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]

Get used to it: two more minor acts of oppression in developed countries

No one was killed, no one was injured. Do not excite yourselves.

From Adrian Hilton in the Spectator: Revd Dr Alan Clifford’s ‘homophobic’ comments referred to the CPS

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 contains the offence of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation. Anyone using threatening words or behaviour, or anyone displaying, publishing or distributing any written material which is threatening, is liable for prosecution. Former Conservative Home Secretary Lord Waddington won an amendment to an earlier version of the law, which established that no one might be prosecuted for stating their belief that homosexuality is sinful or wrong. It read: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.’

But that protection will be illusory for as long as homophobia is defined and understood by the police as ‘any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or any other person’. Against that background, all mission-orientated Christians will need to temper their proselytism – especially on Gay Pride marches.

Dr Clifford tells me that Huguenot Calvinists are not easily intimidated, and that his faith in God is sustaining him: ‘I am not in deep shock: I enjoy perfect peace,’ he said. Others, of course, may not be so robust and may indeed prefer to pay a £90 fine. Much may depend on the tone and manner of the interrogating police officer.

From Damien Gayle in the Daily Mail via Tim Worstall: Armed police turn up at family home with a battering ram to seize their children after they defy Germany’s ban on home schooling

A team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed the home of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich because they refused to send their children to state schools. The youngsters were taken to unknown locations after officials allegedly ominously promised the parents that they would not be seeing them again ‘any time soon’.

The only legal grounds for the removal of the children, aged from seven to 14, were the family’s insistence on home schooling their children, with no other allegations of abuse or neglect.

George Clooney has a private spy satellite over Sudan

This is old news to some but new to me, and to the Huffington Post, judging from their headline. I had thought Clooney to be the standard Hollywood “liberal”, looking down from a lofty height on the barbarians below. Instead he is looking down from a lofty height on one particular barbarian below in order to deter him from atrocities and warn his potential victims. Cool.

Next stop, armaments.

Which might get hairy, given that some private individuals and nearly all states of the satellite-owning classes are prone to think of themselves as gods already, even without the power to strike down malefactors from the heavens.

David Cameron will sleep well tonight

Humiliated? As a prime minister and party leader, yes. But there are compensations.

To President Obama he can say, “Sorry guv, tried to help, but the boys just wouldn’t let me. We are going to remain neutral”. And then sotto voce he can add, “Neutral like you are ‘in terms of the Maldives or the Falklands, whatever your preferred term is’”

To Parliament, and through Parliament to the voters, he can say, with great ceremony “I respect your decision” and get all sorts of strange new respect from anti-war people while not losing the respect of those who thought British support for US military action against Assad was necessary, because, after all, he did try.

To Syria he can say all the right things without having to do anything. Given that it is damned difficult to know what to do, or even what is happening over there, that is a silver lining for him. In that link, Jim Miller says, “we need an explanation for the attack — whoever is responsible — that includes a motive.” Assad was winning. Why jeopardize that? A member of my family suggested that Assad might have said to his henchmen something equivalent to Henry II’s “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” “Destroy those rebels in Ghouta, and I don’t care how you do it.” Bashar Assad is an evil man, which does not make his enemies good.

Was this vote a good thing or a bad thing to happen? I do not know.

It is a generator of ironies, and not just for Cameron.

Let’s talk about paleo

It’s Friday, so let us talk about “paleo”. No, I am not talking about right-wing conservatives like Pat Buchanan, I mean stuff to do with a current trend in diet and lifestyle. The diet known as “modern paleo” seems to be taking off in the US and elsewhere. It is a diet that shuns grains, legumes, refined sugars and processed foods, and goes for things such as grass-fed beef, fish, vegetables – as a prime source of carbs – fruits and so on. The idea is that until a few thousands years ago, we “noble savages” were happily hunting animals, running about and getting fit, eating berries, sleeping when we needed to or wanted, and that things all went tits-up when we started harvesting crops. I guess the ultimate symbol of evil is a combine harvester.

