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]

Blocking porn by default

David Cameron, who clearly does not have enough to do, has pledged to consult on campaigners’ proposals to force internet service providers to block porn by default. I am against the proposals because of the force. I also agree with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group that non-porn will get blocked by mistake. There will likely be other technical problems. And it will make the perceived problem it is trying to solve worse because parents will have a false sense of security while savvy children figure out how to work around the filters. And I am not convinced that porn harms children.

But mostly I want the government to stop messing with my internet.

Environmentalism in education

A post at Climate Lessons reminded my of my own childhood experiences of environmentalist indoctrination at school. It could have been any post – the whole blog is about how children are frightened and mislead by environmentalists in the classroom.

The topic is closer to home now that I have my own two-year-old son, and it cropped up sooner than I expected. Someone bought him a book about Noah’s Ark. It is perfectly charming: thick cardboard pages; bright colours; but on the last page:

Noah helped save the animals of the earth hundreds of years ago by building an ark. Now we must help to save them too — not from floods, but from human beings who are hunting them, and cutting down the forests where they live.

I mean, come on! It is a story book for toddlers. A silly story from the Bible I can handle, but children should not be worried about this nonsense.

At the turn of the nineties I was at secondary school putting up with some of this. Most of it came from geography class. Deforestation was the big one. An area the size of Wales was destroyed every so often, we were told. Apart from all the extinct animals, the rain forests were needed to turn the carbon dioxide into oxygen. They are the lungs of the planet. These days the rain forests still seem to be there and I am fairly sure that, carbon going round in a cycle, the rain forests are only the lungs of the rain forests. The plants that I (and the animals I eat) eat produce enough oxygen for me.

We also learnt about acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. Both these problems seem to have gone away, arguably as a result of timely state intervention but more likely because the problems were not so bad in the first place and now they have been replaced by more urgent and dire concerns.

Assuming the BBC exam revision guide is a good proxy for what is taught in GCSE geography lessons in schools, acid rain and the ozone layer are gone from the curriculum. Deforestation is still there, and now we have to worry about climate change, pollution and (oh no!) globalisation. If you follow that last link you will learn about Thomas Malthus and Esther Boserup but not Norman Borlaug.

I remember another strange lesson: not geography; possibly personal social health and flim flam studies or whatever it was called. I can not imagine why but we were made to watch a video that included abattoir footage and there was a class discussion in which we were asked whether the video made us want to be vegetarians. Some of the girls became vegetarians on the spot. I wonder what their parents made of it.

GCSE Double Science was a mostly sensible affair involving the Carnot cycle and electrons apart from one odd day when a guest speaker came in to tell us that more oil was used in the last ten years than in the entire history of humanity before that. The lesson was that this was because oil use doubled every ten years (or whatever the number was). I recognise it now as the standard limits-to-growth spiel, but what was it doing in a fourth year science class? Some organisation must have bribed the school or something.

What harm did it do? Here I am after all, not believing a word of any of it. At the time I believed it, but I was more interested in tectonic plates, magnetic fields and playing Elite on my computer. Most of the rest of the class was only interested in who was snogging whom. We were bombarded with doom and gloom but it was boring and irrelevant.

But I bet a lot of it stayed there, in most of the rest of the class, deep down, in a way that causes them not to question it when they see it on the news. They are not interested: they think about it when they are forced to; they give money to charity when they want to look like nice people or feel good about themselves; they moan about the taxes and they forget about it and get on with their lives. They do not write to their MPs or vote and they do not rise up.

Teachers and legislation

Teachers hate legislation. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers is a British teaching union. In 2010 its then president Lesley Ward said:

What was being debated in the 1970s is pretty similar to what is being debated four decades later. I am onto my 15th secretary of state for education and my 29th minister for education. I have lived through, endured, survived, call it what you like, 54 pieces of education legislation since I started teaching. One more and it would be one for each year of my life.

Clearly she wants to get the government out of education and her life. “Trust us and leave us to do our job,” she concludes. Good for her!

Then yesterday:

A motion at the [ATL] conference called on ministers to introduce “stringent legislation” to counter the “negative effects some computer games are having on the very young”.

I imagine that most teachers have no difficulty holding both of these views. Most people would like government to leave them alone and stop other people from annoying them.

Read the whole thing

And then ask yourself: What is to be done? What can I do? How far am I prepared to go?

