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

The truth is that the NCCL was right both to have PIE as an affiliate and to defend its members against charges of ‘corrupting public morals’. Why? Because a key role of any civil liberties group worth its name is to defend the rights of association of the most loathed sections of society, to ensure that even the profoundly unpopular enjoy the same liberties, most importantly freedom of speech, as the respectable and the right-on.

Brendan O’Neill

26 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Well said, Mr O’Neill. It’s sticking to your principles even in defence of the most loathed and loathsome that in libertarian terms separates the men from the boys…

    OK, perhaps not the best choice of metaphor, there. But you get the point.

  • Guy Herbert (London)

    I’ve long thought the PIE case and its consequences very instructive concerning the development of the modern discourse (and lack of it) around rights and liberties. Now that many people have been reminded of it, I might do a full length post.

  • Lee Moore

    Yeah, I’ve always admired the NCCL ever since their spirited defence of Fred Goodwin when the last Labour government was trying to coerce him into giving up half his pension. And then more recently when the NCCL stood foursquare with Barclays Bank when the current government imposed retrospective taxation on them.

    Whenever the government stomps on the liberties of those the Guardian doesn’t approve of, those who cry “Where’s Shami ?” should be ashamed of their cynicism.

  • Mr Ed

    Assuming that the Wikipedia entry is accurate, here is what is at issue:

    In 1976, the NCCL in a submission to the Criminal Law Revision Committee of the British Parliament argued that “Childhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in, with an adult result in no identifiable damage… The real need is a change in the attitude which assumes that all cases of paedophilia result in lasting damage”.[12]

    I fear an outbreak of a libertarian, Rothbardian ‘infantile disorder’ on this topic, to bring Lenin into it. The NCCL had, and Liberty has, no interest whatsoever in freedom or liberty. They do not campaign for lower taxes, they do not campaign for less regulation, they do not campaign for anything to do with freedom, but hold a ‘left-wing libertarian’ stance and there is a superficial similarity to a campaign for freedom, but in reality it is nothing more than part of the 60s counter-culture taking over the body politic.

    It strikes me that PIE was not campaigning for freedom, but for a statutory change to permit their members to have an arguable defence to charges arising from child violation, and there is no way that the NCCL would not have known that. If you cannot see that then you are fool.

  • ragingnick

    quite so Mr Ed; the fact is that so called ‘civil liberties’ organisations such the ACLU and NCCL are more often that not simply agents for the imposition of cultural marxism upon society.
    Now of course even repellent groups should have the right to free speech, however any conservative or libertarian who sides with organisations such the ACLU or NCCL is merely a ‘useful idiot’ (to bring in Lenin again) for the cultural far left.

  • I agree that “Liberty” is ironically named as they are only passingly interested in it, to put it mildly, but I also agree with O’Neill.

  • RogerC

    I found the article linked to to be well written and well argued. Freedom of speech and association must apply equally to all, or they’re worthless. The NCCL is to be applauded for defending these principles.

    However, the page also linked to another article on the same subject (Labour’s paedo problems: no reason to gloat), which contained the following (emphasis mine):

    the NCCL lobbied parliament for the age of sexual consent to be cut to 10 – if the child consented and “understood the nature of the act”

    The devil is always in the details with such things, and if the above statement is incorrect then everything that follows below is moot.

    That said, assuming the statement is accurate it means that the NCCL did not merely defend the right of PIE to lobby parliament, they actively lobbied on their behalf.

    Defending the right of people to associate with who they wish and to speak and argue freely, however objectionable or even vile you find their ideas to be, is always laudable. Public debate of the most uncomfortable topics is a necessary thing. However, the statement implies that the NCCL were lobbying for a specific change in the law, and it appears to me that doing so crosses the line from defending civil liberties on general principles to accepting the specific position being argued for.

    In passing, I also have to agree with Mr Ed’s assessment.

  • Snag

    It’s difficult to find a logical difference between those who campaigned a few years ago to lower the age of consent to 16 (heroes!) and those who would campaign to lower the age of consent to, say, 14 (scum of the earth!)

