I did not know this:
Dawkins began writing the book in 1973, and resumed it in 1975 while on sabbatical. At the suggestion of Desmond Morris, the zoologist and author of The Naked Ape (Jonathan Cape, 1967), Dawkins showed some draft chapters to Tom Maschler of Jonathan Cape, who strongly urged that the title be changed to ‘The Immortal Gene’. Today, Dawkins regrets not taking the advice. It might have short-circuited the endless arguments, so beloved of his critics and so redolent of the intentional stance (in which we tend to impute mental abilities to unconscious things, from thunderstorms to plants), about whether selfishness need be conscious. …
That is Matt Ridley writing In retrospect about Dawkins and The Selfish Gene.
“Immortal” would certainly have been accurate in a way that “selfish” was not. But perhaps having what was arguably a mistake in the title caused heat as well as light in the responses to The Selfish Gene, and thereby enabled this great book, in the end, to spread more light than it might have done if more precisely titled.
… It might even have avoided the common misconception that Dawkins was advocating individual selfishness.
Indeed. Actually, Dawkins has rather orthodox leftist views about such things as individual selfishness (unlike Matt Ridley). But by incurring the ignorant wrath of PC-ers, Dawkins has, I think, been driven away from unthinking leftism, towards more thinking non-leftism, of the sort that Matt Ridley espouses. He is certainly not a member of the PC tribe.
This is a common story. Oafish PC virtue signalling has caused many a good leftist to find himself on the wrong end of his own opinions, and thus to learn at least some of the errors of his ways.
Had he called The Selfish Gene instead The Immortal Gene, might Dawkins have remained, or been allowed to remain, a more orthodox leftist? And if he had, would he, for instance, have been so ready to denounce Islam as strongly as he has, alongside his denunciations of Christianity? Would he now be so ready to mock feminism, and thereby incur yet more PC wrath? (“We believe strongly in freedom of speech … However …”) Dawkins probably would have got involved in such scraps anyway, but he might have had more to lose.
Matt Ridley’s central point is that, whether correctly titled or not, The Selfish Gene combined being original science with successful scientific popularisation in a way that is very rare.
I have been reading Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart.
I recommend this book, but I doubt that I myself will be reading every word of it, and certainly not every number. This is because I am already convinced by Murray’s basic thesis, which is that that America is becoming increasing divided along class lines. The temptations of government welfare, just as you would expect, have enticed the poor into self-destructive habits far more than the rich, because the rich, being rich, are insulated by their riches from these temptations. The rich have also resisted the temptation to smash up their families and raise their children out of wedlock, even as they mock those who still proclaim such notions in public. When it comes to family values, says Murray, the rich ought to be more ready to preach what they practice. All this strikes me as very true.
I was particularly struck by this, which is how Part III (“Why It Matters”) begins (p. 238 of my Penguin paperback edition):
The economist Maynard Keynes, accused of changing his mind about monetary policy, famously replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The honest answer to Keynes’s question is “Often, nothing.” Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded in premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.
So it has been with the evidence I have presented. A social democrat may see in parts 1 and 2 a compelling case for the redistribution of wealth. A social conservative may see a compelling case for government polices that support marriage, religion, and traditional values. I am a libertarian, and I see a compelling case for returning to the founders’ conception of limited government.
In other words, as Perry de Havilland never tires of saying: metacontext, metacontext, metacontext.
Keynes himself changed his mind a lot less than he said he did, I think.
Like Charles Murray, I am a libertarian. But like Murray, and unlike many libertarians, I also believe that old school married parenthood is the best setting in which to raise children, even if, like all other libertarians, I absolutely do not believe that old school married parenthood should be legally compulsory or that any alternatives to it should be legally forbidden. I am not myself married, but a lot of my best friends are libertarians who are married and who are now raising children. They are my friends not just because I like them, but because I admire what they are doing. I love to attend weddings, and have become good at photographing them. Partly this is because I just have, and because I especially like to photograph the many other amateur photographers also present. But I also love weddings because I strongly believe in what is promised at and accomplished by such ceremonies. So, I like Charles Murray’s general ideological attitude to life.
