I have been reading Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart.
I recommend this book, but I doubt that I myself will be reading every word of it, and certainly not every number. This is because I am already convinced by Murray’s basic thesis, which is that that America is becoming increasing divided along class lines. The temptations of government welfare, just as you would expect, have enticed the poor into self-destructive habits far more than the rich, because the rich, being rich, are insulated by their riches from these temptations. The rich have also resisted the temptation to smash up their families and raise their children out of wedlock, even as they mock those who still proclaim such notions in public. When it comes to family values, says Murray, the rich ought to be more ready to preach what they practice. All this strikes me as very true.
I was particularly struck by this, which is how Part III (“Why It Matters”) begins (p. 238 of my Penguin paperback edition):
The economist Maynard Keynes, accused of changing his mind about monetary policy, famously replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The honest answer to Keynes’s question is “Often, nothing.” Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded in premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.
So it has been with the evidence I have presented. A social democrat may see in parts 1 and 2 a compelling case for the redistribution of wealth. A social conservative may see a compelling case for government polices that support marriage, religion, and traditional values. I am a libertarian, and I see a compelling case for returning to the founders’ conception of limited government.
In other words, as Perry de Havilland never tires of saying: metacontext, metacontext, metacontext.
Keynes himself changed his mind a lot less than he said he did, I think.
Like Charles Murray, I am a libertarian. But like Murray, and unlike many libertarians, I also believe that old school married parenthood is the best setting in which to raise children, even if, like all other libertarians, I absolutely do not believe that old school married parenthood should be legally compulsory or that any alternatives to it should be legally forbidden. I am not myself married, but a lot of my best friends are libertarians who are married and who are now raising children. They are my friends not just because I like them, but because I admire what they are doing. I love to attend weddings, and have become good at photographing them. Partly this is because I just have, and because I especially like to photograph the many other amateur photographers also present. But I also love weddings because I strongly believe in what is promised at and accomplished by such ceremonies. So, I like Charles Murray’s general ideological attitude to life.
But, I also strongly agree with Murray about how hard it can be to change such ideological attitudes. In particular, merely spraying facts around the political landscape does not necessarily change it very much. Rather does it merely, as Murray says, confirm in the minds of all who hear these facts that they have been right all along about what needs to be done about them.
But this does not mean that minds cannot be changed. Facts, if they are overwhelming enough, can make a difference, especially to people who are young enough still to be making up their minds. But when communicating with such people it is essential not to confine yourself only to facts, however overwhelming they may seem to you. You should also engage at the ideological level. You should state the metacontextual conclusions that you want people to arrive at.
If this does nothing else, it at least enables people to realise that they are in this or that metacontextual team, and to help to make that team a little bit stronger.
It is one thing merely to be a libertarian. You will make a lot more difference to the world if you also realise that a libertarian is what you are. Being a libertarian means have a much more restricted idea of what governments should compel and forbid than tends to prevail nowadays. But it does not mean refraining from having and expressing opinions about how to live wisely.
I have always thought that we libertarians have a lot to learn from socialists. Not about what are true ideas. They can tell us very little about that, although the process of combating those ideas is very valuable. But about how to spread ideas – how to make ideas count for something – the socialists can tell us a great deal. Their success in spreading their own ideas is all the more impressive when you consider how very bad most of these ideas are.
We can learn, for instance, patience. This is from a piece in the Guardian a few days ago by Rafael Behr:
Whatever else Corbyn’s surprise ascent last year represents, it demonstrates the value of patience. It takes a particular temperament to plug away in apparently futile opposition, making pretty much the same speech to the same fringe meeting for 30 years, letting no belief be washed away by shifting political and economic tides, but instead sifting events for bits of evidence to support the unwavering faith. Not everyone who is cast on the wrong side of history sticks around, confident that history will swing by again in the opposite direction. Yes, Corbyn has been lucky, but fortune only furnished the battle. He gets the credit for winning.
