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]

The eco-despair of Alain de Botton

I heard the BBC’s A Point of View on Radio 4 this morning, Sunday. It is a 10-minute talk for general edification, falling between the religious service and the current affairs programme. The pop philosopher Alain de Botton has tenure on the current run. He called today’s piece “The ecological sublime” – a strange name, since it was concerned not with the sense of awe but with the anxiety and even terror aroused by environmentalists. I recommend hearing this short piece (available for a week, I believe) for the sake of the picture he paints of the desperation promoted by the deep greens’ jeremiads: a state of mind in which, as he says, we cannot fly to Florence to view Titians, raise our eyes to the snows of Kilimanjaro, transport milk by lorry to supermarkets, or enjoy an unusually warm spring day, without immediately fearing that we are implicit in crimes more enormous and devastating than nuclear bombing, while we are more powerless than any footsoldier caught up in a war crime – powerless because “we need collective solutions” and they are near-impossible because they would require the cooperation of over six billion people. He talks of Armageddon, of species suicide. The natural world no longer evokes forces greater than ourselves but only suggests our own powers – and those powers are terrifying. The new environmental awareness threatens to drive us into despair.

De Botton is not pointing to these baleful effects in order to condemn the doom-mongers. He swallows the whole thing hook, line and sinker.

And what is his remedy? He does not offer any philosophical resistance. His first remarks on opening the talk are on the general irrelevance of his own vocation: we should be drinking up the solid science of the ecologists rather than bothering about philosophers like him. He thinks the philosophical job is done by sketching out the situation created by the new environmental awareness. He recommends that we turn to artists – those gullible groupies of the greens! – to give us heart.

De Botton has another suggestion: that we counter our megalomania by meditating daily on selected astronomical objects, driving home to ourselves how very big they are and how very far away. That will keep us in our place, he thinks; it is his secular alternative to religious meditation.

This sorry suggestion would not work for me. I have always been fascinated by astronomy and I know quite a few of its big numbers. They never made me feel humble.

Perhaps if de Botton thought philosophical thinking were more important than he does, he would think it important to investigate the environmentalists’ descriptions of reality, and think critically about their nostrums. He might conclude that environmental pessimism is a libel on the state of the human race: things are in good shape, they are looking good for the future, and, rather than feeling despondent, we can feel proud of ourselves.

A brief commercial break

Leaving aside current affairs for the second, feast your tired eyes on these absolute beauties of motorcar design. Ralph Lauren certainly has an exceptional collection of classics. My favourite is the mid-60s Ferrari.

Samizdata quote of the day

How about adding some math lessons to plot statistically the chance of an Arab suicide bomber and a gay socialist vegetarian pacifist wearing a Che Guevara tee shirt and no sense of irony all ending up on the same bus in London?

Sigh…Math was never that much fun in my school days.

State education is beyond parody.

– Perry de Havilland commenting here

Islam is not beyond critical judgement

I reacted rather badly the other day to Baroness Warsi’s weird rant about ‘bigotry‘ towards Muslims but it is gratifying to see I was not the only one who her remarks rubbed the wrong way.

Warsi seems to be of the view that unless you have a positive view of Islam, it is not really acceptable for you to express your opinions in polite society even in private ‘around the dinner table’. That someone who is a member of the establishment in the UK could think that notion was going to fly is a measure of the disconnect between some people ‘at the top’ and us oiks out in the real world.

This hatred of Palin issue

There is a nice piece by Don Surber (H/T, Instapundit) seeking to explain the hatred that is felt among some folk for Sarah Palin. He obviously focuses on the attitudes of Americans, but I’d wager that some of that applies also to non-Americans who hate or despise her in much the same way that such people also got riled by Ronald Reagan’s folksy speaking manner and ignored the wisdom and intelligence of that man. It is a good piece.

