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]

The US decides to take another step towards stagnation

What is all the more galling is that this “net neutrality” nonsense wasn’t stopped by a Republican-controlled Congress. This cannot be just blamed on Obama and his cohorts, argues Dr Hurd:

The federal government — and this probably includes most of the Republican Party, as well — cannot stand the idea that the Internet economy was a successful instance of (in today’s context) relatively unhampered market capitalism. It’s precisely because this model of (relatively) unhampered capitalism worked so well that government now has to regulate it. Otherwise, it could be held up as a model for the rest of the economy. “If the Internet works so well with little or even no regulation, then what does this suggest for health care, education, lending, and all the other sectors of the economy under government management or control?”

The statists who run the nation’s capital can’t have it, and they won’t have it. That’s why Obama and his Democratic majority on the FCC pushed this through. And that’s why the Republican-led Congress won’t lift a finger in protest. Most of them are just fine with it.

The people I hear defending the Orwellian-named Net Neutrality do so on the premise that it will bring this or that benefit to the consumer. Which consumer? Any action of government bringing benefit to one party (or company), by definition brings harm or loss to another. On what basis does the government take over management of the Internet itself to “benefit consumers” when the government will be the one picking winners and losers based on political — never economic — considerations?

The only proper role for government is a crucial one — to uphold contracts voluntarily entered into by consumers and businesses. Without such a role for government, there would indeed be chaos and anarchy. Advocates of “Net Neutrality” want us to believe that turning the Internet into a public utility will inaugurate this role, when the government was already playing that role all along. The real and only possible purpose for this rule is to ensure that government sets the terms of contracts into which customers and businesses would otherwise freely enter.

Here are more thoughts from the Internet Society.

A must-read article in the Atlantic Monthly about ISIS

I haven’t time for a lot of commentary on this but thought I should at the least put up a link to this long, very important Atlantic Monthly essay about ISIS, or whatever else the would-be creators of a global Islamic empire, aka Caliphate, want to call it. The article makes it clear that the people involved most definitely DO regard themselves as serious scholars of Islam. While it might be comforting to dismiss them as hoodlums or chasers after the glamour of violence (not that these are not true), the people involved are much more. They are deadly serious and don’t regard themselves as aberrant or innovators in their faith.

Whatever other issues get mentioned here (AGW, tax, Ukraine, etc) this – the need to utterly defeat such people, and crush and humiliate them in the eyes of any would-be admirers, is the dominant issue of the age.

Identity politics – I blame post-modernism and other mental hobgoblins

Identity politics is spreading, filling the chasm where the politics of ideas used to be. Even the general election looks set to be a festival of identity, a less violent form of the communalistic politics we sniffily condemn in places like India. Politicos rarely speak of ‘the electorate’ anymore. Instead, they prefer to change their message depending on which ethnic, gender or generational pocket they’re talking to. Just look at Labour’s pink bus, Operation Black Vote and the Tories wooing of the ‘grey vote’. The end result is implicitly divisive, hinting that the young have different interests to the old, blacks think differently to whites, and women are a distinctive political species.

So writes Brendan O’Neill. He’s right, of course, about the vileness of this but doesn’t really drill down into how this state of affairs came to pass.

I put the rise of such “identity” politics, with its insistence that being “offended” about X or Y is sufficient reason to ban or harm said, down to a long process that to some extent has its origins towards the end of the period known as the “Enlightenment”. We saw early stirrings in the so-called “Romantic” era and the elevation of feeling and emotion above supposedly “cold” reason. The process really got under way, in my opinion, with the rise of post-modernism and with notions of relativism. We have even seen such nonsense as “feminist” science as opposed, say, to science per se. The very notion of there being an external, graspable reality that one cannot wish away is all of a piece with this mindset. (For more on the many horrors of post-modernism, I recommend Stephen Hicks and Raymond Tallis.) Allied to this is the way in which notions of self respect or self esteem have become conflated with a demand that others respect us and make us feel good regardless of any objective merit or otherwise. And for some people, they want to be respected not for any individual achievements or qualities (which might require a bit of work) but for simply being.

