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]

The UK just legalised everything that Snowden warned us about

There is a good article on the Verge laying out the horrendous Investigatory Powers Act.

Dear UKIP, you’ve changed

“UKIP leader Paul Nuttall says UK should ban burqa”, the Independent reports.

In the 2015 election I was pleased to note that UKIP, the third most popular party in the UK in terms of number of votes, was also the closest to libertarian among the mainstream parties. Since then the United Kingdom Independence Party has both fulfilled and lost its purpose. Its new leader, Paul Nuttall, seems to want to achieve his aim of supplanting Labour as the main opposition to the Tories by outcompeting Labour in the field of authoritarianism. Just listen to the tail-wags-the-dog justification for banning the burqa that Mr Nutall gives in the video clip linked to by the Independent:

“Whether we like it or not we are the most watched people in the world. There’s more CCTV in Britain per head than anywhere else on the planet and for the CCTV to be effective you need to see people’s faces.”

Samizdata quote of the day

You might not have noticed thanks to world events, but the UK parliament recently approved the government’s so-called Snooper’s Charter and it will soon become law. This nickname for the Investigatory Powers Bill is well earned. It represents a new level and nature of surveillance that goes beyond anything previously set out in law in a democratic society. It is not a modernisation of existing law, but something qualitatively different, something that intrudes upon every UK citizen’s life in a way that would even a decade ago have been inconceivable […] As David Davis said, before being distracted by Brexit, this kind of surveillance will only catch the innocent and the incompetent. The innocent should not be caught and the incompetent can be caught any number of ways.

Paul Bernal. Good article, even if I was a bit bemused by the author’s surprise that a paleo-socialist like Jeremy Corbyn acquiesced.

Repeal the new surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act)

If you are in the UK, please sign the petition to repeal the new surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act). We are half way to getting a Parliamentary debate (maybe 🙄 ).

Too many see Orwell’s “1984” not as a cautionary tale, but rather a compendium of interesting policy suggestions.

The tectonic plates are shifting

This is a statement by Geert Wilders about the attempts by the Dutch establishment to silence him for expressing a political opinion:

Now whatever you think of Wilders, this has been an astonishing attempt to simply shut down free expression in an western nation. And of course this will not silence him and will probably prove to be a spectacular establishment own-goal.

And in the UK, more and more infrastructure to censor internet porn is being put into place. Why is this related? Because once control infrastructure exists, it can and will be re-purposed, in much the same way the Department for Education’s “counter extremism unit“, set up ostensibly to prevent violent Islamic extremist views being taught in UK schools, gets re-purposed to shut down a gay secular journalist who has not called for any violence against anyone.

All across the Western World, political verities and assumption are starting to shift, and almost nothing can be accurately predicted any more. We live in times that are a danger and opportunity in equal measure, and people who care about liberty will have to get their hands dirty, making common cause with others who will not pass any purity sniff tests but with whom we share common enemies (however care does need to be taken in such matters for sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my enemy… but sometimes not), however now is the time for engagement and action.

“A huge, stifling bubble”

How sad that the “huge, stifling bubble” being described is a university. I am not quite clear who wrote the following article for student magazine The Tab. The byline says Lucy Kehoe, a co-editor of Tab Liverpool, but the introduction suggests that she is quoting someone (a male) whose name is not given. Whoever wrote it, it is good to see someone fighting back:

Shutting down the ‘Pro-Life Society’ isn’t liberal — it’s the exact opposite

The way the campus majority reacted to the new ‘Pro-Life Society’ is symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with student politics right now. It was oppressive and deeply intolerant — ironically, exactly what opponents of the society claim they want to defeat.

Speaking as an atheist and staunch pro-choicer, the attempt to shut down the Liverpool University Pro-Life Society before they’ve even had a chance to go for an ice-breaker pint strikes me as a pretty a sinister development. Without trying to sound like a badly-damaged record, simply disagreeing with someone’s opinion does not warrant this person being banned from voicing this opinion, no matter how stark or severe the disagreement may be.

Let’s confront this together, fellow pro-choicers. The members of this society probably find your pro-choice views outrageous, too. Morally reprehensible. In some cases, your views are an insult to their deeply-held religious views.

So, if the Guild was to approve a future application from a pro-choice society, should that be kicked off campus, too? Clearly, the answer is no. Because their outrage doesn’t trump free speech — and neither does yours. When people (like myself) reflect on how wonderful university was, a word we are pretty much guaranteed to use is “diversity”. Diversity of race, religion and nationality. Of accents and hometowns. Of opinion and perspective.

Campuses are places where opinions should be held freely, exchanged in good will and perhaps even debated where necessary. This is the essence of a mature democracy. It’s the basics, really. But this is under attack. No longer is the university an open, tolerant, marketplace of ideas, but a huge, stifling bubble where any group united by a conservative point of view risks being delegitimised by the opinion police.

