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My year in speakers

So here I am in Brittany, alternating between writing this and getting stuck into a New Year’s Eve feast, which explains any typos in what follows, and which is also making me ponder New Year resolutions. One of mine is to write rather more for Samizdata than I have been doing lately, which will not be hard. The idea was that resuming my Last Friday of the Month meetings, which I did in January 2013, would give me more to write about here, but the truth is that there is never any shortage of stuff to write about for Samizdata. The world abounds with good things and bad things, amusing things and annoying things. What sometimes fades is the will to write. But I’ll start as I mean to resume by writing a little about each of the speakers at my Last Friday meetings during this year. I hope these speakers will all agree that me now writing too little, too late, about their various excellent performances is better than nothing.

In January 2014, Alex Singleton spoke about his new book on PR, The PR Masterclass. Not the least of this book’s virtues is that it calls Public Relations Public Relations, rather than something more pompous and evasive. I did at least write here at the time about this book’s launch, which was a definite success, as is the book, packed as it is with what reads to me like lots of common-sense. Alex, however, is still a man worth hiring if you have a PR problem, because it is one thing to read a lot of common-sense in a book, quite another to be able to deploy it in the heat of a PR battle. Talking of the heat of a PR battle, Alex tells me that his next book is to be about Crisis Management. So, if your oil pipeline springs a leak, google Alex Singleton at once and hope that this book is by then available as a download, and that it starts with a short summary of all the wisdom that follows. Seriously, if you run a big organisation, buy this next Alex Singleton book as soon as it appears, and then give it more than a precautionary glance. You won’t be wasting any time, and you could save yourself and your underlings a world of grief.

In February, Dominic Frisby spoke about his then forthcoming book on Bitcoin, which has now forthcome. Our own Rob Fisher, who attended this talk, and who helped Dominic out with some technical details on the software front, later described the book in the first Amazon review of it (see the link above) as “concise, complete, correct, entertaining”. I first wrote, very admiringly, about Frisby and his writing here in this posting. My admiration for Frisby has not dimmed, and I very much hope that more Frisby books will follow.
→ Continue reading: My year in speakers

A memorable anniversary, and those who would forget it

Twenty five years ago today, the crossings between East and West Germany, most notably at the Berlin Wall, were opened, and shortly thereafter, the last of the Marxist regimes in Europe ended.

The Berlin Wall was a symbol of the depravity and viciousness of the Marxist idea. Karl Marx was a pure hate monger masquerading as a social philosopher. His ideas may, in the end, be summarized thus: wealth can be gained only by stealing from others, and thus successful people are evil, and thus it is okay to threaten or kill rich people (or even people who are just a bit better off than you are), to steal their belongings, and to threaten anyone who might in the future have more stuff than you do. If you somehow get more things than other people, it is okay for other people to take your stuff, and if you resist, it is okay to beat you up or kill you.

Even more succinctly, Marxism is the idea that envy is laudable, and should be turned into social policy with the use of pervasive violence.

I am putting this more bluntly and baldly than the average Marxist would. They prefer concealing their central idea beneath a heavy blanket of words. They dress up their “philosophy” in avant garde costumes, adding layers of verbiage, complicated and counterfactual claims about language and logic, bizarre ideas about the nature of history, etc., all in the service of keeping people from seeing what they’re actually suggesting. What lies underneath is nothing much more than hate of people who have more stuff than you do, justified by little or nothing more than wanting to take what they have for yourself.

When you base your beliefs on this sort of foundation, the violence that proceeds is not an accident or the result of an improper understanding or implementation of an otherwise fine program. The violence is the direct and intentional result of the underlying program. The violence is the entire purpose of the underlying program.

In spite of the claims of apologists, the Marxism that fell twenty five years ago was the true Marxism. You cannot force people to work whether they get any benefit of it or not if they can flee from you, so you have to build walls. The Berlin Wall was not an aberration, it was the the only way to keep the quite literal slaves from fleeing their bondage. You cannot take stuff from people who have it without goons with guns, since they will not want to hand their material possessions over, so you bring in goons with guns to scour your population. In a free market, you get ahead by making things people want like bread or telephones, but in a Marxist society, the only way to get ahead is through gaining political power, and so people who are exceptionally talented at deploying violence and thuggery and are ambitious rise to the top of your society. Stalin or someone like him was not an accident, he was an inevitability.

What is shocking but sadly unsurprising to me is this: after a seventy year experiment that lead to a hundred million deaths, we still have people in our universities and even on our streets who profess to be Marxists.

There are, everywhere, professors who teach a Marxist interpretation of history, of literature, of economics and sociology, and not merely for some sort of historical perspective, but as an actual active ideology they would like their students to adopt. It is, indeed, an entirely ordinary sort of thing, so common it is not even worthy of note. There are people who wear Che Guevara T-shirts in the streets, never mind the people Guevara ruthlessly executed, including children, in the name of Marxism.