That a figure from the left such as Peter Tatchell has come in for the hatred of the PC, identity-politics left is richly ironic. I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, but on certain issues, not least in his brave approach to Zimbabwe, he is morally and intellectually in a different class to many of those on that side of the spectrum.

Samizdata quote of the day

Just three months into Ukip’s shock victory as the party of government and already Nigel Farage’s mob are starting to show their true colours: morris dancing has been made compulsory for every able-bodied male between the age of 30 and 85; in ruthlessly enforced union flag street parties, brown-skinned people are made to show their loyalty by eating red-, white- and blue-coloured Battenberg cakes until they explode. And what is that acrid smell of burnt fur now polluting Britain’s hitherto gloriously carbon-free air? Why it is all the kittens that Nigel Farage and his evil henchmen are tossing on to beacons from John O’Groats to Land’s End in order to demonstrate that Ukip are the masters now.

James Delingpole. You don’t have to be a UKIP fan (I am not) to be unimpressed by the tendentious nature of the Channel Four spoof documentary that Delingpole writes about here. Meanwhile, JD imagines what a spoof on the Greens would be like. In reality, the chances of Channel Four, a fairly leftist news channel, doing some sort of job on the Green Party is remote, but it should, given the fluorescent idiocy, authoritarianism and often just sheer ugliness of what that outfit wants to do in practice. See its latest manifesto.

Thomas Piketty wants a war (sort of)

There are already plenty of reasons to take a dim view of Piketty’s leveling ideas on wealth. Here’s another (H/T, Econlog):

I think it would be a big mistake to oppose the objective of global progressive taxation of income and wealth with the objective of class struggle and political fight, for at least two reasons. First, making this tax reform possible would require a huge mobilization. This has always been the case in the past. All the big revolutions engendered a big tax reform. Take the French Revolution, the American Revolution, or World War One: although it was not a fiscal revolution initially, through the Bolshevik Revolution, it had a huge impact on the acceptance of a progressive tax regime and more generally social welfare institutions after World War One – and even more so after World War Two. These were fiercely opposed by the elite and by the right just before these shocks, so this shows that we need a big fight and sometimes violent shocks to make progressive tax accepted. It would be a big mistake to think of progressive taxation as a technocratic process that comes quietly from a minister and experts. This is not at all the history of taxation.

The man was interviewed and had his comments published in a blog rather aptly called Potemkin (not sure how ironic that is).

Perry Metzger, who writes occasionally for Samizdata, nicely skewered Piketty’s reasoning a few months ago.

Samizdata quote of the day

Of all the legion of bad outcomes that result from political ambition, the most striking of our times is surely the euro, an unashamedly political project bolted on to sovereign European nations of long and proud competing traditions in the hope of making them more like the United States, at least in terms of economic prowess.

Jeremy Warner.

The speech Obama meant to give in Paris but didn’t as he wasn’t there

Absolute crackerjack from Timothy Sandefur:

But the conscience of the free west, too, is much in need of reaffirmation. Many of us have come to take for granted the freedom of expression that our forefathers fought so bravely to secure. It is important for us to engage in free speech now, to remind ourselves of what these rights mean.

These rights are not just for us. They are human rights: all people, everywhere, are entitled to freedom, toleration, and peace. And our free societies respect the freedom to write, and speak, and publish as the right of all—from west and east, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist. You are welcome to join us: to write and publish your own criticisms of our society, or even your own offensive cartoons ridiculing things we hold dear. But whether you join us or not, we will not be silenced.

We will not be silenced, or made to fear, and we will not be persuaded to accept the idea that silence in the face of injustice is just, or that appeasement of those who threaten us is safe, or that pretending we are not afraid, by saying we are just being culturally sensitive, is honorable. The right to offend, to chastise, to ridicule and condemn: to these, we will hold fast, knowing as our ancestors knew a century and a half ago, that all freedom, and all that makes life a joy instead of a burden, depends upon it just as slavery depends upon silence and terror.

On that, we will not equivocate. We will not excuse. We will not retreat a single inch. And we will speak.

Some people in the US and beyond might have imagined that the young, appealing chap who was a senator and who ran for office in 2008 was the sort of person capable of giving the kind of speech that Sandefur has written here. We now know very different. What brief remarks he now makes on that subject are, as far as I can see, far too late and too little.

