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]

Marc Sidwell on Trump’s appearance of authenticity (plus me on Rees-Mogg and Corbyn)

The original version of the quoted sentence that follows concerned sincerity rather than authenticity, but here is how Marc Sidwell recycles it, in his book about Trump called called How To Win Like Trump (which as of now you can download for free):

If you can fake authenticity, you’ve got it made.

The above slight-mis-quote appears at the beginning of the part of Sidwell’s book entitled “Secret Five: Appear Authentic”. Appear Authentic, not Be Authentic.

The reason I here re-quote this slight-mis-quote is to emphasise that although Marc Sidwell’s book is an admiring attempt to explain How Trump Did It, he by no means swallows the Trump myth whole. Rather does he analyse, among much else, how this Trump myth was created, and then swallowed whole and spread by an amazing number of Americans, including an amazing proportion of Trump’s enemies. After all: “Blurts out every piece of crap that enters his ridiculous looking head” is but a rude way of saying: “Here’s a guy who says what he thinks and means what he says”, “Here’s a guy who’s authentic”. I am learning a lot, some of which I had long suspected, and am enjoying this book very much. If you hate Trump, you probably wouldn’t enjoy this book nearly so much, but you would surely learn a lot.

Sidwell continues:

We live at a time where politicians and spokespersons of all kinds have been scripted to death. Message management, jargon and political correctness have left official speech bloodless. Our leaders have lost their own voices. They read out statements that sound inhuman and often mean almost nothing. Ritual phrases are repeated more like prayers than in an attempt to inform or start a conversation.

Ah yes, “start a conversation”. That phrase began life as a way of actually saying something, but now it sounds to me like just another of those “ritual phases” (typically now used to excuse the incoherence and/or non-existence of anything actually being said) that died the death several years ago. What Trump does with his brilliantly “authentic” tweets is start slanging matches from which he emerges the winner, as Sidwell himself well explains. (See in particular his stuff about Trump’s participation in the world of televised wrestling.)

As an editor, I used to pray for an official who could give good quote. And for the media, as much as many hated him, Trump’s unfiltered style was a godsend.

In other words:

… his public persona was authentic.

See also: Jacob Rees-Mogg, who I and quite a few other Brits now hope will be our next Prime Minister. This peculiar man resembles Trump in deviating, but in a very different direction, from the scripted-to-death style, in his case by being coherent and educated and patrician. When Rees-Mogg starts a sentence, he finishes it, and he does this in a manner which makes no attempt to hide the expensiveness and the well-connectedness of his education. Rees-Mogg is happily honest about his poshness in the same way that Trump is happily honest about being, as his son put it, a “blue-collar billionaire”.

Trouble is, see also: Jeremy Corbyn. Like Rees-Mogg, Corbyn also comes across as not-a-Blair-clone. He presents himself as exactly the sub-academic tyranny-worshipping junk Marxist that he is. I feel towards Corbyn the same amount of fear and detestation as Trump’s enemies feel towards Trump. This is because a terrifying proportion of Britain’s voters seem now to feel that, because Corbyn is unapologetically sincere in his desire to ruin my country, he is at least sincere, and therefore a good egg. But if what you say is wicked, then meaning it is not a virtue.

LATER, re Corbyn (my thanks to first commenter below Brian Swisher), the late and much missed Helen Samuely: “Well, at least he has principles”.

Samizdata quote of the day

I found the reasons various people gave for choosing sides in the American Civil War fascinating, but the complexities of each choice have largely been ignored in contemporary discussions on the subject. I guess the BBC and their ilk prefer to stoke the flames of a race war by implying Lee was fighting to preserve slavery.

Well, they’re getting what they wanted, aren’t they?

Tim Newman

The progress of social programs and the debt

1960’s: Lets eliminate everything bad. We can go to the moon so why not end poverty!
“Yes, do it.”

1970’s: Well, it doesn’t look so easy. We’ll have to spend more money.
“Well, okay.”

1980’s: It is actually not working. Maybe we should spend some more slightly differently.
“Well, give it a try.”

1990’s. We’ve got so many people depending on this! We have to spend more to keep them afloat.
“Well, I don’t want to look like a terrible person, so okay.”

2000’s: The debt is growing, and the social programs are actually having negative effects, but we have to keep trying! We’re nice people! We have to DO SOMETHING!
“Well, is this really necessary… why not cut back… oh, okay, don’t look at me that way.”

2010’s: The country is in debt and things are awful! We must help those who are least able to help themselves. We have to let the world see what nice people we are!
“Well… no.”
You can’t say that! You EVIL RACIST HOMOPHOBIC ANTI-WOMAN OLD WHITE MALE SUPREMACIST!!!!!”
“Oh, bog off.”

