Funny. I read the SQOTD from today, and suddenly recalled a long-forgotten e-mail I sent in the wee hours of the morning six or so months ago. The fact I had sent the e-mail in the first place was unusual for me, as I was moved to compose and send it to Bloomberg columnist and Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter after reading the good professor’s column, and I cannot recall another occasion when I have got in touch with a journalist over something of theirs that I’d read. Professor Carter’s article must have made a big impact on me.
It did. Here it is, if you would like to have a read for yourself. Basically, the professor is making the same perfectly valid point as Brendan O’Neill regarding the hive mind mentality of a significant number of today’s university students, and chucking in a good intergenerational sneer for luck. It is the latter that particularly shat me off when I read Carter’s column, and prompted me to send the following to Professor Carter six months ago and late at night when I should have been working on something else:
Dear Professor Carter
I agree with your observations regarding the (in)abilities of the current crop of graduates, but seeing as though you decided to target that generation so explicitly, I thought maybe you might consider how the conditions that characterised your own generation’s formative years came to be.
When recounting “your day”, you wrote of an intellectual culture which “celebrated a diversity of ideas”; where “pure argument” trumped all, and a contrarian point of view was celebrated and even utilised to orient one’s own perspectives. This is the academic process at its very best, and you were most fortunate to benefit from it.Unfortunately, to channel your President, you didn’t build that. You didn’t build that. And not only did you not build it – you subsequently tore it down. And you replaced it with the appparatus that has created the mindless, chanting drones you decried in your Bloomberg piece.
Am I being unfair to target you? Well, about as unfair as you were being to the current crop of graduates. Your generation unquestionably ripped apart that which you claim to revere, and the Class of 2014 is simply a manifestation of the values your generation cherishes. So why are you training your guns on those kids when the true vandals are at still at large – and are in fact running the show?
I don’t mind catty articles – I really don’t. They’re often the most entertaining. However, I don’t understand why you’re thrashing a bunch of 20 year olds who are the product of an education system that your generation dominates – and that system has equipped them so poorly to deal with rational discourse that you could probably expect little more than an effete ‘whatever’ in response to your criticisms of them. Surely you know this. Attacking them smacks of cowardice to me. You’re aiming at the easiest targets.
If you really want to castigate a group of people for allowing academia to degenerate from what it was in your undergraduate years to what we see today, go and seek out faculty and policymakers who look about your age.
I received no response. Not that this surprised me.
I agree with Carter in that much of the student body – and most of those who consider themselves “activists” – are intellectually incurious ideologues primarily concerned with feeling that they are Good People, and indicating this to other Good People. But who moulded them? The answer is implicit in Carter’s article, when he reflects on how things were different back when he was at university. It is a pity he lacked the even-handedness to consider what changed between then and now, and decided to instead chastise those responsible for the mindlessness of the modern student activist. I’m talking about the Boomers, of course, and the muses that inspired them. They really did screw up an awful lot, and like Professor Carter in this instance, I suspect they will never admit to what they have destroyed.
A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy.
– Guy Fawkes, political activist, performance artist and architectural critic (1570-1606)
This exchange, on a sad and silly story about Lego ending its partnership with Shell in response to a Greenpeace campaign, made me smile. Someone complained about Greenpeace. Someone else replied: “Oh you mean like protecting our children’s future then eh? Bastards!” RoomSixteen pointed out:
“Greenpeace is one of the greatest threats to your children’s future. If not for Greenpeace, we’d have rolled out nuclear long ago, not to mention GMO like Golden Rice.
Greenpeace is against fusion, for heaven sake! How evil can you be?
“Greenpeace a bigger threat to my kids future than the corporate machine eh?”, came the reply.
Yes. The ‘corporate machine’ has afforded you a lifestyle that allows even your useless progeny a chance at a dignified life and not, as is Greenpeace’s most fervent ambition for them, a life of hard, manual labour 24/7 as subsistence farmers.
Later, and I am editing a bit:
Their campaign against Golden Rice has cost more lives than the invasion of Iraq.
Vitamin A deficiency kills half a million children each year. Times ten, that’s five million third world children, for starters – say a fifth of those would have survived if Golden Rice had been marketed in their countries, that’s a million children. Plus a million those who’ve gone blind.
But that’s only half of it. GMO R&D is proceeding at a snail’s pace, because investors know the great, noisy unwashed will camp outside their windows if they do. That’s one of the main reasons we don’t have drought/salt/flood resistant crops in the fields yet. And strawberries the size of baseballs, of course, but that’s a first world problem.
