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]

People will die!

If you don’t watch this video, people will die!

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)

An intolerance of leftists

The sight of the profoundly illiberal Jeremy Corbyn preaching to the young-and-ignorant at a music festival moved Christopher Barrow to pen some remarks

Just in case anyone missed it, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech at Glastonbury last Saturday. Tens of thousands of British young people, high on a false sense of community and overpriced hash, lapped up his vision of a wonderful future. Why shouldn’t they? Just about everyone is apparently due to benefit, all at the expense of an unspecified ‘elite’.

Of course it was a vague speech offering goodies to young people, old people, sick people, students, European residents and ‘refugees’. The plan would actually mean higher tax for all working people (who the Labour Party are supposed to prioritize) and a vast raising of our National Debt, as Obama did.

The really concerning matter however is the lack of logic and common sense that lies beneath current leftist and ‘liberal’ (in the US sense of the word) ideologies now prevalent in our societies. There are huge dangers that cannot be overstated, though they remain hidden in Corbyn’s recent advertisement for Leftism, especially to young people.

As I see it the main problem with leftist rhetoric is that it is solely focused upon “what it is not”. Granted it is anything but the stereotypical mindset of a bigoted white male; the wolf-whistling, England for the English brigade (who would actually be virtually impossible to find these days). Let’s call this “Retro Racism”.

The left have decided that as long as they vehemently oppose anything approaching this, then anything goes: they’ve achieved ideological enlightenment. The danger of this leftist viewpoint, the source of their strength and smugness, is that opposition to Retro Racism is actually all its got. It fails to understand that there are higher and more sophisticated points of view than just a strong distaste for Retro Racism. The are important paths of logic and sense that it doesn’t allow itself to explore.

This is precisely what Political Correctness is. It makes everyone hypersensitive about going anywhere even close to the vilified Retro Racism. This becomes the total scope of the political toolkit of active ‘liberal’ leftist. Facing the many and varied problems of the world principally tied to an aversion to anything not Politically Correct is irresponsible in the extreme. Political Correctness shuts down sophisticated discussion, at a time in the world when it is needed most. There are far more levels of sophistication beyond being “not racist”! Naivety isn’t the pinnacle of intelligence, nor is it of kindness.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the question of immigration. Corbyn glows with smugness and vanity as he proclaims “bridges not walls for refugees”. One question of actual reality (a place where leftists don’t like to venture) is at what point would you erect a wall instead of a bridge? A 100,000,000 population for Britain? 150,000,000? Maybe a population like this is the best thing for the country, but at least lets talk about it! It isn’t racist.

However aren’t leftists are a shining example of tolerance, love and unity? Well yes to everyone BUT white males who don’t cower to their ideology. If not, you’re fair game for abuse, violence and assassination if they had their way. The strong white male is anathema to the feminized West. Leftism appeals to repressed aggressive individuals and offers a safe environment to direct their anger. This is so dangerous for our future. Jungian Shadow anyone!?

It is not an exaggeration to state that we see shades of the violence of Communist Russia in the leftist pursuits of the modern Western world. Namely people believing they are correct to defend an ideology with violence when they are so convinced about it. This is a slippery slope indeed…

Of course we all want a world somewhat like the one described by Corbyn at Glastonbury. But the key point is to understand human nature. We have to be open and honest with ourselves as a starting point. Leftism is a dangerous meeting of repression with naivety. It we start out falsely misjudging ourselves, we are heading for deep trouble.

The problem is that understanding the problems of leftism is a sophisticated endeavour. You can’t communicate this to 50,000 young people in a field. There is always hope for the future. Lets just hope the youth discover truth over platitudes. Wisdom over naivety. And Love over vanity.

– Christopher Barrow

Can happiness be distributed less unequally?

The replies to Natalie’s recent question, What were you doing a year ago… contain many a phrase like “I just couldn’t stop grinning” and “Ah, the happy Friday and Saturday”.

Reading them reminded me of a Christmas card I got from friends six months ago. Usually it contains a printed newsletter of what they and their children have been up to during the year. For the first time in some three decades since we left university, there was no newsletter – just a short hand-written note saying that Brexit and Trump had so depressed them that they had decided to “cultiver nos jardin.”

Elections – and politics generally – seem to cause great inequality of happiness. As the result of each election or vote is announced, some are very elated and others are very depressed. If equality of happiness is the goal, should we diminish the importance of politics? After all, it surely can hardly be that they enjoy our misery – or we theirs – since such a view of human nature would seem to rule out the kind of grand government plan that risks the perverse incentives of its methods in order to advance its worthy goals. 🙂

At a time when standard arguments against socialism are not being quite as effective as we could wish here in the UK, I wonder how this one might fare?

