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

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

If you don’t care whether a rape really happened, you don’t care about rape

So, Rolling Stone magazine have rolled back on Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s University of Virginia gang rape story.

A typical reaction when that story first came out came from CNN Political commentator Sally Kohn: “Stop shaming victims in college rapes”. I quote:

Will Drew and UVA get off easily while Jackie’s life — and other college women like her — is shattered?

If UVA has any sense of moral rightness and wishes to remain a great university, it should conduct a thorough investigation into these and similar allegations and mete out appropriate punishment for the perpetuators [sic].

A more senior colleague might like to take Ms Kohn aside and teach her the proper meaning of two words, “allegations” and “perpetrators”. The spelling correction alone does not put right what is wrong with the way both of them combine in that last sentence.

A typical reaction now that the story has been semi-retracted came from Guardian columnist and Feministing founder Jessica Valenti. “I trust women,” she tweets. She disavows the idea that her choice to trust a person is made on the basis of any assessment of individual trustworthiness; she simply trusts the 50% of the human species who belong to the same group as she does. It is group loyalty. On the same grounds, given that she is white, she might as well say, “I trust white people.”

Kohn, Valenti and their like present themselves as the friends of rape victims. There is such a thing as toxic friendship. Before the retraction of the story, I read this account by Liz Seccuro in Time magazine. Ms Seccuro was raped, at the University of Virginia, at the same Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, thirty years ago in 1984. “Do you believe me?” she asks. The answer to that is yes. A man was convicted and jailed for her rape, though she says that there were others who escaped any punishment. But observe that I had to make it very clear that she really was raped. Because after the Duke University lacrosse team affair and this recent one, “rape at frat house” stories (including that of Jackie as described by Erdely, which will now be entirely dismissed by most even though some of it could still be true) provoke an involuntary twitch of doubt even in observers wishing to remain impartial.

Not that the feminists I’ve read on this story ever had any such wish. They said, very clearly, that unquestioning partiality was exactly what they wanted. “I trust women.” They said, as they have been saying for years now, that even the attempt to judge any rape claim on the evidence was to be a “rape apologist”, as Rachel Sklar was quoted as saying here, or was an instance of “rape denialism”, as Amanda Marcotte tweeted here, adding for good measure that it was equivalent to Holocaust denialism.

It is they who are the rape denialists. Or perhaps “deniers that rape matters” would put it better. If you don’t care whether or not a rape actually occurred, then you don’t care about rape. It is a tautology, and a separate point to the one about the trauma faced by real rape victims who seek justice being intensified by the additional scepticism with which their account will now be met. If you think that the moral force of a claim of rape cannot be diminished by evidence that it is false, then in the same act you believe that it cannot be added to by evidence that it is true.

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

Keeping colleagues out of the frame

I am suspicious of almost all political state apparati. But I make an exception for the State of Israel. My attitude towards the State of Israel is one of unconditional positive regard. Their fight is my fight, and they are actually fighting it. Whenever I hear that Israel has done something bad, I assume that (a) if it was bad they definitely had some very good reasons for doing it, but that (b) it almost certainly wasn’t that bad, and that whoever is telling me that it was that bad is deceiving me, either because he is himself deceived or because he is a malevolent fool.

This article, by Matti Friedman, explains some of the many reasons why I think and feel as I do about Israel. The article focuses in on, so to speak, a subject that has been very dear to my heart for the last decade and more, which is the vital role in the modern world played by photography, professional and amateur, and especially in its digital and hence instantaneously communicable form. Friedman includes a very telling photograph in his article, of a sort you don’t usually see, of a rally in Jerusalem in support of Islamic Jihad. Does the camera ever lie? It certainly squirts out a stream of lies by omission.

Says Friedman:

Hamas is aided in its manipulation of the media by the old reportorial belief, a kind of reflex, according to which reporters shouldn’t mention the existence of reporters. In a conflict like ours, this ends up requiring considerable exertions: So many photographers cover protests in Israel and the Palestinian territories, for example, that one of the challenges for anyone taking pictures is keeping colleagues out of the frame. That the other photographers are as important to the story as Palestinian protesters or Israeli soldiers – this does not seem to be considered.

In Gaza, this goes from being a curious detail of press psychology to a major deficiency. Hamas’s strategy is to provoke a response from Israel by attacking from behind the cover of Palestinian civilians, thus drawing Israeli strikes that kill those civilians, and then to have the casualties filmed by one of the world’s largest press contingents, with the understanding that the resulting outrage abroad will blunt Israel’s response. This is a ruthless strategy, and an effective one. It is predicated on the cooperation of journalists. One of the reasons it works is because of the reflex I mentioned. If you report that Hamas has a strategy based on co-opting the media, this raises several difficult questions, like, What exactly is the relationship between the media and Hamas? And has this relationship corrupted the media? It is easier just to leave the other photographers out of the frame and let the picture tell the story: Here are dead people, and Israel killed them.

