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]

Now securocrats tell you how to build a house

I have frequently noted here the obsessive fortification of the state during the last decade: how all public buildings in Britain have steadily become the opposite – closed-off, accessible only through guardrooms, by special permission.

A fascinating and frightening piece by Anna Minton in the FT Locked in the security cycle describes something I did not know. Though I had noticed a more general neurotic security obsession in new developments, I thought this was merely a matter of insurance and corporate cowardice. Some of it may be. But some of it is official coercion. Minton explains:

High security is now a prerequisite of planning permission for all new development, through a government-backed policy called Secured by Design. […]

Secured by Design is administered under the auspices of the Association of Chief Police Officers and backed by the security industry, with the initiative funded by the 480 security companies that sell products meeting Secured by Design standards. It is also supported by the insurance industry, with lower premiums for the increasing levels of security offered by Secured by Design standards.

Beware the security-industrial complex!

Note this is enforced by state power: since the all-nationalising Attlee government of 1945-51 planning permission controls all building in Britain. It is a panopticon of the built environment, covering all significant building or alteration of building: nothing is legally done privately; nothing is legally done without prior official approval. So “a prerequisite of planning permission”, means developers comply or they don’t build. But the standards to be applied by planning officers are controlled by a ACPO – a closed professional body for senior police and civilian policing officials – and far from correcting the producer interest, as choice might, deliberately incorporate it as a driving factor.

What will we get – what are we getting – all around us? An architecture calculated to reproduce the assumptions of those in security positions and industries of what’s a good place for people to live, trade or work, for children to play or be educated. Those are assumptions about order, ‘appropriate’ persons and behaviour, the need for oversight, the nature of – and constant presence of – threat. Hence the suspicious building syndrome: you will be increasingly screened to permit entry, and watched, controlled inside the perimeter. Hard, plan-defined boundaries, rather than freely negotiated common use of space.

But look! Lots of jobs for guards and electrical maintenance crews. Compliance by large builders will make their lives easier and competition more difficult. ACPO members will find valuable consulting work. Politicians can say we live in a society with “world class” security. The execution of policy will be deemed its success. Everybody (who matters) wins. Positive feedback.

But not the only feedback loop. The authorities are not interested in contrary evidence. Public bodies and quangos are skjlled at commissioning proleptic studies, and the institution of ‘public consultation’ is highly developed as an art of obtaining affirmation for policy, but even so, there are clear signs that that official security obsession creates psychological insecurity in the populace. Minton again:

Although crime has been falling steadily in Britain since 1995, fear of crime is soaring and 80 per cent of the population mistakenly believes crime is rising. Fear of crime does not correlate with actual crime but with trust between people, which is being eroded by high-security environments. […]

One of the key drivers for this project [Minton’s forthcoming NEF-published report] is the dearth of evidence that Secured by Design and high security prevent fear of crime and create strong, stable communities. Of the few existing studies, an investigation into CCTV by the Scottish Office found that while people often believed CCTV would make them feel safer the opposite was true, with both crime and fear of crime rising in the area investigated. The author concluded this was because the introduction of CCTV had undermined people’s personal and collective responsibility for safety. Research has also found an “unintended consequence” of extra security can be that “symbols of security can remind us of our insecurities”

[my emphasis]

I would add: they also remind us of something else. The pressure for all this comes from regulatory culture. As with the fortification of the state, it reveals and propagates the intense fearfulness in authority itself. Authority is frightened of the unsupervised individual, and thinks we should be too. To recycle a phrase, they hate our freedom. The possibility that life may be lived harmlessly in divers ways is just as much anathema to a secular bureaucrat as a religious totalitarian. If rules and fear are not everywhere, we might not accept that the people who make up rules always know best.

Samizdata quote of the day

Presumably Matthew Woods learned a powerful lesson about the potential consequences of tasteless humour when a 50-strong mob turned up at his house and the police had to arrest him for his own safety. Jailing him on top of that is insane. Sick jokes can upset and offend. Hurriedly formed vigilante mobs can kill. If the state earnestly believes that the former pose a greater threat to social order than the latter, the state is nuts.

– Charlie Brooker, quoted here, on the latest person in Britain (last time I checked) to be sent to prison for a Facebook posting. Sometimes we end up on the same side of the barricade as the Guardian in-crowd.

Samizdata quote of the day

This whole idea of ‘respect’ – which is a code-word for ‘fear’ – is something we have to get away from.

– Salman Rushdie (interviewed on BBC Radio 4). Indeed. And not just in where the bullying religiose are concerned. Tolerance should not mean pretending to agree.

Samizdata quote of the day

If you think £2m for a project without any policy implications is expensive, just imagine how expensive it would have been with policy implications.

– The IEA’s Kristian Niemitz on the Office for National Statistic’s venture in ‘happiness research’.

Samizdata quote of the day

[I]t’s simply no longer the case that killing a few people on board a plane could lead to a hijacking. Never again will a terrorist be able to breach the cockpit simply with a box cutter or a knife. The cockpit doors have been reinforced, and passengers, flight crews and air marshals would intervene.

Kip Hawley Oh, well done! That only took 10 years.