Samizdata quote of the day

This kind of clotted nonsense could only be generally circulated and generally believed in England, where newspapers claiming to be conservative and reliable are the most utterly untrustworthy of any on earth. In apology for these newspapers it may be said that their untrustworthiness is not always due to intention, but more frequently to ignorance and prejudice.

– W. R. Hearst in a telegram to The Times printed on 2 November 1907. In it he denies ever using the words: “You provide the pictures and I will provide the war,”. Hat-tip W. Joseph Campbell Getting it wrong: ten of the greatest misreported stories in American journalism.

Once established, it is almost impossible to repeal a benefit or ‘public service’

The failure to repeal Obamacare is yet more evidence that Chief Justice Roberts was wrong not to stop Obamacare at the start – and wrong in his basic principles. The public rarely, if ever, ask for a new “public service” or benefit – but once such a government function is established it is almost impossible to repeal. People, and the system itself, grows used to the new government benefit or service – and it is incredibly difficult to get rid of it once it is established. This is why traditional Constitutions are written – to limit the powers of government at the start, to prevent these benefits and services being created in the first place.

However, a Constitution is only as good as the enforcement mechanisms to make sure it is obeyed – and as Luther Martin warned at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, trusting government appointed judges to limit the powers of the very government that appointed them is a fatally flawed idea.

This is not a recent problem. Even in the 19th century the Supreme Court often ruled that the Federal Government has powers that the Constitution does NOT give it. For example the infamous “Second Greenback Case” where the Supreme Court, with newly appointed “justices” (appointed, in part, for this corrupt purpose) overturned the “First Greenback Case” where the court had declared, quite correctly, that the Federal Government has no power to print (or have printed) money – only to “coin money” (Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution of the United States) and that only gold or silver coin (not paper money) may be “legal tender” in any State (Article One, Section Ten of the Constitution of the United States). Nothing could be plainer than that paper money is unconstitutional – indeed the very reason the United States Constitution was written in the first place was to prevent the “not worth a Continental” paper money issued by the Continental Congress to finance its government – those who support the Articles of Confederation system forget that one of its fundamental flaws was that it allowed the government to print money, as it gave no reliable source of taxation to finance the United States Armed Forces. Without a large scale and professional armed forces there is no point in having a United States of America at all – and each State might as well go its own way till conquered by European powers in the 18th century or by the People’s Republic of China in the 21st century.

→ Continue reading: Once established, it is almost impossible to repeal a benefit or ‘public service’

Samizdata quote of the day

Finally, on both sides of the Atlantic our citizens are confronted by yet another danger; one firmly within our control. This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people. The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.

– Donald Trump speaking in Warsaw today.

Harry Potter and the Ignorance of Ignorance

Many will know Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, a fun essay by Benjamin Barton on episodes in the books that insinuate scepticism about government (and about mainstream media, though this is less the essay’s theme). In the Potter books (and even in ‘A Casual Vacancy’, which is a bad book written by a good writer), J.K.Rowling (sometimes wittingly, sometimes quite unwittingly, I think) teaches lessons that are indirectly unhelpful to those who love statism. Telling an 18-year-old, “You realise Corbyn’s Bureaucracy will be every bit as efficient, as fair and as restrained as the Ministry of Magic”, can be a more useful start to a conversation than mentioning Stalin or Venezuela. (Not that you’ll get any agreement from Rowling herself on that – but my post “Harry Potter and the Silly Tweets” must wait till another day. 🙂 )

When “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” came out in 2003, at the height of the protests against attacking Iraq and the war on terror, the PC brigade went off her for a while.  The book’s picture of a hidden evil leader inspiring hideous acts of terrorism, while politicians and the media corruptly downplayed the danger, didn’t quite suit them. Of course, she had planned that plot in the mid-90s as a natural part of the series’ architecture – its appearance in 2003 was coincidental – but the essay has a point.

However right in the middle of his argument, Benjamin shows that he is an American – that the everyday experience of growing up as a child in Britain, with UK politics as a “noises off” background one gradually starts to notice, is one he has not had – and does not suspect that he needed. To him, it seems obvious that the politics of the Magical world are not democratic:

Defenders of bureaucracy argue that democracy justifies bureaucracy as a result of deliberation and public buy-in. Rowling strips the Ministry of Magic of even this most basic justification, as Fudge is replaced by Scrimgeour as the Minister of Magic with no mention of an election. To the contrary, Rowling uses the passive voice of the verb “to sack” repeatedly to describe Fudge’s fate. … It is unclear who appoints the Minister of Magic, but perhaps the elites.

