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]

Brexit: The argument from confusion and the argument from punitiveness

The EU is very complicated and confusing, which is a big reason for Brexit. But also very complicated and confusing, say the Remainers, is the process of Britain getting out of the EU. For that reason, they say, best to stay in. But I say that the more complicated and confusing it is to get Britain out, the more reason there is for Britain to get out. The more complicated getting out is, that means the more complicated the damn thing itself must be. The question becomes: Which is better? Complication for a year or three, while we extricate ourselves from this ghastly morass? Or: Complication for ever as we sink ever deeper into it? I say we should, you know, go with the result of the Referendum, and get out. Happily, that is now happening.

Lee Rotherham at CapX agrees:

In a sense, the Maastricht debate is still with us. But the coin has been flipped. Those now droning on about the complexities of a given aspect of the EU are the same people who accused Sir William Cash of being a “bore”. They are using the very same arguments about the extent and complexity of EU integration as its earlier critics. What they miss, of course, is their ironic vindication of the case against the EU.

Quite so.

Another Remainer argument which has a similar logical structure is that the EU, in addition to being diabolically complicated and confusing to get out of, on account of itself being diabolically complicated and confusing, is also determined to stop us Brits getting out easily. The only exit terms we will ever be able to extract from it will be crushingly punitive. Ergo, we should stay.

Britain’s exit deal may indeed prove costly to us. If EUrope lets us out easy, other rebellious bits of EUrope may also then try to leave.

But if such punitiveness happens, it will happen at the expense of EUropeans, who will find trading with Britain more costly, as well as at the expense of us Brits. And I say that the exact degree to which the rulers of the EU put the perpetuation of their own power ahead of the welfare of the people whom they will still rule, and ahead of the welfare of people generally, then to that exact degree they are a pack of megalomaniacs, of whom we Brits are well rid. The more punitively they are now behaving, the stronger is the case for us Brits to escape from their megalomaniac clutches, no matter what the short-term cost may be.

Blasts from the past

Last weekend I had a nice little surprise. Guido, in his Seen Elsewhere section, linked to a piece by Carl Packman entitled Of course I Remember When Ian Hislop was Eurosceptic. I clicked on Packman’s piece, because I too remembered when Ian Hislop was very EUrosceptic indeed. In particular, I remembered an amazing diatribe which erupted from him on BBC TV’s Have I Got News For You, way back in early 2003. I recalled this Hislop eruption because I wrote a piece for Samizdata about it at the time. Hislop is now a Remoaner, but he certainly wasn’t then, as I then noted, and as Packman recalls and records. What I did not anticipate, when I began reading Packman’s piece, was that Packman would include in his piece a quote from that same Samizdata posting of mine. Very pleasing. What goes on the internet stays on the internet, provided only that someone is curating it capably, and even if it was posted way back in May 2003.

It is no big criticism of Carl Packman to say that he seems to have read that one Samizdata posting, but not any other EUro-postings here, and maybe not any other postings here at all, apart from that one. (Fair enough. I have only read this one piece of his.) And Packman seems to have got the idea that we Samizdatistas were not then at all happy about the fierceness of Hislop’s EUro-scepticism. But I for one was delighted by it, and most of our commenters on that posting, and most Samizdata writers and commenters from that time until now, have been very critical of EUrope. It was just that in that particular posting I was concentrating on what Ian Hislop had said and on why it mattered, rather than including a lot of other stuff about why I personally agreed with him, which I did, and was delighted that he had said it, which I was. Indeed, having done some digging back into my other EUro postings here from around that time, I have been surprised by how early and how vehement my personal hatred of the EU and all its works was. Trust me, there’s plenty more EUro-detestation from me in the Samizdata archives. Not everyone who has written for Samizdata hates the EU, but it seems that I have hated it from way back. What is more, this hatred, from me and from others here, might actually have had consequences.

The other thing that occurs to me about Ian Hislop’s apparent volte face over EUrope is that there is one way in which he was and is being entirely consistent. Hislop, I believe, really does believe in speaking, if not always truth exactly then at least insults, to power, unlike a lot of the people who merely say that they do. Well, now, thanks to the Brexit vote in the EUro-referendum, Brexit is a dominant political orthodoxy. And Hislop is now determined to keep the argumentative pot good and stirred about the wisdom or lack of it of that attitude.

