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]

So genuine opposition is… unethical?

There is a subject that we often return to on Samizdata when discussing things, and that is ‘meta-context’. This is the frames of reference, the unspoken assumptions, the underpinning world view if you like, within which people see things and discuss them. Context is usually explicit, whereas meta-context is implicit and very much in the background.

This is a useful concept for understanding why discussions get framed in the manner they do. When the meta-context of two people is widely divergent, they tend to talk past each other, because much of what they say will not be what the other person understands. A great deal of the success of the statist political establishment comes from their control of the meta-context, so that in the minds of many, much of what states do simply goes without saying… that is just the way it is, even if on a contextual level a person is not predisposed to like or trust the political establishment, the state’s basic purview is essentially a given and thus not really pondered deeply, much like the sun rising in the morning.

So when David Cameron and Gordon Brown exchange meaningless ritual barbs in the House of Commons, we hear an exchange between two people with somewhat different politics and personalities, but they are as one at the meta-contextual level. Each understand the other completely on a great many levels and both understand instinctively what are the ‘proper’ limits of their political ‘disagreement’.

So when someone comes along who does not share meta-context, all sorts of interesting things happen. Not only is there going to be a profound non-meeting of minds, there is going to be both misunderstanding and often great antipathy as people struggle to fit the opposing person’s views within their own meta-context, assuming things that are actually not the case at all and imputing meaning that tell you far more about the person doing the imputing than the person they are discussing.

And so I present you with Randy Cohen, who blogs for the mainstream statist-left newspaper the New York Times as The Ethicist. The article which caused my meta-contextual antennae to start tingling a few days ago was titled How not to talk about health care. → Continue reading: So genuine opposition is… unethical?

Samizdata quote of the day

“This coup took place to protect your liberty. Some of you may find this strange, as you currently have less liberty, owing to my regime being a vicious theocratic hell. Well, to use a phrase of a friend of mine, try thinking outside the box. It is well known that to have a large degree of liberty, it is necessary to surrender a small amount to allow for police, security services and the like. We have taken this concept a step forward: since you have surrendered all your liberty, you now have even more liberty to do exactly what I say or die like the filfthy heretic scum you are. Feel free to agree with me on this point.”

– The Grand Hyrax, newly established God-King-Prophet-Emperor of Urn, the fourth planet of the sun Didcot. From the book God Emperor of Didcot by Toby Frost.

The European Arrest Warrant in action

Imagine a future where you could find yourself arrested for crimes for which you were acquitted nearly twenty years ago… where you can be found guilty and sentenced in your absence and without your knowledge… a future where when you go on holiday abroad you find yourself being arrested for you know not what – and those arresting you do not know either; they just know you are wanted in another foreign country.

This is not the future.

I have added emphasis to this BBC story about Deborah Dark in order to highlight aspects that particularly shocked me but otherwise left it unchanged.

A British grandmother is being pursued by France for a crime she was convicted of in her absence 20 years ago.
Deborah Dark, 45, from London, was acquitted of a drugs offence in 1989 – but found guilty and sentenced to six years on appeal without being told.

France issued a European Arrest Warrant in 2005 but recent extradition attempts have failed in both the UK and Spain.

UK charity Fair Trials International said the warrant system was creating a “blatant injustice” against her.

Ms Dark, from Richmond in south-west London, was arrested in France in 1989 in a car containing several kilos of cannabis.

A French court believed her defence that she been set up by an abusive boyfriend and was acquitted.

But she was unaware the prosecution appealed without telling her after she returned to the UK and she was found guilty and sentenced in 1990.

A European Arrest Warrant was issued by the French authorities for Ms Dark to be returned to France to serve her jail term.

Ms Dark told the BBC of the effect that still being officially wanted in France had had on her.

She said: “It’s destroyed me, and to see my daughter to go through all that pain again. I just will never forget it.

“I can’t leave the country. If I leave the country I will be arrested because I’m still on the European Arrest Warrant.”

In 2007 she was arrested on a package holiday at a Turkish airport but the authorities were unable to give her a reason.

On her return to the UK the British police could not find any warrants against her.

When Ms Dark travelled to visit her retired father in Spain in 2008 she was arrested and spent one month in custody.

But a Spanish court refused to extradite her on the grounds of unreasonable delay and the significant passage of time.

When she returned to the UK she was arrested by British police at Gatwick airport and released on bail pending an extradition hearing. Magistrates refused extradition in April this year.

Fair Trials International said Ms Dark was effectively being “imprisoned in the UK”.

Chief executive Jago Russell said: “Deborah’s case is a shocking example of the way a system intended to deliver justice has created a blatant injustice.

“The European Arrest Warrant should have been designed with a time-limit built in but it wasn’t.

“The result – a person’s life can be turned upside down for an event alleged to have happened 20 years ago.

Let’s get real

It has often been said that one of the more important functions of blogs like this is to get ‘memes’ (or ideas, as I prefer to call them) started and then spread around virally. In the spirit, I think it behoves us to begin spreading this idea: that people who work in the public sector should be exempt from having to pay tax. All tax.

And, no, I am not proposing to do them a big favour, though expect that many in the public sector will see it as a favour and that is all for the good. No, what I am proposing is the stripping away of a fig-leaf that disguises the very important distinction between tax-payers and tax-consumers.

Currently, only those who earn their living in the private or voluntary sector are tax-payers and while public sector employees do file tax returns and, on the face of it, pay their taxes too, this is a mere bookkeeping fiction. They are the recipients of tax, adding nothing to the public purse. The number of people who fail to understand this distinction, holding instead that “we are all taxpayers” is alarmingly high. By forcing the public sector to lead tax-free lives, we make their true status not just clearer but undeniable.