Benjamin is arguing logically from his US experience: presidents are elected and are never just ‘sacked’. But the British reader instantly recognises that Benjamin is arguing from an ignorance of UK experience. Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister without an election. An election has now been held and Theresa May is still prime minister, but had she not accepted her inevitable future by promising her party to “serve as long as you wish me to”, she might already have been sacked. She will cease being prime minister before the next election – probably long before. British children and teenagers, the book’s protagonists, grow up knowing that there are elections from time to time, and that the head of government changes from time to time, and that the two are related, but often only indirectly. They also see that Fudge talks like a politician in Britain – like a man with an electorate to worry about, a man who has to care about whether it ‘looks like’ he’s doing the right thing for the magical community.

So, transatlantic commenters, what things about the US do I not know that I do not know? And have I any company in my ignorant ignorance? Have you met an ignorance more ignorant, and more ignorant of it, than mine?

I appreciate it’s a hard question:

Bernard: “What is it that the prime minister does not know?”

Sir Humphrey: “How can I tell you what the prime minister doesn’t know? It could be almost anything!”

(From ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, episode 6, quoted from memory)

Samizdata quote of the day

I was speaking with a friend the other night, and I made the point that the meta-narrative of the 2016 election is learned helplessness as a political value.  We’re no longer a country that believes in human agency, and as a formerly poor person, I find it incredibly insulting.  To hear Trump or Clinton talk about the poor, one would draw the conclusion that they have no power to affect their own lives.  Things have been done to them, from bad trade deals to Chinese labor competition, and they need help.  And without that help, they’re doomed to lives of misery they didn’t choose.  

Rod Dreher . He is quoting JD Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture In Crisis

The Shadow of Free Speech

In the USA, the first amendment says that mere speech can never make a crime. Such a constitutional right has a penumbra, as the lawyers call it (many a complex case has gone to the supreme court).

Suppose a politically-incorrect remark makes it criminal for you to do what would be legal for you to do if you had not uttered it. Is it the remark that has been made criminal?

Throughout the ruling, Judge Watson concedes there’s nothing about the executive order that would be problematic if not for his interpretation of Trump’s statements made in the months and years prior to issuing it.

If it is illegal for Donald to do for four months what Barack legally did for six, solely because Obama’s speeches about immigration were always impeccably PC whereas Trump’s remarks on the 2016 campaign trail were not, are Donald’s first amendment rights violated? I’ve read plenty about a president’s constitutional right to control immigration under laws that congress had a constitutional right to enact, but what about his right to have uttered a politically incorrect opinion during the previous year? Can the same logic debar every candidate with a history of un-PC remarks from any executive position? Can an otherwise constitutional congressional law be nullified because people on the side that voted for it said un-PC things the day before – or the decade before?

If the ultimate ruling on this were that you guys across the pond could still speak your mind, but only at the cost of making acting on it illegal, then the penumbra of the first amendment would have grown short indeed – which is a surprising way to say it, since it would look to me like your free speech had become a mere shadow of itself.

[Added later] Commenter Chip expressed my post in a sentence:

Clearly, the only lawmakers who can restrict immigration are those who never said they would.

I’m glad all nine supreme court judges are not sure this is what the constitution actually says – and less glad that only three seem able to see at a glance that it is not.

The uncertainty principle in violence blame mechanics

Sometimes one is privileged to witness the discovery of a law of science.

Δl Δm > M

Six years ago I wrote a post called “Two contrasting articles by Michael Tomasky on spree killers”. In that post I compared an article Mr Tomasky wrote in January 2011 after the attempted murder of (Democratic) Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the course of a spree killing carried out by Jared Loughner (“In the US, where hate rules at the ballot box, this tragedy has been coming for a long time”), to another article written by him in November 2009, just after the mass killing at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan (“American, for better or worse”).

Regarding Hasan, Mr Tomasky was of the opinion that “We have much more to learn about Hasan before we can jump to any conclusions” and “We should assume until it’s proven otherwise that Hasan was an American and a loyal one, who just snapped”.

Regarding Loughner, Tomasky felt much more able to draw immediate conclusions. He wrote, “You don’t have to believe that alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is a card-carrying Tea Party member (he evidently is not) to see some kind of connection between that violent rhetoric and what happened in Arizona on Saturday” and “So what particular type of nut is Loughner? We don’t have a full picture yet. But we have enough of one. His coherent ravings included the conviction that the constitution assured him that “you don’t have to accept the federalist laws”. He called a female classmate who had an abortion a ‘terrorist'”.