It got me thinking about why certain politicians, even if they espouse views which are not necessarily all that outrageous or objectionable, provoke feelings of such hatred in some quarters. In the UK, for example, the last person I think who was really hated in the Palinesque sort of way was our own Margaret Thatcher. There are certain things in common – although not ones I would stretch too far – such as that they came from unfashionable parts of their countries (Lincolnshire/Alaska); made a point about religion in their lives (they are obviously nutters then); happy marriages (which provokes a strange kind of resentment among some folk); a certain middle-brow, cultivated lack of pretension; the pitch and tone of their voices (Maggie sounded very arch early on), and so on.

Add in the fact that they are women in a male-dominated arena of politics, and the reason for hatred grows. And I also think that for a lot of so-called feminists, a woman who espouses “family values”, supports capitalism, etc, is seen as letting the side down. This rather ignores what we Samizdata writers would say, that free markets, when freed of state interference, are usually very good news for women, since bigotry against women, like any other group, is a cost.

There is also something quite useful about Sarah Palin in this regard. Although I do not agree with all her views, at least as far as I know what they are, I usually find that the sort of people who say they hate or despise her are nobs of the first rank. So it is a sort of useful marker: if I find myself talking to someone and her name comes up and the reaction is as described, I can usually pigeonhole that person as someone to be avoided.

And Palin has great legs. The sources of hate must run very deep indeed.

Shale gas changes everything (including the climate change debate)

Indeed. And not just the price of all the other kinds of gas.

Am I the only one who suspects that a lot of the climate change hubbub whipped up in recent years was really just a cover for getting young lefty-inclined scientists to find other kinds of energy, not actually to save the planet, but rather to enable the rulers of the West to tell those pesky Arabs to take a hike? I don’t read the right sort of blogs and websites to know for sure, but I doubt very much that I am.

Anyway, now, another kind of energy has come on stream, of the sort that conflicts with all the climate change hubbub, because it is disturbingly similar in its imaginary climatic effects to the stuff that our rulers want to be able to stop buying from the Arabs.

The BBC’s Roger Harrabin quotes the Chief Economist at the International Energy Association, Dr Fatih Birol:

“There’s suddenly much more gas available in the world than previously thought,” he told BBC News.

“It’s cheaper than it was and the supply is more assured. And it’s only half as polluting as coal. There will be strong debates between energy and climate and finance ministries round the world about whether investment should continue to support renewables when the situation on gas has so radically changed.”

That settled science is already turning out to be not so settled after all, and this just might be part of the reason, don’t you think? Governments, for their own reasons that have nothing to do with the actual argument, are now switching from being climate change fanatics to what the climate change fanatics call climate change deniers.

The moral is: if you want to spread some ideas, any ideas, don’t rely on governments to help you. They will help you, if and while it suits them. But if and when it stops suiting them, you’d better be ready to win your argument all by your little old self.

Cobden Centre’s Toby Baxendale gets a good point over via the BBC

The other night, when I had the TV on, I saw that one of the programmes, featuring the BBC top economics and business correspondent, Robert Peston, was all about the financial panic of recent years. Oh dear, I thought, I can just imagine the usual line about how it was all the fault of greedy bankers, insufficient regulation, “unregulated laissez faire capitalism”, and on and on. Well, not quite. Yes, some of those elements were there, but there was also quite a lot of sophisticated explanation of how a combination of forces – leverage, “too big to fail bailout protection, over-confidence in newfangled ideas of risk management and misalignment of incentives for bankers – combined to create the storm. I would have liked to see more focus on the role of ultra-low central bank interest rates in creating the crisis, as well as government intervention in the housing market and through deposit insurance, but to be fair, this was mentioned, several times. There was little in the show with which someone like Kevin Dowd, recently referred to here, would dispute, although I imagine Kevin might want to make more about the vexed issue of ownership of banks and limited liability.