 

What happens when a bright kid plays around with electric equipment

When I was 12, a guy who was a ham radio operator moved in. My uncle had gotten me started on radio, but then he went off to the war–he worked in Britain on the radar project. Anyway, this guy had a background in electronics and he was willing to teach me what he knew. That was just as the war was ending, so there was all this war-surplus electronics on the market, dirt cheap. With the little bits of money that a kid could earn, I could buy piles of electronics, and try to figure out what they were and why they were that way and how I could modify them. That was how I got my start–you could afford to do experiments, because the stuff was so cheap. You could build up equipment and try things, just to see what happened.

Carver Mead, quantum physicist, as he later became. He helped drive some of the inventions of the modern age, such as hearing aids. His brief reflections on how and why he became interested in science make me wonder whether today’s schools are doing a very good job in the West of firing such enthusiasm. Or maybe I am being grumpy: why don’t commenters share their stories of how they got interested in a particular field?

The changing face of war in the air

Earlier this week, Brian Micklethwait of this parish gave an excellent talk about sport and how it sometimes has taken the place of military activity as far as -mostly- men are concerned. Brian will want to perhaps go into this issue in a lot more detail on his own but one question that came up is how such an issue relates to women. Well, a recent trend has been the rising involvement of women in front-line combat operations. They are not yet doing so in the UK infantry, although that could change soon, but in the Royal Air Force of the UK, that is now the case:

A woman who has become the first to command an RAF fast jet squadron is expected to lead bombing missions over Iraq this summer.

​Wing Commander Nikki Thomas​, who took charge of the newly reformed No 12 Squadron at RAF Marham in Norfolk​ ​yesterday (Fri)​, flew a daring low mission to help foil a deadly rocket attack on a UK base in Afghanistan.

​​The 36-year-old is a weapons system operator with extensive experience of combat operations, clocking up more than 35 missions in Afghanistan within three months alone.

This is a woman with a lot of guts. Consider the fact that she knows that, in the event of her aircraft being hit, she might have to eject over land run by Islamists who are not going to be amused at being bombed by Western, feisty women. But then women in the Kurdish regions have already been showing that when it comes to dealing with these thugs, there are no real differences between the sexes when it comes to courage and skill.

There is also a broader point. With professional, volunteer forces, there is a premium on young, fit, smart people who have the ability to do a challenging role. Flying a fighter plane is not the sort of thing anyone can do. Given the ruthless process of selecting for flight training, it is pretty clear that a person who can reach the rank of this RAF officer and do what she is doing must be top-class. The pool of talent is finite. So if a woman is good enough to do this, well fine by me.

And this has nothing to do with PC nonsense, by the way. There is no room for Political Correctness in flying a supersonic jet.

An unsteady defender of the First Amendment

In the aftermath of the horror yesterday in Paris, I noticed that Mr Obama gave a speech, as many other national leaders did, expressing solidarity with France at this time and supporting free speech. I am sure I am not the only person to note how hollow Mr Obama’s comments sound in the light of how his administration conducted itself around the time of the attack in Benghazi when a film about Islam had been released. This isn’t narrow political point-scoring – Republicans and others are just as capable of getting themselves wrong on this issue. The point, rather, is that Western leaders need to be as ruthlessly consistent as possible. When the Obama administration was tested on this sort of issue, it wobbled. Islamist fanatics notice – it creates incentives among those who calculate that if they create enough hysteria, are sufficiently “offended” by something, that people will cave in. The most powerful country on the planet caved.

Another point worth making, particularly as people across the political spectrum seem to be genuinely shocked and appalled by this attack, is that far too many attacks on free speech these days are justified in the name of banning “hate speech”, and so on. Certain forms of expression may indeed be hateful and unpleasant but the best defence against that is indifference, contempt, or ridicule. And another point, particularly for the more anarchist-minded out there, especially those of a leftist bent, is this: if you want to vent, do so on private property, in a consensual way. The producers of the French magazine did that: no-one was forced to buy their product or forced to read it. It is not as if they sprayed their cartoons in public streets outside a mosque.