John Osimek reports for The Register:

The government obsession with collecting data has now extended to five-year-olds, as local Community Health Services get ready to arm-twist parents into revealing the most intimate details of their own and their child’s personal, behavioural and eating habits.

The questionnaire – or “School Entry Wellbeing Review” – is a four-page tick-box opus, at present being piloted in Lincolnshire, requiring parents to supply over 100 different data points about their own and their offspring’s health. Previously, parents received a “Health Record” on the birth of a child, which contained around eight questions which needed to be answered when that child started school.

The Review asks parents to indicate whether their child “often lies or cheats”: whether they steal or bully; and how often they eat red meat, takeaway meals or fizzy drinks. […]

How did children ever manage before ‘alchohol educators’?

Someone called Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times has written about the use of alcohol in the latest Harry Potter film and I must say I find her article deeply… something…disturbing? No, not quite right… alien… yes that is it. It is deeply alien.

As Harry Potter fans crowd movie theaters to catch the latest installment in the blockbuster series, parents may be surprised by the starring role given to alcohol. In scene after scene, the young wizards and their adult professors are seen sipping, gulping and pouring various forms of alcohol to calm their nerves, fortify their courage or comfort their sorrows.
As the mother of a 10-year-old Harry Potter fan, I was taken aback by the reaction of the young people in the theater. They snickered at Hermione’s goofy grin and, later, guffawed when an inebriated Hagrid passed out. While I don’t think my daughter fully understood what was going on, I wondered how other parents, educators and addiction experts would react.

If she found funny drunk people funny, it sounds to me like her daughter understood just fine.

Liz Perle, a mother of two teenage boys and the editor in chief of Common Sense Media, which reviews books, movies and Web content aimed at children, said she was bothered by so many scenes showing alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“Hermione is such a tightly wound young lady, but she’s liberated by some butterbeer,” she said. “The message is that it gives you liquid courage to put your arms around the guy you really like but are afraid to.”
Alcohol educators say that they don’t want to ruin the fun, but that parents should be aware of alcohol’s role in the Harry Potter series, the books as well as the movies. Several studies suggest that movies influence teenagers’ behavior when it comes to drinking, drugs and tobacco.

So why is this alien? Partially because booze really is a quite effective ‘coping aid’ that people have used since time immemorial to pluck up their courage to put their arms around the object of their affections for the first time. Why? Because at the risk of stating the obvious, it bleedin’ works. Is this really shocking or alarming to “parents, educators and addiction experts”?

I rather doubt my folks would have found a drunk giant and some pie-eyed teenagers in a film all too perplexing. But then they were hardly puritans and came from a more robust generation who felt there was value in a child occasionally colliding with life’s sharp protruding edges. Nor did they get the vapours from the sight of their little treasure’s bumps and bruises or feel any need to call in ‘experts’ when I intermittently got rat-faced drunk.

And what exactly is an ‘alcohol educator’? Pointing out that drinking can make you drunk and being drunk can make you walk into lamp posts or crash cars requires a specialist ‘alcohol educator’? How did anyone reach adulthood before such people existed I wonder?

Well I learned that drinking has its downside too, not from an ‘alcohol educator’ but from puking my guts up rather too often. I recall a teacher seeing me once heaving miserably after a school event and did he send me to an ‘alcohol commissar educator’? No, he left and returned a while later to present me with a bucket and mop and rather unsympathetically said “clean up before you leave”. Quite right too. He also never mentioned it again, because what could he possibly tell me about the downside of drinking too much that I had not just taught myself?

Teachers and parents teach children many things. And many of those things are true, half true or pure unadulterated lies. And most children know when what they are taught is hogwash. As a consequence, they learn the importance of critical judgement in ways that were not really intended by the person doing the ‘teaching’.

So when we hear this…

“I hope parents can talk to their kids and tell them even though Harry Potter made that seem fun, that it isn’t O.K.,” said Dr. Welsh, the author of a 2007 article about alcohol use in the Harry Potter series, published in The Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse.

…any 100+ IQ child who has had a few beers learns something valuable: his parents, and Dr. Welsh writing in The Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, are full of it, because for most people it really is okay and their own experiences confirm that. They sank a few brewskis, had a giggle and maybe made an ass of themselves, and 99.9% of the time, no one died, got pregnant or lost an eye.

And this is an important lesson we all learn when growing up: some of what we are taught makes sense and quite a lot of it is complete and utter tosh, and just because your parents tell you something, ain’t necessarily so. And when an ‘alcohol educator’ is trotted out to tell you something, it is because he is being paid to tell you that, and often there is quite a bit more to it than he is letting on.