In 2003, on the other hand, when Prime Minister Tony Blair was riding high, very few people indeed would have then have foreseen that Brexit would eventually happen. (I certainly didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect that we would be allowed a vote about it, and until the Brexit vote actually happened, I didn’t think that it would happen.) Which means that, then and now, Hislop was and is aligning himself against the dominant orthodoxy of the time. It’s just that this orthodoxy changed. Yes, on the mere EUrope issue, Hislop is now revealed as a turncoat. But he turned his coat for a very respectable reason.

Packman, in his piece, ruminates upon what Hislop really thinks. I think that what Hislop really things is that raspberries and rotting vegetables and brickbats and mockery should always be thrown at whoever and whatever, politically, happens to be in charge at any given time. If only to keep alive the principle that this can be done. Compared to that principle, Hislop’s supposed principles about the mere details of this or that political argument are, to him, relatively unimportant.

(See also this posting by me here, also from way back, ahout John Gray, another man who has often been accused of being inconsistent. Gray is presumably even now ruminating about how the hopes now being placed by the likes of me in the benefits of Brexit will be dashed. Because: doom, doom, doom. I couldn’t find any Gray stuff yet along these lines. He seems so far to have confined his EUro-pessimism to the future of EUrope rather than the future of the UK. But once Brexit is sorted and the optimism over here really starts to kick in, trust me, Gray will be heard saying that it will all end in ruin and despair. In Gray world, everything that people think might be really good always ends in ruin and despair, regardless of whether it actually turns out like that for real. And the good news is that he is usually wrong.)

‘Self-driving car’ actually controlled by man dressed up as a car seat

The Guardian has the story, here.

Samizdata quote of the day

We have too many people who are credentialed rather than educated, and too many people who think their education creates an automatic entitlement. The problem isn’t with “merit” rising to the top, the problem is that we have a false and destructive idea of what constitutes merit.

Glenn Reynolds

Of more than local interest

I imagine that for many Samizdata readers, the daily diet of gossip and snark and tittle tattle that dominates the output of Guido Fawkes is not to their taste, even if they do entirely see the point of it, and are glad that it happens.

But every so often, Guido does a posting that is of much more than local appeal, which would connect to a far wider audience, provided only that they are alerted to its existence.

So, allow me to alert you to this posting, which features the maiden speech of Kemi Badenoch, Conservative MP for Saffron Walden. Guido describes this maiden speech as his favourite of the 2017 intake by far.

I especially liked the Woody Allen reference. But basically, I liked it all. Her website is here.

If more British Conservative Party people were capable of talking or even thinking like this, I’d seriously consider joining them.

The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

There are several reasons, mostly to do with me getting older, which have caused me to slow down as a Samizdata contributor, but just recently something more mundane has been getting in my way. I needed a new computer screen, my previous one having stopped working. I thought that a sprint, metaphorically speaking, would sort this out, but the sprint turned into a marathon.

When buying things like computer screens, I prefer shopping in actual shops to internet shopping. I find returning defective goods to shops less complicated than returning them to internet suppliers, not least because I now get free travel on London’s public transport system, but also because I have a face in front of me to complain to and from whom to demand satisfaction. But more fundamentally, I like to see, close up, what I am thinking of buying, rather than relying on imperfect internet imagery. When I start out buying something like a new screen, I don’t really know what’s now being offered or what I would now like, until I start looking at what’s now available, in the flesh, so to speak.

So, for instance, as I got stuck into my screen browsing, I realised that I might appreciate at some time in the future being able to attach my screen to one of those bolted-onto-my-desk swinging arms, thereby freeing up some desk space. Not all screens have the screw holes in the back of them to make this easy. Often, those imperfect internet images don’t tell you about this.

I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of everything that happened during my screen marathon, but two particular things made life difficult. One, shops (Currys PC World in particular) have a nasty habit of displaying screens as being on sale when, it turns out, they aren’t available on account of having run out. Only the one manky old display version remains. Twice, my efforts to buy a screen were thwarted by this nasty little shop habit.

