Last Friday, the latest Brian’s Last Friday came and went, very satisfactorily. Thank you Preston Byrne. Turnout was encouraging and included a couple of new young faces.
Over the summer, it was a bit of an effort rounding up a sufficiency of attenders. In the summer, people are doing other things, outside, away. But I have other thoughts about why this enterprise has been a bit of a struggle to get cranked up again, which is that new (even revived (maybe especially revived)) enterprises do tend to be a bit of a struggle.
Sometimes a new enterprise will catch fire immediately, in a good way I mean. But most require a period of, as it were, rubbing sticks together. Even overnight success seldom happens overnight.
Quite aside from all the particular difficulties associated with your particular enterprise, there is, when you start something new, another process that cuts in, which is that although all the human targets whom you want to be paying attention may want you and your new thing to do well, they will also fear that you and it won’t do well and that you will give up on it and very soon be enthusing about something else entirely, or about nothing at all. So, meanwhile, the best thing for them to do about your new thing, to begin with, is to ignore it.
It’s not that they hope that your thing will die when only a few weeks or months old, merely that they need to be sure that it probably won’t, and that if it does die it does so quickly and without fuss, like a very early rather than a later abortion. They need to know that you are serious about it, before they start contributing, even with such a small thing as showing up for a meeting every month or three. They need to know that you are irrationally committed to the venture, before, rationally, they join in. (Similar processes apply, I note, in the way that animal mating behaviour evolves. Often only what looks like a crazy amount of investment in display will attract commitment. Much of commerce also consists of seemingly excessive displays and commitments.)
Sometimes people put all of the above in the form of the claim that it takes time for your target consumers, attenders, investors, whatever, to hear about your new project or product. That’s often true, of course, but that’s not quite it. What really takes time is for them to start taking it seriously.
With many enterprises, the key question is: Are you willing to do all the work yourself? And to go on doing it? For an irrationally long time? Unless it’s yes across that board, others will fear to join in, because they will fear that they will be depended upon. If they even suspect that the plan is to dump most of the work onto them, as soon as they start joining in in numbers, then they’ll never join in the first place.
I call it the Time of the Folded Arms.
Oh yes, Brian’s Last Fridays. He’s doing them again, is he? Yes I think I heard. Mmm. Ask me about that in a year’s time, if it’s still happening.
All enterprises involve more effort, to start with, than you might think, even tiny enterprises like these meetings of mine. And since my meetings are so tiny, and so twentieth century, might I not soon reckon that the not-so-tiny effort involved in making them work well is excessive, and give up? I have to show that this isn’t so, for success to materialise.
Luckily, I had a very good speaker to kick things off in January, who pulled in a crowd big enough to crowd my small living room. And luckily, a core group of already quite regular attenders straight away found the meetings appealing, although happily it has never been exactly the same people every time. So, it has never been embarrassing. But there have times when I feared that it was about to be. For one particular evening, I called in some favours to ensure non-embarrassment. It turned out that I needn’t have worried about that night either, but I did.
By such means do I demonstrate my irrational commitment to success.
See also this posting from a while back, which proclaims that, following an entirely rational Brian’s Last Friday on November 29th, there will, somewhat irrationally, be another one on December 27th.
I don’t agree with all of what Charles Stross says here (I detect more than just a whiff of leftist nonsense when he refers to “neoliberalism”), but this article is worth a read, as it pertains to how attitudes towards issues such as national security and the role of the state are changing. Excerpt:
We experience cultural continuity with our parents’ and our children’s generations. Even when we don’t see eye to eye with our parents on political questions or we sigh in despair about our kids’ fashion sense or taste in music, we generally have a handle on what makes them tick. But a human lifetime seldom spans more than three generations, and the sliding window of one’s generation screens out that which came before and that which comes after; they lie outside our personal experience. We fool ourselves into thinking that our national culture is static and slow-moving, that we are the inheritors of a rich tradition. But if we could go back three or four generations, we would find ourselves surrounded by aliens — people for whom a North Atlantic crossing by sail was as slow and risky as a mission to Mars, people who took it for granted that some races were naturally inferior and that women were too emotionally unstable to be allowed to vote. The bedrock of our cultural tradition is actually quicksand. We reject many of our ancestors’ cherished beliefs and conveniently forget others, not realizing that, in turn, our grandchildren may do the same to ours.
Snowden is 30; he was born in 1983. Chelsea Manning is 25. Generation Y started around 1980 to 1982. But the signs of disobedience among Generation Y are merely a harbinger of things to come. Next up is Generation Z — the cohort born since the millennium.