But, I also strongly agree with Murray about how hard it can be to change such ideological attitudes. In particular, merely spraying facts around the political landscape does not necessarily change it very much. Rather does it merely, as Murray says, confirm in the minds of all who hear these facts that they have been right all along about what needs to be done about them.
But this does not mean that minds cannot be changed. Facts, if they are overwhelming enough, can make a difference, especially to people who are young enough still to be making up their minds. But when communicating with such people it is essential not to confine yourself only to facts, however overwhelming they may seem to you. You should also engage at the ideological level. You should state the metacontextual conclusions that you want people to arrive at.
If this does nothing else, it at least enables people to realise that they are in this or that metacontextual team, and to help to make that team a little bit stronger.
It is one thing merely to be a libertarian. You will make a lot more difference to the world if you also realise that a libertarian is what you are. Being a libertarian means have a much more restricted idea of what governments should compel and forbid than tends to prevail nowadays. But it does not mean refraining from having and expressing opinions about how to live wisely.
Having here, as we do, lots of American commenters who are knowledgeable about the details of American politics means that it makes little sense for us Samizdatan Brits to be telling Americans about American politics. But it makes perfect sense for the likes of me to ask questions about American politics. And my question to all American readers who choose to care about it is: Is this true?
This being a Breitbart piece by John Nolte in which he claims that Donald Trump has, pretty much instantaneously and single-handedly, destroyed Hillary Clinton, by flinging at her the accusation that she is an enabler and political ally of a serial woman-destroyer. This mud has been floating around for decades. Everyone has known it. But thanks to Trump and his mastery of the social media, this mud has now, finally, been made to stick. For a quarter of a century the corrupt American mass media have been protecting the Clintons from all this. Now, that protection has been obliterated, by Donald Trump.
If that’s true, then good – very good – for Donald Trump. I have all the obvious doubts about this bizarre man that others have expressed, here and elsewhere. But, one of the basic rules of civilisation is that the rules made by big people, and indeed the basic rules of behaving decently, should apply to big people as well as to little people. The idea that the king is above the law is the very essence of lawlessness. And in the person of “The Donald”, says Nolte, this idea – that the rules apply to the big person that is Hillary Clinton – has finally being applied to and is having serious consequences for this appalling woman, if not in an actual court of law, then at least in the court of public opinion.
Nolte further argues – his piece is entitled “Bernie Sanders Rising Because Trump Annihilating Hillary Clinton” – that the rise of Bernie Sanders is not really a rise; it is merely the collapse of Sanders’s rival for the Democrat nomination, Hillary Clinton.
But: Is all or any of this true? I really look forward to hearing what our commentariat has to say.
I have always thought that we libertarians have a lot to learn from socialists. Not about what are true ideas. They can tell us very little about that, although the process of combating those ideas is very valuable. But about how to spread ideas – how to make ideas count for something – the socialists can tell us a great deal. Their success in spreading their own ideas is all the more impressive when you consider how very bad most of these ideas are.
We can learn, for instance, patience. This is from a piece in the Guardian a few days ago by Rafael Behr:
Whatever else Corbyn’s surprise ascent last year represents, it demonstrates the value of patience. It takes a particular temperament to plug away in apparently futile opposition, making pretty much the same speech to the same fringe meeting for 30 years, letting no belief be washed away by shifting political and economic tides, but instead sifting events for bits of evidence to support the unwavering faith. Not everyone who is cast on the wrong side of history sticks around, confident that history will swing by again in the opposite direction. Yes, Corbyn has been lucky, but fortune only furnished the battle. He gets the credit for winning.
And he is still winning. The tendency in Westminster is to measure success by the restless pulse of the news cycle and the temperature of public opinion. In those terms, Corbyn is not doing so well. It took the best part of a fortnight to conduct a shadow cabinet reshuffle from which the casual observer will have gleaned that Labour is in chaos, divided over nuclear defences with a new bias towards the view that Britain shouldn’t have any. By conventional measures this is bad, but the tradition from which Corbyn hails does not respect those conventions.
To sneer at 14 days of reshuffle-related mess is an error based on the Westminster canard that a week is a long time. Corbyn and friends come from a place where 14 years is a pause for breath; where 30 years of barren rhetoric can whizz by without frustration. Set that as the tempo of achievement and the appointment of an anti-Trident shadow defence secretary is a monumental triumph. Every day in the leader’s chair is more triumphant still if it stops the Labour party returning to what it was.
