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

The only thing I want a war on is a war on government wars.

Hector Dummond

Mick Hartley on the politics of the Lockdown

I at first thought that I’d just wait and see, and avoid opining about Cornonavirus until the whole ghastly episode was over and we were all back to the new normal, whatever that turned out to be. But, having waited, I am already now seeing. It is becoming ever clearer, as a few were loudly asserting from the get-go, that this bug is far more widespread, but far less likely to kill you even if you get it, than had at first been proclaimed. I do not care who Professor Ferguson is bonking, but I care very much about how wrong he has been, about so much, for so long, and yet how the governing classes around the world, including the British government, still chose to listen to him. (Is it known (comments anyone?) what Ferguson thinks about climate change? I bet he’s been a fanatical catastrophist about that also.)

Someone who has done a lot to persuade me to get off the fence like this is Mick Hartley. As I mentioned in passing at the end of this earlier posting here, Mick Hartley has been very good on the subject of the Lockdown. His typical posting on the subject has tended to consist of a big quote from someone else, often dragged out from behind a paywall, with a few comments from him topping and tailing his posting. But, in his piece on Saturday, entitled Lockdown politics, although there are links in it to the thoughts of others, Hartley writes for himself.

On the whole I’d say that the left is more supportive of the lockdown than the right. Yes I know, left vs right doesn’t mean so much any more, but it still means something. The left more supportive of the state, perhaps, vs the right more concerned about individual freedom. I haven’t looked, but I imagine somewhere in the Guardian comments someone has said that the right only want to get back to work because they want to make money and don’t care about people’s lives. And, seen this morning prominently displayed in a window: “Capitalism isn’t worth dying for”. …

Which is odd in a way, because the lockdown might be seen as a left-wing cause. Against the lockdown, that is.

It’s clear that the poor are having a much harder time than the middle classes at the moment: stuck in worse accommodation, with worse facilities, desperate for an end to this, and, for many, worried sick about their jobs and their future. We hear almost exclusively now from the middle classes – what books they should read, what films they should watch, and how to keep their kids active and up-to-the-minute with their education. These are the people, generally, who don’t have big financial worries, can work from home, and feel perhaps rather smug about how well they’re coping. But it’s obvious that there’s a whole mass of people that we never hear from … destitute, miserable people stuck in lousy over-crowded housing wondering how on earth they’re going to cope.

The longer the lockdown continues, the worse it’s going to be. …

And for what? Who are we protecting? Well, Covid-19 is deadly serious notably for the very old – not at all for the young – and especially for men. So, we’re protecting old men, at the expense of just about everybody else. …

Whatever happened to the attitude embodied in the slogan “women and children first”?

You might think this would resonate with the left, but it doesn’t seem to. …

Will Keir Starmer start pressing Boris on ending lockdown? I hope so. He should do, in the name of the people that Labour claims to represent. He did, to be fair, make some noises to that effect some weeks back, asking for the government to set out guidelines for the return of schools and getting businesses back to work. I haven’t seen much since. …

And then this:

… I hope he pushes it more, because I’m beginning to lose faith in Boris ever getting together the necessary determination.

Me too. Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Labour, it seems to me and to many others I’m sure, has mutated from once upon a time being the party speaking for the poor, often against the government, to being the party of government, even when they aren’t the politicians in titular charge of that government. These people are now “supportive of the state”, to quote Hartley, even when they’re not personally in charge of it. It’s the process of government, whoever is doing it, whatever it is doing, that they now seem to worship. It is, as similar people in earlier times used to say, the principle of the thing, the principle being that they’re in charge. Many decades ago, Labour spoke for, well, Labour. The workers, the toiling masses. Now they represent most determinedly only those who labour away only in Civil Service offices or their allies in the media, in academia, and in the bureaucratised top end of big business.