Members of Generation Z are going to come of age in the 2020s, in a world racked by extreme climate events. Many of them will be sibling-less only children, for the demographic transition to a low birthrate/low death rate equilibrium lies generations in their past. They may not be able to travel internationally — energy costs combined with relative income decline is slowly stripping the middle classes of that capability — but they’ll be products of a third-generation Internet culture.
Generation Z will arrive brutalized and atomized by three generations of diminished expectations and dog-eat-dog economic liberalism. Most of them will be so deracinated that they identify with their peers and the global Internet culture more than their great-grandparents’ post-Westphalian nation-state. The machineries of the security state may well find them unemployable, their values too alien to assimilate into a model still rooted in the early 20th century. But if you turn the Internet into a panopticon prison and put everyone inside it, where else are you going to be able to recruit the jailers? And how do you ensure their loyalty?
If I were in charge of long-term planning for human resources in any government department, I’d be panicking. Even though it’s already too late.
The point that Stross misses, in his foolish line about “dog-eat-dog economic liberalism”, is that the older, more statist idea of people being forced to join big trade unions and having “jobs for life” was based on a zero-sum idea that the way to get ahead was through political pull and the coercive reach of the state, not through the voluntary exchange of the market and entrepreneurship. Sure, it is is the case that the liberalism associated with a more individualised economic situation (hooray!) is one in which ideas of loyalty to a company for life find it harder to take root. But is that such a bad thing? In other words, is what Stross is describing a feature or a bug?
Once upon a time there was a wise princess. She lived in a magic castle together with her friends, who were also wise. One day, the princess, taking pity on the ignorance of the common folk, decided to go among them and teach them.
Alas! Some rough people said rude and nasty things to the princess. She had to run back to her castle and issue a proclamation. This what it said: Anthea Butler: Conservatives bashed me for speaking out about the Zimmerman verdict.
The princess was very sad. She even wondered if the people were worthy to go on being allowed to hear her wise words.
What is the role of a public intellectual in the age of Twitter and soundbites? Is it to share your thoughts for the public good, or is it to curate the heaps of hate emails, tweets and right-wing articles that trash your intellectual and social work?
The princess felt that she had to choose between sharing her wisdom and keeping a record of all the bad things the rough people had said to her. Why she felt that way, we do not know, but we know the reason was wise.
Anyway, the princess held her head high as befitted her rank. Who cares what peasants say anyway? Then she had a good idea. She gave herself a medal.
In the age of conservative grievances about education however, how many people will be willing to go through what I do every time I publish an op-ed or in order to share what they have spent a lifetime to learn?
Ian Bennett made an interesting comment on an article published the other day that is worth making a discussion point. It actually makes two points… firstly that politicians will say whatever they think they need to say to stay in power… I regard this as a truism and so not really worth discussing other than to say “indeed”. The second point however was more contentious:
Religion is unconditionally dangerous, simply because it is irrational; the distinction between “extreme” and “moderate” adherents is a false one, and is better regarded as “consistent” and “inconsistent”. The inconsistent moderates may not actually call publicly for the murder of non-believers (despite that being a core dogma of their faith), but they provide the context in which the consistent extremists operate, namely that adherence to a religion is a perfectly acceptable way of life. Eating only fish on a Friday “because God tells me to” is no different in its motivation from committing any other act “because God tells me to”. If we accept the performance of an act which has no rational underpinning simply because of its motivation (“God told me to”), we must accept the performance of all acts with that same motivation. This is what consistent, “extremist”, religious adherents do.
I sort of agree… which is to say, yes but no but…
I think the nature of what “God tells you to do” is a non-trivial distinction between religions and whilst even Buddhism has gone through militant phases, some religions default suppositions are broadly positive (i.e. if you are actually being ‘consistent’ you really cannot justify slaughtering the Cathars based on anything Jesus said), whilst others have clearly negative default suppositions (i.e. yes you really can justify slaughtering apostates based on what Mohammed said and there really is not a lot of wiggle room if you are being consistent).
As a atheist myself, I regard God as nothing more than a psychological artifice, but it also seems demonstrably true that many believers are nevertheless entirely capable of rational moral judgement that is not of any practical difference to my God-free moral theory based way of going about things. Indeed many of the writers for Samizdata are people with religious beliefs.