And about three-quarters of the way into the show was Toby Baxendale, founder of the Cobden Centre, the organisation founded last year to flag up the problems caused by central banking fiat money, and which sets out alternative ideas, such as the possibility of giving depositors in no-notice cash accounts the right to demand that their cash is properly looked after, not lent out for months in a risky play. (Yup, it is that pesky fractional reserve banking issue again). Toby was very forceful and his views were treated respectfully by Peston. There was no sneering.

In short, this was and is a pretty good programme as far as the MSM goes. I give it about 8 out of 10. Yes, I am not drunk.

Mocking Hollywood

“In the bubbled, hypocritical mind of some in Hollywood, the only reason Gervais crossed a line is because he went after them. Had he been as relentless in ripping apart Sarah Palin, her young children, Jesus Christ, or George W. Bush, today the comedian would be celebrated as “edgy” and “courageous” — because only in Hollywood is throwing red meat to a hard-left crowd considered “edgy” and “courageous.” But Gervais didn’t do that. Instead, he trained his satirical fire on Hollywood Power and today there’s serious talk about whether or not the comedian will be brought back to the Golden Globes next year as host.”

John Nolte, at the Big Hollywood blog.

I think he has a strong point in his praise of Ricky Gervais’s performance, but I have a slight reservation. Imagine if Gervais had said such insulting things about showbiz people that Mr Nolte holds dear, or causes he supports. I doubt we would get such applause. And I also note that in the Daily Mail newspaper yesterday (I quote from reading the print edition), the writer, Quentin Letts, raves on about Gervais’s rudeness as if it was a barnstorming example of high wit. No it wasn’t. I cannot imagine your average Daily Mail reader enjoying say, an attack by an American comedian on the Royal family, for example.

The sad truth is that yes, Hollywood is full of self-regarding jerks who deserve all they get. But that does not make gratuitous rudeness somehow clever, as far as I can see, and I don’t see how we are going to get better movies as a result. And this does all rather cement the idea in American’s minds that many Brits are little more than hooligans. (I’d like to know what Stateside commenters think of how this all comes across.)

Talking of good movies, has anyone yet seen The King’s Speech?

Lex longa regnum breve

There was a time when the cry of liberals everywhere was that the State should keep out of the bedroom – no longer.

Andrew Brown of the Guardian has written an article entitled Why the Cornish hotel ruling should worry conservative Christians.

I think it should worry any person who in any aspect of his or her life is a minority or who might one day be part of a minority.

A law you like is passed; it coerces those you dislike. You rejoice, you “liberals”. But the wheel turns. You do not have to die old in order to live long enough to see what was once persecuted tolerated and what was once tolerated persecuted.

Breaking a lot of eggs to make something a bit scrambled

As regulars may know, there is no hard editorial line in these parts about certain views, such as intellectual property rights (steady on, old chap, Ed). Take the case of the “whistleblower” site Wikileaks. Samizdata’s founder, Perry de Havilland, has come round to taking the view that whatever collateral damage might be caused by Wikileaks, that the benefits outweigh the bad. I am less sanguine than that; I fear that the activities of Wikileaks may make governments become even more secretive. I admit that much of this stems around attempts forecast the unknowable. For all I know, Perry may be proven right and my reservations are unfounded.

But as they say about making omelettes and breaking eggs, a lot of eggs can be broken on the way to culinary goals. And this latest story, concerning a fired Julius Baer banker who has decided to publish reams of client data on Wikileaks two days before he goes before a court, is instructive. Sure, some people who use offshore bank accounts via Zurich or wherever are up to no good, and deserve to be exposed. This is particularly the case if such persons are politicians who favour high taxes, socialist economics and the rest. When it turns out that such folk are salting away their wealth in Zurich, Zug or Geneva, it is delicious to see their discomfiture. But – and it is a big but – many people who bank offshore are not primarily looking to hide ill-gotten gains or adopting a double standard; they are people who wish to take advantage of free capital movement and “vote” with their wallets for a low tax jurisdiction. “Exit” is often more powerful than “voice”; the ability to leave a jurisdiction, as I have said before, is one of the few incentives to make oppressive regimes marginally better behaved.

