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

“Fear not,” said the angel at Christmas, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Indeed. There has never been a better time to be a human being.

– Dan Hannan writes in Conservative Home that 2015 was the best year in human history, and 2016 will be better yet.

Libertarians are now the optimists about the human future, and collectivists are the pessimists. Libertarians know how to make the world better for humans and are doing this, by resisting and (wherever possible) rolling back collectivism. Collectivists never did know how to make the world better for humans, but now not even they believe that they know how to do this. All they can now do is fabricate catastrophe and demand that keeping human progress going be made into a crime.

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22 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Mr Ecks

    For a website that calls itself “Conservative Home” there seem to be a lot of leftists commenting on Hannan’s article. Even some creeper styling himself as “Tory Leftist”.

    And there –despite Hannan’s free-market and tech based “Reasons to be Cheerful” is the politically based “Reasons to be Fearful”.

    When even a supposed Tory site is full of supporters of leftism and eco-twaddle etc,etc, ad nauseam, then the destruction of our potentially very bright future is dangerously close at hand.

  • Mike Giles

    Collectivists are demanding that stasis be enshrined, because without stasis their ideology makes no sense.

  • qet

    As a near-term pessimist, I can easily find metaphorical hooks on which to hang my pessimism even in the face of these facts, such as “a light bulb is always brightest just before its filament burns out,” or “it’s always dawnest before the dark.”

    But I find this sort of utilitarian arithmetical reasoning unpersuasive, with its gaze fixed solely on the material and the measurable. No one lives as “a human being,” as some kind of arithmetical average of material indices. 2015 was hardly a better time to be alive for the well-fed Paris dead and their families. Those were not random, accidental deaths. They were cause and effect. If the present demonstrates anything, it is that the good cannot be understood as a function of material indicators. That is how one judges the well-being of cattle.

  • qet

    @ Mike Giles:

    Enshrining stasis is another name for “standing athwart history yelling Stop.” The Left are the literal conservatives today, an irony apparently lost on every last one of them.

  • Paul Marks

    Brazil has already bust – it bust in 2015.

    Whether other, larger, economies bust in 2016 remains to be seen.

    The low oil price helped some major economies, such as Japan, falling apart in 2015.

    So YES 2015 was O.K. for most people – especially in China and India (where economic growth was strong – although possibly bubble based).

    But the international credit bubble economy has to bust sometime.

    Will 2016 be the year?

    I do not know – the bust has been put off so many times (by so many desperate measures).

    But, God forgive me, I HOPE the bust comes in 2016.

    I am sick of this waiting for the inevitable.

  • Greytop

    I have always argued that the ‘progressives’ are eager to progress right past the things that work towards things that don’t. However I suspect that the ‘progressives’ will continue to hold the moral high ground simply because despite having no credible authority, they have volume. By shouting very loud and complaining while being supported by a docile media and even more docile political gangs on either side, they will continue to pretend they have all the answers in 2016, just as they have done ever since Blair and his shifty cronies grabbed the throne in the mid-‘nineties.

    Will ’16 be a better year? I suspect at about this time in 12 months we will have a good idea how it all worked out.

  • Paul – You might indeed be right about the massive credit bubble, but over the years I’ve been amazed at the way the great post 1945 self licking lollipop has kept going.

    Remember in 1968/1969 DeGaulle was convinced that he had found a way to destroy the US dollar. Since then people have imagined all sorts of monetary devices that will supposedly bring the whole house of cards crashing down. The Eurodollar market, the Yen, the Euro and now for some, the Renminbi. None of them so far has worked, in spite of all the help they’ve gotten from our beloved political masters in Washington.

    Something is going on, but I damned if I know what it is ?

  • Shlomo Maistre

    qet largely is on target.

    It’s not that the material is irrelevant; it’s that human happiness is not measurable by such factors. Happiness is a fundamentally elusive, inherently transient phenomenon that results from a favorable congruence of experience, perception, and circumstance.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    There’s a reason why many millions, perhaps billions of people alive today are vastly wealthier than Roman emperors were in every way except for ownership of land and sexual partners while simultaneously being sad, miserable or at least not as fabulously happy as their wealth would suggest they should be.