Anyone official and highly educated sounding who challenges whatever happens to be the prevailing supposed wisdom of this governing class, on Coronavirus or on anything else, must be scolded into irrelevance and preferably silenced. The governors must be obeyed, even if they’re wrong. In fact especially if they’re wrong, just as the soldiers of the past were expected to obey their orders, no matter what they thought of the orders or of the aristocratic asses who often gave them. Whether they were good orders was an argument that those giving orders could have amongst themselves, but that orders must be obeyed was a given. “Capitalism” isn’t worth dying for, but this new dispensation is, right or wrong.

Our new class of entitled asses, together with all those who have placed their bets for life on carrying out their orders or trying to profit from them, seems now to be the limit of the Labour Party’s electoral ambition. And who knows? The awful thing is that this class and its hangers-on could be enough, in the not too distant future, to get them back into direct command of the governmental process that they so adore.

Meanwhile I note, with a twinge of satisfaction amidst all the gloom, that the British politician speaking up most loudly for the right of workers, especially poorer workers, to get back to work is this excellent man. The sooner the campaign gets under way to replace Boris with him, the better.

Bryan Caplan on homeschooling

Homeschooling is in the news a lot these day, for reasons that you already know all about. So, it makes sense to give a plug here to a video interview that Amy Willis of econlin.org did recently with Bryan Caplan, which I just listened to. I got to know Caplan a bit better than before when I attended a lecture he gave last December in London about Poverty and about who’s to blame for it.

This homeschooling conversation, which lasts just under forty minutes, is very commonsensical, I think. Caplan is no zealot for snatching his kids out of school. His one big doctrinal disagreement with regular schooling of the sort his kids were getting is that he reckons maths is more important than schools generally, and his kids’ school in particular, tend to assume.

For Caplan, homeschooling began when his two older sons, twins and introverts, declared themselves to be unhappy with the school they were at. Caplan reckoned he might be able to do better, so they gave it a shot. And it would appear to have worked out well.

His younger and only daughter seems now to be happier going to school, because she likes meeting up with her friends, and because the arts-skewed curriculum appeals to her a lot more than it did to her brothers. She must be suffering a bit now. His younger son, on the other hand, is liking the new stay-at-home regime.

That being a particular thing I take from this conversation: how female-friendly and male-hostile regular schooling of the sort Caplan is talking about seems to have become. Is there a bias in homeschooling numbers between boys and girls being homeschooled? I don’t know, but I bet Caplan does.

Towards the end of their conversation, Willis and Caplan talk about Caplan’s book on education, which is entitled The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. I guess the guy’s somewhat more doctrinal than he had earlier seemed.

On the other hand, both those twins want to be college professors, and Caplan doesn’t seem to be doing anything to try to stop them.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Yeah, the reason the speaker can’t come here is because he promotes violence – by us, his enemies.”

Robert Murphy

Quoted by David Thompson.

Keeping it long

Volume 9 of of the collected works of Kim Il Sung is now out, and Mick Hartley is having a hard job containing his excitement:

Let’s hope the book maintains the powerful tradition in Korean revolutionary literature of keeping sentences long, with plenty of clauses which further elaborate on the idea first mentioned in the opening clause, thereby ensuring that the original idea becomes ever more entrenched within the consciousness of the reader as the theme is expanded upon and elaborated, very much in the way that a piece of music takes an original theme which is then embellished and repeated in different formats and combinations, which serves to increase the power of the music and can similarly be a powerful device to increase the power of a revolutionary thought or indeed instruction from a Great or Dear Leader, even if there is a risk, among those perhaps insufficiently devoted to the drive towards a successful and dynamic socialist country, that the original thought that started the sentence may have been forgotten by the time the reader comes in, panting but nevertheless certainly wiser and also older, to the end of the sentence.

Hartley has also been very good on the lockdown.

A new book by Anton Howes about the Royal Society of Arts is coming out soon

Yes, I learn from a tweet by Anton Howes, a young academic whom I greatly admire, that his first book, entitled Arts & Minds: How The Royal Society of Arts Changed a Nation will be out on May 12th. It is already available on Kindle.

