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]

Who are you and what have you done with the real Guardianista?

“Bring back self-defence classes for women – it’s the feminist thing to do”, writes Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in the Guardian. That’s right, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, more typically to be found writing such gloriously quotable effusions as “Why it’s OK to cry about this election”, is writing kick-ass pieces about kicking ass in the Guardian. This is strange but good.

Bravo, Rand Paul, whatever you were doing

I do not entirely understand why Rand Paul spoke in the Senate for ten hours, accompanied by ten other senators, three Republicans and seven Democrats. It was something to do with derailing an extension of the Patriot Act. Apparently if he had gone on fifteen more minutes longer, past midnight, it would have been a proper filibuster. But he did not. Weird. Still, Paul is a man whom I credit with having a decent reason for pretty much whatever he does. Well done, I think.

Forced speech

The Times reports (paywalled):

Christian bakery guilty of discrimination over ‘gay cake’

A bakery whose Christian owners refused to make a cake carrying a pro-gay marriage slogan has been found guilty of discrimination after a landmark legal action.

Ashers Baking Company discriminated against Gareth Lee when it refused to create the cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, with a slogan “Support Gay Marriage”, a judge has found.

Ruling in the case that has split public opinion in Northern Ireland, Isobel Brownlie, the district judge, said: “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination.”

So, you can be forced to say “Support Gay Marriage”, on the grounds that if you don’t say it someone will be left feeling “like a lesser person”, to quote Mr Lee, the plaintiff in this case.

How might this principle be extended?

Added later: in answer to my own question, a scenario:

Following the Labour victory in the closely-fought election of 2020, the new prime minister made good on the pledge made to the Muslims who had formed such a reliable part of the winning “coalition of the oppressed”. (In fact the promise to outlaw Islamaphobia had first been made by Ed Miliband back in 2015.) The relevant amendments to the Equality Act 2010 having been made, it seemed a natural next step for many Muslims to press for the UK to follow the example of several Canadian cities and give legal weight to the verdicts of the existing informal network of Sharia tribunals to which Muslims could choose to bring civil cases as an alternative to the regular channels of English or Scottish Law. It was as part of the campaign for this that the plaintiff, Mr A, approached the Rainbow Baking Company, run as a family business by the defendants Mr B & Mr C. The judge ruled that “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of religious discrimination” when they refused to bake a cake bearing the message “SUPPORT SHARIA LAW”.

As it happens I am not in principle opposed to parallel systems of arbitration running in parallel to the ordinary law, so long as they are strictly voluntary. But my imaginary gay bakers might well profoundly object to being obliged to make a cake bearing that slogan. However by then the precedent that they can be forced to by law will have been set.

The morality of not teaching your child English

Some decisions made for an infant are not easily undone. Circumcision, for instance. Hence the controversy on this blog. Or the decision of what language the child will hear first, and whether and when a second one is taught. This topic seems to generate similar anger for similar reasons.

My long post, a sequel to this one on how those who wish to preserve minority languages are self-destructively fixated on the use of force as the only possible means of doing so, is stalled. A line about how Welsh-speaking parents should be free to delay teaching their children English if they wish grew until it took over the post. I have cut off that part as one cuts off the end of a… worm. Let’s see if it can live independently and wriggle off into some new direction of its own.

We are libertarians, right? We defend fee-paying schools, religious schools, selective schools, single-sex schools, schools where the children do not have to attend lessons, “unschooling” and homeschooling. We do not wimp out from defending all these just because they may not be where we would choose to send our own children. Yes, I meant Islam. Islamic schools must be free to exist on the same grounds that Islamic speech must be free to exist. Compared to many of the controversial types of school above, the average Welsh, Maori, Irish Gaelic or Navajo medium school is beloved by all. I must say, I would prefer that no school were funded by force, i.e. by taxation, but that happy state is at present no more than a dream.

As for schools, so for languages. We defend everyone’s right to his or her own language and culture, this time joined by practically the entire developed world. It was not always so here in the UK, nor in the rest of the English speaking world, and even now there are many countries where minority languages are still suppressed covertly and overtly. In modern rich countries the boot is very slightly on the other foot, but by the standards of world oppression it’s not a big deal.

