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]

NSA outrage fatigue

A new story from The Guardian, barely twelve hours after the last set of revelations: “NSA loophole allows warrantless search for US citizens’ emails and phone calls”.

Yes, this one is indeed far worse than the previous ones, unbelievable as that might seem.

Explaining why to those not following in detail is almost not worth it any longer, however.

A friend of mine long ago coined the term “Outrage Fatigue”, the condition in which so many awful actions by a set of State actors have been revealed that one can no longer hope to track the entire list of their offenses and crimes in one’s head.

I have long since passed that point for the Obama administration in general. Imprisonment without charge, war crimes, coverups, the silencing of whistleblowers and dozens of other acts have become so numerous that I cannot hope to remember them all.

However, I have now passed the point where, even as a putative subject matter expert, I could hope to remember even everything that has been revealed about just this one scandal.

It is painfully clear that the contempt of the Obama Administration and its minions for the rule of law is near total, that their contempt for the truth is near total, and that one’s confidence in anything they say in public whatsoever should be precisely zero.

David Botsford, RIP

A few days ago, while I was on holiday in Santorini – one of the Greek islands – I was contacted to be told that one of my oldest friends, David Botsford, had died. He was only 49 years old.

David, a graduate of King’s College, London, is someone I first got to know back in 1988, when he was working at the time for an outfit called Outlaw Films. David was part of that libertarian circle of friends in London that I hung out with (Brian Micklethwait, Antoine Clarke, Tim Evans, Chris Tame and Kevin Macfarlane, among others) in that time. David was not the most high-profile libertarian activist, maybe, but he was certainly one of the most prolific, and insightful, in terms of the material he produced.

In the early 1990s, David decided on a change of career: he entered the field of psychology, and studied fields such as hypnotherapy, using his skills to treat people who wanted to give up smoking, beat stress or eating disorders. Shortly thereafter he went to the US – he held a dual British-US passport – and worked for a while in Los Angeles. He returned to the UK a few years later to develop his work in the UK, and spent a long time living in the Notting Hill area. I spent many happy hours in his company – David seemed to know just about every cool restaurant in the area and, given his interests, he also had a wide circle of friends. (One of them invited me – to his perhaps regret – to play in his cricket team). David was a stage performer. On one memorable night, he gave a stage hypnotism performance in deepest Soho and he also performed such acts in the US, such as Las Vegas, and gave talks to various groups and appeared on television.

His essays for libertarian publications on issues such as gun control, the arts, foreign policy and education stand the test of time. David was also a kind, generous and funny person to know and he was very dear to me and my wife. He will be greatly missed. Later this year, some of us who knew him intend to go to a restaurant and raise a glass or two in his memory.

A slightly more temperate post about unwanted contact

Before being overwhelmed by phone-induced homicidal rage the other day, I had intended to discuss a subject that has been interesting me lately, namely how difficult it is to specify in advance rules for social interaction. More specifically, I was pondering how hard it is to lay down rules for dealing with unwanted contact. Cold calling is one form of that; what are traditionally described as “unwanted advances” are another.

The problem is that word “unwanted”. To say, as the organisational psychologist quoted in this article does, that “An unwanted advance is a form of injustice”, strikes me as unfair. We are not telepaths. Quite often the only way one can find out that unwanted contact is unwanted is to ask, that is, to initiate unwanted contact. On the other hand while we may not have telepathy, we most of us do have empathy to help us guess in advance when advances might be unwelcome. Phone sales companies know to the fifth decimal place exactly how likely their calls are to be welcome. They know that the first four of those decimal places are filled by zeros, scumbags that they are. Few men asking a woman out have quite such a large database of prior results upon which to draw. I’m glad I’m not a guy! That last breath before you open your mouth to begin the sentence that might get you rejected cruelly or rejected kindly must be painful.