Consider what Wikileaks might want to expose next: health records? The insured art collections of certain people? You can see how leaking such data could be a gift to would-be kidnappers and extortion artists. This is not a theoretical issue. Dan Mitchell and Chris Edwards, in their book, “Global Tax Revolution: the Rise of Tax Competition and the Battle to Defend It”, published in 2008 by the Cato Institute, point out that in some parts of the world, a high proportion of individuals bank offshore because their domestic governments have habitually robbed them in the past. Disclosure of financial details can lead to a person having his daughter’s body parts mailed through with a letter threatening further horrors unless a payment is made. Bank privacy is not, therefore, something that only criminals take advantage of, although that business is often portrayed that way.

Like I said, omelettes and broken eggs. We’ll see how this dish turns out.

The Tea Partiers are good people with good ideas

This posting is about politics in the USA. Please realise that it is a simplification, what mathematicians call a first approximation, more true than false, and sufficiently true to be worth saying so that it may perhaps then be modified and qualified towards the actual truth.

I ought also to admit that I have never set foot in the USA, and that I got the notions that follow from the Internet, and before that from watching (as I still now watch) USA television shows (mostly comedy and cop shows). We here in Britain get lots of those. I freely admit that distance, instead of lending clarity to my eye, could merely have lent and be lending bullshit to it. In fact, I do admit it. But the bullshit it has lent includes the kind of bullshit that wins and loses USA elections. First approximation truth about what is being perceived, about what big bullshit picture is being believed in, is often sufficient to win or lose an election. For as we all know, a big part of reality in politics is perception. Voters in the USA get a lot of their ideas about politics in the USA from the Internet and from television shows, or so it says on the Internet and on television.

So here goes.

In political USA now, there are now four important groups of people. There are Democrats, Old School Republicans, Tea Partiers, and Voters. Political outcomes were determined by what the Voters decided about the first two. They are now determined by what the Voters decide about the other three.

Voters used to think that Democrats were good people with bad ideas, clever, but mostly only at excusing their bad ideas. Democrats sincerely believed in bloating the government, taxing, regulating and generally screwing things up. But they applied these bad ideas to all, without fear or favour. Personally, they had blue collars and were honest hardworking folks. They did not lie or cheat. They looked you in the eye and treated you right.

Voters used to think that Old School Republicans were bad people with good ideas. Republicans believed in business success, low taxes, less regulation, and generally getting the US economy motoring along. Trouble is that they were also rich and nasty snobs, and corrupt. They used their grasp of economics mostly to get rich themselves. Politically, they applied their ideas only in ways that suited them. If a tax or a regulation happened to suit them or their huge country club network of rich and nasty and snobbish friends, then they would, on the quiet, be for it. For them, business-friendly government meant a government friendly to their own businesses. If, on the other hand, your collar was blue, they’d deregulate and tax-cut the hell out of you, for the good of all, and for the good of themselves especially.

Hard to choose, wasn’t it? No wonder it was a dead heat, decade after decade. Good but stupid idiots versus clever but sneaky bastards.

It still is a dead heat, between Democrats and Old School Republicans, but this is because things are now moving towards Voters thinking that Democrats are bad people with bad ideas, and that Old School Republicans are bad people with bad ideas. Democrats now look like (or are being revealed as always having been) greedy and malevolent bastards with the same old bad ideas as ever. Old School Republicans are the same rich and greedy snobbish bastards they always were, but are now seen to be infected by (or revealed as always having believed in) bad ideas much like those of their opponents.

Enter the Tea Party.

