astonishingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yet more plans to build 2,500 settlements in west Jerusalem. Otherwise, without the triumphant ascent of Trump in America, these plans might not have seen the light of day for another ten or twenty years.

The Middle East is a powder keg. Could not these Israeli announcements be provocative? Start a war perhaps? It could be. The ramifications are well nigh unimaginable. A space very much to be watched from now onwards.

More transparency is required

The controversy over the failure of a Trident missile test last June is greater than might be imagined.  Did the government know the reason for the failure before the House of Commons decided a few days later on renewing funding for the system?

That’s serious enough, but there’s something far more problematical involved.  All computer systems and all electronic components are vulnerable to being degraded due to cosmic radiation from outer space or from radioactive bedrock underground.  Could this have affected the Trident system? It could well have been the case.

Everything we presently rely on by way of banking and financial systems will break down sooner or later due to radiation damage.  Indeed, it has been calculated that none of our computers will be operational well within 100 years.  Some fail-safe tandem systems will have to be developed before too long.

This is potentially going to require a great deal more transparency from government than this Trident incident.

The most puzzling US President — ever

Before today expires within half-an-hour or so I had better make mention of today’s inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of America.

I haven’t commented on him so far because it is impossible to assess just what changes he is going to be able to make — or try to. He has obviously not thought through any policy changes himself. We also have little idea about his background, personality and mental make-up. He’s contradicted almost every one of his most controversial statements within a day or two.

As far as I’m concerned, he’s the most puzzling US President — ever.

Mankind’s declining intelligence?

A recent article in ScienceAlert, “Natural selection is causing a decline in human ‘education genes’, say scientists”.

Their case is dubious on several grounds, the main one being that of the half-dozen genes that make the largest contribution to intelligence, each one of them only influence about 1% to the individual’s total IQ test score. Other gene variations [mutations] which have some small effects — positive or negative — on inherited intelligence are scattered around our DNA in their hundreds.

At present, we very likely are a little less intelligent than our neolithic forebears of 10,000 years ago because an accumulating backlog of harmful recessive genes has built up and has caused a slight dilution of intelligence-related genes.

The only way this will be reversed is when couples intending to have children will have their fertilised eggs examined as a matter of course as they do now in IVF clinics. Any fertilised eggs that that contain a duplicate example of a harmful recessive gene — one from each parent — can be removed from the possibility of re-implantation in the mother.

Another way of dealing with this is by the recently developed technique of gene editing. In this case a potentially harmful recessive gene can be removed entirely and a ‘standard gene’ substituted before re-implantation of the egg in the mother.

Both of the above solutions will be a long-haul solution to the problem in the population as a whole — but then it was long-haul aggregation of harmful recessive genes that caused it in the first place.

Let’s wait awhile

It is quite obvious to any objective observer that the global warming of the last 150 years or so has not had anywhere near the dire effects that have been forecasted by the IPCC.  For example, in the last 30 years, the melting of the Arctic sea ice during the summer has been confidently forecasted three times — and has not happened.

Yet we’ve also had several naturally warm periods during the 10,000 years since the retreat of the last Ice Age.  In the last, known as the Medieval Warm Period, at around 1300 there were Viking farms along the east cost of Greenland and development of agriculture in this country. In the previous warm period, when the Romans were here, we grew prodigious quantities of grapes.  Another previous one was in the Bronze Ages.

Global warming causes a great amount of stress, it’s true.  Species die out — but then new species arise, and some food species are giving us 15%% better crops. The signature areas of species move north — but then those of other species move south. Sea levels may rise by a metre or two — previously, mankind has had to deal with rises of 150 metres or so.

Euthanasia in tomorrow’s culture

The culture of populations in advanced countries is steadily proceeding in three stages towards euthanasia, the last stage being widely practised — if not universally — when we were hunter-gatherers.  As observed by anthropologists, the last stage — usually thoughtfully or kindly — inevitably taking place in a tribe when it could no longer afford continuing support of one of its old folk, either economically or emotionally.

In reverse, the third stage took place even with the consent of the candidate when he or she knew that, otherwise, there would be insufficient food to feed the latest baby.  If present-day knowledge of medical science proceeds as now and food is increasingly appropriated by the higher social levels then the middle and lower levels will begin practising full-scale euthanasia.  If indeed it has not already started quietly.