But worse, far worse, was that the first screen that I decided to buy, a Samsung S24F356, turned out to be defective. When I got it home and plugged it in, I discovered that it was seriously overheating. The right hand edge of the screen, near to where the power feeds in, quickly became almost too hot to touch. That couldn’t be good. The tropical weather that has been afflicting London lately solidified my determination not to tolerate this. So, back I went with it to Currys PC World Tottenham Court Road. And I swapped my Samsung S24F356 for an identical model, another Samsung S24F356. Everything else, apart from the overheating, about the Samsung S24F356 seemed very nice, and I assumed – well, I hoped – that the overheating on the first Samsung S24F356 was a one-off misfortune.

→ Continue reading: The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

The delusion that things can’t get any worse

That’s it really. You probably know exactly what I am thinking. So get commenting.

My thoughts along these lines were provoked by a comment on this piece in The Sun by Iain Martin, who is prophesying Corbynite doom, in the event of a Corbynite victory.

The comment, in response to what Martin and the first few commenters all say, went thus:

But standards of living are falling and poverty is increasing while those that rule over us get richer and this is happening under a Tory government, so how is this any better than the nightmare scenario that you portray. Truth is that any system that leads to the politicians thinking that the rule over us rather than govern on our behalf is flawed.

Some systems, however, are more flawed than others.

Sliding down a hill is very troubling, but the idea that jumping off a cliff is the answer is crazy. Unless, and this is my real fear, enough British voters are now so angry at the world and the way it is treating them that they are willing totally to ruin their own lives in order to at least knock a little of the stuffing out of the bastards who are doing this to them. Wreck the country would it? Boo hoo. That’s not a bug, that’s a feature. The fucking country fucking deserves to be fucking wrecked. The vote as suicide bomb, you might say.

This, I believe, was the psychological fuel behind a significant chunk of the Brexit vote, and if anything could make me regret voting Brexit myself, it is the knowledge that if we get Brexit and then full-on, in-our-faces Corbynism, we really will be in a bad way, every bit as bad as the Remainers have been saying.

The result of the recent British general election was very bad. But it did, perhaps, have this mitigating feature, that it created a country full of people who are seriously scared of Corbynism (that being a link to another piece of writing very similar to Martin’s), before Corbynism has actually struck, and who are able and willing to get their act together to stop such a national catastrophe.

It may be that the electoral rise of Corbyn will, for him and for his cadre of demented followers, turn out to have been premature. From the point of view of the socialists-that-really-mean-it, the time for a country to be realising for the first time what a catastrophe socialism-that-really-means-it would be, needs to be after the socialists-that-really-mean-it have seized command, and when, from the point of view of all those of us who would prefer to live in a half decent country, it’s too late.

The Trooping the Colour flypast from up on my roof

Earlier today I chanced upon Trooping the Colour on the telly, which is the big old military parade they have in London on the Queen’s “Official” Birthday. Mention was made of a flypast that was about to happen, and I immediately grabbed my camera and ran up to my roof, to photo what whatever of it that I could from there.

I had to wait a while, until 1pm. There was much helicopter activity, which seemed promising. Our Armed Forces keeping their eyes out for surface-to-air missiles, and suchlike devilry? Perhaps. Maybe just pretending to be doing that, in order to deter it. Whatever, eventually, I spied, way out beyond the multi-pointed Parliament Tower, two real airplanes, flying together. Which could only mean a flypast. No planes approaching Heathrow would ever bunch up together, like that, by which I mean like this:

That photo was taken with maximum zoom, but eventually these two airplanes trundled towards me, and I got a rather better shot of them, although still with quite a lot of zoom:

When I watched the television highlights of the show in the evening, they said that the biggest of the planes in this next photo was the biggest plane the RAF possesses:

To me, it just looks like a Boeing Dreamliner in plain clothes. Don’t they have any properly big planes? It occurs to me that the Dreamliner may be bigger than I had thought.

But at least I got to take semi-adequate photos of this dreary plane and its little sidekicks, and of its predecessor and its sidekick, above.

I had less luck with these guys:

That’s a heavily cropped close-up of them, as the Red Arrows (for it was they) vanished behind the big tower block in the middle of the square I live on the edge of, leaving only their jets of patriotic-coloured smoke.

