why do people act too late to prevent disasters?

As Prof Nigel MacLennan, Leadership Coach and Investor keeps asking this question, (https://www.psychreg.org/climate-inertia-psychology-acting-too-late/) I have finally got around to answering it.

In the research for my latest book about Famine in the British empire, I discovered that many people affected were unwilling to change their diet, their work practices or their abode, even though any of these would have mitigated or even avoided the problem. I struggled to understand why this might be so, until I watched a TED talk in which the presenter mentioned that in any situation requiring change, only 7% of humans will adapt. In other words, although we often claim that human success (in population or biomass terms) is due to our adaptability, in fact it is only a small minority of humans who do adapt, the rest merely benefiting from their actions, or dying.

Most human behaviour is driven by genes, upbringing and peer pressure, not by rational decision-making. Freud was the first person to posit this as a kind of scientific theory, but it has since been proven. In practice, people start to carry out a new action and only later use their brains to justify their actions. Best-selling books pander to the idea of Homo sapiens, but there is just no evidence to support the idea that most humans are rational creatures. The vast majority will do what they have always done, and if they are going to change their behaviour, they will just follow the crowd. No amount of intelligent reasoning will make them adopt a course of action that is not approved of by their previous experience or by those around them.

Leaders in hierarchical organisations are even less likely to succeed by appealing to intellectual arguments. Hierarchical organisations encourage sycophancy, not open discussion and rational thought. Those highest in the structure are also those least likely to have the time to investigate any specific thing, and those least likely to have as advisors people who want the best for the planet, the human population or the organisation they work for – they are only interested in getting the promotion to the top job when the old codger hoofers it – and if they aren’t, if they have just one ounce of empathy for others, then they won’t get the promotion. 

In my research on human behaviour, I conclude that there is little that leaders can do to prevent disaster. There is no example of a successful empire over many years; they all succumb to disasters, almost always caused by ever-increasing taxation. Commercial enterprises are no different. Some exceptionally strong leaders may have sufficient knowledge or advice to adopt a good strategy, but they can rarely maintain their focus for long enough in a large organisation to keep it effective. Perhaps the only way is to avoid the democratic process, and maintain a ruthless focus on communicating the right message. Warren Buffet manages this as a majority shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway, but also because as a leader, he sends out only one message every year or two, and that is focused solely on the need to ensure perfect and ethical behaviour by every employee in every subsidiary. He is unlikely to be followed by a leader of equal stature or power.  Most leaders have some kind of ethical message, but they drown it in endless, contradictory and often pointless messages that absorb time, effort and resources to manage and dilute the important message to avoid the disaster.

Disasters may be disastrous for those directly involved, but the majority of people avoid such outcomes; risky behaviour is rarely punished. The RMS Titanic sank due to risky behaviour by the ship’s captain, and 1500+ died as a result. But most ships at that time sailed fast, far too fast to avoid the odd accident. Most of them survived, and their owners made more profit as a result, ran more services, and provided greater benefit to their customers. Human technological improvement has been a constant throughout recorded history, as have endless disasters, both natural and man-made. The Second World War probably counts as the greatest man-made disaster (so far), yet in a century that saw 100 Million dead from war, the human population grew by many billions.

Anthropogenic climate change may affect a small number of people (relative to the world’s population) negatively, but the most likely outcome is that a far greater number will benefit from it, and it is a fact that far more people are alive today directly due to the fossil fuels that are burnt for energy, converted into plastics and other materials, or into agricultural fertiliser, without which half the human population would die.

In any case, the 7% of the human species that are the most adaptable are also those most entrepreneurial, most willing to try something new, and highly suspicious about any attempt to restrict their behaviour. If climate catastrophe promoters really want the mass population to adopt different behaviours, they only need to promote them as new behaviours. The Tesla Plaid (0-60mph in under 2s) will convert more people to electric vehicles than banning petrol engined cars. The other 93% will simply follow the herd, mindlessly repeating what they have heard, four legs good, two legs bad. So, the critical job for leaders is to stimulate the 7%, and the 93% will follow.

Instead, most political or industrial leaders force the 93% to obey restrictive practices, and then charge the 7% with not obeying.