There is only one kind of professional ‘alcohol educator’ worth listening to, and they are called sommeliers.

A great day for the state…

Surely the Second Coming is at hand!

The way to absolute power is to dress up empty cruelty as public virtue, and have the organs of propaganda promulgate it for ‘carers’ to inflict on children. Finally they have an excuse to take Teddy Bears from toddlers.

The government stands up for free speech

Alan Forrester is none too impressed with the evident wish of the state to stamp out any alternatives to state directed indoctrination

The government has recently published a review on home education written by Graham Badman in which he expresses a laudable concern for free speech for children:

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) gives children and young people over forty substantive rights which include the right to express their views freely, the right to be heard in any legal or administrative matters that affect them and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Article 12 makes clear the responsibility of signatories to give children a voice:

“Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

Yet under the current legislation and guidance, local authorities have no right of access to the child to determine or ascertain such views.

What remedy does Mr Badman recommend? He recommends that all home education families should be registered with the Local Education Authority and:

At the time of registration parents/carers/guardians must provide a clear statement of their educational approach, intent and desired/planned outcomes for the child over the following twelve months.

Guidance should be issued to support parents in this task with an opportunity to meet local authority officers to discuss the planned approach to home education and develop the plan before it is finalised. The plan should be finalised within eight weeks of first registration.

Of course Mr Badman really has no interest in free speech and is just a political hack hired by the government to write crude propaganda for their campaign to destroy home education and he can’t even do that properly. Mr Badman is quoting a definition of free speech from the United Nations. Many of the UN’s member governments are tyrranical kleptocracies run by thugs who murder or torture anyone who dares to openly oppose them. Seems to me they don’t really like free speech too much and quoting them is a big giveaway.

Mr Badman takes their advice because he worships the power of the state and feels the need to have people who like to play at being an international state dictate what he says about fee speech. Free speech is freedom from having your speech dictated by anybody else, including the British government. The British government violates free speech rights on a massive scale by imprisoning children in schools in which they are not allowed to speak or go to the toilet without permission. Instead of solving this problem Mr Badman proposes to secure a child’s right to free speech by forcing parents to dictate what their children what their children will think in twelve months and if they fail to indoctrinate their child the child will be locked up in one of the government’s prisons for children schools.

A new, pathetic low for the British government.

Cherchez le mème

I am troubled at the spread of a certain meme. It is hostile to liberty, yet seems to be fairly popular with those who in other respects defend freedom of speech and abhor State interference in personal relations. In the comments to this Samizdata post, a regular commenter here, ‘Mandrill’, expressed this particular meme unambiguously:

It should be illegal for any adult, parent or not, to indoctrinate any child in any religion, period. If they choose to follow one of the multitudinous superstitions which we’ve infected our intellects with once they’re an adult that’s their business, but to poison a child’s mind against reason from a very young age is, in my view, abuse and is something that stunts not only the intellectual growth of the child but that of the rest of humanity also. Just as much as genital mutilation (male or female) is.

That is all.

I have a few more examples that I have collected at the end of the post. Those quoted are not necessarily famous or influential, only those that I bestirred myself to note down or to find by casual googling. Trust me, there are plenty more out there. Feel free to add your own examples in comments. I would also welcome comments from anyone – such as Mandrill – who thinks this is a good meme.

Meanwhile let me speculate on how what I hold to be an insidious and bad meme is propagating itself with some success among them as should know better. Such qualities as ‘truth’ and ‘goodness’ and ‘internal consistency’ are often useful characteristics for a meme to have but are by no means essential to its success as a replicator.

1) Firstly, the ‘ban religion for children’ meme appeals by a having a spurious similarity to generally accepted ideas about when and whether sex should be prohibited. Most of us accept that consenting adults can do what they like, but children and mentally deficient people cannot give meaningful consent. My answer to that is sex is sex and talk is talk.

Campaign groups often try to ‘borrow’ some of the public willingness to abhor and forbid certain sexual acts and use it to get the public to abhor and forbid non-sexual acts of which the pusher disapproves. For instance, campaigners against smacking children often blur the boundaries between sexual and physical child abuse. In a loosely related way campaigners against rape sometimes blur the boundaries between forced sexual intercourse i.e. rape and the sort of ‘force’ involved in the use of emotional blackmail to get sex. → Continue reading: Cherchez le mème

Marking for life

This story will not help the blood pressure of our regular readership, I am sure:

A flagship database intended to protect every child in the country will be used by police to hunt for evidence of crime in a “shocking” extension of its original purpose.

