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]

Bumbles of East Anglia

The propensity for libertarians to disbelieve ‘official’, ‘public’ or state-financed work could be viewed on a par with the finger-pointing of anti-capitalists who sniff interest in every corporate donation. Yet, it is not. Those who deride the corporations tend to see no wrong in public action, since the collective is always morally beneficial. The world-weary fighter for freedom is far more sceptical of any agenda promoted by any particular lobby or interest.

Let us not forget that the catechism of climate change is funded from public and private sources. Any lobby faced with the thwarting of its ideology at the expected moment of greatest triumph reveals its limitations. The reversion to denial, verbal assault and language reminiscent of communism:

He [Ed Miliband] said the former chancellor Nigel Lawson and former shadow home secretary David Davis were irresponsible and were acting as “saboteurs”.

Is the answer to throw them into camps? Trends in the groupthink of its political supporters, wedded to the authoritarian apparatus of New Labour, have proven very worrying. The policy has come to be perceived as a sacred duty, the questioning of which becomes a trespass.

The stupidity that characterises their thought extends to their science. I am charmed at the thought that bumbling scientists, taking a ‘string and sealing wax’ approach, proved unable to even set up a programme for data analysis. No audit trail or commercial standards were reproduced within the university, and that oft-quoted British charm of ‘muddling through’ did not work. The CRU thought that something would turn up. It did: the blogosphere.

The only way to salvage any understanding from this mess is the obvious point: outsource the data analysis to a private sector company whose lifeblood depends upon a proven record for reliable data analysis. Not some internal investigation without the wit to understand conflict of interest.

Witness for the future

Shannon Vyff of the Immortality Institute gave a talk yesterday in London on the advocacy work that she undertakes, promoting unlimited lifespans. At a basement room in Birkbeck, to an assorted crowd of extropians, greens and interested parties belonging to Extrobritannia, we heard from a person who actually leads the CR life.

Calorific restriction is controversial but the contrast for Shannon lay between her and, perhaps, her audience. As Brits, we are not particularly active in giving time or money to deserving or undeserving causes, and it was quite breathtaking to see an upstanding example of American voluntarism. From my perspective, it was gratifying that Ms. Vyff decided to devote her energy to causes closer to my heart: life extension and anti-aging.

Her other focus is on the introduction of these ideas to a wider audience of primary school children, proving an inkling of the wonders that technology can provide. This is coupled with the joy of thinking positively about the future and working for it and, to my mind, counts as an important antidote to the killjoyous scaremongering of the luddite greens whose tool of social control is to make children ashamed of life itself. Perhaps there are better written books, but not in this field. Vyff wishes to harness the motivational power of science fiction for a new generation.

Like the Libertarian Alliance, the Immortality Institute remains an outlier. Despite debates over entering the mainstream, the group decided to retain its name, a wise decision. As these concepts become more accepted, other groups will spring up to advocate more moderate agendas, but the promotion of pure life extension remains a valuable project in and of itself.

Only four

After the exposure and the lies, the excuses and the ‘business as usual’ attitude, we are told that only four broke the law. Only four were stupid enough to actually get caught. The rest get slapped wrists or a golden handshake, happy wanking their golden pay-off from the backs of the taxpayer, now viewed as a bottomless treasury for Labour’s ballot fund.

This Parliament is a sump, a slough, a slurry pit which does not even have the decency to develop an upper crust to disguise its foulness. You cannot drain this away as the swine have developed a taste for speculation, peculation and entitlement. And worse than the poor suckers of dole who know no better, their entitlement is a result of greed, not Special Brew.

How can an electorate inoculate ourselves from those who would wield power? In days past, this was the result of a tie: the contractual ties between governed and governor enriched by the fear of riot, the joy of bribery and an indecent sense of superiority over the occasional war: such are the advantages of a rising power. Even thirty years ago, our greatest traitor, Heath, was tested and sent packing when he had the temerity to ask “Who governs Britain?”

That crisis of governance may be more important than we know. Fifteen years of turbulence may have taught some that it is better to dilute the power of the demos, and transmute rage to apathy, gold to lead. And what better vehicle for this inoculation arose than the European Union: a new structure that observed the norms and the forms, but rendered each voter more impotent than a castrati in a Nevada brothel.

So when I say “only four?” I know that their fellow politicians will look on them as sacrificial lambs, thrown to wolves now and rescued later through sympathetic parole boards and glowing character references from fellow peers.

Political brainfodder

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive to the Royal Society of Arts and a former adviser to Tony Blair, recently wrote an article in the magazine, Prospect, on the political potential of new developments in behaviourial economics, neuroscience and related disciplines. Such an enterprise is always difficult, in so far as new research is often part of an expanding research programme and questions are not fully answered. Therefore, one should be careful in the enthusiastic application of such results to the political arena.