  • Julie near Chicago

    qet gets it.

    I suppose it’s possible that the economies will survive, against all the odds…the most lethal diseases usually don’t kill absolutely all the infected. But it’s sure not the way to bet.

    But are people really better off? I keep seeing reports that the standard of living has actually declined, smartphones to the contrary. And I haven’t heard anything I believe that unemployment is down. Sorry, but things like “best since 2009” or “best since 2006” doesn’t cut it.

    And of course Greytop is quite right.

    And food prices have been going up at least since 2006. Yes, in the U.S. we have a little breather on gasoline, but whether or how much that’s due to Saudi dumping or our fracking or both I don’t know.

    Also, there’s old saying … how does it go … oh yeah, I remember, “Money can’t buy happiness.” Of course, Pearl Bailey had a response to that: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is better.”

    Paul’s right too of course. How long can this go on? I suppose it could be not a CRASH! but just a long, slow withering away…the balloon leaking air, faster than it was but not jet-propelled (yet, anyway). But I can’t separate in my emotions the loss of liberty (political freedom) from the poor state of the economy. And there are so many things no longer available in the stores…. A year ago I bought boards at the big DIY store and as usual they cut them down for me. A few months ago I needed to buy some more and have them cut, but they no longer provide that service.

    Still, nowadays we have things like oxygen concentrators and portable oxygen tanks, so those of us who need constant oxygen can get it, and we aren’t even homebound. So in that respect, and in lots of other medical respects, this is a very good time to be alive. on the other hand I’m lucky that I have very good insurance through my husband’s employer’s group plan. If I were reliant on just Medicare and Obamacare (!) it might be very, very different.

    And I worry how long the private-non-Medicare docs are going to be allowed to stay open.

    These worries are not limited to the U.S.

  • veryretired

    Thank you for this welcoming place. Happy New Year to all.

  • Laird

    Sorry, but I disagree that Get “gets it”. He most assuredly does not. His complaint that Hannan’s litany of “good things” focuses “solely on the material and the measurable“, and that “the good cannot be understood as a function of material indicators” is both arrogant and nonsensical. It is impossible to discuss improved quality of life (which is Hannan’s central thesis) in any meaningful way without quantification; you can’t assert that something is “better” without having both a comparator and a basis for comparison (i.e., some form of measurement). Moreover, while Hannan necessarily cites some percentages and similar quantifications to provide a basis for comparison, the truth is that the factors which he cites as demonstrating improved (and improving) quality of life are principally qualitative in nature.

    Of course 2015 was not a great year for some people. What of it? That’s the way life is: in every aspect of your life (finances, health, relationships, etc.) sometimes you have advances and sometimes reversals. People die all the time; for them that’s not one of their better years. But when speaking of the human condition in the aggregate, it is entirely appropriate, and meaningful, to demonstrate that life expectancy is up, infant mortality rates are down, wars afflict a smaller percentage of the earth’s population, more girls have access to education, health care is available to more people, fewer are living in abject poverty, etc. Those are all good things by any definition, and they are not made any less so merely because not every one of them applies to every individual.

    In some respects I share his short-term pessimism. As Paul Marks observes, the global credit bubble economy is unsustainable. Individual freedom is declining in much of the world (especially in the US, where I live). The spread of Islamic radicalism is troubling, to say the least. But none of that diminishes the points that Hannan makes. In many respects 2015 was a very good year in which to be a human being.

  • Well said Laird.

    Best regards, and Happy New Year to Everyone

  • Snorri Godhi

    Very well said indeed, Laird. I agree with every claim of Laird’s (and the claims are tightly packed in his comment) except for one: individual freedom seems to be declining in the US and the UK, perhaps in some other countries, but the big picture is one of increasing freedom. Nothing like 1989 or 1991, but just consider that both the Venezuelans and the Argentinians have voted against socialism this year. In Greece, Tsipras seems to have accepted economic reality to some extent. In Poland, socialists have disappeared from parliament: the 2 major parties in this year’s election are teh conservatives and the (classical) liberals. Putin is held in check by low oil prices. China has seen a slow but steady increase in economic freedom for a few decades. Free countries all over the world (except, sadly, in Western Europe) are coming to terms with the fact that they have to defend themselves, because they can no longer rely on the US.