Is this simply what Ian describes as the difference between consistent versus inconsistent believers? Not so sure. If a religion can include “God says be rational because you are responsible for your actions due to having free will and are not merely God’s meat puppet” and also says “you will roast in eternal hellfire if you murder anyone, so put that gun down dude!”… well I think a ‘consistent’ follower of that particular God will find it rather harder to say “Kill ‘em all for God will know his own”. Indeed it seems rather inconsistent even if slaughtering Cathars is very much The Done Thing these days.
So I think maybe religions are conditionally dangerous rather than unconditionally so. When following “the word of God”, it is fairly important what that particular God has to say… and clearly contrary to what many adherents claim, the God Jesus was referring to and the one Mohammed was referring to have about as much in common as Freyja and Shiva.
It often seems as if our opponents live in a different universe. Perhaps they do.
From time to time I do Samizdata postings about how rapidly technology is advancing these days. Recently I stuck up an SQotD on the subject. Here is another such posting. Basically it’s two pictures.
The first is a picture of my first proper computer (I do not count the Sinclair Spectrum), purchased in about … 1981? This computer, an Osborne 1, consisted of a very small screen, a keyboard, and about half a ton of electrical gubbins, including two disk drives, each accommodating disks that were, I seem to recall, 256kb in capacity. 256kb was a lot of kb in those days.
The second picture is of my latest computer, which is a Google Nexus 4, plus a couple of bits of plastic to prop up the Google Nexus 4, plus a keyboard:
For me, the killer app of all computers has always been word processing, the ability to type a piece of writing into a machine, and then to modify and expand the piece at will, and only when it’s nearly finished have it automatically printed out. And then printed out again if you need that, as you almost certainly will. Amazing. (This being the twenty first century, you may want to read “print out” as “publish”.)
My first “word processor” (the inverted commas because word processing as we now use that phrase was exactly what it couldn’t do), which I used for about a decade, was an Olivetti typewriter. For this I paid twenty five quid, which is about the same as what I recently paid for the Google Nexus 4 after you include inflation. For those who do not know what a “typewriter” is, the basic rule was that the only way you could store the words you had thought of, in the order you wanted them in, was to print them all out, one letter at a time, as you thought of them. The switch from that to the Osborne 1 remains the single most exciting technological leap of my life, although the arrival of blogs runs this a close second.
As for the smallness of the screens of both these computers, well, each to his own, and I entirely get why many would hate to process words on such a tiny thing as the Google Nexus 4 or with a screen as tiny as that of the Osborne 1. But I loved the small Osborne screen. There was something very appealing to me about those tiny little letters, so much more so than the big clunky letters on other computers of that era. Me being short-sighted, the distinction that really matters to me is not big-screen-versus-small-screen; it is screen (however big) far away: bad, versus screen (however small) near: good. And if the Osborne was not in any very meaningful way “portable”, it was at least, to use a word from those days, “luggable”, from one work top to another, as and when the need arose, which for me, then, it often did.
And just as I loved the tiny old Osborne screen, I now rather like the Google Nexus 4 screen. But of course what I really like about the Google Nexus 4 screen is that, since a tiny screen is all that it is, it is so light and so small that I am happy to carry it around in case I need it to process any words, even if I never actually do, on that particular expedition. For me, in my present aging and physically weakened state, the difference between a computer too heavy to carry around without being irritated by it unless I use it, and a computer so light that its weight is not a problem even if I don’t touch it all day long, is a big difference. Even today’s small laptops – minute compared to the Osborne – fail this test, for me, now.
The beginnings of this posting were mostly typed into the second of the two computers pictured above, before being transferred into my regular non-portable computer, the one that resides permanently in my kitchen. I am still amazed at how well this transfer worked, the very first time I tried it. While I was doing the transfer, it looked as if all the paragraphing would be lost, but when I pasted everything into a text file on the kitchen computer, there it all was, just as it began. Magic.
In addition to being a word processor, the Google Nexus 4 is also, as already noted, a telephone. And like all mobile telephones these days, it can also send what used to be called telegrams. It is also an A-Z Guide to London, and a map of the Underground. The map even works, unlike an A-Z of London, when I venture outside of London. It tells me when the London bus I await will reach me. It is a mini web-browser, a mini-Kindle, and a means of posting relatively straightforward postings to my blog or (when I have worked that out) to this blog. It is a gadget for identifying music recordings just by it listening to them, being just as good at identifying classical recordings as it is a identifying pop. It is even a rudimentary camera. All of which makes it that much more likely that I will use my Google Nexus 4 for something during just about every expedition I go on. The old Osborne 1 could do none of these things. But you knew all that, and much else besides which I have yet to discover. You get the pictures.
