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

I live close to one of the great old cities of Britain, Newcastle upon Tyne. In two centuries it has been transformed from a hive of enterprise and local pride, based on locally generated and controlled capital and local mutual institutions of community, into the satrapy of an all-powerful state, its industries controlled from London or abroad (thanks to the collectivization of people’s savings through tax relief for pension funds), and its government an impersonal series of agencies staffed by rotating officials from elsewhere whose main job is to secure grants from London. Such local democracy as remains is itself based entirely on power, not trust. In two centuries the great traditions of trust, mutuality and reciprocity on which such cities were based have been all but destroyed – by governments of both stripes. They took centuries to build. The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle, in whose magnificent library I researched some of this book, is but a reminder of the days when the great inventors and thinkers of the region, almost all of them self-made men, were its ambitious luminaries. The city is now notorious for shattered, impersonal neighbourhoods where violence and robbery are so commonplace that enterprise is impossible. Materially, everybody in the city is better off than a century ago, but that is the result of new technology, not government. Socially, the deterioration is marked. Hobbes lives, and I blame too much government, not too little.

– A paragraph near the end (pp. 264-5) of The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley. Time was when the best popularisers of science were left wingers, and they bolted left wing conclusions onto the end of their popularisations. Ridley does a similar thing there, but in the service of capitalism, progress and freedom.

Ridley is a terrific writer, and there are dozens of quotes scattered through this book which I could have chosen for the SQotD treatment.

7 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    What is missing is faith- but never fear! Science seems about to announce that it has found God, or at least one of his particles! Imagine how that will reinvigorate society, when the civil war between science and religion comes to an end- both are right!!! With the Higgs-boson particle (aka the god particle) found, science can continue to have faith in the standard model of physics! Eutopia at last!!!

  • Fiend's Brave Victim

    It’s about time someone wrote this about Newcastle, for it is surely the best example of the phenomenon Ridley describes in the country. It’s my home town too, though, and I must say that the claim about robbery and violence is done for dramatic effect—Newcastle is one of the least violent, least robberyish cities going, almost to the point that it serves as one of the best examples of Ridley’s claim that it has lost its status as an important city and has become a dreary parochial backwater. What it lacks in culture and economy when put next to London, Manchester, Leeds, it also lacks in crime, personal danger, violence.

    And I live in east London now, so I know…

  • I grew up walking distance from George Stephenson’s house.

    Oh, well! Us Geordies built the World! We did you know. Then got ourselves shafted by it. They have just shut down the Armstrong tank works in Elswick.

    Fiend’s Brave Victim is correct. Newcastle isn’t that violent. I have also lived in Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester and indeed East London so I know. For getting shot at by a Yardie with a TESCO bag full of skunk (outside the Marcus Garvey Centre it was like the Bisto Kids with added Glock-17s handled sideways) Nottingham takes the cake (Radford is something else – it’s Hell on Earth – try buying a can of Lilt – the shop-keepers are (understandably behind 10cm of armoured glass) but the Ferrero Roche for casual street crime has to go to Leeds. I’m walking back down a major thoroughfare after a late night on the computers at the University and I get “steamed” by some “Street Arabs” (to quote Holmes) and they nick my fucking pizza out of my hands (box and all) and bugger off down the maze that is Little London (a shit-hole beyond measure – every “garden” has a fucked electrical appliance on the “lawn” and a shitterated mattress boasting multiple “Maps of Africa”). I have rarely in my puff been so annoyed.

    Gorton had it’s moments too. After one “incident” there my girlfiend required surgery on her nose and I had bust ribs. Now this is the sneaky thing. It was a load of kids and one of them punched her knowing they would lure me into an ambush and then dropped a rock on me. It was tactical genius. It was also scumbaggery of the first water. Me and my girlfriend (now my wife – I took on the best afternoons out) couldn’t catch ’em. We were on foot and they had mopeds. Bastards. They buggered-off chuckling.

    But, the real problem with Newcastle is… I know it. I done it. I temped there and most of the jobs come from the state. I once worked for NICO which has a ginormous office in Longbenton. It is apparently the second largest office complex on the planet. The only one larger is the sodding Pentagon.