    To even ask such a question invites the fury of the terminally illogical.

  • /me quietly passes by on his way to another battlefield

  • Snag, I have to point out that your comment itself includes a logical fallacy: that of assuming that a continuum with no obvious dividing line means that there is no difference between the ends of the continuum. That’s not true – the existence of twilight does not mean that day and night are the same. Or, to return to the topic at hand, there is vast difference between a newborn and a centenarian despite the change happening in imperceptible steps.

    In practice one just has to pick an age at which people are deemed to be adult, acknowledging the sometimes absurd results. I do not think those advocating 14 as the age of consent are the scum of the earth, reasonable arguments could be made for that. Advocating for 10 was pretty scummy – but whether advocating for a certain position makes you scum or not is not the issue. Defending the right of scum to advocate for their scum opinions is.

    General comment,

    NCCL / Liberty have a mixed record with both glorious and shameful moments. The scales dropped from my eyes about this organisation when they refused to defend the right of “scab” miners to work freely in the 1984 miners’ strike. Their association with PIE seems to have been ambiguous. Despite the fact that they are three of my least favourite MPs, I give some credence to the claims of Harriet Harman, Jack Dromey and Patricia Hewitt that the NCCL was the victim of actual infiltration by PIE. Infiltration by extremists was a popular tactic in the Left at that time.

  • Mr Ed

    This BBC article offers a précis of the political scene at the time of the events.

    http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26352378

  • Snag

    Natalie Solent:

    The problem is that age-based laws tend to be arbitrary. There’s no good reason why, for example, a fifteen-year-old who could pass a driving test should be barred from driving. But there is a distinct lack of logic, both in law and in public perception, about age of consent laws.

    As to what age is appropriate, I would think that puberty is pretty much the definition of sexual maturity, and in any event, I assume that thousands of under-16s are having sex every year, regardless of the law.

  • Mr Ed

    Snag,

    I would think that puberty is pretty much the definition of sexual maturity

    The start of puberty? The end of it? What is that if not arbitrary and vague? I don’t recall getting a certificate to show when I had reached puberty, but I do have a record of my birth. And how does ‘pretty much’ help to provide certainty?

    You might as well say that a convoy system for shipping in war is arbitrary and illogical, as ships travel at different speeds, the purpose of the age of consent laws might well be seen as allowing the entire cohort to reach an age of maturity at which point it is regarded as safe for a certain act, be it shagging or boozing, to occur.

    As for 15 year olds with driving licences, there would be a risk of far too many dickheads on the road, never mind some Honda drivers out there, were that to be the case. As it is, young drivers (mainly male) tend to do stupid things and have high accident rates, although setting insurance premiums by reference to gender is now unlawful. A birthday is arbitrary, but it provides certainty, so what if it is arbitrary? This is a balancing exercise, and I don’t think that you have tackled Natalie’s point at all, not yet anyway.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Natalie, very well said.

    Reality is extremely messy. This is disquieting to the well-ordered mind.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Snag:

    The problem is that age-based laws tend to be arbitrary. There’s no good reason why, for example, a fifteen-year-old who could pass a driving test should be barred from driving.

    That looks to be not only a statement made from gross ignorance, but also to include the logical fallacies argumentum ad ignorantiam (forwarding a proposition without any certain proof), and thus a non-sequitur (it does not follow).

    For example, in New Zealand, the Classes 1 and 6 licences are able to be obtained on or after the driver’s 16th birthday. Prior to 1 August 2011, the minimum age had been to 15 years.
    The reason the age limit was raised was largely due to the reality of the insurance/accident statistics of the 15 y/o age group spoke more factually of causality and certainly than any “theory” or belief to the contrary.
    The tragic and shameful things about this were twofold:
    (a) the experiment ran long enough so that it took quite a bit of maiming and loss of life, not just amongst the 15 y/o age group but amongst all the other people of diverse age groups – including pedestrians, passengers in cars driven by 15 y/olds and in other cars which were involved or in collisions with the cars driven by 15 y/olds.

