Friday, 9 August 2013

Jeremy Bentham

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) wrote a book about the flawed arguments used by parliamentarians to avoid doing anything new or practical (A Handbook of Political Fallacies, currently out of print). Wit Sydney Smith summarised it in one speech (The Noodle's Oration). It went something like this:

It never happened in the Good Old Days! They’re taking away Britain’s Ancient Freedoms! If this is such a good idea, why didn’t anybody think of it before? We need to prepare the ground carefully. We can’t just rush into things. We’ve got to wait until the time is right. I don’t think society is quite ready for this. It runs counter to the climate of opinion. We can’t make any sudden movements. It’s a mistake to make a complete break with the past. If we do this, society will be doomed and it'll mean anarchy, or at least an end to civilisation as we know it. There’s no point suggesting ideas that are just Utopian. It’ll never work in practice. You can’t change the world, but you can change yourself. Why not start there?

We're still doing it: This is change for change's sake! Just a modern fad! Phenomenon X has always been exactly as it is now. We should go back to the way X was originally. This isn't the right moment. Many academics, politicians, Lords and bishops are against it. This is a ridiculously futuristic and new-fangled idea. "Precaution only is requisite where danger is apprehended." (We mustn’t wrap our children in cotton wool.) Look what happened in Greece! Cutting benefits is actually doing people a kindness – giving them benefits only encourages dependency. "I hate innovation, but I love improvement." "I am an enemy to the corruption of government, but I defend its influence." (There are a few rotten apples in every barrel.) "I dread reform, but I dread it only when it is intemperate." (Radical changes need to be phased in gradually.) We need a change of culture, not excessive regulations. You can’t change attitudes by changing the law. It's the thin end of the wedge! It's a slippery slope! Next thing you know they'll be [insert silly and unlikely idea here]. We shouldn't be solving this problem, we should be solving this other, completely different problem. Why spend so much time on this when there are so many important things to discuss?

More silliness here, here, here.

1 comment:

  1. And I forgot "But what are you going to put in its place?"