Here is a typical take from one of the movement’s Big Cheeses (or should I say, Paleoistas?), Mark Sissons:

Right around 10,000 years ago, when former hunter-gatherers began growing grain seeds in neat, organized rows, something happened. Population exploded, because we now had a steady source of calories. Villages and cities sprang up, because we no longer had to follow our food. We could simply grow it where we lived. Those sound like pretty good things, at first. More food and shelter sounds good, right? Well, something else happened, too. Those early farmers were shorter than the hunter-gatherers they replaced.  They didn’t live as long, and they had smaller brains. They got a lot more infectious diseass and more cavities. In short, they were not as healthy as the hunter-gatherers. Same genes, same homo sapiens, different environment, worse health.

Right. So let’s follow this through: Man lived a longer, healthier, happier and probably better-looking life up until relatively recently, and for some dumb reason, decided to get fat, ill and stupid. This transition, otherwise known as agriculture, is not really explained in this account. It is one of the oddities of some Darwinians, or those who like to use Darwin’s doctrines of evolutionary development in support of their ideas, as paleoistas do, that they don’t stop to ask that if a course of action – like farming – is so bad for us, how come those who practiced it did not die off and the supposedly fitter, older forms of behaviour take over again? And yet as Sissons has to concede, although agriculture may have its downsides, it enabled the human population to explode in numbers, and when, what is called the Agricultural Revolution happened (new ways of growing crops, use of fertilisers, etc), it also created the economic surplus to enable the Industrial Revolution, with all its marvels. Is Sissons claiming that we’d be better off in some sort of primeval state? I doubt it, of course.

Look, I can see that there is a lot of common sense behind some of these modern dietary ideas and yes, I have personally adjusted my lifestyle a bit, such as cutting down on grains and bread and so on. But there is something about the almost religious fervor behind this “paleo” stuff that bothers me. The fact is that without what we call modern agriculture, the vast majority of the today’s population would not be alive. And that is a rather big plus for agriculture. Sure, there is obesity and associated issues to deal with, many of which have complex causes. But I am damn glad we did have agriculture. It is precisely the wealth that such developments made possible that enable people today to worry about this stuff, and even make whole careers and businesses out of it.

(Full disclosure, I am a Suffolk farmer’s son, and probably the only person on this blog who has driven a combine harvester for its intended purpose.)

Samizdata quote of the day

Something strange just happened. Parliament has asserted itself over the Government. It doesn’t occur very often, and I can’t remember the last time the government lost a vote on a foreign policy matter. I am reminded of Viscount Cranborne‘s famous mea culpa after having been rapped over the knuckles for exceeding his authority. Like him, the executive “rushed in, like an ill-trained spaniel”, only to be chastised by the master it had almost forgotten it had.

Of course, the matter is not settled by any means. Parliament may wake up hung over and remorseful, and I’m sure the spaniel will be prowling the darkened halls of power, looking for someone to sink its teeth into, but for once it feels like we’re in a parliamentary democracy rather than an elected dictatorship.

- Richard Carey

A vote by Parliament against “shaping events”

This is the beginning of a piece by Tony Blair that Guido linked to a few days ago. The rest of it is behind the Times paywall. But I think the basic folly that MPs were voting against, and which Blair presumably goes on to enthuse about, is actually quite well described:

The announcement of the summit in Jordan this week, after the use of chemical weapons in Syria, is very welcome. Western policy is at a crossroads: commentary or action; shaping events or reacting to them. After the long and painful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I understand every impulse to stay clear of the turmoil, to watch but not to intervene, to ratchet up language but not to engage in the hard, even harsh business of changing reality on the ground. But we have collectively to understand the consequences of wringing our hands instead of putting them to work.

But what is now collectively understood is that the consequence of this determination to be for ever “shaping events” and “changing reality on the ground” in the Muslim world only seems to be futile wars which expend much treasure and blood but accomplish very little. That, I think, is what MPs were voting against, egged on by just about all their voters. Where, ask the voters, is the British national interest in all this proposed action? What on earth is so wrong with reacting to events?