I will start reading this book with the prejudice in my head that the Industrial Revolution was not only “industrial”; it also resembled what we more usually mean by a “revolution”, in the sense that it was also an ideological event. People didn’t just do this, for their own private and selfish reasons. They believed in doing it. They told each other, and anyone else who would listen, that what they were doing would do good, on a huge scale.

But unlike with almost all other “revolutions”, the ideologists of the Industrial Revolution were completely and triumphantly right. This triumphant rightness has been such an elephantine presence in the room of history, and is so very counter-intuitive (“Ideologists are all nutters!”), that the ideological nature of this revolution has now become nearly invisible.

The concluding paragraph of the Amazon blurb …:

Informative and entertaining, Arts and Minds reveals how a society of public-spirited individuals tried to make their country a better place, and draws vital lessons from their triumphs and failures for all would-be reformers today.

… together with the title of the book, arts and minds, suggest to me that the above prejudices will be confirmed and strengthened.

What are the best arguments for libertarianism?

Coronavirus is dominating all our lives just now, but I have little to say about it other than that I, like almost everyone else, wish it all to stop, both the virus itself and the measures now believed necessary to combat it. Whether these measures have been and are insufficient or wise or excessive, I look forward to reading about in the months and years ahead, but do not now have much of an opinion about.

Instead, I would like to ask some questions about the political beliefs that most of us here share. What are the best arguments you know of in favour of libertarianism? I define “libertarianism” loosely, as a general inclination towards liberty, towards property as the way to solve the problems of contending liberties, general lifestyle freedom, and (very) little in the way of governmental power, either financial or regulatory.

Insofar as I can remember how I first thought about such things (during the 1960s and early 1970s), what made me a libertarian was that the world’s most free countries seemed also to be the nicest countries, while the least free countries were definitely the nastiest ones. This contrast was especially clear when you looked at single countries which had been divided into two countries, unfree and much freer, such as Korea and Germany.

What pushed me away from the majority “centrist” notion of how things should be (quite a lot of liberty but also a lot of government), was the thought that if extreme liberty worked amazingly well (Hong Kong seemed to me to illustrate that) and extreme lack of liberty definitely worked extremely badly, why would you want to have a “balanced” mixture of these two contending processes, one very good but the other extremely bad? There was a widespread view, then as now, that “business” needed to be quite free, but that things like healthcare, education, and (a particular interest of mine) architecture, could not or should not be treated only as businesses, as the mere outcomes of free and individual decisions, like the washing machine business or the hi-fi business. I thought: Why not? Surely this notion should be given a serious go, in at least some countries. I further thought that if it was given a serious go it would work out very well, and that it consequently would, or at least should, spread very widely and preferably to nearly everywhere.

I further believed that “lifestyle” freedom and commercial freedom went well together, each reinforcing the other, despite the loudly expressed opinion from many of my contemporaries, who also favoured lifestyle freedom but who believed that only government power applied to the advantage of hitherto disadvantaged minorities could set them free.

So, those were my answers to my above questions, and such thinking continues to make me call myself a libertarian. But are mine the sort of arguments that will best persuade others to arrive at similar conclusions?

What I’m hoping for from commenters is not so much minute dissection of only a very few arguments, but rather quantity of arguments, each quickly and perhaps rather roughly described, together with expressed preferences for this sort argument over that, in terms of persuasiveness. Thanks in advance for as many answers to these questions as commenters are kind enough to supply.

Concerning quantity of arguments in particular, different people respond to different arguments, depending on how they already think, and therefore maybe quantity is the key to successful libertarian persuasion. We need lots of arguments, including many that we have either not yet thought of, or made much use of, or which we ourselves do not now consider very persuasive. Perhaps the title of this posting should be: What are all the arguments for libertarianism?

By the way, you don’t have to be a libertarian to contribute to this discussion. Quite the contrary. Every argument against libertarianism calls for a response, which it may get, or may not get but should.

Links have been lacking in this so far, so here is one to end with, although not a proper one because it is to a video recording of a talk that I myself gave in 2012, to the now alas dormant Libertarian Home. This talk was entitled Libertarianism Is Simple To Describe But Not Simple To Argue For. Partly because of what it said, this talk started well but became less coherent as it went on. But I’m still quite proud of it, because despite its meandering nature, it does refer to many different sorts of arguments for and against libertarianism, of the sort I seek to learn more about now.