A retired securocrat would like us to understand a fact that was plainly apparent by noon on September 11th, 2001. A fact that the isolated and terrified passengers of Flight 93 worked out and demonstrated for themselves. In the meantime countless millions of people have been inconvenienced and humiliated in the name of security. And since countless billions have been spent on the pointless bullying, there is now a public superstition and pointless bullying lobby that makes it certain the article will make no difference.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a queue to be groped by a truculent imbecile, to no purpose but your subordination – forever.

Sir Humphrey returns (not that he ever went away)

SkyNews’ Sophie Ridge reports:

Whitehall departments spent £1.4 billion in an attempt to save £159 million by sharing back-office functions such as personnel and procurement.

Similar methods in the private sector typically cut a fifth off annual spend within five years, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

Sir Humphrey [in Yes, Minister – The Economy Drive (1980)]:

Asking a town hall to slim down its staff is like asking an alcoholic to blow up a distillery.

Capitalists @ Work says STFU

…to the UK’s anti-capitalist left in a truly splendid rant:

The callous capitalist west is happy to house you if you want to be housed. It will educate for free from 3 to18 years. It will attend to your medical needs, cradle to grave, regardless of what you do to your own body. It agrees to protect you from hostile countries with a military and from hostile fellow citizens with a police force, whether or not you yourself are a criminal. If you catch on fire it will send someone round to put you out. It will have a justice system to ensure you are fairly treated and will provide a lawyer for you if you need one.

The state doesn’t care what religion you are. What you call yourself. What you wear or where you travel. The state will provide infrastructure every citizen may use regardless of how much taxation that individual has contributed to its development. Anyone may use terminal 5 or New Street station or the M25. It will give you money every week and ask only that you sign for it once every month. More money if you’re ill. Or if its cold.
When you’re sixty five or sixty eight it will give you more money if you have never saved or earned any any of your own.

It won’t even ask you what you’re doing with the cash. It will let you spend it on cigarettes, booze, Cheesy Whatsits, gambling or an E Harmony subscription. The state doesn’t care.

It won’t demand you serve in the military or a national service labour scheme. It doesn’t even ask you to give blood or take part in medical experiments. Or sweep up the streets or even just sign an agreement that you promise only to say nice things about the government.

And that’s just a democratic government. Capitalism adds choice. Technology. Medical advances. Communications. Longevity. Energy. Transportation. Travel. Comfort.

The whole of civilisation has been a struggle to secure enough food to eat and enough shelter to survive.

That’s the argument. The last line stands on its own: what the Wolf-Klein-Monbiot corner sees as the wicked selfishness of trade and the terrible vulgarity occaisioned by choice and freedom, are medicine, not sickness. Read the whole thing here. (H-T: Worstall)

Alternative Samizdata quote of the day

I don’t think earning about the same as Kenwyne Jones of Stoke City is cause for apoplectic outrage.

– Mark Littlewood of the IEA on the UK political storm about the head of the world’s sixth largest bank getting a bonus of something under one… meelion… pounds. (US readers may wish to read that again. A million, not a billion.)

Stoke City is currently the 8th best soccer team in England. It has 44 players in its squad.

Facts and attitudes

This morning I was prodded by the scourge of epidemiocracy, Chris Snowden, to read this piece by Theodore Dalrymple. What most struck me was not the main argument (I find predictable agreement almost as wearing as disagreement) but this piece of supplementary information:

A higher proportion of the Dutch population smokes than average for a developed country (27 percent), and fewer Dutch people are aware of secondhand, or second-lung, smoke — that breathed in from other people’s tobacco — than any other comparable country.

Why should that be? I think it demands an explanation. Certainly the Dutch population cannot easily be classed as ill-educated or poorly-informed. (I have been sworn at by a drunk tramp on an Amsterdam tram who switched instantly to English invective when he realised that it was going to be more effective in my case.) My mind leapfrogged towards ideas about the Dutch liberal tradition. They choose not to know, because they do not like to hassle people about their private behaviour, perhaps…

Unfortunately there are no sources quoted. When I looked for stats and background info, I found something even odder. That remarkable factoid contains no truth. → Continue reading: Facts and attitudes

Some cheerful holiday facts about recreational drugs

Even as supplied by an unscrupulous underground market and taken blind by consumers in a variety of unsuitable ways, they really aren’t very dangerous:

According to the ONS data, in 2010 there were more helium deaths [32] than cannabis, ecstasy, mephedrone and GHB related deaths put together.

‘Helium?’ you may ask… It’s classed as a drug but no, it doesn’t do anything. But it is so hard to buy anything reliably lethal in the UK that helium is a sophisticated means of self-asphyxiation for suicide. So even those 32 cases should not be classed under malign side effect of drug-use. Death in those cases was a positive result.

From the carthorse’s mouth

Why don’t [union leaders] be selective and call out only those members who can cause damage to the government? There are places in the public sector that could go on strike for years and it would make little difference.”

– Letter in the New Statesman, 12 December 2011

Assuming the unions were to agree with that—which I suspect they dare not, and is indeed one strategic reason why one-day strikes are preferred—in what places in the public sector would staff striking for a significant period damage the government more than the unions? Maybe there are some. But it is hard to think of any.

Samizdata quote of the day

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.

War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honours, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.

– James Madison [Thanks to Sara Scarlett for reminding me]