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]

Alex Singleton’s PR Masterclass book launch

I am currently trying (although I promise nothing) to write a review of The PR Masterclass by my friend and occasional Samizdatista Alex Singleton. I had hoped to be able to combine this review with a report of the launch of the book that took place in the offices of the Adam Smith Institute on Tuesday evening of this week, but the former project is now delaying the latter, so here are some pictures of the launch. My more considered thoughts on the book will have to wait, not for too long, I hope.

As so often, what really mattered at this event was not who spoke at it or what they said, but how many people were there to listen and to stand around trying to impress each other with their various opinions and alleged triumphs. The answer last Tuesday was: a lot. The place was packed out:


If you write a book called The PR Masterclass and you arrange a book launch for it, you had better assemble a decent throng of people. If word gets out via the few who did attend how few attended, you will come over as very foolish. That mission was definitely accomplished, that landmine definitely not stepped on. Alex told me later that the people present were a mixture of ASI-type “movement” people, PR professionals, and journalists. Just what he wanted, in other words.

One reason why so many people showed up was that Alex had obtained an impressive star speaker:


Guido started by remembering the old Globalisation Institute that Alex Singleton used to run, and how amazingly lavish was the press coverage that the Globalisation Institute used to get. Then he reminisced about a drunken night out the two of them had had, which had landed Guido in court. Or something. At this point in his speech Guido started speaking too quietly for me, at the back, to hear properly. But the people nearer the front of the throng seemed amused, and anyway, it doesn’t matter what gets said at these things. The point is for it to be made clear that a Big Cheese like Guido wants you to buy the book, is a friend of the author, blah blah. If you want to be in with the in-crowd, read this book.

Alex himself also spoke, briefly:


I like that one, but I like this one even more:


Both snaps capture, I think, the fact that Alex Singleton is an enthusiast about what he does, but that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Some people might grumble about a picture like that second one of them. Alex won’t.

Alex had emailed me earlier to say that it would be fine if I brought my camera with me, and used it. As is my habit, I looked to see if others were taking photos, but only spotted one, standing right next to me:


Had Alex not emailed me beforehand that me photoing would be fine, I might have refrained. That he found time to include this in the email he sent me about this event is typical of his attention to detail, and of his ability to see the world through the eyes of the people he is trying to influence, surely the core PR attitude. (And hey, I just got a phone call from him saying do I have any photos that he can use?)

As for the book, in the event that I never get around to posting my properly serious review of it any time soon, let me now supply a short summary of what I already know I will be saying: the book is very good.

One other thing, which also points up that this felt like a very successful event, and that Alex was coming across as a very successful and significant chap. While trying to impress those around me, I found myself talking about my Brian’s Last Fridays, and how brilliant they have so far been since I resumed doing them in January of last year. Someone asked me who will be my next speaker, on the last Friday of January, i.e. on the evening of January 31st. My reply? “Oh, yes. Come to think of it: Alex Singleton.” This actually did impress people, or so it seemed to me.

I’m being rather frivolous about all this, but it really is quite a significant little fact about the world that one of the leading personalities in the bit of it that concerns itself with PR is now Alex Singleton, i.e. someone who probably agrees with me, and very possibly also with you, about really quite a lot of things. On the jacket of the book, Singleton’s publishers start their blurb about him by describing him as “one of the world’s leading public relations strategists”. That one could show up at this event and feel that this was not an obviously over-the-top or ridiculous or embarrassing claim is, I think, quite something.

Aiden Gregg at the Rose and Crown last week

On Thursday 9th of this month, exactly a week ago, I mentioned here a Libertarian Home meeting due to take place that evening in the Rose and Crown, Southwark. It happened, I went, and I wrote most of what follows the following evening. But then life got in the way, and I am only now posting what I then wrote.

The first thing I want to say about Aiden Gregg’s talk about the psychological foundations of differing political beliefs, libertarian and otherwise, is that I greatly enjoyed it. And I got the strong impression that most others present did also.

