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]

There should be room in our hearts for pity…

for the striking London black cab drivers whose hard won skills have been rendered obsolete by Uber and Addison Lee, just as we should remember with pity the thousands of drivers of hansom cabs whose hard-won skills with horses were rendered obsolete by the coming of the internal combustion engine. I am not being flippant or sarcastic. To lose one’s accustomed livelihood to new technology is a tough spot to be in, and there will be many reading this, some of them highly paid at present, who should look at Trevor Merralls’ situation and tremble.

But that pity should not extend to offering to keep Mr Merralls forever in the style to which he has become accustomed simply because he was born working class, or to stifling the opportunity for self-employment that Uber offers to its drivers (also working class), or to depriving Londoners who could not afford black cabs of the ability to take a cab at a reasonable price at any time day or night, and which will, as one of the Guardian commenters put it, “actually go to exotic destinations like Lewisham”.

A government gag, you say? I hope they tie the knots good and tight.

The Times reports:

Charity lobbying rules are ‘government gag’ say critics

Attempts to stop charities using taxpayers’ money to lobby ministers have been branded draconian and are an “attempt to gag organisations raising concerns about policies”, it was claimed today.

A clause has been inserted into new and renewed charity grant agreements, stipulating that money must be spent on improving people’s lives and on good causes rather than lobbying for changes to regulations or for more funding.

While the government insisted that the clause would not prevent charities from using privately-raised funds for lobbying campaigns, others were not convinced.

Matthew Hancock, cabinet office minister, said: “Taxpayers’ money must be spent in improving people’s lives and spreading opportunities, not wasted on the farce of government lobbying government.

“The public sector never lobbies for lower taxes and less state spending, and it’s a zero sum if Peter is robbed to pay Paul.

“These commonsense rules will protect freedom of speech – but taxpayers won’t be made to foot the bill for political campaigning and political lobbying.”

Good. This incestuous relationship between the government and what were once charities has corrupted both.

Peter Tatchell changes his mind

Contrast this recent Guardian comment piece by Peter Tatchell:

I’ve changed my mind on the gay cake row. Here’s why

Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee. I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict – the bakery was found guilty of discrimination last year. Now, two days before the case goes to appeal, I have changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.

with this one from 2010:

Chris Grayling reveals the real Tories

… the right of B&B owners to turn away gay couples is an echo of the bad old days when some landlords used to stipulate: “No blacks, Irish, gays or dogs.”

The equality laws exist to protect everyone against discrimination.

But Grayling apparently believes that some people – homophobic people – should be above the law. Why this exception? After all, he does not agree with B&Bs refusing accommodation to black or Jewish couples. If race discrimination is wrong, why is Grayling saying that homophobic discrimination is right?

I am glad to see Mr Tatchell go from being wrong to being almost right. I am glad and surprised to see most of the Guardian commenters agree with me as to which is which. (I say “almost right” because he is still of the opinion that “Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas”. One day I hope he will acknowledge that the distinction is meaningless. The former behaviour is as much an inherent human right as the latter.) I do not think it is coincidence that the older article was, as well as being wrong, badly argued. There were two howlers in the first three sentences. The article started with reference to the ‘the bad old days when some landlords used to stipulate: “No blacks, Irish, gays or dogs.”‘ It is difficult to prove a negative, but… nah. Never happened. Signs saying “No Irish” and “No blacks” certainly did exist. Signs saying “No xxxx or dogs” turn up everywhere on internet discussion boards but not so much in photographs. As for signs saying “no gays”, it would never have occurred to anyone in the bad old days to specify homosexuals as a group against whom one could wish to discriminate. By the time things got to the stage that anyone could think of gays as unwelcome – rather than as criminals – it was practically the good new days. A couple of lines later Mr Tatchell says, “But Grayling apparently believes that some people – homophobic people – should be above the law.” You would think that he of all people would be aware that peacefully advocating for legal change is the opposite of wanting anyone to be above the law.

And to be fair, it now looks as if he is.

Banning the messenger

Andrew Rawnsley has joined the crowd round the cadaver at the pollsters’ post mortem for the May 2015 General Election:

“Now if only I had followed my own advice about opinion polls…”

At 10pm on 7 May last year, Martin Boon, the head of the polling company ICM, spoke for his entire industry in a two word tweet: “Oh, shit.”