    [qet’s] complaint that Hannan’s litany of “good things” focuses “solely on the material and the measurable“, and that “the good cannot be understood as a function of material indicators” is both arrogant and nonsensical.

    That was blunt, but i think it appropriate. It is arrogant to look down on material progress, when you have never been too poor to buy healthy food — let alone any food at all.

    There are risks looming ahead, as Laird admits. The best wishes that i can express for 2016 is that they will not come to pass, not just in 2016 but never.

  • qet

    Well I for one do not take offense at being called arrogant. I appreciate the engagement on a matter I consider to be an important one. It was my intention to assert a particular claim in a positive fashion, and if that act is being arrogant, then so be it. I hold with Koestler, another arrogant man, that “one should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up.”

    So it will surprise no one that I find Laird’s claims to be as incoherent as he finds mine nonsensical. First, I note that at the end of his argument, Laird has reduced Hannan’s unequivocal “there has never been a better time to be a human being” to the quite equivocal “In many respects 2015 was a very good year in which to be a human being.” Pretty weak tea this, hardly capable of being refuted or even rationally disagreed with, and even my arrogance wouldn’t dare.

    Second, I do not “look down on material progress.” In fact it is Hannan (and Laird, who takes as his ethical object the abstraction he calls “the human condition”) who “looks down,” as the archetypal disinterested omniscient observer standing outside of and above history. I do not deny Hannan’s facts; what I do is question their significance, their application to the individually lived life which after all is the only kind of life there is and in respect of which alone the good has meaning (in my opinion). My objection was not to material progress but to ethics as an exercise in utilitarian summing of scalar quantities (this is the street-light method of ethics that substitutes computation for reflection). Measurable increases in material supply result in a “better” life for an individual only under the classic condition “all other things being equal.” But of course all other things are never equal; in fact, no one can even say what “all those other things” even are. As far as I’m concerned, ethics-by-arithmetic is not ethics at all. To judge by an arithmetical operator is not just to avoid, but to actively evade, judgment. Material progress is a good in itself, but does not necessarily result in “better.” One might think that this last statement undermines my earlier one that the good is not a function of material indicators–after all, a thing can be a function of more than one thing. What I deny (question, really) is that ethics and the good can be rightly conceived as a “function” at all, of anything(s).

    Those are my convictions. If you don’t like them, I have others. Happy New Year, and here’s to a(n even) better 2016!

  • Laird

    “My objection was not to material progress but to ethics as an exercise in utilitarian summing of scalar quantities.” I have no quarrel with that, but when did this become a discussion about “ethics”? qet* gives us no clue to that in his earlier post. Certainly Hannan never mentions the word in his essay, which merely claims that “the world in 2015 was a better place than in 2014.” To me, that is an assertion of quantifiable material progress, not of some unquantifiable (and, frankly, unlikely) improvement in human ethical standards. The fact that every aspect of such progress is not applicable to every individual is irrelevant to Hannan’s argument.

    Hannan employs the phrase “the world”; I used “the human condition”. In this context I consider (and intended) those terms to be synonymous.

    Snorri, I don’t disagree with any of that. Merely because my individual freedom may be in decline doesn’t diminish the fact that the “big picture” is indeed one of increasing freedom. Which, in fact, is the point of my comment above.

    * Apologies for previously misreading the first letter of that nom de web as a “G” rather than a “Q”. In the SI font the lower case forms of those two letters are nearly indistinguishable. Capitalization would be helpful.

  • Snorri Godhi

    qet: i don’t know about Koestler, but nobody here called you arrogant: it is your claims that were called arrogant. (For lack of a better word.)
    OK, most Syrians would probably call Hannan arrogant (and actually i would call him arrogant too, when he talks about the euro); but in the end, any judgment as to whether things are getting better or worse, is necessarily quantitative to some extent: even if Hannan does not put a number on how much better things have become, he does say that the change has a positive sign. If you object to any such judgment, that’s fine for me, as long as we agree that, if you cannot say that things are getting better, then you cannot say that they are getting worse, either.
    BTW i appreciate the Groucho reference at the end of your comment. Cheers!