The preceding stage would have taken place in advanced society without the consent of the candidate, but whose personality had long since departed and totally unable to fend for himself or herself.  A great deal of this already goes on quietly in hospices and hospitals.  It was indeed formalised as the Liverpool Care Pathway. Although premature publicity has caused this to be withdrawn, it will return more widely in another form before too long.

The first stage — where we are now — is when the candidate, not others, initiates the process.  Some find willing helpers among the family or the local doctor and they set about it quietly, though some are more ostentatious by travelling to the Dignitas organisation Switzerland.

It is unfortunate that the Assisted Dying Act was thrown out of Parliament some weeks ago when it was known beforehand that there was a good majority of MPs in favour of it — as there is also in the electorate.  But its time will come in a few years’ — or even months’ — and the national culture will start changing quite rapidly.  Meanwhile, stages two and three will also be proceeding.  The prosperity of the last 80 years or so is now coming to an end, and it is the economics of the situation — the survivability of the population — that will determine the outcome.

Long live the Revolution!

Since the 2008 Crisis, and, in the seven years following it, the almost complete economic passivity of the dozen advanced countries of the world, several authors have come out with theories why and how this has happened.  My own hypothesis is that the industrial revolution in England was actually a unique occasion and has largely played put by the 1980s.  Nothing remotely like it was ever to be repeated.

But leaving my own view on one side, some think that the present lassitude is due to a drying up of creativity as a whole. In a recent op-ed,”Progress is bunk . . . “, the writer opines that nothing new is being created in modern times.  I dispute this.  The dearth of innovations since the 1980s is a falling off only of new status goods, not of everything else.

By “status goods” I mean the goods we buy at the highest price we can afford at the time in order to show our social status — homes, cars, furnishings, clothes, personal ornamentation, entertainment, etc — to our friends, colleagues, neighbous and anybody else we wish to impress.  All of us have a great need to show pretty well exactly where we are — or where we think we are! — in the pecking order.

As for all other innovations, creativity continues.  We can instance mental and physical labour-saving tools, more efficient infrastructure — particularly of energy — more pleasant environment, editing harmful genes, carbon compound equivalents to metal-based items, health care, breeding of exotic species, space travel.  All this follows from a continuing explosion of scientific research.

The Revolution is dead.  Long live the Revolution.

Finding a way forward

One of the consequences of the highly complex nation-states of the First World is the rise in the number of professional interest groups that are at once protective and equally desirous of advancing their influence at governmental level. At the same time, the number of political views is rising pari passu among the electorate.

Thus in the UK — keeping to the myth that we are a ‘united’ country — we have at least 10 distinctly different political groups already. The Tory party has two different types, the Labour party also — even more definitively — England has four — LibDems plus Ukip plus London and the provinces — Scotland three, Wales two, Northern Ireland three.

If we had proportional representation at election times we’ d have anything between 15 and 20 political parties after our votes. In Holland, a country very similar to us economically and culturally, there are 15 political parties at elections because they have proportional representation.

There are those who say that multi-party governments make for too much complexity. That/’s not a cogent argument — it is the normal exigensies of modern life which produces such a wide varietys of viewpoints in the population and indecisiveness at governmental level.

What we actually need are 10 to 20 — or more — governments, each dealing with one important area of policy-making and legislation. Like any multinational corporation, each of them can be layered into no more than four or five layers of expertise — and not well over 20 as in the present civil service.

The democratic nature of this set-up can be guaranteed for every member of the public by having the right to join at least one of the most basicgovernment groups, membership being maintained by a high standard of attendance. Periodically, each group can then elect a smaller number of their own to proceed to the next higher level where they may be joined by invited members of the civil service and by expert witnesses.

Two or three further elections and conjunctions of more and higher experts would take each government committee to the top for final legislation. Of course, in many cases, if not all of them, the findings of one government might have be merged into those of another. Thus a great deal of cross-governmental polities would have to be negotiated.

Difficult maybe, but not impossible. I commend this idea for your consideration.

David in Putinland

The latest “evidence” concerning Trump, which turns out to be stories rather than hard fact reminds me of a retired senior MI6 who spoke fleetingly on Newsnight some years ago who said: “By far the most of the guidance that the secret services present to prime ministers has been distilled from reading their [foreign country’s] press.”

