UKIP’s libertarianism

Right after the elections of 22 May 2014, in which UKIP made significant headway, I resumed catching up on Harvard’s course on justice. It is available to anyone who has access to the internet; the material usually stays online after a course has finished. (Register for EDX and then sign up for the course, even if it took place in the past.) It discusses various principles and moral ideas and their connections to the application of justice.

I was not highly aware of what UKIP is, other than that it is a nationalist party. I think that essentially, all parties promote the idea of sticking together, except that some apply it only to their own small circle and others to a much larger whole, sometimes including those with different views and different backgrounds.

I became curious.

Then I noticed something that seems peculiar to me. In its constitution, according to Wikipedia, UKIP describes itself as a democratic, libertarian party (Objective 2.5).

The word ‘democratic’ stands for ‘of or according to democracy’ and ‘supporting or constituting democracy’, according to my Oxford Reference Dictionary. It describes ‘democracy’ as ‘government by all the people, direct or representative’ and ‘a form of society ignoring hereditary class distinctions and tolerating minority views’.

But what does ‘libertarian’ mean? The word is not in my dictionary, but libertarianism and its ideas happen to be part of Harvard’s course on justice. I am sure that my current understanding of libertarianism is much too simple, but in spite of that, it puzzles me that UKIP calls itself libertarian and that its views have become so popular.

Libertarianism is a political philosophy, one of the theories of distributive justice. It is better than an outright feudal aristocracy, and it’s also better than utilitarianism (in which people can be used for the greater good, and are not so much seen as individuals to be treated with dignity and respect).

But libertarianism appears to accept that those who are born to wealthy families have advantages in society. Libertarianism does not appear to feel that any unfairness deserves measures that help those that are less well off and, for example, start life at a disadvantage for no other reason than that they were accidentally born in a relatively poor family and hence have fewer opportunities.

Libertarianism appears to accept that pupils who are from a wealthy family are much more likely to go to top colleges and universities and, for example, also that the wealthier people are, the better their health tends to be.
Economic diversity at top colleges in the US: On the left are the richest and on the right the poorest

The image on the right shows economic diversity at top colleges in the US. On the left are the richest and on the right the poorest. (I don’t know what year this refers to, but it was accurate a year ago.)

The situation won’t be vastly different in the UK, as the UK and the US have comparable degrees of inequality. To be specific, the UK has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the developed world.

I looked for UK data and found a 2009 study of diversity at British medical schools, which says, among other things: ‘The majority of students still come from professional and managerial backgrounds’ and ‘An important factor in the under-representation of other socio-economic groups seems to be their low rates of application – a phenomenon that is likely to be due to a complex combination of factors – and a consistently lower acceptance rate’.

If libertarianism has no problem with this, then similarly, libertarianism would also accept a situation in which justice naturally favours those from wealthier, more knowledgeable families as libertarianism does not support a fair equality of opportunity.

Libertarianism seems to shrug at unfairness.

That said, libertarianism comes in many varieties, and I don’t know which particular libertarian philosophy UKIP is founded on. It’s time to print UKIP’s constitution and read it thoroughly, to see if I can make more sense of this apparent riddle.

What is privacy?

Privacy appears to be a culturally defined concept.

If that is the case, how do you work these cultural aspects into the human right to privacy?

I wrote the above on 3 April 2014.

Today, I have a modern-day example of what I mean: the European Court of Justice’s ruling in a case against Google. The article discusses the difference between American and European views.

Such differences in “privacy” occur on smaller scales as well, for example between a small village and a large city.

Paperwork paperwork paperwork

Do you have a scanner?

documentsThen consider scanning every legal document you have – such as diplomas, rent agreements, birth certificates and insurance papers – and keeping those scans in a safe place online.

If you don’t have a scanner, think about making copies of all such documents, and keeping those copies in a large envelope at the house of a good friend.

That way, if a storm damages your roof and the resulting leak causes extensive water damage to your paperwork or any other kind of unplanned event occurs that means that you no longer have your documents, at least you will have copies of them.

It may take you a few hours to catch up right now, but it can save you a lot of time and effort later. And once you’ve done it, it is easy to keep up.

No pets allowed

When you’re renting a new home and are told that your pets are not a problem, check out the rent agreement you are asked to sign.

catIf the rent agreement says that you are not allowed to keep pets, strike out the “no pets allowed” bit and use a pen to write in the margin of the agreement that you do have pets.

Then put your signature right under the words that you’ve just written. Have the landlord or letting agent put their signature there too. Do this with both copies of the agreement (the one you will have and the one that your landlord or letting agent will have).

If you do do this and there are problems of any kind later, you can prove that the landlord or letting agent allowed you to have pets (because it was put down in writing and signed by both parties) if you need to.

When I rented my first home in the UK and flew in to sign the rent agreement, the letting agents didn’t like it when I scribbled in the margin that I had pets. Hey, otherwise, I would have signed something that I knew to be untrue! I assumed that the agents had trouble finding a new renter and didn’t want the landlord to know that they’d allowed a tenant to have pets. That wasn’t the case, as I later heard and it made me think.

A little honesty can go a long way.

If you approach another person with honesty, the chance that you’ll get honesty in return is much greater.


Why there are laws

Apparently, Plato once said “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”

Regardless of whether Plato did say this or not, certainly that first part is true and it’s been true for a long time. Laws lay down what most people think is the decent thing to do in a given situation, and what isn’t.

