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]

How I feel about this morning’s polls

“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can stand the despair. It’s the hope.”

– said by John Cleese playing stressed headmaster Brian Stimpson trying to get to an important conference while the fates conspire against him in the film Clockwise.

This morning’s Guardian reports, “poll leads and Sun backing for Brexit prompt Remain ‘panic'”. However polls in referenda tend to overstate the vote for change and there often is a late surge for the status quo.

With nine days to go, which way do you think the referendum will go?

Brexit and the Pound

The value of the Pound is reacting to every last little bit of news about the EU referendum. The mainstream media would like us to worry that its value could drop if we vote to leave. Everyone is talking about it. Even City AM, though the two comments point out that it depends what time spans you look at. In any case, past Guardian articles bemoan a high value Pound, so Guardian readers must now vote to leave.

The value of the Pound also reacts to traders with fat fingers. I conclude that there is nothing to see here.

Anyway it is quite obvious what will happen to the economy in the event of Brexit: some short term turmoil while things reconfigure themselves to the new arrangements, followed by a bit more growth than there would have been otherwise thanks to slightly less friction from interfering politicians.

Resentment isn’t an argument

It is sometimes all too easy to fall into the ad hominem fallacy when you see a juicy target. The problem, however, is that if you are trying to change minds, appealing to prejudice and resentments either doesn’t work, or provokes revulsion. For example, in the Daily Mail there is an article by someone called Chris Deerin, entitled: “Pass the quinoa, comrade! Hypocrisy of the middle-class revolutionaries”.

Here is a taster:

Radical politics is a pursuit for the moneyed conscience, an indulgence for those who can afford to fight the good fight, who are feather-bedded enough to give their lives over to peripheral causes, doomed campaigns and utopian schemes. When you’re skint, funding the next meal or paying the leccy bill or covering the rent tends to be more of a priority than shouting slogans at students through a megaphone in Freedom Square.

Well it may well be the case that much radical politics today is the occupation of the middle class. But the error that Deerin is making here is that while some middle class supporters of socialism, environmentalism and the rest of it may well be hypocritical wankers who should be boiled in oil (or whatever else Daily Mail readers presumably favour as a punishment) that doesn’t mean that socialism, environmentalism, etc, are therefore wrong. To show that, you have to make the case: you need to debunk the disasters socialism creates (including massive environmental problems, as shown in Soviet Russia), and take on the assumptions of environmentalism (such as how a lot of Greens ignore economic substitution and embrace Malthusian myths, as well as endorse forms of naturalistic fallacies and a false view of nature, etc). Saying that “Greens are posh arseholes” backfires if it turns out that some of what Greens might say is true. And does this also mean that a working class person is also a hypocrite if he or she later espouses capitalism and is a class traitor?  The trouble with the ad hominem tactic is that works in both directions.

In the current political scene, I have, for example, seen a lot of this resentment-as-argument tactic being used, such as among some of the pro-Trump folk in the US (taking shots at “the Establishment, ignoring that Trump is part of it, in a way), and among the pro-Sanders people attacking Wall Street (in a blanket attack on anyone in finance). We get it in the UK (resentment at the Cameroonians for being posh, rather than for their actual views.)

Exterminate All Mosquitoes

Zikavirus, which is now spreading rapidly throughout South America and the Caribbean, is just the latest mosquito-borne disease to plague mankind.

Mosquitoes spread Malaria, Chikungunya, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, a variety of forms of encephalitis (Eastern Equine Encephalitis, St. Louis Encephalitis, LaCrosse Encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis, Western Equine Encephalitis, and others), West Nile virus, Rift Valley Fever, Elephantiasis, Epidemic Polyarthritis, Ross River Fever, Bwamba fever, and dozens more.

I’ve been unable to find a reliable overall death toll for mosquito-borne disease. However, it is likely that at least a million people die a year from malaria alone. Countless more die from the other diseases. It is known that the number of people infected with one disease or another by mosquito bites every year is in the hundreds of millions.

In short, the mosquito is one of mankind’s greatest enemies.

