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]

Reductio ad absurdam

Today, I was at a small conference called Turning the Tables on the State held by an organisation called A World To Win. I had been asked to give a presentation on the British government’s plans for Identity Cards and a National Identity Register, which I duly did, and got a few laughs. I’m glad they are supportive of NO2ID, I really am. But I also attended the rest of the conference, which was a strange, strange experience.

Here were all these fairly pleasant, not obviously mad or stupid, people, saying things I wholly agree with about threats to civil liberties. But at the same time most did not leave it there. The presentations were larded with nonsensical quotations from Marx yanked out of historical context and treated as eternal wisdom. The threat to liberty and the constitution could not be anything so mundane as the lust for power and institutional convenience. It must be driven by transnational capitalism’s need to increase its exploitation rate by invading the public sector.

And the ‘rights’ to be defended against monolithic global finance are apparently mostly not of the “first generation rights” – the liberties (correlative of no-right of others to interfere) that most readers and writers of this blog exalt. They are prescriptive rights, to free education, to work, to fair remuneration for that work, etc., etc. And that is what most astonished me.

While rightly distressed by the power of the state being used to impose expressible views and appropriate ways to live on the citizen, these kindly people see no irony in seeking institutions to force their values onto others, in the name of the people. Wish-lists abounded, their real implications for personal lives unconsidered. But the most startling positive right I’ve ever heard suggested was from the report of a discussion group:

We need a right to a rich interior life.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

24 comments to Reductio ad absurdam

  • anonymous coward

    Very rich. That’s how we used to refer to those failures among us: [shakes head in bemused condencesion] “Oh, well; he has a rich interior life.” That is, taking refuge in a fantasy world because unable to engage the real one. And now we all have a rght to end up that way?

  • veryretired

    They were left libertarians. They believe in all the social freedoms, but, like modern liberals in general, wish to have rigid controls over economic activity, and the long list of economic rights which are fulfilled by redistributive tax codes.

    The Marx quotes are the tipoff. Corporate power is equated with political power, and the self-contradictory nature of increasing the state to limit the corporation while supposedly exalting the individual is not examined.

    If you make enough things a matter of right, you can manage to create every bit as repressive a system as when you deny any rights exist at all.

  • If one chooses to object about some particular aspect of “the establishment” one is liable to find oneself in “difficult” company: those whose whole life circles around being anti-establishment.

    However, being in difficult company does not make wrong of one’s chosen objection. Nor does one’s (respectable) presence make right of all the other anti-establishment views.

    Success comes to those who are informed, logical, persistent, and perhaps brave too. Would we have it any other way?

    Best regards

  • “The threat to liberty and the constitution could not be anything so mundane as the lust for power and institutional convenience. It must be driven by transnational capitalism’s need to increase its exploitation rate by invading the public sector.”

    That’s an absurd statement.

    a) Politicans and captains of industry are frequently one and the same. Thus, Dick Cheney’s behaviors are governed by both his relation to capital as well as his positionality within government.
    b) If politicians are whores to power, and corporations have power, then politicans are whores to corporations.

  • simon

    Rights are so important nowadays that it is very important that we have professional, highly trained people to decide what our rights are. The government should recruit thousands of experts to let us know what our rights are. Wait a minute …..

  • James of England

    a: I have a friend who is a tiddlywinks player and a Judge. Thus, her behaviour is governed by both her enthusiasm for tiddlywinks and her positionality within the judicial system.

    b: If I depend on food and cabbage is food then I depend on cabbage.

    Obviously, the former is a more sensible slander than the latter. It is impossible to show that there are politicians who are not affected by their social circumstances, although that doesn’t mean that they are all mindless drones of the academic-military-industrial-tiddlywinks complex. It is possible to show that not all politicians are slaves to business. Obviously, the ones who aren’t hostile to business tend to be saner, more successful people, but that isn’t always the same as being more corrupt.

  • mike

    “Politicans and captains of industry are frequently one and the same.”

    Correct, but why?

    “If politicians are whores to power, and corporations have power, then politicans are whores to corporations.”

    Your statement might be more accurate in reverse order:

    If corporations are whores to power, and if the State has power, then corporations are whores to the State.

  • I strongly believe in civil liberties. We should limit the government to its primitive roles like defence. If you people want to read more sensational articles on libertarianism, visit:

    http://unitelibertarians.blogspot.com

    This has just been launched and will be in full speed after a couple of weeks.

  • Thon Brocket

    Politicans and captains of industry are frequently one and the same

    Not around here, they’re not. I don’t know for sure, but it’s entirely possible that not a single member of the (British) Cabinet has ever held down a serious job in the private sector – if you discount lawyers. Most of them started as public sector jobsworths and union activists. Even the Tory opposition is short on meet-the-payroll business types.