Much the same could be said about nuclear (although the causation is not quite as straightforward) because thanks to Greenpeace, we’re only doing now what should have been done 20 years ago, namely designing better and cheaper reactors to replace coal plants and provide cheap and plentiful energy. And energy is the lifeblood of welfare: the more you have, the better your life.
This guy is a real trooper; he is probably saving a good few naive young Guardian comments readers from believing in the toxic worldview there.. And it is good strategy, too. I have long noticed that the appeal of the left comes from their portrayal as the Nice Ones. Pointing out that they are Killing Poor Children is exactly what is needed to fight them.
He is also educating people about economics: “And yes, Monsanto makes money on bt corn, but so does the farmer, otherwise it wouldn’t sell.”
For some while now, leading London libertarian Simon Gibbs has been telling his many libertarian friends and acquaintances about a Libertarian Home event which he is organising which will happen on October 23rd in the Drama Studio of the Institute of Education. At this event, a group of speakers from across the political spectrum (somewhat biased towards libertarians but with non- and anti-libertarians definitely also being heard loud and clear), will take it in turns to speak about the The Causes of the Cost of Living Crisis.
Attendance will not be free of charge. It will cost £11. But, over the years, libertarians have shown themselves willing to pay quite a bit more than that for similarly well organised conferences. Simon is an energetic and conscientious organiser of such things, and I think I would have been optimistic about this event even if he had not offered me free entry in exchange for my best efforts as a photographer.
For quite a while now, but especially during the recent Labour Party Conference, Labour leader
David Ed Miliband has been making this notion of the cost of living crisis a central theme in his ongoing attempts to become our next Prime Minister. City A.M.’s Ryan Bourne, before the Labour Conference got started, wrote thus:
Labour’s party conference will see Ed Miliband try to shift public focus away from the Scottish referendum fallout and back towards the choice at next year’s general election. In particular, he’ll seek to refocus our minds on the “cost of living crisis” narrative that he’s been composing since 2011.
And so it proved. I heard this phrase a day or two ago in a radio news item where the words “Miliband” and “cost of living crisis” emerged next to each other. Whether Miliband will succeed in persuading the country that even more taxing-and-spending will do anything to abate this cost of living crisis, as crisis it certainly is for a great many people, remains to be seen. Whatever. But if you want a minority cause to get some little sliver of majority notice, what you must do is supply your minority answer to a majority question. So kudos to Simon for identifying this particular debate as something libertarians can get in on, and get in on very eloquently. I am really looking forward to this October 23rd meeting.
→ Continue reading: Nice libertarianism
Anthony Watts of the “climate sceptic” blog Watts Up With That republished this list by Roy W. Spencer: Top Ten Skeptical Arguments that Don’t Hold Water.
Not everyone agrees with his list. It seemed reasonable to many commenters, the great majority of whom appear to be fellow members of the anti-warmist camp, but there are apparently well-informed replies from those who disagree with individual entries or with the whole concept.
As propaganda, I thought it was terrific. To strip away the bad arguments put forward by one’s own side is to demonstrate that you think your main argument will survive the process. It shows yet more confidence to anticipate that the quality of debate in the comments will not let the side down.
What bad arguments have you come across for causes or contentions that you believe in?
One of the most encouraging things happening to the British pro-free-market and libertarian movement is the outreach work being done by the Institute of Economic Affairs, to students at British universities and in British schools. In this IEATV video Steven Davies and Christiana Hambro describe what they have been getting up to in this area. They are a bit stilted in their delivery and demeanour. Steve Davies in particular is a rather more relaxed, animated and persuasive public performer than this short video makes him seem. I get the feeling that there were retakes, as they negotiated car doors and seatbelts when on camera. But if any of this inclines you to be put off, don’t be, because the process these two excellent people are talking about in this video is definitely the genuine article.
They mention the Freedom Forum. This has, says Davies “rapidly become the biggest gathering of pro-liberty students and young people in the UK”. The latest iteration of this, Liberty League Freedom Forum 2014, is happening next weekend and its detailed timetable has just been announced. If this get-together was just a one-off annual event with nothing else related to it happening, that would definitely still be something, although I do agree with those who say that the title of these things is a bit of a mouthful. But LLFF2014 is a great deal more than just an annual event, being but the London manifestation of a much bigger program of intellectual and ideological outreach to universities and to schools throughout the UK.
