We speak casually of writings having an energy of their own, or having energy pure and plain. If we mean only that they are boisterous, then little is said; but if we mean that they have the potential to create further order, then we are on the way. A volcano is remarkable, because it is dangerous. A candle is dangerous, because it makes books remarkable.

The idea of a written constitution for the United Kingdom is undoubtedly attractive, except for the fact that it must be written by someone. And that person will tend to embed their own interests and susceptibilities, the susceptibilities being particularly dangerous. A person’s interests are narrowly focused and perish with themselves, while their susceptibilities reflect the interests of those around them, and will persist because they are broadly distributed and thus deep-seated. Though not immutable these feelings are very likely to be enduring in the population over time. Indeed, the authorial susceptibilities distorting the composition of a written constitution would embed within the document precisely those problems arising from democracy that such a constitution is intended to guard against. 

In favour of a formal constitution some may point to the American constitution, but it is a false guide, since it is so exceptional. Firstly, the authors were, perhaps by chance, both gifted and learned. It would be difficult to locate such people today, let alone reach agreement to their selection and appointment to the constitutional committee.

Secondly, and far more importantly the authors of the Constitution of the United States were not susceptible to democratic pressure; they wrote in isolation, anticipating but not reacting to the reality of democracy.

It would be all but impossible to replicate that independence at the present time. The United Kingdom might be best advised, therefore, simply to adopt the American constitutional model, which after all, as Maine has shown – in Popular Government (1885) – is the British model as it once was, but greatly improved, and spared the many flaws that British democracy has imposed on it since the late eighteenth century.

Concern about the impact of technology on the value of human labour is nearly always posed as a recent phenomenon. – "Will a computer take your job?" But this is mistaken, since wealth has been created in a predominantly systemic, non-human, fashion for a very long time, increasingly so in the West from the 1200s onwards at the latest. Earlier societies will have seen the process start and stall, alongside sustained growth. Indeed, the declining value of human labour is closely related to the onset of sustained growth, and is probably part of that phenomenon. The writings of Marx, socialism generally, the socialist version of the labour theory of value, all are fighting a rearguard action.

As human labour becomes less and less important both individually and in aggregate to the creation of wealth, politics becomes correspondingly more important, and crucially so once the distribution of societal wealth cannot be left to an approximate determination according to apparent contribution (wages). With politics, modern, all-embracing, all-obsessing politics, the world returns to a status society. Liberalism, then, can be seen as a temporary arrangement appearing in the phase between the stabilization of sustained growth, the 1600s to 1700s in the Netherlands and Britain, and that point where the contribution of most individuals or all in aggregate drops below a level where it is no longer missed when absent, from 1750 onwards, and with increasing clarity from 1850 onwards.

This process is confused in detail by the fact that the nominal and apparent value of labour will be artificially preserved as the visible part of the fairing enclosing that societal mechanism where income is assigned by status. There is a great deal of lag, illusion, and momentum in this matter.

Blowing the smoke aside, we can see that the advent of extreme mechanisation is not a discontinuity precipitating a crisis in society. – It is the latest substantial increment in a process long established, and for which human societies already have remedies and modes of address.

Many, perhaps all of us, are prone to pretend that humans are more valuable to each other as sources of wealth than can easily be justified, this economic fiction being ceremonially useful in dressing an assignment of income that is actually determined quasi-administratively by status. Hardly any of us are net producers.

We can conclude, therefore, that nothing much will really change in the face of more computers and machines; new ways will found of pretending that each and every human contributes substantively and indispensably to the creation of wealth and is therefore rewarded proportionately on that ground. We are already pretending that humans matter; we will go on pretending, only adding more stage business, rhetoric and costume.

A disturbance to this pattern may occur when men and machines compete for resources. To a degree this happens now, in investment choices favouring "plant" over "parlours", but men are still, as far as I can tell, in charge of the allocation and do so to maximise returns to men in the long run. If machines start, perhaps they have already started, to influence allocation in order to maximise returns to machines not men, then something interesting and genuinely threatening to the human species will have happened. Like so many other important changes in systemic societal character, I am prepared to bet that this will creep up on us, if it happens at all.

The overextended state is weak. Small yet strong states and large yet weak ones are to be expected. Eighteenth and nineteenth Century Britain was small but strong. Behemoth states such as Imperial China, Mogul India, Austria-Hungary, Hitlerite Germany perhaps, the USSR eventually, the European Union maybe, all collapse under their own weight, the burden of the administration that claims it is needed to control the underlying population. Too much of the aggregate production is inwardly directed for consumption, leaving little over for outward utilisation and investment in the creation of further wealth.
Thus, the paradox of the United States of America is resolved. This state, the greatest of all behemoths, exhibits the strength of a small state on a gargantuan scale, and it has achieved this miracle because its population has hitherto declined to be controlled, and so reserves more of its capacity for external direction and reinvestment, while at the same time permitting its population the freedom to generate still greater wealth on which the state can draw.
It is not certain that this remarkable balance and consequent achievement can be maintained in the face of rising internal popular pressure for redistribution.

