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]

A fine book about the important things in life

Books that try to convey important philosophical ideas can sometimes be a bit of a struggle to read. Much as I liked Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged for the sheer sweep of the novel and the way it tackled all manner of topics, I’ll be the first to concede that some folk out there will find that type of book a daunting read. But a shorter, and highly engaging, example of something rather similar has been out for a few months now: “Old Nick’s Guide To Happiness”, by Nicholas Dykes.

I will not give the plot away but to say that Mr Dykes’ novel is based in the wilds of Scotland, focusing on what happens when a young man, who is shortly to head off for Oxford as an undergraduate, gets lost and hurt during a hiking expedition in the Highlands, and how he falls in with a rather unusual couple living there. There are lots of discussions of philosophy and ideas along the way, but is done in such a charming way that the reader, whatever their views, will not feel they are being lectured at. Admittedly, if you are a religious fundamentalist, deep Green or hardline collectivist, then this book will drive you nuts.

I have known Mr Dykes for several years and he has been a regular writer for the Libertarian Alliance, among other places. I liked this book very much and I hope Mr Dykes tries his hand at another novel. As he realises, abstract treatises are all very well, but if you can convey ideas through the medium of fiction, with strong characters, a good plot and plenty of engaging detail, it can be far more effective. The Left, if I can be permitted to use that term has long understood this – it needs to be understood by those who work in the broadly classical liberal tradition, too. And the same point applies even more, perhaps, to the world of TV drama and films.

Samizdata quote of the day

Drunken sailors generally spend cash that they’ve already earned themselves, rather than running up debt to be paid by others. If our politicians started spending like drunken sailors, it would in fact represent a dramatic improvement.

Instapundit yesterday. The Bishop likes it also.

Strike while the iron is hot (i.e. when a Labour government is on its last legs)

London is today in the grip of a tube strike. Tube as in underground railway. For a brief summary of the anti-strike arguments, try Burning Our Money. (Burning Our) Money quote:

Here we have a reeling dispirited government who no longer care if they give away the shop. They’re way beyond that. Their main aim now is to minimise the scale of their defeat, which definitely DEFINITELY means no Winter of Discontent style public sector strikes.

Sure, if they give in to big union demands they’ll be increasing the problems facing the next government. But why should they worry? They don’t care if they make life more difficult for Dave and George in 12 months time – in fact, that would be a positive bonus.

And the union bosses ain’t quite so dumb as they look …

In other words, another bit of earth will get scorched.

Australian skepticism about man-made global warming

Via such blogs as this one (see the list of recent postings on other blogs), and this one (the previous list being how I got to that blog), I today encountered a video of someone called Ian Plimer plugging his latest book, which is called Heaven and Earth. Watch it here.

And here (via this posting) is a piece about an Aussie politician who seems to be following Plimer’s lead.

I am no scientist, and politically I am heavily in favour of the free market capitalism that the Green Movement wants to shut down or at least castrate. So I would say all this. But I can honestly say that I find Plimer more convincing than those persons who talk about climate change as if the urgent need now is to stop all climate change (impossible) of as if those who doubt their prophecies of apocalypse (such as me) believe that climate is not now changing. The climate always changes.

Plimer is eloquent, and relatively brief. Even pro-AGW greenies would find this, I think, a quite useful short compendium of all the arguments against their views, in fact they already are using it this way. That’s if they are interested in answering arguments, as some are.

The clearest insight that I personally got from this video performance was Plimer’s claim that the AGW (as in anthropogenic global warming) people are all atmospheric scientists (insofar as they are scientists at all), who are plugging their apocalypse without looking at any other kinds of scientific evidence, or much in the way of historical evidence either. He also says that this particular evidence is itself very threadbare, but that is a distinct argument that I have long known about.

I was also interested that Professor Donald Blainey [Correction: Geoffrey Blainey], an Australian historian whom I have long admired, is in his turn an admirer of Plimer’s book. Big plus, for me.

Plimer is optimistic that the current economic woes, woes that really are now being experienced by our entire species if not our entire planet, together with the little bit of cooling that has recently been happening, will concentrate people’s minds on what a load of humbug the AGW scare is. No doubt pessimists commenting here will say that the damage has already been done, and will take decades to undo. I’ll pass on that argument.

