From about 1990 until about 2005, I held speaker meetings at my home in London SW1, on the last Friday of each month. I began them because I was a libertarian and we wanted such meetings, and because, having acquired a settled home, I could. And I ended them because their main purpose for me had been to stir up writing for the Libertarian Alliance, which by 2005 I was no longer doing. When the internet arrived as a mass experience, available to anyone with a computer, a telephone line and a few quid a month to spare, around the year 2000, I ceased being an editor of paper writings for an organised group, and became instead a citizen of the blogosphere. Most especially, I became a regular contributor to Samizdata. Suddenly, the blogosphere was where the action was, where the big opportunity was, and it supplied more than enough food for thought and for writing.
But now, my Last Friday of the Month meetings are to resume. Partly, I have discovered that their incidental benefits to me personally were more real than I had realised. Basically, I felt that, very gradually, I was losing touch with people who were in that vital social hinterland between friends and strangers.
But there is also a more public – altruistic, you might say – reason for me to crank these meetings up again. In retrospect, I think we can now see that the arrival of blogging was a most unusual time for us libertarians. Libertarian notions had spread rapidly during the years just before the internet and then blogging arrived among us. But because the number of libertarian enthusiasts involved was small compared to the population at large, these ideas had found few outlets in the late twentieth century mass media, which meant that we libertarians reacted to blogging like drowning sailors encountering a lifeboat. Meanwhile, our statist adversaries, many of them comfortably ensconced in what were clearly now the old school media, could at first only grumble about how their seemingly God-given intellectual hegemony had been so insolently challenged. At first, these hegemons behaved as if enough bitching by them about the new media, in the printed pages and on the TV chat and comedy shows of the old media, would send us amateur upstarts back to the oblivion from which we had so rudely emerged. When that didn’t work, they tried linkless fulminating in their, at first, very clumsily electrified newspapers. Only when it became clear even to them that the “new media”, and the new voices enabled by them, were here to stay, that anyone could say to anyone whatever anyone wanted to say, did at least some of the old school journos and organs start seriously adapting.
And now, they have adapted. Oh, not all of them. All technological transformations involve losers who slink away into self-imposed retirement. But enough regular media folk have now embraced the new internetted world, a process reinforced by the latest generation of social media activity – Facebook, Twitter and so on – which many old school media folks have used with enthusiasm to leapfrog back into the game.
The result of all this is a media landscape which, although infinitely more varied at its edges and in its details, is now in many ways nearer, in its intellectual content and overall political mix, to what it was at the end of the twentieth century. Having so recently being an exuberant, joyous end-run, blogging for us libertarians has now become something of a struggle. Libertarian group blogging has risen in relative importance during the last few years – see Libertarian Home, Counting Cats, and, in contrast, quite a number of individual libertarian blogs which have now become more or less completely silent. Samizdata has acquired more contributors recently, who used to blog individually. Perry de Havilland has said, when Samizdata began and ever since, that blogging wouldn’t always be easy, that individual bloggers would inevitably go quiet from time to time, and that this is why we need group blogs. Group blogging was big when blogging started, because most potential bloggers took a while to master the technicalities of how to do it. Now group blogging is important because content has become harder to keep churning out, given our somewhat lowered morale.
There is also the fact that the political world has become a different and grimmer place since 2005, as the financial and monetary policy chickens described by this man – regularly linked to from here, from the moment he published this book – have started seriously coming home to roost.
In this new new world, so to speak, face-to-face meetings among libertarians, which to me had felt rather superfluous a few short years ago, now feel very necessary, again. Serious thought is necessary, again. It’s as if much of the libertarian thinking we did in the years before the internet arrived has now been used up.
Whether the above paragraphs really say much about the world that “we” (often a dodgy word to me when I see others using it) live in, beyond how I have felt and now feel about that world, I do not know. But whether for purely personal or for more “objective” reasons, I now feel the need to resume my meetings. By chance, I found myself organising a sort of dry run revived Brian’s Friday, last summer, which went well and felt good.
Accordingly, on January 25th (attenders should arrive at my home between 7pm and 8pm), Brian’s Fridays will resume.
My first speaker will be Sam Bowman, a man who will be well known to many Samizdata readers, on account of his contributions to the Adam Smith Institute blog. And it seems that I am not the only one to reckon him to be a significant person.
Concerning what he has in mind to speak about Bowman recently emailed me thus:
The topic I want to discuss is, basically, why the idea of ‘unknown unknowns’ (aka radical ignorance, as opposed to ‘known unknowns’ of rational ignorance) explains failures of planning and ‘problem-solving’ social democracy better than incentives ideas that we typically use. I use the financial crisis as an example, where the dominant ‘too big to fail’ incentives-based narrative doesn’t hold up under scrutiny (such as an examination of bankers’ personal investments), but the ‘unknown unknowns’ narrative, applied both to bankers and to regulators, does. The upshot is that a reformulation of libertarianism along more purely ignorance-centric lines might be a good thing.
Which is a perfect topic to relaunch my meetings with.
Further speakers have already been pencilled in, and others are even now being negotiated with. I intend my speakers to be a mixture of people I already know well (such as my London-based Samizdata contributor friends) and people I do not now know so well but whom I and my guests will enjoy getting to know or to know better.
If you would like to learn more about this January 25 meeting, and/or to be kept informed about subsequent Last Friday of the Month meetings, please get in touch with me, e.g. by going to my personal blog and clicking where it says “Contact”.