Here is the original photo that the above is cropped from:

Which gives you an idea of how far away all this was happening, and how the direction of travel of whatever it was determined whether I would ever see it properly or not.

Unlike the earlier boring jets, the Red Arrows didn’t disappear from London in a westerly direction, i.e. past me. They went north. And this was as close to an actual photo I got of them:

I never saw anything like this:

Whch is how the Red Arrows looked on my telly.

According to that same telly, a couple of Hurricanes and a Spitfire, or maybe it was the other way around, flying in a formation, were also part of the show. But I never laid eyes or lens on them.

Nevertheless, I account the trip upstairs a success. My purpose was to see how one of these London Queen’s Birthday flypasts looked like from up on my roof, and I did. It wasn’t nearly as good as the Farnborough Air Show, but I didn’t expect it to be. It wasn’t even as good as the New Year’s Eve fireworks that I photoed from the same spot last New Year’s Eve. But then, a firework occupies a lot more sky at any particular moment than an airplane does, and its entire purpose is to be extremely visible.

I actually find it quite reassuring that the British state’s version of a ceremonial flypast over its capital city is so very modest, and that by far its most impressive moment features guys who are basically aerial ballet dancers.

Milton Friedman on how imposing equality makes inequality worse

I have long believed the thing that Milton Friedman is quoted saying in this bit of graphics:

And I am pretty sure that I first clarified this idea in my head at around the time when I first heard Milton Friedman saying this, and that this was not coincidence.

I screen-copied the above graphic from this video, which is Jonathan Haidt giving a talk about Socialism and Human Nature. It lasts just under half an hour, and I recommend it. The above Friedman quote comes near the end, at 23m 05s.

The world is so full of nonsense that particular bits of nonsense often get neglected by the people who ought to be pointing them out, because these people are so busy with other bits of nonsense.

The particular bit of nonsense that Milton Friedman and I are not here neglecting is the claim that equality can be achieved by the forceful redistribution of resources, and the more of that the better. Not only is such “egalitarianism” tyrannical, which makes it bad by my preferred standards and by Milton Friedman’s preferred standards, because it is tyrannical. It is also fails by its own standards, hence the sneer quotes. It doesn’t achieve equality. On the contrary, it rearranges inequality in a way that makes the inequality worse.

The very act of imposing equality requires that the imposing “egalitarians” be unequally powerful and lavishly rewarded for their brutal efforts, compared to the wretches upon whom they are imposing the equality. Name one purportedly egalitarian regime where they actually have achieved any serious reduction of inequality. You can’t, because there has never been one.

This is clearly the case in hell-holes like Cuba and Venezuela, where the masses languish in poverty, where the bosses live like kings and where the henchmen of the bosses get more or less lavishly preferential treatment (because if they didn’t they stop henching). But I include in the above assertion (that equality cannot be successfully imposed) the relatively genteel cruelties of the British welfare state, and other welfare states like it around the world. Have these relatively benign socialisms got rid of any poverty, any cruelty, any inequality? Well, some, to begin with. But they have then unleashed far worse and bigger doses of poverty and inequality. If the long-term purpose of the British welfare state had been to make poverty and inequality far more permanent and far harder to eradicate, it would have done almost nothing differently to what it has done.

Any critic of socialism who says something like: “the result of socialism is equality of misery” is being seduced by a nice sounding phrase into not thinking about what he is saying, and into conceding far too much. Here is no less a personage than Winston Churchill, who loved fine phrases to distraction, saying something a lot like this, among other and truer things, which perhaps explains why so many British Conservatives of my vintage still say things like this.

A libertarian world, just as Milton Friedman says, is the least unequal world that can be contrived. I’m not going to argue that point in detail. I merely assert it, to clarify that I regard myself and Milton Friedman as egalitarians of the best sort, as better at egalitarianism than the socialists, as egalitarians of the rough-and-ready, best-we-can-do sort, without any sneer quotes.