I now guess that the next argument for AGW here in Britain is going to be that since the BNP also says AGW is humbug, it must be true.

On the possible demise of “gentry liberalism”

Here is a highly thought-provoking article in Forbes magazine about the phenomenon it refers to as “gentry liberalism” – a term designed to capture the mindset of the sort of person who has voted for New Labour in the UK and Mr Obama’s Democrats in the US. It is, of course, such a shame that the word liberalism has been bent out of shape to mean something rather different, but the underlying logic of the article is hard to contest.

Of course, Mr Obama has a while yet in power, but if I were one of his campaign managers, I’d look at the massacre of left-of-centre parties in Europe with a certain amount of forboding. He’s not invincible, not at all.

The challenge of cutting UK public spending

I would hope, however naively perhaps, that a forthcoming UK government, after the current shambolic one, might take the axe to some of the quangos – quasi-autonomous governmental organisations – that cost so much and do relatively little that is of any use. So it is frankly laughable that the Conservative Party’s idea for controlling public spending (you mean hopefully cut it, Ed), is to set up something called the Office of Budget Responsibility. Oh please. What the heck is the Treasury department supposed to be for? The problem of controlling, and cutting, public spending is both simple and hard: simple to understand – there’s way too much spending, and we need to slash it – and hard, in that it will involve facing down various vested interests. Previous governments that have cut spending, or tried to do so, such as the Thatcher administration, did not have to set up some daft “office” to address the issue.

The trouble with this idea is that it shows how the current Tory party feels it must distance itself from the harsh decisions that will have to be made to shrink public spending from its current horrific levels. But this is an impossible task – far better to be blunt with the public.

The burden of proof has been reversed

In an earlier piece here today, Perry de Havilland referred to the great fuss that Britain’s broadcasters are now making about the rather small successes of the BNP in the Euro elections, and their relative silence concerning the much bigger success achieved by UKIP. True. UKIP is indeed being ignored, and the BNP is indeed being talked up. But I don’t think it’s right to dismiss the talking up of the BNP entirely as tactics. I think that genuine fear is being expressed by our former gatekeepers of correct thought. The rise of Adolph Hitler has been obsessively taught in British schools for the last generation or so, as the very definition of that which Must Not Happen, yet now, something not wholly unlike it appears to be happening, here in Britain! Calamity!

I say “former” gatekeepers of correct thought because that is surely the other thing now happening that scares these people. The internet, as we enthusiasts for it have been saying ever since it got started as a mass phenomenon a decade ago or more, entitles people to say whatever they like. They no longer need the permission of anybody more important to reach a quite large audience with an opinion that quite large numbers of people agree with but which the Gatekeepers disapprove of and want suppressed. Very suddenly, in a matter of a year or two, servile and carefully crafted letters to the newspapers, that conceded almost everything but cunningly managed to slip a tiny few incorrect thoughts past the Guardians, could be forgotten about. A blog can now be cranked up, and the blogger can tell it exactly how he reckons it is. Potential supporters can be directed with a link to the manifesto of whatever crank party the blogger happens to approve of or find interesting. If a Gatekeeper now wants to quote a “crank” out of context, Google ensures that the rest of us can read the opinions of said crank, in context, whether the Gatekeeper himself deigns to include an actual link or not.

My eldest brother is a UKIP activist, and I sense in him none of the frustration that he and his UKIP brethren used to feel, about being ignored by the masses, because then ignored by “the” (there then being only one great lump of them) media. When he now knocks on a door, the householder knows just what Elder Brother stands for. Conversation can immediately proceed to the matter of what a splendid front garden or front door the householder is presenting to the world, thus establishing that although firm in their opinions, UKIPers are still humans, able to see the world through eyes other than their own. Seemed like a nice enough bloke. Yeah, maybe I’ll vote for him, if I don’t fancy any of the others. That the big media are still trying to ignore Elder Brother now no longer worries him. The Gatekeepers now have to convince him, and all the other people who think as he does, that he and they are wrong. Good luck with that.