Institutional criticism is the aesthetic equivalent of the planned economy. Rather than leave populational cultural preferences and reactions to the aggregate of individual responses, with all the error and redundancy that this implies, we will have critical planners that teach the appropriate modes of engagement and, through penalising exams, the acceptable judgments.

This trend has deep roots, as do all inclinations to determine globally chaotic and locally complex phenomena according to a rationalized plan with a narrow intellectual base; but the emergence of the main phase at the end of the nineteenth century, and the beginning of the twentieth, is closely correlated with other similar movements in British thought. Academic literary criticism is about as old as fashionable socialism in Britain.

But planning has in any case a strong aesthetic element. Planners are guilty of that elementary error, the confusion of map and territory. They mistake the plan's informational purity for freedom from error and waste, not appreciating that this is authentic poverty and that opulent redundance is inherent in the real world, and in fact desirable, being part of the wealth of opportunity that mounts what defences can be brought against changing circumstances and emergency.

Furthermore, insofar as planners are able to enforce the plan's purity, they weaken that society since it will lack the variety of intellectual content – some of it error in the prevailing contexts – that makes it able to respond to the changes and the crises that emerge in spite of the plan. Mistakes can be saved by the passage of time, and become unexpectedly valuable.

The concept of the excluded context is also relevant here. In aesthetic situations we know that it is possible to guillotine off or edit out information that pollutes the tableau with ancestors or consequences, or with tediously clarifying detail. The framing of the picture, the temporal territory before and after the start and end of even the most spiritual of novels, the lost behavioural soil from which the psycho-plant grows and produces a lyric blossom, all these contribute to its qualities. Similarly, the 'plan' suffers from a tendency to presume a static, atemporal society, from which external shocks are excluded by simple neglect.

This suggestion, that economic planning has an aesthetic element, is a sharp edged blade, and not to be neglected due to an apparent or superficial distinction, namely that the dismal science is notably lacking in joy, though that is also true. All philosophic systems, and socio-economic planning is an attempt to apply a worldview like any systemic philosophy, have their aesthetic attractions, not least that they offer the reader the potential of taking an intellectual purchase on a world that otherwise slips through our nervous fingers.

Like a pure philosophical system, the plan must be couched at a level of abstraction so high that it can claim to universal descriptive, explanatory, and predictive power. It is this level of abstraction that renders aesthetics open to error, for some phenomena are so complex that abstract accounts are only very approximately true, however pleasing they may seem to be. And in the realm of economics this approximate nature is more or less fatal, since micro-economic phenomena are a fertile source of developments that may lead to systemwide transformations rendering the plan redundant.

The aesthetic attraction of fiction, that it presents depleted, informationally poor, but hyper-integrated networks of causal relations with little or no redundancy, is also true of socio-economic plans. Moreover, just as this scheme is shielded by arbitrary termination from the problem of infinite extension (no novel need or should have an end), all plans have a state in which no further change is deemed possible that is worthy of notice. History comes to an end but, paradoxically, they all live happily ever after.

Still, it should never be forgotten that novels are written for the satisfaction of those outside the story, for the author and the reader. Plans, too, are aesthetic in this respect; they serve the interests of those making the plans and of those observing them. They are a joy to behold, rich in links and satisfyingly comprehensible, unplagued by clutter, unknowns, unknowables, redundancy, and, most delightful of all, they have a sense of an ending, an arbitrary termination that is dressed as a necessary and inevitable stop. – Peace, stability, the just society. History comes to an end.

From my garden, I can hear the singers at the nearby music festival. As ever (and more clearly because the words – distracting words – are quite inaudible as distinct terms) the undertone, the over-current of the lyrics is a keening appeal for pity, on the exhibited ground of manifest suffering.

And in spite of the fact that young men seem to dominate and crowd that field, it is the female voice that characterises this genre. For the male voice is compelled to remould itself as feminine in order to qualify and compete.

Little else can be heard. Birdsong aside.

Is naturalistic fiction unavoidably sentimental?