    (b) The tragedy was avoidable. A study of the road accident statistics in New Zealand and the UK provide a very useful tool for risk prediction. That includes not only New Zealand insurer’s own statistics that show a strong positive correlation (with a P < 0.5, indicating increased statistical certainty of causality in the relationship between lower driver age and high/increased risk), but also similar statistical sets of the UK's and US insurers.
    In addition, there is corresponding and relevant prediction of risk in the extensive UK Metropolitan Police driver accident statistics from the '60s/'70s that led to the authorisation of only Class 1 Police Driver Certificate holders to drive motorway patrol cars and engage in hot pursuit, and later the formation of the Institute of Advanced Motorists – where the Examiner was a Class 1 Police Driver Certificate holder. Prior to that, the Met insurance premiums had reached crisis point as they had been skyrocketing and were unsustainable. After Police Driver Certificate training was introduced, the premiums fell steeply and the Class 1 Police drivers were arguably amongst the safest on the planet (and probably still are).

    So what?
    Well, what this goes to show is the wisdom of applying rational-critical thinking skills, combined with a simple scientific and stochastic approach, to the management and decision-making in complex human affairs.
    I would recommend that the same could thus be usefully applied to considerations of (say) the age of consent.

    The irony of this is that we allow people who are unable to demonstrate such rational-critical thinking skills, or the ability to combine them with a simple scientific and stochastic approach, to have the franchise to vote, to even become members of Parliament and vote on legislation they cannot comprehend, and to drive cars, and even own guns (in some countries).

  • Tedd

    In Canada, the “age of consent” — at least regarding sex — is a sliding scale that varies with the age of both participants. Is that not the case in other countries? It at least partly addresses Snag’s continuum conundrum.

    (I don’t think it explicitly says so, but I assume that the oldest and youngest participants’ ages would be used in a case where there were more than two.)

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    While I concur that the rubber really only hits the road vis a vis freedom of speech when you’re defending the right to say some downright objectionable things, I do find the squirming of the ultra-authoritarian former front bench of New Labour absolutely delicious.

    Not once have they played the whole “Even scum have the right to speak and lobby” defence. They’ve just tried to distance themselves from the whole thing.

    And the reasons for this, I suspect, is a rather troubling one. It’s not that they believe in freedom of speech (they quite obviously don’t), it’s that while not necessarily being paedophile sympathisers, during the 1970′s they were at least open to the idea that the paedophiles were right about the age of consent.

    This is why they were associated with PIE, not some lofty commitment to freedom of expression. They were fellow travellers in Britain’s own cultural revolution as they sought to tear down the values of the old guard. If they didn’t agree with PIE, they didn’t disagree with them either. That, and only that, is why they were associated with them.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Slarti, it may well be that an detailed analysis of accident rates will reveal a particular age to be the ideal for granting a driving license, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is not what has happened in the UK.

    The age at which you can drive, as with many things, was largely plucked out of the air and decided upon long before any serious research had been conducted. In any case, who gets to decide what is an acceptable level of risk? A risk factor of 0 would require removing licenses from absolutely everyone. How much above 0 are we willing to go?

    In any case – I question whether technocratic government by “sensibleness” is really a good idea….

  • bloke in spain

    ” I question whether technocratic government by “sensibleness” is really a good idea….”

    Well, we’re certainly giving government by insensibleness a good run for its money.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Jaded Voluntaryist: Sorry, I probably did not explain myself very well, and my sarcasm regarding the whole matter may have passed unnoticed.

    (a) I was not attempting to suggest that “a detailed analysis of accident rates will reveal a particular age to be the ideal for granting a driving license”. What I did demonstrate was that @Snag’s statement that “There’s no good reason why, for example, a fifteen-year- old who could pass a driving test should be barred from driving.” was invalid, and why.

    (b) Nor was I attempting to assert that any given situation should be or “was what has happened in the UK”. The UK government could presumably be perfectly capable of repeating the NZ history rather than learning from it, and lower the minimum limit to 15, wait till a few hundred people have been killed/maimed in accidents, and therefore belatedly raise the minimum to 16.