Mick Hartley, at whose blog I first learned of this article and first read the above quote, thinks that Friedman’s article is worth reading in full. I agree.

Stephen Hawking on AI

Stephen Hawking mentioned the singularity to a BBC reporter.

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. […] It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. […] Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.

The article does not elaborate. It is quite possible Hawking does not see this as a bad thing, or includes in his analysis the possibility that humans might become machines.

I am slightly more concerned by the fact that I heard about this on BBC Radio 2, and by the way it is reported to its middle-aged, middle-class, probably slightly afraid-of-change listeners. It seems only a few short steps and a moral panic from here to some really stupid legislation. I would be happier if people researching how to make AI safe got a bit further along in their work before that happens.

We’re the only game in town

A small reminder to people who are fond of referring to the human race as a plague on the planet (or as a disease, or as a danger to the “natural order”) and who think life would be better off without us and our technology:

The only long term hope of survival life has is humans and our successors moving it through the cosmos.

In the “natural order of things” C3 photosynthesis will become impossible on earth in 600M years, and by about 800M years from now there will be no more multicellular life. Eventually the last evidence that there ever was such a thing as life on Earth will vanish without a trace. That is presuming, of course, that a gamma ray burst doesn’t sterilize the planet much earlier. (There is increasing evidence gamma ray busts that energetic happen more frequently than one might think.)

The universe is hostile to life. Every species you see around you, and every last sign of that species ever having existed, will disappear forever without intelligent life preserving it and carrying it elsewhere. At the moment, absent any evidence of life elsewhere, that means us.

Maybe you believe you are a long term thinker, that those around you are short term thinkers and you really, really know what’s “sustainable”, but if you don’t consider this seriously, if you think it is somehow silly to pay attention to it, you’re just a short term thinker with a slightly but insignificantly longer time horizon.

Killing your own cows

In Nepal people are apparently killing half a million animals for religious reasons. Celebrities are protesting. Animal rights activists want me to email the Nepalese government to “to ensure this is the last time it ever happens”.

The trouble is, “ensure this is the last time it ever happens” is just a polite way of saying “jail people for killing their own cows”. In fact, thanks to an Indian interim law banning the transportation of animals to Nepal, 114 people have been arrested and 2,500 animals stolen by the Indian government.

I do not find this event aesthetically pleasing. I do approve of reducing the suffering of animals; but not at the cost of doing violence to humans.

I have also come across the suggestion that, since the sacrificed animals will not be eaten, stopping this event may do something to help with poverty or starvation. But interfering with people’s private property only ever makes poverty and starvation worse in the long term. Update: And in any case it seems like the meat and hides do get used.

The silence of Shia LaBeouf

What to make of this?

Shia LaBeouf: I was raped during performance art project

In an interview with Dazed, the actor says that a woman ‘whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me’ during his silent performance art work #IAMSORRY

My question “what to make of this?” is a real one. There is a whole slew of issues involved in this story, ranging from the double standard surrounding female-on-male rape (or allegations of rape), to the extent to which silence can be taken to be consent (particularly the absence of any appeal to bystanders when they were present), and including issues of fairness to the woman accused of rape and to the spectators implicitly accused of indifference to it, and the propriety of staging such an event “starring” a person whom all sides admit has mental issues, which leads us to the politically-charged question of how far one should question the testimony of one who is or may be mentally incapable . . .

Frustratingly, the Guardian story gives much more detail on LaBeouf’s philosophy of art than on what actually happened. A follow-up story quotes his collaborators in the art project as saying they “put a stop to it” as soon as they became aware of it. No mention is made of force being used; apparently she did stop when told to.

So why didn’t Mr LaBeouf say a word to stop her himself? As far as I can make out his reason was because the point of his performance was that he should sit still and not react. On its own, “I could not object because it would have spoiled my artwork” appears ridiculous. Yet people do sometimes freeze when subjected to sexual assault in a public place; it is a common reaction when women are groped on trains, for instance. Then again, what might the woman say in her own defence if these charges were put to her? Was not the whole point of this famous artwork that Mr LaBeouf consented to being humiliated? What did the spectators think was going on? If, as seems to have been the case, his artistic collaborators held that this was something to which a stop should be put, why was no attempt made to arrest the woman? In general I reject the blanket assumption that a person initiating sexual activity must obtain explicit and ongoing verbal assent before continuing. Such an assumption would only apply to creatures not human; the vast majority of all voluntary sexual intercourse takes place without anything remotely resembling such a procedure. But the vast majority of all sexual intercourse does not take place between strangers in public during performance art.

