Martyn Skinner's poems praise beauty and transcendence but they neither embody the one nor offer intimations of the other; these matters are the subject of the poems, not part of their performance. This is a definite choice not an accidental failing, I think; but it may nonetheless be a disqualifying mistake.

The end of understanding in any field is always emptiness. At first this is an empirical observation; it is what we have seen so far. Then it becomes a principle; it is what we expect. Eventually, we achieve a state where there is no beckoning transcendence that we have not understood and rendered void; it is the blank that we know to extend on all hands as far as the writ of reason is believed to run.

The computer age has, accidentally, brought with it, concealed below decks, a renewed vitalist philosophy. The machine age, the late nineteenth century that is, thought of all organisms as at least analogous and frequently much more than merely analogous with mechanical devices like the typewriter, or the elevator. Full of moving parts these were nevertheless conceivable only as static objects, and most importantly they were conceivable only as visualized objects. When we visualize a machine it must be stable, arrested though it may be in some stage of its process or cycle, and we represent its dynamism as a sequence of such static images. One could not attribute a subjectivity to such things without considerable dishonesty.

The modern computer, however, contains almost no moving parts, yet is conceivable solely in terms of its inner processes, the currents in its channels. These processes are of the utmost abstraction, and barely visualizable (unless it is in terms of signs), so its essence is not something that can be depicted, but only entertained as a conceptual model, a chain of logical operations which we contemplate in time during processing, rather than taking in as a complete synchronic image. Indeed, when considering the operation of computers we are engaged in a task not at all unlike that of considering the subjectivity of other minds. Thus, it is with difficulty that we avoid attributing subjectivity to the microchip. The surprising consequence is that far from bringing us to the verge of a further reductionist outburst, computers have catalysed a massive and overwhelming revival of sentimentalist anthropomorphism.

Normative morals invariably, though perhaps not quite necessarily, come with normative epistemological accompaniments. I say not quite necessarily, since it is perhaps possible to imagine a morally normative yet epistemologically sceptical system. Such a system would make explicit the temporary, pragmatic aspect of the moral rules that it proposed. Whether it would truly be a normative system of morals rather than an objective description of the operation of other systems of morals is open to question. The fact that such a sceptical system has never appeared or at least survived long enough to form a societally universal and distinctly visible system gives one reason for thinking that something in this tentative normativity does not function in accordance with human requirements and that the system is therefore fragile.

For all practical, historical purposes, then, we observe that normative morals and epistemological freedom are incompatible, and that all moral systems insist on a normative epistemology to reinforce the integrity of their foundations and their protective shell (shields are as important as logical roots). In essence a set of instructions is placed in and around the moral framework forbidding observation or the interpretation of observations in specified areas of experience. This is part of the reason that status-shifted societies, which rely heavily on normative moral systems, are so hostile to science, as compared to contract-shifted societies.

Thus, there is an inevitable conflict between Morals and Science. Free observation undermines the normative epistemological foundations and punctures the defensive shell, and this conflict will continue as long as observation fails to detect any transcendent aspect to the universe that is supportive of the existing normative moral system or is capable of supporting a new moral system.

The field of action regarded as and eventually legally classified as criminal has been expanding for some time in Britain, though the history of this has yet to be written in detail and is poorly understood. Indeed, for most of the population, the facts of the matter are obscured by the prominent historical decriminalisation of acts such as the stealing of game animals or firewood, to say nothing of more recent and continuing sexual reforms. In spite of these highly salient and much publicised cases the net trend, both in numbers of regulations supported by criminal sanctions and in the proportion of the population potentially caught within their net, has undoubtedly been growing, and is now causing concern, and the creation of hate crimes of various kinds, for example, has become a topic of  comment in the media (Editorial, "The Creeping Criminalisation of Causing Offence", Spectator 27 February 2021).

I have myself recently published an extended and technical discussion of the expansive criminalisation of breaches of the regulations created under the aegis of the Companies Act of 2006, itself an important stage in this record of progressive criminalisation: John Constable, A Little Nudge with A Big Stick: Misreporting Energy and Emissions is now a Crime in the UK.