As for languages, so for passing on your language to your children. The idea that being bilingual confers a cognitive advantage is not utterly universal, but it is very widespread, and, for what it’s worth, intuitively makes sense to me. I have never met a bilingual who wished they were not one; I have met several people who lament that they could have been raised bilingually but were not. Fine for the kids, then… but maybe not so fine for the minority language. Bilingualism does not seem to be stable. “Half the world is bilingual,” say the enthusiasts. Yes, and half the world’s languages are in danger of dying out. Welsh, the minority language I know most about, is comparatively healthy with its half million plus speakers, but its trendline gently noses downwards. Every Welsh speaker also speaks English. That’s the trouble. There is this myth that when an English person comes into a pub all the locals start speaking Welsh. They don’t. On the contrary. I have lost the link for this*, but when I saw it I believed it instantly from personal observation: there is research to show that when a single person who only speaks English joins a Welsh-speaking social group every other person in the network switches to English, out of politeness. And then comes the internet, and pop music, and the TV, and the adverts, and the whole great wave of English… increasingly, Welsh-schooled or not, young people in Wales seem to be jumping in and enjoying the surf. Often they are sad later that they have let their Welsh go, but gone it has. The same pattern of decline applies to young speakers of other languages spoken in proximity to English.

Some might calculate that only way to ensure the survival of these languages is to increase the exit costs.

→ Continue reading: The morality of not teaching your child English

“Perhaps he wants to quiet me”: Charlotte Church pops out of the bubble then in again

“It’s all very well for me to sit in my cosy leftie bubble,” writes the singer, “with my baja-sporting friends, spending our free time attending vegan popup barbecues and meeting in art centres to have a bit of a moan about Ukip; we missed the changing climate of British politics. We dismissed the growing support for the right wing as just a few comedy racists, underestimated the momentum they were gaining, and thought that by retweeting the latest Owen Jones article, we were doing our bit. Wrong.”

That is self-aware. And it never goes amiss to assert, as she does in the second sentence of her article, that the right to protest does not end just because an election goes against you. She is also right to assert that her celebrity does not invalidate her right to political speech, nor her riches her right to advocate socialism.

All rather well said, I must admit. Then she goes into the pouty whinge-n-smear mode that has become so prevalent among modern feminists that they probably no longer know they are doing it.

For Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservatives, to describe my exercising of democratic freedom as “unbecoming” really says more than I ever could. Perhaps he thinks I should get back to the ironing and stop babbling on about air-headed notions such as protecting the NHS (a system that he himself has been most mobile in attacking), fighting for a fairer society (a concept that entirely eludes his party), and championing the plight of those in society who are less privileged than me.

What Davies actually said was,

“At the end of the day, to denigrate the electorate, who has just spoken, within 48 hours of the election, is slightly unfortunate and unbecoming.”

Note he did not deny her right to go on a protest march whenever she wanted, he merely said that it did not look good and was annoyingly timed. I am not sure what prompted her speculation that “perhaps” he wants her to get back to her ironing. Using old-fashioned but very mild terms of rebuke such as “slightly unfortunate and unbecoming” does not logically imply a wish to repeal the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870. Still, who knows the secrets of the Tory heart? Perhaps he does. Or perhaps (while we’re perhapsing) it was all a Freudian slip and it is Charlotte who dreams of a man Tory and masterful enough to carry her off to her £800,000 “Princess” yacht in Swansea Marina and have his wicked way with her on the folding ironing board in the servants’ cabin?

I’m too scared to check what use I myself have made of that “Perhaps he thinks [whatever anodyne thing he said passed through Evil Overlord Filter]” formulation. Never mind. I’m cured now. I do not wish to sound like this:

Perhaps he wants to quiet me because I threaten his status as a wealthy, privately educated, white male.

And perhaps he doesn’t. A not unreasonable assumption given that he never said a word about “quieting” you, both of you are equally white, and you are much richer than he is. That speculation all came out of your own pretty little cis-privileged head, protest princess who makes things up. Why this need to pretend you are persecuted? At least the other Princess Charlotte has an excuse for acting like a baby. By the way, I would not normally have thought it becoming to mention your racial, heteronormative and wealth privilege, only you seem to think it’s important to insert a checklist of these things for anyone you criticise, so I thought it best to defer to your preferences.

Wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong, wrongbert, wrongble and wrong

A little over a year ago I asked the following question:

Has the day come when election polls are nearly always right?

Famously, in the last US presidential election, Nate Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His prediction for the election before that was correct for 49 out of 50 states.

Both times, I had hoped it would turn out otherwise. My hopes had been a little higher than they should have been because of the residual glow from the Shy Tory factor, first exhibited to a dramatic extent in the 1992 UK general election and still apparent, though in lesser degree, for several elections after that. I had known about that factor in my guts before that election, from listening to people on the tube, and had correctly guessed the final result would be more Conservative than the polls claimed. As the results came in I did not rejoice that the Government would be Conservative, but I did rejoice that the Chattering Classes had been confounded, their bubble burst, their conversational hegemony broken open and their flary-nostrilled noses put out of joint. Yeah.