As a radical libertarian activist, I built the entire early first half of my career (if you can call it that) contriving to navigate, with cunningly photocopied pamphlets, around Gatekeeper assumptions that such opinions just could not be sincerely held, by anyone who mattered. I helped to contrive a local internet, you might say, for London libertarians, and I helped to feed libertarian memes into low-grade BBC local talk shows. Ever since the real internet came along, I have had a great deal to say for myself, but have nevertheless been feeling somewhat at a loose end.

All of which means, as the title of this posting proclaims, that the burden of proof has now been reversed. It used to be that someone who favoured radical tax cuts, or bringing immigration to a halt, or expunging the EU from British life, or that Jesus Christ is Our Saviour and gayness is evil, or that Islam is not welcome in these islands, or any other such challenge to Gatekeeper orthodoxy, had to prove to the Gatekeepers that his opinion was worth being heard and had some flicker of merit, perhaps because (see John Stuart Mill) it ensured that the Gatekeepers were at least prodded from time to time into keeping their orthodoxies in full working order. Now, the Gatekeepers, their gates electronically melted, have to explain why such notions do not have any merit, and why people should not vote for them. Since the Gatekeepers have spent all their lives loftily refusing to participate in any such arguments, instead only contriving verbal formulae to demonise all such notions as “extreme”, “selfish”, “old fashioned”, “racist”, “far right”, and so on, they are, not surprisingly, very frightened at suddenly having to overturn the habits of a lifetime. What, they wonder, if they make even greater fools of themselves than the internet, by telling voters directly about all these wickednesses, has made of them already? What if they join in these arguments, but then lose? Well, indeed.

Last night, for instance, I watched a lady cabinet minister carefully refusing to reply to what the man from the BNP was actually saying, and instead insisting that the BNP is “really”, “essentially”, racist. By all means throw that last point in incidentally, but ad hominem attack and nothing else no longer works as an argumentative technique, because the argument is now raging anyway and Milady Cabinet Minister can only decide whether or not she joins in. The BNP can decide what it will now say, and say it. It does not need permission from Her Ladyship, or from her friends in the BBC or in the big national newspapers, to say whatever it wants to say, to anyone who wants to listen. The man from the BNP oozed confidence. The Lady Cabinet Minister looked uncomfortable.

As it happens, I share quite a few Gatekeeper objections to some of these “extreme” ideas, even as I am enthusiastic about others of them. I quite like immigration, especially from Eastern Europe. Jesus Christ is not my saviour, and gayness is fine by me. I fear that if Britain leaves EUrope, economic freedom (let alone any other kind) may not erupt, but rather something far nastier and stupider and more xenophobic and more economically wrong-headed. And so on. But, I do favour radical libertarianism. And I do not like Islam at all, and believe that the only defence of its unchallenged presence in our midst that makes any sense is based on believing that what it actually says will be almost unanimously ignored by its supposed supporters in favour of far kinder and far gentler mis-readings of it.

But then, I am not saying which opinions I think should be allowed and which not allowed. I say: allow them all. In fact, the nastier and more belligerent they are, the better it is for us all to be able to acquaint ourselves with them. Where I agree I will say so, and where I disagree I will say so. I just did.

And when it comes to voting, vote for one of the little parties, that actually believes in stuff. Don’t waste your vote on the Conservatives, LibDems or Labour. What will voting for them accomplish? How will voting for those people tell anyone what you actually think and actually want?

BBC Harvard ‘Philosophy’ is based on lies

Many people say that the poll tax funded BBC no longer matters – but I do not agree.

The BBC matters less than it once did, but it (or rather parts of it) is still considered a source of serious discussion – and things said on the BBC go into the schools and colleges (via teachers and university lecturers – the sort of people who still actually listen to things like BBC Radio Four) and even into the entertainment media – as BBC money is still a major source of funding for comedians, and actors and even pop singers like to be thought of as “intellectual” so they follow what other people tell them are serious ideas.