  • gongcult

    Ultimately the philosophy of limited government and the protection of our natural rights will . Prevail .And Create A FAR BETTER CIVILIZATION.
    To Julie: my closest friend’s mom -in law died of COPD. It’s really difficult to manage and not always effective . I hope that all goes well..

  • A Swiss

    ‘Prgressives’ have always only been degressives – in outlook and action.

  • Paul Marks

    I know what is going on Taylor – and so do you.

    What is going on is (on the fiscal side) endless government spending to replace the basic functions of Civil Society – thus Civil Society (voluntary interaction) is rotting away.

    Not really democratic (let alone a Constitutional Republic – a very different thing) as the people have never been asked to vote on this – in any of the major Western nations.

    The “educated” elite have done it from above – and then (over many years of “education”) convinced ordinary people that it is normal.

    Some Ancient Greek philosophers had had such utopian dreams – hence part of the reason for Cicero’s comment that some things are so absurd that only elite philosophers believe in them.

    Or William F. Buckley’s comment that he would rather be ruled by the first 50 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the academics of Harvard.

    And on the monetary side?

    Wild Credit Bubble finance – to pay for all the crazy usurpation of Civil Society by the “educated” elite who determine policy and have done for so long (rather like evil councillors whispering in the ear of a weak minded, and absolute [rather than limited – or “feudal”, contractual] monarch).

    You know all this Taylor – and so does everyone else on this comment thread. Including people I have, quite deliberately, treated with great harshness on other matters (I do not tolerate people who are philosophical determinists [or compatibilists – I may not agree with Kant and William James about much, but they were correct about “compatiblism”] or political absolutists [someone who accepts no limits on the power of government – someone who rejects the “rule of law” in the old sense] – I make a choice to be deliberately harsh with them so that they can be under no doubt that there is a “loss of friends” to use the 18th century term, I do indeed “take it personally”).

    What I do NOT know is when this evil (this political Platoism [not Platonic in a philosophical sense] – or Francis Bacon “New Atlantis” ism) will come crashing down.

    It will fall – that I do know when.

    But I do not know when – indeed I thought it would fall long ago.

    I hope other people are more knowledgeable than myself and understand these matters better – and have prepared so that they and their families can survie – and REBUILD after what is coming.

    As for me.

    I would like an honourable death – I have no illusions that I will survive what is coming (or even surive the run up to it), but I want to die honourably (rather than begging in a gutter somewhere).

    However, it is unlikely I will get what I want.

    Still that is unimportant as far as civilisation in general is involved.

    What matters is that people with more “practical wisdom” than myself (hopefully there are many such people) are prepared to surivive and rebuild.

    Hopefully the West will not be overrun by savage waves (such the Islamists) or by the tyranny that is the Peoples’ Republic of China.

    And hopefully fundementaly TECHNOLOGY (which Brian is quite right to stress) will NOT be lost.

    I firmly believe that there are young children now alive (right now) who will see wonderful civilisation on this planet.

    And that this civilisation will (again in the lifetime of children already alive) expand into the solar system.

    And, in future generations, on from the solar system – out into the universe.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – I reject racial determinism as much as I reject historicism.

    There is no reason why the Chinese PEOPLE (as opposed to the vile regime that presently controls China) can not be part (a great part) of the free society that I believe will emerge in the world.

    A society where such matters of the education of one’s children, and provision for one’s old age are not matters for “the collective”.

    A civilisation where such things as knowledge of “On Obligations” by Cicero and knowledge of the how to build craft that will take human beings to Mars, are both part of life (and for the same people).

  • ragingnick

    Paul, biological determinism should be at the heart of any proper conservative/reactionary philosophy, for first and foremost we should recognize that there is a natural hierarchy amongst humans, and that categories such as gender and race are not ‘cultural constructs’ as the post modern left would have us believe, but are in fact rooted in biology and to a large extent do determine the place of the individual within the social order.

    this is not to deny the moral agency of individuals, but to recognize that contrary to the doctrines of liberalism humans are not blank slates possessed of some radical ability to entirely determine their social status.