“Soft power” thrives despite, not because, of the State

Browsing one of those coffee-table sort of magazines you get in the flashier reception rooms in City offices, I flicked through the magazine called Monocle, which has lots of travel articles and advertisements for things I cannot afford, such as IWC watches, Maserati sports cars and holidays to “eco-resorts” in the Indian Ocean, etc. Laced with all this are earnest, remorselessly trendy essays on politics and culture. The undertone is progressive-lefty globalist, with a bit of concession, to be fair, to entrepreneurial vigour and technology. (Some of its items are excellent.) There is a sort of default setting on issues such as Man-made global warming, but the level of preaching is soft. It is a magazine, I imagine, that is pitched at affluent people who want the good things of life but want to feel they are still being “cool”.

I sometimes think that those on the libertarian/classical liberal/conservative end of the spectrum are missing a bit of a trick here by not producing things such as this. Ideas often spread not simply through big books full of Important Ideas (crucial though they are) or from having lots of university professors who espouse such notions (these are crucial of course) but also through aspects of popular and more rarified culture. I mean things such as art galleries, travel magazines and novels. It appears to me – though I have no scientific way of measuring this – that travel mags and books, for example (think National Geographic, Rough Guide books) seem to be edited by people who just trot out the bromides of the progressive, Tranzi mindset without really thinking about their premises. Here is a classic example from the Monocle issue 49 that came out in the end of 2011, on page 43. It is an article about so-called “soft power” and what countries must do to project it. Needless to say, its assumptions are that governments (ie, the taxpayer) should do it:

 “The term for soft power may have been coined in America, but Washington has always seemed more focused on demonstrating heavy-handed military power or confrontational commercial tactics than investing in soft power symbols such as an official tourist board.”

America needs a tourist board, otherwise who knows? People might not be aware that the world’s largest economy exists. What an oversight.

Or this nugget:

 “Despite the absence of a national tourism board – or a modern, well-run national airline – the US still attracts millions of visitors every year.”

Let’s think about this for a bit. The Monocle author says it is a bit odd that so many people go on vacation to the US despite that country not having a bunch of bureaucrats and marketing folk (paid for by taxes) saying what a terrific place the US is. (Surely states and cities do promote themselves, though. California puts up adverts in the UK.)

People just seem to be able to figure out that visiting the US can be done and is a nice idea without a national cheerleader organisation. Further, it appears to be a surprise to the author of that piece that this can happen when the US does not appear to have a major, national airline that has some sort of official status. Wow.

The author does recognise that given the sheer size of the country in geographic terms, and the size of its economy, that may be it can get by without such things. But does it not cross the mind of the author that the reason why some nations (it mentions a whole cluster of them) have a positive image for travellers has nothing to do with state-financed marketing moves or state-backed broadcasters such as the BBC, but because of the bottom-up, free market nature of activity in some of these places that creates things people want to have and which therefore are good for a country’s image? Ironically, Monocle is stuffed with glossy adverts for all manner of brands that speak of the triumph of capitalism, and an admiration for the people who make it work.

I think that if governments really do want to influence opinions in the wider world about what, say, the UK or US is about, the best way to do this is to get out of the way and let the actions and words of people, uninfluenced by government, do the job. Cultural outreach works best when governments have nothing to do with it, since otherwise it reeks of propaganda. Whether you like or dislie these effusions of the market, I’d say that the manufacturers of Rolex watches, BMW cars or pop music do more for the respective images of their countries than anything likely to come out of a government-backed broadcaster or tourism board.

Samizdata quote of the day

The Taliban child murderers in Pakistan are beyond the bounds of reason or common humanity just as much as the individual lunatic who flies their flag for a brief moment of glory in a coffee shop. Properly speaking, what Sony did, and what the political leaders who advise talking to the Taliban are suggesting, is not appeasement as we knew it in the 20th century. Terrorism is not international politics – and it is not war in any conventional sense. It is criminal insanity. There can be no pragmatic settlement, no negotiation and no dealing with these enemies. Their power will only be destroyed by mortifying defeat and that means defying their threats and their demands at every point. If that puts us at risk, so be it. No life worth living is without risk.

Janet Daley

Interestingly, Obama’s rebuke for Sony has led to some pushback. It is worthwhile speculating if such events will sour relations between Obama and many of those in the Hollywood establishment who have been among his most fervent supporters.