There follows some discussion of what went wrong, and then it gets to the part that really interests me:

It might even be paradoxically true that by forecasting a hung parliament, the polls helped to produce a Tory majority government. I think there is something in this, but the trouble with the hypothesis is that it is just a hypothesis. Since we can’t rerun the election with accurate polling, it can’t be proved.

That hasn’t stopped some voices from responding to the polling failure by demanding a ban on their publication in the days before an election. That is a rotten idea. It would be anti-democratic, unfair and it wouldn’t work anyway. In a free society, it should not be illegal to collect opinions and publish the results. Another objection to a ban is that it would be partial. A privileged minority, commercial interests and the political parties themselves would still conduct and have access to private polls. In any case, a ban looks highly impractical because it could not prevent websites abroad from publishing polls.

He writes good sense, but it does not stop many, many of the commenters to Mr Rawnsley’s article demanding that polls be banned in the run-up to an election. Many of these want polls banned simply because they think it would help the Labour party. Amusingly, a lot of the same commenters who now say that the pollsters conspired to exaggerate the chance of a Labour victory in order to frighten Conservative voters off their sofas were saying before the election that the pollsters were conspiring to exaggerate the chance of a Conservative victory in order to demoralize Labour supporters. And now they refuse to believe the recent polls that say Jeremy Corbyn is considered unfit to be prime minister.

The group above overlaps with those who want to ban opinion polls because fantasizing about banning things is one of their few pleasures in life, but there are also some calls for polls to be banned from people who do not give the impression of being quite such control freaks.

These less visibly freakish commenters often want a ban on polls specifically because – get this – voters might change their intentions if they know more about what other voters are likely to do. If you think about it, this is a very weird argument. For one thing, under this argument the case for a ban (such as it is) becomes stronger the more consistently accurate polling becomes. For another, the people making it generally rail against the voters for not bothering to inform themselves, but in this matter they demand that the voters be forbidden to inform themselves. Why that particular exception? Why should voters be encouraged to consider the effect their vote will have by looking at the party manifestos, or by using the results of the previous election to decide how best to place their vote tactically, but be forbidden to consider what their fellow voters are planning to do? If the protest vote I am considering making against Party X turns out to be rather more likely to propel the dreadful Candidate Y into the seat than I had previously thought, I want to know about it.

Arise, Sir Joris

Joris Luyendijk is actually Dutch but honorary knighthoods can be conferred on foreigners who “have made an important contribution to relations between their country and Britain”. I think he qualifies. He writes,

Yes, we would strangle or crush the English in the post-Brexit negotiations, the way any group of nations comprising 450 million people would to an opponent eight times smaller who has just tried to blackmail them

This is why the best way forward for Europe is to threaten to hit the English as hard as we can. We must stop treating membership of the EU as a favour granted by England, and instead make the English feel their vulnerability and dependence.

Anthropological fieldwork

The BBC reports:

Arts body Creative Scotland has defended giving an artist £15,000 to spend a year without leaving Glasgow.

Ellie Harrison’s project is called the Glasgow Effect – a term relating to poor health in parts of the city.
The artist said she wanted to explore sustainability by travelling less and focusing more on local opportunities.
Critics on social media have described it as a waste of money but Creative Scotland said Harrison’s strong proposal had qualified for funding.

On a web page explaining the project, Harrison states: “The Glasgow Effect is year long action research project / durational performance, for which artist Ellie Harrison will not travel outside Greater Glasgow for a whole year (except in the event of the ill-heath / death of close relative or friend).

“By setting this one simple restriction to her current lifestyle, she intends to test the limits of a ‘sustainable practice’ and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the ‘successful’ artist / academic.”

The Independent tells us that,

“The experiment will enable her to cut her carbon footprint and increase her sense of belonging, by encouraging her to seek out and create ‘local opportunities’ – testing what becomes possible when she invests all her ideas, time and energy within the city where she lives.”