Once again, I don’t want to sound as though I’m a Trump supporter — which I am not — but, as he said recently, the American CIA has completely overlooked the building up of so many serious events, that one has to be sceptical of whatever it produces, particularly when there’s a political agenda involved.

2016 — the start of the Biological Revolution

One day, some humans may have wings and fly in the air and other have gills and swim in the sea. This will be by means of gene-editing, a technque that has only been developed in the last ten years.  By this method a gene in your DNA might be identified and neatly extracted, or modified.  Perhaps also, a gene new to your DNA can be added.  When will flying or swimming humans be possible?  Who knows?   At present it certainly seems like hundreds of years away.

In the meantime, gene-editing will be used to delete or modify harmful recessive genes that gives you or your children an illness — or a propensity to it.  Thousands of such genetic diseases have already been identified with varying frequencies in the form of single copies in  individuals ranging from 1 in 20 to 1 in 100,000.  Such single copies are carried but don’t physically express themselves, only when they match up with an identical one in the other set of DNA contributed by the mother or father of the individual.

How accessible will gene-editing become?  Its benefits are so great that it will become rationed just as — if not very much more so — is already happening with present-day medical treatments. Just as aspiration for personal status incentivised the industrial revolution so will aspiration for personal good healtth incentivise the biological revolution.

A Tory prime minister introduces a Sharing Society

After being stabbed in the back in this week’s Economist for not having a strategy, Theresa May came out fighting today. In an article in the Daily Telegraph to be followed by a speech tomorrow in which she’ll go into details, May lays out a wide reform strategy aimed principally at the lives of the poor, and also those who are only just managing today. Overall, she calls it the Shared Society.

One must be forgiven for being a tad sceptical about a politician’s utterances, but she sound forceful enough and she repeats herself freqnently enough so as to leave no doubt about her sincerity.  We will await her speech with interest — and, of course, the follow-through.

Immediate retraction!

I need to retract my previous blog within hours of writing it.  I have just been listening on BBC Newsnight to the  retired head of the American CIA and also a professor ar one of the London universities who studies hacking.

The hacking emanates from a Russian Army unit containing not just hundreds, but thousands, of  specialists. It has been hacking into foreign political and diplomatic — inter alia — emails for 20 years with implicit permission from Putin — in this case explicitly so no doubt.

On Trump’s side for the moment

One doesn’t have to be a Trump supporter to believe him rather than CIA officials in suggesting that Russian hacking operations into Democratic Party emails, sanctioned by Putin,  swung the presidential election away from Hillary Clinton and towards Donald Trump.

Where’s the evidence?  Yes, there’s evidence that it was Russian hackers who breached the emails of senior Democratic campaigners.  Yes, it has had a controversial effect among US politicians and officials — albeit most of it after the election , not before it.  Yes, it has made the refined operations of the Democratic campaigners look sloppy.

But No, not one voter’s personal testimony has been produced to say that knowledge of the hack beforehand caused him or her to change his vote from the Democrat contender to the Republican.  No, no connection has been shown between the hackers and permission from Putin.

The incident would not have rated as controversial were it not for the increasingly degenerative state of the American political system — closely followed by that of the UK.

The real political power of the civil service

The resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers, the senior civil servant as the head of the Brexit negotiators, following his long email which said that our team doesn’t have a plan ready for March’s negotiations with the EU.

There’s no need to have one right now, with most of January and the whole of February remaining in which to look at all the information and putative arguments in the round.  Sir Ivan has actually let the British team down and given encouragement to the EU negotiators.

The incident has actually exposed two myths about the civil service.  One is that First Division civil servants are supposed to remain politically neutral.  Sir Ivan obviously wasn’t.  The other is that the civil service is supposed to remain in the background and let government ministers take the ‘credit’ for public discussion.  This incident shows that the (unelected) senior civil servant actually has more influence than any minister below prime minister.

The dual effect of pre-1914 Vienna

Atanu Dey has reprimanded me for not mentioning Vienna in my recent blog about the importance of the surrounding culture in fostering innovation (“How to be creative” 26 December).  Indeed !   As the imperial capital of the Habsburg Empire, it is not surprising that Vienna was a highly cosmopolitan city in which the native Austrians were joined with quite large contingents of Italians, Slovaks, Chechs, Hungarians, Moravians, Germans and Jews.  In the period from 1880 to the outbreak of World war One in 1914, Vienna turned out to be what was arguably the most creative city that has ever existed.