Much of what Gregg said was based on a book by Jonathan Haidt, entitled The Righteous Mind (now on its way to me via Amazon). Haidt looks as the contrasting ways of thinking and feeling of three big categories of American political people – in descending order by size: liberal, conservative and libertarian. (It’s an aside, but straight away, that itself strikes me as a big win for the libertarian movement. A generation ago, would “libertarian” have been in the mix, as a distinct big category? I wonder how greenies feel, if they read Haidt’s book, about not being included as a distinct big category. Also, as was asked during the Q&A, what of non-Americans?)

My immediate reaction to Haidt’s various different ways of thinking and feeling was to wonder exactly what these are. Are they notions relating in any way to the biology of the brain? Are they, that is to say, “real”? Or are they merely things that Haidt has found that political people like to think about? Are they just questions which, if you put them to political people, seem to reveal and illuminate differences of deeper attitude? Are they, as Perry de Havilland might say, questions about contrasting meta-contexts? This is the perpetual problem of the social sciences. What exactly are you observing? What are you talking about? I will perhaps have more to say about such things, and about exactly which people score exactly what on which variable, once I have had a closer look at Haidt’s ideas in written form, although I promise nothing.

Memory plays tricks – definitely mine now does – so others might describe this talk very differently to the way I am doing. But, what I heard as Gregg’s main conclusion was that nature, when it comes to political affiliation (religion was hardly mentioned) is not destiny. You are not doomed, because of the sort of person you were born as, to be any particular sort of political animal. The main thing to learn from such work as Haidt’s is not that most people are beyond hope when it comes to converting them to Righteousness (in my case, to libertarianism), but that you have a better chance of converting someone to Righteousness if you understand their psychological dispositions better. What “moral foundations” (to quote the words on my scribbled notes) do they consider to be most important?

As to what these moral foundations are, we were offered six variables of concern, so to speak, to consider important, rather more or rather less than others: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, freedom/oppression. If, like most libertarians, you are more exercised about freedom/oppression than, say, about sanctity/degradation, but are arguing with a conservative whose cconcerns are the opposite of yours, then you just banging on about how freedom/oppression is what matters most, and that libertarianism scores well on this variable, will not get you very far. It will be a dialogue of the deaf.

It was a lively meeting, livelier than usual. Partly this was because of Aiden Gregg’s relaxed and low key demeanour. When the room erupted with interruption, as it did from time to time, his attitude seemed to be that this was amusing, rather than any kind of insult to him personally. I guess if you are an academic psychologist, a group of people is interesting to observe no matter how disruptively it behaves, and perhaps the worse the better. You look on with amused detachment, as if observing baboons. Especially if they are libertarian baboons and this the sort of behaviour you expect from such baboons.

But there was, I think, another reason for the lively response to this talk, which is that all of us were, but not in a bad way, taking it personally. We were – certainly if my own response was anything to go by – thinking things like: how do I score on these various variables? What do I think is most important? And: I wonder how my scores differ from other people in the room, from other libertarians generally, and from other people generally.

I have always felt myself to be, psychologically, a lot more like (compared to other libertarians) many of the ideological opponents of libertarianism, of the softer, kinder, better-meaning sort. I just think that the way to get a softer, kinder, better world is through a policy of radically diminished state activity and greatly increased freedom compared to what we live with now. I don’t favour the free market, despite it being rather red in tooth and claw but simply because it is free. It is free, and that’s very nice. But I do not think that it is actually very red in tooth and claw. And I think that the statist alternatives to it are much redder in tooth and claw than those proposing such alternatives typically suppose, or pretend. Socialism, for instance, and especially the sort of state-imposed socialism that is actually capable of being done in a big way, doesn’t strike me as at all egalitarian, at all fair (to allude to variable 2 in the Haidt list). It merely installs a different and far more toxic sort of unfairness.

On another variable, authority, I also perhaps dissent a little from others in my libertarian tribe. For me one of the great glories of freedom is that it creates authority of the good sort. It only undermines authority of the undeserved sort. Ditto loyalty. In general, a free society makes people nicer. It makes people (Randians: look away now) more altruistic. One of the most significant shortages that afflicted the Soviet Union, throughout its baleful history and especially when it collapsed, was a shortage of public spirit, that is to say, of the willingness of people to put themselves out for each other, and especially for strangers.

