We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Imagine telling somebody twenty years ago that by 2007, it would be illegal to smoke in a pub or bus shelter or your own vehicle or that there would be £80 fines for dropping cigarette butts, or that the words “tequila slammer” would be illegal or the government would mandate what angle a drinker’s head in an advertisement may be tipped at, or that it would be illegal to criticise religions or homosexuality, or rewire your own house, or that having sex after a few drinks would be classed as rape or that the State would be confiscating children for being overweight. Imagine telling them the government would be contemplating ration cards for fuel and even foods, that every citizen would be required to carry an ID card filled with private information which could be withdrawn at the state’s whim. They’d have thought you a paranoid loon.

– Samizdata commenter Ian B. We do not have to imagine these things any more, alas. The only problem with his quote is that he omitted to mention assault on jury trials, Habeas Corpus, double-jeopardy…

83 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • It is illegal to smoke in a car? And what is the problem with tequila slammer? And the drinker’s head in an ad? So many questions, so little time….

  • countingcats

    Imagine telling them the government would be contemplating ration cards for fuel and even foods

    And there isn’t even a shortage of these things. The only reason for this is that the state is being captured by environmental hysterics.

    At the risk of repeating the message beaten out here daily – these people are lunatics, absolutely barking moonbats.

    And yeah, what is wrong with “tequila slammer”?

  • countingcats

    Seriously, if these people were any more stupid they would need watering twice a week.

  • If I think back to 1988, all of these things – or rather the US versions of them – seem wholly predictable to me, honestly. The smoking angle, in particular, seems foreseeable. Although smoking was a lot more visible back then (for example, a character doing it in a movie didn’t automatically identify him as the bad guy), the cries to ban it were loud even in the 80s.

    Ditto “hate speech,” really. Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the legal basis of modern hate speech laws in the US, happened in 1942. It’s true that it’s been watered down since, but as I recall in the 80s one of the headline issues was the fact that courts in some districts were letting black men off on assault charges because the person they beat to a pulp had called them “nigger.”

    I really don’t know what life in the UK was like in the 1980s, but I doubt any 1988 citizen of the USA would have been too surprised at the way things have turned out. But it may be simply that Britain was a more liberal place than the US in the 80s and has sunk to our level since.

  • Nick M

    Smoking in cars…

    Well… this refers (I think) to something a certain (surely copied) NHS hospital did. It banned smoking not just within the buildings but throughout the grounds including the car park. This included people smoking in their own cars with the windows up.

    It also applies to my wife’s erstwhile driving instructor. He smokes, she smokes but not in the car. Why? It’s a place of work you see and he said it was more hassle than it was worth (car valeting costing moolah) because if he even turned up at a test-centre with a car that had the faintest smell of smoke he’d be for the sodding high-jump. I am not making this up and I’m sure he wasn’t either because, afterall it was his car and his business. Not only that but it’s his personnel car – the one he goes to TESCO in and he can’t smoke then either because, obviously, in his line of work he frequents driving test centres fairly often.

    Joshua,
    I hardly think so. We just have a political model with fewer checks and balances so any fucker with a reasonable parliamentary majority can push through anything no matter how bonkers. We are also a very law-abiding people. I’m down my local with the missus and there’s like five people there and I know they’re all smokers (as is the barman) and even though it’s bitter cold outside we go out for a fag. It’s fucking pathetic because this is out in the sticks (relatively) and there isn’t likely a cop for miles…

    We got exactly what we deserved.

    countingcats,
    Your “water twice a week” line will be stolen, by me for a start.

  • Ian B

    Smoking in a work vehicle, regardless of whether it’s your own vehicle, is now illegal as it counts a workplace (in which smoking is illegal). A farmer having a ciggie in his combine harvester cab is breaking the law.

    Slammers and shots and drinkers’ headsos explained here. The Portman Group is notionally an independent trade body but is a de facto wing of government, like the BBFC, IWF, and other such groups set up by trades.The first rule every industry needs to learn in a polity like ours is, when the harpie cry begins, don’t think you can counter it by setting up your own regulatory body; such body will rapidly become another arm of the state which you won’t be able to oppose because it’s “independent”. The BBFC was a classic example of this.

  • Ian B

    Johnathan, I didn’t address things like jury trials and habeas corpus because I was more thinking of lifestyle everyday things that would have caused general disbelief to an average man-in-the-pub in 1987 or thereabouts. Things that would cause somebody to have said “ban me from having a ciggie in the boozer? Don’t be ridiculous, they’d never get away with it” kind of thing. In fact I think you’d have got a similar reaction on that one just five years ago.

    And I too will be stealing countingcats’ “water twice a week” line.

  • guy herbert

    Smoking in cars…

    Is a criminal offence if the car is a business vehicle. As is not having a no-smoking sign in it. NOt only would the driving instructor be committing an offence smoking in it, even off duty, but his employer would be committing a criminal offence permitting him to do so, so they would be laying themselves open to prosecution if they failed to take some disciplinary action against him.

    If, like me, you work from home, and occasionally have clients/customers in, you can’t smoke in your own home legally. Nor can they. Even though I’m a non-smoker I’d like to have the option.

    That is something very few people among the complacent majority seem to grasp. Just because I don’t want to do something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter if someone tries to stop me doing it.

    Having a free choice not to do something is just as important as being permitted to do it. From the point of view of self-expression, even more so. If something is forbidden it is difficult to know how free your choice not to do it is. I’m not compliant, I just don’t smoke, dammit.

  • Nick M

    Guy,
    I know, I know… Because both me and the missus work from home we were sent by the gov two sets of “no smoking” signs. I was outraged. It is the antithesis of civil society – you know the old, “Do you mind if I smoke?” followed by a polite “yes” or “no”. If I came round your house I wouldn’t smoke and it wouldn’t take a sodding government defined sign to prevent me. I’d be a guest and as such obey whatever your house rules are and not the diktat of whatever crackpot scheme the government just invented at 4am.

  • Alice

    Strange world. Ian B’s point is valid. Slow change has taken us to a position that would have been judged ridiculous a couple of decades ago.

    A couple of months ago, I visited a person who was being very well treated in a fine UK hospital. Dark & raining by visiting time. Standing outside the hospital entryway in the rain was a crowd of patients — PATIENTS — some in wheelchairs, some holding onto drips, having a smoke. Go NHS!

    A couple of months before that, I was in one of the former Soviet republics, dining at sunset on a restaurant patio under graceful trees, watching the world go by on a busy street. Some other diners in the restaurant were enjoying post-prandial cigarettes & cigars along with their civilized conversation. The situation was completely tolerable to smokers & non-smokers alike.

    If, 20 years ago, someone had predicted that there would be more individual liberty in 2007 behind the former Iron Curtain than in the country which gave us the Magna Carta, we would all have laughed. Heartily!

  • permanentexpat

    Argue on , guys, and dream…it’s all over.
    Some effort to take your country back would be a good start.

  • Everyone: this is un-dirty-word-believable. It sounds like some bad dream that one can only hope to wake up from ASAP.

    OTOH: here in Israel they have recently introduced a smoking ban in restaurants and pubs. I object, even though I hate it when people smoke next to me. But here it is somewhat different, both because we are not nearly as polite as Brits (no one asks if you mind if they smoke, and if you ask them politely not to smoke, you better be prepared to run away), and neither are we nearly as law abiding. Also, as I said in another thread: our idiots have a habit of looking up to and aping your idiots: Europe (by which they, of course, mean the UK as well) is usually brought up as a fine example to imitate on all manner of issues.

  • Ethan

    Post from 2028:

    “If someone twenty years ago had told us that we’d be seeing only veiled women in public, torture and slavery would be legalized and that Westminster Cathedral was going to be converted to a Mosque, we would have called them a racist and Islamophobe.”

    Oops.

  • DB

    The driving instructor who taught me was a chain smoker; the parallel parking aspect of my training always occurred near a corner shop so he could nip in and buy a packet of tabs. Happy days. The tequila slammers on the dashboard when he wanted an emergency stop I was less happy with.

  • we would have called them a racist and Islamophobe.

    I would not call them a racist or Islamophobe, but I would say they are probably wrong. My guess is that by 2028 most Pakistani ‘Muslim’ girls in England (I doubt there will be a UK), will have first names like Tracy or Sharon, be wearing miniskirts in order to compete with all the Eastern European crumpet and be miscegenating like crazy with their secular English boyfriends. Islam is not the future. In fact it does not have a future.