  • Kim du Toit

    Guy,

    I’m just curious as to why you stayed at this meeting of morons.

  • guy herbert

    My presentation was on nearly last. And I had to be available to answer technical questions, in case.

    There’s also the matter of discovering enough about your hosts to know what speech to give. As Nigel Sedgwick says, becoming anti-establishment means making some common cause with a range of people. Butit didn’t stop it being a weird weekend. Most present seemed crippled in taking effective political action because their theoretical presuppositions are so out of line with the world. Ptolomaic astronauts.

  • Mike – seconded! This is why I dislike the current UK ‘privatisation’ mindset that keeps State control but has the private sector beholden to it. It is the worst of both worlds as it effectively neuters a strong counterbalance.

  • Paul Marks

    You are talking about the clash between “negative rights” (hands off) and “postive rights” (material benefits).

    People who believe that the state should provide education, health care (and so on) should not complain when it violates the “civil liberties” they say they love – but they do complain.

    Of course, if they were in office they would soon be violating these “civil liberties” as well – they would have to to track down “tax dogers”, “insider traders”, violators of “competition law”, people who paid for home tuition for their children (thus violating the sacred myth of “equality of opportunity”), people who paid for private medical treatment (thus “stealing resources from the community”) and so on.

    And, of course, powers given to the police and other agencies to hit one group of people are soon used to hit other people.

    As the late F.A. Hayek was fond of explaining the same words were used in German thought (going back centuries) for what we would call a “welfare state” and a “police state” – and the same words were used for good reasons.

    As for “the rights of Parliament” and other things beloved by British traditionalists. No “modern” (i.e. vast) government can rely on Parliament to pass all the regulations it needs (if it is to take on such things as land use “planning”, health, education and so on) – it MUST rely on such things as “Statutory Instruments”.

    Parliament’s role is to pass vague enabling Acts (either for the national government or such things as the European Communities Act for the E.U.) and then sit back whilst ministers and administrators issue orders.

    “But we want civil liberties and we want a compassionate government”.

    They might as well want a barking cat – if they want “compassion” in government they will have to accept the modern Blair-Cameron state.

    Not that there is any choice about accepting it here anyway.

    “But it did not use to be like this”.

    Certainly – a “compassionate ” government need not mean we lose all our liberty at once (although it can mean that). In Britain it has been a long process, and not all freedom is yet destroyed (although the freedom to type this comment is hardly a great threat to the powers that be).

    The “joke” of course is that even with the crushing of all freedom the compassionate government eventually destroys itself anyway.

    Eventally, sooner or later, the endless regulations strangle civil society – and without civil society (which it lives off) government also falls.

    It may well be that when things do finally start to really fall apart there will actually be some reform – perhaps inspired by events in some other country.

    As there is one thing we can be sure of. If social and economic chaos ever looked like being a threat to people like Mr Blair or Mr Cameron personally, they would drop all their principles in an effort to save themselves.

    But whilst there is no threat to the true “ruling class” (who are certainly not the owners of capital), do not hold your breath waiting for reform.

  • Bertus de Jong

    The problem that these people have (and it’s one that they share with a disturbingly large portion of the populace) is the inability to distinguish between a good (i.e. something they want) and a right (i.e. something they’re entitled to by mere virtue of having been born).
    The difference between negative and positive rights that they can’t seem to grasp is that positive rights depend on someone else to provide them. How’s this for a Reductio: if they were going to be consistent, they would have to argue that a hypothetical chap on a desert island would be the victim of a hundred and one rights violations just because no one was educating him, treating his Herpes or stimulating his inner whatever. Who’s violating them? Who knows? It’s clear though that he’s entitled to some fellow citizens and a state to take their stuff and give it to him… Cranks.

  • I’m thinking about a book I have about guerilla warfare called “The war of the flea” by Robert Taber. The first print run was purchased outright by the CIA – not because it was so dangerous to the State that it had to be taken out of circulation but because it was so good the CIA wanted to issue one to each of its operatives as a standard text.

    One section dealt with WHY people would risk their lives, liberty being tortured etc and their families.being subject to the same

    His conclusion was that people resorted to this only when they could not obtain redress for their grievances either through the law or via the ballot. (As an aside, apply this to all the terrorist and resistance movements you care to think of such as the IRA. Is it likely that they could get the partitioning of Ireland declared illegal and therefore null and void? Could they persuade either the Northern Irish or the British to vote for a reunified Ireland?).

    I’m getting the prickly feeling that this country is getting perilously close to the situation where ordinary people in this country are feeling so disenfrancised by political correctness and the arrogant riding roughshod over their rights, laws and future by their political “Masters” that the only solution will be civil disobedience and a breakdown of society into warring camps.