So I pondered, and while pondering hopped from link to link, as one does, and I came across a really interesting article in Gawker from July 7th which encapsulated several relevant issues. It describes a bitter row in the community of atheist activists. Given that I was out of sympathy with both the parties to the row when it came to politics (both of them are left wing progressives, one I already knew to advocate coercion reaching quite deeply into private lives and the other is a radical feminist) and religion, I was better able to think about the issues rather than the individuals.

Then a nagging feeling that I had read about something very similar a couple of years ago led me to finally notice that the post was not from July 7th 2013 but from July 7th 2011.

Then I slapped myself round the side of the head and said, “what does the fact that these events happened two years and a few days ago rather than a few days ago matter?”

You are now commanded to read the article that I linked to above by the then-editor of Gawker, Remy Stern, on pain of not understanding what on earth I am on about. It puts the case for “Skepchick” (real name Rebecca Watson) in her “Elevatorgate” dispute against Richard Dawkins well if a little one-sidedly.

You are also commanded (on pain of only getting one side of the story) to read post by Alison Smith called “Take back the elevator” which was the most persuasive argument against Skepchick’s position that I read, particularly where she talks about “Leap of Logic Number Two”.

The reason why many people, particularly women, immediately sympathised with Skepchick in the incident is described by commenter “Ivriniel” to Remy Stern’s Gawker article:

To anyone who doesn’t understand why Rebecca Watson was uncomfortable, let’s put it another way.

It’s late at night, and you get into an elevator alone, oh, let’s say in a parking garage. A stranger gets on with you. As soon as the door closes, the stranger asks you for money. You’re now in a confided space with a stranger who wants something from you. You do not know how they will respond if you turn them down. It’s different than being asked for money on the street, because at least on the street there are other people around, and you have the choice to walk away, or even run away if things become threatening. You’ve had that option taken away from you.

Yes, there are buttons in the elevator you can press for help, however, if things get violent, the stranger will do everything they can to keep you away from the buttons.
Yes, the guy who approached Watson in the elevator was harmless. But she had no way of knowning that. Not everyone has the luxury of going through life assuming that everyone’s intentions are benign.

On the other hand, the lift wasn’t in a parking garage, it was in an atheist convention in a hotel in Dublin. I have never been to an atheist convention, but I have been to many science fiction conventions full of the same sort of clever but dorky guys. Indeed, while taking the lift to bed in the wee small hours at one SF convention I recall being invited round to someone’s hotel room for talk and coffee. That memory is why this story caught my eye. In my case the invitation came from two guys, one of them moderately famous, and I did not doubt that coffee meant coffee. (I politely declined because it was late and I was exhausted.) In the context of an event whose main purpose is talk the probability that a request for a talk means what it says is higher than in other situations. And even if it was a coded request for sex, that is neither a crime nor a threat, and the overtone of menace because it happened at 4 a.m. is much reduced since conventions tend to be nocturnal anyway. Having said that, the elevator man would still have shown more tact to have approached Ms Watson somewhere else and some other time. I won’t go on layering “buts” and “on the other hands” because there are a lot of layers there. You see what I mean about the difficulty of specifying rules that cover all situations?

Below is another comment to that thread, this time forcefully supporting Dawkins, from Joel Rubin. My eye was struck by the line ” Just because you’re a “feminist” doesn’t mean people have to let you have the elevator to themselves, doesn’t mean you have the right to completely avoid human interaction on a personal level.” Some commenters to my earlier post, Rob Fisher, Joebob and Ben, made a similar point that having a front door or a phone, or in this case going to a convention in a public place, is to some extent giving permission for others to peacefully initiate contact, so long as it is not pursued if demonstrably unwelcome. Mr Rubin wrote:

Okay, Dawkins went overboard with the hyperbole, yes, but everyone else did too.

Here’s where the flaw lies: Rebecca Watson. Yes, you. Don’t go online an publicly disparage a person who respectfully and politely asked you for coffee. I don’t care that you were in an elevator, I don’t care that you were alone, I don’t care that you just finished up a feminist speech—none of that matters.