The Tea Partiers started out as people whom the Voters regarded as dubious people with dubious ideas, and are moving towards being people whom the Voters believe to be …

I need some way to emphasise this next bit. Pay careful attention. I know, I’ll put the next five words into the title of this posting.

good people with good ideas. The Tea Partiers have good ideas, which they sincerely want to apply to all without fear or favour. They are good people who work or worked for their living, will look you in the eye and treat you right, no matter what colour your collar, or anything else about you.

The Tea Partiers thus threaten to destroy both the Democrats and the Old School Republicans. They threaten to destroy the Democrats by destroying them, and to destroy the Old School Republicans by replacing them with different Republicans, Tea Party Republicans.

The Democrats say that the Tea Partiers are “extreme” Republicans, Republicans who are even nastier. They wish. The Tea Partiers are indeed creating a new sort of Republican, but not an even nastier Republican. They are creating nice Republicans. Electorally, the Tea Partiers are cleansing the selfish richness and snobbishness and nastiness out of the Republican brand, leaving the ideas that the Republicans appeared once to believe in untouched, and renewed in strength and quality. If the Republican brand resists too much, the Tea Partiers will destroy it and make another.

The recent financial melt-down is, of course, crucial to all of the above. In a crisis, ideas matter. And the Internet, the new idea spreader, is also crucial. USA citizens need no longer submit to being told what they think about bad times, by the bad people with bad ideas who are to blame for these bad times. Democrats are being revealed as nasty, by the melt-down and the Internet. Old School Republicans are being revealed as stupid, by the melt-down and the Internet. The Tea Partiers are being revealed as being good people with good ideas, by the melt-down and the Internet. No melt-down and no Internet, and you are back to the old dead heat between nice idiot Democrats and sneaky bastard Old School Republicans. And the Tea Party? Without the melt-down and the Internet, there is no Tea Party. (According to television, there is, still, no Tea Party, only criminals.)

No wonder the Democrats and the Old School Republicans hate and fear the Tea Party and are trying anything and everything they can think of to make it seem like bad people with bad ideas. Trouble is, all that the critics of the Tea Party can now think of to say about the Tea Party just adds to the impression that such critics are nasty and stupid bastards.

This is a snapshot of now, not a prophecy about the next century. This is how USA politics is now and the direction that USA politics is moving in now. I don’t say that things will continue this way indefinitely. In particular, how will the Tea Partiers take to being part of the government, to having to grapple face-to-face with the melt-down? The continuing melt-down and the Internet might then turn round and reveal the Tea Partiers to be just another bunch of good idiots or nasty bastards, or just nasty idiots. But, the melt-down and the Internet are not doing that now. They are doing the exact opposite of that.

A Cluelessness of Journalists?

Predictably in the wake of the shooting of a US politician and her surrounding admirers by an incoherent leftist (but I repeat myself), the journalistic profession continues to show just how completely they do not understand the subject they write about.

It is too painful for a nation traumatised by Tucson to reflect how these virtues have been betrayed once again by the insidious gun culture of America; by the pathetic weakness of laws which allow criminals and madmen to get their hands on real weapons of mass destruction that can fire hundreds of bullets in a minute; by the gun lobby’s intimidation of politicians in vulnerable seats; by the greed of the gunmakers who nowadays prefer to manufacture weapons more suitable for mass murder than for individual defence.

Yet far from gunmakers (who are a trivial political force) driving this debate, never was there a more truly ‘grass roots’ movement in the USA than the one which supports the right to keep and bear arms. Moreover ‘individual defence’ is only one of the reasons the Second Amendment exists… the primary reason for this piece of constitutional artifice is to keep the population armed as a counterweight not to criminals, well private sector criminals that is, but to the state itself.

But to expect a mainstream journalist writing for a British newspaper declaiming about US affairs to understand that… well I suppose that is like expecting a rodent to suddenly start quoting Shakespeare. It just ain’t going to happen. People like journalist Harold Evans have hardly blinked as personal liberties have been remorselessly eroded across the western world and when they call for yet more state controls, their opinions should be judged accordingly.