My point here is not just that I now have all these clever things to say about authority and niceness and the USSR and so on and so forth, on the back of having attended this Aiden Gregg talk. It is that I believe I was not the only one thinking personal thoughts in response to what he was saying, while he was saying it. We were all, I suspect, doing this. This was a talk that got us all, as the say goes, going. It got us all thinking.

It was, in short, very good, just the sort of thing that such talks should be.

As is usual at Libertarian Home events, there was a video camera running, as I mentioned when commenting on this rather blurry set of photos that I took at the event. In a comment he has just attached to that posting, Simon Gibbs apologises about the lighting, following me moaning about it. But I think, if you take photos, that it’s your business to work around such things. That I did not do this very well on that particular night is partly because I was distracted by finding the talk so very interesting.

I’ll end by saying that, if what Aiden Gregg was saying sounds like the kind of thing that interests you, keep an eye out for that video. Libertarian Home videos take quite a while to emerge, but emerge they always seem to do, eventually. (A previous Aiden Gregg performance for Libertarian Home, in the same venue, can be watched by going here.)

Devika on a new Indian anti-corruption party and Aiden Gregg on the psychology of libertarianism

About a week ago, “Devika” posted a very interesting piece at Libertarian Home, about a man called Arvind Kejriwal, an Indian anti-poltician who is in the process of becoming an Indian politician.

I don’t have much to say about this piece, other than that any British libertarians who think that there is much to be learned from the success of Kejriwal’s Anti Corruption Party in India to the problems faced by libertarians in Britain in getting that noticed politically would probably be making a mistake. Although I am sure that Indians disagree a lot about what causes it and whose fault it is, almost everyone in India detests the corruption that is rampant in India and in Indian politics, probably even a great many of those who practise corruption. Perhaps some of them most of all, because they feel forced to do terrible things. None of the regular political parties can convincingly argue against such corruption, because, as Devika explains and as everyone in India knows, they are all part of it. So, a new anti-corruption party, run by people with very public track records of honest and persuasive campaigning against corruption, was always liable to be a runaway success, unless and until it too succumbs to the same corrupting pressures that corrupted all the other parties. Here’s hoping that does not happen any time soon.

Libertarianism is Britain is in a very different position to the anti-corruption tendency in India. Almost everyone in India is anti-corruption, divided only in whether they think anything can be done about it. Almost nobody in Britain is a libertarian. A British libertarian party will accordingly only pick up a tiny number of votes and cause a tiny little stir, no matter how capably lead and well publicised.

Devika notes how the Indian anti-corruption party did very well by asking its members to guide its direction and policies. This works well, because all concerned are united against corruption. The only argument is about how to diminish it, which corrupt processes to attack first, and so on. A British libertarian party that allowed anyone who joined to influence its policies would very quickly cease to be libertarian.

I want to be clear that at no point in her piece does Devika herself make an explicit connection between what Kejriwal and his anti-corruption party are doing and what British libertarians should do. I do not know if she thinks any of the things I have just been criticising. But I do sense this implication, a bit. More to the point, whatever Devika thinks about such things, some of Libertarian Home’s readers may draw just the sort of conclusions from her piece that I am criticising. Certainly, discussions at the Rose and Crown about libertarianism and libertarian politics are now saturated with the frustration of wanting to bring libertarianism to the attention of a wider public, but of not knowing how to contrive this.

There is another such discussion taking place this evening. This will be lead by Aiden Gregg, who is both a libertarian and an academic psychologist. Gregg will be talking about the psychological dispositions of libertarians in particular and of politically active people generally. I think this is a fascinating subject, full of lessons for libertarians to learn about how to be more effective libertarians. So, I will definitely be there.

In my opinion, one thing that libertarians can definitely now do (as opposed to trying to copy too directly the activities of Arvind Kejriwal) is to tell people like Aiden Gregg how important and valuable they are to the libertarian cause, and to encourage them to stick at it. We need our people everywhere, especially in the universities, and especially in faculties which are not economics faculties.