What matters is this: The man asked you for coffee, and you declined. That was it. He did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG. But you decided to use a public forum to act like an asshole about it, and someone else called you out.

I don’t give a fuck if you “felt offended” by basic human interaction—that just makes you hypersensitive. Nothing in what you told us he said “sexualized” you in any way. And then responding to Dawkins with this nugget: “[To] have my concerns—and more so the concerns of other women who have survived rape and sexual assault—dismissed…” was absolute bullshit.

He wasn’t talking about rape, or sexual assault, he was talking about the fact that you overreacted and belittled a person who, by all accounts, was respectful and direct in asking you to coffee. YOU BLEW IT UP to something it shouldn’t have been.

Just because you’re a “feminist” doesn’t mean people have to let you have the elevator to themselves, doesn’t mean you have the right to completely avoid human interaction on a personal level. Just because he asked you for coffee and conversation doesn’t mean you were hit on, propositioned, or had to “survive rape and sexual assault”—it means you were asked for coffee.
You, dear, give humans in general, and feminists in particular, a bad name. Because you know what? It was insensitive for Dawkins to use the oppression of some women in the way he did—it was trollish and overboard. But HE MAKES A SOLID POINT, one that I probably would have made myself—you are flailing for attention and belittling a person for no reason.

The problem began not when a person talked to you in an elevator, or when another person used excessive hyperbole to prove a point—the problem began when you sensationalized and mocked a person who didn’t deserve it in a popular forum. It was arrogant, and rude.

I take issue with the part where Mr Rubin says, ” I don’t care that you just finished up a feminist speech—none of that matters.” The speech to which he refers was not just generally feminist. In it Ms Watson specifically said she did not like having passes made at her at these conventions. The man who asked her for coffee in the elevator was in the audience for that speech. That does matter, actually. He should have listened. Even if he did not intend to make a pass, it should have been obvious that his approach was likely to be read as one. She had just asked people not to do that.

In the end I incline to Skepchick’s side of this particular argument about this particular incident, by a degree or two. Remember that her initial video did not denounce the lift guy, it just advised men in general “don’t do this”. I would second that advice. But the scales are almost even. I am not convinced of Ms Watson’s general reasonableness, which is relevant. Judging from her internet profile, either she has had the remarkable ill fortune to be repeatedly taken in by apparent friends and allies who in the end turned out to be misogynists, or she has a hair trigger.

Screeching sound! Skid marks! Smell of burnt rubber! I am letting myself get pulled away from the point, which is not how nice anyone in the story is but how very difficult it is to specify whether it is right for one human being to ask another human being for something when the request itself might be offensive.

Discussion point: the ethical issues surrounding unsolicited sales phone calls

Is it better to just hang them or should we draw and quarter first?

The most grotesque article I have read in quite some time

David Brooks has written an article for the New York Times called The Solitary Leaker that contains so many grotesque notions I will just point out one and leave the rest for you, gentle reader, to wade through yourself…

If you live a life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society, perhaps it makes sense to see the world a certain way: Life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.

State… nation… are not ‘mediating institutions of civil society’, they are mediating political institutions and the observation these are materially different things is hardly a new one. They are violence backed imposers of laws, the means of collective coercion… and the process for deciding who gets the guns pointed at them is what we call ‘politics’, which is quite quite different to how elective things like ‘family’, ‘neighbourhood’, ‘religious group’ (unless it happens to be Islam) and ‘world’ work as these are collections of people you can invite to mind their own damn business and turn your back on them, with all the good and bad things that might come of that… or embrace them wholeheartedly, as you see fit and as they deserve, generally without the cops kicking down your door one way or the other.

But of course to a statist like David Brooks, the realm of the voluntary, the elective give and take of the civil, the marketplace of not just things but customs and affinity, the realm of personal moral judgement, is subordinate to The Tribe, The Collective, The Institutional. Duty is not to moral truth or decency or charity, it is to The Hierarchy of your Betters and knowing your place in it. David Brooks’ world view is that which rejects the moral courage to say “No, to hell with your orders, this is wrong”. His is the view that does not care if something is ‘moral’, just so long as it is ‘lawful’.

