On the last Friday of May, May 31, the Friday coming up, which happens also to be the last day of May, the speaker at my regular Last-Friday-of-the-Month meeting at my home will be Aiden Gregg.
I bumped into Aiden Gregg at another talk we both attended at the Institute of Economic Affairs, and quickly discovered two things about him. He is an academic psychologist, to be more specific: a lecturer at Southampton University. And, he is a straight-down-the-line, uncompromising libertarian. Those two facts alone were enough to get me inviting him to give a talk at my place. Libertarian economists are, if not two a penny, at least quite numerous, hence the existence of such institutions as the Institute of Economic Affairs. But libertarians in other academic specialities are much rarer, and we must, I think, do everything we can to encourage and make much of such people.
Just being a libertarian, and mingling and continuing to mingle with the kind of academics who are just about never libertarians and who in many cases have no idea that such a thing even exists, is itself something of an achievement. Even if you say very little about your libertarianism, and perhaps especially if you say very little, this can have all kinds of consequences. One particular consequence is that knowledge of what academic psychology typically consists of will be drawn into the libertarian movement. They may not learn much about our opinions, but we are far more likely to learn about theirs. As the late Chris Tame used to say, we need our people everywhere. And by that he meant especially everywhere in academia.
So, my attitude to Aiden Gregg is: well done mate, for just being what you are, never mind whatever else you might manage to do for the cause of liberty by actually saying stuff to your academic colleagues, and publishing things.
In that spirit of admiration, I said to Aiden Gregg, just talk about whatever you want to talk about.
Here is the email he sent me in which he said what he will be talking about:
The title of my talk will be “Sax and Violence”. “Sax” is not a typo but a contraction of “sex and “tax”!
In the talk I shall argue that, ethically speaking, the proactive seizure of one’s body and property by others, including for the greater social good, are analogous at an fundamental level.
According, it is either the case that both are generally legitimate, or that neither are generally legitimate, but not the case that one is generally legitimate but the other is not.
In Western cultures, however, the proactive seizure of a portion of someone’s property (or income, its monetary representation), for the purposes of enriching some while impoverishing others, if democratically elected rulers so dictate, is readily accepted by most democratic voters, and is seen not only as permissible, but also as obligatory, or at all events, regrettably necessary.
In contrast, in the same cultures (though not others), the proactive seizure of a portion of someone’s body, for the purposes of sexually satisfying some while sexually dissatisfying others, if democratically elected rulers so dictate, is firmly rejected by most democratic voters, and is seen as not only forbidden, but also as repugnant, and in any case, wholly unnecessary.
If, ethically speaking, it is not the case that one is legitimate but the other is not – and I shall attempt to rebut several key objections – then the acceptance of the first, but the rejection of the second, is an ethical bias stands in need of explanation.
One theoretical approach to accounting for such a bias would be system justification theory, developed by left-liberal thinkers to explain the persistence of social hierarchy, but arguably even better suited to explaining the perceived legitimacy of statist authority.
So, the talk will feature some ethics and some psychology.
So, this will be a talk that is in several ways outside the usual libertarian boxes, both in terms of who is giving it, and what it will be about. Good.
If this or any other of these meetings are of interest to you, and you aren’t already on my email list, get on it by emailing me. Click where it says “Contact”, top left, here.
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.’
I’ll pay my share of the Thatcher funeral cost and that of two objectors if they’ll pay my share of government spending I don’t like.
UPDATE: At least Mr Cameron is being as consistent as I would have expected.
The state of nature is not the halcyon, bucolic life of myth. Existentially, the state of nature is a place of predators and prey. To escape that uncertainty, predators or prey can join together in mutual association, forming societies. Associations of individuals seeking escape from the state of nature can take one of two existential forms: Collectivist or Individualist.
In a collective existential state, society is one living organism: society and its members are one, and individuals exist only as inextricable parts of collective society. Society itself is alive – so by extension, the rights to liberty and property are also vested in society. Collective societies may grant privilege to members, but they may not recognize individual rights. All rights fall to the living collective society.¹
A collective society must have self-preservation as its primary function, and disentanglement of a collective is the death of something that had life.² In a collective existential state individuals are integral to the community: societal authority must control who joins or leaves the society. Collective societies without strong borders and powerful immune systems lack protection from external and internal threats. Let either its borders or its internal ‘immune system’ fail, and a collective society will bleed out its energy or be overwhelmed by parasites. Allowing departure enables internal threats to reposition themselves as external threats. Allowing departure allows the most productive and capable producers to escape with their skills to where they may benefit the enemies of the collective. This is why, as collectivist societies approach ideological purity, they invariably embrace genocide.
→ Continue reading: Not getting it yet
Should the word “rape” in the American term “statutory rape” be replaced with some other word?
