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]

Hollywood values

Yeah, it’s a soap opera, at least for us Americans. But what’s so fascinating about it, at least to me, is how the values of Hollywood, and one insecure, narcissistic American actress, have the power to shake the British throne. How threatening to denounce the Queen of England as a racist and a sexist is a thing that her grandchildren would do — and how it might work to manipulate her into doing their bidding. This reveals what real power looks like in the 21st century.

So writes Rod Dreher, piling on about Harry and Meghan (formerly of the UK Royal Family, so it appears at the time of writing). So much has been written and said that it is difficult to add much further. It is, however, interesting to note that one development in parts of the Web is how Harry is being used by “manosphere” commentators as an example of how not to behave and of the sort of mistakes men can make in selecting long-term relationships. There is, to give one case, a chap called Richard Cooper, based in Canada (I bet the Canadian taxpayers are delighted about having to look after Harry and Meghan’s security), and he has a site called Entrepreneurs in Cars. Another commentator who writes books about “red pill awareness” for men when it comes to women is Rollo Tomassi (this is his pen-name, and he’s a fan of the film LA Confidential, which is where the name comes from). Some of these men appear to be fans of evolutionary psychology, and make a big deal about the concept of hypergamy (the idea that women in their younger adult years look for “Alpha” males to have lots of hot sex with and switch to more tame “Beta” males as they reach the stage when they want to have babies, but still at times crave for the Alpha male, which is why they can quickly ditch a husband when they get bored, and are protected more than before by Western divorce laws, which tend to favour women in things such as custody of kids. As with all such notions, these are generalisations, and there are plainly exceptions). The take-away from all this is that Harry is very much now a Beta, having been a bit more of an Alpha male during his Army, helicopter-flying, dancing naked in Vegas, days. And as he becomes more Beta, and goes along with his wife’s social justice warrior views, and all the rest of this stuff, he loses his sense of self and assertiveness. Such men can lash out, or become addicted to various substances, or worse.

What interests me about the H&M case isn’t so much what it says about the pros and cons of a constitutional monarchy in this age (I am a supporter in the very limited sense), but more about what it says about the state of our culture. And as we classical liberals/libertarians need to remember, political ideas don’t operate in a vacuum. A culture that puts a premium on victimhood, that makes excuses, etc, is toxic for liberty and autonomy. In a different context, the desire of this young couple for “financial independence” would be congruent with a libertarian outlook if they weren’t also desiring to make use of an institution like the Royal family.

I actually feel some sympathy for Harry, in particular. He had no choice to be born a royal, and I for one don’t criticise him for wanting to get out of the limelight, so long as he does not try to play both sides of this situation.

One thing that strikes me is that Harry doesn’t seem, as far as I can see, to have any close male buddies that he can hang out with, for example. He has a brother (from whom he appears to be distant these days), but where are the mates, the guys he can fish with, drink beer with, play sports with and so on? Every man, no matter how happily married, needs to have such a network of pals. One thing I pride myself on is that I haven’t allowed my circle of friends to collapse after getting hitched. Social media is not a substitute. In Harry’s case, he was in the Army, and he went through the banter, teasing and discomforts of being a soldier. I cannot help but think that things went downhill for him when he left the Army.

Anyway, I promise not to write about this couple again.

Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020) RIP

“Falling to the bottom in my own country, I have been raised to the top elsewhere, and looking back over the sequence of events I can only be glad that I have lived long enough to see this happen. Coming close to death you begin to know what life means, and what it means is gratitude.”

Sir Roger Scruton, academic, writer and supporter of East European dissidents, died yesterday after a short illness. I knew he was getting on in years but his death nevertheless came as a shock to me. I did not agree with all of his views, but I did on most of them, and he was one of those men I regard as a defender of liberty and of civilisation in its fullest sense.