Samizdata quote of the day

Resistance to sending bad news up the chain is typical of any authoritarian regime.

Stephen Green

Melanie Phillips on why she left the Left – and in particular on antisemitism

Just now, a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands, and might therefore be open to the idea of watching and listening to a talking head for the best part of an hour. Accordingly, I now recommend this video interview, which I myself have just watched for the first time. Steve Edginton of the Sun newspaper asks a few short questions. Melanie Phillips supplies some much longer answers.

At the end of the interview, Phillips mentions a couple of relevant books she has written. These are her novel, The Legacy, and her memoir about how she used to work for the Guardian, Guardian Angel: My Journey from Leftism to Sanity.

A lot of us also now have more time for books. For actually reading them, I mean.

Melanie Phillips did this interview a few days ago. I wrote this Samizdata posting about Labour antisemitism in May 2018. I deduced what I did from the distant din of battles which I was not personally part of. Phillips tells the same story from direct personal experience, along with several other closely related stories.

Like I say: highly recommended.

Thoughts provoked by some 3D printed miniature magnets

Beneath and beyond all the fretting we’re all now doing about The Virus, the onward march of technology continues.

I get emails from Google about advances in 3D printing, and each email contains lots of links, far more links than in any other Google emails I get on other subjects.

Links like this one, to a report about some newly contrived magnets:

Note the bit at the bottom on the right, where you learn the size of these things. They are very small.

Why are miniature magnets like this so important? And why do they have to be 3D printed? That’s what ignorami like me want to know. The anonymous writer of the report accordingly begins it thus:

Magnetic materials are an important component of mechatronic devices such as wind power stations, electric motors, sensors and magnetic switch systems. Magnets are usually produced using rare earths and conventional manufacturing methods. …

A bit later he says:

Permanent magnets are incorporated into a number of mechatronic applications. Traditional manufacturing methods such as sintering or injection moulding are not always able to cope with increasing miniaturisation and the resulting geometric requirements for magnets, and this is a trend which is sent to continue in the future. Additive manufacturing processes offer the necessary freedom of design. …

I had to look up sintering. Blog and learn.

→ Continue reading: Thoughts provoked by some 3D printed miniature magnets

Samizdata quote of the day

The 1619 project wasn’t about being right. It wasn’t even about history. It was about pushing an anti-American narrative. It’s best understood as a psywar operation aimed at demoralizing the enemy, in this case the American people.

Glenn Reynolds

One of my favourite places to find SQotDs is in the little summaries of issues that Glenn Reynolds often adds to the links he supplies.

An algorithmic snake brain and an algorithmic world

At my personal blog, on Friday February 28th (Friday being my day for animal kingdom related stuff, most of it very silly), I posted a link (among other links of a similar level of profundity) to a video, of a snake that had swallowed a towel having the towel extracted back through its mouth by helpful vets. Ho, ho.

The link I posted, to a tweet someone had done, no longer works, but here is the drama I’m referring to.

But now, today, AndrewZ added a comment to that posting of mine which seems to me to deserve rather wider attention than it would get if I merely left it where he first put it. He wrote this:

A snake is a simple creature driven by its instincts. It follows a set of hardwired rules which it can’t question and which can lead to dangerous errors when it encounters something outside of its normal experience, like a towel. In other words, a snake’s mind is a very limited algorithm. But the world today is saturated with algorithms, from Facebook to FinTech to facial recognition systems used by the police and ten thousand other things. The $64,000 question – perhaps, the $64 billion dollar question or the 64,000 lives question – is how many of them are still operating at the “dumb snake swallows a towel” level of sophistication.

This is not, to put it mildly, my area of expertise. But, on the other hand, this is just the kind of thing that the Samizdata commentariat enjoys chewing on, metaphorically speaking. So, ladies and gents, chew away.