Unfortunately, human behaviour, especially that of those higher up the hierarchy, is aimed at enforcing acts of homage rather than encouraging any beneficial behaviour. These acts need to be as useless as possible to be acts of homage, rather as obeisance to a sovereign or a deity is a kind of ritual humiliation. As most humans share these traits, the most common examples are those which it is easiest to enforce. It wasn’t just the police that enforced stay-at-home orders and obligatory mask-wearing – neighbours and shopkeepers joined in, and even children ratted on their parents, just like their counterparts in Stalinist Russia. While Covid behaviours were easy to identify, and the deaths led to legal (often found later to be illegal) enforcement of restrictions, it is harder to see how climate traits can tap into the human psyche. Al Gore sets a fine example, flying in a private jet to Davos, where he stays in a superheated hotel. It is difficult for anyone to take his claims seriously.  Local and national governments will succeed in restricting driving speeds, banning certain kinds of engine, but only economic factors will affect human behaviour long-term and across the planet.

What will happen is a growth in greenwashing, with every polluting activity given a rationalisation to make it acceptable to the environmental elite. The worst disaster so far is the conversion of Drax, the Bond-villain-named worst polluter in Europe, from cheap but smoky Polish brown coal, to American wood pellets, even more polluting and now coming from the largest deforestation in the northern hemisphere. Marketing departments will spawn many more large and small examples of what will become a far greater industry than renewable energy, sustainable living or circular industry. Four legs good, two legs better.


Hardly a suitable subject for the festive season, but I have not announced a new publication for 18 months, and it is time to launch a new book. Just in time for Christmas, it is good to remember that some people, sometime, are not as fortunate.

Popularly associated with droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, and charitable ventures to alleviate the suffering, a detailed study of famine shows that famine is mainly the result of government policy and the most effective measure for mitigation once it starts is low-paid work on infrastructure.

Far from being the product of despotic governments, civil wars or natural disasters, famines have most recently occurred under British rule or administration, in countries lavishly supplied by Mother Nature with food.

This book focuses on the famines in Ireland, India and China at times when Britain controlled their tax administration. These three countries provided almost all the profit of the British empire in the 19th Century, yet little has been done to study the impact on those who contributed the most, those most vulnerable to nutritional stress. Apologists for the Empire, even at the time, obfuscated the causes and distributed blame.

To some extent, blaming the natives for their own predicament is reasonable; ascribing responsibility to the individual is the first step towards granting freedom. Britain today, and Europe more generally, is in a situation similar to that of India in 1700 and China in 1500. Once the most powerful, technologically advanced nations in the world, these great empires succumbed to a wave of foreign invasion, conquest and exploitation that resulted in the worst series of natural disasters ever seen.

This book, then, not only presents a historical perspective on one of humanity’s worst self-inflicted disasters, but also provides a warning to complacent citizens and profligate politicians.

Available in hardcover, paperback and ebook, on Amazon and all good bookshops.

WARG Book Review

Many thanks to Janet Backhouse, editor of the Winchester Archaeology and Local History society (WARG) newsletter, for an illuminating review of my book, Myth of England. WARG was set up to protect the ancient artefacts of Winchester’s long history from damage by developers, but has since evolved to become the local amateur history society. Much of the important action of English history took place around Winchester. The capital of the Wessex earls, who came to rule England, it was also the first capital for the Norman kings, who took over the private lands of the Wessex earls as their personal fief. William II Rufus set out from Winchester on his final journey to meet the sharp end of an arrow in the New Forest. King John also set out from Winchester to go to Runymede to sign the Magna Carta. Henry V collected his treasure here before setting out for France on his fateful attempt to marry a French girl. The bishop of Winchester was traditionally the second richest man in England, with a diocese that stretched from the Channel port at Southampton to Southwark on the South Bank of the Thames. Janet’s own vast knowledge of Winchester history added a curious rhyme about King John, which given that it was written by my namesake, A. A. Milne, I should have known, but didn’t.

Myth of England – Debunking the Brexit Bible – Post
Brexit Edition. Tony Milne 2020 pub Handmaid
Books ISBN-13:9798608243073 – Janet Backhouse

I met the author during a course on Human Evolution earlier this year, and was impressed by the depth of his contributions to the Forums and Blogs, where thoughts and opinions on multiple subjects were shared. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when he contacted me with a copy of this book. I am not in the habit of defacing books but I found so much I wished to revisit in this volume that it is littered with pink highlighting.