Sometimes laws are not clear enough because they contain ambiguities. Other times, they turn out not to include rules for every conceivable situation when an unexpected situation occurs. Laws can also be applied incorrectly and people can have different opinions about how to interpret something in the law.

In spite of all that, the bottom line remains the same. Good legislation prescribes what most of us agree on is the best thing to do in a given situation, when viewed from all sides (objectively).

Here are some simple examples.

A few weeks ago, I was walking down London Road on a Sunday evening when someone said “Good evening” to me from a window one story above street and then emptied a bucket of (presumably) water over my head, on purpose. I continued on my way as if nothing had happened, but showered and washed my hair at home, just in case.

When I was living in Southampton, I had water and sand thrown at me, and stones pelted at me in a targeted attack. (Elsewhere in the UK, two similar attacks claimed the lives of two Britons.) Two of the stones hit my head, hard, which forced me to stop working for a few days. In Southsea, I have also had pebbles thrown at me, and other things, though none of those hit me. So when people throw water over me, I am relieved that it is only water, but that does not mean that I like it. On the other hand, if it happens on a hot summer’s day, I may even appreciate it, provided I am not on my way to, say, a court hearing.

Yesterday, someone squirted a liquid on a woman’s head in Eastleigh when the woman was walking down an alleyway. The attacker came from behind. The liquid ran down her face and the woman was taken to Southampton General Hospital and treated for irritation to her skin and eyes. The used liquid was bleach.

helping handsSeveral strangers helped her; one of them was a former nurse. Apparently, the targeted woman could have lost her eyesight as a result of the attack, but the former nurse’s actions prevented that. The targeted woman may end up with some scarring on her skin.

In October last year, a business man in Lancashire filled a water pistol with his urine and squirted it over two women who were out shopping. The women were complete strangers, without any connection to the business man.

Thirty minutes ago, three men in Portsmouth’s North End looked out for a woman who appeared to have fallen at a bus stop and was bleeding from her head. One called an ambulance, the second tried to ensure that the woman was relatively alright and stayed alert, and the third man got something for her to rest her head on.

For most people, it is easy to decide which of the people in these examples were doing the decent thing and which ones were not. It is the ones that have trouble seeing it that the laws intend to protect us from. Because the fact that we all have rights also means that we all have duties.

Last month, a Court ordered the Lancashire business man to pay a small sum to each of two women, after the man pleaded guilty to two charges of common assault. The police are still looking for the person who targeted the woman in Eastleigh yesterday.

It can be hard to look at such events objectively when you are the passive subject.

In Amsterdam, I once got hit in the face really hard. By a snowball. I was on my bicycle, on my way to a friend. The snowball either had pieces of ice in it or pebbles, as it broke my skin. It caused a swelling.

Was this the intention of whoever threw that snowball at me? Likely not. The person probably didn’t even think about it and just threw it. There was no traffic, but what if I had fallen, perhaps in front of a car?

I can get really furious when something like this happens. That is likely because I got hit in the head by a brick once, and everyone present thought I was making a fuss until the blood came down my face. (Head wounds can bleed profusely without there being a serious injury.)

Now you will want to know who threw that brick, and why.

Thankfully, it was not done on purpose, so that is a good start. Could that person have foreseen the damage the brick might cause?

“Hell yeah!” I want to say angrily, because it was my head that got hit and because I had warned the other person to stop throwing bricks the way she was because I feared one was going to hit me.

Objectively, I have to concede that the kid who threw the bricks, one of my sisters, was likely much too young to assess the full possible impact of what she was doing. We were removing bricks from a garden path to make way for pavement tiles.

Something similar may apply to the bleach attack in Eastleigh. The culpable party may have been a youngster who had no idea of the possible consequences of his or her actions. That might make it a very different story than the vicious attack it seems at first sight.

When I was 9 or 10, I tickled my favourite teacher’s neck one day, standing behind her. It was meant well, pleasantly, because it was something we used to do in our family, a gesture of cherish. To my utter surprise, the teacher swirled around and slapped me in the face. I was stunned, but I learned an important lesson. What is pleasant or fun to one person can be something very different and even really threatening to another person.

That’s why the law treats under-aged people differently. Because they still have things to learn. Adults are supposed to know better. Thankfully, most adults do, and act accordingly.

Housing crisis hitting the UK

Last Friday, Metro reported that record numbers of tenant evictions are taking place. 47,220 eviction proceedings were started in the first three months of this year, Metro mentioned.

homeWhile rents continue to go up, mortgages are down, on the other hand, and an average monthly mortgage payment amount is currently lower than an average month of rent. Also, the number of repossessions because of mortgage arrears appears to have hit a low, by contrast.

There is another difference. Housing charity Shelter said that tenants can be faced with revenge evictions after they contact their landlord, their letting agent or their council about problems such as leaking roofs and mouldy walls. That’s abuse. If this is happening to you, contact your council’s tenancy relationships officer as well as Shelter for advice.

When you’re living in deplorable housing conditions, it becomes harder and harder to make a living and stay on your feet. Not only do housing problems have practical consequences that can take up a lot of time, they can also eat away at your health and peace of mind. Good landlords know that it is also in their interest to keep their property – your home – as well as you in good shape.