However, the public has only the faintest sense of the logic underlying such changes, and indeed most would assume that reassignment was grounded in an estimation of the severity of the offence, a thoroughly nebulous conception the weakness of which is revealed by the way that attempts to cast the matter in moral terms run either into verbal clumsiness, "wrongness", "worseness", "badness", or the obvious exaggeration and irrelevance of terms such as "evil" or "malicious".

As it happens, the rational machinery behind the movement of infractions from one category to another lies in a legal distinction that is for all its faults very clear: Civil law regulates conflicts between private interests, while the criminal law regulates conflicts between private and public interests, with public interests represented by Leviathan, by the Crown.

Thus, the creation of a criminal offence presumes and relies on the engagement of the public interest.

Consequently, it follows that in a society which is manifestly undergoing a pronounced collectivist shift, such as our own, it is inevitable or at least highly likely that there will be a corresponding expansion of criminal offences.

Taking an alternative analytic perspective, if there is an expansion in criminal offences one might infer a collectivist shift, if that were not obvious in other ways. One benefit of that taking that perspective is that alternative reasons for an expansion of criminal legislation suggest themselves. For example, subsections of the population may succeed in using political pressure to pass laws representing their own private interest as that of the public, and therefore securing criminal sanctions to hamper their competitors. Indeed, it is to be suspected that much asserted public interest is nothing of the kind, and that collectivist shifts are nearly always driven by an increase in the frequency with which private interests conflict. Such matters should, of course, be addressed by civil law, but due to the pressure and intensity of those private conflicts, and the low priority given to civil cases in a justice system that is already overloaded, it is very likely that individuals will, and not necessarily with any but good intentions, misrepresent their own interests as those of the public and to be policed as such.

That there is in reality a rising trend in conflicts of private interest in Britain remains to the demonstrated, but it seems very probable since the population is rising while the available economic niche, which consists of much more than mere land area, is not expanding as fast and may even be contracting. For evidence I would point to the increase in what used to be called moral exhibitionism and is now more accurately referred to as “virtue-signalling”, which is to say self-denial signalling, virtue having no other tenable definition but that of the rigorists. The fact that this ostensive puritanism is often without substance proves the point. We are, as a population, very concerned to create a moral atmosphere in which the free action of others is severely inhibited, yet these are rules to be applied with rigidity to our neighbours but great tenderness to ourselves.

As further confirmation, one might refer to cultural evidence. Zombie films present the surrounding population as not only absolutely hostile but also, because they are dead, free of that moral protection afforded by the sanctity of life. – Zombies can be destroyed with complete justification and without guilt. Still more prevalent and revealing is the demonisation of the individual as a figure of extreme and often ultimate evil, for which the Sith in Star Wars and Voldemort in Harry Potter are perhaps the key examples, though such things are commonplace.

Thus, pressure to increase the number of criminal offences may not represent, as some progressives would suppose, the result of a growing awareness of moral faults hitherto unrecognised, and a wider public interest so far unappreciated, of which the agitation around climate change would be a good example, but is rather an index of increasing societal fragmentation and interpersonal dissonance.

We find ourselves to be a puzzle, Pope's "riddle of the world". Why? Are human beings intrinsically more difficult to understand than any other kind of creature? Even allowing for the complexity of the human brain that seems unlikely; all vertebrates and perhaps all nervous systems are very improbable objects. The unflattering, rainy Thursday, explanation is just that because we are humans ourselves the criteria and the standards and thresholds that we apply to an account of human action are more demanding than those that we bring to bear on descriptions focused on other organisms. We commonly say of a draughtsman or a painter that his flowers and animals are not bad, but he seems to struggle with the human form. The plants and the animals might well put it the other way around.

Some otherwise perfectly decent and courageous people are fearful of admitting their desire for magic, so affect and perhaps even achieve conviction on the theological plane.

For example, Martyn Skinner, Ruth Pitter, and many others round and about the Inklings, to say nothing of the Inklings themselves, are simultaneously or at first drawn to those "thickets of dream" where I. A. Richards located the hiding place of Walter de la Mare, while also holding or at last arriving at orthodox Christianity.