Would it be considered equally ordinary for a professor to be out teaching the Nazi interpretation of literature or social interactions, and encouraging their students towards adopting the Nazi point of view? Would people feel equally unmoved by people walking around wearing a Joseph Goebbels shirt?

Note that I do not suggest censorship. That is not the point. What I am instead suggesting is that, to this very day, our culture has not yet absorbed the lessons of Marxism, has not come to terms with the fact that it was not a noble experiment that failed, but rather a monstrous calamity that needs to be understood for what it was, lest it happen again.

Samizdata quote of the day

[W]ere the electorate solely composed of those stuffed with sciences their votes would be no better than those emitted at present. They would be guided in the main by their sentiments and party spirit. We should be spared none of the difficulties we now have to contend with, and we should certainly be subjected to the oppressive tyranny of castes.

– Gustave LeBon, The Crowd (1895). Naked populism and rule by experts and officials are not necessarily all that different. The mechanisms and structures through which, and the culture within which, power is exercised may matter more.

Nice libertarianism

For some while now, leading London libertarian Simon Gibbs has been telling his many libertarian friends and acquaintances about a Libertarian Home event which he is organising which will happen on October 23rd in the Drama Studio of the Institute of Education. At this event, a group of speakers from across the political spectrum (somewhat biased towards libertarians but with non- and anti-libertarians definitely also being heard loud and clear), will take it in turns to speak about the The Causes of the Cost of Living Crisis.

Attendance will not be free of charge. It will cost £11. But, over the years, libertarians have shown themselves willing to pay quite a bit more than that for similarly well organised conferences. Simon is an energetic and conscientious organiser of such things, and I think I would have been optimistic about this event even if he had not offered me free entry in exchange for my best efforts as a photographer.

For quite a while now, but especially during the recent Labour Party Conference, Labour leader David Ed Miliband has been making this notion of the cost of living crisis a central theme in his ongoing attempts to become our next Prime Minister. City A.M.’s Ryan Bourne, before the Labour Conference got started, wrote thus:

Labour’s party conference will see Ed Miliband try to shift public focus away from the Scottish referendum fallout and back towards the choice at next year’s general election. In particular, he’ll seek to refocus our minds on the “cost of living crisis” narrative that he’s been composing since 2011.

And so it proved. I heard this phrase a day or two ago in a radio news item where the words “Miliband” and “cost of living crisis” emerged next to each other. Whether Miliband will succeed in persuading the country that even more taxing-and-spending will do anything to abate this cost of living crisis, as crisis it certainly is for a great many people, remains to be seen. Whatever. But if you want a minority cause to get some little sliver of majority notice, what you must do is supply your minority answer to a majority question. So kudos to Simon for identifying this particular debate as something libertarians can get in on, and get in on very eloquently. I am really looking forward to this October 23rd meeting.

→ Continue reading: Nice libertarianism

What size law?

It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.

(James Madison, writing as “Publius” in The Federalist No. 62)

The current Code of Federal Regulations in the United states is pushing 180,000 pages, far more than any human can ever hope to read. The Federal Register, which reports on changes to these regulations, is now in the vicinity of 70,000 pages per year. This does not include, of course, the size of the underlying United States Code, or the size of many rules that are not part of the CFR, or the size of local and state laws and regulatory rules, or the mass of court rulings, administrative rulings, tax court rulings, IRS opinions and the like.

Samizdata quote of the day

Live and let live, be and let be
Hear and let hear, see and let see
Sing and let sing, dance and let dance
You like Offenbach, I do not
So what, so what, so what

Read and let read, write and let write
Love and let love, bite and let bite
Live and let live, and remember this line
Your business is your business
And my business is mine

Live and let live, be and let be
Hear and let hear, see and let see
Drink and let drink, eat and let eat
You like bouillabaisse, I do not
So what, so what, so what

Talk and let talk, quip and let quip
Dress and let dress, strip and let strip
Live and let live, and remember this line
Your business is your business
And my business is mine

– The lyric of one of Cole Porter’s slightly lesser known songs. Cole Porter is this week’s Radio Three Composer of the Week. Yesterday, Porter himself was to be heard singing this song.

But what’s with that “bite and let bite”?

Social Darwinism

If one gets into a discussion of evolution by means of natural selection with politically-minded people, and evolutionary mechanisms in economics and society come up, then those who consider themselves on the left, or ‘caring’, are highly likely—as surely as Godwin’s Law—to start emphasising that evolution proceeds not only by individual selection, but by group selection. The point intended by this trope is that group selection is how caring collectivity succeeds, and that market, and other pointwise-negotiated, institutions—what with their brutish know-nothing insistence on competition and individual benefit as the measure of all things—are arbitrary, unnecessarily harsh, and retard progress.