Taking my definition of sentimentality, it seems that it must be. Fiction presents a narrative, and makes an implicit claim for significance beyond that which can be sustained with available evidence. This is always true; no plausible claim can be made for the significance of a fictional naturalistic narrative; it is by definition historically false, and as a whole has reference only to itself; and in so far as elements within it are natural it is redundant, since the world from which it selects is there for all to observe in the raw, and can be drawn on to form propositions that serve understanding of that world, rather than drawn on by an attention seeking writer to create a fiction for which claims of high significance are, absurdly, to be made.

Naturalistic fiction is irredeemable.

Humans are much interested by large animals and particularly by predators. We indulge, indeed, a sort of reverse sentimentality about such animals, gloating over their violent acts of capture, full of self-congratulation at our inevitably mixed feelings.

The focus seems to go well beyond that degree of attention which might be explained by the threat of such animals. Snakes and spiders present a real danger and we seem to be adapted to recoil from these creatures and think of them as little as we can, and when we do reflect on them to do so with contempt.

Is our interest in megafaunal predators adequately accounted for by a shallow, mentalising identification with the superior power? There is certainly something in the suspicion of wish fulfilment, but after all there is something to the depth of our positive feelings that goes, I think, well beyond the individual animal species concerned; what interests us at root is the ecosystem in which there are such large creatures, not just those creatures themselves. And even if we grant that part of our affection might be fantasy politics, in which "I" figure as King of the Jungle, this projective theatricalism is in itself uncompelling in strength, and in any case undermined by the fact that it is not just large predators that stimulate these thoughts. Indeed, it seems to be large organisms altogether, herbivores and even trees cause similar reactions in us. – Predators are a particular highlight in a general phenomenon. We tend towards a strongly positive, practically uncritical, estimation of large forms of life. Why should this be?

The answer, I suggest, is that the ecosystems in which large organisms are to be found are also favourable to human beings and offer a promising niche for invasion by our own reproduction. – Where there are large creatures, there must be rich resources to support them, rich resources that could be made available to our own selves. In other words, we hanker after environments with large creatures, including, and prominently, large predators, because they offer great opportunities for our own predation and expansion. If a system is capable of supporting an apex predator of great bulk, there is the possibility that we, personally, could be come that apex predator.

By contrast, systems with few or no large predators, few or no large organisms, are almost always very unpromising for the human organism.

Proof of this can be found in the fact that we are not particularly interested by the small hawks and small cats which are in some less productive areas the higher predators. Charming, but contemptibly so.

Vultures, and other carrion eaters, though not particularly large, may seem to be an interesting exception to this rule. These creatures tend to repel rather than exciting our imaginations. This, I suggest, is because larger carrion consumers are typical of desert situations where there are few larger predators and indeed very little life of any kind. Carrion is a feature of austere ecosystems where a fallen body is extremely visible, for lack of cover, and not quickly digested by smaller organisms. Such places are usually very hostile to human life.

What we require is a locale in which there are numerous organisms, many of them large, and, surprisingly, some of these predatorial. And finally, we would prefer this locale to be wild, for an ecosystem where other men are the apex predators is already a saturated niche.

State funding of poets, poetry, and the academic criticism of poetry should cease. The public standing of poetic effects would then subside to a more tolerable level. We should still probably have too many people calling themselves poets, and we would probably still think rather too much of their output, but these errors would be less harmful. Even popular song, the most dominant source of poetic effect in our time, and not in receipt of state funds, draws some considerable fuel from the status of literary poetry. It too would fade in the absence of high prestige being assigned to poetics through state support and through the social eminence of the academy and its offshoots. These are all highly desirable outcomes; the illusion of transcendence is a poison to mind, impairing the aggregate judgment of our democracies, not to mention many disadvantages felt only personally by those so deceived. A civilised amusement promoted beyond its merits becomes a public nuisance.

Why are the rich such patsies for utopian fantasies of all kinds, for snake oil in politics, engineering, and science? If there is a foolish, half-baked proposal to “change the world” why does it find so many supporters amongst the rich, and proportionately so few amongst the middle classes and the poor?

Because the rich believe the world to be infinitely plastic, and they believe this because that is the substance of their daily experience; the world bends to their will, food drops into their mouths on demand, they move across the surface of the earth with little resistance as if gravity and friction were all but completely absent. They want for nothing, and fear little.

The rest of us, by contrast, are pessimistic; we see the world as inflexible, because that is our experience. We move in a viscous and obstructive environment in which, like small flies in air, treacle to them, we must struggle to make progress. But like those flies, we are also supported by the stable conditions that impede us. Hence the paradox that the poor are often very conservative as well as bitterly realistic. What little advantage we have is threatened by change, for change is, in our experience, driven by others, frequently rich others, and for their own advantage not ours.