    Just my two pence worth …

  • Because being an executive of a large oil firm is the same as playing tiddlywinks… false comparison.

    And yes, politicians do rely on capital. Everything they do is related in some way to capital. Whether it is regulating its use, taxing it, using it to wage war, redistributing it, writing policy which dictates social behaviors (as all choices are economic and social behaviors always involve choices, all social behaviors have economic aspects), et cetera, they deal with capital and, thus, the people who hold it. And big business holds the most capital, so politicians probably spend more time talking with Steve Jobs than the manager of the local movie theatre.

    I’m not saying that the only corrupting influence on politicians is corporate, transnational capital. But to deny its influence is absurd.

    Your defence of capitalism against any and all charges is silly and reactionary. Why must libertarians (to use the term loosely) be afraid of any and all critiques of capitalism? We claim that we’re different than conservatives (and I point particularly to Hayek’s essay “Why I Am Not A Conservative”), yet so frequently libertarians adamently refuse to even honestly evaluate a critique of liberal democracy and capitalism. Why do you take a critique of a structure fundamentally caused by the laws of a liberal democracy to be anticapitalist?

    So many of us obsessively defend currently existing capitalism as if it is the only capitalist solution– if it is, then we are no different than conservatives, and calling ourselves something different is bullshit. But until we come to terms with the arbitariness of capitalist structures in any and all instances, we won’t be a viable political force.

  • One cannot come to terms with the arbitrariness of governmental coerciveness until you realize that the greatest amount of coercion in modern life comes from POLITICS, and the vast majority of problems with politics isn’t the money.
    It’s the POWER.

  • guy herbert

    Your defence of capitalism against any and all charges is silly and reactionary.

    Well, that’s why you won’t find me doing it. However, a view of world affairs as driven by a Marxian conception of Kapital is even more silly and reactionary. Marx is to economics as pataphysics is to physics. Politics is about power, and money is not the only source of power.

  • rosignol

    The presentations were larded with nonsensical quotations from Marx yanked out of historical context and treated as eternal wisdom.

    Yikes. Be very careful, these people are not your friends.

    The threat to liberty and the constitution could not be anything so mundane as the lust for power and institutional convenience. It must be driven by transnational capitalism’s need to increase its exploitation rate by invading the public sector.

    Mm. I wonder how much of the trans-national ‘progressive’ leftist NGO movement is driven by a preception that there is such a thing as a transnational capitalist movement lurking in the shadows somewhere.

    —–

    Your statement might be more accurate in reverse order:

    If corporations are whores to power, and if the State has power, then corporations are whores to the State.

    Corporations are generally whores to money, Politicians are frequently whores to power. Politicians become whores to corporations as a means to get money to expedite the acquisition of power, corporations become whores to politicians when state power can be used as a means to accumulate money. Corporations have little interest in power for it’s own sake, for them it is almost always a means by which to generate money.

    Of the two, I have somewhat higher regard for corporations. Wanting to beat the (other division’s/last quarter’s) numbers is much easier to understand than the details of any politician’s vision for society.

  • guy herbert

    I wonder how much of the trans-national ‘progressive’ leftist NGO movement is driven by a preception that there is such a thing as a transnational capitalist movement lurking in the shadows somewhere.

    An awful lot of it. More sophisticated ones deny they see capitalism as a conspiracy, but they treat it like one, nonetheless. The idea that businesses and other institutions are in conflict with one another and that competition is constantly (thank goodness) undermining corporate cooperation, really doesn’t sink in. Global governance and institutional conformity is such an ideal that they see it as a (largely achieved) goal of their enemies too.

    Which is why we are mutually uncomprehending. I’m looking for global ungovernance and institutional divisiveness. (I’d write ‘diversity’ if that word didn’t now mean collective control.) Conflict and contradiction are my friends, so I see and recognise them even when they are crowded by corporatism.

  • Johnathan

    A right to a “rich interior life” sounds like what one might yearn for after suffering a nasty stomach condition.

  • Oh, come on. Someone, somewhere is going to make a lot of money from this.

    IIRC, the information is going to be readily available to companies.

    Anyways, it’s not like they won’t have any info that isn’t already there. Though I’ve yet to hear what ID you’ll need to get an ID card.

  • Verity

    (Link)Guy – and scroll down to Peter Hitchins’ blog, you may wish to comment on his piece about Charles Clarke and ID cards. His blog gets thousands, or perhaps that’s tens of thousands, of readers. Could put the word out about No2ID.

  • Thanks, Verity. I have. Certainly a new audience for us.