    (c) @Snag was arguably right in making the not unreasonable generalisation that

    “The problem is that age-based laws tend to be arbitrary.”

    - and I gave the NZ case where the government had decided to set a 15 y/o minimum age limit for obtaining a driving licence – probably quite arbitrarily – and discovered that the accident statistics told the reality of the outcomes of said decision, whereupon the minimum was wisely raised to 16, where the statistics indicated the risks to be reduced in practice. This was what is called an empirical and evidence-based approach, using stochastic method.
    Therefore, there was “a good [and rational] reason why a fifteen-year-old who could pass a driving test should be barred from driving” (QED).

    If you were referring to something that I said when you wrote:

    “In any case – I question whether technocratic government by “sensibleness” is really a good idea….”

    - I would be interested in your definitions of :sensible” and “technocratic”, because I used neither term in the context of an argued form of government, nor could what I was suggesting intending this nor should it be construed as suggesting such.
    Simply put, what the NZ case demonstrated is the application of simple stochastic method (Deming, et al) to everyday problems. So, you can decide to (say) get a pile of 50 bricks and drop them one by one onto your foot to discover/observe what happens – because (say) you don’t actually know, never having done that before.
    At the end of the exercise, you tot up all the observations of the bricks’ individual impacts and assess how many broken metatarsi etc. you have and the probability of breaking more – and how many – if you drop another brick. You would very probably then consider that the outcomes of this decision were harmful, and thus the actions should not be repeated, but you would at least be better off, now being armed with the knowledge and experience of the stochastic proof.

    In the case of driving cars however, there has already been a great deal of this sort of “brick-dropping” observation, and the observations are recorded in the data related to road accident statistics (in NZ and UK, for example), where factors such as age and experience of drivers involved in accidents are very well known and understood by the clever actuaries who pore over such data for a living. For this reason, the actuaries increase the risk-loading and premiums for drivers under-25, and reduce the risk-loading of drivers once they get to 25, and there is a potential for discount on premiums at that point. For example, in the UK, one could get a 10% discount in premium at age 25 (but not before) IF one held a crticat of the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) – for why, refer to my comment above and the Met. Police Class 1 certificate holders. If you are a holder of the IAM cert. you are statistically in a lower risk category as far as driving accidents go, and If you are a Police Class 1 certificate holder, you are in the lowest possible risk category, even if you do have an accident. (If you keep having accidents, you are re-tested and may lose your Police Class 1 certificate if you fail.)

    By the way, where you say:

    “This is why they were associated with PIE, not some lofty commitment to freedom of expression. They were fellow travellers in Britain’s own cultural revolution as they sought to tear down the values of the old guard. If they didn’t agree with PIE, they didn’t disagree with them either. That, and only that, is why they were associated with them.”

    - this seems to me to be a very erudite comment and a strong argument – one which probably could not be easily refuted. Perhaps yet another example – if one were needed – as to how belief and/or religio-political ideology are necessarily divorced from reason.

  • Hmmm… some interesting points, here. If a 14-year-old is adjudged capable of driving, what about other “adult” activities? Voting? Consenting to sex? Drinking liquor? Being drafted into the Army? Allowed to smoke?

    The reason we set an arbitrary age limit on certain activities is generally as a result of either longterm observation, or else actual [gasp] statistics, as Slarti mentioned above. When an arbitrary age limit is set, it is understood that some people will be unfairly affected — it’s called the “general welfare” for a reason, and even the Elightenment philosophers agreed on that one. The other side of the coin is seldom addressed: that some people are allowed to perform activities when they are not prepared to do so — i.e., they have the hardware, but not the necessary software (or vice-versa).

    When it comes to driving, I’d be prepared to listen to all sorts of arguments pro and con. I’m a little less tolerant of lowering the age of consent, simply because as a conservative, I look and see that society has always had some kind of prohibition against children having sex with adults, and therefore we should not tamper with this institution lightly. Notable exceptions to child sex laws are the primitive Muslim and Hindu cultures of today, where child brides are common, and enforced. (Note that there are no child bridegrooms, by the way, unless coupled with child brides. It is difficult to find supporters of child marriage, which should tell us something.)