  • Ian B

    My guess is that by 2028 most Pakistani ‘Muslim’ girls in England (I doubt there will be a UK), will have first names like Tracy or Sharon, be wearing miniskirts in order to compete with all the Eastern European crumpet and be miscegenating like crazy with their secular English boyfriends

    Is “Perry” short for “Pollyanna”? :oD

    Islam is not the future. In fact it does not have a future.

    I keep imaging second century pagan Romans saying that about Christianity.

  • Otto

    It is the beginning of the year, so lets look forward rather than back. What will the enemy class (politicians, bureaucrats, corporatists and the socialists of all parties) impose on us in the next twenty years?

    I shudder to think.

    However, as PC “thought” is a formulaic process, one can probably make some educated guesses. The formula is simple and is each time a variation on the Marxist formula oppressors (bosses, capitalists, the bourgeoise), victims (the workers) and agent / agency of change (socialism / the party).

    Two elements have updated this formula: Firstly, the enemy class are firmly entrenched in power, so the agent of change is always the state, and, secondly, when picking which group of “victims” to champion, they tend to look to which pressure groups are most vocal, and which “victims” might swing elections for them.

    My guess is that multiculturalism and religion will probably develop the most in the coming years, simply, because the main parties fear losing electorally important minority votes.

    (Of course, part of the political solution to PC is to construct a wide rainbow coalition of people who suffer because of it, whether they are freedom lovers, or out of favour minorities such as christians.)

  • You vastly overestimate the cultural strength of Islam, Ian, and underestimate that of the west. The reason the fundamentalists hate it is they do not underestimate it. They are all too aware how strong and corrosive western culture is to their world view. They do not “hate us because we are free” (we really ain’t as free as all that), they hate us because the individualistic bourgeois banality of our culture is highly infectious.

    That is not a message a great many conservatives and socialists are comfortable with either but it is the truth. Mind numbing crap like ‘Hello’ magazine and daytime soaps are like cultural cruise missiles. Not pretty, not heroic, highly effective. Islam does not chance against us in the long run. ‘They’ think they are out-breeding us but our culture will make their children ours eventually. The only trick is to survive until the ‘long run’ becomes ‘now’ but time is on our side.

  • Paul Marks

    The mistake was to laugh at Political Correctness – which, of course, does not only cover censorship and “equality, diversity and antidiscrimination” stuff, it also includes “health and safety” and all the rest of it. (including the throwing out of the basic principles of Common Law).

    Laughing and all the 1970’s and 1980’s jokes made people think it was not a serious threat.

    First it was just in the universities, then it went into local government – then it all became national government policy.

    Of course the “anti discrimination” stuff (the start of it) started in the 1960’s and 1970’s (even in terms of national statutes).

    In 1979 the Conservatives had a pledge to get rid of the various equality commissions (and so on), but when they won the election the judgement was made to just keep everything “moderate” to prevent it going “too far” and undermining the principles of Common Law in other areas of life.

    A fatal mistake.

    The principles of the Common Law are a serious matter – not something that can just be defended by jokes. They must be defended IN PRINCIPLE – not just by trying to limit violations to what has already happened.

    Principles such as.

    Private property is just that – private.

    And why someone does not wish someone else in his place of business is no more the affair of the government than why someone does not want someone in their home.

    Law of contract – if you do not like the conditions somewhere, and you have been told about them honestly in advance, then work somewhere else or work for yourself (no calling in the government bully boys).

    A trespasser is NOT there by invitation – and saying that there is a “legal fiction of the invitee” is just another way of saying that lawyers are dealing in lies.

    Damage to the self is no business of the government. The Acts against suicide were repealed some time ago.

    So smoking, drinking and fatty foods are no business of the Government.

    Freedom of speech and writing includes “hate speech” or it is meaningless.

    And so on.

  • Ethan

    I don’t underestimate the disappeal of Islamic ‘culture’ except among a relatively small minority. I’m sure that there are many who are trapped and wanting to get out.

    The problem is that no matter how corrosive Western freedoms are to an insular xenophobic society, our freedoms are being eaten away by people who want to pander to those xenophobes. At some point, even Islam’s limited ‘freedoms’ may seem more palatable than rampant nanny-statism.

    It’s the death of a thousand cuts. Bit by bit over the past two decades, freedoms have been taken away piecemeal. Islamism creeps in much the same way. We cannot rely on the strength of one’s corrosive culture unless we promote it (or are allowed to promote it!)

  • J

    Many of these are irrelevant. Laws about not portraying drinkers as sexually successful are stupid, but they are stupid like the laws requiring one to walking in front of a motor car with a red flag, or the laws requiring residents of Kansas to have at least one bath per year and so on. Amusing, or depressing as you will have it, but entirely unconsequential.

    If a hospital wants to ban smoking in its car park, including within people’s own cars, that seems entirely reasonable. If nuns want to forbid me from reading pornography in the privacy of my own car, while parked in the nunnery car park, that also seems reasonable. Get over it.

    There are important issues with civil liberties, and we should stick to them and ignore the sillyness around the edges.

  • Ian B

    Many of these are irrelevant. Laws about not portraying drinkers as sexually successful are stupid, but they are stupid like the laws requiring one to walking in front of a motor car with a red flag, or the laws requiring residents of Kansas to have at least one bath per year and so on. Amusing, or depressing as you will have it, but entirely unconsequential.

    That’s entirely wrong-headed IMV. Laughing at the idiocy completely misses the point. Each law, regulation, whatever, is a creep forward for the state. I don’t think you quite understand what’s going on. The people making these laws and regulations and rules despise our culture and are dismantling it one brick at a time. The apparently trivial laws against smoking are a direct attack on private liberties; laws against advertising a direct attack on commerce. And so on. The left hate everything about the world they live in. They believe it to be a corrupt, depraved babylon, and will do whatever is in their power to end its existence.

    Perry’s analysis that western culture is corrosive and that is why Islam fears it is entirely correct. What I believe he (and you) aren’t crediting sufficiently is that western cutlery is actively being dismantled from the inside by its own elites. I’m proud to live in a culture in which I can go for a beer, shag a bird in the alley behind Spaggers’ Nite Spot, then go home and look at gay hobbit porn. These are western values. These are things our own ruling class despise.

    The fact of the matter is, we ourselves only partially “westernised”. We only became partially “enlightened”. There have always been strong anti-western (anti-progress, anti freedom, anti individualism) currents within our own soictey, and they are now dominant and, themselves, infected with an immensely succesful viral meme called, whatever, socialism, statism, which motivates them to tear down the society around them. Nothing they do is laughable or trivial. We cannot export our corrosive freedoms, nor defend them against those who attack them from without, when we are in the grip of an enemy within.

  • I’m proud to live in a culture in which I can go for a beer, shag a bird in the alley behind Spaggers’ Nite Spot, then go home and look at gay hobbit porn. These are western values. These are things our own ruling class despise.

    Ian, you are in serious danger of getting SQOTD on two consecutive days!

  • Lee Kelly

    I agree that western culture is corrosive. That said, it is quite remarkable how many young Muslims, born and bred in this country, are turning to the global Jihad. The purpetrators and supporters of terrorist acts, from the United Kingdom, tend to be young males who have grown up here–with relatively peaceful and surprised parents. Islam is very insular, with harsh penalties for those who do not tow the line, particularly for women. I worry that the corrosive nature of western society, which is itself being corroded from within by totalitarian elements, might not be strong enough to quell the coming threat of Islam.

    The main problem is that Islamic communities, under the influence of their mosques, mostly funded by Saudi Arabian benefactos, is that they represent an almost homogenous voting block. In other words, they will all vote one way, and that way will be what benefits Islam. I do not see the same kind of unity in political goals coming from any other minority group, religious or not. This makes them a very strong political force, and one that politicians will fall over themselves to appease (just look at Ken Livingstone).

    I hope you are right about the corrosive power of western culture, but I think this group may be irreperable damage before the end.

  • Alice


    The only trick is to survive until the ‘long run’ becomes ‘now’ but time is on our side.

    OK, Perry — Defend the statement that time is on our side.

    Demographically, the statement is clearly not supportable, given the much higher birthrates among Muslims (immigrant & native).

    Socially, the issue mentioned by Lee Kelly is undeniable. Big problems with Muslims in the UK have been second or third generation, some minority of whom become much more extreme than their parents.

    Look at the difficulty that US and UK have had over the last few years in finding immigrants from Muslim countries willing to serve as translators.

    Look at the successes that Muslims have had in converting westerners to their faith — still small scale, to be sure, but there is no doubt about which way the tide is flowing.

    The future may certainly hold surprises. However, if current trends continue, it certainly would be a surprise if time indeed turned out to have been on our side.