I am, of course, not the only one who has noticed how well technology is doing these days compared to politics. If you look for this particular meme, you see it everywhere. Here is a whole book with that notion as its starting point, linked to recently by Instapundit. (Who, by the way, also linked to and recycled that SQotD. I thought he might like that one.) Says the author of this book, Kevin Williamson:
Why are smart phones so smart – getting better and cheaper every year – while our government is so dumb? Is there a way to apply the creative and productive institutions that produced the iPhone to education, public schools, or Medicare?
He thinks there is, as do I. More from and about Williamson here.
LATER: Instapundit quotes Williamson again:
We treat technological progress as though it were a natural process, and we speak of Moore’s law — computers’ processing power doubles every two years — as though it were one of the laws of thermodynamics. But it is not an inevitable, natural process. It is the outcome of a particular social order.
Haifa, Israel. January 2012.
Jerusalem. January 2012
Jordan River Valley, January 2012
Istanbul, Turkey. February 2012
Aronda, Goa. March 2012
Mumbai, India. March 2012
Nowa Huta, Poland. April 2012
Karak, Jordan. May 2012.
Dimona, Israel. May 2012.
Jerusalem. May 2012.
Jericho, Palestine. May 2012
Bethlehem. May 2012
Ari’el, Judea and Samaria. May 2012
Gamla, Golan Heights. May 2012
Paris, France. June 2012
Opole, Poland. July 2012
Mostyn, Wales. September 2012
Berlin, Germany. September 2012
Będzin, Poland. September 2012
Ostrava, Czech Republic. October 2012
Budapest, Hungary. October 2012
Uzhhorod, Carpathian Ruthenia. October 2012
Berlin, Germany. November 2012
Kraków, Poland. November 2012
Mt Olympus, Republic of Cyprus. December 2012
Pyla, United Nations Buffer Zone, December 2012
Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area. December 2012
Varosha, Famagusta. December 2012.
Salamis, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. December 2012
Akrotiri Sovereign Base Area. December 2012
Among the many newspaper reports from Connecticut on the massacre of children in Sandy Hook is one in the Times by David Taylor, remembering an earlier crime:
Sixteen years ago I witnessed the same phenomenon in Dunblane where another school lost a group of children. The sadness seemed to seep out of the stones of the Scottish town after Thomas Hamilton opened fire.
From what abyss does such a crime come? I was searching on the internet for the words of the 130th Psalm, De profundis clamo ad te, domine – Out of the depths I cry unto thee, O Lord – and found the letter written from prison by Oscar Wilde which was later given the title De Profundis by his literary executor. I have not yet read it all but the opening words resonated for me because of the contrast between the depths of grief (Wilde describes hearing the news of his mother’s death while in prison) and a happy season:
. . . Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one centre of pain. The paralysing immobility of a life every circumstance of which is regulated after an unchangeable pattern, so that we eat and drink and lie down and pray, or kneel at least for prayer, according to the inflexible laws of an iron formula: this immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day in the very minutest detail like its brother, seems to communicate itself to those external forces the very essence of whose existence is ceaseless change. Of seed-time or harvest, of the reapers bending over the corn, or the grape gatherers threading through the vines, of the grass in the orchard made white with broken blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit: of these we know nothing and can know nothing.
For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken from us. Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred window beneath which one sits is grey and niggard. It is always twilight in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s heart. And in the sphere of thought, no less than in the sphere of time, motion is no more.
Inevitably on a blog such as this in a world such as this there will, and should, be discussion of motives, diagnoses, policies; debate about what should and should not be done. For us outside, motion will begin again.
What have you failed to find on the internet that you expected to be there?
As I do tire of pointing out, belief in the free market no more obliges you to approve of every single transaction than belief in free speech obliges you to approve of every word spoken.
The eBay account of our very small business was hacked into recently and a bunch of non-existent stuff sold in our name. The direct results of this have been sorted out and the victims of the scam repaid. However at some point eBay and/or Paypal (Paypal is a subsidiary of eBay) wrongly compensated us for some of these “purchases”. Our Paypal account currently has coming up to a thousand pounds more in it than it should have. Do Paypal want to know? No they do not. There is something wrong with a company so complacent that it cannot even rouse itself to take back its own. To be fair, the young Irish people I talk to when I ring up Paypal try to help. If my customer service experience stopped there it would still be ghastly because all possible customer service experiences in all possible worlds are ghastly but it would be ghastly in a comparatively good way. Unfortunately they do not have the authority to relieve me of the burden (it is a burden) of nearly a thousand quid, so they pass the buck to eBay central, over in one of the lesser circles of Hell staffed by resentful demons who failed to qualify as incubi and succubi. Their task is to choose whichever of six formulaic replies bears least resemblance to the actual situation and email it to me overnight.
eBay and Paypal could do with some competition.
