Timmy Elsewhere

In the Times this morning.

Regular readers will note some themes already given an airing here:

Have you got permission to read this?
Permits and licences are the enemy of freedom

There was a time when we inhabitants of this green and pleasant land were subjects of the monarch. Subjects who had to petition the monarch for permission to do whatever it was that we wanted to do. Then we chopped the head off one king, sent another packing and settled on the peculiarly English version of liberty.

We were still subjects but we no longer had to beg for the freedom to do something. As long as we obeyed a fairly simple set of rules (don’t murder, don’t forge the Ace of Spades) we were free by right to do as we wished.

We could devise games that we would become rather bad at after we had taught them to the world: but it was because we did not have to petition for the right to form a club that we could invent football or cricket. Coffee shops could grow into magazines (The Spectator) that are still with us, or insurance markets (Lloyd’s) that now dominate the globe. No one could tell us not to, no one could refuse us the necessary certificate because there was no such document and no one with the power to either offer it or deny it.

There are other forms of liberty, of course. It is undoubtedly liberating not to starve or to receive education as of right. But these do not preclude that earthier, more beef-and-bulldog, form: as long as we were not harming our neighbours, then we were free to do as we wished, to associate and commune as we wished.

From this liberty grew the little platoons that make society work: mutual, friendly and provident societies, sports clubs, the Women’s Institutes and Boy Scouts. Other than the heinous denial of the right to join trade unions we enjoyed near perfect freedom of association. We did not need to ask for permission or even inform the authorities of what we were doing. By contrast, even until the middle of the last century, our confrères across the Channel had to apply to Paris for permission to form a club of more than 25 Frenchmen.

In our ever so much better modern world we are no longer subjects: we are citizens. But now we must ask permission to do trivial things. No one may work with children without official approval. A bonfire cannot be lit without permission and a checklist. For two to sing folk songs in a pub requires a licence. A sports club must obey ’elf’n’safety clipboard wielders: no one but those approved, licensed, checked, granted permission by the State may do anything.

If you seek a reason for the decline of civil society, it is here. The attempt to regulate, to corrall, to approve, deprives us of that oxygen of liberty necessary to build a society. We may no longer be subjects, but we are becoming less free.

5 thoughts on “Timmy Elsewhere”

  1. A bonfire cannot be lit without permission and a checklist.

    Yes it can. I saw one on Saturday; it was completely legal, and featured no permission or checklist from anyone.

    For two to sing folk songs in a pub requires a licence.

    As it always has (well, since the Wine & Beerhouse Act 1869).

    A sports club must obey ’elf’n’safety clipboard wielders

    …due to the expansion in claims under tort law, not government regulation.

    no one but those approved, licensed, checked, granted permission by the State may do anything.

    …drastically fails to follow from your previous assertion.

  2. I am canadian… and perhaps not qualified to post a comment here….yet through the power of the internet… I will anyway!!!!

    Johnb… So glad you saw a bonfire on Saturday without a permit. You offer no proof of such a thing…. but of course we believe you. Anonymous posters on the internet would never lie to prove a point.

    It may even be true where you live. Timmy lives elsewhere apparently!! So who am I to judge.

    I live in a town that requires a fire permit. It’s $10 – cheap!! for a whole year!!! Until you read the fine print….

    I can have a fire IF:

    It is less than 30cm in diametre.

    If the wind is less than 6 kms per hour.

    If it is located less than 15 metres from a fence, outbuilding, the house or other structures.

    Basically… according to these rules…. I can’t have a frickin’ fire.

    Now luckily my neighbours and I are sensible sorts… and we do as we damn well please… using a bit of common sense so lacking in legislators these days. But the permit itself… is a perfect example of what Timmy was trying to prove.

    I won’t comment on the wine and beerhouse act of 1869 – except that modern copywright laws might… just MIGHT… maybe… have some sort of affect on it depending on what your definition of folk music might be. Of course… if your idea of a awesome Saturday night is heading out to the pub and hearing a rousing rendition of “ring around the rosey” is your idea of a good time…. then I’m really.. really.. sorry.

    Of course sports clubs and game clubs and organizations…. restaraunts… business of all sorts need to obey the health and safety clipboard weilders! The same ones that will shut you down for mouse droppings in the cellar willl fine you at home for using a bit of weed killer!!!

    Or so it is in Canada at least.

    But who is at fault here… those that make claims under the law? Sorry Johnb… Nope.

    IT IS THE LAW AND THE LAWMAKERS at fault. If tort reform is needed… then blame the goverment for not doing it – not those who take advantage of whatever loopholes exist.

    Freedom is being usurped… slowly. Even damn fast sometimes. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men (and women! yay! me!) to do nothing.

  3. The government does nothing about tort reform because the government is made up of lawyers. Asking them to rein in an out-of-control system is like asking them to cut their own throats.

  4. @sharkibark:

    1) I had no idea Canadian towns required fire permits; my commiserations. British ones don’t.

    2) The PRS thing is different – Tim’s referring to the fact that pubs in England that have live music performances require their alcohol license to also cover entertainment (which involves ticking a different box when you apply for your alcohol license).

    3) The point about tort law isn’t that the government is blameless – it’s that the rules haven’t changed since whatever time Tim thinks the British were free and everyone else was enslaved.

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