  • Ian B

    Perry- I do my best :)

  • RAB

    Ian B you have become an almost instant asset to this site.
    I salute you!
    Alice. Above truth, people seem to value consistancy.
    Western civilisation is messy, often ugly and inconsistent.
    Islam is dogmatically consistent.
    Believe in it or we will kill you!
    Not my philosophy.
    But in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king.
    Even if the eye is looking in completely the wrong direction.

  • Ethan

    The future may certainly hold surprises. However, if current trends continue, it certainly would be a surprise if time indeed turned out to have been on our side.

    The only way in which I can consider time to be on our side is the instability in the Middle East. There are many paths that the future may take, but before the global caliphate can even come into being..

    Europe is going to pass through a massive bout of civil unrest and internal war. It may, in fact stop here – if Europe implodes, the rest of the world has to take notice – this could lead to another World War fought in Europe.

    The Middle East and environs will have to somehow reunite into the original caliphate – this may drag parts of Europe along with it.

    The Oil may run out. That would effectively kill the petrostates’ governmental largesse, leading to an easy Islamist takeover.

    Any caliphate will likely (and almost immediately) become unstable, requiring a Caliph whose policies would make Stalin blush. We’re talking about wholesale genocide of Shi’ites, Christians and Jews (if they haven’t already been killed off). Nuclear armed Iran isn’t going to very much like that.

    Sidenote: Iran is leading the push to create a new Middle Eastern hegemony as well – it very well may swallow them whole.

    Likely civil war in the States. Russia may play off all sides – or get attacked.

    Europe’s nukes would be in the hands of the jihad – along with Iran and Pakistan. Global Thermonuclear War(?)

    At that point, there won’t be much left to talk about. Will Islam be destroyed? Will the West be destroyed? Or will a new order arise in which stupid people are forever rendered unelectable?

    The future is such an iffy thing. I would, however, put some money on an Europe-wide ‘balkan war’ scenario in the next couple of decades. America (and China’s) choices for support will decide the outcome.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Alice,

    Higher birthrates don’t necessarily help if you start from a lower base number. The absolute number of Christians still increases faster than that of Muslims, even if the percentage increase is higher for Muslims. 25.2M/yr to 22.6M/yr.
    (Think of it this way: a 10 year old child gets older at 4 times the rate (10%/yr) of her 40 year old parent (2.5%/yr) but the child will never catch up.)

    In Europe alone the disparity is even greater, 9.2K/yr more Christians to 2.3K/yr more Muslims.

    And the relative conversion rates are generally the other way round. Globally, Islam gains converts on the order of 865K/yr compared to Christianity’s 2,500K/yr. In Europe, 2.3K/yr to Christianity’s 3.2K/yr. In North America, on the other hand, there are lots of converts away from Christianity (-340K/yr) but they’re not going to Islam which is only gaining 27K/yr. The larger base population means Christians are still increasing more than 30 times faster than Muslims there due to being born to Christian parents.

    http://www.bible.ca/global-religion-statistics-world-christian-encyclopedia.htm

    New immigrants do have a higher birth rate, but it drops rapidly as prosperity and women’s education spreads. You can’t extrapolate current trends on a straight line. It will be a while before it drops to match ours, because of heavy resistance to cultural integration, but drop it will.
    However, I’d guess the time for that to happen is on the order of 50 years. We will have to win some sort of cultural victory first, or that will be too late.

  • permanentexpat

    We, most of us, make spelling mistakes…hit wrong keys & are somewhat sloppy in our haste to get the words out……….
    My pedantic peeve however is “towing the line”…I know John Lennon referred to ‘a Spaniard in the works’ but he didn’t write it out of ignorance.
    There.

  • CFM

    Joshua is correct. These things were all starting in the U.S by 1988, especially in California. Still, I doubt we would have believed how far it would go.

    This leaves a question: If the Brits and the Europeans really feel compelled to copy stuff the Yanks do, why choose all the really dumb stuff?

  • Alice

    “The absolute number of Christians still increases faster than that of Muslims”

    Pa, that is probably driven by the rapid growth of Christianity in Africa. With apologies to anyone who feels offended, I don’t think Africa is going to be the cockpit of whatever happens in the next few decades.

    One factor which has influenced me is the demographic arguments made by Mark Stein in his book “America Alone”. If we look at fighting-age males, native French & immigrant French may already be close to parity, with the Big Mo’ clearly on the immigrant side. No problem — provided the immigrants assimilate successfully. Difficult to see if that is happening when one’s eyes are blinded by the smoke from burning cars.

    Another factor is the experience of being in the Middle East during Ramadan. Saudi TV broadcasts nightly prayers from the prinicipal mosque in Mecca — truly amazing to see tens of thousands of fighting-age males in their religious devotions, with tens of thousands more spreading their prayer rugs on the streets outside the mosque because there is no room inside. There is simply nothing like it in the Christian world, not anymore.

    In Europe, the issue is not Christian versus Moslem. The Christians stopped playing the game. There is only one team left on the field. Can secular Europeans beat the “something” of Islam with the “nothing” of political correctness? Time will tell. But I seriously doubt that time is on the side of the secularists.

  • Ian B

    New immigrants do have a higher birth rate, but it drops rapidly as prosperity and women’s education spreads

    Are we sure that that’s a fundamental principle, or might it be something we presume to be true having observed it under a limited set of cultural circumstances?

    I’m increasingly suspicious of, well, every assumption really, but especially of the word “education”. Do we mean “learning to do stuff” as in, arithmetic, build nuclear reactors, etc, or do we mean “training people to think like us”, which is what many people actually mean by it? If so, does our presumption of what education does socially break down if applied to a culture who are happy to learn to do sums, but are opposed to our cultural practices?

  • The nanny-state people change from one extreme to another every few decades. It’s entirely possible smoking (or at least “smoking education”) might be compulsory in the late 21st century. (It’s no more preposterous than the changes in public policy with regard to “sex education.”)

    Along similar lines, Islam might be taken off the “always defend” list and be put on the “always criticize” list the same way Israel was.

  • countingcats

    As part of the general discussion, I just came across this –

    Cultural tolerance ‘is not enough,’ says EU culture commissioner(Link)

    What he is advocating sounds suspiciously like the melting pot. You know, that approach that worked successfully in the US for 200 years before it was dropped in favour of the bright shiny new idea of multiculturalism?

  • Post from 2028:

    “If someone twenty years ago had told us that we’d be seeing only veiled women in public, torture and slavery would be legalized and that Westminster Cathedral was going to be converted to a Mosque, we would have called them a racist and Islamophobe.”

    Oops.

    Posted by Ethan at January 6, 2008 05:54 PM

    Wow, you must have a lot of faith in Allah, if you think that he is going to empower Third World nations full of ignorant barbarians to conquer one of the most powerful nations on earth.

    Of course, if you waste all your resources attacking others abroad, instead of closing your borders and protecting yourselves at home, I suppose it’s possible. But you’d have to have leaders as stupid as Bush.

  • countingcats

    Sorry,

    I made a mistake, didn’t read enough before I leapt to conclusions. It looks to be the standard “tolerance is not enough, we must all explicitly approve” type speil.

    My bad.

  • Of course, if you waste all your resources attacking others abroad, instead of closing your borders and protecting yourselves at home, I suppose it’s possible. But you’d have to have leaders as stupid as Bush.

    Funny how illiberal a certain ilk of ‘liberal’ is when you ask the right questions.

  • Nick M

    Alice,
    There is a least one European secularist who isn’t PC and has no desire whatsoever to roll-over and accept the caliphate. There is steel in my agnosticism which is not to be found in a naive retreat to Christianity. My lack of faith is my strength, their faith is their weakness. Our failure to capitalize upon this is our current tragedy. So Big Mo rode up to heaven on a horse with the head of a man and for this reason Jerusalem should be an Islamic city? Oh, pull the fucking other one! We are being murdered, raped and robbed by followers of a C7th Arabic superstition. The more it is exposed as what it is and ridiculed for it the better. I almost ate my own teeth when the Christians Bush and Blair came out with their “religion of peace” schtick post 9/11. Are they so pig-ignorant and so blinded by their own faith that they see all religions as being equal? Is that what you get with the admixture of post-modernity with Christianity? Ecumenism can surely only go so far and that was a shark-jump moment for me. I watched the 9/11 service from Washington National Cathedral and whilst the combined services choir was belting out the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (good) there was a bloody imam there. 3000 dead, 100 billion dollars of damage and they still hadn’t learned. 6+ years later we haven’t even started to fight a war of ideas. It’s dismal because Islam is so fiskable if you wanna do it.