UKIP it is, then

The UK version of the Huffington Post reports that Ukip’s ‘NRA-Esque’ Gun Control Comments Described As ‘Inaccurate Upsetting Drivel’. Furthermore, advises the author of the piece, Felicity A Morse,

Farage’s support for relaxed gun control is particularly controversial given there is a cross-party consensus that restricting firearms helps reduce gun crime and protects communities.

Emphasis added. Consider yourselves warned.

Mrs Thatcher clones

An unexpected pleasure, leftists chocking at the sight of people celebrating Margaret Thatcher, has just got even better.

The Daily Mail informs us that the “Thatcher haircut” is the rage in central London, with one salon claiming to be overwhelmed by demand.

Italian-born Christina Bellucci, 37, a digital consultant, said she felt the look reflected a modern attitude.

‘This is a strong style and gives me authority,’ she said.

‘When I walk out the door I feel a few inches taller, it gives me power without sacrificing any of my femininity.’

Thinking aloud on a mountainside

Imagine you are mountain climbing or hill walking with a friend. Disaster strikes, and your friend is badly injured. Weather conditions are such that if you leave him overnight, he will certainly die. With great difficulty you are able to half carry, half drag him most of the way down the mountain. At last you see the road in the distance. Making your friend comfortable as best you can, you leave him, stagger to the road, and wait a long time for a car to pass this lonely spot. Eventually one does – you stop it by practically throwing yourself in front of it – and tell the driver that there is a seriously injured man some way up the hill who badly needs help.

“I’m not getting blood all over the seats of my car,” says the driver and speeds off.

By the time another car comes it is too late.

Something a little like this happened to a man called Charles Handley climbing in Scotland in the 1950s or 60s. In 1985 the BBC made a gripping dramatised reconstruction starring Gareth Thomas (Blake from Blake’s 7) called Duel with An Teallach. In fact Handley’s experience was even worse: despite his incredible efforts at rescue, An Teallach claimed two of his friends that day. I could watch the play again online and clarify my nearly thirty year-old memories of it, but I won’t because it was one of the grimmest things I have ever seen.

Have you guessed where this post is going? Tweak the story a little. Now Charles Handley has a gun. You have a gun. You can damn well make that driver help you get your friend to safety. And if that means he has to carry your friend on his back to the car so that you can keep the gun trained on him, too bad.

Do you do it?

Stealing his car, even without the intention “permanently to deprive” him of it, as the Theft Act puts it, is a violation of his property rights. Temporarily enslaving him to help you carry your friend down to the car is even worse. I think I would do it, even so. Afterwards I would admit the crime, pay compensation and submit to punishment.

As anyone who has read Perry de Havilland’s post from yesterday will have guessed by now, what I have tried to do above is make a similar thought experiment to the one about being forced to rescue a drowning baby used by Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute, the one pretty much everybody but me had no sympathy for. I tried to present a scenario that would appeal rather more to the Samizdata audience than Bowman’s somewhat contrived one. I have tried to inveigle you into sympathising with the bad guy – the government – in Jaded Voluntaryist’s excellent re-casting of Bowman’s analogy:

As an aside, this is not even close to describing welfarism. The people holding the gun aren’t disabled. And the baby isn’t drowning. And it isn’t a baby. And you’re not able bodied (at least not compared to the gun wielder). In fact, in his metaphor he has the relative power relationship completely backwards.
The able bodied arsehole is waving the gun at a disabled man, ordering him to carry some random stranger on his back. A stranger who may be disabled, or may be stupid, or may be lazy, or may just be unlucky. The stranger’s complicity aside, none of that is the disabled victim’s fault. And yet carry him he must because he’s not the one with the gun.