Recently I dropped in at the IEA, where Christiana Hambro and her IEA colleague Grant Tucker made time to tell me in person about what they have been doing. I also picked their about people who might be good to invite to talk at my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings. For me, the most interesting thing that they said to me was in answer to my question concerning to what extent their outreach activities were piggy-backing on the earlier efforts of the Adam Smith Institute, efforts which have been going on for many years, under the leadership of ASI President Madsen Pirie. What Christiana Hambro and Grant Tucker said was that when it came to outreach to universities, then yes, their work does depend on earlier ASI efforts. University economics departments are tough nuts to crack open with contrary ideas, and the best way to get to universities is by working with free market and libertarian student societies, rather than relying on the intellectual hospitality of academics. The ASI has done a huge amount to encourage such groups over the years, and without such groups what the IEA is now doing in universities would have been harder to accomplish.
But in schools, it has been a very different story. The ASI has done plenty of work in schools as well over the years, but what Christiana Hambro and Grant Tucker said to me was that basically, in schools, the IEA’s outreach operation is basically operating in virgin territory, with economics pupils all of whom have heard of Keynes, for instance, but none of whom have ever heard of Hayek. Another way of putting that might be to say that when it comes to preaching free market economics to British schools, this is a town that is plenty big enough for the both of them.
Schools are also different from universities in often being much more open to different ideas than universities are. Universities are dominated by people who take ideas seriously, but this can have the paradoxical result that many universities and university departments become bastions of bias and groupthink, all about deciding what is true and then defending it against all heretical comers. Schools, on the other hand, some at least, are more concerned to persuade their often indifferent pupils to care, at all, about ideas of any kind, which, again rather paradoxically, makes many such schools far more open to unfamiliar ideas than many universities. A teacher may be a devout Keynesian, even a Marxist. But if these IEA people from London can help him stir up his pupils’ minds by showing economics to be an arena of urgent and contemporary intellectual and ideological conflict rather than merely a huge stack of dull facts mostly about the past, then he is liable to be very grateful to these intruders, even if he flatly disagrees with their particular way of thinking.
Present at this Liberty League Freedom Forum that is coming up next weekend, which I will be attending (just as I attended LLFF2013 last year), will be some of the products of all this outreach. Someone like me has heard most of the featured speakers before, some of them many times. But many of the people at LLFF2014 will be hearing talks from people only a very few of whom they have ever encountered before. Here are some of the topics which they may find themselves learning about: Public Speaking and Networking, Doing Virtuous Business, How To Be A Journalist, and (my personal favourite) Setting Up A Society (i.e. a school or university pro-liberty society).
As for me, no matter how many times I hear Steve Davies speak, I am always keen to hear what he has to say about something new, and this year, I am particularly looking forward to him answering the question: “But who will build the roads?” In my opinion, when Libertaria finally gets going, somewhere on this planet, defence policy (often regarded as a big headache) will be very simple. Just allow the citizens of Libertaria to arm themselves. But, building “infrastructure”, while nevertheless taking property rights seriously (instead of merely taking seriously the idea of taking people’s property from them to make infrastructure) will, I think, be much more tricky. I look forward very much to hearing what Davies has to say about this.
Too bad that his talk clashes with the one about Setting Up A Society. I’d love to sit in at the back of that one also, and maybe I will pick that one on the day. That such clashes will happen is my one regret about this event. But you can see why they want to do things this way. As well as big gatherings, they also want small ones, in which new talent feels more comfortable about expressing itself, and flagging itself up as worth networking with, by other talent.
I recall writing a blog posting here a while back, in which I described a talk I heard the IEA’s then newly appointed Director Mark Littlewood about his plans for the IEA. Right near the end of that piece, which I think still stands up very well, I wrote that: “there is now considerable reason to be optimistic about the future of the Institute of Economic Affairs”.
There still is, and even more so.
I found this comment from a business owner (correction, “Chief Architect of BitcoinStore“) poignant. The context is that it is a response to people moaning about Reddit moderators removing links to a hacked database file, but it is widely applicable. Now I am middle class with children I find myself going along with a lot of things that I would really prefer to fight against.
I haven’t been able to look through the leak fully myself (still setting up the VM) but the fact still remains that this is stolen property containing other peoples’ data. If you fear what the people in fancy costumes with guns will do to you, you comply with their demands. That’s not censorship, that’s self-preservation. [ …] Sadly it doesn’t change the fact that there are people with guns who will take your money, lock you in a cage or just plain beat/kill you for not complying with their version of the rules.
For example, at BitcoinStore we state true value on exports and that results in citizens of some countries being charged absurdly high import tariffs (VAT). Our customers don’t like this and neither do we. We’re repeatedly asked to state false value, but we never do. We don’t do this because we agree with the concept of VAT or the idea of being forced to reveal the value or contents of a shipment, but because the people with guns can and will take away our money, freedom and lives.
Does the threat of having our awesome stuff taken away reduce the amount of awesome stuff we could have? Yep. Is it horrible terrible bullshit? Yep. Will they still put us in a cage no matter how much we are against them having the power to do so? Yep.