Taylor’s article marries the politics and selected research results, with section headings such as the Social Democratic brain and the Conservative brain. Without citing too much detail, the aim of the article is to describe and promote this research as a source of justification for policy and power:

Much of this research makes good reading for social democrats. By highlighting our psychological frailties and the way these contribute to market epidemics, behavioural economics makes a powerful case for regulation, paternalism and measures to promote feelings of security. Nor is this the only encouragement for the traditional left.

Homo oeconomicus is circumscribed by the explorations of rationality undertaken by neuroscience and social Darwinism, but the disciplinary failure of the social sciences, the tabula rasa, is erased from the historical backdrop, as this draws attention to their total failure. A neoliberal dominance in our understanding of the human is conjured up to allow the entry of this new legitimation. The vision that Taylor pictures is of mankind as a social being, who requires constraints and direction through social institutions and norms. Such a general vision that marries up with your philosophy is the danger that the contemporary amateur interpretation of scientific results will conclude.

Given that there is no consensus on human nature, merely a greater understanding of our predispositions and controversy over how they relate to the social sphere, is it not arrogant to presume that existing political ideas have the key to unlock the controversial interplay of the social and the inherited. Such interventions in the past have proved disastrous, as the race science of the twentieth century demonstrates. Caution is a watchword here.

The byproduct of this article is the realisation that neither the Tories or Labour can articulate moral arguments and are reduced to tagging their miserable ideas on to the emergent exploration of human nature for the sheen of scientific authority. Economists and intellectuals working in these disciplines are seduced by the consultation of those in power and turn towards the exercise of application in a political sphere.

This article is a useful reminder of what both parties share. Supping from the same well via ‘libertarian paternalism’ or behaviourial economics, we begin to see the outlines of a commonality in approach, though there are differences in institutional and political implementation. Neither approach from Labour or the Tories is a friend to freedom.

From treachery to kleptocracy

The official history of MI5 by historian, Christopher Andrew, has, again, directed us to the potential number of politicians and trade unionists who gave or sold information to the Soviet Union.

Three Labour MPs named in the history, written by the historian Christopher Andrew as Soviet bloc agents are John Stonehouse, who became postmaster general in Harold Wilson’s government, Will Owen and Bob Edwards. The three were “outed” by a Czech defector, but there is no evidence the politicians passed over sensitive information….

Andrew says Jack Jones, the trade union leader who the Guardian has been told was the subject of many volumes of MI5 files, was not “being manipulated by the Russians”, but the Security Service was “right to consider the possibility that he was”. Britain’s top KGB spy, Oleg Gordievsky, said Moscow “regarded Jones as an agent”, Andrew notes. He says Jones accepted some money from the Russians but there is no evidence that he gave them any information.

Now that remittances for socialist traitors have dried up, does this partially explain why some on the Left were so quick to adopt kleptocracy as a principle of government, perhaps in homage to their dearly departed ideals.

Vote for Madam Cameron

The Tory conference was designed to bring home to the public the notion of truth and responsibility. Some would say that the release of such headlines as raising the retirement age, freezing public sector pay and “telling it as it as” are a democratic version of spanking. The toffs transposing their public school predilections on the masses.

Yet, the very basis of this approach is paternalist. The public must be schooled and directed towards the appropriate outcome. For the Tories, the outcome is fiscal sustainability, the only time that word appears truthfully in their canon.

However, the majority in democracy have an incentive to socialise their irresponsibility, allying with government to inflate their debt away or maintain redistribution. Such a system is inherently unstable in the long term. After all, under Labour, welfarism has moved onto secondaries. An interesting experiment is under way. Do turkeys vote for Christmas? Short-term slaughter and, possibly, long-term satisfaction.

Overhumanism

I suppose I should not be surprised that transhumanist ideas, mutilated in a fascist form, would start to reach breakthrough point. Slightly late in the day as this was noted in September, but drinking wine and trawling Stross is one way of dealing with Saturday’s ennui..

So it’s probably not surprising that Italy is the source of a new political meme that I [Charlie Stross] hadn’t heard of before this week: overhumanism:

The new tech is going to foster discrimination and differentiation. This will be enthusiastically taken up by those in power to maintain control. It will probably have a short shelf life as all such attempts to limit the (trans)human spirit do; measured in decades rather than centuries now. No doubt the kleptocratic elites of many countries will jump on this bandwagon to paint their already black rule a darker shade. Tempted enough by shiny power to create closed systems, too stupid to realise that they just shortened the life of their political schemes, by curbing their ability to adapt and change. In the long run, they will either die out or be bought out.

My only prediction: by the end of this century, we are going to be sick and tired of the suffix, -humanism.

Nanny will save poor babies from yucky choices

If you are rich enough, you will be able to circumvent the prohibition and obtain the right to select the sex of your child. The Human Fertilisation and Embryological Authority bans the practice here, though their grounds are weak:

Britain’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority remains cautious, citing public opposition to sex selection. “In the US there is no official regulator to monitor clinics and no legal obligation to offer the counselling that is an important part of treatment,” a spokesman said. “Those who choose to go overseas for their treatment should make themselves aware of the laws and consider what impact there may be on any child that is subsequently born.”