Unfortunately not-yeah since then. I haven’t eaten a hearty post-election breakfast with schadenfreude sauce about the polls for many a year now. George Bush winning in 2004 was splendid fun, of course, but it was no great surprise to anyone who had been paying attention. The polls had given him a consistent small lead for months before the election.

Betteridge’s law of headlines strikes again. That day had not come. The polls in the General Election of 2015 were wrong, wrong, wrongety-wrong, wrongbert, wrongble and wrong.*

As was I, but least I had the nous to put in a question mark.

So, elections just got interesting again. Goody! But none of the articles I have yet seen adequately explain why the Shy Tory effect was successfully allowed for by the pollsters in the UK General Elections between 1992 and 2015, only to burst forth again now, nor why political polling in the US has generally managed to factor in Shy Republicans just fine. Except for the 2014 midterms.

The one place where the UK polling companies did fairly well this time round was Scotland, although they still underestimated the scale of the SNP’s triumph. Wishful thinking led me to suppose that the estimates being chucked around of 48 seats for the SNP were exaggerated; in the event they were too cautious. Going back to 2011, it is part of Scottish Nationalist mythology that the victory of the SNP in the Holyrood election of 2011 was completely unpredicted by the polls. However the very last polls were quite close to the actual result when it came to the constituency vote, but much less close when it came to the regional vote in the Scottish Parliament’s semi-proportional voting system. Probably the polls recorded a shift of opinion in the last few weeks of the campaign, which is all you can ask of them. When you think about it, polls cannot predict anything; the people who look at them do that. The final polls for the Scottish referendum were out by a not-bad 5% or so, in the usual direction of underestimating the small-c conservative side.

All in all, a British or American polling company attempting to sell its wares to interested political parties or news organizations on May 6th 2015 could have made a fair case that they were on top of the Shy Tory problem. So what happened on May 7th? What will happen on November 8th 2016, and will we have any idea beforehand?

*This is funny but nothing to do with this post. Americans and people under 50: don’t ask.

Samizdata quote of the day

Whether The People be led by The Lord,
Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote—
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.

– Rudyard Kipling, MacDonough’s Song, not for the first time.

Such love as we allow

Via Tim Blair and David Thompson, I came across this thoughtful philosophical discussion compèred by Joe Gelonesi of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?

The power of the family to tilt equality hasn’t gone unnoticed, and academics and public commentators have been blowing the whistle for some time. Now, philosophers Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse have felt compelled to conduct a cool reassessment.

Swift in particular has been conflicted for some time over the curious situation that arises when a parent wants to do the best for her child but in the process makes the playing field for others even more lopsided.

‘I got interested in this question because I was interested in equality of opportunity,’ he says.

‘I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families.’

Once he got thinking, Swift could see that the issue stretches well beyond the fact that some families can afford private schooling, nannies, tutors, and houses in good suburbs. Functional family interactions—from going to the cricket to reading bedtime stories—form a largely unseen but palpable fault line between families. The consequence is a gap in social mobility and equality that can last for generations.

So, what to do?

According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.

‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’

and

It seems that from both the child’s and adult’s point of view there is something to be said about living in a family way. This doesn’t exactly parry the criticism that families exacerbate social inequality. For this, Swift and Brighouse needed to sort out those activities that contribute to unnecessary inequality from those that don’t.

‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.

I hesitate to add anything to David Thompson’s takedown. I would almost call it an exorcism. Thompson writes:

Conceivably, there are quite a few parents and children who would like to escape a state education similar to my own, where those deemed overly studious ran the risk of being bullied, tormented or whipped across the face with bootlaces, thanks to the attention of the school’s dozen or so budding sociopaths, who amused themselves, in corridors and in class, with apparent impunity. A state school, a comprehensive, where objects of discernible value were routine targets of vandalism and theft, and where the teaching of basic grammar was thought inegalitarian and therefore superfluous. A conceit embraced by other ‘progressive’ educational establishments.

But it’s not all Thou Shalt Not:

“In contrast, reading stories at bedtime, argues Swift, gives rise to acceptable familial relationship goods, even though this also bestows advantage.”

Ah, this “we” would allow.