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.

Samizdata quote of the day

We happily say ‘Christian fundamentalist’ about people who are Christian and fundamentalist. We use ‘Buddhist extremists’ to describe violent Buddhist groups in Myanmar. And yet Islam is ringfenced from tough discussion; phrases which at some level include the word ‘Islam’ are tightly policed; criticism of Islam is deemed a mental illness: Islamophobia.

This is incredibly dangerous. This censorious flattery of Islam is, in my view, a key contributor to the violence we have seen in recent years. Because when you constantly tell people that any mockery of their religion is tantamount to a crime, is vile and racist and unacceptable, you actively invite them, encourage them in fact, to become intolerant. You license their intolerance. You inflame their violent contempt for anyone who questions their dogmas. You provide a moral justification for their desire to punish those who insult their religion.

Brendan O’Neill

Milton Friedman on how imposing equality makes inequality worse

I have long believed the thing that Milton Friedman is quoted saying in this bit of graphics:

And I am pretty sure that I first clarified this idea in my head at around the time when I first heard Milton Friedman saying this, and that this was not coincidence.

I screen-copied the above graphic from this video, which is Jonathan Haidt giving a talk about Socialism and Human Nature. It lasts just under half an hour, and I recommend it. The above Friedman quote comes near the end, at 23m 05s.

The world is so full of nonsense that particular bits of nonsense often get neglected by the people who ought to be pointing them out, because these people are so busy with other bits of nonsense.

The particular bit of nonsense that Milton Friedman and I are not here neglecting is the claim that equality can be achieved by the forceful redistribution of resources, and the more of that the better. Not only is such “egalitarianism” tyrannical, which makes it bad by my preferred standards and by Milton Friedman’s preferred standards, because it is tyrannical. It is also fails by its own standards, hence the sneer quotes. It doesn’t achieve equality. On the contrary, it rearranges inequality in a way that makes the inequality worse.

The very act of imposing equality requires that the imposing “egalitarians” be unequally powerful and lavishly rewarded for their brutal efforts, compared to the wretches upon whom they are imposing the equality. Name one purportedly egalitarian regime where they actually have achieved any serious reduction of inequality. You can’t, because there has never been one.

This is clearly the case in hell-holes like Cuba and Venezuela, where the masses languish in poverty, where the bosses live like kings and where the henchmen of the bosses get more or less lavishly preferential treatment (because if they didn’t they stop henching). But I include in the above assertion (that equality cannot be successfully imposed) the relatively genteel cruelties of the British welfare state, and other welfare states like it around the world. Have these relatively benign socialisms got rid of any poverty, any cruelty, any inequality? Well, some, to begin with. But they have then unleashed far worse and bigger doses of poverty and inequality. If the long-term purpose of the British welfare state had been to make poverty and inequality far more permanent and far harder to eradicate, it would have done almost nothing differently to what it has done.

Any critic of socialism who says something like: “the result of socialism is equality of misery” is being seduced by a nice sounding phrase into not thinking about what he is saying, and into conceding far too much. Here is no less a personage than Winston Churchill, who loved fine phrases to distraction, saying something a lot like this, among other and truer things, which perhaps explains why so many British Conservatives of my vintage still say things like this.

A libertarian world, just as Milton Friedman says, is the least unequal world that can be contrived. I’m not going to argue that point in detail. I merely assert it, to clarify that I regard myself and Milton Friedman as egalitarians of the best sort, as better at egalitarianism than the socialists, as egalitarians of the rough-and-ready, best-we-can-do sort, without any sneer quotes.

On Civilization

The true mark of the civilized society is not that it defends the rights of people who are loved by the bulk of the population, for those people need no defense. No one, after all, will arrest a popular person for saying or doing popular things. The true mark of the civilized society is that it defends the rights even of those who are universally reviled.

Indeed, in a truly civilized society, there would be no question but that you would defend the rights of people who disgust you provided they do no violence to others.

Our society is not civilized.

Jordan Peterson on identity politics

With blogging (as with life in general), there is often a tug-of-war between doing it soon, and doing it right. This posting is strictly a case of me doing it soon. And what I am doing soon is saying: watch this. It’s psychology academic Jordan Peterson, denouncing (the word “bloody” occurs quite a lot) the legal imposition upon Canada of identity politics (excused by, among others, some of his fellow academic psychologists), and all the chaos that this misuse of law is going to and is starting to cause.