The BBC is not all “Eastenders” and other soap operas; it still considers itself in the business of spreading ideas (although, of course, even the soap operas spread ideas and attitudes) and the Reith Lectures, named after the founder of the BBC, John Reith, is what BBC thinks of as the high point of its “High Culture” mission.

Of course the vile taxpayers may not actually listen to the Reith Lectures, or understand them if we did, but watered down and adapted forms of the ideas expressed in the Reith Lectures will be used to “educate” our children and even “inform” popular entertainers, so whether we listen or not is not really relevant from the point of view of the BBC.

The Reith Lectures this year are to be delivered by what the BBC’s advertisements describe as “one of the world’s great philiosphers”, Michael Sandel, actually a Harvard professor who has spent his entire academic life repeating the statist mantras of the late John Rawls. In this context, see Antony Flew’s examination of the ideas such men stand for, which Flew gives in such works as “Equality: In Liberty and Justice”. → Continue reading: BBC Harvard ‘Philosophy’ is based on lies

Samizdata unintended joke-line of the day

“The irony is that no other leader could have led Britain so skilfully through financial crisis. Without him, the banks might have collapsed, and the G20 would never have happened. His work on development ensured that thousands of children did not starve and did not die because the rich world deemed them worthless.”

Mary Riddell, in the Daily Telegraph.

So tell me, Ms Riddell, can you perhaps explain why the financial crisis, that has sent many British banks into the arms of the UK taxpayer, has not had a comparable impact on say, Canada, which shares a rather large landed border with the country at the centre of the credit crunch, namely, the US?

And why do you think that the government that presided over this disaster, that allowed public finances to run into the red, and massively so, before the credit crunch, can claim merit for what has happened since?

Does she not think that the way the Bank of England sets interest rates, or how banks have relied on the “too big to fail” assurance of public support, might not have had a teensy-weensy bit to do with foolish lending, for example?

Just asking, Mary.

The BNP gains success in a UK election… so what?

The media and chattering classes are agog that the BNP, a fascistic and racist party, have gained some electoral success.

So what?

The Labour and Tory parties have been broadly fascistic (a corporatist ‘soft fascism’ whose symbol is a CCTV rather than the goose-step-and-armband kind) for the best part of a decade. Thus the way I see it, the BNP is just a more overt and perhaps more honest expression of the sort of mainstream democratically sanctioned tyranny that has been steadily and remorselessly stripping away civil liberties for quite some time now.

I cannot help thinking the real motivation for the aghast shrieks about the BNP is that it means the mainstream media do not have to dwell unduly on the far more ideologically antithetical-to-the-establishment and strategically significant growth of UKIP.

The truth is the world view and policies of the (truly vile) BNP is not that different on 95% of issues than the (vile) Tory, (vile) Labour Party and (fairly vile) LibDems, all of whom, once you strip out the overt racism of the BNP, broadly agree about the role of the state. That is to say all their statist-regulatory world views are more or less fascistic when it comes to matters of economy and civil liberties.

The gasps and finger pointing at the thuggish scrotes of the BNP give many an excuse to avoid focusing on the electoral success of UKIP, because unlike the profoundly statist BNP, UKIP is a party filled with people who actually do want a less intrusive and smaller state. UKIP may not aspire to some libertarian minarchist paradise, but they actually want less net regulation and dare to talk about civil liberties as something that matters (as opposed to the LibDems, who strongly believe civil liberties matter and yet want to regulate the crap out of everything, as if somehow that has no bearing on liberty).

In short, the fact UKIP thinks that the liberties of individuals is something to shout about and they want to shrink the state at all, rather than just keep expanding the state, but just a wee bit slower than the other guys… well… in the context of where we find ourselves today, this verges on revolutionary.

No wonder the mainstream would rather emote and declaim about the ultimately irrelevant BNP.

The UK political ferment

In a comment thread on this posting, the question came up, from the commenter “Laird”, as to why Samizdata has not written about the local UK/European Union elections. Part of the answer, for my part, is that a little bit of me dies whenever words such as “EU elections” come up, but also there has been a lot of commentary and head-scratching analysis, in the press and other blogs, on this issue for the past week or so. What could I say that has not been already said?