Responses to the artwork have been mixed. Some Glaswegians have been offended at the idea that their city is evidently considered to be what the Diplomatic Service calls a “hardship posting”, a place that one must be paid extra to endure. Unkind residents of Edinburgh have said that for a year in Glesca, £15,000 isn’t nearly enough. I do think that the extra fifteen grand will make the restriction of Ms Harrison’s current lifestyle a little easier to bear. Unlike the majority of those citizens of Glasgow paid by the State simply for existing within its boundaries, Ms Harrison is free to augment her dole by continuing to work as “‘successful’ artist/academic”, and no need for the scare quotes round “successful”, either. She has done better than most artists in that she has been successful in getting someone to pay handsomely for her stuff (albeit not with their own money), namely the Scottish Government. Of course her finding a patron was probably made easier by the fact that, like herself, those who approved her grant application were part of the famously close-knit Scottish arts community. There is a rather different class of Glaswegian who has to work forty hours a week for a total level of remuneration often not that much different than the top-up Ms Harrison gets to fight off the people simply demanding that she come and bestow her art upon them. According to the Scotsman and the International Business Times, some of these benighted Weegies have been kicking up a fuss at having to pay for all this. You’d think they would be grateful that someone was taking an interest in them. Philistines.

By the way, you all knew that David Thompson would be making his own artistic response to this, didn’t you?

Finally, here are some of Ms Harrison’s own words from her grant application which she has kindly posted online:

Since then, I have developed an actively self-reflexive practice, which is as much concerned with analysing and exposing the motivations, processes and ethics of making art, as it is with the individual projects that I produce (see examples in attached Supporting Material). Whilst studying, I began to notice the environmental impact of my practice, becoming the first individual artist to launch an Environmental Policy. Published on my website in 2010, the policy summarises the action I currently take to reduce my carbon footprint and holds future decisions to account.

Never has a reshuffle been so aptly named

The daft old beardy has been at it a day and a half now and the only person he’s managed to actually eject is the shadow Culture Secretary. No, wait, I’m wrong – news just coming in – Pat McFadden is also out!

Who?

Never mind. Some poor schmuck dim enough to once think a career in politics would be a good idea, sacked by a man who looks as if he would be happier if their roles were reversed. OK, Jeremy Corbyn will eventually finish reshuffling. It may happen while I am writing this post. I do hope it is soon. Much longer and he will be in danger of shuffling off this mortal coil himself. The results of the reshuffle will not rejuvenate either Mr Corbyn or the Labour party.

In one of the science fiction author Larry Niven‘s short stories it is mentioned that when teleportation booths were still very new, some naive people put the booths inside their houses. It didn’t take that many house clearances by teleporting burglars before people realised that might not be wise. I thought of that story when I first heard that Jeremy Corbyn was likely to be elected leader of the Labour party. Some have attributed his success to an imprudent decision by Ed Miliband to lower the cost of becoming a supporter of the Labour party to a paltry £3, which encouraged far-left entryists and not a few malicious Tories to vote for Corbyn. However that was only part of it – Corbyn also won among longstanding party members. The main factor in his victory was, as in Niven’s story, a technology whose consequences were not yet properly understood. That technology was social media. Facebook and Twitter were where the idea of joining the party as a supporter and voting for Corbyn, the outsider, the joke candidate, the perennial loser given a chance out of pity, went from snowball to avalanche. When the existing members saw the avalanche building they, too, were caught up in the excitement. Suddenly the quasi-revolutionary hopes of their younger days seemed possible once more.

I don’t think this conjunction of factors will ever happen again. Political parties the world over are quietly upping their membership fees, instituting probationary periods before a new member gets to vote on the leader, and deciding against open primaries. The example of the UK Labour Party has shown them the need for a wall between your house and the teleportation booth.

Triply good news about free speech in Northern Ireland

Why “triply”?

– This:

Pastor who said Islam was ‘doctrine spawned in hell’ is cleared by court

A born-again Christian pastor who denounced Islam as “heathen”, “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell” has been cleared after a three-day trial in a verdict that upheld the right to offend under the principle of freedom of expression.

– this:

The National Secular Society said the verdict was a “welcome reassertion of the fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
Campaigns manager Stephen Evans said the society strongly disagreed with the tone and content of McConnell’s comments, but added: “At a time when freedom of speech is being curtailed and put at risk in any number of ways, this is a much needed statement from the judge that free speech will be defended and that Islam is not off-limits.”

– and this:

An Islamic academic spoke in support of McConnell outside the court on the grounds of freedom of expression. Muhammad al-Hussaini, a senior research fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute, said: “Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is … a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others.

“Moreover, in a free and democratic society we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say.”