As a group of freedom-loving people it is indeed our responsibility to change all of these things, remake the world in a more favorable image, but we also must recognize that we are NOT the side that has all the guns, tanks and political power. We’re the side throwing rocks at the people with M16s and we need to behave accordingly. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight, it means we need to be smart about it.
This is guerilla warfare, we fight only the battles we know we can win and we take all the weapons we can off our fallen enemies we can carry. A series of small wins makes us stronger and we can go after bigger wins with time. Charging headlong into the enemy is suicide.
Smart tactics, not loud voices will win this fight. Choose your battles.
Sam Bowman’s talk tomorrow at the Rose and Crown has been causing worries for Libertarian Home organiser Simon Gibbs, on account of Meetup not working properly. Simon has become unsure about how many people are going to show up, but urges us all to come anyway. (I definitely intend to.) He ends his report on all this by saying that …:
… the capacity issue sometimes looks tricky on paper, but it rarely is.
My experience, with my last Friday of the month meetings, which take place in a living room which is only about half the size of the room upstairs at the Rose and Crown, is that it is almost mystical how exactly the number of attenders seems always to suit the space available for them. It’s a kind of benign spacial variant of the original Parkinson’s Law. Last Friday, for instance, Dominic Frisby looked like he might be stretching my infrastructure beyond its limits. But then I emailed people to that effect, and there was a bug going round, and the weather turned nasty, the upshot of all that was that the number who showed was just right to fill the room in comfort, and just not enough to cause any discomfort. Amazing.
It’s like we really do not need to be planned or coerced by a central authority, but can just sort things out for ourselves.
Mine was a fairly Bitcoin-savvy gathering, and several of the Bitcoin-savants present have said that they were surprised at how much more they learned, both from Frisby and from each other. I was not one of those experts; I was merely there. For me, the main message I took away from the evening was that Bitcoin, in the opinion of many people, does have real value, because it makes electronic economic transactions far easier. Although some doubts were expressed, nobody present dismissed Bitcoin as a complete fraud and a bubble waiting to just burst and vanish. In general the mood about Bitcoin was very positive, more so than I had expected, and of course even better about the general principle of encrypted currencies generally.
The big news item was that Frisby reckons he has cracked the identity of the founding genius of Bitcoin, a mysterious figure who is currently only known by a Japanese alias. Who is he? Read my Bitcoin book, said Frisby. This will be available some time around late spring or early summer, and I will keep Samizdata posted.
The other thing I will remember about last Friday was that, for complicated reasons involving an NHS kidney operation that suddenly became available (after a huge wait) to his usual back-up canine custodian, Frisby asked if he could bring his dog with him. You don’t want mere attenders bringing dogs. But since the speaker would be the main victim if a dog attended and spoke out of turn, I figured that Frisby’s dog almost certainly would behave exactly as well as promised, and so it proved. Frodo, despite being rather obviously hungry and eager to make friends with potential food providers, behaved impeccably throughout the entire evening. Not a single bark, not one. Again: amazing.
Picture of Frisby and Frodo:
Sam Bowman’s talk tomorrow will be about the idea of a legally fixed minimum wage. The libertarian orthodoxy is that, just as we don’t want or need the government to be organising our social lives or our healthcare, a government-ordained minimum wage is a really bad idea. When I met Sam earlier in the week, this orthodoxy is what he told me he would be reinforcing in his talk, citing some recent evidence.
We also discussed the idea of Sam addressing one of my last Friday of the month meetings later in the year, on the far more contentious subject of “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism”. He is, or such is my understanding, and no doubt with various reservations and qualifications, for it. I am not now totally against Bleeding Heart Libertarianism but am strongly inclined that way. I am far less inclined to leave the definition of Bleeding Heart Libertarianism as the sole property of those now calling themselves its supporters. I also have a very high opinion of Sam Bowman. That should be another good gathering, as and when it happens.
George Lakoff says, ‘Liberals do everything wrong’
“Progressives want to follow the polls … Conservatives don’t follow the polls; they want to change them. Political ground is gained not when you successfully inhabit the middle ground, but when you successfully impose your framing as the ‘common-sense’ position.”
If all political belief originates from one of two wellsprings, if the last thing you should do to propagate your belief is to water it down, if backing it up with facts just weakens it, what would a debate look like, in a world of perfectly understood frames?
It is, plainly, the longstanding failure to protect nature that powers Lakoff’s exasperation with liberals. “They don’t understand their own moral system or the other guy’s, they don’t know what’s at stake, they don’t know about framing, they don’t know about metaphors, they don’t understand the extent to which emotion is rational, they don’t understand how vital emotion is, they try to hide their emotion.