And he is still winning. The tendency in Westminster is to measure success by the restless pulse of the news cycle and the temperature of public opinion. In those terms, Corbyn is not doing so well. It took the best part of a fortnight to conduct a shadow cabinet reshuffle from which the casual observer will have gleaned that Labour is in chaos, divided over nuclear defences with a new bias towards the view that Britain shouldn’t have any. By conventional measures this is bad, but the tradition from which Corbyn hails does not respect those conventions.
To sneer at 14 days of reshuffle-related mess is an error based on the Westminster canard that a week is a long time. Corbyn and friends come from a place where 14 years is a pause for breath; where 30 years of barren rhetoric can whizz by without frustration. Set that as the tempo of achievement and the appointment of an anti-Trident shadow defence secretary is a monumental triumph. Every day in the leader’s chair is more triumphant still if it stops the Labour party returning to what it was.
When libertarians have contrived serious victories, these are the sorts of ways we have done it. When we start winning bigger and more dramatic victories, these are the sorts of ways we will do it.
Preston Byrne, who will be known to some Samizdata contributors, has this fascinating and lengthy comparison about the state of freedom in the US and UK. He comes to the conclusion that according to a range of metrics, the UK isn’t a free nation any longer.
The United States – while free – is never very far away from turning into something similar. The difference in attitude between my two homes (and two passports) is about a heckuva lot more than gun control: it is a misunderstanding about what rights are and how they should work. Modern Europeans don’t seem to notice or even particularly care about state overreach.
“Gun violence is a problem for the government,” says the man on the Clapham omnibus, “so guns should be banned, just as we banned them in England.” He goes on to point out that England wants to ban, or has banned, encryption, extreme viewpoints, democratically-elected foreign political parties, Donald Trump, knives, or whatever other Public Enemy Number One du jour happens to be in vogue, irrespective of whether the evidence supports or requires the proposed legislative action.
Rights, in the mind of the Englishman and in his laws (thanks to sub-section (2) of most Articles of the European Convention), are and shall always be conditional.
On the flip side, Europe can, and does, use policy to achieve social welfare gains far out of proportion to their cost. It is unquestionably better to be a small-time drug dealer (or a member of his family or circle of extended friends) when said dealer finds himself before an English court than if he found himself before one in New York County.
Pastor who said Islam was ‘doctrine spawned in hell’ is cleared by court
A born-again Christian pastor who denounced Islam as “heathen”, “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell” has been cleared after a three-day trial in a verdict that upheld the right to offend under the principle of freedom of expression.
The National Secular Society said the verdict was a “welcome reassertion of the fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
Campaigns manager Stephen Evans said the society strongly disagreed with the tone and content of McConnell’s comments, but added: “At a time when freedom of speech is being curtailed and put at risk in any number of ways, this is a much needed statement from the judge that free speech will be defended and that Islam is not off-limits.”
– and this:
An Islamic academic spoke in support of McConnell outside the court on the grounds of freedom of expression. Muhammad al-Hussaini, a senior research fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute, said: “Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is … a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others.
“Moreover, in a free and democratic society we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say.”
Like Michael Jennings, I end my 2015 blogging efforts here at Samizdata with a clutch of pictures. Unlike Michael, I haven’t managed to do anything like this for every one of the last ten years. I did do something similar two years ago, but this time last year my retrospective attention was concentrated on the speakers at my monthly meetings, without any pictures of them.
I began my 2015 in France.
→ Continue reading: My 2015 in pictures
“Fear not,” said the angel at Christmas, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Indeed. There has never been a better time to be a human being.
– Dan Hannan writes in Conservative Home that 2015 was the best year in human history, and 2016 will be better yet.
Libertarians are now the optimists about the human future, and collectivists are the pessimists. Libertarians know how to make the world better for humans and are doing this, by resisting and (wherever possible) rolling back collectivism. Collectivists never did know how to make the world better for humans, but now not even they believe that they know how to do this. All they can now do is fabricate catastrophe and demand that keeping human progress going be made into a crime.