Sean II on not spouting libertarianism to friends-and-family

Here is a comment, from someone called “Sean II”, on a posting done just over a year ago at Bleeding Heart Libertarians entitled Freedom and Feminism. I think (but am not sure) that I got to this via one of the links here. He attached a ping to this posting about JK Rowling, which I got an email about.

Whatever, I think that the following comment is interesting, and entertaining, and just all round deserving of a little bit more attention than however much attention if got a year ago:

Interesting you should mention the friends and family dimension.

Of the people close to me, I’ve only ever put forth a serious effort to share libertarianism with my wife. And even that mostly took the form of me saying casually “these ideas can be found lying around the house, if you should ever happen to develop an interest in them. Obviously, I’d like it very much if you did, but please feel no more pressure than that.”

Everyone else in my private life gets sorted into the category of “Don’t argue. Not worth the risk of hostility, alienation, and rancor.”

As you might guess from that, I spent the holidays holding my tongue while some people praised Chris Christie’s “handling” of the weather, others spoke (in a convincing mimicry of informed discussion) about the urgent need to hold magazine capacity below 30 rounds, and one dear in-law rhapsodized about the perfectly obvious necessity of federally funded light rail NOW!

My wife asked me why I never say anything. I told her: “The same reason why Doctor Who doesn’t give everyone a physics lecture when he visits the 16th century. He’s too far ahead, they’re too far behind, any dialogue that arose between them on the subject would be little better than a session of verbal abuse. All the information and all the practiced arguments would be on my side. They’d have no choice but to fight back against me with maximum nastiness.”

The odd thing is … they’ve all seen my library. Floor to ceiling, it’s politics, philosophy, and history. You’d think, at some point, one of them would get suspicious of my silent partner act, and wonder why I grow quiet whenever my own favorite subjects come up for discussion.

That’s pretty much how I feel about my family. My friends not so much, because the majority of them are libertarians, or at least libertarian-sympatico. But I also have plenty of friends whom I do treat in exactly this silent way, although not with the Doctor Who-ish sense of silent superiority that Sean II says he feels. After all, if I’m so clever, why ain’t I winning them over?

An interesting bit of the libertarian movement is the bit that consists of people – like Sean II? – who behave like and feel like and have similar personal and consumer tastes to “liberals”, and who actually get along very well with liberals and who often marry liberals, but who are, actually, on the quiet, libertarians. These are the double life libertarians, the libertarians in the closet.

And an interesting moment in intellectual and political history may one day happen when such libertarians feel more free to tell it like it is to their friends and families. Will this moment ever happen? Has it already, for some? Discuss.

Samizdata quote of the day

So who are these people, these soi-disant progressives who keep flogging this swill?  They are quite obviously the people who profit  most from it in a variety of ways. Well, I’ll tell you, since I was once one of them.

They are the “Soros Socialists,” successful people who want to stay rich and powerful.  They do this by espousing social programs and making pronouncements, few of which affect them even minimally.  But they have the image of being generous egalitarians and the image is all.  It prevents them (their power and greed) from being scrutinized by others — and even more importantly it can prevent them from scrutinizing themselves.

- Roger L. Simon ends his piece (“Back when I was a kid, I used to think Republicans were the party of the rich” is how it starts) whacking the “really rich” people who now spout, and pay for, the continuing progressivist ruination of America.

Let us all hope that there is enough ruination in America for the stupid opinions (personally I have nothing against their “greed” if all that this means is them earning mountains of money by making mountains of great stuff) of this latest generation of plutocrats to be shrugged off.

My year in twelve pictures

If Michael Jennings can roam the world taking photos, then I can roam London and nearby spots, doing the same. Here are twelve photos from my year, one for each month.

They are chosen, I hasten to add, as much to help me say things about what is in them and about digital photography as for their technical quality. Which is… rather variable.

→ Continue reading: My year in twelve pictures

Scott Wiener on the art and the design of the pizza box

Incoming from Michael J:

God Bless Capitalism.