When libertarians have contrived serious victories, these are the sorts of ways we have done it. When we start winning bigger and more dramatic victories, these are the sorts of ways we will do it.
I receive emails from Google about, among other things, 3D printing. These 3D printing emails link to pieces that mostly confirm my current prejudice about 3D printing, which is that it is an addition to the technological armoury of current manufacturers rather than any sort of domesticated challenge to the conventional idea of manufacturing being done by manufacturers. Far from making manufacturing less skilled, 3D printing is, as of now, making manufacturing more skilled. Which is good news for all rich countries whose economic edge is provided by being able to deploy an educated rather than merely industrious workforce.
Here is the kind of story that these emails link to:
… my colleagues and I have found a way to print composite material by making a relatively simple addition to a cheap, off-the-shelf 3D printer. The breakthrough was based on the simple idea of printing using a liquid polymer mixed with millions of tiny fibres. This makes a readily printable material that can, for example, be pushed through a tiny nozzle into the desired location. The final object can then be printed layer by layer, as with many other 3D printing processes.
The big challenge was working out how to reassemble the tiny fibres into the carefully arranged patterns needed to generate the superior strength we expect from composites. The innovation we developed was to use ultrasonic waves to form the fibres into patterns within the polymer while it’s still in its liquid state.
The ultrasound effectively creates a patterned force field in the liquid plastic and the fibres move to and align with low pressure regions in the field called nodes. The fibres are then fixed in place using a tightly focused laser beam that cures (sets) the polymer. …
The patterned fibres can be thought of as a reinforcement network, just like the steel reinforcing bars that are routinely placed in concrete structures …
In earlier pieces I have done here about 3D printing, commenters have compared the current state of domestic 3D printing with the state that domestic 2D printing had reached in the days of the dot matrix printer. Remember those? Maybe not. They disappeared from common view quite a while ago now.
The above description of miniature reinforcing rods makes me think that something like a 3D printing analogue to the 2D domestic laser printer may be about to emerge. Laser printers supplied, once their price had fallen to something domestically tolerable, unprecedented clarity and flexibility to domestic computer users. The process described above, and all the other 3D printing advances that those google emails tell me about, will, if all develops well, supply unprecedented internal strength, and hence just all-round quality, to cheaply printed 3D objects.
None of which means that specialised 3D printing by specialisers in all the various different sorts of 3D printing that are now coming on stream will cease to be a way to make a living, any more than specialised 2D printing experts have all now been run out of business by amateurs in their homes. (Quite the opposite – that link being just one for-instance of a hundred that I might have picked – I just happen to have particularly noticed taxis covered in adverts.) It is merely that, in the not too distant future, domesticated 3D printing may actually become seriously useful to people other than hobbyists and 3D printing self-educators.
However, even as supply gets ever cleverer, when it comes to domestic 3D printing there remains the problem of demand. As I asked in this earlier posting here (commenter Shirley Knott agreed): What 3D printed objects will be demanded domestically in sufficient quantities, again and again with only superficial variations (in the way that black-on-white messages on paper are now demanded) to make domestic 3D printing make any sense? No answer was supplied in those comments three years ago, and I have heard no answer since. So the above ultrasound-arranged reinforcing rods trick will almost certainly turn into just another manufacturing technique for old-school manufacturers to apply to their old-school specialist manufacturing businesses. Which means that this posting becomes just another Samizdata Ain’t Capitalism Great? postings. Which is fine. On the other hand, few can see killer apps coming, until suddenly they come. So maybe a future beckons, which sees us all eating out, but making other, inedible stuff in our kitchens.
The reinforced concrete reference also makes me even more eager than I long have been to see how 3D printing impacts on the world of architecture, architecture being another enthusiasm of mine. Postings like this one at Dezeen make it clear that this is a question that lots of others are wondering about also.
The Cold War ended a quarter of a century ago. Some are forgetting about it, others are never even learning about it. Many others are deliberately forgetting about the Cold War, because it, and how it ended, made them look bad. But the Cold War needs to be remembered. What it was. What it meant. And why it was such a good thing that the good side won and that the bad side lost.