Thanks to the recent development of CRISPR/Cas9 based gene drive technology, the human race is now at last on the cusp of having the capacity to drive those varieties of mosquito that feed upon humans (which are a minority of the 3500 known species) entirely into extinction, by producing mosquitoes that will produce fertile male descendants but no fertile female descendants. [See my explanation after the end of this essay on how this might be done.*]

Few actions could reduce human misery and improve the condition of mankind so greatly as the permanent elimination of mosquitoes and the myriad of diseases they spread throughout the world. It would be worth doing even if it required decades and vast expenditures to accomplish. The fact that it can be done at fairly low cost and quite quickly (over years rather than decades) is almost icing on the cake.

I am certain that some people will vocally and perhaps even violently oppose this work, both because of an irrational fear of genetic engineering technology and because of a misplaced belief that eliminating mosquitoes will somehow damage the environment. The general consensus is that it will not. However, I strongly feel that even if there was minor collateral damage to the environment, it would be well worth that cost to prevent at least a million deaths a year.

Some would caution we should consider an act such as the deliberate extinction of a whole class of parasitic insects with great caution and take such steps only quite slowly. However, in a world where a child dies of malaria every 40 seconds or so, I think we should, if anything, be racing ahead as fast as we can possibly manage.

Now that we have the capacity to exterminate mosquitoes, not to do so strikes me as a gravely immoral act.

→ Continue reading: Exterminate All Mosquitoes

Is rhetoric necessary to win at politics?

I have been spending a bit of time in Foyles, recently. It is my favourite bookshop in London for the vastness of its selection, though if any readers know better I am all ears. It does contain, however, the bookshelf from Room 101:

IMG_20160109_163811_1920

Can you imagine what kind of dinner party guests these authors would make? Just look at the blurb on the back of the Fischer book:

In recent years a set of radical new approaches to public policy, drawing on discursive analysis and participatory deliberative practices, have come to challenge the dominant technocratic, empiricist models in policy analysis. In his major new book Frank Fischer brings together these various new approaches for the first time and critically examines them. The book will be required reading for anyone studying, researching, or formulating public policy.

Required, good and hard, as punishment for being involved in such a dismal endeavor, perhaps. Opaque writing like this always makes me wonder if there is real content to be dug up. I had a quick look inside. Irritatingly, from the point of view of trying to poke fun, I found (on page 170) what might be some insight.

It is common in politics to portray our opponents as engaging only in ‘rhetoric’: that is, concealing the real story, they offer us a version of events constructed to promote their own interests and concerns. Missing from this view, however, is the recognition that all politics operates this way. Symbolic representation, in short, is basic to political argumentation. […] An important feature of symbols is their potential ambiguity. Symbols often typically mean two (or more) things at the same time: ‘equal opportunity in education can either giving everybody tuition vouchers for the same dollar amount’, or it can mean ‘providing extra resources for those with special needs’

[…]

For the empiricist conception of science, of course, this is problematic. The interpretation of events, social as well as physical, has to remain clear and constant for the work of the empiricist.

I have written before about the problem of language being used deliberately to muddy thinking. It seems likely that, since libertarianism is correct, looking at the world empirically leads inevitably to it. Therefore libertarians are likely to be empiricists. And bad at rhetoric, and therefore bad at winning at politics. (And often more interested in more empirical pursuits, like building rockets.)

Can we possibly beat them at their own game? I used to think that just sticking to the facts of the matter in debate would be good enough. That on-the-fence observers would detect who was making the most sense and pick the right side. I am starting to think that rhetoric has its place: if you really want to convince people, and, empirically, people are convinced by rhetoric, perhaps it is unavoidable.

Vox Day, in what amounts to a manual for beating Them at Their own game, wrote a whole chapter on it. He quoted Aristotle: “Before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are some people whom one cannot instruct.” Mr Day goes on to explain:

I strongly prefer communicating in dialectic myself, but that is a language reserved for those who are intellectually honest and capable of changing their minds on the basis of information. So I speak dialectic to those capable of communicating on that level, and I speak rhetoric to those who are not.