All of the different groups had arrived in Vienna at specific times for specific political or economic reasons and were not inclined to be pleasant to one another.  Their relationships were much as those of hunter-gatherer tribes towards their neighbours — extreme wariness at the best of times and downright venomous at their worst.

Only two things held the city in one piece.  One was the liberal-minded Emperor Franz Joseph and the other were the friendships of the intelligentsia of all the national groups as they met at afternoon tea parties, salons, university faculties, symposia and concerts.

With a few additions of my own, the list below has been taken from Democracy, the God that Failed (2001) by Hans-Herman Hoppe. There are at least half-a-dozen geniuses below and a goodly crop of Nobel prize winners.

Among philosophers:
Otto Neurath, Ludwig Boltzmann, Franz Brentano, Rudolph Camap, Edmund Husserl, Ernst Mach, Alexius Meinong, Karl Popper, Moritz Schlick, and Ludwig Wittgenstein;

Among mathematicians:
Kurt Godel, Hans Hahn, Karl Menger, and Richard von Mises ;

Among economists:
Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, Gottfried von Haberler, Friedrich A. von Hayek, Carl Menger, Fritz Machlup, Ludwig von Mises, Oskar Morgenstern, Joseph Schumpeter, and Friedrich von Wieser ;

Among psychologists:
Sharlotte Buehler, Richard Krafft-Ebbing, Rudolph von Jhering, Hans Kelsen, Anton Menger, and Lorenz von Stein, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Joseph Breuer, Karl Buhler, and Sigmund Freud;

Among lawyers and legal theorists:
Max Adler, Otto Bauer, Egon Friedell, Heinrich Friedjung,

Among historians and sociologists;
Paul Lazarsfeld, Gustav Ratzenhofer, and Alfred Schutz;

Among writers and literary critics:
Hermann Broch, Franz Grillparzer, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Karl Kraus, Fritz Mauthner, Robert Musil, Arthur Schnitzler, Georg Trakl, Otto Weininger, and Stefan Zweig;

Among artists and architects:
Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, and Egon Schiele, and Alban Berg;

Among composers:
Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner, Franz Lehar, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schonberg, Johann Strauss, Anton Webern, and Hugo Wolf

For the sake of historical balance it must be mentioned that, in the same period as the fecundity above, Vienna also gave birth to a right-wing anti-Semitic political party led by Georg Schoenerer.  This became a major influence in the minds of many, including a recent out-of-work immigrant to Vienna, Adolf Hitler.  In later years, anti Semitism became one of the basic creeds of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party which Hitler founded.  Most of those in the above list were Jews and escaped to live abroad, usually England and America, before certain death awaited them.

A redundant hypothesis

If global warming is due to the production of CO2 at power stations from the burning of coal and oil, it doesn’t really matter whether we continue with vain attempts to control it or not.

In 20 years’ time, once the Chinese have got their remaining 300 millions interior rural poor into factory jobs, world production of CO2 is highly likely to be heading downwards.

This will be hugely assisted by world-wide development of fracked shale gas.  The burning of shale gas produces only half the CO2 as coal or oil.  Contemporary with this is that world population will be starting to dip within the following 20 years.

A bad 2017 for humans

The bad news for humans is that fighting and warfare will not cease during 2017 — nor, probably, for decades afterwards.  The reason is that we are killers between cultures as much as we are peacemakers within them. The territorial imperative — the million year-olds instinct to protect a food getting region, and now jobs — is as string as ever.

Our recently developed gene-editing techniques cannot remove the ‘violent’ gene involved because it will be shared among many scores, perhaps hundreds, of other genes.  It’s a case of “be careful what you wish for” because it would introduce unknown complexities into behaviour of normal assertiveness.  The only way that fighting and warfare can be reduced is when politicians learn about human instincts from anthropologists and evolutionary biologists and start to re-organize the shape and size of our organisations.

Human nature can never be manipulated by genetic engineering but organisation can be by attending to their constitutions.  That, unfortunately, is still more than two or three generations away yet.

A good 2017 for elephants

The good news for 2017 is that the Chinese government is stopping the buying and selling of new ivory.  This will kill the poaching of African elephants for the sake of their tusks stone dead.  Otherwise, with the present and rising scale of shooting the species would have gone extinct within the next 10 to 15 years.

