Violent by nature
Sir: Amongst the sociological why-oh-why-ery trying to explain the motivation of the rioters, the simplest explanation has been overlooked: human nature is utterly violent and wicked. Conservatism — the heir of Christianity in this respect — realises this. Recent work on violence in hunter-gatherer societies has demolished sociological explanations of violence: it is not society that makes people violent but our nature, evolved over the last 100,000 years. Forty per cent of Rousseau’s ‘noble savages’ in primitive hunter-gatherer societies die at the hands of another. We are all descended from successful rapists. Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate — an attack on the idea that human nature is socially constructed — puts it very well: ‘As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8.00 a.m. on 17 October 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11.20 a.m. the first bank was robbed. By noon most downtown stores had closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that competed with them, a rooftop sniper killed a police officer, a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, 12 fires had been set, 40 carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order. This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters…’
Old Alresford, Hampshire
Sir: In his article of 6 August, James Delingpole asserted that I had an income of £3.5 million a year from wind turbines on my land. I do not own the turbines on Bagmoor Farm, as they are owned by a wind farm consortium. The estate only receives a modest rent amounting to less than one tenth of the figure mentioned by James Delingpole. The income generated by the rental has enabled us to turn some redundant farm buildings into a flourishing riding school and helped to rebuild our cricket pavilion, which had been burned down by vandals. I quite realise that many people do not like wind turbines, but the planning permission for the turbines at Bagmoor had very little local opposition and was passed by North Lincolnshire’s planning committee without recourse to a planning enquiry. Mr Delingpole could have found this out from me if he’d had the courtesy to ring my office, but he did not.
Sir Reginald Sheffield, Bt., DL
Sir: James Delingpole is quite right. Many are clamouring for electricity from wind turbines. Let them contribute to buying/renting of land, pay the enhanced electricity cost, and do without when the wind does not blow. The rest of us could then stop subsidising these useless monstrosities.
John N.H. Smith
Sir: Commenting on the current ice retreat in the Arctic, described by some as the ‘greatest on record’, Matt Ridley (‘The polar bear problem’, 13 August) makes significant points about climate change. Records began only in 1979; we know that the Arctic has experienced warmer periods over the past 10,000 years; and as recently as ‘the 1920s and 1930s, there were probably still more open seasons’. I can confirm this from my own research for my book The Watkins Boys, published last year, about a group of remarkable men who went exploring in Greenland in the early 1930s. Based at Ammassalik on the east coast, they experienced no pack ice between July and November. The Eskimos said this had been the situation for the previous 20 or so years, but that at the turn of the century the coast had never been free of ice in summer. Temperatures dropped again in 1934, when Martin Lindsay made his west-east crossing of Greenland, and his boat got away from the coast in early September, only hours before the pack ice closed in for the winter. The following year my uncle was trapped in pack ice for several days off the east Greenland coast in late July. These summer conditions would continue for some years.
Given these fluctuations in the recent as well as the distant past, could it be that the Arctic ice is following the precept: reculer pour mieux sauter?
Sorry to have shocked
Sir: I am sorry to have shocked Peregrine Worsthorne with three pages of baroque filth in my novel King of the Badgers, but it is surprising to read that the brief gay orgy takes place in ‘a Cornish village in the house of two antique dealers’. First, I would be dead in a ditch before I contemplated setting a novel in a Cornish village — mine takes place in Devon. Secondly, I know that gay men in novels almost invariably are antique dealers, but it was one of the novel’s quotidian comic effects that this pair are a lawyer and a cheesemonger. Indeed, one of my gay characters so far forgets himself as actually to open a garage and mend cars for a living.
Up for grabs
Sir: I was pleased that Peregrine Worsthorne mentioned my book about the Russell Baby case of the 1920s in his diary (13 August); but he jumps the gun in suggesting that it is ‘about to be published’. He has slightly misinterpreted what I told him — that I am ‘putting the finishing touches’ to the book. I have not yet secured a publisher, though I am confident I shall do so, as the story has everything — sex, high society and an art deco setting. The late Lord Ampthill — the ‘Baby’ of 1921 whose paternity was disputed, gave me every help, with access to private letters, court transcripts and photographs. Publishers, please form an orderly queue…
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated August 20, 2011