Before I even opened the Fischer book I found myself writing, in a Facebook discussion about heavily drinking relatives who had nonetheless lived to a grand old age, in response to others who complained that this was mere anecdote: “Anecdote is not evidence but it *is* rhetoric, and you need to develop good rhetoric to win at politics.” I am beginning to see how I might start to use rhetoric without feeling dirty, as a means to a well-intended end. I am not sure whether I would be any good at it, though. Worse, I sense that it is the road to hell.

A rant that delivers the goods

Stefan Stern wrote the standard Guardian article about the awfulness of Uber, only this time it wasn’t Uber it was a bunch new to me called “Deliveroo”: “Deliveroo and its ilk are serving up low wages, insecurity and social division”. He wrote,

But we have clearly not even begun to think deeply enough about the implications for workers in all this.

A commenter called “narnaglan” replied,

There is nothing in this for you to think about. Deliveroo has nothing to do with you, since you are not a shareholder. The people who work for it choose to do so and are not forced. It is entirely legitimate, and ethical.

Your only response to Deliveroo, if you have a feeling that they are not doing it “right” is to start your own business, where the delivery people are under contracts and conditions that you feel are acceptable. If you are correct in your assumptions, Deliveroo will be driven out of business, and your new, ethical delivery service will immediately dominate.

But you will not do this.

Why? Because you are comfortable sitting on the sidelines telling other people how to live and run their affairs. You are not willing to take risk yourself, and have no original ideas of your own. All you are able to do is react to what other people invent, and criticize it through your distorting and inverting Guardianista Socialist lens.

Deliveroo and all other businesses that allow people to start work are useful and beneficial. The more companies in the market like it, the more jobs there are, and the better off people are. Someone with an idea will disrupt Deliveroo, which is the latest in a line of home delivery services that have existed for at least 18 years, one of the first being the Room Service delivery service that did not even have a website.

You people simply do not understand the market, innovation and how things really work. All you know how to do is destroy, call for people to be made unemployed and business to be made inoperable because you think you have the right to tell other people how to live, how to organize and what private contracts they make between themselvs are ethical.

You are wrong. About everything.

Tim Peake excitement

The UK media is getting quite excited about British astronaut Tim Peake and his trip to the International Space Station. I was watching on Sky News. Their guest expert was space journalist Sarah Cruddas, and after the launch they allowed her to gush excitedly about private space travel for a couple of minutes.

She was not entirely coherent as she was talking excitedly — but that is the point. She mentioned “Space 2.0”, a new term to me, and Elon Musk, and Planetary Resources who want to mine asteroids which contain enough wealth to make everyone a billionaire. She talked positively about wealthy people making money in space. She talked about how Internet access in the developing world has an “absolutely revolutionary effect on the number of people on our planet who will have access to knowledge”, improving education and increasing the pool of talent and getting them rich. She talked about businesses making space travel more efficient. She talked about the UK space industry, which “does exist and should be celebrated”.

It struck me that all this private enterprise and wealth creation should be brought up and positively plugged during a government space launch.

In the ’50s and ’60s it seems as if it was normal to be optimistic and excited about technology. In the ’90s and recently we seem mostly to hear about how greedy rich industrialists trample the poor and destroy the planet. Perhaps that pendulum can swing back the other way.

Marketing

From a Comment is Free article by Nick Cohen:

Leftwingers have benefitted for years from being typecast as decent people. They may possesses the self-righteousness of “a teenager who had just become a vegetarian”, as Jess Phillips, the marvellous Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, warned. But like teenage vegetarians, they mean well. If the world does not always turn out the way they planned, that is the world’s fault. It would be a better place if it did as the left told it to, sat up at the table and ate its greens.

Stereotypical rightwingers could not be more different. They are sexist, racist and hypocritical. Tories are motivated by greed and prejudice. The far right is driven by brutish blood lusts.

The hold of these stereotypes among the progressive, university-educated middle classes explains why you never hear a rightwing political comedian on Radio 4 or see a leftwing villain in a television drama. Comics and writers tear into Daily Mail and Sun readers but never Guardian and Observer readers. They assume that you are virtuous.

The article goes on to explain how Jeremy Corbyn means that people do not think the left are nice any more. I do not think we are there yet.

But I do wonder if it is possible to market libertarianism as the right choice for nice people. We are, after all, the ones who want everyone to be rich.