Discussion point: good and bad inaccuracies in movies

Was it tough going cold turkey? Have you still not finished the cold turkey? To lighten the post-festivities hangover, may I suggest a little helping of the traditional New Year’s activity of passionate argument about trivia.

Which examples of factual inaccuracy in films annoyed you the most? And which film inaccuracies do you think were best justified by the requirements of runtime, drama or adherence to the Rule of Cool?

I welcome discussion of inaccuracies in the cinematic portrayal of history, of scientific and technical matters, of law, of war, and of common procedure in various types of human activity. However, restrain yourselves if possible from simply listing deviations from truth that merely arise from ignorance. A more interesting case for good or evil is those compressions, negations and exaggerations that were the deliberate choices of the filmmakers.

A somewhat-related post touching on some of the results of filmic inaccuracies is here.

Philosophy today

In an article called “The greens and the fascists” Bishop Hill linked to this paper by Trygve Lavik, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Bergen:

“Climate change denial, freedom of speech and global justice”.

Bishop Hill did not use the word “fascist” inappropriately when he described Professor Lavik’s views as “unmistakably fascist”. Here is the abstract of the paper (emphasis added):

In this paper I claim that there are moral reasons for making climate denialism illegal. First I define climate denialism, and then I discuss its impact on society and its reception in the media. I build my philosophical arguments mainly on John Stuart Mill and Thomas M. Scanlon. According to Mill’s utilitarian justification of free speech, even untrue opinions are valuable in society’s pursuit of more truth. Consequently one might think that Mill’s philosophy would justify climate denialists’ right to free speech. A major section of the paper argues against that view. The main arguments are: Climate denialism is not beneficial because its main goal is to produce doubt, and not truth. Climate denialism is not sincerely meant, which is a necessary condition for Mill to accept utterances. Climate denialists bring harm, by blocking necessary action on climate change. Primarily they harm future generations and people in developing countries. Hence the case can be made in terms of global justice: Would future generations and people in developing countries support my claim? I think so, or so I argue. My argument from global justice is built on Scanlon’s distinction between the interests of participants, the interests of audiences, and the interests of bystanders. The climate denialists have participant interests “in being able to call something to the attention of a wide audience”. Audience interests consist of “having access to expressions that we wish to hear or read, and even in being exposed to some degree to expressions we have not chosen”. Future generations and people in poor countries are bystanders to the climate debate. If the debate postpones necessary actions, it is the bystanders who must pay the price. I argue that bystanders’ costs outweigh participants’ and audiences’ interests, and that this is an argument for a statutory ban on climate denialism.

Keywords: climate change denial, freedom of speech, global justice, utilitarianism, harm principle

Discussion point (Christmas edition)

Christmas celebrations banned in Somalia, Tajikistan and Brunei.

Their gaff, their rules?

A rant that delivers the goods

Stefan Stern wrote the standard Guardian article about the awfulness of Uber, only this time it wasn’t Uber it was a bunch new to me called “Deliveroo”: “Deliveroo and its ilk are serving up low wages, insecurity and social division”. He wrote,

But we have clearly not even begun to think deeply enough about the implications for workers in all this.

A commenter called “narnaglan” replied,

There is nothing in this for you to think about. Deliveroo has nothing to do with you, since you are not a shareholder. The people who work for it choose to do so and are not forced. It is entirely legitimate, and ethical.

Your only response to Deliveroo, if you have a feeling that they are not doing it “right” is to start your own business, where the delivery people are under contracts and conditions that you feel are acceptable. If you are correct in your assumptions, Deliveroo will be driven out of business, and your new, ethical delivery service will immediately dominate.

But you will not do this.

Why? Because you are comfortable sitting on the sidelines telling other people how to live and run their affairs. You are not willing to take risk yourself, and have no original ideas of your own. All you are able to do is react to what other people invent, and criticize it through your distorting and inverting Guardianista Socialist lens.

Deliveroo and all other businesses that allow people to start work are useful and beneficial. The more companies in the market like it, the more jobs there are, and the better off people are. Someone with an idea will disrupt Deliveroo, which is the latest in a line of home delivery services that have existed for at least 18 years, one of the first being the Room Service delivery service that did not even have a website.

You people simply do not understand the market, innovation and how things really work. All you know how to do is destroy, call for people to be made unemployed and business to be made inoperable because you think you have the right to tell other people how to live, how to organize and what private contracts they make between themselvs are ethical.

You are wrong. About everything.