How marvellous. Makes one’s heart swell with pride.

ContactPoint will include the names, ages and addresses of all 11 million under-18s in England as well as information on their parents, GPs, schools and support services such as social workers.

Tremendous. I almost want to sing “Land of Hope and Glory” (sarcasm alert).

The £224 million computer system was announced in the wake of the death of Victoria Climbié, who was abused and then murdered after a string of missed opportunities to intervene by the authorities, as a way to connect the different services dealing with children.

The death of this girl, like that of all children in the care of monstrous parents, is a terrible story but the creation of this database is not the answer. Punishment of the offenders surely is (I’ll leave it to the commentariat for what those punishments should be).

It has always been portrayed as a way for professionals to find out which other agencies are working with a particular child, to make their work easier and provide a better service for young people.

No doubt.

However, it has now emerged that police officers, council staff, head teachers, doctors and care workers will use the records to search for evidence of criminality and wrongdoing to help them launch prosecutions against those on the database – even long after they have reached adulthood.

And this, of course, is the nub of the issue. Governments down the ages, whether in the real world or in the dystopias of fiction writers, have sought to spot criminals ahead of their actually being criminals. I remember watching the Spielberg movie “Minority Report” – loosely based on the old Philip K. Dick novel – and wondered just how long it would take for NuLab or its equivalents to come up with an attempt to do stuff like this. Now it is becoming reality. But although the creators of such databases may like to kid themselves that they are protecting the little ones, in truth, they are placing dangerous power in the hands of state officials that can be used against people for the rest of their lives.

I am glad the Daily Telegraph is creating a stink about this. Question: will the Tories pledge to shut this database down? (Cough, nervous laughter).

On parents, religion, and children

My comment the other day about a rather imperfect – if interesting – article about the late F.A. Hayek suddenly turned into a comment thread argument about whether religious parents have the right to have the genitalia of their children adjusted (as in the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc cultures). Now, I am not all that interested in the specific health or medical arguments here, although I would be interested if those with actual medical knowledge could give some ideas on the value or otherwise of said. What interests me, as a defender of liberty, is what should be the boundaries on what parents should observe when it comes to raising their children when it comes to actions that actually affect the bodies of their kids. For example, suppose a parent of religion/ideology X decided that he or she really wanted to put a small tattoo on the forehead of their son with the symbol of their family faith? Suppose the operation to do this was painless. Would it be justified? (In my view, no).

I put this point because in the comment thread attached to my post about Hayek, one commenter called Gabriel argues that banning such operations on children done for religious reasons constitutes discrimination against his faith. Such an argument is, I think, an example of multiculturalism gone mad.

On a related theme of protecting kids, David Friedman – son of the great Milton Friedman – has thoughts.

The Home Office in action (II)

It may be disgustingly authoritarian, but it is risibly incompetent too. It appears the Home Office has just spent a very large amount of UK readers’ money making a vast online advertisement for NO2ID. We’d despaired of reaching ‘the youth’ ourselves, too expensive. I’m very glad they decided to do it for us.

With audience participation. Which embarrassingly for the Home Office shows ‘kids’ not to be quite the suckers they’d hoped. Enjoy.

Reasons for getting rid of this government, ctd

Up to a quarter of all adults are to be vetted to ensure they are not kiddie-abusing maniacs, as part of an effort to protect youngsters under the age of 16 in cases such as voluntary organisations and so on.

And people wonder why there is sometimes a shortage of volunteers for things like youth clubs and the like. The destruction of civil society, of the bonds of trust that are vital to such an organic, grass-roots cluster of non-state institutions, is remorseless and deliberate. This government, in its totalitarian way – I use that word quite deliberately – wants to make all human interactions subject to its tests. The consequences for the long term health of civil society, and of the ability of people to grow up normally, are ignored.

None of this is to say that the issue of child abuse is not serious, nor deserving of legal action to protect children from child abusers, who deserve the strongest punishment. I really do wonder, however, whose interests are served by the sort of vetting processes that the state is embarking upon. One hears examples of how adults are sometimes reluctant to help a kid because they are frightened they will get some sort of complaint later on. That cannot be good.

It is sometimes lazily assumed that this present Labour government is not “radical” like its predecessors. But that is only a superficial issue. In substance, this is arguably the most dangerously radical government in modern times in terms of its view of how individuals interact not just with the state, but with each other.