Will I be joining the vast majority of citizens in the countries of the developed world in supporting the welfare state, then? No. There is one crucial element of Bowman’s analogy that I have kept in my scenario, but which, as Jaded Voluntaryist implied when he said the baby was not drowning, does not apply to welfarism. That element is that my story depicted desperate circumstances, which is another way of saying it was a one-off. Welfarism is a system of indefinitely repeated thefts and partial enslavements. They say that it is a continuous crisis, that as there are always babies drowning somewhere you must always be rescuing them, but the insincerity of this claim is demonstrated by the fact that “somewhere” only includes the territory of your nation, state or other tax-gathering unit. Babies outside that arbitrary circle – glug, glug, goodbye. And how can it be justified for you to be forced to spend, say, 55% of your time baby-rescuing but not 56%, or every waking hour?

Overlapping this, welfarism is legitimized repeated thefts and partial enslavements. The man with the gun does not acknowledge or make reparation for his crime. It is he who decides what constitutes crime.

Furthermore there are all the factors that Jaded Voluntaryist implied in his re-casting of Bowman’s analogy. It is not just babies you have to keep rescuing, but adults, and once your presence is a predictable part of the system, those adults start acting like babies on the assumption that you will always be there. That is not likely to end well for you or them.

I will refrain from re-stating further objections to the system of welfare. I am sure most of you have thought of them already, but all these thoughts did lead me to another topic upon which the opinions of Samizdata readers and writers are much harder to predict.

Having to carry a stranger because otherwise the stranger will die is approximately the position of a pregnant woman expecting an unwanted child.

A key part of the pro-abortion argument is opposition to forcing a woman to give up part of her body and her time to carry the child. Foetus. Whatever. For instance, this comment from yesterday’s Guardian by commenter ZappBrannigan says,

Don’t let them win the battle of symbols. Don’t use their terminology. They are not “pro-life”. I propose “mandatory-gestation” instead.

Or here is commenter Thaizinred from the same comment thread:

No already born person has a right to directly use another person’s body to stay alive. People aren’t forced to donate their bodies, or body parts, even if someone else will die without them, even if the person who will die is their child.

The latter’s argument overstates the case. The pregant woman does not have to permanently give up her body or her body parts, but the general point is starkly made, and in a way that will resonate with many libertarians.

I am anti-abortion with reservations and get-out clauses. So I mock the Guardian readers and other “liberals” (in the degraded modern sense) who one minute angrily make the arguments above; who denounce anyone who opposes welfare or jibs at high taxes as a callous, selfish sociopath; who would abort themselves with a rusty coathanger rather than admit that Ayn Rand ever said a good word – and who next minute channel Rand , becoming the purest of pure no-forced-assistance libertarians when the topic is abortion. Such people end up saying that you must give half your time to helping strangers in no particular danger but have no obligation to bear temporary inconvenience to save the life of a being you caused to exist.

So much for them. What about you? To some, I would guess, it is very simple. You are not inconsistent. You are pure libertarians, perhaps indeed Objectivists and proud of it, and you make your stand on the property right of the woman to permanent, uninterrupted, unconstrained use of her own body. You might, perhaps, also think that the foetus is not human until birth but your argument does not rest on that, as Thaizinred’s comment did not.

To use another analogy, your view is that if the captain of a ship at sea sees survivors of a shipwreck clinging to wreckage, the captain can and, for some of you, ought to rescue them, but he does not have to and must not be compelled to.

A minority of libertarians – including me – have views more like these guys: that the foetus becomes human before birth (I shall leave aside the question of exactly when, or if “when” can be exact) and his, her, or its parents (I am trying not to beg the question of whether the foetus is human by choice of pronouns) owe him, her or it protection whatever the inconvenience just as they owe protection to their one day old or one year old child.

And suddenly I’ve run out of steam. This always happens when I talk about abortion and the related question of obligations to small children. There are so many sides to the question. What about rape? What about unintended conception? What about the difference between actively killing and merely withdrawing sustenance? Can I come up with a reason to forbid the Spartans to expose their babies on the mountainside that does not open the door to welfarism and all its ruinous consequences? What about this, that and t’other?