Unlike Professor Lakoff, I think that liberals (in the US sense of the word) propagate their ideas quite successfully, but his advice on framing seems well worth following.
Yes, incoming from Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home saying that the video of Aiden Gregg’s talk, that I earlier flagged up here as being on its way and worth a watch, is now there to be watched. In his accompanying commentary on the talk, Simon (after quoting me – thanks mate) lays out a lot of the data detail that I merely alluded to.
Says Simon in his email to me:
It could use some upvotes on reddit. Are you registered there?
Me? No. But maybe some readers are, and could oblige. And while they are about it, tell me more about reddit. I am starting to get the same feeling about the social media that I got about email, when I delayed bothering with that, way back whenever that was.
Commenting on my posting yesterday about the Alex Singleton book launch, “RogerC” said:
PR, marketing and in general the how of getting ideas out there and into people’s heads is an area where I’ve always thought we’re weak. Conversely, the left is very, very good at this stuff. They’ve been making a conscious effort to do it and to develop the techniques for a hundred years now, and their position has advanced immeasurably as a result. …
Agreed. There is a lot that we can learn from the statist left, whose success in spreading their ideas has been all the more remarkable when you consider how bad their ideas are and how much havoc these ideas have long been known to cause. Aiden Gregg brings his expertise as an academic psychologist to this same terrain, of how to present ideas in such a way that they are more likely to win widespread acceptance.
About a week ago, “Devika” posted a very interesting piece at Libertarian Home, about a man called Arvind Kejriwal, an Indian anti-poltician who is in the process of becoming an Indian politician.
I don’t have much to say about this piece, other than that any British libertarians who think that there is much to be learned from the success of Kejriwal’s Anti Corruption Party in India to the problems faced by libertarians in Britain in getting that noticed politically would probably be making a mistake. Although I am sure that Indians disagree a lot about what causes it and whose fault it is, almost everyone in India detests the corruption that is rampant in India and in Indian politics, probably even a great many of those who practise corruption. Perhaps some of them most of all, because they feel forced to do terrible things. None of the regular political parties can convincingly argue against such corruption, because, as Devika explains and as everyone in India knows, they are all part of it. So, a new anti-corruption party, run by people with very public track records of honest and persuasive campaigning against corruption, was always liable to be a runaway success, unless and until it too succumbs to the same corrupting pressures that corrupted all the other parties. Here’s hoping that does not happen any time soon.
Libertarianism is Britain is in a very different position to the anti-corruption tendency in India. Almost everyone in India is anti-corruption, divided only in whether they think anything can be done about it. Almost nobody in Britain is a libertarian. A British libertarian party will accordingly only pick up a tiny number of votes and cause a tiny little stir, no matter how capably lead and well publicised.
Devika notes how the Indian anti-corruption party did very well by asking its members to guide its direction and policies. This works well, because all concerned are united against corruption. The only argument is about how to diminish it, which corrupt processes to attack first, and so on. A British libertarian party that allowed anyone who joined to influence its policies would very quickly cease to be libertarian.
I want to be clear that at no point in her piece does Devika herself make an explicit connection between what Kejriwal and his anti-corruption party are doing and what British libertarians should do. I do not know if she thinks any of the things I have just been criticising. But I do sense this implication, a bit. More to the point, whatever Devika thinks about such things, some of Libertarian Home’s readers may draw just the sort of conclusions from her piece that I am criticising. Certainly, discussions at the Rose and Crown about libertarianism and libertarian politics are now saturated with the frustration of wanting to bring libertarianism to the attention of a wider public, but of not knowing how to contrive this.
There is another such discussion taking place this evening. This will be lead by Aiden Gregg, who is both a libertarian and an academic psychologist. Gregg will be talking about the psychological dispositions of libertarians in particular and of politically active people generally. I think this is a fascinating subject, full of lessons for libertarians to learn about how to be more effective libertarians. So, I will definitely be there.
In my opinion, one thing that libertarians can definitely now do (as opposed to trying to copy too directly the activities of Arvind Kejriwal) is to tell people like Aiden Gregg how important and valuable they are to the libertarian cause, and to encourage them to stick at it. We need our people everywhere, especially in the universities, and especially in faculties which are not economics faculties.
If Michael Jennings can roam the world taking photos, then I can roam London and nearby spots, doing the same. Here are twelve photos from my year, one for each month.
They are chosen, I hasten to add, as much to help me say things about what is in them and about digital photography as for their technical quality. Which is… rather variable.
→ Continue reading: My year in twelve pictures