My bewilderment is genuine. All serious comments are welcome, and I would not be surprised to see serious disagreement among the comments. I do not expect to delete remotely as high a proportion of comments as the Guardian moderators did to the comments to the account in the link, but will not hesitate to delete any of which I disapprove.

The Representation of the People Act(resses)

Hat tip to “bloke in spain”, who pointed out this article by Dr Helen Pankhurst in the Telegraph:

95 years since its first female MP, Britain is lagging behind.

We brag about our democracy, but women are still less represented in our legislature than in Kyrgyzstan, China, Rwanda and Sudan

“Now there’s a list of democracies to regard with awe & envy,” said bloke in spain.

Before I turn to the article, a word about the author. At the bottom of the piece there is a note saying, “Dr Helen Pankhurst is the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the original Suffragettes, and a special adviser on gender equality at CARE International UK.” If you were wondering, CARE International UK is a charity adequately described by the fact that it has a special adviser on gender equality and Emmeline Pankhurst was a great name in the fight for women’s suffrage, and, equally admirably, though this is less celebrated in the history books, a pioneer in the struggle against Bolshevism.

It is heartening to see Dr Helen Pankhurst gain entry to the pages of the Telegraph on the strength of the name of her great ancestress, thus upholding the hereditary principle in these Jacobinical times.

She writes,

Ninety-five years ago today, on November 28, 1919, an American became the first woman in Parliament. Technically, she had been beaten to it the previous December by the countess Constance Markievicz, an Irish nationalist who fought and won her campaign for Dublin St Patrick’s from Holloway Prison. But Sinn Fein, her party, was boycotting Parliament, and with them she refused her seat.

So it fell to Lady Nancy Astor to enter the House of Commons as its first female member (and first female Conservative), succeeding her husband in the by-election triggered by his ascent to the Lords. It was one year since the Act of Parliament which had given propertied women over 30 the right to vote and stand. She would serve her constituency of Plymouth Sutton for another 26 years.

Yet since then the progress for women’s representation has been slow. Until 1987 women represented less than five per cent of MPs; this doubled in 1992 then doubled again to 20 per cent in 1997. Even now, nearly a hundred years after the initial Act, only 23 per cent of representatives in both houses are women. Will it take until the 200th anniversary of Lady Astor’s election before we write about equal representation as if it were business as usual?

I disagree that the progress for women’s representation in the United Kingdom has been slow since 1919. Progress was quite fast between 1919 and the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1928, when women gained the vote on the same terms as men, and nonexistent since then. Progress has been nonexistent for the excellent reason that there was no more progress to be made. Once women and men had equal rights to vote or stand for office they were equally well represented by being represented (not duplicated) by whatever representative they had voted for. You know, voting for your unrestricted choice of candidate, like you do in a representative democracy. One of the things you’re allowed to do is vote for someone not like you in the nether regions. This innovation seems to have worked out OK since 1919; I think we might keep it on. Does Dr Pankhurst think that Lady Nancy Astor MP was incapable of representing her male constituents?

The Dance of the Deaf

Reported in yesterday’s Daily Mail:

Company bosses who claimed £130,000 in benefits for sign language interpreters despite not being deaf walk free from court

Two company directors who pocketed tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayers’ money from bogus claims for sign language interpreters have swerved prison.
Tracy Holliday, 39, and Ian Johnston, 43, sent their children to private school off the back of the £134,000 they made from bogus claims for interpreters and support staff they did not use.
Despite their crimes being branded ‘sickening’ by the Minister for Disabled People, the pair have walked free from court on suspended sentences.

The Northern Echo has the same story, although Ms Holliday’s name is given as “Tracey”, as it is in several other sources.

This being the Daily Mail, everybody is outraged about everything. The Mail commenters are outraged that the couple committed the fraud, that they escaped jail, and that they get to keep the money. “People like this are crippling our welfare system by stealing from us daily – they never suffer any kind of real punishment and so it will continue,” runs a typical comment.

The Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper, shares the commenters’ outrage and manages to get in a plug for the Access to Work scheme the defendants were abusing, “This is a sickening example of two people milking a system designed especially to support disabled people to get or keep a job. ‘Access to Work helps over 35,000 disabled people to do their job. More and more disabled people are getting into work thanks to this fund and our Disability Confident campaign – as employers recognise the tremendous skills they bring to business.”

Even Ms Holliday and Mr Johnston themselves manage a little hopeful outrage, over the way that that they were, they say, obliged by family circumstances to plead guilty with all its potentially unpleasant consequences (not that the actual consequences for them were much more than bad publicity), when really they just didn’t get how the system worked and hadn’t noticed the illegitimate origin of all that cash piling up in their bank accounts.