Young One Rick explains why Labour is doing so badly

One of my most favourite analyses of the politics of public spending comes from Rick (gloriously played by the much missed Rick Mayall), in the classic TV sitcom The Young Ones:

“I mean, it’s no wonder the country is in such a state. I don’t know why they don’t just be honest and hand the whole place over to Oxfam. Nothing but scroungers and horrid old people and workshy layabouts all wandering around clutching their Giros and trying to get something for nothing. Oh yes, the Post Office seems to be very good at handing out other people’s money, doesn’t it? No wonder my grant’s so small. …”

At the moment lots of British expert political commentators seem baffled as to why Labour is so crushingly unpopular, despite so many of its individual policies being so very popular. But it’s not rocket science. If you are wanting to get more goodies from the government, the last thing you want is all the other damn scroungers to be queueing up for their goodies, as likely as not ahead of you in the queue. What Labour Leader Corbyn is promising is that there will be goodies for all, and worse, he seems to mean this, and to believe that this is possible, or at least possible enough for him to give such a policy a serious try. But that’s no bloody use. That way, the goodies will run out, and there will then be no goodies for you, no matter what the promise was. What you want is goodies for yourself and for those in your own quite small category of scroungers, paid for by all the other scroungers having to go without.

What I dislike about targetted advertising

The Sun had a story recently (and I presume many other organs did too) about a pizza advert in Norway which changed its message according to who was looking at it. It spied on those who spied it, you might say. But the advert broke down, very visibly, and revealed its inner secrets to passers-by, many of whom immediately told the world about this advert via all those social media that media outlets like The Sun (and Samizdata come to that) now have to coexist with.

What I personally find depressing about adverts targetted at me personally is that I stop learning things. I already know what I like. What I get – or used to get – from adverts is a sense of what the world in general likes, or at least what someone willing to back his guess with money guesses it might like.

Advertising on television, for example, is currently telling me that I am not the only one suffering from itchy eyes, a bunged up nose, and such like. Hay fever symptoms, in other words. My television didn’t push all these adverts at me personally, because it heard me sniffing or saw the shape and colour of my face change or saw me putting my hands in my eyes, the way a cat does when it’s washing its face. All the people watching the TV show I was watching got the same adverts. I found this reassuring. I am not uniquely ill. I am somewhat ill, in the same way that thousands of others are somewhat ill. Nothing to worry about. It will soon pass.

TV adverts, as of now, tell me about who else is watching what I am watching. Adverts for baths with doors on them, for chair lifts, for over-fifties health insurance, tell me who we all are, watching this show. Lots of old woman adverts also tell me when I have wandered into that audience. Other shows have adverts attached for fizzy drinks, electronic gadgets, or short-term loans or on-line gambling dens. I find all this interesting and informative. It tells me not about me, but about the world I am living in. Often what I learn is rather depressing (as with those short-term loans and the gambling dens), but I do learn.

Advertising that is aimed directly at me annoys me not by threatening to know everything about me, and rat on me to the government or the CIA or whoever. Although I can well imagine that becoming a problem for me, it is not my problem with this stuff right now. No, what I object to now is the thought that I may soon be wandering through life in a cocoon that is constantly being rearranged in order to bounce back at me nothing but my own tastes and prejudices. It’s as if I will soon be walking around in my personal private Potemkin Village.

I already know what sort of stuff I like. The constant nagging from the www the buy whatever I was looking at yesterday is depressing to me, not because it spies on me, but because it isolates me. Not because others learn about me, but because I stop learning about others.

The fact that this Norwegian pizza advert was switched off once word got around about it tells me that I am not the only one in the world who finds this kind of targetted advertising in public places rather creepy and off-putting. But what exactly is it that people object to about such advertising? What you have just read is my little contribution to this latter discussion.

LATER: I originally wrote this piece with my personal blog in mind as its destination, and the mind-set of that blog is different from the mind-set that prevails here. Since this is Samizdata, let me clarify that the above is not a plea for the government regulation of targetted advertising, merely an expression by me of my dislike of it. There are plenty of other products and services which I also dislike, which I also don’t think the government should forbid or interfere with.

Samizdata quote of the day

– Photoed by me last week in the window of a shop in the Burlington Arcade.

It sounds to me like something a gangster would say in an old black and white movie. He would then be proved wrong, by another gangster, with a machine gun.

That would certainly seem to be the era that these words were supposed to evoke. Because it turns out they are the title of a song, recently written, but featured in the 2013 movie of The Great Gatsby.