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]

Samizdata quote of the day

Life in New Malden is just unimaginably better than in that in North Korea

– North Korean defector Kim Joo-il, stating the obvious from (where else) suburban London.

Great article on “designer demagogues”

Douglas Murray argues that in today’s supposedly anti-politics culture, a distrust of the current crop of folk in power does not translate into genuine liberalism and accountability – such as would happen if Whitehall and Brussells were cut down to size – but something potentially very nasty indeed. And he takes a look at the likes of Owen Jones and Russell Brand as symptoms of a wider problem:

Writing about those rioters who in the summer of 2011 smashed, burned and looted shops across Britain, Brand writes that their actions were no worse than the consumerism which he describes as having been “imposed” upon them. And this, I cannot help thinking, is an especially revealing phrase — entirely at one with a popular world view. That view sees “us” as poor victims of forces and temptations which are not only pushed upon us, but to which, when they are pushed upon us long enough, we will inevitably and necessarily succumb. If you are in a “consumerist” society long enough how could you be expected to just not buy crap you can’t afford when you don’t need it? No — the answer must be that of course you will succumb. And from there any bad behaviour — even looting and burning — will be excused because it will be someone else’s fault.

This is the world view of an addict. And the answer to all our society’s problems of the addict Brand is one answer which some addicts seek for their addiction — which is that everyone is to be blamed for their failings except themselves. Grand conspiracy theories and establishment plots offer great promise and comfort to such people. They suggest that when we fail or when we fall we do so never because of any conceivable failing or inability of our own, but because some bastard — any bastard — made us do it, has been planning to do it and perhaps always intended to do so. Of course the one thing missing in all this — the one thing that doesn’t appear in either of these books or in any of their conspiratorial and confused demagogic world view — is the only thing which has saved anyone in the past and the only thing which will save anybody in the future: not perfect societies, perfectly engineered economies and perfectly equal, flattened-out collective-based societies, but human agency alone.

This analysis is spot-on, and it explains why, even though concepts such as “the ruling class” or “establishment” can have some sort of value in explaining how groups of people act and think, they can become very dangerous without understanding that people respond to incentives, and that we make a mistake in seeing events as being driven by close-knit cabals or groups wielding enormous, but somehow secret, power. In other words, what I have learned from subjects such as “public choice economics” or the insights of writers such as Milton Friedman or a Henry Hazlitt is that seeing dark forces at work to explain things like bank crises or environmental problems is more about what people find emotionally satisfying than what actually happens 99 per cent of the time.

Although I should not have to spell it out, in the past, a lot of the sort of thinking that is being described here took the form of anti-semitism. And it is probably no great accident that this is also on the rise at the moment.

Samizdata quote of the day

To people saying “pulling The Interview means the terrorists won”: we’ve been taking our shoes off at airports for no reason for 14 years…

– @ozchrisrock (Not the real Mr Rock, but as quotable.)

It was slightly quicker to go from London to New York 55 years ago on a de Havilland Comet, including the refuelling stop in the middle, than to go direct on a modern airliner and take in the two security theatre performances at either end.

Samizdata quote of the day

We are in the midst of a war on rape. From American campuses to British courthouses, from newspaper op-ed pages to the weird world of online petitions, ‘zero tolerance’ of rape has been declared. And who could possibly be against it? No one is ‘pro-rape’. So surely everyone will cheer a war on rape. Not so fast. Wars on rape have been declared before, and often for deeply reactionary reasons, having the effect of harming society rather than helping women. Consider the ‘war on rape’ declared in America’s Deep South in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the KKK and other racists likewise declared zero tolerance of rape – rape committed by black men, that is – and signalled their determination to wipe out this ‘ultimate transgression’. There was little positive in that crusade. And here are five ways in which today’s non-racist feministic ‘war on rape’ echoes the lynch-mob logic of yesteryear’s racist ‘war on rape’

Brendan O’Neill

Samizdata quote of the day

OK, Russell, so if you don’t like representative democracy, what’s your alternative? Anarchy? Fascism? Monarchical absolutism? An Islamic Caliphate? Because you can’t have a functioning democracy without politicians; and politicians, in every parliament, tend to group themselves officially or unofficially into parties.