However, Blair’s claim that the choice is between ratcheting up language and taking action is surely wrong. The idea of all the verbal ratcheting of recent days has been to hustle MPs into voting for action. If the idea of action is now set aside, the verbals will be dialled down again.

Samizdata quote of the day

By any reasonable definition, Maj Nidal Hasan’s 2009 rampage at Fort Hood, Texas was a terrorist attack. He proudly admits that he killed in the service of the Taliban, and witnesses say that he shouted “Allahu Ackbar!” as he fired. The Obama government, though, continues to insist that Hasan’s attack constitutes “workplace violence.”

- Bryan Preston.

Well, as far as The Community Organizer is concerned, his way of dealing with Islamist terrorism is to deny its existence. Deny it enough, and it will go away. (In case anyone starts accusing me of fear-mongering, I would immediately point out that accepting that there is a problem is not the same at all as knowing what specifically to do about it.)

Patrick Crozier talking about life in Britain in 1913

Tomorrow evening I have another of my last Friday of the month meetings at my home in London SW1. Recent Samizdata acquisition, and a friend of mine from way back, Patrick Crozier, will be the speaker. Regular readers of Samizdata will not be surprised to learn that Patrick will be talking about what life was like in Britain one hundred years ago, this being a regular theme of his postings on this blog.

In my email to Patrick about about what I hoped he might be talking about, I wrote this:

What I have in mind is: Were They Libertarians? Any more than now? At all? Or had Germanism by then done its stuff and turned everyone into rabid statists? That kind of thing.

Patrick’s reply:

In addition to attempting to answer your question I am going to try to give a picture of what life was like: unemployment, inflation, transport etc., as well as how people viewed the prospect of war.

Which is hardly a change of subject away from the libertarianism that is the ongoing agenda of all these evenings. Opinions are opinions, but events and existing arrangements and experiences shape opinions. Unemployment, inflation, transport and war are all regular objects of libertarian contemplation. So: excellent. I look forward to it all.

I am particularly looking forward to learning more about that last bit, about how people viewed the possibility of war. Did the sort of people whose opinions were reported by or published in The Times realise what they were about to unleash, or what was about to hit them? If they did think war was coming, what sort of war did they think it would be? And did they realise what a shot in the arm the Great War would be for the power of the state?

This time next year, Patrick’s postings here about events exactly a century ago will surely get very dramatic.

If you want to be told more about this and/or subsequent Last Friday of the Month meetings, email me, by going here and clicking where it says “Contact” (top left).

Generation X, Y and Z are not so good being organisation drones. Well, good.

I don’t agree with all of what Charles Stross says here (I detect more than just a whiff of leftist nonsense when he refers to “neoliberalism”), but this article is worth a read, as it pertains to how attitudes towards issues such as national security and the role of the state are changing. Excerpt:

We experience cultural continuity with our parents’ and our children’s generations. Even when we don’t see eye to eye with our parents on political questions or we sigh in despair about our kids’ fashion sense or taste in music, we generally have a handle on what makes them tick. But a human lifetime seldom spans more than three generations, and the sliding window of one’s generation screens out that which came before and that which comes after; they lie outside our personal experience. We fool ourselves into thinking that our national culture is static and slow-moving, that we are the inheritors of a rich tradition. But if we could go back three or four generations, we would find ourselves surrounded by aliens — people for whom a North Atlantic crossing by sail was as slow and risky as a mission to Mars, people who took it for granted that some races were naturally inferior and that women were too emotionally unstable to be allowed to vote. The bedrock of our cultural tradition is actually quicksand. We reject many of our ancestors’ cherished beliefs and conveniently forget others, not realizing that, in turn, our grandchildren may do the same to ours.

And this:

Snowden is 30; he was born in 1983. Chelsea Manning is 25. Generation Y started around 1980 to 1982. But the signs of disobedience among Generation Y are merely a harbinger of things to come. Next up is Generation Z — the cohort born since the millennium.

Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events. Many of them will be sibling-less only children, for the demographic transition to a low birthrate/low death rate equilibrium lies generations in their past. They may not be able to travel internationally — energy costs combined with relative income decline is slowly stripping the middle classes of that capability — but they’ll be products of a third-generation Internet culture.

Generation Z will arrive brutalized and atomized by three generations of diminished expectations and dog-eat-dog economic liberalism. Most of them will be so deracinated that they identify with their peers and the global Internet culture more than their great-grandparents’ post-Westphalian nation-state. The machineries of the security state may well find them unemployable, their values too alien to assimilate into a model still rooted in the early 20th century. But if you turn the Internet into a panopticon prison and put everyone inside it, where else are you going to be able to recruit the jailers? And how do you ensure their loyalty?

If I were in charge of long-term planning for human resources in any government department, I’d be panicking. Even though it’s already too late.

The point that Stross misses, in his foolish line about “dog-eat-dog economic liberalism”, is that the older, more statist idea of people being forced to join big trade unions and having “jobs for life” was based on a zero-sum idea that the way to get ahead was through political pull and the coercive reach of the state, not through the voluntary exchange of the market and entrepreneurship. Sure, it is is the case that the liberalism associated with a more individualised economic situation (hooray!) is one in which ideas of loyalty to a company for life find it harder to take root. But is that such a bad thing? In other words, is what Stross is describing a feature or a bug?

From missing the EUropean boat to not getting stuck in the EUropean swamp

Last night I attended a meeting of the End of the World Club, and by the end – of the meeting, not the world – the conversation had turned uncharacteristically optimistic. Oh, there were the usual prophecies of doom, and it is hoped that the next meeting will be someone talking about what it was like living through the Zimbabwe hyper-inflation. But the second of the two speakers last night was Rory Broomfield, speaking about the Better Off Out campaign, as in: Britain would be better off out of the European Union. That is an argument where at least some headway is now being made. How big the chances are that Britain might either leave or be kicked out of the European Union some time in the next few years, I do not know, but those chances have surely been improving. I can remember when the fantasy that “Europe” was going to cohere into one splendidly perfect union and lead the world was really quite plausible, if you were the sort already inclined to believe such things. EUrope, in those days, was a boat that Britain needed not to miss. Now, EUrope is more like a swamp into which Britain would be unwise to go on immersing itself, and should instead be concentrating on climbing or being spat out of.

Mention was made of shipping containers, i.e. of the story told in this fascinating book. Compared to the arrangements it replaced, containerisation has damn near abolished the cost of transporting stuff by sea, which means that the economic significance of mere geographical proximity has now been, if not abolished, at least radically diminished. Regional trading blocks like EUrope now look like relics from that bygone age when it would take a week to unload a ship, and when Scotch whiskey could not be profitably exported from Scotland because half of it would be stolen by dock labourers.

Containerisation also exaggerates how much business Britain does with Europe, because much of this supposed trade with EUrope is just containers being driven in lorries to and from Rotterdam, and shipped to and from the world. The huge new container port now nearing completion in the Thames Estuary is presumably about to put a demoralising (for a EUrophile) dent in these pseudo-EUropean trade numbers.

Mention was also made of a recently published map (scroll down to Number 29 of these maps). This map shows the economic centre of gravity of the world, at various times in history. A thousand years ago, this notional spot was somewhere near China. And the point strongly made by this map is that this centre of economic gravity is now moving, faster than it has moved ever before in history, from northern Europe (it was in the north Atlantic in 1950), right back to where it came from, leaving Europe behind.

Broomfield talked about how you convince people of such notions. For younger audiences, he said, just moaning on about how terrible EUrope is doesn’t do it. You have to be positive. But the trick, said Broomfield, is to be positive about the world. The important thing is that Britain, and you young guys, should not held back by EUrope from making your way in that big world.

The actual End of the World is not nigh any time soon, but the world is changing.

Intervention in Syria…

Some people wants to intervene in Syria to stop Al Qaeda backed people and Hezbollah backed people killing each other.

Really?

I have a better idea… sell ammunition to both sides.

How true…

From Paul Bernal