So far as I know the society has not been banned, but everybody took quite seriously the idea that its suppression should be discussed. The petition to ban it started by a student called Katriana Ciccotto read in part:

“As a female student, I feel completely betrayed, insulted and neglected by the Guild’s recent approval of the pro-life society.

As a female whose student days are long gone, I feel completely wearied by reading political statements that start with “As a female I feel completely [insert line of sad face emoticons here]”. Honestly, kids, feminism once meant something quite different to this. At least with mansplaining you might learn something; a headache is all you get from being in range of womemoting.

“This is a society that is founded on the sole basis that women should oblige to their beliefs. One that denies a woman the right to her own body. These are not religious ideas, they are misogynistic and hateful.

I do not know what “oblige to their beliefs” means nor why it is meant to be a bad thing. The statement “These are not religious ideas, they are misogynistic and hateful” is odd, too. Is it some sort of politically correct charm spell, recited to protect the speaker against accusations of Islamophobia? I am religious but would not claim for a microsecond that an idea being religious is logically incompatible with it being misogynistic and hateful. And while there certainly are those who oppose abortion on non-religious grounds, it is common knowledge that there are vast numbers, including many women of the sort modern feminists do not see, whose opposition to abortion is religious and they are proud to have it that way.

“Whilst I understand and the Guild’s policy towards freedom of speech, misogyny does not come under this category. Surely the Guild would undoubtedly disapprove of a society that promoted racism, homophobia or any other form of hate speech? Why is this different?

“If the Guild want to maintain the idea that they represent their students, they should have the moral obligation to ban this pro-life group.”

I, not Ms Ciccotto, put the phrase “misogyny does not come under this category” in bold type. It was unendearingly typical of the class of “I believe in free speech but” arguments that define free speech down to meaninglessness. There is a word called “whataboutery”, describing a style of argument by deflection pioneered in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in which people avoided facing up to the evil done by their own side by endlessly bringing up evil deeds (especially evil deeds of many years past) done by the other side. Whataboutery often is used dishonestly, but not always. A demand that all should be judged by the same rules is fair. But I really cannot see much to defend in the tactic of buttery.

UK government suppressing free speech: nothing less than scandalous

I have mixed feelings about Milo Yiannopoulos, but the notion that representatives of Her Majesties Government have pressured Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury into cancelling a speech by him on grounds of ‘extremism‘ is tantamount to a declaration of war on freedom of expression.

There needs to be push-back because this is scandalous.

Push back how? Names need to be named. Exactly who at the Department for Education was behind this? Who did Headmaster Matthew Baxter speak with? Names please. And who ordered those functionaries to contact the headmaster and press him into cancelling this event? Names please, because their reasoning needs to be subject to scrutiny.

Update: very interesting local article reporting on this. Once you get away from the London based media, you are more likely to find journalism that does not reflexively kowtow to the BBC/Guardian orthodoxy.

Samizdata quote of the day

It has been argued that Brexit will make us freer. Not just in an economic or political sense, but also in terms of individual civil liberties. spiked’s Mick Hume wrote that ‘the referendum result is a triumph for free speech and a smack in the eye for the culture of You Can’t Say That’. And it is.

Post-Brexit Britain will no longer be bound by an EU Code of Conduct that seeks to police the online speech of over 500million citizens and ban ‘illegal online hate speech’. Or an EU law that encourages the criminalisation of ‘insult’. Or a proposed EU law that undermines fundamental freedoms by purging Europe of every last shred of supposed ‘discrimination’.

We can distinguish ourselves from our European neighbours that are intent on pursuing more and more censorship. Just over the summer it was reported that prosecutors in Spain initiated criminal proceedings against the Archbishop of Valencia for preaching a homily alleged to have been ‘sexist’ and ‘homophobic’. In the Netherlands, a man was sentenced to 30 days in prison for ‘intentionally insulting’ the king on Facebook. And in Germany a prosecution was launched against a comedian who made jokes against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

These kinds of cases have become normal on the continent. So much so that they barely generate news. And they are often willingly cheered on by the EU and other European institutions. Britain can tread a different path.

There is just one, small problem: when it comes to censorship and the quashing of civil liberties, the UK doesn’t need any encouragement from the EU, or anybody else.

Paul Coleman

Concerning “concerning” opinions

A story in today’s Sunday Times provides a practical lesson in how our freedom is being whittled away. The story is paywalled, but I will quote the most relevant part:

Adoption banned in ‘gay parents’ row

A husband and wife have been prevented from trying to adopt their two young foster children after the couple said a child needed a “mummy and daddy” rather than gay parents.

Social services said it would not consider the couple’s request to adopt the children because they had aired “concerning” opinions about the possibility of a same-sex couple being chosen as the adoptive parents instead.