Daniel Hannan

Samizdata quote of the day

“Context matters—everyone agrees about that. And it’s the context that distinguishes the ordinary kinds of communication, protected by the First Amendment, from those kinds of statements, like threats or defamatory comments, that are crimes. The law recognizes that a threat is a kind of injury, over and above the language in which it is communicated. If I were to move my hand swiftly toward your face, and you flinch, that’s an assault because you’ve been made to reasonably fear for your safety. When exactly the same act is carried out through language, the protection that communication normally receives should not cover up the criminality of the underlying assault. Holding Elonis responsible for his actions threatens no serious threat to the First Amendment.”

Timothy Sandefur, making an argument about how threatening messages issued via social media, etc, should be regarded from the point of view of free speech. I need to reflect a bit more about what I think about the cases he’s cited, but the whole article is worth reading.

Samizdata quote of the day

Pornography is the canary in the coal mine of free speech. It is the first freedom to die.

Myles Jackman

Quoted at the end of this Adam Smith Institute blog posting by Charlotte Bowyer

Samizdata quote of the day

When David Cameron used his speech to Conservative party conference to announce that he wants to increase income tax thresholds there was uproar from his critics on the left. How dare the Prime Minister promise a tax cut when the UK is still running a giant deficit and adding to the debt burden with each passing day?

The UK Treasury’s ‘Ready Reckoner’ estimates that the changes to the higher rate of tax and an increase in the personal allowance would “cost” £7 billion. Officials have been briefing that they have concerns about whether the threshold changes are “affordable.”

But this is nonsense, pure and simple. A hike in the thresholds doesn’t cost a penny – it just means politicians have less of our money to spend. So you can either cut back, or you can borrow; we’ve tried the latter, and we’ve now got a £1.45 trillion debt pile to deal with whilst paying more in debt interest every year than the country spends on defence. I’d counsel, therefore, that the former is a rather better option.

Indeed the very concept of tax cuts costing anything at all implies that all the money in the economy belongs to the government, and that which it deigns to allow us to keep is some sort of present from a Chancellor who once a year puts on a jaunty Santa hat to hand out alms to the masses.

Johnathan Isaby

Samizdata quote of the day

“My father used to say, ‘Eternal paranoia is the price of liberty. Vigilance is not enough’.”

Berlin Game, by Len Deighton, page 57.

Samizdata quote of the day

Politically-correct academia has all the essential features of a cult. It’s a small group of people who reject mainstream society and believe that they alone know the truth. It is authoritarian and dogmatic and demands unquestioning obedience to nonsensical doctrines. Conformity is maintained through shaming, intimidation and the expulsion of unbelievers. But young acolytes must pay a fortune to reach even the lowest rank with little chance of progressing any further, while a few people at the top grant themselves ever more lavish rewards. It’s Gramscientology.

– Samizdata commenter AndrewZ

Samizdata quote of the day

If your go-to image of a student is someone who’s free-spirited and open-minded, who loves having a pop at orthodoxies, then you urgently need to update your mind’s picture bank. Students are now pretty much the opposite of that. It’s hard to think of any other section of society that has undergone as epic a transformation as students have. From freewheelin’ to ban-happy, from askers of awkward questions to suppressors of offensive speech, in the space of a generation. My showdown with the debate-banning Stepfords at Oxford and the pre-crime promoters at Cambridge echoed other recent run-ins I’ve had with the intolerant students of the 21st century. I’ve been jeered at by students at the University of Cork for criticising gay marriage; cornered and branded a ‘denier’ by students at University College London for suggesting industrial development in Africa should take precedence over combating climate change; lambasted by students at Cambridge (again) for saying it’s bad to boycott Israeli goods. In each case, it wasn’t the fact the students disagreed with me that I found alarming — disagreement is great! – it was that they were so plainly shocked that I could have uttered such things, that I had failed to conform to what they assume to be right, that I had sought to contaminate their campuses and their fragile grey matter with offensive ideas.

Brendan O’Neill

Samizdata quote of the day

But the reality of Chakrabarti’s On Liberty, an awkward amalgam of the semi-personal and the mainstream political, never even comes close to realising the promise. Instead, it turns out to be a desperately dull encomium to the human-rights industry, a verveless trudge down Good Cause lane, with every battle against New Labour anti-terror legislation, each scuffle with the ASBO-happy authorities, eventually turning into a victory for the indispensable European Court of Human Rights. Hooray for Strasbourg! If John Stuart Mill wasn’t so liberal (and dead), he’d be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for calumny.

Tim Black