    There are many great things about Newcastle. It is a fine city. I have to say that because I was born there but it is. The C18th architecture (that which wasn’t ripped down by the Commie T Dan Smith and his mucker Poulson) is magnificent. The remains of the shipyards are tragic mind. But there is a big off-shore industry still – mainly oil-rigs and ship-repair.

    It is a great city in many ways but it is utterly, totally “stated” and that is it’s tragedy.

    And yes, the Lit and Phil is a magnificent institution. If you live in the NE do join it – last I heard – couple of years back – membership was from 100 quid a year (with deals for families etc!) I would be a member but I live in Cheshire so there isn’t much point.

    But here’s the link…


    That is what Newcastle was about and ought still to be about. Oh, but how terribly “elitist”! A can of Coke at my local Co-op costs 75p so basically anyone who believes charging a couple of quid a week for membership of a wonderful library is “elitist” can piss off. And it never was “elitist”. Some of the great engineers and such (from humble origins) were members because that was the simplest way to access books and meet like minded people, have a chinwag and invent things. For the weekly cost of one sandwich. It is the state that bollocked it and the bizarre belief that such institutions were intrinsically for the wealthy when they clearly weren’t.

    Instead we have state libraries (my local one is two minutes walk away and in several years I haven’t fucked myself to get a card because Catherine Cookson in LARGE PRINT is not really my thing). OK, it probs serves the biddies and fair enough but I ain’t no biddy nor codger (I have had enough with coffin-dodgers parking Honda Jazzs excruciatingly badly on my street). I am a 38 year old bloke with a full head of hair and no interest whatsoever in domestic violence or backstreet abortions in South Shields in the ’20s.

    That is not to slag CC as such. The lady gave a huge amount of money to Newcastle University for medical research. I just don’t like the books. Others do which is really my point.

  • Paul Marks

    The economic and cultural sides of the quote are quite accurate.

  • Andrew Duffin

    xlnt quote.

    One has similar feeling when regarding the city halls of Glasgow or Paisley, or even, as I did recently, Ayr Town Hall, where a whole corridor is decorated with portraits of former Provosts – dignified local men, serving (not bossing) their community and personalising its traditions and pride. In the same building, a fine council chamber room with lovely plasterwork and more decent pictures, now stands empty and useless, its functions transferred to Brussels or Westminster, and enforced by petty tyrants and quislings from a ghastly 60’s concrete box a mile or so away.

    How much we have lost since the Socialist Bureaucratic State became over-mighty!

  • Fiend's Brave Victim

    I disagree that Ridley’s ‘cultural’ points are entirely accurate: I suspect his ‘shattered, impersonal neighbourhoods’ refer to the classically-grim poorer areas of higher unemployment—Walker, Wallsend @c. (I say this because his writing does suggest a rather sweeping approach without much common experience.) If this is so then I think he is entirely incorrect. There is a reason that there were no copycat riots in Newcastle last year other than lack of a lot of rappers, and that is that your grim, dole-waller bits of town are actually thrusting and diverse grey/black economies which rely on highly personal, near-mercantilist communities. I have met teenagers in Wallsend who were receiving daily commodity price information to their phones and a buttie-van owner with a new sportscar who brags about paying no income tax whatsoever. DavidNCL who reads here occasionally has a story about a Walker taxi driver who was retiring at 50-odd because his wife had so successfully ‘done the beauty’ (ie. cash in hand hair and nails executed in living rooms).

    I could be mistaken: If Ridley’s, shattered, impersonal neighbourhoods are the East Quayside Regeneration and Secular Tony Blair Worship Zone, or the Red or Dead Northern Rock Together Mortgage Enforced Pyjama Social Zone then he might be onto something, but as he might well be partly implicated in the problems of the latter I doubt it.

    And I can confirm as an ex-member that the Lit & Phil was, in 2010 at least, £7.00 per month by direct debit for membership. There are no glass curtain walls (friendlified by children’s drawings of butterflies of course) or Interactive Heritage Experiences, but there are some books arranged by Dewey and some quiet areas with chairs where they can be read.