I am reading the latest piece at Libertarian Home by Nico Metten, a man whose thoughts and thought processes I am coming greatly to admire. I am only a tiny bit into this piece so far, but already I have read this very lucid observation, which I think is worth passing on:
A prominent libertarian advocate of consequentialism is David Friedman. Consequentialists argue that it is useless to deal with philosophy or morals, as these are very unclear and subjective. What matters are the outcomes of certain policies. As long as the outcomes are ok, the rest does not matter so much. People like David Friedman simply don’t seem to want to deal with philosophy and morals. They are uncomfortable with it. Because of that, they only deal with what they consider more objective, which in this case is economics.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with people getting into libertarianism through economics. Economics seems to play a major role in exposing the state and it can make a lot of converts. I myself have learned a lot from economists when it comes to questioning the state. Labelling this approach as consequentialist however suggests that this follows a distinct philosophy. And here I am not so sure.
To me it seems impossible to be a pure consequentialist. I would agree that results matter. However, how do we know which results are good results? It seems in order to evaluate results, one first will need an evaluation tool. This evaluation tool logically needs to come before the actual consequences and is therefore not consequentialist itself. If this is true, then consequentialism as a stand alone philosophy seems logically impossible. But how come intelligent people like David Friedman can think that they are consequentialists? Friedman clearly must have an evaluation tool. I think the reason for this is that his evaluation tool is completely tacit. It is there, but Friedman is not consciously aware of it.
Good point. I have certainly been vaguely aware of this point, rather as Metten says that Friedman must have been. But I have never read it spelt out quite so clearly and so explicitly. Or, if I have, I wasn’t paying attention.
I am now reading the whole thing.
I like these people:
Free speech campaigners have secretly evaded a student union ban on two speakers who were deemed to have broken rules on causing offence.
The speakers, Milo Yiannopoulos, a self-styled men’s rights activist, and Julie Bindel, a feminist writer, were originally due to address the University of Manchester’s free speech and secular society in October to debate tensions between feminism and free speech until the student union stopped them.
Student leaders said that Ms Bindel’s views on transgender people were “transphobic” and that Mr Yiannopoulos was a “professional misogynist” and “rape apologist”.
However, Manchester’s free speech society proved to be made of sterner stuff. Its members created a new association, used a lecture hall as a venue and publicised the event only on the morning that it was to take place.
– The Times, today.
Several aspects of this story lead me to wonder if I have slipped into a nicer timeline than the one I’ve been living in recently.
It was about students standing up for free speech against po-faced authoritarians. In 2015.
The university didn’t surrender. In 2015.
Better yet, it actually helped the good guys:
The university authorities themselves were part of the plot, agreeing to provide a lecture theatre as a venue for the rescheduled event and arranging for a large retinue of security staff.
More fun things to note include the fact that the process of nimbly outwitting the lumbering Students Union by adroit use of social media was obviously huge fun. These days if you want to build up a bank of happy memories of a rebellious youth to comfort you in your old age, you rebel against the Students Union. You could make a name for yourself that way. So could the Student Union apparatchiks make their names, as sour, whiny prematurely-withered prunes who couldn’t stop the music. No one will boast that they were part of Manchester Student Union in the good old days.
I have a personal grudge against Julie Bindel, and I could get irritated by Milo Yiannopoulos. Three cheers for them both for this.
If you are an anti-Corbynite Labourite, things are looking pretty grim just now:
By his disastrous widening of the franchise for electing the party leader, Ed Miliband has handed control of it to what a previous leader, Hugh Gaitskell, memorably denounced as “pacifists, unilateralists and fellow travellers” – people not only antipathetic to ordinary voters but anathema even to most ordinary Labour MPs. It will be hard, it may even be impossible, to get the institution back. …
Quite so, except that the people to whom the Labour Party has just been handed are not pacifists. They favour violence provided that it is inflicted upon Britain and upon civilisation by Britain’s and by civilisation’s enemies.
This is Robert Harris, in today’s Sunday Times, and dragged out from behind its paywall here.
Such chaos cannot go on much longer.. Those MPs who either defy a three-line whip to vote for military action against Isis, or who are permitted to follow their consciences in a free vote, may well prove to be the nucleus of a new party.
