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I like this:

Given that time is a continuous variable, there is a certain arbitrariness to the way in which it is measured. For a long time, society has agreed a system composed of multiple units and one of those units, you may have noticed, just went up by one. Welcome to 2013.

It’s Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home, greeting the new year and looking back over the old one. The posting contains many things of interest, but allow me in particular to draw your attention to one of Libertarian Home’s projects that Gibbs lists as having done well, in the year 2012:

Getting a push from Samizdata my video and article on the The Reality of UK Uncut is a late entrant from December.

The push in question being this. A reminder, if any of us Samizdata contributors need it, that our blog can make quite a difference, in this case to the morale of a fellow libertarian, with a bit of linkage that consumed only a fraction of the time and effort that went into the item being flagged up.  When I did that Samizdata posting I had no idea how definite would be the boost supplied to Libertarian Home’s traffic. Good.

And here is a mention of another libertarian whose links can make a huge difference to whoever and whatever he links to.  Says Gibbs:

The Newtown shooting however is the grim source of this year’s number one story. Receiving a push from Guido the story earned 10% of the sites total traffic in the last few days of the year. It’s an interesting kind of success story for a blog that starts with the death of 26 people, but it’s a success story that makes me proud.

Something like 2000 people saw that graph on this website, a graph that rubbished the idea that the UK’s “gun free” society is automatically safer than the United States as a whole. The real picture being far more complicated. It is a small contribution to a very important and intense debate but it is the kind of detailed analysis that can change the minds of many rational readers. The graph has also been widely copied and linked to and I like to think that this blog, and Richard’s number crunching will make it a little bit harder for the Obama administration to succeed in a further clamp down on gun ownership. If you believe, as I do, that gun ownership prevents violent crime then this blog’s success story is one that might make the world a little bit safer and a little bit better and that’s why we do this.

As I am sure Gibbs realises, at any rate in his more pessimistic moments, Libertarian Home is probably not daily reading in the White House. But, politicians do react to the opinions of others, even if their own opinions and ambitions remain unchanged by mere analysis.  Every little helps.

9 comments to Linkage

  • Lee Moore

    I find the idea that it’s arbitrary to add one to the year count at the start of each year rather odd. Isn’t the choice of year as a unit of time rather obviously non arbitrary ? Earth, Sun, one time round – all that swaddling ?

  • James

    There’s some UN Small Arms Survey data that The Guardian (of all people) published last July in their ‘Data Blog’ which shows quite clearly that there is no correlation between gun ownership rates and gun homicide rates per capita in countries. I’m amazed that more libertarians haven’t picked up on this study (who’d have thought they aren’t regular Guardian readers).

  • Laird

    James, a link to that article would have been nice.

  • @Lee. The only sensible reason for having years is the importance of the seasons for agriculture, and with relatively few of us now concerned directly with agriculture the use of a continuous numerical value is a better fit and less complex computationally (as every computer programmer knows). As commercial space travel happens more regularly and planets with orbits of different durations become economically more important then days, weeks, months and even years will be pointless anachronisms.

    So yes, economically important at the moment but conceptually arbitrary in a universal sense.

    Anyway, I was merely trying to excuse the absence from the posting of a big world-changing annoucement by pointing out that underneath the assignments of units with fancy names there is no fundamental difference in the nature of the universe at 23:59:59 in 2012 and 00:00:00 in 2013, or indeed – if I understand physics correctly – at any other time.

    @Brian, thanks – once again – for the linkage.

    Optimistically, imagine what 2000 people actually looks like when crowded together, then dare to assume the real number is perhaps one third larger and that the whole crowd will now disperse and go for a beer in 2000 different pubs with 20,000 different acquaintences, and so on. I’m not surprised that it momentarily cooked my little web server.

  • Lee Moore

    @Simon. Up to a point Lord Copper. I agree that for computers and their programmers days, weeks etc may be pointless anachronisms. But for humans, even those not involved in agriculture, not so much. We evolved on this planet, we are sensitive to the difference between night and day. We also notice the change in seasons and that change affects our moods, our memories and our behaviour. Marking the passage of time in units that make sense to us psychologically is entirely reasonable. Universal computer time would be very worrying psychologically – there would be no familiar landmarks. (cf parking “outside the butchers” v parking in a giant multistorey car park.) Even when we are all living underground or in spaceships we will still need to divide time into chunks that fit our minds as they have evolved on Planet Earth.

    I recognise that none of this has anything to do with your post ! But I smelt a tiny whiff of “how silly humans are to blindly follow the ways of the past” in your post. As Hayek correctly pointed out, it is not necessary to know why a custom is sensible, for it to be sensible. Human nature, as it has contingently evolved, sets constraints on the “rational” reconstruction of society. And if armed libertarians have any role on this planet, it is to start cocking their pistols when idealists start promoting the idea of changing human nature.

    I’m confident that my knowledge of physics would be regarded as nil, to the nearest decimal point, but I have a feeling that statistically at least there is a fundamental difference between the universe at present and the universe at any time in the future. The latter will have more entropy.

  • Oddly enough, I would say I *am* an idealist, and *therefore* I agree with everything you said about reconstructing society, and FWIW, the usefulness of days.

  • Libertarian Home really is excellent. I must read I more.

  • Laird

    James, belated thanks for that link. It is indeed an interesting article; lots of data to play with. One interesting fact which leaps out is that although US is home to roughly 42% of the world’s civilian-owed firearms*, and US civilians own more guns per capita than anywhere else in the world, the US ranks only 65th in the number of firearm homicides per firearm. That’s below the median amoung the 100 or so countries which reported firearms homicides. In other words, we own a lot of gun but don’t use them on each other very much. In fact, we use them less than such countries as the Netherlands, Poland, Italy and Ireland, and only slightly more than Denmark and Spain. Food for thought.

    * Based on the reported data. I suspect that the actual number of extant firearms is substantiall higher in the nations which nominally ban or severely restrict civilian firearms ownership.