Would it not be useful if self-righteous teenagers were declaring themselves to be libertarians instead of vegetarians?

On immigrants

I’m afraid I feel rather personally about the current immigration crises in the United States and Europe.

(Yes, we have a crisis in the United States as well, or at least, we have Presidential candidates with high poll numbers claiming that we do, and said candidates are threatening to enact draconian measures, including mass deportations.)

I take the matter quite personally because my own father was once a war refugee. Indeed, he was once a war refugee who, because he was a member of a non-Christian religion, was denied refuge in more or less every civilized part of the world. Seventy five years ago, of course, Jews were not considered particularly welcome even by countries that knew full well what was happening in Germany.

My father managed to save himself by ignoring laws that said that he wasn’t allowed to cross borders in the night without permission. Had it been up to many people, of course, he would have died instead, but he quite sensibly believed that he was under no moral obligation to pay attention to people who would have preferred him to remain where he was and die, and thus he formed his own immigration plan without the permission of the legal authorities at his destination.

(Of course, only this morning I read that Victor Orbán has complained that allowing Syrians into Europe would diminish the Christian character of the continent, the sort of claim I’ve heard before in different contexts, including from the political movement that forced my father to flee in the first place. This does bring to mind an ancient set of questions for adherents of Christianity, such as what sort of razor-wire walled internment camp designs Jesus would have favored, as well as whom Jesus would have deported. But I digress.)

For me, the question of immigration is, because of my family history, a very emotional one. None the less, I have given the matter a considerable amount of thought, and I believe that, although I care deeply about the issue, my position is still not an irrational one. Rather, I think that my family history simply allows me to put faces to the theoretical people who might be denied passage and die where they are, and thus gives me the ability to understand by example the human consequences of policies.

(Indeed, this is perhaps much the same thing that has happened for people who have viewed the the photographs of poor Aylan Kurdi, who drowned because even though his family had plenty of money to go from where they were to a place of safety, they had to give it to smugglers instead of to a reliable airline or ferry company. Seeing an individual face, hearing an individual name, makes it harder to ignore the consequences of a policy. But again, I digress.)

So, as I have said, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’ve come to a straightforward conclusion. Anyone proposing that immigration from one country to another be stopped through the use of coercive state violence is, morally speaking, doing the equivalent of proposing to beat on the hands of a drowning man desperately trying to climb out of the sea.

I claim that there is no more moral justification for preventing a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting a house and then looking for work than there would be for preventing a man from within the borders of your supposed “nation state” from doing the same. I have scoured the literature on moral philosophy and failed to find any justification for the claim that a man born across an imaginary line has particularly different rights than a man born within it. I claim this is true regardless of whether the man from Homs seeks to rent the house next door because he is fleeing for his life or because he prefers the weather in your part of the world.

Indeed, the only way to stop a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting an apartment from a willing owner, and taking a job from a willing employer, would seem to be to threaten to do violence or actually to do violence to that man. Which is to say, the only way to prevent him from moving would be the initiation of violence against an entirely peaceful person who has done nothing whatsoever to the people doing violence to him.

Therefore, not only would it seem that there is no moral justification for preventing such behavior, and not only would it seem churlish, but it would also seem that, if anything at all can be called immoral, then doing violence to a peaceful person who wants nothing more than to rent a house, find a job and live as everyone else does is immoral. Perhaps, of course, there is no such thing as right and wrong beyond personal whim, perhaps morals are not a real thing at all, but if morals are indeed a real thing and if morality means anything useful, then clearly such acts are immoral.

I know that some, perhaps even here on Samizdata, would suggest that immigrants are coming to the West to take advantage of our generous state welfare policies. If you believe that, then there is a trivial solution. I will in no way oppose the proposal that the law that opens the border should also specify that immigrants and even their children should not receive state benefits until they’ve lived in the country for ten, or twenty, or, who cares, make it a thousand years if you like. I don’t believe in the dole or state benefits of any sort to begin with, so I can’t consistently oppose denying people such benefits.