Forgive the lengthy prologue. I was prompted to write this post by the fact that Mr Tomasky has now added a third article to the series, concerning the attempted murder of Congressman Steve Scalise and other Republicans by James Hodgkinson: “One Left-Wing Gunman Doesn’t Make a Movement”. He is back to a state of unknowing.

We may never know about James Hodgkinson’s mental state in the days and hours leading up to his horrifying attack Wednesday morning, since he’s dead. We know that he was left wing, a comparative rarity for a political assassin in the United States these days.

And

But it’s my hunch that Hodgkinson was not part of any broader movement.

In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says that “the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa.”

A similar principle may be discerned in the field of “violence blame mechanics”, an emerging field of political science. The complementary variables in this case are Δl, the uncertainty of left-protectnedness, and Δm, the uncertainty of motivation for violence. “Left-protectedness” can be manifested as actually holding left wing beliefs or as belonging to a group regarded as oppressed by the left, such as Muslims or dark skinned people.

In layman’s language, the more certainty there is that a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class, the less certain it is possible to be about his motives. Thus the very act of seeing that the Facebook page of James T. Hodgkinson included a Bernie Sanders banner and the words “Democratic Socialism explained in 3 words” makes it impossible to know his motives.

“Uncertainty of motive” can also be reformulated as “time before it is proper to speculate on motive” by a simple mathematical transformation, with tm tending to zero in the case of Loughner and infinity in the cases of Hasan and Hodgkinson. This explains the apparent contradiction of how it was improper to guess at Nidal Hasan’s motives before trial despite the widely reported fact that survivors heard him shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he fired, but that when it came to Jared Loughner Mr Tomasky felt that we had enough of a picture the day after the attack.

In tribute to the clarity with which his writings have demonstrated the concept, I had thought of calling this law “Tomasky’s uncertainty principle” but, as so often in the history of science, the same discovery has been made by several different researchers. It is a crowded field. To establish priority, readers are invited to submit examples where a particular author has demonstrated his or her understanding of the principle by citing multiple articles showing it in operation for different values of Δl and Δm.

Meanwhile, may I suggest that we should name the equivalent of Planck’s constant in a way that does justice to the collective nature of the development of this principle. Let us call it M, the Media constant. Thus the law can be stated in mathematical form as Δl Δm > M. I have added this equation to the top of the post.

Edit: I must draw your attention to the very cogent objections raised by Moore, L. (2017):

If “the complementary variables in this case are Δl, the uncertainty of left-protectnedness, and Δm, the uncertainty of motivation for violence” then the first variable isn’t really the degree of certainty that a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class, but the degree of certainty as to whether a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class.

And then of course the whole Tomasky uncertainty principle collapses in a heap, because if we know for sure that a perpetrator of violence is a right winger we have zero uncertainty about whether the perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class. This should mean the uncertainty of motive is infinitely large. But it isn’t. It’s zero. If we know for sure that if the perp was a rightie, we know for sure the motive was rightiness.

I suspect what we have here is Tomasky’s exclusion principle, derived not from Heisenberg, but from Pauli. Left wing motives and violence turn out to be identical Graunions, which cannot occupy the same quantum state at the same time. They simply cannot co-exist in one event. The one excludes the other.

Samizdata data point of the day

I am not sure this works as a quote of the day, but it certainly does count as a data point so eye-popping that I wanted to share it:

Forty-three hundred people, including two dozen children under the age of 12, were shot in Chicago last year.

That’s right: 4,300 people shot in a major US city during a period of 12 months.

Partisan analysis

Jacob Sullum writes about one of my pet peeves:

Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley is rightly alarmed by the federal government’s position that naturalized Americans can lose their citizenship based on trivial misstatements to the Department of Homeland Security. But Stanley wrongly portrays that position, which was staked out by the Obama administration, as a product of Donald Trump’s special hostility to immigrants. The mistake illustrates the sadly familiar tendency to frame what should be critiques of government power as complaints about particular parties or politicians.

But make no mistake, this is not something limited to the political left. I have long observed that it was Republicans who set the stage for Obama’s drunken sailor splurge. Big-statist Republicans put that ball into play and Obama just picked it up and ran with it. This left me unsympathetic to former Bush apologists decrying the Obama years with a marked lack of introspection let alone repentance. And of course in the Trump era, the same thing is happening in spades. Indeed, every time Trump enforces an Obama era statute or regulation, it is being decried by Serious Academics™ as evidence Donald Trump is ‘literally Hitler‘, unlike nice Barack Obama.