    As usual, this is where libertarians lose the plot, and lose all claim to be “classical liberals” altogether. The plain fact of the matter is that when it comes to children and sex, it’s obvious that the presence of hardware and absense of software is not an optimal situation. (If you disagree with this premise, and see nothing wrong with the seduction of a “knowing” 11-year-old girl by a 32 year-old man, then further argument is pointless. Please go and live in Holland, where your belief is not only common, but enshrined in law.)

    People who advocate societal acceptance of sex with children are loathsome — there is no other term for it — and any political party who supports the activities of groups like NMBLA (“National Man-Boy Love Association) and the like deserves all the opprobrium heaped on them. Ditto the smart people who look on the topic as just another debate topic, along with the lowering of the drinking age, or the driving age, or the voting age, or the contractual consent age.

    Sex with children is not a topic for debate, ever. (Sex between children is a gray area, of course, but that can be addressed on a case-by-case basis.) But as a general rule (that pesky adjective again), there’s no reason to lower the age of consent, for the simple reason that it’s a perfectly reasonable and rational legal concept.

  • Snag

    Slarti:

    Thank you for your response, the content -if not the tone- was interesting.

    Without delving into the nuts and bolts of the NZ study, I can’t say whether there are other variables at work that would have a bearing. For example, it may be that drivers in their first year have the same higher chance of being involved in accidents, whether they are 15 or 17 or 22. It may be that the testing procedures are lax, and therefore new drivers (again, of whatever age) are unprepared for what they find on the roads, until they have racked up driving experience.

    But it’s not just with ages that these arbitrary numbers are problematic. In the UK, a person is driving illegally if his blood contains a greater than a specific alcohol level. I drink very rarely, and therefore if I have a glass of cider, my driving performance would be materially affected, but I would pass a breath/blood test, whereas people who are used to drinking heavily can be in full possession of their driving faculties, but would fail a test, because it’s the number that’s important to the law, rather than any objective test of competence. Because of that number, I can legally drive drunk. Ironically, the much derided “walk in a straight line” makes much more sense.

  • I look and see that society has always had some kind of prohibition against children having sex with adults

    Always? Not really. That is a relatively modern notion and once you get out of the ‘Western World’, even now, quite a few traditional societies are very blasé on that score. Certainly the idea of 14 year old brides, or even younger, would not have shocked many people before 19th century, even if the very thought of it give *us* the creeps.

  • Slartibartfarst

    @Snag: I gather that the NZ statistics and experience more or less support what you suppose regarding novice drivers’ risk-ratings (in their first year, for example). In the NZ case, they were also increasing the driving test skill hurdles, having decided that the generally abysmal standard of driving lay at the root of the exceptionally high accident rate. (Someone had been listening to the statistics, it seems.) Better late than never, one supposes.

    You might suppose that after a first glass of cider your “driving performance would be materially affected”, but had you considered that the effect might have been to improve your driving response times?

    You can find out for yourself (bit of a digression):
    What you can establish is that smoking pot is just as bad for the reflexes as drinking alcohol, and you can prove this repeatedly and consistently using your friends as subjects, as I did:
    1. Test the subject when he/she is sober/not drugged:
    – Hold a piece of ruled paper by its top edge.
    – Get the subject to be alert and hold their open forefinger and thumb at the very bottom (on either side) of the paper, ready to pinch their fingers when the paper drops. No cheating.
    – Drop the paper without warning.
    – The subject has to pinch their fingers together and stop the paper’s fall as quickly as they can. After a few practice runs, you will observe that most people’s reactions enable them to catch it about (say) the 4th ruled line from the bottom.
    Mark where they catch it and take their two best (fastest reaction) marks as the measure.