Campaigners said the treatment of the couple was disturbing because it meant people could be penalised by the authorities simply for expressing support for traditional parenting.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting them, said: “This couple’s viewpoint is lawful and mainstream.”

There are several matters which I could address in this post but will not. The priority placed by the social workers on the interests of two formerly neglected children in finally having a stable home, for one. Or the fact that we now have “lawful” opinions in Britain, which is another way of saying that we now have opinions that are unlawful.

I will content myself with saying that this is the most effective control technique currently in use. You are still free to express dissent. It is just that if you exercise your freedom to express your dissent you and yours had better give up on wanting to do anything else with your life which requires the goodwill of officials, a category which grows ever larger. Our rulers are cannier than those of the Soviet Union. They have dispensed with the labour camps but kept the strategy that actually worked. As Andrei Sakharov said,

“Everyone wants to have a job, be married, have children, be happy, but dissidents must be prepared to see their lives destroyed and those dear to them hurt. When I look at my situation and my family’s situation and that of my country, I realize that things are getting steadily worse.”

I am not an admirer of Islam… but I support the government’s position not to ban Sharia councils

There is a petition to ban Sharia councils (incorrectly described as Sharia courts), and given my often stated critical views of Islam, you might think I would be supportive. But that is not the case, as I find myself in full agreement with HM government’s position (it is not often I write that!) and I think their response to the petition is correct (emphasis added):

Sharia councils are not courts in England and Wales. They cannot legally enforce any decision and must operate within the rule of national law. The Government has no plan to change this position.

Many British people of different faiths follow religious codes and practices. The Government does not prevent individuals from seeking to regulate their lives through religious beliefs or cultural traditions. Nothing in the law prevents people abiding by Sharia principles if they wish, provided their actions do not conflict with the law. If they do conflict, then national law prevails.

Sharia councils are not courts, and they are not in any sense part of the legal system in this country. Sharia councils have no legal power to enforce any decisions they make. Any religious council, or other body through which people seek to resolve their disputes, must operate within the rule of national law.

The Government understands that there are concerns about Sharia councils. The full, independent review into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales, launched by the previous Home Secretary on 26 May, will enhance our understanding of any misuse of Sharia law, and the extent of any problem where it may exist.

And I would have to say that is a very good response. You cannot ban Sharia councils without the state sweeping away yet another layer of civil society and replacing it with yet more top-down statism. Voluntary arbitration is a long standing tradition in this country and a Sharia council is just that: voluntary arbitration. The amount of misinformation and disinformation swirling around is remarkable. Such councils cannot involve anyone who is not willing to participate, and cannot impose decisions that are repugnant to secular national law. It is no different to two parties deciding to settle some dispute over a cup of tea in front of a Church of England vicar. Well ok, a Sharia council might involve Turkish coffee rather than tea. But in either case, neither is permitted to step outside the bounds of secular law. If there is any role for the state, and that is a big ‘if’, then it might be to educate people from minority communities that such councils are entirely voluntary and people are free to say “No”, or even “Hell no!” when they are suggested as a means of arbitration.

Samizdata quote of the day

O’Doherty unintentionally summed up the real problem with this judgement. That is, that private businesses should never have to offer ‘justification’ for discriminating – not to the state, the Equality Commission, or anyone else. Just because you run a bakery, that doesn’t mean the state gets to intervene in your matters of conscience. What’s more, this case is not clear-cut. While Lee claimed he was discriminated against on the basis of his sexual orientation, McArthur insists that Ashers refused to make the cake because of the message on it, not the sexual preference of the customer.

Now, many people said that Ashers should have made the cake because it offers a public service. But this simply isn’t true. It is a private business. There is an enormous difference between discrimination by public services, which are run by the state, and private businesses, which are run by individuals. Public services must be freely accessible to all. But private individuals must be free to run their businesses according to their own moral judgement.

Luke Gittos

An easy mistake to make

Apparently the Queen ‘confused Vladimir Putin with Andrew Marr’ during a state visit.

It can be difficult to tell apart all these ex-communists who have kept their taste for being “engineers of the human soul”. There was little spiritual difference between Vladimir Putin and Andrew Marr when Marr said this:

“… though teachers are the most effective anti-racist campaigners in the country, this means more than education in other religions it means a form of political education. Only people who understand the economic forces changing their world, threatening them but also creating new opportunities, have a chance of being immune to the old tribal chants. And the final answer, frankly, is the vigorous use of state power to coerce and repress. It may be my Presbyterian background, but I firmly believe that repression can be a great, civilising instrument for good. Stamp hard on certain ‘natural’ beliefs for long enough and you can almost kill them off. The police are first in line to be burdened further, but a new Race Relations Act will impose the will of the state on millions of other lives too.”

Emphasis added. The Guardian article from which the quote is taken can be read here.