  • “Slow change has taken us to a position that would have been judged ridiculous a couple of decades ago.”

    In 1993, in Atlanta, I confronted a cop over the power that he wields on the street with DMV law, comparing it to elements of the worst 20th century totalitarianisms. He said, “Wait a minute; I’ve been to Germany…” (slipping a couple of temporal cogs) “Why over there,” he told me, “the police are empowered to take blood for DUI tests.”

    I told him that they’d get around to the same thing in America.

    That asshole actually laughed at me.

  • It would be a lot easier to argue the “slippery slope” in discussions about government power and liberties if there were a timeline for the 20th and 21st centures showing what liberties were regulated or lost as of:

    1900
    1920
    1940
    1960
    1980
    2000
    2020

    I think that if people saw an actual “changelog” of the legal system, it would freak out the common man because it would put things in terms that are too stark for them to ignore.

  • Ian B

    That’s an interesting and useful idea, MikeT. It would also be interesting to have a similar changelog of taxes, in terms of introductions of new ones and actual rates. Looking at the two in parallel would be an interesting exercise.

  • Alice


    There is a least one European secularist who isn’t PC and has no desire whatsoever to roll-over and accept the caliphate.

    But do you feel lonely?

    This has been a really interesting discussion. It makes one realize the parallels between the Islamists and the Neo-Stalinist left.

    I have spent time in Muslim countries, and have got to know quite a few Muslims as individuals. Nice people.

    I have also come to know quite a few left wingers in the west. Not quite so nice people in general, but many of them do have a core of decency.

    The problem for both the regular Muslim and the regular NuLab/Democrat is that they don’t have Nick M’s fierce dedication to thinking for himself. And so the usual NuLab guy goes around accepting silly restrictions on individual freedom, and the regular Muslim looks the other way when atrocities are committed in the name of Islam.

    Will either the western liberal or the Muslim be able to cast aside their current leadership before this ends in tragedy?

  • Ian, I also liked Mike’s idea. Problem is that everything is subject to interpretation. Where you and I might see more taxes/regulations, others see more “schoolsandhospitals”/”healthandsafety”. I think I am becoming Paul Marks, but without the brains and the knowledge…

  • Ian B

    I see your point Alisa, but I guess the putative changelog would only appeal to a certain constituency. Those people locked into the “progressive” mindset just wouldn’t “get it” anyway. But there’s a generalised dismay at rampant PC/elf’n’safety and so on.

    My other thought is that a list of changes would make perhaps rather dry reading, especially if it were entirely general, it’d be a very long list! Perhaps smaller changelogs could focus on particular areas. I think many people are unaware of how recent many of the restrictions we now take for granted are; e.g. drug laws, prohibitions on prostitution, or gun control laws (e.g. first Firearms Act was 1920, motivated by a fear of bolshevik revolution and nothing to with gun crime, which was miniscule back then). I’d certainly like a clear way to demonstrate to people the mysterious correlation between regulation and social chaos; the greater the gun laws, the greater the gun crime- the greater the drug laws, the greater the drug problem, and so on.

    I am personally strongly convinced that regulation isn’t just ineffectual, it actually increases the problems it is supposed to address. Some way of showing people how the regulation has generally led the worsening of the problem would be a useful tool. Although I’m a tinfoil hatty conspiracist regarding the “ruling class” and their evil plans for domination, they’re enabled by millions of followers who believe in the coercive state for the most moral of reasons- they believe it helps people and does good. I’d like tools to help change their minds.

  • RAB

    Bless your heart Alisa! You have plenty of brains and knowledge.
    You started life in the Soviet Union. Your knowledge of how fucked up a system can be is priceless.

  • Yeah RAb, I guess I got lucky with that one:-)

    Ian:

    But there’s a generalised dismay at rampant PC/elf’n’safety and so on.

    Yes, but most people don’t necessarily connect these issues with the other ones, such as taxes – welfare. I don’t know about England, and I do know that it is much better (or less bad) in the US, but here in Israel there are masses of people who literally take it for granted that the state is there to provide them with virtually everything. There is the latest periodic crisis of the education system going on right now. The high school teachers have been on a two months strike until recently, and the univ. lecturers are still on strike. (The univ. students have been on a strike of their own a while back). Anyway, I actually heard some students say on the radio that “the state has to provide me with education”. I almost broke the damn box. Now these are the same kids who might sneer at all manner of PC silliness (we Israelis don’t do PC very well). They might object to the recent smoking ban in pubs and restaurants, especially if they are smokers (many are), or they might even advocate legalizing marijuana (as so many of them smoke that too). I guess what I am saying is that social liberals are not necessarily fiscal conservatives. In fact, I have just described your average social-democrat, and I seriously doubt that such a list would impress that person.

  • Ian B

    Alisa-

    I’m not saying it’s some kind of magic bullet to winning the argument. I don’t think there is a magic bullet to winning the argument. Maybe there isn’t any way to win the argument.

    But we need to start winning the argument in the population. Some of them will be more inclined than others to consider freedom-based ideas. Many of them are not idealistically progressive, they simply see the way things are as the way things are and go with the flow, while grumbling quietly about the absurd rules descending on them. We’ve no chance converting hardliners, but they are a minority. Most people are in the “don’t know” category. We have to start somewhere.

    Currently, the message just doesn’t get out. I believe most people who “come to libertarianism” (using libertariniams in a very general sense here, not just Randian and Rothbardian purists) do so under their own impulsion. They have to go looking for new answers in order to find them. At the risk of sounding like an ignorant dufus, I didn’t even know the difference between “liberalism” and “libertarianism” (in modern parlance) a few years ago and only found “libertarianism” due to an intense dissatisfaction and cognitive dissonance with liberal ideology. I’ve always been at core a person who believed primarily in freedom, but naively thought many “liberal” ideas would achieve that and only through a process of self-education changed my mind. Only a minority will ever do that. Most people just don’t have the time or inclination or realisation.

    I think people can be “converted” even if that takes time. Part of that process requires a convincing, easy to understand and digest, appealing (populist?) and consistent message. Or we can just accept that it’s hopeless and stock up on tinned foods and shotguns, ha. I’m still trying to be optimistic, even at this apparently hopeless stage :)

  • Ethan

    Wow, you must have a lot of faith in Allah, if you think that he is going to empower Third World nations full of ignorant barbarians to conquer one of the most powerful nations on earth.

    I’m not afraid that Syria or Saudi is going to invade Britain.

    I’m afraid that the combination of British apathy and energized British Muslims will force a cultural change not unlike 1968.

    Only in the -regressive- (revert?) direction.

  • Midwesterner

    I’m liking this idea very much for one simple reason. The astonishing number of people who don’t know and never wondered that we used to get by quite well without these laws.

    We have allowed the debate to be phrased as one of choosing order or chaos. Billy Beck’s comment gives a case in point. First people believe (like the cop he was talking to) that it can’t and never will happen. Then it slips into common use and the next thing you know, anybody who opposes it is labeled as favoring drunk driving. Or if you oppose drug laws, you are saying junkies dying in the streets are the street cleaner’s problem. But never will they accept that disagreeing with a ‘war’ on something is anything other than endorsing that something.

    This is where statistics overlaid on timelines can be an effective tool. It has actually been an extremely powerful tool to compare ‘gun-free’ (cops and criminals only) zones with concealed carry zones, and particularly, the trends that appear when a zone changes from one to the other. We have good examples of both directions in the UK and the US.

  • I think it might be very useful in the US, and maybe the UK as well. Here it is a different story, as we don’t have any real non-socialist past. But if you guys (and I through voting) can pull off any major change, there is a good chance that it might spill over here as well.

  • JerryM

    Another factor is the experience of being in the Middle East during Ramadan. Saudi TV broadcasts nightly prayers from the prinicipal mosque in Mecca — truly amazing to see tens of thousands of fighting-age males in their religious devotions, with tens of thousands more spreading their prayer rugs on the streets outside the mosque because there is no room inside. There is simply nothing like it in the Christian world, not anymore.

    Sure there is. Just get to New Orleans tonight for the National Title Game.

  • JerryM

    Another factor is the experience of being in the Middle East during Ramadan. Saudi TV broadcasts nightly prayers from the prinicipal mosque in Mecca — truly amazing to see tens of thousands of fighting-age males in their religious devotions, with tens of thousands more spreading their prayer rugs on the streets outside the mosque because there is no room inside. There is simply nothing like it in the Christian world, not anymore.

    Sure there is. Just get to New Orleans tonight for the National Title Game.