True, some would have survived in zoos and conservation areas in Europe but they would never have been able to go wild again in Africa.  This would have required knowing the few remaining sources of water during severe drought in regions of hundreds of square miles.  This was only known to grandmothers of herds and imparted to others only over lifetimes of experience.

A pragmatic currency

The practicality of a gold (or silver, or platinum) standard currency can be shown by a simple chain of reasoning.

When you receive a banknote in your hand from the bank that issued it you can’t be certain of its authenticity.  It may look or feel correct, but it still might be a well-made counterfeit.  The only reason why you don’t worry about it is that you know that the bank will have checked sufficiently through its banknotes already, looking for those with identical identification numbers from those originally printed.

Howwver, when your bank account receives an elecronic version of the banknote you cannot be certain of the background of the money because there is no identification number on each unit.  A fake digital pound or dollar wouldn’t show up by any sort of duplication test.  Once a fictive unit has been introduced as money into into any financial institution then it can live as normal life as any genuine digital ccurrency from then on.

Of the two types of currencies above, the banknote one is, let us say, 99% trustworthy while the digital one is somewhere between 0% and 99% trustworthy depending on the nature of the various owners before it gets to you .  What about a digital currency that’s guaranteed to be 100% trustworthy?  This claim is made by bitcoin — and several others of a similar type — until recently quite fashionable among some.

Bitcoin and other similar digital currencies not only contains an identification number but also its past history — called a blockchain — no matter how many transactions it’s been through since its formation.  This enables it to be used between individuals without any financial intermediaries such as banks  Thus, if he wants to, the user of a bitcoin could trace its use back to when and where it was originally created and thus its validity.

The problem with blockchains is that, in ime. each bitcoin accumulates a long back history.  Thus, it isnt scalable.  The more it’s used the more that electrical power is required in users’ computers or smartphones.  This make bitcoinage potentially more expensive than ‘normal’ digital money that we use now.  It also means that transactions become very slow.  Bitcoins turn out to have a high price for the gain in assurance against conterfeiting.

Another claimant for 100% trustworthyness is digital-gold.  Imagine an ingot of gold sitting in a bank vault.  Because it’s of precise weight then it represents a precise and equal number of digital currency units — in this case each with its own identification number — in the real world.  While the gold units remains static, each of its digital ones in partnership are buzzing about as they move from the ownership of one person to another.

Also, if a person wanted to know what surplus cash he had the bank could print a list for him of all his unts, and their identifcation numbers.  If he was a ‘doubting Thomas’ abut their validity he could also go the bank and ask to see all the ingots containing his wealth in the form of gold.  To be helpful, the bank could easily relocate all his identification numbers scattered about in different ingots into one ingot.  The owner could, in fact, take the ingot home with him if he wanted. There couldn’t be anything more secure and practical than that.

How to be creative

Looking at the evidence from history it is clear that intensely creative episodes have occurred in different countries all round the globe. What’s also clear is that once an episode is over — after two or three generations at the most — it never returns to that country again.

A fascinating feature of ideas that become immediately successful is that, although they can only occur in the mind of one person, he or she needs the support of a friendly group of supporters or investors in order that they see the light of day and are able to be radiated further into science and public consciousness.

Quite often a new idea arises in the mind of someone whom we will call a genius, with friends around whom we will call near-geniuses.  As a result of the intensity of discusssion around an original idea, it often happens that the near-geniuses develop ideas of their own in their particular spheres and acquire reputations of genius rank.  The original innovator is more of a ‘super-genius’.  Such individuals, such as Richard Feynman in the last cnetury, may cause several new groups to arise in the course of their lifetime and thus bring even more ideas into existence.

But why should creative episodes be such ephemeral events?  Why should they seem to occur only once in the lifetime of a civilization or ethnicity? We have a clue when we realize that almost all creative people come from middle-class or upper-class families.  They all have plenty of leisure time in order to incubate the mental ‘itch’ which later becomes the fully developed idea.  The families in which they were raised need to have already been well imbued with a relaxed way of life, liberal ideas  and open-mindedness.