“Swift makes it clear that although both elite schooling and bedtime stories might skew the family game, restricting the former would not interfere with the creation of the special loving bond that families give rise to. Taking the books away is another story.”

No, “we” won’t take your books away. So there’s that.

The one thing I feel compelled to add is that the philosopher (I think it is Swift rather than Brighouse who is being quoted) does concede that abolishing the family would be “a really bad idea”. He goes to some lengths to explain exactly why private schools should be abolished but reading bedtime stories should be permitted. No doubt all three, Gelonesi, Swift and Brighouse, feel genuine frustration that the rubes in the audience have got themselves so worked up. Why, the whole point of the theory of “familial relationship goods” is to show that reading to your children and other forms of passing on privilege within the domestic sphere can be justified!

Gelonesi is quite clear that Swift and Brighouse are defenders of the family:

Although it’s controversial, it seems that Swift and Brighouse are philosophically inching their way to a novel accommodation for a weathered institution ever more in need of a rationale for existing.

And there is the metacontext: the family is in need of a rationale for existing. From philosophers.

Philosophically, Swift and Brighouse’s argument that parental care is an acceptable deviation from the straight road to equality seems weak to me. If equality is the destination, the supreme principle, then familial love should be abolished.

Samizdata quote of the day

If it be feared that this discourse may unhappily advantage others in such unlawful courses; it is considerable that it does not only teach how to deceive, but consequently also how to discover delusions. And then besides, the chief experiments are of such nature, that they cannot be frequently practised, without just cause of suspicion, when as it is in the magistrates power to prevent them. However, it will not follow, that every thing must be suprest which may be abused. There is nothing hath more occasioned troubles and contention, than the art of writing, which is the reason why the inventor of it is fabled to have sown serpents teeth. And yet it was but a barbarous act of Thamus, the Egyptian king, therefore to forbid the learning of letters: we may as well cut out our tongues, because that member is a world of wickedness. If all these useful inventions that are liable to abuse, should therefore be concealed, there is not any art or science which might be lawfully profest.

– Bishop John Wilkins, Mercury, or the Secret and Swift Messenger: Shewing How a Man May with Privacy and Speed Communicate His Thoughts to a Friend at a Distance, published 1641, the first work on cryptography in the English language.

Galileo reborn

“This week Short, probably Britain’s greatest-ever chess player, suggested that women were biologically worse at chess and that “rather than fretting about inequality, we should just get on with it.” The reaction has been predictably bitter.”

[…]

“I like Nigel Short. I went to see him play his 1993 world championship game against Kasparov. But I’m dismayed he said this — even if it turned out he was right — because it can become self-fulfilling.”

Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.

*

“Eppur si muove!” (“And yet it moves!”)

– Some say these words were muttered defiantly by Galileo Galilei after he was forced by the Inquisition to recant his theory that the Earth goes round the sun.

*

“I want more women to do computer science, not because of my views on gender equality but because I want more people in general to do science. The chess debate will make that harder. It takes enough courage as it is to decide you want to become the only girl on your computer science course. Hearing that you are also hard-wired to be worse at it is not going to help.”

Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.

*

“In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration”

Thomas Henry Huxley, known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his robust defence of Darwin’s theory of evolution in public debate.

*

“Whatever biological influence on mathematical ability there may or may not be, there is indisputably a far greater influence: culture. Publicly debating biology directly influences that culture — for the worse.”

Tom Whipple, who writes on scientific matters for the Times.

Chimpanzees as legal persons

The Guardian reports:

Chimpanzees granted petition to hear ‘legal persons’ status in court

Wise’s argument in this case and others is that chimpanzees are intelligent, emotionally complex and self-aware enough to merit some basic human rights, such as the rights against illegal detainment and cruel treatment. They are “autonomous and self-determining”, in Wise’s words.

You can probably see why this post bears the “Self-ownership” tag. Many of the people arguing for legal personhood for animals are twerps like this one, who claims that she finds “discrimination on the grounds of species as distasteful as discrimination on the grounds of race or sex.”

However the arguments put forward by the Nonhuman Rights Project do not seem obviously wrongheaded to me. For instance they do discriminate on grounds of species, between higher and lower animals. This comes from their Q&A page:

Your first plaintiffs are chimpanzees, and you are also talking about elephants, whales and dolphins. What’s next after that? Dogs and pigs?

Our plaintiffs will be animals for whom there is clear scientific evidence of such complex cognitive abilities as self-awareness and autonomy. Currently that evidence exists for elephants, dolphins and whales, and all four species of great apes. So, for the foreseeable future, our plaintiffs are likely to come from these three groups.