Be careful what you wish for. Consider for a moment the social mechanisms we see everywhere that are calculated to the collective advantage of one gene pool over another. They are particularistic institutions with little truck with equality of treatment: the clan; the tribe; religious exclusivity; in-marriage, family honour and sexual repression; suspicion of outsiders; vendetta; genocide.

I’ll stick with ‘the tyranny of choice’, thank-you.

An imaginary emergency

As the rest of the world becomes more skeptical about mass surveillance, there is one country where it is seldom ever mentioned, except to babble about the need for more of it. The country that the romantic conservative Daniel Hannan says “invented freedom“: Britain.

The latest symptom of the “polite and commercial people” of Britain’s complacent unconcern with freedom and privacy is emergency legislation to be passed through all parliamentary stages early next week, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill or Act, as we shall have to call it almost immediately. There is little doubt this will happen. All three major parties are agreed they will drive it through.

The “emergency” is a confection. It is ostensibly because of a legal challenge to regulations under an EU directive which was invalidated by the European Court of Justice – which took place in April. So obviously it has to be dealt with by hurried legislation to be passed without scrutiny and not even adumbrated in public till Wednesday. This is the order of events:

  • 8th April – ECJ declares Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC invalid – in theory telcos and ISPs no longer required to gather certain data
  • …wait for it…
  • 7th July – Rumours surface in the press that “something will be done”
  • 9th July – The Sun in the afternoon carries a “security beat privacy” piece boosting the scheme as the only way to beat terrorists and paedophiles.
  • 10th July,  8am – Emergency cabinet meeting briefs senior ministers.
  • 10th July,  11.18am – Bill becomes available on gov.uk website (still not available via parliament), Home Secretary makes statement in parliament.
  • 11th July (Friday), 4pm – Draft regulations to be made under the Bill as soon as it is enacted made available.
  • 15th July (Tuesday) – All House of Commons Stages of the Bill (normally about 4 months).

The pretext, reinstating these regulations (which the Home Office has claimed are still subsisting in the UK anyway) is hard to accept as “vital”. Other countries manage fine without them, and they only existed at all because of some bullying by the UK of other EU states after the 7th July 2005 bombings. I covered this background in an article for City AM written on Thursday. But since then we have had a chance to read what is proposed.

Reinstating the regulations – or anchoring them against legal challenge, since they are still operating – would be simple. The new Bill need only say that parliament enacts the content of the regulations as primary Act of the UK parliament. I wouldn’t be pleased. But it would be doing what was required by the ostensible emergency. That however is not what is happening. The new Bill would broaden the regulations and the scope of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act under which most state snooping in Britain is conducted and give the Home Secretary powers radically to expand the data required, by further regulations. It is a move in the direction of the supercharged surveillance regime set out in the Communications Data Bill, which was dropped as too controversial ante-Snowden. The clearest detailed analysis is by David Allen Green in the FT, he says:

The removals of civil liberties, and the encroachments of the state, are rarely sudden and dramatic. It is often a subtle change of legal form here, and the deft widening of legal definitions there. And before one knows it, the overall legal regime has changed to the advantage of officials and the otherwise powerful, and all we have done is nod-along as it happens.

I fear it is worse than that. Politicians and press have been so comprehensively suckered that some who would normally stand up for civil liberties are burbling about how “it offers [the] chance to bring rise of surveillance state under democratic control”. DRIP.

The Liberal Democrat politicians who have been most reliable n this topic all appear to have been bought off with a sunset clause and the ludicrous promise of “a review”, even though they have now had several years of experience of arrant avoidance of their questions by the intelligence services. DRIP

Even this cannot persuade them that the security state (sometimes called the “deep state”, though that flatters its dysfunctional smugness) is mocking them. DRIP.

Our permanent establishment in Whitehall treats ministers with condescension, and mere parliamentarians with the same contempt it reserves for ordinary citizens. But those in public life need to believe the state is their honest servant. DRIPS!

Samizdata quote of the day

Whereas a conservative writer might warn that humans are just as likely, if not more likely, to bungle things when applying past experience to new plans for society as when trying to fix their own private lives – and an optimistic libertarian writer might note that people are far more rational in planning their own lives than in planning others’ – left-liberals have a tendency to think that humans’ ability to plan collectively is inversely proportional to their ability to plan their lives as individuals.

Todd Seavey

H/t Quotulatiousness

Libertarians – rough and smooth

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to make too much of this. But here it is anyway.

In a report about successful pop entertainer Frank Turner meeting successful pop entertainer Josh Homme, Turner is quoted saying, about Homme, this:

“One of the other things about him which I really enjoyed was that – without going into too much discussion about it – I’ve obviously copped a fair amount of shit for being a Libertarian in the press, and he was aware of this and said ‘I’m a fucking hardcore Libertarian, stick to your guns and fuck them’. It’s not very often that people say that to me, so that was nice – I enjoyed that.”