There is an article by David V. Johnson, which is an interview with American leftist Martha Nussbaum, during which she conflates ‘respect’ with ‘tolerance’ and that is a telling category error. Nussbaum at least accepts (I sense rather grudgingly) that many ‘bad’ views must be accepted within civil society but…
Am I willing to tolerate Muslims? Certainly… at least the ones who will reciprocate and tolerate an atheist like me. And those who will not? Well no, I will not tolerate them either. For much the same reason I will happily tolerate any communist or socialist who wants to go live on a kibbutz, because I do not have to join them. And fascist socialists who want to live in judenfrei whites-only retreats on private property in the back of beyond somewhere, well knock yourself out guys, the farther away you are from me, well, lets just say it is a win-win for all concerned.
However the ones who wish to impose their oppressive views on me via the state? The ones whose views move them to do politics (which is what we call the struggle to control and use the means of collective coercion)? No, they will not tolerate me so I will reciprocate and try to use the force of the state, or whatever other means are available, to suppress them too. Tolerating those who will not tolerate you is more correctly know as “cowardice”.
But that is it. Tolerance. That is all that anyone can expect, provided they reciprocate it. Never respect.
Do I have ‘equal respect’ for Islam? Or socialism in all its ‘left’ and ‘right’ forms? Or racism? Hell no. I do not respect them at all as I do not respect any religion or any intrusive collectivist political order. But I will tolerate adherents of things I think are wrong if they tolerate me, which means not imposing their wishes on me by force. Several contributors to this blog are religious and I respect them, because they earned it, and their religious views do not require them to impose their beliefs on me by force. Tolerance.
Oh and another annoying thing in this article is the use of the term ‘liberalism’ to mean the exact opposite of the term as understood by classical liberals.
Last night I attempted to describe what I thought of this (which I photoed about an hour before photoing that Pedibus):
But I feared that my efforts of last night might get Samizdata sued for libel by Santander, so I had to start again. Maybe Santander really do practise all that they are here preaching, on this bloke’s back.
But, Santander aside, what is it about corporate proclamations of this sort that makes them so vomit-inducing? (See what I mean.) I mean, you don’t have to run about London in a T-shirt like this, do you? Nobody pointed a gun at this bloke, or I do not suppose so. And if you really hate having to endure this kind of verbiage at work, you can always get some other sort of job, can’t you?
Maybe not. Maybe if you are an office worker, in a city like London, of a certain rank, doing a certain sort of work, then insincere verbiage exuding fake enthusiasm and moral ambition that is relentlessly out of line with what they actually reward you for doing and fire you for neglecting to do is something that cannot be avoided, no matter where you work. Besides which, moving from one job to another, although perhaps possible, is quite an upheaval. For many, another job that covers the outgoings would be hard to come by, in times like these.
Now I entirely realise that a T-shirt that I don’t like does not register very highly on the evilometer. It is nothing, for instance, compared to the kind of skullduggery that Johnathan Pearce’s piece earlier today, about Fast and Furious, alludes to. Nevertheless, I’d be interested if readers here are as put off by this kind of thing as I am.
I don’t think it’s just me. I have a number of friends who are, right now, being driven almost insane with suppressed rage by employment which (a) they would prefer to hang on to, despite it (b) involving lots of the usual tiresome crap that you have to put up with when you have a job, but which also includes (c) occasional bouts of psychological torture when, often at vast expense and involving huge amounts of travel, everyone is subjected to interminable out-of-hours company propaganda – propaganda that cannot simply be screened out, because it demands “involvement”, the content of which is insultingly disconnected from the daily grind. It’s a kind of spiritual bullying, and yet my friends just have to put up with it. If they said what they really thought, they’d be fired for insubordination on the spot.
I’m out of all this now, but my own most memorable experience of this kind of psychobabble company bullshit, so to speak, was actually very positive. But that was a long time ago, before this kind of stuff got way out of hand. And the person doing it to us really knew what she was talking about, did so with total honesty and lack of waffle or of third-hand verbiage she had got from a book that she didn’t understand, and she knew how to make it stick. And she was in general the absolute opposite of the kinds of bosses from hell who combine being mediocre with being mad that my friends now complain about.