I would argue in favour of replacement that it diminishes the perceived magnitude of the crime of rape in the ordinary sense (“rape rape” to use Whoopi Goldberg’s term, or “legitimate rape” to use Todd Akin’s) to use the same word for those cases of statutory rape where consent was present, or arguably present. It also makes calm discussion and clear thinking about the complex issue of consent much harder.
Incidentally, I think that most of the criticism that both Goldberg and Akin got for using the terms they did was unjust. They both deserved criticism for making public pronouncements about subjects of which they knew next to nothing. Goldberg apparently did not know that Polanski’s crime was indeed a particularly vile coercive rape of a minor. I suspect that she assumed that talented people from her own social milieu did not do that sort of thing. Akin had the silly belief that women’s bodies have the power to prevent conception by an act of will. However I do not think for a moment that when he said “legitimate” rape he meant that there were circumstances where rape should be permitted, and I do not think that those howling for his head really believe he meant that either. He just used the wrong word. He should have said “coercive rape” – but the very fact that people need to hunt around for a term that gets that across, and get into trouble when they get it wrong, is why I think the term of law should be renamed.
I am not arguing against the existence of such laws, although no doubt many of them could do with adjustment. I am told the term does not exist in English or Scottish law but it has certainly soaked into British public discourse, muddying the waters.
The following extract from Permutation City by Greg Egan covers several topics of interest to Samizdatistas and the commentariat. The “Copies” are fully conscious computer simulations of people who have had their brains scanned. The first speaker, Durham, is a biological human trying to persuade the Copy, Thomas, that in the long term he is in danger of being switched off, even though the computer he runs on is private property, by governments claiming the moral high ground.
‘…The privileged class of Copies will grow larger, more powerful — and more threatening to the vast majority of people, who still won’t be able to join them. The costs will come down, but not drastically – just enough to meet some of the explosion in demand from the executive class, once they throw off their qualms, en masse. Even in secular Europe, there’s a deeply ingrained prejudice that says dying is the responsible, the moral thing to do. There’s a Death Ethic – and the first substantial segment of the population abandoning it will trigger a huge backlash. A small enough elite of giga-rich Copies is accepted as a freak show; tycoons can get away with anything, they’re not expected to act like ordinary people. But just wait until the numbers go up by a factor of ten.’
Thomas had heard it all before. ‘We may be unpopular for a while. I can live with that. But you know, even now we’re vilified far less than people who strive for organic hyper-longevity — transplants, cellular rejuvenation, whatever — because at least we’re no longer pushing up the cost of health care, competing for the use of overburdened medical facilities. Nor are we consuming natural resources at anything like the rate we did when we were alive. If the technology improves sufficiently, the environmental impact of the wealthiest Copy could end up being less than that of the most ascetic living human. Who’ll have the high moral ground then? We’ll be the most ecologically sound people on the planet.’
Durham smiled. The puppet. ‘Sure — and it could lead to some nice ironies if it ever came true. But even low environmental impact might not seem so saintly, when the same computing power could be used to save tens of thousands of lives through weather control.’
‘Operation Butterfly has inconvenienced some of my fellow Copies very slightly. And myself not at all.’
‘Operation Butterfly is only the beginning. Crisis management, for a tiny part of the planet. Imagine how much computing power it would take to render sub-Saharan Africa free from drought.’
‘Why should I imagine that, when the most modest schemes are still unproven? And even if weather control turns out to be viable, more supercomputers can always be built. It doesn’t have to be a matter of Copies versus flood victims.’
‘There’s a limited supply of computing power right now, isn’t there? Of course it will grow – but the demand, from Copies, and for weather control, is almost certain to grow faster. Long before we get to your deathless utopia, we’ll hit a bottleneck — and I believe that will bring on a time when Copies are declared illegal. Worldwide. If they’ve been granted human rights, those rights will be taken away. Trusts and foundations will have their assets confiscated. Supercomputers will be heavily policed. Scanners – and scan files – will be destroyed. It may be forty years before any of this happens – or it may be sooner. Either way, you need to be prepared.’
If anyone ever had any hopes that Boris was any different to the dreary authoritarians who populate the system, this should lay such notions to rest. He is very much ‘one of them‘.
He purports to have ‘libertarian instincts’ and yet thinks the role of the state should extend to telling people at gun point what they can eat. To hell with taking a moral position and respecting self ownership, says Boris, what are the utilitarian arguments?
A vote for this man was sadly a vote for more of the same regulatory statism that spews out of the political class.
The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave . . . Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.
– Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775, at the second of the Virginia Conventions.
The full speech is available here It’s not long so, as Glenn Reynolds would say, “read the whole thing.”
I used to know a little girl with severe mental and physical disabilities. She had to be lifted and moved dozens of times a day as she was unable to walk or crawl. It was a source of great worry to her parents how they would cope when she grew up and could no longer be lifted easily. More distant, but greater, was their fear concerning how she would be cared for when they died. Their fears did not come to pass for the saddest of reasons; she herself died when she was still quite small.