Read all about:

The Package Saver
The Table Box
The GreenBox
Hell’s Pizza Coffin Box
The Euro Lock Box
The VENTiT Box
Pizza Hut Hot Spot

Read more by buying the book.

A not too terrible year for the environment

The Independent, looking back over the year through its deep green spectacles, tells us:

It was mostly a terrible year for the environment. In the UK, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson continued to prompt speculation that he is a climate sceptic and Chancellor George Osborne carried on putting off potential investors in green energy, most obviously by scrapping from the Energy Bill a clause to green Britain’s power supply by 2030.

Meanwhile, for reasons I have not been following, badgers are being killed.

People like Osborne, Paterson and their ilk, in Britain and around the world, could be doing much better, but reports like this remind us that things could be far worse. At least the argument is flowing in the sane direction and away from climate catastrophism. And, with painful slowness, the power and the money are now responding to this change in the climate, as in: change in the climate of opinion.

Meanwhile, the world continued to experience the kind of extreme weather events that cannot be directly linked to climate change but which scientists say are likely to occur more often as a result of a changing climate.

I love that “cannot be directly linked” bit. As in: cannot be directly linked, no matter matter how hard the Independent’s preferred scientists are trying. These guys are just too obvious about what they want to be true.

The climate itself remains much the same.

Sign of the times

I just wished the readers of my personal blog (and these people do exist) a Merry Christmas by sticking up photos of local tradesmen’s signs saying Merry Christmas.

But I saved this sign for here:


There is also a website. I particularly like this bit of it.

Parkinson’s Other Law suggests that now might be the right time to sell your Amazon shares

I see that Instapundit has become aware of Parkinson’s Other Law, the one about custom-built headquarters buildings. This is the law that says that any organisation which builds itself a brand new headquarters building is heading for disaster.

Instapundit links to a Wired piece about Apple’s new mega HQ, which does indeed look like a recipe for corporate disaster. This new Apple enormity looks a lot like the GCHQ building in Cheltenham, which was completed in 2003, after that organisation had participated successfully in two major wars – WW2 and Cold. But that Apple scheme has been around for a while. The latest HQ building news comes courtesy of Amazon:


Pity. I really like Amazon. I hope its death throes are prolonged enough not to derange me too much. I hope, that is to say, that in the near future, it is Amazon’s shareholders who suffer most of whatever Amazonian grief is about to erupt. However, I do fear that if, as a result of a share price collapse, Amazon then tries to be profitable, this might hurt us now-very-happy customers quite badly too.

Immediately after the Dezeen piece linked to above, about the new Amazon HQ, there came another piece, about a new Twitter HQ. But, although suspiciously well designed (hence it being noticed by Dezeen), this is to be in an already existing building that used to be a furniture store. This is the right way to contrive a new headquarters building, if you really must have such a thing at all.

Deirdre McCloskey’s list of true liberals

Almost a decade ago now, the still much missed Findlay Dunachie did a posting here about the wicked sayings and doings of Communist academics and supporters and subverters in America, some of whom were then trying to expunge from the historical record their long catalogue of blunder and subterfuge and just plain evil. Earlier this year I encountered this posting again, and recycled its particularly eloquent opening sentences as a Samizdata quote of the day.

But this posting contained other things that were perhaps even more memorable than those opening sentences, namely two lists of the bad communists and communist sympathisers in question. List One: The Academics. List Two: The Spies. May they live in infamy.

I was reminded of those lists when I recently encountered another such list, this other list being a roll of honour rather than of dishonour. It appears towards the end of Deirdre McCloskey’s book Bourgeois Dignity, which was published in 2010. (The Anton Howes talk that I flagged up here recently is pretty much Anton Howes channelling this book.)

What is this book about? Well, one way to describe it would be for its author to list all the people whose ideas she approves of and is herself channelling.