Sights like this poster, I suggest, which I managed to photograph at Pimlico tube station yesterday before the train I was awaiting blocked it from my view, might help. It is advertising a German series now running on British TV, set during the final years of the Cold War:
I have not been watching Deutschland 83. Comments from any who have would be most welcome. If such comments materialise, I would not be surprised to learn that it contains many little touches of moral equivalence, inaccuracy, and deft little claims to the effect that the winners of the Cold War won it by mistake and that the losers of the Cold War lost it on purpose. I don’t know, but fear the worst on that front. (A little googling led me to this piece, which, with its typically snearing Reagan reference, does not reassure me.)
But meanwhile, the above poster struck me yesterday and strikes me still as a breath of fresh, clean, truthful air.
I particularly like the colour contrast. I further like that Marx and Lenin get blamed for this colour contrast. I like that there is barbed wire on the bad side but none on the good side, grim and grey sky on the bad side and blue sky on the good side, privation and militarism on the bad side and an abundance of tasty food, romantic pleasure and technological inventiveness on the good side.
Perhaps the makers of this poster – and if not them than at least some of those distributing it and displaying it in this country – thought that they were being ironic rather than truthful. Perhaps some of these people think that this poster does not so much present truth as mock the truthful opinions of people like me and my fellow Samizdatistas, for being “simplistic”. If so, to hell with such anti-anti-communist imbeciles. I prefer the truth about the Cold War and I rejoice that this poster proclaims that truth, especially to people who may not now be aware of it.
– More about Wicked Campers and their vans (copiously illustrated and with further links) at BrianMicklethwaitDotCom. Click on the middle picture at the bottom of that posting to see where I found the above sign.
Like Michael Jennings, I end my 2015 blogging efforts here at Samizdata with a clutch of pictures. Unlike Michael, I haven’t managed to do anything like this for every one of the last ten years. I did do something similar two years ago, but this time last year my retrospective attention was concentrated on the speakers at my monthly meetings, without any pictures of them.
I began my 2015 in France.
→ Continue reading: My 2015 in pictures
“Fear not,” said the angel at Christmas, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Indeed. There has never been a better time to be a human being.
– Dan Hannan writes in Conservative Home that 2015 was the best year in human history, and 2016 will be better yet.
Libertarians are now the optimists about the human future, and collectivists are the pessimists. Libertarians know how to make the world better for humans and are doing this, by resisting and (wherever possible) rolling back collectivism. Collectivists never did know how to make the world better for humans, but now not even they believe that they know how to do this. All they can now do is fabricate catastrophe and demand that keeping human progress going be made into a crime.
So, as I regularly do, I read a recent posting at Mick Hartley, which is about what nutters the rulers of Saudi Arabians are, spreading the theology of bedlam and then griping when people do what the theology says, and all the while blaming the Jews for their own ridiculousness.
And then I read this comment underneath that posting, from someone called “Graham”:
Ironically, it’s the Israeli-Saudi alliance behind the QSD that’s defeating ISIS.
QSD? Quesque c’est?
I found my way to this piece (I love the internet):
These are Kurds, Muslim Arabs, Turkmens, and Syriac Christians. …
… which, to me: sounds good, sounds bad, sounds don’t-know, and sounds good …
… About two weeks after this EXTREMELY disparate group was created, it launched the most successful series of offensives in the entire five-year Syrian civil war. The US immediately began arming the QSD, and the Turks suddenly stopped complaining that the Kurds in this new army were up to no good.
This guy goes on to say (I think) that the “Muslim Arabs” are Tunisian special forces, the Tunisians having become very pissed off with ISIS for having recently destroyed their tourist industry. So those Muslim Arabs sound semi-sane, or as semi-sane as Arabs ever are.
And I also found my way to this piece of Kurdish Daily News (Kurdish Daily News, to me, sounds good) which says:
Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) has released a six-day balance sheet of the operation they launched against ISIS gangs in the rural areas of south Hesekê on October 31.
During the first six days of the operation, an area of 350 square kilometers has been cleared of ISIS gangs; which involves 36 villages, 10 hamlets, 2 gas factories, 3 quarry areas and some guard posts near the borderline.