Abortion is a sharp issue. Not many of us have carried out a life or death rescue, with or without force being used. Quite a lot of people have had abortions or been closely affected by them. I hope discussion won’t be too acrimonious, but I think almost anything is better discussed than not.

I was a Thatcherite

I am a child of the Cold War. Nostalgia for me involves talk of the Fulda Gap, the Three Day Week and rats in London streets due to uncollected garbage, Genesis (the group not the Biblical one), Deep Purple, terrifying flairs and garish wide ties, Nationalisation, Arthur Scargill, Bloody Sunday … followed by Adam Ant, Ultravox and New Romantic shirts, Frankie says RELAX, Privatisation and… Margaret Thatcher.

I would not have described myself as a libertarian back then even though I more or less was (and indeed I was only vaguely aware of the term, preferring ‘Classical Liberal’ in the non-debased non-US sense). And I still do not call myself one really, even though I more or less am. But for more than a decade I did indeed take delight in calling myself a Thatcherite (even though I only ‘kinda’ was), primarily because it was a wonderful shortcut for discovering all I needed to know about whoever I was speaking to at that time, just by watching their reactions.

I fully expected the Cold War to end in either a global Götterdämmerung or at least with ‘us’ and ‘them’ killing each other in the streets of Britain as our utterly worthless political class (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose) finally imploded and the decades of animosities boiled over. No one was going to change the fundamental direction things were headed and I did not just expect to have Molotovs thrown in my direction, I was expecting to be throwing them myself because I hated ‘them’ as much as they hated ‘us’. And I still do.

And then… Thatcher happened.

She was the leader of the Stupid Party Conservative Party and yet she was saying a great many of the things I was thinking, even if I was not always saying them. Years before LOLcats and the internet, there was a caption above my head that read “WTF?”

The more I listened, the more I could hardly believe my ears. We needed a whole lost less state domestically and rather more state pointed Eastwards, because if you did not like the state we had now, you really would not like the one those guys (and assorted domestic traitors) wanted for us. This was only… sort of, kind of… what happened but there was no disguising that this was very clearly not the future the Evil Party Labour Party had in mind for us… and she was making it actually happen.

All this and all Thatcher did needs to be understood within the context of the Cold War (and winning thereof, against both the Soviets directly and their domestic UK stooges).

Even back then I knew she was not even nearly radical enough but the important thing was she actually talked openly and eloquently about the limits of state power. And she did perhaps the most masterful and subversive single act of any modern politician I can think of: right to buy… turning recipients of state largess into private property owners, permanently removing a valuable asset from state ownership.

Maggie Thatcher pissed off all the right people and I swung her name around like a handbag with a brick in it.

And of course ever since the day she was brought low by her own party, I have been looking for the next Thatcher, someone who can pick up the pieces and tie off the contradictions and replace that succession of worthless dissembling jackanapes from Major (the Grey Man) to Cameron (Heath-lite). Portillo had promise but proved to have feet of clay… David Davies had (and indeed still has) real promise and actually believes in civil society and the notion that Conservatives should be (gasp) conservative. But as a result the Stupid Party hate him and instead of Nigel Lawson, we have a moron like Osborn who five years after what happened in 2008, wants it all to happen again.

There is no new Thatcher on the horizon that I can see, unless by some improbable miracle Nigel Farage manages a 1922 style permanent reordering of the current dire political order of things. But then I could scarcely believe the likes of Margaret Hilda Thatcher could have happened either.

Requiescat in pace.

Common sense – not always obvious or common

Sometimes, when trying to win an argument, a person might invoke the old “but it is surely just common sense that X is X or Y is Y”. And let’s face it, we all do it a lot of the time. Trouble is, this can lead us astray on difficult moral issues, for example, or in science, where “common sense” once led people of high intelligence to scoff at the notion of gravity, or that the earth was a sphere, etc.  For all I know, people once thought it was “common sense” to have absolute rulers, burn witches, keep slaves and shun those of other races.