The video goes on for the best part of two hours, and I have so far only watched twenty minutes of it. Like I say, doing it soon. But I already know that this is the kind of thing, and the kind of man, that many Samizdata-readers will want to see, and at the very least to learn about, perhaps by other and quicker means. The phrase “individual freedom” gets quite a few mentions, along with “bloody”, bloody being the word Peterson uses to describe the ideas which and the people who threaten individual freedom.

See also today’s QOTD here, which points towards the same intellectual territory and the same battles. Before posting this, I checked in the comments there, to see if anybody had made any mention of the above video, or of Jordan Peterson. Had they done so, I’d have had to write this differently. So far: not. I could have appended this link to that comment thread, but I reckon it deserves a bit more prominence.

David Thompson has more to say about this, as does his commentariat. My thanks to him, because this was how I found out about this video, and about this man.

Samizdata quote of the day

Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power.

– Nick Cohen in The Observer. It is long, but you should really read the whole thing, as we say. Cohen thinks of himself as on the Left, but I say we are already beyond that. It is liberals against the rest; the rest are suddenly terrifyingly strong.

Not left vs. right but short term vs. long term

Sometimes I observe a public discussion and notice that each side is talking across the other and neither side is understanding. I wonder if a change to the language of the debate might be constructive.

When Donald Trumps talks about making Mexico pay for the wall by imposing a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico, the left rightly point out that this means that Americans will pay for the wall. Similarly, those who want the UK to remain in European Union talk about the importance of trade. Nearly everyone agrees that tariffs are bad and trade is good. But dig a little deeper and soon it becomes clear that people are not talking about free trade at all. They are talking about the kind of trade that involves hugely complicated and interventionist multilateral treaties between governments.

I often try to explain that I am in favour of free trade and that we do not need people in government to make complicated deals: we just need to leave people alone and they will trade with each other. I am met with various objections. Exporters will suffer because foreign governments will increase tariffs and people in foreign countries will find it too expensive to buy British goods. Foreign governments will subsidise production and people in foreign countries will be able to sell things cheaply to British people; so cheaply that British people will stop buying things from British companies until those companies go out of business. At this point the foreign people might put up their prices and if they time it right the prices might never go down again because skills required to restart British companies might be lost.

My answer to these objections is that people are clever and they will find ways to make the most of the new situation. But it will be a situation in which people are, on the whole, richer than they were before. Cheap foreign goods make us richer. Not exporting things frees up labour to do other useful things.

But I can not deny that in the short term people will lose jobs and will struggle to find new things to do. My arguments are all about how people can get richer in the end. People who think the government can help with trade want to help the man who works in the widget factory and wants to be still working in the widget factory tomorrow.

Some Trump supporters and some people in favour of the UK leaving the European Union want to reduce immigration. I am in principle in favour of freedom of movement. I would argue that the ability of people to move to where there is demand for their labour makes production cheaper and everyone richer. But I can not deny that people moving around can make life uncomfortable for people staying still if the people staying still find their wages going down as a result. It is certainly not helpful to make accusations of bigotry in the face of such concerns as people on the left often do.

It might turn out that we all agree about what happens when people are free to move and trade, we just have different time preferences.

Interestingly, some of the same people who object to unilateral free trade are also in favour of freedom of movement, even though it is equivalent to unilateral free trade in labour.

Discussion point: porn on the bus

Here are two contrasting articles from the Guardian:

Watching porn in public is not OK. It’s harassment – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Pussy Riot celebrate the vagina in lyrical riposte to Trump – Luke Harding

It is no discredit to the Guardian that different writers for the paper have said contradictory things, although none of the dozens of comments I read to Ms Cosslett’s article brought up the the difference between the views of old and new feminists on whether it was liberating or deplorable to shock the public.

Many Libertarian-ish people would say that incompatible preferences across different groups of people regarding what should be seen in public could be solved by property rights and competition. Each shopping mall and bus company could set its own rules, some catering to the puritans, some to the libertines. That would be nice, but until we find the door into Libertopia we must deal with the major regulator of such things being the State.

What do you think? How should people behave here and now? Do the existing laws come first or ten millionth on our list of things to oppose – or should we support them? Is there more of a problem than there used to be, now that people can watch R18 movies on their Kindles on the bus while a twelve year old sits next to them? Or is this just another moral panic that could be solved if people kept their eyes to themselves?

By the way, consider this blog post to be a a venue where, as they say on the cinema screens, “Strong language may be permitted, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using the language, its frequency within the work as a whole and any special contextual justification”.