Public opposition is cited, alongside a nannyish presumption of in loco parentis. Public opposition is not a sufficient reason for curbing reproductive freedoms and gives a veto to lobbies who invoke the ‘yuck’ factor. The HFEA model of regulation never succeeded and medical practices should be allowed, except in cases of safety.

If Parliament wishes to outlaw a reproductive technology,then let it do so: otherwise, the presumption of freedom should prevail.

Macavity the mystery scot

It is always rather foolish to invoke misty eyed national wells for values. One can always point to counter-examples.Now we know that Alex “a touch of the” Salmond and Gordon Brown have one thing in common? Is Macavity a ‘Scottish’ value?

There is one person in the SNP administration, however, who appears to have worked out just how sensitive this situation is: and that is Mr Salmond. Usually, the First Minister has to be restrained to stop him pushing in front of his ministers when there is an announcement of any import to be made.

However, with this decision, Mr Salmond has been remarkable only by his absence. Mr MacAskill was left to face the world’s press yesterday, on his own, not with his First Minister sitting by his side.

Informers wanted to demoralise Britain

Old Holborn considers the new disposition of the state and highlights, in that Hayekian warning, of the extension of the state through arbitrary fines and the presumption of guilt. What is forgotten is that the agents of the state are still few and far between: without the ballast of a mass party to back them up, they remain an irritant, rather than a overarching totalitarianism. One can live without hearing or seeing these actions in person.

Nevertheless, state functionaries will wish to find ‘efficient’ ways of exercising their power. The database state is meant to replace the mass party as a vehicle for co-ordinating and controlling all activities. Yet, some means of identifying and punishing perpetrators is still required, as technology is still insufficient to achieve this goal. Hence, the rise in channels for informing and denouncing those who dissent.

After all, East Germany required ten percent of the population…

The death of political correctness

Liz Hunt of the Telegraph talks about the “politically correct zealotry” that we have witnessed under the command of Harriet Harman. In the last few days, she has risibly, and to much contempt, stated publicly that the Labour Party should always be governed by women and that the banking crisis would not have happened with Lehman Sisters (surely Lehwoman, or Lehperson, the semantic digression that this line of thinking discourages). This has accompanied direction that the government should champion feminist issues and an Equality Bill demanding quotas and positive discrimination to women in the middle of a recession.

Yet, her statements have been greeted with contempt: a damaging eccentricity that we can shrug off and return to common sense. Like any poisonous ideology that crosses the grain of humanity, political correctness is gradually being rejected by the political corpus, including its bases such as feminism and multiculturalism.

Harman’s outbursts are made from weakness, not strength. Forthcoming electoral defeat sharpens the ideological zeal as they have less time to achieve their goals. And yet, if no startling conversion to social justice has embedded itself in the natural acceptance and tolerance of ourselves (a trend which New Labour halted and reversed, like social mobility), NuLAb is forced to turn to its coercive tool: law, law, more law and quango.

As this rabble float towards their Niagara, we can foresee that the fundi zealots will hasten their demand for more radical surgery to achieve their ends, whilst the realists prepare for defeat. The movement itself is dying, unpopular, unmourned, though the command and control culture will take many years to pass through the governmental anus, showering its detritus over the fleeced taxpayer.

A slow burn radicalisation

Although we have had one of the most savage downturns since the 1930s, an analysis of the crisis would conclude that we have still not met its full political or social effects. Indeed, the whole experience has been dampened by fiscal stimulus and an air of artificial normality. Economists still call for green shoots and implore the broken totem of consumer spending and house prices to merge, giving a new impetus to the economy. Salient voices say that the model is broken, but ‘debt and spend’ is only postponing the inevitable.

Riots that have broken out were concentrated on particular countries where the elected authorities were particularly mendacious or incompetent: Iceland, Latvia etc…but they have tended to peter out. Action has been displaced by apathy, indifference and a mood of anti-politics as social democracy has withered on the vine. Disagree with much of the Left’s analysis, but they can smell the rot as the European elections attested:

What we are seeing in Britain and throughout Europe is the last death throes of historical social democracy that emerged from the split in the world workers movement after the Russian revolution. This does not of course mean that we shall see the early demise of the parties that originated in social democracy, but the project – in the early phase socialism via successive reforms and then pro-working class reforms within the framework of capitalism – is all but dead, and in any case nowhere the majority or the leadership of parties like the French SP or the SPD in Germany.

The social democratic Left may no longer have the institutions to mobilise disaffected voters and workers. Their most recent travails are based upon the migration of the disaffected to marginal parties more in tune with their attitudes and goals: euroscepticism in Britain, radical right in the Low countries or Austria, hard left and poujadiste in France.

What is left out of the equation is that the social, cultural and political reaction to a depression can take two years or more to surface in a slow burn radicalisation. Political crisis did not start to hit till 1931 with the sovereignty crises. Are we in the early stages of a new migration to the extremes; awaiting that tipping point?