Here is a fact I find disturbing to contemplate: some severely mentally disabled human beings are less intelligent than chimpanzees. If our society does start to act on that fact in its laws I hope and pray that it does so in the direction of granting more rights to animals, not taking rights away from disabled humans.

Loss of nerve: “just standing there watching”

Another one:

Hampstead Ponds constables ‘failed to help’ drowning Moshe Greenfeld because of ‘dangerous and murky’ water

The City of London has admitted that its health constabulary officers had not entered A Hampstead Heath bathing pond to try to save drowning teenager.

Moshe Yitzchok Greenfield, 19, a prominent rabbi’s son, began to struggle after going for a dip in the pond in north London on Wednesday, 15 April, the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures in London hit 25C (77F).

[…]

James Eisen, a 43-year-old freelance journalist, told The Times: “I was walking past and I could see a lot of commotion going on over the far side of the pond. The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.

“There were police officers and paramedics and firefighters on the bank just standing there watching while the boys dived under. There were at least seven police officers on the side.

“It was a chaotic and surreal scene. I heard one of the boys shouting to one of the ambulance crews and asking how long someone could survive under water without breathing as they continued swimming around in a panic. I’m guessing the emergency services are told not to go into the water but if that’s the case they probably shouldn’t have let the boys carry on swimming about.”

If you want to know the sort of incentives that create such men of steel, look at the story of fireman Tam Brown, whose courage in risking his life to save a woman from drowning was rewarded with the threat of disciplinary action for “breaking procedure”, or at the three unarmed policemen similarly rebuked for daring to try and save William Pemberton’s life while their armed colleagues huddled outside waiting for orders.

Now, there are one or two caveats before we add Moshe Yitzchock Greenfield to the list that includes the Colly family who burned to death while police actively prevented attempts at rescue, Edward Paul Brown, a baby who died within minutes of birth in a hospital lavatory while nurses refused his mother’s pleas for help because they did not have the proper training, and Alison Hume, whom the Strathclyde Fire Brigade left dying for six hours at the bottom of a mineshaft because, after all, “the fire service was only obliged to save people from fires and road traffic accidents.”

The first caveat is this: Moshe Greenfield and his friends were swimming in an area marked as out of bounds to swimmers, and chose to go into the water after the lifeguard had left. That was irresponsible, though practically everyone can recall doing something equivalent at that age and coming to no harm.

The second caveat is this: as an official spokesman said, “The heath constabulary officers are here to enforce bylaws in the park — they are not trained lifeguards and the water is dangerous and very murky, so they are advised they are not to go in until proper assistance arrives.” He has a point, although it would be a stronger one if the heath constabulary officers actually had enforced the bylaw forbidding swimming. Perhaps our society would be better off if it were made completely clear that once you step outside the law, even a park by-law, you are on your own. The state washes its hands of you. I could go with that. A fine big notice board with shiny black letters saying “PAST THIS POINT WE WILL WATCH YOU DROWN” and helpful accounts of the last six people to whom this rule was applied; that would at least be fair warning. No longer would the citizen be treated as a spoilt child, emboldened to folly by the knowledge that the parental State would never let the worst happen.

That might be a better world than ours. But it is not ours. In general our government insists on rescuing people from their own folly. And what Hampstead Heath Park Constabulary actually provided was the worst of both worlds: officers who will act neither as police nor as parents.

By the way, it was not an act of courage beyond what can be asked of men to make some attempt at rescue. The “dangerous and very murky” waters” weren’t the North Atlantic. It was the pond in Hampstead Heath, for God’s sake. And some men – boys, really – did try. As the witness said, “The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.” It was just beyond what can be asked in these enlightened times of the men we pay, train and equip specifically to do that sort of thing.

The trouble with blogging for fourteen years is that one runs out of fresh clean ways to express foul things. I am adding very little to what I said in 2007:

Let me say (before someone says it for me) that I do not claim that I would have the courage to go into a house where a killer might lie in wait, or that I would have jumped in the bitter, fast flowing waters of the Tay to save some stupid woman who wanted to top herself. But such were the traditions that were honoured in the police and fire services. In fact, when I talk about “gutlessness” and “loss of nerve” here I am not talking about individual physical courage. Fireman Tam Brown showed great courage. At least three of the policemen in the Pemberton murders did as well and all of them showed more guts than I would. But institutional gutlessness surrounded them, was embarrassed by them, and will kill off their like eventually. Poisoned soil does not long give forth good fruit.