They wanted to believe in faeries, but this was not socially respectable, and in any case while the powers of imps and sprites and such are most certainly unearthly and supernatural their benevolence is at best intermittent. God on the other hand could be plausibly imagined as not only supreme in power, but also as having a reliable and Fatherly warmth; and this assumption was approved by tradition and beyond reproach.

The proposition taken as a whole was and for many still is irresistible: one can believe in the biggest and best faerie of them all and no one will laugh.

We can all agree that governing elites sometimes, perhaps often, betray the interests of the wider population, and that this betrayal is the explanation for many if not all wars. However, this uncontroversial position has a logical entailment to which we give little nor no consideration, namely that since it is the elite that also negotiates the inter-state compromises that we call peace, either as an avoidance of war or an end to it, it is clear that some of declarations and preservations of peace are likely to be harmful to the interests of the people. If the governing classes favour themselves and sacrifice the ruled by starting wars, then they will do the same when bringing them to an end or preventing them.

We temporarily blind ourselves to this conclusion by hazily and insincerely asserting something that we do not actually believe, namely that wars are always wrong and harmful to the interests of the people. In fact, we all know that some wars have to be fought. Most, for example, would agree that Britain would have been wrong to sue for peace with the aggressive racial state of Germany in 1940.

However, if there are some wars which are in the interests of the people, and we can hardly deny this, then there must be some, perhaps many, instances of peace which are not. We find this proposition very hard to contemplate let alone accept, but only because we are horrified by the prospect of war.

Science and Ethics, often seem to clash. But this seems needless. Our ethical intuitions survive scientific criticism of the theologies in which they are often embedded, suggesting, correctly in my view, that these intuitions are independent of theologies, and derive from other sources. Ethical realists, even of a theological variety, accept this and suggest that our moral intuitions are intuitions of facts of the universe. But here science returns to the fray, and claims that they are facts of the universe only in the sense that they are intuitions of probable self-interest, and that our morals are evolved responses assisting in the gathering of resources and the securing of reproduction. In other words that they are an adaptation, an improbable state of matter in relation to the conditions for survival and reproduction and therefore conducive to survival and reproduction.

From this perspective it is reasonable to ask whether an ethical realist deserves the name. Such people say that they believe that our ethical intuitions of right and wrong represent facts of the universe; and they claim that these facts are more than parochial in character, that they transcend local circumstances and are true universally (that rape is wrong on Andromeda, for example). But they also claim, I think, that wrong and right are absolutely so, not merely local to the universe, and thus that they transcend the universe itself. But what is this claim about? Something wrapped around the universe, it seems. Which is impossible, except in a transcendentalist system.

Thus, I wonder if the moral sceptic, who thinks that moral intuitions are only pragmatic intuitions of probable self-interest, are actually better entitled to the term "realist". Those usually describing themselves as moral realists are more accurately called fantasists, since they claim that moral injunctions are absolutely true in a sense that requires the positing of a universe other than but including the one that we know, and for which there is no evidence. And they are worse than this since it is obvious that such people are only seeking to find external sanction for their own parochial realism.

No wonder, then, that this self-knowledge is unpopular, and indeed much resisted and with extravagant gestures of distaste and horror. The strength of that reaction suggests that something important is at stake, namely that awareness of the origins of moral intuitions makes them less effective as adaptations. Morality begins to break down without the external sanction of an inferred transcendent.

In that sense it seems that self-interest and science are indeed in conflict. Whatever the sages say, nosce teipsum is only a dubiously profitable maxim; self-interest and self-knowledge are incompatible.

When young, men are more anxious to be seen than understood, and in pursuit of visibility are happy to take credit for the vague and extraterritorial suggestions of rhyme.

As they age, men wish to set down their experienced vision in a precise and unmistakeable form, and as a result they feel rhyme as a constraint, and its chance illuminations as extraneous intrusions into their unique and personal insight. Blank verse, they believe, is a better instrument for the communication of their views.

Unfortunately, they are right; cool and pellucid, blank verse sets forth only what any educated and experienced man could say, and should only say in prose if at all.

Without comment, readers turn back to the work of those fervid younger men whose self-advertising use of metre results in a shimmering mirage of profound significance, a light that never was on sea or land or in any mind.