I thought about this issue when I read this item by Bryan Caplan, in discussing the Michael Huemer book that Perry Metzger recently wrote about here.

This comment in the EconLog thread, by RPLong, caught my eye:

Common sense is one of those fuzzy concepts that people invoke to buttress their arguments without providing additional facts or reasoning. I consider appeals to common sense to be a lot like saying “very, very, very…” That is, appealing to common sense provides more verbiage without providing any additional substance. It’s a waste of time. Unless we can actually show with facts and reasoning that our position is the more sensible, there is no use discussing that which appears most “commonly” to be sensible. If you have the more convincing position, then you can certainly demonstrate how much more convincing it is.

That’s surely the crux of the matter. It is one thing to say that “My opinion about the wrongness or rightness about abortion or the proper teaching of kids is just,  you know, common sense.” But as soon as you start to break down the issues, look a premises, unacknowledged philosophical/other assumptions, it gets much more complicated. In some cases, an appeal to “common sense” is just an argument from authority.



Forming an opinion about intellectual property

I have been on the fence about intellectual property for a long time. The suicide of Aaron Swartz set me thinking about it again.

The non-aggression principle allows the use of violence in defence of property. This is because if I spend an hour of my life mixing my labour with the land to make a widget, and then someone steals my widget, they have stolen an hour of my life. Some might say that if I spend an hour of my life on some intellectual pursuit then it is possible for someone to steal that hour of my life by stealing my ideas. Violence is then justified in response. But is that really what is going on?

Imagine I spend time writing a novel, print it on paper, then hand over the printed paper to Bob in exchange for money. Bob copies my novel out onto another piece of paper and sells it to Charlie. Clearly no theft has occurred; the state of my possessions is unchanged. If I devote a significant portion of my life to writing a novel because I hope to make a profit, and Bob makes so many copies that I am unable to, still no theft has occurred. I still have the original copy of the novel I wrote. What I have done is mix my labour with paper and ink to make some paper with a novel written on it. That it takes intellectual effort to make a novel that people want to read rather than paper scrawled with gibberish does not make Bob’s actions into theft.

Perhaps I can come to some agreement with Bob. I sell him my novel if he agrees not to make copies of it or let anyone else see it. If he does, I can attempt to punish him in some way appropriate to breaches of contract. When Bob shows my novel to Charlie and Charlie makes a copy of it, I can punish Bob. But I have made no agreement with Charlie, who can make copies with impunity.

If it is difficult to make copies of novels and only a few people can do it, I might be able to make a business selling paper copies because no-one who is able to will want to break agreements with me. But once someone invents a device that allows anyone to easily make copies, my profits will be affected. But still no theft has occurred. I can not resort to violence.

If I am clever I might invent some way to encrypt my novel and make sure it can only be viewed on devices registered to specific individuals all of whom have made agreements with me. But if David, who has made no agreement with me, examines the device, finds a flaw in it, and starts to make copies of my novel, still no theft has occurred. David is using his ingenuity to modify objects he already possesses.

Aaron Swartz copied scientific papers onto his computer. He did this by getting his computer to ask JSTOR’s computer to transmit them, and JSTOR’s computer did so. For this he faced 35 years in jail.

Knowledge I do not want

Protected Rights is the money accumulated from ‘contracting out’. It is also known as
‘contracting out of SERPS’, a ‘rebate pension’ or an ‘Appropriate Personal Pension (APP)’,
and may contain an element of National Insurance contribution by means of a rebate into
your APP. Until 2012 Protected Rights benefits will have to be kept separate from non
Protected Rights within your fund.

That is just one paragraph from a guide to filling in a form related to my pension. I do not want this stuff filling up the hard disk in my head. I want to free up space for important things like the plot of the Lord of the Rings fan fiction I am reading or the details of Climategate or even some mathematics or the rules to Magic: The Gathering.

But no, the great game of Nomic that officialdom plays goes on, and the boring stuff requires ever more attention.