So, that’s what she does, on page 400:

My theme in short is the true liberal one of the de la Court brothers, Richard Overton, John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Thomas Rainsborough, Richard Rumbold, Spinoza, Dudley North, Algernon Sidney, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Turgot, Montesquieu, Adam Ferguson, Smith, Thomas Paine, Destutt de Tracy, Jefferson, Madame de Stael, Benjamin Constant, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Charles [not Auguste] Comte, Charles Dunoyer, Malthus, Ricardo, Harriet Martineau, Tocqueville, Giuseppe Mazzini, Frederic Bastiat, Mill, Henry Maine, Richard Cobden, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cavour, Johan August Gripenstedt, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Karl von Rotteck, Johan Rudolf Thorbecke, Carl Menger, Lord Acton, Josephine Butler, Knut Wicksell, Luigi Einaudi, H. L. Mencken, Johan Huizinga, Frank Knight, Ludwig von Mises, Willa Cather, Rose Wilder Lane, Walter Lippmann until the 1950s, Nora Zeale Hurston, Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin, Michael Polanyi, Friedrich Hayek, Raymond Aron, Henry Hazlitt, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Ronald Coase, Milton, Rose, and son David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, James Buchanan, Ludwig Lachmann, Gordon Tullock, Thomas Sowell, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Roy A. Childs, Julian Simon, Israel Kirzner, Vernon Smith, Wendy McElroy, Norman Barry, Loren Lomasky, Tibor Machan, Anthony de Jasay, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Deepak Lal, Chandran Kukathas, Ronald Hamowy, Tom Palmer, Don Lavoie, David Boaz, Richard Epstein, Tyler Cowen, David Schmidtz, Donald Boudreaux, Peter Boettke, and the young Robert Nozick. It is the obvious and simple system of natural liberty. It contradicts the aristocratic sneering by conservatives at innovations and at the bourgeoisie, or the clerical sneering by progressives at markets and at the bourgeoisie. The true-liberal claim is that unusual bourgeois dignity and personal liberty in northwestern Europe, and especially in Holland and then in Britain, made for unusual national wealth, by way of a revaluation of ordinary, bourgeois life.

Interesting, both for its inclusions and for its exclusions. Particular kudos to the very select few who need only be mentioned with one surname!

The most notable exclusion that commenters here may want to notice and opine about is Ayn Rand. Rand gets no mention either in the book’s index or in the list of works cited. My guess is that McCloskey’s attitude to Rand can be summarised as the claim that Rand contributed a minus quantity to our understanding of, to quote the title of McCloskey’s earlier book, The Bourgeois Virtues.

For me it is the inclusions in this list that are the most interesting. It makes me want to learn more, in particular, about the English men of the seventeenth century at the top of the list, and about all those Germanic sounding people, throughout, several of whose names are entirely new to me.

I’d be very interested to hear if anyone reading this list can honestly claim to have even heard of everyone on it. Paul Marks has, obviously, but … anyone else?

Happy Christmas to all who are reading this, and happy googling, of the who is he? sort, that this posting will, I hope, stimulate.

Anton Howes on the industrial revolution – now available on video

One of the intellectual highlights of my year has been hearing Anton Howes (whom I first noticed while noticing the Liberty League) expound the idea that the British industrial revolution was, at heart, an ideological event. The industrial revolution happened when it did and where it did because certain people in that place and at that time started thinking differently. To put it in Samizdata-speak, the metacontext changed. Particular people changed it, not just with the industrial stuff that they did, but with what they said and wrote.

I first heard Howes give this talk at my last Friday of the month meeting in July of this year. Happily, Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home also heard Howes speak that night, and immediately signed him up to do a repeat performance, this time with a video camera running, for Libertarian Home at the Rose and Crown.

And the good news is that the video of this Howes talk at the Rose and Crown is now up and viewable at Libertarian Home. If spending half an hour watching a video does not suit, then you might prefer to read Simon’s extended summary of the talk. The same video is also up at YouTube.

I wrote a bit at my personal blog about that subsequent evening, and there is lots else I want to say about what Howes is saying. But one of the rules of blogging is not to let hard-to-write and consequently not-yet-actually-written pieces interrupt you putting up easier-to-write pieces that you actually can write and do write.

So: Anton Howes is a clever guy. Watch the video. And watch out for him and his work in the future.