Thanks to Turner and Gigwise, and google sending me an email about it, I get to enjoy it too.

The shit in question is referred to in this earlier posting here by me, and I wrote some more about Turner here.

Don’t call them liberals but don’t call them progressives either

I strongly agree with Dan Klein and Kevin Frei that “liberal” and “liberalism” are words that should never be relinquished to those who don’t believe in liberty. They have started something called Liberalism Unrelinquished. Good for them.

We the undersigned affirm the original arc of liberalism, and the intention not to relinquish the term liberal to the trends, semantic and institutional, toward the governmentalization of social affairs.

Way back in 2010, I did a posting here entitled They are not liberals and they are not progressives, so I strongly agree about the “liberal” bit of what Klein and Frei are saying.

The Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman recently talked with Klein (Bowman’s posting being how I heard about LU), and Klein also had this to say:

The left gains enormously by getting away with calling itself “liberal,” so getting them to give up the goods is not even a prayer. Partly, I just want to self-declare, like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” An Adam Smith liberal; a lovely little subculture. Next, I’d love to see the center-left, in the US, the Democratic Party people, be called by others something other than “liberal” simpliciter.

An important distinction. We can’t change how they talk, but we can change how we talk. (Bowman’s italics are emboldened.)

But then comes this:

Progressive, Democratic, social democratic, leftist, or left-liberal – all good.

No, not “all good”. “Progressive”?

Here’s what I said about that in 2010:

… the word “progressive” is just as wrong as the word “liberal”. The statists who argue for the destruction of the dollar and for bank bail-outs (again) and for nationalised derangement of medical care and for green-inspired economic sabotage aren’t “liberals”. They do not believe in liberty; they believe in curtailing liberty. But neither do they believe in anything which it makes sense to anybody except them to call “progress”. Progress is the exact thing these statists are now trying and have always tried to destroy, and just lately have been doing a pretty damn good job of destroying. Progress means things getting better. These self styled “progressives” are only making things worse.

My piece got linked to by Instapundit, and I like to think it may have set some brain cells in motion on the other side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it even contributed in a tiny way to the founding of LU. If so, it’s a pity that Klein didn’t register the Progressive bit of my argument. I hope he registers it now.

Klein’s answer might be that when campaigning, you do one thing at a time. Quite so. Klein and Frei are right to concentrate on “liberalism”. This word deserves all the focus that they will be bestowing upon it.

But, if they succeed in stopping us opponents of these anti-liberal but self-declared “liberals” from calling them Liberals, it won’t be nearly such a victory if instead these anti-progressive self-declared “progressives” are merely described by us, their truly progressive opponents, as Progressives.

This is no mere quibble. If we say that “liberals” aren’t liberals but are “progressives”, we are conceding to these … whatever-we-call-these-people, a horrible falsehood as being a truth, namely the falsehood that human liberty and human progress are antithetical ideas and that the only way to accomplish human progress is to diminish human freedom. This is a disastrously wrong idea. What these people unleash upon the world is not progress. It is sterility, stagnation, and often far, far worse.

I, and Klein and Frei, are all liberals, and we are all progressives by any sane meaning of the word “progress”.

So, to quote Instapundit: What do we call them?

The Klein/Frei Liberalism Unrelinquished project is positive. They want to keep that word for their side, and mine. Good.

This posting of mine is mostly negative, just as my 2010 posting was mostly negative. Both are about how not to use certain words. Don’t call them liberals, and don’t call them progressives. But two positives are implied. We are liberals. And yes, although I am not for one moment suggesting that Liberalism Unrelinquished should be given a more unwieldy and less focussed name, we are progressives.

→ Continue reading: Don’t call them liberals but don’t call them progressives either

The Benghazi affair and Obama’s contempt for the First Amendment

This item, out a few days ago, from one of my favourite bloggers, Tim Sandefur, ought to be part of a firestorm of debate out there over the contempt that the current occupant of the White House has shown for the First Amendment. The sad fact is, however, that a large chunk of allegedly “progressive” or “liberal” opinion (such a shame that fine word has been debauched) is unsteady on defending free speech (and quite a lot of “conservatives” are not much better).

Read the whole thing, as the saying goes. And wonder if you will why not more of a stink has been created about this. Almost a quarter of a century ago, when Salman Rushdie went into hiding in the UK after publication of his Satanic Verses book (I haven’t read it), we had an early taste from how some people were willing to make excuses for the murderous intent of fundamentalist Muslims. But to their credit, lefties such as Christopher Hitchens were willing to take a stand. In fact this was the sort of issue that I think turned Hitch away from some of his reflexive Leftism and into being a more free-ranging contrarian.