If that sounds apocalyptic then so is the mood of many Labour MPs: obliged to watch at close quarters day in, day out, the incompetent antics of a leadership that has no hope of ever winning a general election but which is nonetheless impossible to dislodge.
But if you are a Corbynite Labourite, things are looking pretty good:
Formed as a successor to the Corbyn campaign, Momentum is in the process of setting up governance arrangements to represent its supporters amongst the Labour Party membership as well as the wider social movement which is springing up. As it grows, Momentum will develop democratic governance structures at every level of the network.
That being from the Momentum website. However, I prefer this piece of Momentum propaganda, which I spotted recently in the tube:
Who knew that political feuding could be so glamorous?
Here is another Labour Party related picture which I took, when walking beside a disconnected and unnavigable canal (a certain creek springs to mind) in north London earlier this year. Did the person who threw this sign into the water know something that the rest of us did not, about the future of the Labour Party?
To be more serious, I am content to see the Labour Party reduced to a state of ruin.
→ Continue reading: Snapshots of Labour collapse
I hugely enjoyed this bravura exercise in self-promotion by Milo Yiannopoulos.
Sure, I work harder than everyone else, sleep less than everyone else (four hours, on average), I’m funnier, more charming, smarter, better looking and more modest than everyone else. But that’s not the whole story.
My technique isn’t some great contact book, or a crack team of cyber commandos, or some big secret social engineering secret. Nor is it even the fact that I’ve made myself social justice-proof by letting my flamboyant personality loose in public and never shutting up about black boyfriends. (They can’t get me on racism, homophobia or misogyny, so half the time they don’t even bother showing up to debate me.)
My secret is just this: I don’t exclude people. …
And much else in a similar vein. Or maybe that should be vain.
As I say, I greatly enjoyed this fireword display. More than any other recent piece of writing, this one reminded me of the most persuasively entertaining stuff that the hippy-lefties were saying and doing in the 1960s, in an earlier age of alternative media. Like Yiannopoulos, they only grew stronger with all the outraged attacks on them by third-rate establishmentarian bores. The hippy-lefties won. Yiannopoulos, as he says, is also now winning. Given that he calls himself a cultural libertarian, that’s all part of what I like about him.
But what do others think? I doubt everyone here likes this man’s way with words as much as I do. Maybe I like him because I have only recently started noticing him, and maybe after a while I’ll get bored of him. Perhaps so, but as of now, I want to know more. And you learn a lot about something, or someone, by watching people argue about it, or him. All comments – pro-, anti- or anything else- – will be gratefully read, by me at least.
In a posting sarcastically entitled Great questions of our time, the usually excellent Mick Hartley pours scorn on a book with the question in my title above as its subtitle, without (I’m guessing) him (Mick Hartley) having read any of this book.
I tried to attach the following comment to Hartley’s posting but could not make it work, so here it is, here:
I think this actually is a great question. Given what a totally vile doctrine Islam is, and given how many people say that they follow it, why indeed do so few Muslims, percentage wise, actually do the kinds of murderous things demanded of them in Islam’s holy scriptures?
The more vile you consider the things that Islam demands of its devotees, and they seem to me to be very vile indeed, the better the question is.
I am a regular and grateful reader of your blog. …
… by which I mean Mick Hartley‘s blog.
… I rarely disagree with you (and I greatly enjoy your photos (taken by your and by others)), but I think I do disagree with you on this.
Whether the above-linked-to book actually does supply good answers to this question, I do not know. But it surely is a question well worth asking.
Similarly good questions are: Why are there now so few wars raging these days, compared to how many wars that might now be raging? (Part of the answer to that would help to explain, in particular, all those verbally manic yet strangely well-behaved Muslims.) Why so few car crashes, train crashes, air crashes? And yes, I am well aware that there are a also a great many car crashes, but why not far more, given how many cars there are wizzing about hither and thither? Which are more numerous, I wonder, cars or Muslims? Muslims, I should guess, but it is not a confident guess. (Recent answer for the number of cars in the world.)