The operation has thus far left 196 members of the gangs dead, 99 of whom were killed by QSD forces and 79 as a result of airstrikes by jets of the international coalition.
Part of my daily reading these days consists of Instapundit, and people linked to by Instapundit, telling me that the Middle East is going totally to hell, and that US Middle East policy now has no redeeming features at all. But I am unpersuaded that the answer to the Middle East’s many problems is for the Middle East to be totally conquered and then micro-managed by the USA, with everyone else just standing around and either waiting for their chance and getting it, or else hoping for the best and not getting it. US policy now seems to have been to back off, wait for some Good Guys to emerge out of the mess, and then when they eventually did, to back them with a few guns and a few missiles and a few airstrikes, but not with a huge US army stomping about making friends-that-are (and then abandoning them following an election) or friends-that-aren’t and enemies-that-are, and generally crowding out the best local answers. Is that – “leading from behind” (i.e. not actually leading at all) – such a very terrible idea? It sounds like a rather better idea than earlier ideas have been. Whether President Obama started out wanted that policy, I really do not know, but that now seems to be what is happening.
This more recent posting at Mick Hartley says that if QSD beats ISIL, the big winner could end up being al-Qaida. But might not QSD first defeat ISIL, and then might not QSD, or something closely related to or descended from QSD, then turn on al-Qaida and defeat al-Qaida also?
But what the hell do I know? Comments anyone?
Ever since the universe obliged me by inventing digital photography, I have been taking a lot of photos (only click on that if you really want to see some of my photos and are willing to wait). One of the sorts of photos that I like to take a lot of is photos of other people taking photos. I particularly like it when they are holding something in front of their face, like a camera or a coat or a bag, so that I can then stick my photo of them photoing up on the internet without them being very recognisable, by which I mean face-recognition-software-recognisable.
And earlier this month, I took this photo, of a lady on Westminster Bridge, taking a photo of another lady. Well, that’s what I at first thought, but later I realised that she was almost certainly videoing the other lady. That’s because in addition to holding up her iPhone (over most of her face) she was also holding up a hand-made teleprompter, covered in text:
I did a few months of schoolboy Russian about half a century ago, so I am pretty sure that this is Russian. But what does it say?
Here it is closer-up and more easily readable, with the blueness removed:
So, is this harmless tourist guidance? Viciously mendacious Putinite propaganda, full of nonsensical lies about the Ukraine? Some kind of personal message? I have enjoyed wondering, but now I would really like to know.
I am sure that at least one of our most knowledgeable and obliging commentariat can knowledgeably oblige with the answer.
I am reading the latest piece at Libertarian Home by Nico Metten, a man whose thoughts and thought processes I am coming greatly to admire. I am only a tiny bit into this piece so far, but already I have read this very lucid observation, which I think is worth passing on:
A prominent libertarian advocate of consequentialism is David Friedman. Consequentialists argue that it is useless to deal with philosophy or morals, as these are very unclear and subjective. What matters are the outcomes of certain policies. As long as the outcomes are ok, the rest does not matter so much. People like David Friedman simply don’t seem to want to deal with philosophy and morals. They are uncomfortable with it. Because of that, they only deal with what they consider more objective, which in this case is economics.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with people getting into libertarianism through economics. Economics seems to play a major role in exposing the state and it can make a lot of converts. I myself have learned a lot from economists when it comes to questioning the state. Labelling this approach as consequentialist however suggests that this follows a distinct philosophy. And here I am not so sure.
To me it seems impossible to be a pure consequentialist. I would agree that results matter. However, how do we know which results are good results? It seems in order to evaluate results, one first will need an evaluation tool. This evaluation tool logically needs to come before the actual consequences and is therefore not consequentialist itself. If this is true, then consequentialism as a stand alone philosophy seems logically impossible. But how come intelligent people like David Friedman can think that they are consequentialists? Friedman clearly must have an evaluation tool. I think the reason for this is that his evaluation tool is completely tacit. It is there, but Friedman is not consciously aware of it.
Good point. I have certainly been vaguely aware of this point, rather as Metten says that Friedman must have been. But I have never read it spelt out quite so clearly and so explicitly. Or, if I have, I wasn’t paying attention.
I am now reading the whole thing.