Whilst history has always been written by the victors, this is the story of a period of 500 years when Monarchs, mainly not English, inflicted swingeing taxation on the populace. At school, I was taught a great deal about the glories of Monarchs and battles won, but never about the infrastructure which supported these – often tyrants – and how they demanded money to fund their exploits, subsequently, often deliberately ruining their creditors to avoid honouring repayment agreements. With the Domesday Book auditing taxation and the Bayeux Tapestry (actually an embroidery probably worked in Canterbury) showing justification for taxation, the lower classes were in for a rough time. William saw
himself as the First King of England, Rex dei gratia, not by election.

We know of William ‘The Conqueror’ defeating King Harold but, not of the apparent enigma. Did you know he never insulted Harold’s memory, hailing him for his bravery? He also banned slavery and capital punishment in England, although castration was permitted, and slaves did not pay taxes anyway!! All this whilst taking from the poor English and giving to the rich Normans, creating an organized system of taxation.

William must also have seen the many advantages of keeping Winchester as the seat of government, building a Castle and Cathedral church. Meanwhile, the Bishop of Winchester levied taxation on merchants by locking the city gates, where he stationed his tax collectors during the sixteen days of St. Giles Fair, and also legislating that no private sales of goods were to be made within seven leagues of the city during that time.

Henry II decided the amount of an amercement (fine) not on the merit of the ‘crime’ but dependent on how much money he needed at the time. A.A. Milne tells us that ‘King John was not a good man – he had his little ways’, and his brother, Richard (The Lionheart) was not the movie hero depicted, but so aggressive and disliked, to the extent his brother offered a ransom, not to have him released from captivity, but to keep him there!

It was not until 1362, when the Statute of Pleading made English the official language for Parliament, that all nobles and the king were required to speak English well enough to conduct official business. It is thought that Henry IV (1367-1413) reigning from 1399, 333 years after the battle of Hastings, was the first English king to speak English as his first language.

Had I more space I would happily continue to add snippets of little known information, such as the precipitation of a supply chain crisis by Edward III, in requisitioning all ships, but I recommend you read it for yourselves.

The River of Gold

The current coronavirus panic is a good moment to remember that the human population has surpassed 7 Billion, and it keeps on rising.  Whatever the personal tragedies, the lockdown will probably increase the population further and faster.  While we cannot colonise the Moon or another planet, our twin hopes lie in global warming and improvements in trade.

Transport, trade and taxation are the themes of the book I am currently promoting, The River of Gold.  We can be sure of one thing, taxes will keep rising.

Available on Amazon worldwide, The River of Gold hit the top 20 historical-geography books on Amazon.com this week (No 17).  Do visit and share your reviews if you have any comment to make.

It also has its own video – check it out on YouTube and leave your comments and likes.

Remote working and online shopping

With everyone at home and restricted to online shopping for non-essentials, my books are selling better than ever.  Tax Man is in the top 30 books on evolution, although perhaps Gifts from the Gods might also be appropriate in the circumstances.  Kindle sales arer best, but Amazon’s ability to deliver paperbacks should not be forgotten.  My kettle broke and I had to buy a new one.  No shop is open for such essentials, but Amazon delivered within 24 hours.  It’s not surprising that they survive when many commercial dinosaurs are extinct, but then, if you read Tax Man, nothing will ever be a surprise again.

30 - 9 april 2020

Myth of England – post-Brexit edition

Brexit means Brexit, and it also means a fully up-to-date new edition of Myth of England, full of Boris’ buccaneering Britons and Anglian alliterative allusions.  Read in detail how the wicked Normans, French and the brussely Belgians colonised the brave Anglo-Saxons, only to find that they preferred living in England and stayed here.  Learn how later Englishmen remembered fondly their ancestors’ stories of women, food and warm weather, and decided to visit once again.  Seethe, as the evil Europeans banned our armies from entering without a Visa, and rejoice, when we knocked down their border barriers and hit the bars, the beaches and the bistros.  It’s all in here, the finest book to hit the bookshops this morning, in black and white, the way books used to be before MTV.


Amazon USA

but also available on all amazon websites, and all good bookshops.myth-of-england-front-cover-only

The Tax Man arrives !

If you were expecting the Tax Man on April 5th, then this is a different one.  The Tax Man is the book you have been waiting for, if only to finally shut me up going on about taxation all the time.  It’s a big book.  It covers our development from our first evolution to the complex societies we take for granted.  Available on Amazon, many other online and all fine book stores.  the_tax_man-final-cover-only