    2. Test the subject after each of 1, 2 3, 4 beers, or gin-and-tonics, or tokes:
    – Same drill as above.
    – Mark where they catch it and take their two best (fastest reaction) marks as the measure.

    What you will find is that, after about 4 alcoholic drinks or 4 tokes, the mark is near the top of the paper, if the subject catches it at all, indicating a vastly increased reaction time.

    You may also notice a difference in the tests on people drinking alcohol compared to those smoking pot:
    Alcohol initially acts on the human nervous system as a stimulant, and then as a depressant, whereas pot acts as just a depressant.
    Thus, the alcohol drinker’s performance will probably improve (faster/shorter response time) after the 1st drink, but then it rapidly deteriorates after the second and subsequent drinks, whereas the pot smoker’s performance just steadily falls (slower/longer response times).

    I also had a friend test my own response times on alcohol (I don’t do drugs), and found these results were consistent with the above.
    I also demonstrated the short-term performance improvement very well in my own case: I had arrived at a personal peak performance score on a little handheld game called “Whack-a-mole” (which required fast reflexes). When sober, I could consistently get up to that peak score and no further. After 1 gin and tonic, for a short time-window (about 15 minutes) I could consistently beat my best “sober” score, but after that, and after the second and subsequent G&Ts, it was all rapidly downhill.

    Here, the scientific method shows its strengths yet again.

    Recovery time from drinking alcohol is interesting. A normal healthy human liver can convert roughly 50milligrams per hour of alcohol to fat, and since 50mg is about a glass of wine or beer’s alcohol content, then slow drinkers can probably recover quicker than the fast chuggers, and their average blood alcohol levels will be lower.

  • guy herbert

    Perry writes:

    That is a relatively modern notion and once you get out of the ‘Western World’, even now, quite a few traditional societies are very blasé on that score. Certainly the idea of 14 year old brides, or even younger, would not have shocked many people before 19th century.

    English courts still can recognise as valid foreign marriages of people who are or were under 16 at the time.

    A lot of this argument (and I do promise to return to this in a full length post) is about cultural categories, and what I call categorical reasoning: a form of magical thinking, the assumption that being able to sticking a label on something or someone determines everything about it according to the pre-determined qualities of the label. That magical thinking is also anhistorical. It cannot manage the idea that what is NOW commonly believed is not perspicuous eternal certainty.

    On Perry’s immediate point: It was certainly standard for the first 1500 years of the common era, in Roman and mediaeval society, for dynastic marriages to be contracted for infants and completed at the approach of puberty. King John, for example, was married when he was 12 and his queen was 9. But the complexity of history (and the idea that attitudes to sex and its place in our lives have changed) is inconvenient to the simpleminded. Categorical thinking offers an easy way to choose between the elect and the damned. A particularly annoying example is how slavering Eurabiacs chunter that “Muhammad was a paedophile” because he married his last wife when she was nine. Actually he was following a completely normal pattern for a dark-age monarch much of whose statecraft was built around strategic marriage.

  • Rich Rostrom

    guy herbert @March 4, 2014 at 8:22 am: King John, for example, was married when he was 12 and his queen was 9.

    John’s first marriage, to Isabel of Gloucester, was contracted in 1176, when he was 9 and she was 3. The marriage was celebrated in 1189, when he was 22 and she was 16. Incidentally, the marriage was forbidden by the Archbishop of Canterbury because they were half-second-cousins; the Pope granted a dispensation, but forbade consummation.

    When John assumed the throne in 1199, he immediately annulled the marriage.

    A particularly annoying example is how slavering Eurabiacs chunter that “Muhammad was a paedophile” because he married his last wife when she was nine.

    No, he married her when she was six. He had sex with her when she was nine.

    Actually he was following a completely normal pattern for a dark-age monarch much of whose statecraft was built around strategic marriage.

    Then it should be no trouble to find examples of Irish, Norse, Gothic, Frankish, Saxon, or Byzantine monarchs who had sex with nine-year-old wives. Except that there weren’t any.

    Betrothal of a child for political reasons was quite common (usually to another child). Actual consummation of a marriage to a child was not.