It is high time that we made it crystal clear as to who bears the burden of taxation and who enjoys the benefit; who produces the wealth and who gets the wealth handed to them. It is a cheap and easy means of dramatically changing the dynamic of all economic and political debate.

If you like this idea, then tell someone else. Let’s start spreading it.

Samizdata quote of the day

In every language, the first word after “Mama!” that every kid learns to say is “Mine!” A system that doesn’t allow ownership, that doesn’t allow you to say “Mine!” when you grow up, has – to put it mildly – a fatal design flaw.

– Frank Zappa

Paul Krugman and Anatole Kaletsky, call your office

The next time Gordon Brown, or his counterparts mock free marketeer “Austrians” such as myself for our opposition to Keynesian monetary expansionism and huge state debt, perhaps they could explain why, after all the vast spending that there has been, we get figures such as this. Just asking.

For those unaware, Mr Kaletsky is an economics writer and supposed investment guru who fully supports the Keynesian view. I assume most readers have heard of Mr Krugman.

Samizdata quote of the day

You can basically sum the UK government’s dilemma up as either they’re going to have to tell Gerry Adams he has to have a British ID card to live in NI or tell Iain Paisley he’s going to need a passport to travel from Belfast to London…

– An anonymous commenter, at The Register, discussing one of the minor obstacles to the British government’s ID card and e-borders schemes.

Fairey Swordfish Mk IV recovery

I have been sitting on this story for several years, ever since Gary Gaudet contacted me through the Samizdata comments section after a story I published about a Swordfish from the HMS Ark Royal being spotted on the ocean bottom near the sunken carrier. Since that time I have spoken with him several times as well as trading emails.

His Swordfish is in a somewhat drier and slightly more reachable location in the wilds of Nova Scotia. It will soon be brought in from the cold after resting where it ended its flying career after a walk-away crash in 1944. I spoke with him again this afternoon and with his permission I am bringing this story to a wider audience. It has been known locally for some time, but there has been an understandable desire not to attract undue attention until the aircraft recovery was at least imminent.

It may not look like much to the untrained eye, but to those of us who are Warbird afficionados, it is incredibly complete. There have been rebuilds to fly from wrecks recently dragged out of the Russian wilderness which were found in worse condition that this.

Fairey Swordfish Mk IV wreck
Fairy Swordfish Mk IV in Digby County, Nova Scotia.
Photo: Gary Gaudet

Although the Swordfish is a biplane, it used very modern construction methods and was an incredibly rugged aircraft. The ‘stringbag’ was still in use at the end of WWII and is much loved by those who flew her and all the youngsters like myself who built the Airfix model of this beautiful bit of British Naval Aviation history.

PS: There is ever so much more to this story than I have time to write this afternoon. I have hopes Gary Gaudet will drop by the comment section and regale you with more of the story: he has been in contact with the family of the fellow who happened to have flown this very particular airframe!

An excellent way to limit government…


A chance encounter? Perhaps not.

We need to try this in the UK as well. Releasing rabid pit bulls in Parliament (and then locking the doors with everyone inside) might be more culturally appropriate however.

A tactic that could come back to haunt the UK

The decision by the UK government a few months ago to use anti-terrorism powers over the case of Icelandic banks in trouble has caused deep resentment in Iceland. As this article suggests, such a tactic is hardly a way for Britain – now in deep debt – to make friends with foreign investors. Of course, Mr Brown may have made the calculation that he will be out of power in a few months so why care? But even so, the use of such powers represented a new low for UK diplomatic relations. It also proves the age-old truth that if governments acquire new powers, they will use them in ways far beyond their original scope.

Argument by intimidation

The other night I attended a talk by Tara Smith, a philosopher from the University of Texas who has written a number of good books, such as this one. Her talk was at a private event so I am not going to relate the exact details of what was said, but one thing that struck me during the Q&A session was when a guy in the audience, who clearly disagreed violently with Prof. Smith’s views, began to state that she “did not get” certain ideas (which he presumably agreed with).

I really dislike this verbal tactic, although I occasionally find myself lapsing into it, and I should not. When we say that someone does not “get” something, such as not “getting” rock music, or clothes fashions, or a political creed, or whatnot, what they really are trying to say is that “X does not like or agree with this because he or she is an idiot or is blind to the wonderfulness of it.” I remember, back in the days when he was cheerleading for George W. Bush, Andrew Sullivan was a particularly bad offender, writing about how X or Y did not “get” the threat posed by Saddam/etc and so forth. Even if Sullivan was right at the time, this tactic smacked of saying that smart, clever people like him understood what was going on but those who did not were in some ways deficient in their reasoning.

Jamie Whyte, about whom I have written before, has a great book debunking these lazy ways of thinking and arguing. Well worth the read.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Groupthink was a major factor in the buildup of risk in the financial system in the decade preceding the recent crisis. Top bank executives and regulators ignored dissenting voices from both ends of the political spectrum which were questioning the excesses that were building up in the system. What was once a comfortable consensus about the strength of our regulatory structure has now been replaced by an equally comfortable and equally flawed consensus about how to fix it.”

Arnold Kling, libertarian-leaning economist, giving a long report on the problems with how the US administration has sought to deal with the crisis, and why he thinks those moves will make future problems more, not less likely. My fear is that for now, such warnings will continue to go unheeded not just in the US administration of The Community Organiser, but in the UK and parts of Europe, as well.