It is this sort of culture that seems necessary.  In any regime since 8,000BC, such relaxed periods have been very infrequent for most of the populations of the world.  And until recently — up until about 1800 in England — their middle-classes and upper classes together would amount to nowhere near 1% at any one time.

However, when all is said and done about the creative hotspots of Europe, such as those surrounding Galileo, Copernicus, Bacon, etc in their early days, it doesn’t explain how these began to join together as a much more integrated movement in northern Europe among dozens of experimenters in several explicitly scientific new institutions, such as the Royal Socicty (1660).  The two ‘super-geniuses’ at work at that time were Leibnitz in Germany and Newton in England.

Furthermore, although hotspots may not have lasted more than a generation or so within any particular university or research institution, the whole movement, rather remarkably, has now retained momentum for about 12 generations. But — and this is the fascinating “but” — most of the serious scientific work is done in a relatively small path of countries along a coastal strip of northern Europe — Germany, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France and England — and not anywhere else in Europe.  So there’s something to be said, again, for the importance of a liberal culture.

The restoration of common law

Five hundred years ago, when the world’s economy first began to become global, there existed a 15,000 kilometre unbroken chain of law courts in many seaports situated on the the north-eastern coast of China down through south-east Asia, westwards through India and the Mediterranean, and north-westwards along the coastline of western Europe finally ending when it reached the Baltic.

These were the mercenary courts — the ones that applied justice between merchants — and were little noticed by the public or the powers-that-be in the uniquely different cultures — each with its own statutory laws — along the route.  They only chose to prosecute merchants and adjudicate between them on the evidence of bad debts or broken transactions, etc.

The judges — fellow merchants — had no powers of punishment such as goal, nor did they want them because they have a maintenance cost.  Any merchant found guilty would simply be ‘sent to Coventry’ — ignored — from then onwards.  They would be unable to operate as merchants from then onwards.  Ports and courts along the same stretch of coastline would hear the verdict first, but more distant ones in different cultures would also get to hear sooner or later by the usual grapevine.

The mercantile courts had no powers of arrest.  A plaintiff merchant would have to wait until he managed to catch an offending merchant in port and then apply to the local court for punishment or restitution in some form.  Thus a Swedish merchant could process a claim on a Chinese merchant — and show the evidence — in an Egyptian court.  If the offending merchant were found guilty then the news would spread along the chain in the same way as if the court had been held in either China or Sweden (probably in half the time, actually!).

The reason why the location of the court doesn’t matter much is that verdicts were arrived at on the basis of evidence and common sense, not the statutory law which governments use to control the general public.  For ‘common sense’ read common law or case law or equity law.  There are only two ports these days where common law is still practised.  These are London and New York.  There’s evidence that the use of common law is now growing again to its former importance.

Waiting for sense to dawn about racism

“The Church is institutionally racist” says thee Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a black, born and lived in Jamaica until she was 21.  “I do not believe that the Church recognises that we are there, she adds.  “With my hand on my heart, I do not believe that the Church recognises and embraces its minority ethnic membership.”

She ought to know — she’s priest vicar at Westminster Abbey and chaplain to the Queen, but also Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. She was speaking on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.  It’s understandable.  The racism label, if you want to use it, applies equally well to many large organisations, public or private and in many towns, cities and regions.

It’s because we all, visibly or not, live and work in tribes. protecting ourselves from any significant incursion from outsiders, whether of physical habits or cognitive beliefs. There is one exception to this in all cultures.  There are also much smaller groups to which we belong.

Some of these groups  — whether we’re consciously of them or not — contain no more than about a dozen mature adults who are comfortable with one another’s role.  Some of these groups are active during the working day and others in leisure time.  Any attempts of outsiders in any number to gain entrance will be rebuffed, either aggressively or deviously.  This is what modern liberals call racism, but it’s actually instinctive, or automatic, and applies in all cultures.

Individuals who wish to gain entrance as individuals to a group — usually to one higher in the social order — can do so by modelling themselves meticulously in the idiosyncracies and qualifications of the target group.  He then has a chance of being accepted with little pain, or even being offered an invitation. One such entrant per group in a given length of time would be plenty.

All this and a great deal more that’s relevant in thinking about racism is being revealed by evolutionary biology.  Most of the major breakthroughs have come since the Human Genome Project in 2000.  Another two or three decades to pass will be necessary before the lessons being learned will be filtering into the minds of governments and senior civil servants.