I thought of that family when I read about Ashley. Ashley is another little girl with severe mental and physical disabilities; even more deeply disabled than the child I once knew. Ashley is fourteen, but is described as having the cognitive abilities of a three month old baby – in truth, if the description of what she can and cannot do is correct, a three month old baby is better able to communicate than she is. Her parents share the same fears as those of the parents of the girl I knew. They have taken drastic action: they have had her treated surgically and with hormones so as to ensure, within the limits of the technology, that she remains a child for the remainder of her life.
“It was carried out in the belief that her quality of life would improve as it would save her from physical discomfort and pain”, reports the Telegraph. The Guardian, which ran opposing comment articles on Ashley’s case, suggests that another motive was to reduce the effort of lifting her and hence extend the time for which her parents could care for her. I wonder if an unmentioned further reason – one that sounds ghastly but might make sense given human nature – was to try to ensure better care for Ashley when her parents are gone by keeping her cuter. It is a sad fact that many people will find their protective instincts aroused by the sight of a mentally disabled child (or apparent child), yet flinch at the sight of a mentally disabled adult.
Ashley cannot consent and cannot withold consent. This procedure might help – no, it very likely will help to give her the best quality of life possible, for as long as possible in the care of those who love her. Yet the potential for abuse is horrible. Her body is being irrevocably altered for the convenience of those who care for her (but that convenience is no small thing, and convenience is too weak a word; whether they can cope is a major determinant of her quality of life.) If we can do this to Ashley, what else can we do to future Ashleys? More severe modifications to more severely disabled people? To less severely disabled people? To any people?
Even as supplied by an unscrupulous underground market and taken blind by consumers in a variety of unsuitable ways, they really aren’t very dangerous:
According to the ONS data, in 2010 there were more helium deaths  than cannabis, ecstasy, mephedrone and GHB related deaths put together.
‘Helium?’ you may ask… It’s classed as a drug but no, it doesn’t do anything. But it is so hard to buy anything reliably lethal in the UK that helium is a sophisticated means of self-asphyxiation for suicide. So even those 32 cases should not be classed under malign side effect of drug-use. Death in those cases was a positive result.
A disenfranchised population becomes an untrustworthy population, since it loses the habit of making its own decisions. The majority become childish in hundreds of ways, looking to the State as parent, complaining without displaying a willingness to any form of self-determination. The more liberty one has, the more indvidual responsibility is required of one to make rational, well-considered decisions in the context of one’s social and personal life. Most of us are educated to think we are not capable of this when, in fact, most of us are thoroughly capable but simply lack either the circumstances or the determination to test ourselves. An authoritarian, paternalistic State encourages us in this belief, by its actions as well as by its rhetoric. By its very nature it creates a morally enfeebled, child-like population. This population in turn ‘proves’ its inability to control its own fate and consequently ‘proves’ the need for the paternalism which created it in the first place. There is no fundamental difference between Tory and Socialist paternalism.
– Michael Moorcock, The Retreat From Liberty, 1983
One Catherine Bennet has yet another article in the Guardian about that jam experiment. Hers is called Since when was giving people a choice a good idea?
It is not merely the chorus from anguished parents (and patients), that they cannot exercise choice where there is no spare capacity, that might give a rational education secretary pause, but a growing body of research indicating that too much choice is overwhelming. Gove will know of the much cited experiment with jam, by the US academic Sheena Iyengar, which found consumers were more than six times more likely to buy a pot if they had to choose from six varieties, rather than 24. If uncertainty about preserves is a problem one can probably live with, or possibly enjoy, a similar helplessness in the face of big, irreversible decisions is, to judge by a new study, State of Confusion by Professor Harriet Bradley of Bristol University, something that should worry a government that advertises choice as an unmitigated good.
Mr Eugenides says,
So, just to recap: a woman who used to live with a lord in a 365-room mansion, now in a household with a combined income of some quarter of a million pounds a year, has read a PR puff commissioned and paid for to advertise a price comparison website, and uses this as evidence that we should all just take what we’re given by the state and shut up.
Ironically, price comparison websites are themselves a market mechanism for making choice easier.
I say, to Catherine Bennett and the next fifteen journalists to go into an ecstasy of servility when pondering this little demonstration that some people find shopping boring, shut up about the jam already. It’s jam. The process of choosing it has no deeper meaning. Unless one is a connoisseur of jam, in which case one probably finds choosing between 24 varieties a pleasing experience, as people usually do when shopping for something that interests them.
Look at it this way, Ms Bennett. You have twice to my knowledge chosen a man as mate and helpmeet. Was making that choice from all the prospective partners you could have had ever stressful? There is some literature – like about half of it – to suggest that some people find it so. Some people regret their choice. The evidence suggests that you have at least once. Can we assume that if by any sad chance you find yourself seeking a man again you are willing to let a civil servant choose for you?