No one seems outraged or even surprised by the idea that even if Ms Holliday and Ian Johnston’s claims had been genuine, their company would be getting services worth approximately forty-five thousand pounds a year provided by the government to make it worth their while to employ deaf people who could not do their jobs without an interpreter. You don’t get 45 grand per annum to make it worth your while to employ monolingual Tagalog speakers, although by some counts the number of people in the UK whose first language is British Sign Language and whose first language is Tagalog is similar. You might argue that, unlike those who have a foreign mother tongue, deaf people have a disability making them deserving of state aid to compensate for their misfortune – but if you did you would be contradicting Deaf (note the capital D) activists who maintain that deafness is not an impairment but a cultural choice, not to mention government guidelines on how to refer to the Deaf community.

Nobody seems to give any credence to Holliday and Johnston’s claim that they just did not realise that what they were doing was wrong. Could they really be capable enough to run a business and yet still be under the impression that the government would every year squirt tens of thousands of pounds in their direction without checking how it was spent, just because some of their employees were deaf?

Be fair, why should they not have received that impression since that is indeed the way the system is meant to work?

Here is an almost spookily similar case from 2008. Notice how the culprits in that case sought out employees disabled enough to qualify for the Access to Work benefits. Applicants who could not apply for AtW support were ignored. Notice also how the real business of the “businesses” in both cases was subsidy farming. There are thousands of deaf employees and employers doing real work, providing things that people both deaf and hearing really want enough to pay for – including, of course, translation between signing and English. There are no doubt thousands more who would like to do likewise, but the mushrooming of “Community Interest Companies”, “Social Enterprises” and similar much subsidised and little scrutinised sources of employment has normalised a sort of performance dance choreographed to look like people working. Deaf employees, sign language interpreters, support workers, and those whose jobs depend on administering and policing Access to Work and similar schemes all join the dance, gracefully exchanging partners until La Ronde is complete.

Russia legalises concealed carry

Via a mailing from Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, I was directed to this interesting development:

Vladimir Putin’s Russia Adopts Concealed Carry

Russia, which according to official figures has the fifth highest murder rate in the world, has relaxed its gun ownership laws.

Yep. The land of Vladimir Putin, run by an oligarchical collection of cronies and criminals, is about to relax their gun laws… And not by just a little. After the reforms, they’ll make some US jurisdictions look positively Soviet. While places like New York and Washington DC continue to make it (almost) impossible to get a permit for carrying a handgun, Putin’s Russia is about to make it easier.

Previously, Russians were only permitted to own firearms (subject to approval) for hunting or sporting. But under the new law they will soon be allowed to carry guns, open or concealed, for the purposes of self-defense. (Yeah… A background check and training will be a prerequisite.)

And let’s face it, having a gun for self-defense is probably not the worst idea in Russia. While America saw its share of homicides in 2011 (roughly 13,600), Putin’s homeland saw far more… Despite having a population that is almost half of the US, Russia recorded over 21,000 homicides in the same year. (Wow… So much for believing that gun control works, right Chicago?) The new laws aim to curb that trend, and add to Russia’s homeland defense against outside threats.

The report above is by Michael Schaus and links in turn to this report by Tom Porter in the International Business Times.

A good article by a Marxist about “safe spaces” for women

I found this article by Yassamine Mather in Weekly Worker, which describes itself as “A paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity”. The “safe spaces” policy put forward by Felicity Dowling to which Yassamine Mather refers is described here.

Comrade Mather writes,

The idea that women in leftwing organisations need ‘protection’, as opposed to ‘empowerment’, is what is patronising. No doubt Felicity Dowling’s extensive work in dealing with child abuse cases and fighting for children’s rights is commendable. However, time and time again when she speaks about safe spaces she starts with abused children, before moving swiftly to the need for safe places for women, gays, blacks in society and, by extension, in the organisations of the left. I disagree with such a classification of women, gays and blacks as weak creatures – actual and potential victims who constantly need ‘protection’ from the rest of society.

And

In an echo chamber nobody learns anything new or expands their perspectives. Similarly if women, blacks or LGBTQ activists refuse to confront their opponents, ‘safe spaces’ risk becoming ‘echo chambers’. A 1998 study by Robert Boostrom questions the ‘safety’ aspect of ‘safe spaces’ in universities as counterposed to the mission of higher education to promote critical thinking. If critical thinking is desirable in higher education, it is essential in a political organisation of the left.

Any group has the right to exclude people or behaviours it does not like. It tends to be self-marginalising politically, though.