  • Lee Kelly

    Ian B,

    There is hope yet. I have never not been a libertarian, even before I knew what “libertarian” meant, I was a libertarian. (Well, actually, I prefer to be called a “liberal” or “classical liberal”). Sure, I have briefly flirted with conservative and modern liberal ideas, but have never strayed far from what was obvious, to me at least i.e. classical liberalism. The strange thing is that I was not born into a family of classical liberals. In fact, they were Labour supporters when I was young, and so are everyone else in my family, or at least they were.

    Not everyone needs to be converted to sense, some of us hit lucky early. I think, perhaps, it was my persistent defiance of authority, lack of formal eduction (i.e. indoctrination), and constant preoccupation with moral philosophy. I am the exception, of course, but there is hope yet!

  • Ivan

    Midwesterner:

    This is where statistics overlaid on timelines can be an effective tool.

    Unfortunately, statistics is a far too complicated and abstruse science to be of any use in political debates. For just about any issue, each side in the debate can easily interpret the same raw data into a superficially plausible “statistical” argument supporting their point of view. At the end of the day, “statistical” arguments about politically sensitive issues are usually just another way of rationalizing the existing emotional prejudices.

    This of course doesn’t mean that statistics is useless, or that there are no people who do have perfectly valid statistical arguments for their point of view. However, weeding out fallacies and misinterpretations in statistical arguments requires a lot of mathematical knowledge and hard intellectual labor. In probability and statistics, plain common sense is often horribly misleading, and the truth is often seemingly paradoxical. Even dispassionate experts sometimes find themselves in puzzled disagreement over how to interpret the same data.

    Therefore, I think it’s very naive to expect that valid statistical arguments could play any constructive role in political debates, in which the audience can judge the arguments only by their superficial “common sense” plausibility.

  • Ivan

    Ian B:

    I see your point Alisa, but I guess the putative changelog would only appeal to a certain constituency. Those people locked into the “progressive” mindset just wouldn’t “get it” anyway. But there’s a generalised dismay at rampant PC/elf’n’safety and so on.

    Generalized? Based on my experiences here in Canada, I definitely wouldn’t say so. Sure, if you tend to hang out with people who are more fun-loving, less prudish, with a tougher and more independent mindset, and — last but not least — with a better sense of humor than the median voter, they yes, you’ll surely notice plenty of dismay. But face it: the typical citizen, or at least the typical voter, is not like that, and is increasingly less so.

    In fact, when I speak with younger people (those of roughly the university age) here in Canada, I am utterly terrified at how little libertarian instinct and how little mistrust and revulsion against nanny-statism and rigid PC etiquette they have — even compared to the their parents’ generation, which has been pushing the policies discussed in this thread for the past couple of decades. Thus, I’m afraid the future isn’t bringing anything good in this regard.

  • Ivan

    countingcats:

    Cultural tolerance ‘is not enough,’ says EU culture commissioner(Link)

    In this article, a detail caught my eye that once again nicely demonstrates the utter naivety of EU officials when it comes to choosing their poster-kids for various propaganda projects about tolerance. This time, they are apparently starting a “Year of Intercultural Dialog”, whose events…

    …are to be promoted by 15 leading figures of European culture ranging from Serbian pop star and Eurovision Song Contest winner Marija Serifovic to Brazilian author Paulo Coelho…

    Now, I’m not going to comment on the quality of Ms. Serifovic’s musical work, but she is known to be an open supporter of the Serbian Radical Party. She is singing on their rallies and has officially endorsed their presidential candidate in the upcoming elections.

    For those who haven’t heard about it, the Serbian Radical Party is by far the most extreme ultra-nationalist party in former Yugoslavia with any political relevance, a party whose paramilitary wing was among the worst death squads in the 1990s wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, whose leader is currently being tried for war crimes in the Hague (and whose speech faxed straight from there was read alongside Serifovic’s performance on the rally from the above link!), which advocates going to a new war over Kosovo, still issues an official party newspaper titled “Greater Serbia”, etc., etc.

    Yeah, I’m sure this lady will greatly promote peace, understanding, and dialog between Serbs and the neighboring peoples. :-)

    Sorry for going off-topic, but I still thought the readers of this blog might be interested in another example demonstrating the general brilliancy of EU bureaucrats.

  • “Generalized? Based on my experiences here in Canada, I definitely wouldn’t say so.”

    There is a wide spectrum of governmental interventions in British society, ranging from the ‘fuckin’ ‘ell’ dangerous to the ‘fair enough’ responsible. Some measures – road restrictions for example – are vital in, quite simply, ensuring that the freedom of one person does not impinge upon the freedom of another. That’s not nanny state, that’s a responsible reaction to appalling accident rates. We should surely adopt a skeptical rather than cynical approach.

  • Midwesterner

    Ivan,

    From this thread

    Robberies in the UK outnumber Wisconsin by almost 2 to 1 but Wisconsin has more rapes by a 4 to 3 margin. Homocide is greater in Wisconsin by a 2 to 1 margin, but assaults went to the UK by almost a 7 to 1 margin. Robberies went to the UK by ~3 to 1 margin. Statistically this plays out to trading 14 homocides for ~23,900 assaults, 840 robberies and 9,522 burglaries. Your terror of violence in the streets seems to be, at the least, exaggerated. Many people would consider exchanging 23,900 assaults, 840 robberies and 9,522 burgluries for 14 murders to be a good swap. Especially considering that virtually 100% of murders are reported and a great many assaults, robberies and burglaries are not reported so the true numbers could be far more extreme.

    To which I add that I have since then learned that a spectacularly disproportionate share of our 14 more murders per other crimes are in fact drug related gang on gang in the Milwaukee area as opposed to the crimes they are replaced with which are mostly criminal on law-abiding citizen. (A high enough share that if drug trade related gang on gang murders are removed from Wisconsin data, IIRC Wisconsin’s murder rate is near or below the UK’s.)

    When statistics are obvious enough, and presented in terms that the hearer can relate to and understand, they are a very powerful tool. If they weren’t, the Home Office would not go to such creative lengths to doctor and obfuscate them.

  • Ivan

    Midwesterner:

    [UK vs. Winsconsin statistics snipped...]
    When statistics are obvious enough, and presented in terms that the hearer can relate to and understand, they are a very powerful tool. If they weren’t, the Home Office would not go to such creative lengths to doctor and obfuscate them.

    Yes, I actually remember reading that thread at the time. Now, my goal is definitely not to oppose your conclusions; in fact, I mostly agree with your views on this matter. However, I still believe that the statistical arguments used by both sides in this issue are just about equally “doctored” and thus invalid.

    In fact, I myself wouldn’t use the word “doctored”, since I don’t believe that any party in these debates (except perhaps various government agencies) is really taking an intentional and elaborate effort to lie and obfuscate. Rather, the problem is that statistical inference, unless it’s done in the most expert and mathematically rigorous way — a standard that even many scientists fall short of, not to speak of amateurs — is so full of opportunities for making plausible but false conclusions that whoever starts with a strong preference for a certain conclusion is likely to end up with a plausible-looking, but invalid statistical argument for his preferred point of view, while still honestly believing in the validity of this argument. In other words, unless one is working with extremely high standards of mathematical rigor, a set of data to be statistically interpreted is only a Rorschach ink blot in which everyone will see whatever he wants. To get some feeling for the magnitude of potentials for false conclusions that exist even when one is reasonably knowledgeable about statistics, just look at, for example, this(Link) or this(Link) article.

    Now, to get back to the specific topic about which you would like to argue using statistical evidence, the situation there is even worse than usual, because even the raw data are completely unreliable and/or meaningless. While the murder rates are probably accurate, the data on other crimes, such as theft, assault, or rape, are impossible to compare across jurisdictions because the signal is completely drowned by the noise due to different definitions of individual crimes and different rates of reporting. These differences can be so large that it’s meaningless to compare even the orders of magnitude of such crimes across different countries. And even if the raw data were meaningful and reliable, we would still immediately enter an impassable jungle of lurking variables.

    I’ve seen quite a few statistical arguments from both sides, including some of the links you gave in this forum, as well as attempts at their refutation, and none of those really manage to address even these basic difficulties that I’ve mentioned in the above paragraph. And this is still only the tip of the iceberg compared to what a really rigorous analysis would require.

  • Why not run with MikeT’s idea in a post? Or co-author with Midwesterner? I bet the local commenters and contributors can come up with a hell of a list.

    Here’s one for the last decade, depending on where you are: “disproportionate” self defence.

  • I agree with Ivan. I have learned a while ago that it is best to try and resist the urge to cite statistics in a debate (including when the debate is with oneself:-)). As to the list, I’d like to see one of the various regulations, directives, orders or whatever, with as many links to governmental sources as possible for all the Missourians out there. It could be divided into chapters, each dealing with a specific area of everyday life of an average person – Mid’s remarks on building regulations on an older thread come to mind just as one example.