Anyway, for our non-UK readers who have not been following it, the ruling UK Labour Party did very badly in both the local UK elections and the European one. In the latter case, Labour came in third place (15 per cent of votes cast), behind the Tories and United Kingdom Independence Party respectively. UKIP is a party that wants the UK to leave the EU. I voted for it – partly because I did not want the Tories to get a larger share of the vote and hence get complacent, partly because I broadly agree with UKIP on things like cutting state spending and the EU. UKIP is not a hardline libertarian party but it is the best of a bad lot, generally. And I happen to know one of its MEP candidates, Tim Worstall – who is a member of the London bloggerati – and I always say it is a good idea to vote for someone you know, trust and like (I also know Syed Kamall, a Tory MEP, but just could not bring myself to vote Tory. Sorry Syed).

As for the aftermath, well, UK PM Gordon Brown has managed, by a mixture of party membership cowardice, shellshock, bullying and flimflam to persuade his colleagues in Parliament to give him another chance in the job. Labour has suffered the lowest share of the vote since the First World War, albeit on a very low turnout of voters. The national socialist British National Party, a party which, let it not be forgotten, holds to fairly hard-left views on economics, has picked up two seats in the European Parliament, and did so by playing fairly hard on the grievances of traditional Labour voters in run-down parts of the UK. There has often been a streak of “sod the foreigner” in the makeup of the UK left, although it has been tempered by a sort of transnational progressivism, at least from the Fabian middle classes who have provided Labour with some of its intellectuals (if that is not too grand a word to describe such people).

So there you have it – Britain is on course, if poll data are accurate, to have a Conservative government by the middle of next year, when a general election must be held. Europe has moved, politically, to the right, with concerns about immigration and economics driving some of that. But the UK Conservatives, while they have benefited from a mortally weakened government, have not convinced me that they have a serious intent to shrink the state. It may be that when or if David Cameron gets the keys to 10 Downing Street and has a chance to read the financial books, that the full horror of what he sees will necessitate spending cuts. We shall see.

And in the meantime, the US has, at least for a moment, moved to the left under Mr Obama, although for how much longer, it is premature to say (bring on the mid-term elections!). Ideologically, the Atlantic may be widening. We live, as they say, in interesting times.

America: closing her door to freedom

Douglas Young, Professor of Political Science & History at Gainesville State College in Gainesville, GA, has some well expressed views on the wrong turn the USA has taken

At 47, I lament how today’s America is far less free than the country of my youth. Replacing it is not a 1984ish totalitarian dictatorship, but what Alexis de Tocqueville called the ‘soft tyranny’ of what Mark Levin sees as a 21st century ‘nanny state’. We so feared a Stalin or Hitler that we ignored endless assaults on our liberty by idealistic home-grown statists and the seductive narcotic of ever more government goodies buying our acquiescence. What makes Americans’ surrender to statism so shameful is that we freely chose this course in direct contravention of our founding principles.

Nowhere have we seen such an accelerating atrophy of our freedom as in K-12 public schools where recent decades have witnessed far more books banned, and not some print version of Debbie Does Dallas. No, literary classics like J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Mark Twain’s Huck Finn are verboten – required reading in those decadent days of my 1970s high school. But educrats with the backbone of a large worm now avoid anything controversial.

Students have far less choice of classes in high school, and often teachers can not make their own lessons since they must teach the test so schools can make “adequate yearly progress”. Only about 40 percent of my college students say they ever discussed any controversial issues in high school. My high school classes revelled in such debate.

Similarly, so many high schools have become gated, closed campuses. Mine was wide open. ‘Zero tolerance’ for drugs and violence policies punish students carrying aspirin, cough drops, and Tweety-Bird key chains. Now diligent do-gooders want to ban school coke machines as well. And to think at my high school we could even smoke!

Today political correctness constipates free speech at many schools (as well as in much of the public and private sectors), and hysterical sexual harassment policies suspend children for hugging a classmate. If you had predicted all this to my 1980 senior high class, we would have laughed that you had smoked some mighty bad dope to conjure up such an Orwellian dystopia. → Continue reading: America: closing her door to freedom