I have heard some others say “but they will vote and they are illiberal!”, and if you believe that, fine, deny them the right to vote — I’m an anarchist, and as I don’t believe in elections in the first place, I feel comfortable with denying the franchise to immigrants forever if you feel that is necessary for you to agree to open the border.

But, if you refuse to consider opening the border even if those coming are doing so with their own resources, are renting or buying homes with their own money, are not taking state benefits and are not voting for more collectivism, then I am afraid that I do have to look askance at your position.

Which is to say, your position was immoral in the first place, but if you refuse to reverse a completely immoral position even if the supposed “pragmatic” rationale for holding it vanishes, then perhaps your rationale is not only immoral but was also not held for pragmatic reasons in the first place.

Falling in love with Tolkien yet again

I am re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time in many years. I tend to dip into chapters now and again but I only recently realised it was available on the Kindle, which made it convenient enough to be my daily read. As a result I am rediscovering the way various strands of the plot weave together so elegantly.

I was also minded to dip into the large collection of supplementary material that is now available. I stumbled across this, from letter 52, written to his son on 29 November 1943:

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) — or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King Gerorge’s council, Winston and his gang’, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.

I should have included this in my post about how language affects thought. And I am wondering to what extent reading Tolkien as a child led to my ending up here. And it has just occurred to me that I was introduced to The Hobbit by the same English teacher who lent me a copy of 1984 (which I did not return).

On the future of photography in public (and on what I think of the EU)

There are many reasons for my diminished Samizdata productivity. For my friend Johnathan Pearce, it is pressure of work. With me, it has been more like laziness and cowardice. As I get older, I find that my desire to tell others what to think, although still vestigially strong, is now in decline. I find myself more and more interested simply in noticing or learning about how things are, and (increasingly) how they once were. If I tell others what they should think, they sometimes hit back with great vehemence about how I should dump what I think and think something different, and us oldies don’t enjoy even virtual fighting as much as we used to. I think what I think, you think what you think, and let’s just leave it at that, is my attitude, more and more. This doesn’t quite chime in with banging away here, day after day, about all the various and numerous people who are wrong on the internet. Faced with the choice between (a) getting back into the swing of posting stuff here, or (b) wandering about in London taking photographs of how things in London merely are (or are in the process of becoming), and writing about such things at my personal blog, I more and more choose the photoing and the personal blogging option.

I’m talking about photos like this one, which I took recently, of the Shard:

Shardview1s

I posted this photo at my personal blog a week or more ago, and ruminated upon why I particularly liked the way the Shard had been looking that day.

But then came this comment, from a blogger in South Africa whose blog I like and who likes my blog, an expat from Sheffield who calls himself 6k:

I hope you have permission to take that wonderful photograph. Or rather, I hope you won’t need to have permission to take such wonderful photographs in future.

My first reaction was: Hey, 6k liked my photo! But I did also notice the next bit. What?!? Need permission?!? What is he talking about?!? What 6k was talking about can be found here, that being a link he helpfully supplied in his comment, immediately after the words quoted above.

→ Continue reading: On the future of photography in public (and on what I think of the EU)

Do people really think about these issues when asking someone out for a date?

I came across this “Trigger Warning” blog and the whole article is a jaw-dropper in terms of how it describes a world utterly alien to me:

“When someone asks you out on a date, they are basically saying that they think your standards are low enough to voluntarily go out with them. If the asker clearly has high dating market value himself, his advances don’t indicate that he thinks you have a low dating market value. But if you get asked out on a date by someone with a low social status, and other people find out, then others might reasonably downgrade their estimate of your dating market value, especially if the person doing the asking is a shy, cautious nerd.”

FFS. When I asked out my now-wife 12 years ago after our initial encounter in the heart of London, I don’t recall thinking about this sort of stuff or worrying about “low dating market value” or somesuch.

But perhaps I am the one at fault here. After all, Jane Austen wrote about “dating market value” in her own way through her early 19th Century novels, if you think about it.

(Yes, dear readers – I haven’t posted a lot lately due to pressures of work, etc. But I intend to fix that soon with an item on the offshore world and how it is changing. Watch this space. It stems from a talk I recently gave at one of Brian Micklethwait’s end-of-month events.)