  • Midwesterner

    Ivan, Alisa,

    What is your alternative? The only alternative to statistically grounded arguments are anecdotally ‘grounded’ arguments. All of our reasoned arguments are no better than religion until they can show a basis in reality. The Left is rife with wonderfully ‘reasoned’ arguments that are utterly preposterous. But the only way to show this is to resort to reality. Abandoning statistical reporting in our debates is abandoning our factual bases in reality. Whether they are sexy or not, we need them.

    You are both correct about the vulnerability of statistical reporting to tampering. But rejecting statistical arguments for that vulnerability is abandoning fact and relying on perception. Much as the Republicans and Conservatives abandoned their principles in pursuit of electability, only to (hopefully) realize that they needed their principles in order to win, abandoning factual basis in exchange for perceptions in order to win converts is a guarantee of failure. There will always be Michael Moores who can construct and string together anecdotes better than honest people can. We must resort to reality. That is where our strength is to be found.

    Anything you can do to audit statistical claims is good. Anything you can do to make statistical observations understandable to non-number crunchers like me, is also good. But without statistics, we have only anecdotes. And that not only is doomed to failure, it violates reason.

  • Midwesterner

    Here is an example of statistically based information presented in layman friendly terms. The article is making explicit claims that can be examined by anyone with the training to do so.

  • Mid, the problem with stats is not mere vulnerability to tampering, it is vulnerability to genuine and honest misinterpretation. You call for relying on reality, but stats are not reality. At best, they can be a useful tool to understanding reality when it comes to natural sciences. Social sciences are not science in that sense, and that’s why I am so skeptical about applying stats in that area.

    Now, if I understood Mike’s suggestion correctly, the purpose of the list is to convince people. What you need to do that is not necessarily objective reality. What you need is people reading your list and relating it to their own lives. Take gun ownership vis a vis crime rates. The way to go is to leave it to an individual to make conclusions. Everyone understands that criminals will get guns no matter what the law says. Now, if I happen to be a nice person living in a crime infested slam, where the bad guys have guns, and the nice people like me don’t, am I likely to object to nice people like me be given an opportunity to own a gun? Or, if I am a nice person living in a nice neighborhood, why would I object to other nice people like me owning a gun? Of course, none of the above would apply to me if I were a collectivist, but the list is not meant to be aimed at those.

    Also, there are other areas where objective reality is identical to the subjective one, and thus there is no need for stats either. These are just hard facts, such as you building codes. Some people may be aware of those and are pissed off (like you) – the list is not aimed at those. Some people are not aware of this (I wasn’t), so when they will learn about they will be pissed off (I am now). Some are aware of it, but took it for granted, seeing it as some kind of isolated abnormality. But when they are made aware of the fact that it is not, and that it is the rule rather than an exception, they will be pissed off. Unless they are collectivists. Does this make sense?

  • Midwesterner

    Of course, none of the above would apply to me if I were a collectivist, but the list is not meant to be aimed at those.

    I disagree and believe we can and should debate with each other on the foundation of moral principles. I do not think I need to explain ‘why’ what I choose to eat is only my own business to you or Paul or Ivan or Perry or etc. Preaching to the choir and all that. All this list will do for us is serve as a wake up call and I suspect people are pretty wide awake by the time they find Samizdata.

    The strength I see for a list like this is combating the assumptions that make up the meta-context of the majority of society. Most people actually believe these government programs ‘do more good than harm.’ It is the collectivists who are trying to run our lives and claiming that if we don’t let them, then bad things will happen and the world will fall apart. We must show the ambivalent middle that the collectivists’ claim is false. Since so many of us refuse to resort to ‘cold heartless facts’, we are getting trounced. Give me those cold heartless facts. Not enough voters share my principles. I want ammunition for the defense of liberty.

    As a side note, I suspect any ‘libertarian’ minded person who relies on results to hold their views, rather than principles, is in actuality, merely a clever ideological pragmatist, and not really ideologically individualist.

    (I’ll be out for most of the day, but I’ll check back this evening.)

  • I disagree and believe we can and should debate with each other on the foundation of moral principles.

    We must show the ambivalent middle that the collectivists’ claim is false.

    It is precisely that ambivalent middle that the list would be aimed at. There is no way it would have any effect on the real hard-core collectivists, who, BTW, I presume to be a minority, just like ideological individualists are.

    Also, some time I would like to see a discussion on principles vs instincts or personality. I think most people have an individualist personality, by instinct so to speak. Were the people hiding Anna Frank acting on principle, or on moral instinct? Are the two things the same?

  • Midwesterner

    If it is aimed at the passively pragmatic, generally unprincipled (in a philosophical, not a pejorative sense) middle grounders then that is precisely the audience for which we most need to have the facts of reality demonstrable. This means statistics. We cannot compete with the Michael Moore types with ‘better’ anecdotes. We will have to convince people who do not hold our principles but want the same or similar outcomes that we do that our way is the better way. And I at least have no doubt that it is. If these people get their picture of reality from us rather than the left, many if not most of them will move towards our principles. Our anecdotes will never be better, we must resort to facts. Fortunately, they are on our side.

    I used to think most people were instinctively individualist also. I don’t anymore. Instinctive collectivists are far more common than is obvious. One reason they are not obvious is that collectivism by inherent nature gives either extreme rewards or extreme punishments to members who stick up above the rest. Sometimes first one then the other. The vast majority take a very low profile and are unlikely to be spotted unless probed. Kind of like the taxi driver in somebody’s comment recently who seemed like such a perfectly ordinary person until he (in a perfectly casual way) said Jews should all be killed.

    Usually the flavor of collectivism is much less blatantly violent than that. A way to spot innate collectivists is that they assume other’s authority over themselves in the most selfless ways. Example, somebody who says we need laws to make him stop smoking so he doesn’t get sick and cause the NH and the rest of the collective a lot of money. The idea of being responsible for his own behavior and its consequences is utterly alien to these sorts of persons. Unfortunately, they are far more common than I once thought.

  • Ivan

    Midwesterner:

    What is your alternative? The only alternative to statistically grounded arguments are anecdotally ‘grounded’ arguments.

    Frankly, I believe that less formal arguments aimed at breaking emotional prejudices are far more effective than any statistics could ever be. For example, I liked your argument about guns vs. cars (quoting from memory): if people can’t be trusted with guns for fear that they will cause fatal accidents, how come they can be trusted with cars, which can cause far worse accidents much more easily? Now this is the sort of argument that has some potential to cause people to rethink their prejudices.

    On the other hand, almost any statistical argument, whether valid or not, can be countered with an equally learned refutation based on the same raw data, and it takes an immense expertise to reliably judge who is right at the end (assuming anyone is right at all). The logic involved in this final judgment is likely to be way over the heads of just about anyone. At the end of the day, considering the prevailing political leanings in the academia, whenever you resort to statistics to argue on just about any subject, your opponents are likely to be able to produce many more learned opinions supporting their point of view. And please don’t get offended, but unless you’re highly skilled in the relevant mathematics, you’re both likely to be equally confused and far from the truth.

    Even very simple cases, such as the Michigan story to which you gave a link, are highly problematic as soon as one tries to reach any conclusions beyond the immediate empirical observations, however non-obvious that might seem. And most of the research in the area, including Lott and his critics, deals with much more complicated issues where the potential for confusion and fallacies is far higher, and fallacies of both sides are pretty obvious even to someone with only a moderate mathematical background, like me.

    Anything you can do to audit statistical claims is good. Anything you can do to make statistical observations understandable to non-number crunchers like me, is also good. But without statistics, we have only anecdotes. And that not only is doomed to failure, it violates reason.

    The problem is that statistics, as often practiced, also violates reason, in the sense that it leads to plausible and seemingly logically impeccable, but false (or at least unjustified) conclusions. In fact, as I’ve already mentioned in one of my above posts, in probability and statistics, it is often the most intuitive common sense conclusions that turn out to be horribly false, while some of the most maddeningly paradoxical conclusions turn out to be true. Just look at this (very incomplete) list of various statistical and probabilistic paradoxes. Or remember the cases where innocent people were convicted due to faulty statistical interpretations of the evidence, which surely seemed logically correct to the judge and jury at the time. I also advise you to take a look (if you haven’t already) at the articles to which I linked previously, which raise some serious questions even about statistics used in a lot of peer-reviewed research.