See also: Why is gun control not necessary, to prevent armed civilians killing each other in large numbers when mere arguments get heated? Because it seems not to be. Armed civilians actually almost never kill each other for bad, domestic or bar-room type disagreement reasons. They mostly (overwhelmingly so) defend themselves with guns against criminals, for very good reasons. The benefits of civilian gun ownership, in those states of the USA where civilian gun ownership is allowed seem to outweigh the harm that you might think that legalising gun ownership might unleash. Why? Was that predictable? To many, not. Minds are changed with questions and answers of this sort. (I can remember, a long time ago now, my own mind being thus changed.) Gun legalisation is now spreading in the USA.
That latter question, about gun control, has become very pertinent to the matter of how to see off the relatively few Muslims who do decide to become terrorists. Armed police in the numbers we have now can’t be everywhere, and shouldn’t be. Also, it is devilishly difficult to predict exactly which verbally fanatical Muslims are actually going to do something appropriately murderous about it. Muslim nutters make up a dauntingly large group to keep tabs on all the time, and in any case do we want to live in a world where the authorities have all the powers they would like to keep such tabs?
In Europe, the gun control argument doesn’t look like happening for real any time soon. But it is now happening for real in connection with the capital city of the USA, which terrorists are apparently saying is now high on their hit list. Are we soon due a Rand Paul “I told you so” moment?
I came across an article titled The Public Sector: Standing In Our Way Until We Pay Up (browsing Catallaxy Files). Both are recommended reading. The article is written from an American perspective, but speaks of experiences both Americans and non-Americans would be familiar with. I have reproduced what I found to be the more thought-provoking parts of the article here:
…one popular theory of the state — one that is pretty well-supported by the historical evidence in the European context — is that this is where governments come from: protection rackets that survive for a long enough period of time that they take on a patina of legitimacy. At some point, Romulus-and-Remus stories are invented to explain that the local Mafiosi have not only historical roots but divine sanction.
The fundamental problem — the provision of services — never really goes away. It is even today a critical issue in places that are (or recently have been) ruled by crime syndicates such as the Taliban and Fatah. Hamas, especially, is known to put some real effort into the social-services front. There are some services that markets historically have not done a very good job of providing — these are called “public goods,” which is a specific term from political economy and not a synonym for “stuff the public thinks is desirable” — and their provision is the only real reason we have governments. Or, more precisely: Providing public goods is the only legitimate reason we have governments.
In reality, we have governments for lots of reasons, most of them illegitimate: That ancient instinct toward banditry is powerful, and the desire to make a living by simply commanding economic resources rather than earning them through trade or labor seems to be a fixed feature of a certain subset of human beings. Patronage and clientelism are very strong forces, too, and government can be used to create public-sector salaries or welfare benefits that are well in excess of the wages that political clients could expect to earn in honest work. In the United States, our swollen public-sector payrolls, particularly at the state and local level, are little more than a supplementary welfare state, providing a more dignified form of public dependency for relatively low-skilled and mainly unenterprising people.
When it comes to government, if you aren’t involved in the provision of actual public goods, you are involved in extortion. It may be legal. It may have the blessing of the mayor, the city council, and your union representative, but it’s still extortion. And you should be ashamed of yourself. If your only purpose is getting in the way until somebody hands you money, then you are part of a protection racket. And you might want to think about going into a more honorable line of work.
Prior to reading the article, I was familiar with the hypothesis that the origin of the modern state has its roots in criminal enterprise, yet it is always amusing attempting to reconcile this with the modern state’s increasingly matronly efforts to get its subjects to behave themselves. And it is certainly far from an implausible theory, when you consider how similar the objectives of a criminal enterprise and a state can be. The major difference is, of course, that the state functions within the law – hardly surprising since it is the major source of law – while criminal organisations operate outside of the law. But honestly, how could the activity of a crime gang that defeated a local rival in a turf war be described as anything other than a spot of localised gun control – in terms of ends, if perhaps not means?
→ Continue reading: The state has never been your friend. What about your friends (and others) who work for the state?