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]

A contract signed under duress is invalid

All I have added to this excerpt from an article in the Times by David Aaronovitch is emphasis on what I consider to be the key words:

A free press must not be bullied by the state

Readers don’t know, but this happens all the time. Rich men and women threaten, companies threaten, gangsters and dope cheats threaten, aggrieved and time-rich individuals threaten; day in, day out letters before action flow like little streams of menace into our legal department. Almost every single time you expose someone or something, it happens in the context of legal threats. People don’t like it if you tell lies about them and they like it even less if you tell the truth.

Which brings me to the most important thing being considered by Ms Bradley. It goes by the tedious name of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and is something that can be invoked, or not, by the government. It is, in essence, the stick that could be used to get newspapers and publications to sign up to the new state-approved press regulator, Impress.

What it says is that any publication not agreeing to be regulated by Impress will be subject to the costs of a legal action — even where it wins. Really. That’s what it says. Call the next Lance Armstrong a drugs cheat and even if he loses the case it will cost you hundreds of thousands. Well, no one in those circumstances would take the risk of running the story. These are not days in which newspapers make much if any money and the fastest way to bankruptcy would be to fall foul of Section 40.

And that of course is why, as sticks go, it’s a knout, a knobkerrie, a bludgeon. It would have to be because otherwise the British press, from the pinkest metro-sheet to the shoutiest judge-hating tabloid, will not sign up with the government-approved regulator.

Two articles about sexual violence in left wing papers that surprised me

The first article was by Eve Livingston writing in the Guardian: “The state is an enabler of sexual violence. So what hope for the victims?”

The headline caught my interest, which lasted well into the third paragraph. She wrote,

Violence does not exist solely in the instant that blow meets body, but in the circumstances that facilitate it and the systems which excuse it.

My heart soared. Could it be that Ayn Rand’s argument that all state laws are ultimately enforced at gunpoint had penetrated the pages of the Guardian? For it is certainly true that the state facilitates and excuses its own violence, and I have long thought that this produces a climate of opinion that tends to facilitate and excuse violent acts by anyone.

‘Fraid not. It was just another rehash of the tired old trick of redefining “violence” to mean “anything I don’t like”. Ms Livingston thinks that the government spending less money than she thinks it should on women’s refuges is “violence”. As is the government spending less on anything, or talking in metaphors that might induce unpleasant thoughts.

If economic policy too accurately embodies its violent language of slashing and cutting,

Whatevs, thought I. And nearly missed a rather good point:

…legislation around crime and justice delivers an almost laughable irony. In some cases, the very laws purportedly designed to protect women from violence can, in practice, enable it: the criminalisation of various activities relating to the sale of sex, for example, is universally opposed by sex worker-organising collectives, on the grounds that it limits their ability to work safely – for instance, in groups or designated zones – and without fear of violence from both clients and state agencies.

I was surprised and glad to read this. Until now almost the only voice in the Guardian opposing the fashionable “Nordic model” put forward by an unholy alliance between old style authoritarian conservatives such as Caroline Spelman MP and Gavin Shuker MP (one of whom does and one does not have the abbreviation for “Conservative” written after their name, not that it matters) and new style authoritarian feminists such as Guardian regulars Joan Smith and Catherine Bennett, came from Melissa Gira Grant. Ably though the latter writes, she tends to be discounted because she would actually know. Dear me, we can’t have that.

I really was glad to see that Eve Livingston sees that laws that claim to protect women from violence can have the opposite effect. It is sad that she almost hid her message from me (and not only me judging from the comments) by that silly attempt to stick the label “violence” on something that, even if one believes it to be bad, is not violence. Ironically that same trick is played by the crusading politicians she rightly opposes. Click on the link relating to Gavin Shuker MP above to read the following (emphasis added):

The year-long parliamentary enquiry argues that prostitution should be seen as violence against women and an affront to sexual equality, but sex workers have reacted furiously to the proposals arguing that the criminalisation of clients will push sex work underground, further stigmatise women and put lives at risk.

The second article that surprised me is from the New Statesman. Sarah Ditum writes, “What’s missing from the transgender debate? Any discussion of male violence.”

One of those things that supposedly never happens, happened. Luke Mallaband was convicted of six voyeurism offences after a female student at the University of East Anglia found his phone hidden in the university library’s gender-neutral toilets. The probation report described him as “high risk of posing serious harm to females”.

Here I was simply and honestly surprised that a piece in the New Statesman admitted there was a potential problem at all. I had thought that the whole “transgender bathroom rights” issue was still so new and shiny, like a newly socialist country whose economy has not yet visibly gone to pot, that no one on the Left dared break ranks. But Sarah Ditum did dare, and despite the many poor arguments elsewhere in her article, she saw where Eve Livingston did not the danger in the attempt to use the emotions stirred up by a word as a substitute for argument:

“Inclusion” and “equality” are words with strong positive connotations, and those positive connotations can sometimes smother the problem of competing rights in a warm feel-good fuzz. On 1 December, Parliament debates the report of the Women and Equalities Committee into transgender equality: from reading it, you would have very little idea that the rights of women and the rights claimed by trans people have any points of conflict.

It is not that I have any particular opinion on whether gender neutral public toilets are a Good Thing or a Bad Thing in general. Of course they should be allowed, and of course gender segregated public toilets should be allowed. Libertarianism offers a way out of the contradictions about the “competing rights” of this or that group: respect the right of whoever provides the toilets in a premises to enforce what rules they think best and the right of potential users of the toilets to use those ones or go elsewhere as they think best.

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.