    As unfortunate as it is, arguing about statistics is something one just shouldn’t do if one is not a highly skilled expert, just like one shouldn’t go around and try to repair stuff that one is clueless about. Sadly, of all areas of human life, this is probably the one where the common sense fails most miserably. For some reason, our brains are just not programmed to think correctly about probability and statistics the way they are programmed to think (for the most part) correctly about, say, arithmetic.

  • Midwesterner

    Ivan,

    I suspect you are equating statistics, which are collections of facts, with statistical analysis, which is an extremely esoteric field indeed.

    If you note in that sample article I linked, the anti-gun side was citing anecdotes and unattributed ‘statistics’.

    We can live in a world of feelings or facts, but one has to trump, and I vote for the facts. I reject a lot, a whole lot, of statistics for debate purposes because they are not obvious enough to me as a layman. The Michigan case in the article was obvious to me. It confined itself to a few simple stats. The number of authorized CC permit holders, the number of murders, suicides and accidents, and the change in each when the gun law changed. If I can explain the numbers with a comparison to something more generally familiar (oncoming cars?) I do. But if the data isn’t self evident and I can’t find an understandable comparison, you’re right. They are not a strong tool.

    I am not advocating for statistical analysis as a primary debate tool, only for ‘self-evidently’ meaningful data. There are a lot of studies that fall well within standard practice for statistical analysis that I reject because they lack power to a layman. There are plenty of cases that are obvious. Crime trends in England and Wales overlaid on number of lawful gun owners. Does it prove anything as far as the standards of statistical analysis are concerned? Not exactly. That is, the only thing it proves is that legal guns are gone and nothing is getting safer (gun crime is up IIRC). It isn’t necessarily causal. But if somebody is engaged enough to challenge you on the correlation, they are engaged enough to hear or read from the studies. You have their thoughtful attention.

    Incidently, John Lott was in the University of Chicago economics department when he wrote his first gun study applying economic models to crime data. He found them to be extremely predictive and continued that method of analysis.

    Here is another anecdote of why anecdotes will never help us. Global warming. The topic is literally swarming with anecdotal ‘evidence’. We had tornadoes in Wisconsin yesterday with 60 degree temperatures. This is this statistically astonishing, isn’t it? I suspect not. But every broadcast is full of people marveling at how unusual it is. I suspect it is far from unprecedented. We broke a Jan 7 record high. But there are 365 days in a year and only 150 years of records. Reminding people of that and the fact that there are 2 1/3 record highs (and lows, and low highs, and high lows, and …) for every single year helps to put things into perspective.

    The way I come up with comparison like the car drivers versus gun carriers is indirectly statistical. At that time I was thinking about all these drivers whizzing past me at high speed and in varying states of distraction, and wondering how many people would choose to carry guns. And wondering how likely they would accidentally harm somebody because they dropped their cigarettes or were dialing a cell phone (zero) versus car drivers that would (high enough that many municipalities like Chicago have banned drivers using hand held cellphones). The final image that I created was developed in my mind by a process of quantification of risk. A very rude and rough method, granted. But still one that was grounded in statistics. The reason it works is because, whether they know it or not, the listeners are thinking of all the cars they pass head-on every day (a statistic) the number of inattentive drivers (a statistic) and the amount of damage that occurs in an accident (also a statistic). They don’t think of them as an trained analyst would, but they do approximate them either deliberately or reflexively.

    So actually, I think I was using statistics in that example. Describing bad car accidents caused by dangerous drivers is meaningless to the topic. Describing how few people would carry guns and how safe it is wouldn’t help much either. It is by comparing the two that the argument moves people. Whether they know it or not they begin quantifying risk.

    So, are we in genuine disagreement? Or were we making different assumptions and actually in near agreement? I don’t have much disagreement with your caveats, only your conclusions so maybe it’s a communication thing.

    Incidentally, the paradox link was interesting but I have a hard to seeing the paradoxes usually. For example the Alabama paradox seems self-evident to me. The intransitive dice paradox sounds like ‘rock, paper, scissors’. Condorcet’s paradox is perhaps better thought of as ‘too many cooks’. Anyway …

  • Mid, on collectivists: they maybe far more common than is obvious, but I doubt that they are a majority. If they were, they would not be afraid to ‘stick above the rest’.

    On stats: you seem to be confusing statistics with data. If we can agree on that, than we are in no material disagreement, but there is still a small (?) problem with data. On a different forum I have recently had a discussion on unemployment. Someone brought up Denmark as an example of a socialist system with very low unemployment rates. Now, beside the fact that two different commenters brought two different numbers from two different sources – one was just above 2%, another just above 6%, the point that both seemed to be missing is how one defines employment. Is a person who has one of those weird jobs that are becoming so common in the UK (Diversity adviser? Whatever), or the guy whose job it is to make sure people don’t smoke in a pub can be considered as employed for the purpose of comparison between the merits of a socialist system vs those of a capitalist one? I agree that data can be very useful in understanding reality and making decisions, but one has to be careful.

  • Nick M

    Mid,
    I was in a pub in Leeds with the math grad school gang when I first heard the Monty Hall problem. Logicians, analysts, algebraicists and whatnot all gave the wrong solution. I’d done an optional module on discrete math as an undergrad and I figured it out. I have had enormous amusement explaining it to people – they actually suffer physical pain before they get it. And that’s the second largest (after Cambridge) math school in the UK.

  • Midwesterner

    Alisa,

    I gave some thought to that distinction and decided that ‘statistics’ was in fact what I meant. But since I am well out of my depth, I could be wrong.

    I’ll use your example. The 2% and the 6% are actually statistics, not data. That is why they can be different. “17 people applied for jobs and were rejected” is data. But deciding how that becomes an unemployment figure is statistics.

    The place were I wandered from clarity is in drawing a distinction between ‘statistics’ and ‘statistical analysis’, by which I meant the higher level mathematical functions. Please ignore that distinction without a difference and consider instead, a scale of understandability.

    An anecdote is a datum. A bunch of anecdotes is data. Anecdotes selected from an anecdote set (data) according to defined characteristics and sorted into categories is a statistic. Am I making any sense at all?

    We can’t expect people to understand higher level statistical analysis. And generally, if it requires that, I don’t use that information. If people even realize they are seeing statistics, it is probably already too complicated. I tread that line too often. But statistics lie under the strong arguments like the cars/guns risks. But we need to use data that has been manipulated if to no more extent than defining selection criteria and running some simple functions (?) to bring out what it means.

    Or am I completely full of it?

    Oh, on percentage of collectivists, I hope you are right. I suspect you are. But I think it is close, and that is worrisome.

  • Midwesterner

    Nick,

    I looked at that one and have to admit, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be that way.

    Look at it this way. You have a one in three chance of picking correctly. You pick one. There is now a 2/3 chance you are wrong. And there are now two subsets, the door you picked and the two you didn’t. Therefore, there is a 2/3 chance it will be in the other subset. Monty eliminates one from that (two door) set, but the 2/3 chance for the pair remains. Therefore, the 2/3 probability is now entirely on the remaining door. Therefore, you can switch from a 1/3 to a 2/3 probability by switching. You have in effect been given two chances and switching is the way to claim both of the opportunities that you didn’t select in your first choice. Isn’t that obvious or is there something wrong with my brain?

  • Mid: of course you are making sense, but I am not sure whether you are right or wrong. The way I understand it, ‘anecdotes selected from an anecdote set (data) according to defined characteristics and sorted into categories’ is still a set of data, only categorized or otherwise arranged. It only becomes statistic once it is mathematically manipulated. That’s when you get averages, means, medians, distributions, deviations etc (I actually went back to that Wiki link to look up all these terms, because it has been a veeeeery loooong time, and besides I have never taken a full formal statistics course. I did take one on probability, and remember nothing). So I still think that what you are talking about is data. But I could be wrong – Nick, what do you think? As to keeping it simple: that was my main original point of all this:-)

  • Midwesterner

    From what I understand from the link(s) you gave, data is data but once we start tallying up what it means, that is statistics.

    It only becomes statistic once it is mathematically manipulated.

    It seems to me that the first simple step of statistics is when we began comparing different data sets. I don’t see how we can avoid that being a mathematical activity. We can do our best to use familiar things to convey the math (comparisons are my favorite) but mathematical analysis is unavoidably at the root. P.A. and I disagreed on whether probabilistic studies could discover complete unknowns, but agreed that certainly it is the best and perhaps only way to describe the known.

    Try this link which I found via the link you gave. It says –

    In statistics data sets usually come from actual observations obtained by sampling a statistical population,

    At some point we have to begin comparing data sets. And as I understand it, that is where simple statistical analysis (statistics) begins.

    My point is that anecdotes can be very persuasive. But we must compare anecdotes statistically to make any claims. Because if we insist on statistically valid bases for claims, we win. If we don’t, we lose. By all means try to make numerical values into something easily understood, but I really don’t see how we can avoid them entirely without confining ourselves to a battle of anecdotes.

  • Ivan

    Midwesterner:

    I’ll use your example. The 2% and the 6% are actually statistics, not data. That is why they can be different. “17 people applied for jobs and were rejected” is data. But deciding how that becomes an unemployment figure is statistics.

    The place were I wandered from clarity is in drawing a distinction between ‘statistics’ and ‘statistical analysis’, by which I meant the higher level mathematical functions. Please ignore that distinction without a difference and consider instead, a scale of understandability.

    An anecdote is a datum. A bunch of anecdotes is data. Anecdotes selected from an anecdote set (data) according to defined characteristics and sorted into categories is a statistic. Am I making any sense at all?

    We can’t expect people to understand higher level statistical analysis. And generally, if it requires that, I don’t use that information. If people even realize they are seeing statistics, it is probably already too complicated. I tread that line too often. But statistics lie under the strong arguments like the cars/guns risks. But we need to use data that has been manipulated if to no more extent than defining selection criteria and running some simple functions (?) to bring out what it means.

    Assuming I understand correctly what you’re saying, and setting aside some possible quibbles about terminology and finer details, you are indeed making a lot of sense. However, what we apparently disagree about is, so to say, the “breaking point” in this continuum between plain, uncontroversial, and easily compared data on one extreme and the most abstruse statistical analysis on the other. By this “breaking point” I mean the point where, for all practical purposes of political debates, the logic necessary to make the right interpretation becomes too hard and subtle, and where it becomes too easy (and tempting!) to make plausible-sounding, but unjustified conclusions.

    Obviously, I am much more skeptical than you in this regard, especially when it comes to the specific topic of guns and crime. The problem in this area is that, as I’ve already written, huge problems are encountered already when we take a look at the raw data, since these “raw” data are in fact already well-cooked by the immense differences between the local reporting rates and between the criteria used for categorization of offenses by different police forces. To take some concrete examples, I suppose the Michigan story would be somewhere at the very limit of where I would find it justified to draw a “common-sense” conclusion and use it in a debate (and I would probably find it as a valid analogy in much fewer situations unrelated to Michigan itself than you). And anything that involves comparisons between trends in different jurisdictions, even within the U.S., immediately introduces a nearly impassable tangle of lurking variables.

    My point is that anecdotes can be very persuasive. But we must compare anecdotes statistically to make any claims. Because if we insist on statistically valid bases for claims, we win. If we don’t, we lose. By all means try to make numerical values into something easily understood, but I really don’t see how we can avoid them entirely without confining ourselves to a battle of anecdotes.

    Sadly, I have to admit that I have no answer to this problem.

  • Midwesterner

    Ivan,

    I agree again with your caveats. BTW this

    “since these “raw” data are in fact already well-cooked by the immense differences between the local reporting rates and between the criteria used for categorization of offenses by different police forces.”

    is probably where my disagreement with Alisa over terminology is coming from. There have already been so many statistical sorts of things done to data before it ever gets reported. And I don’t mean just arithmetic. Definitions of crimes are filters run against data sets. This (I think) makes them part of statistics. IIRC Dunblane was reported as a single homicide. This is because one of the clever tricks being used was logging multiple homicides as a single homicide but with multiple victims. The close inspection brought on by Dunblane is what I think brought a stop to that particular little sleight of hand.

    Sadly, I have to admit that I have no answer to this problem.

    I think that two separate standards of proof are perhaps allowable. One for statistical claims for the support of predictions. And one for statistical claims to refute other’s claims. The strength of the Michigan article is not in the claims it makes, but in the claim it refutes. Namely that all hell would break loose as a consequence of permitting law abiding citizens the option of concealed carry. And while I agree with pretty much everything you say about the caveats of making predictive claims based on statistical studies, I think it is well within reason to identify and ridicule false claims as ‘proven’ wrong. And I think I could have skipped the quotes and typed proven. The evidence is pretty clear, all hell did not break loose. You know the MSM would have been feasting on it if it had.

    I’m thinking we are pretty much in general agreement but I’ll wait for your opinion on that. My point is that like it or not, convenient or not, statistical analysis (preferably at an extremely simple and strongly based level) is our only way to bring reality into the debate to combat emotions. Although I would dearly love to find an alternative, I just don’t see one.

  • Sunfish

    Sez Mid:

    There have already been so many statistical sorts of things done to data before it ever gets reported. And I don’t mean just arithmetic. Definitions of crimes are filters run against data sets. This (I think) makes them part of statistics. IIRC Dunblane was reported as a single homicide. This is because one of the clever tricks being used was logging multiple homicides as a single homicide but with multiple victims. The close inspection brought on by Dunblane is what I think brought a stop to that particular little sleight of hand.

    Now, there’s a different sleight of hand. In the UK, crime clearance rates don’t distinguish between one crime and another. Each one cleared[1] counts the same. Therefore, two children fighting on a playground counts as two “detections”[2], as does a double homicide. For the Home Office’s statistical purpose[3] they’re the same.

    It worked out a little differently in the US. In NYC in the 1990’s, NYPD was under pressure to make the crime rate appear low[4]. As a result, muggings, despite technically violating laws against “robbery” (a violent crime) were actually reported as “theft from the person” (a non-violent property crime.) When a man patronized a prostitute and got trick-rolled (robbed either by the lady or a pimp) the crime would be recorded as either the theft (rather than robbery) or as lost property (no crime at all, rather than theft.)

    Chicago did much the same thing to make certain neighborhoods look better. Chicago, in the last few years, also has listed obvious homicides as something else. There was one in the last week or so, a doctor was fatally stabbed in the chest, with no suspect known. I believe there was some effort to actually record that as either death from unknown cause or suicide, because CPD was under orders to make it appear that there is no street crime in that particular area.

    This is why serious discussion of crime statistics bothers me: I simply don’t trust the data. All of the smaller cities like mine can play it straight and cities the size of Chicago, New York, etc will screw with the stats to make themselves look good.

    [1] in UK-speak, “Detected.” Basically, a crime is identified and a suspect is identified with enforcement action taken, whether arrest, summons, caution, or fixed penalty notice.

    [2] the detection rate does not consider that one is a murder and the other is a minor BS public order offense that, in context, probably shouldn’t be a police matter.

    [3] Making the current government look good.

    [4] If you’re looking for a reason to dislike Rudy G., this is one of the many that I have.

  • Sunfish

    I didn’t mean to suggest that all smaller cities are honest and all big cities cook their books. The only city I know well enough to say “they play completely straight” is my own, although I suspect that most of my neighboring jurisdictions are also pretty honest about these things.

  • Midwesterner

    This is why serious discussion of crime statistics bothers me: I simply don’t trust the data.

    I learned a while back (studying Australian stats, I think) how corrupted crime data could be by methodology. That is why I don’t like the term ‘data’. It suggests it is factual when in fact it is already heavily filtered and blended. (Sounds like coffee or lesser whiskies.)

    But I just don’t see any alternative to quantifying data. Otherwise we just degenerate into a contest to see who can generate the most moving and impassioned pleas coupled with the most heart wrenching anecdotes. Seems to me that’s how we got where we are.

    It also seems obvious to me that doctored stats damn the cause they serve and when we find them, we should drag them out and parade them around for public ridicule. And I’m speaking not just of crime, but of economics, environment, pharma research, health, everywhere we find it. Because one thing is certain. Any body doctoring data is up to no good and they probably are or will try to use that doctored data to coax government into doing something to us on false premises.

    Anybody who knows me knows that I insist on all my values being predicated on principle. I also believe my principles to be very useful by pragmatic measures, but that is secondary. But our societies are run by the vast majority who are pragmatists. If we actual want to change anything, we have to start showing that our principles actually work. Because they do.

  • Mid, I think I referred to “data cooking” in different terms, somewhere along. As a matter of fact, the Danish employment stats is the same case for the purpose of our original discussion: the problem is one of definitions, although in the case of employment stats, the “mis-definition” is obviously not maliciously intended.

    I’m still not sure that mis-defining data formally falls into the field of statistics, but this is really not material to the discussion. (If someone here with more understanding of the matter can help me get the terminology right though, I’ll appreciate it). I agree with the main thrust of your argument.

  • Hal Colebatch

    The late great satirist Michael Wharton (“Peter Simple”)writng on the London Daily Telegraph circa 1970-2000 predicted it all decades ago.