I met him when I was only 22, having recently graduated from my college. I had contributed a couple of small items towards the Salisbury Review journal that he edited, and was invited to a wonderfully posh and fun black-tie dinner at Hatfield House, ancestral home of the Salisbury dynasty, and joined by such luminaries as the journalist T E Utley, and Enoch Powell. I remember – this being 1988 – that Powell spoke with his customary intensity about Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Group speech of that time, and remembered thinking that this issue over Europe would dominate much of our politics. I wasn’t wrong.

When you are a young graduate, making your way in the world and trying to get the advice of clever people, it makes a lot of difference when the folk you meet and admire turn out to be great as people. Roger Scruton was one of them – I remember his wit, kindness and helpful advice. The same applied around the same time when I met two outstanding thinkers: Anthony Flew, and David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman). A few years later I met P J O’Rourke, who was hilarious and full of encouragement towards me as I told him I was a trainee journalist. I had the same experience when I met Auberon Waugh once. It really matters that people whom you meet like this give the time and trouble to talk to young people, and I try and remember that when, now that I am in my greying middle age, that youngsters whom I come up against ask me about what I do. Scruton was a model of the good and considerate teacher.

It has been remarked elsewhere that Scruton was more admired abroad than he was in the UK, and that applies of course to the UK’s education establishment, much of which is dominated by the Left. His book, Thinkers of The New Left, is one of his most brilliant, and dissected the likes of Foucault, Derrrida, Heidegger and Althusser – a veritable gallery of knaves and fools. Their defenders weren’t happy, and Scruton’s chances of academic grandeur suffered. He taught in the US, wrote more books and ran a farm. In middle age, he took up horse riding and hunting with hounds with a zeal of a convert. In some ways he was a bit of a paradox: the grammar school boy with a bit of a rebellious streak, except that for him, being a true rebel meant being conservative rather than a socialist. It is a quality I share in some ways, as do many of those who write for this blog.

I think that history will be kind to him: his focus on issues such as understanding the importance of beauty in human life, for example, will last a bit longer than some present obsessions, including, I hope, the intellectual cul-de-sac of “woke” politics. (Here is an obituary in the National Review, from the US.)

All that remains is for me to express my condolences to his family and many friends. In particularly, I think of those people in Eastern Europe he helped, at some risk to himself, during the years ahead of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Unlike some academics, he was also a man of action and he was brave as a lion. RIP, Sir Roger.

Ricky Gervais, the best man at a wedding who shouts out “Don’t marry, mate!”

Ricky Gervais’s opening comments at the Golden Globes in Hollywood (I assume he is not doing them ever again) are rightly being lauded around the non-PC parts of the internet/media world for telling much of Hollywood how totally, eye-wateringly awful it is. Seems a tad harsh, though – he’s a bit like the guy who comes to a party, takes a lot of the decent wine, insults the guests and then leaves. Seems a tad boorish. But maybe I am being squeamish and boorishness in these times may be necessary. I get the impression that a high-water mark of PCness, or “wokeness”, to coin a term, may have been reached. Maybe even last December’s crushing of Mr Corbyn’s UK Labour Party was an indicator. (For anyone living on a remote desert island in recent years, here is a definition of “woke”.)

So what is the context here and how do we end with a situation where a movie industry reaches the point where a British entertainer hammers practitioners in this way?

One sign of what is going wrong is how famous franchises are “rebooted” – James Bond is getting older and being replaced, at least in terms of the person with the iconic 007 number, by a black woman who has his serial number (possibly); Terminator, Star Wars, Dr Who….the list of increasingly “woke” productions goes on. The accountants aren’t happy as far as viewing figures and box office takings are concerned, it seems.

Of course, as we have seen on discussions on this blog before, some business tycoons might be willing to see some of their revenues decline if it means winning a longer term war to change the “culture”, but shareholders’ patience has its limits. If Proctor and Gamble takes a hit by insulting men as toxic, well, even the most PC chief executives will be booted out eventually.

But for the penny to drop, so to speak, it appears necessary for unvarnished truths to be dished out, and quite possibly, Gervais is ultimately doing the sector a favour, even if swearing at guests is a bit, well, off.

I do think that the very fact that someone such as Ricky Gervais can stand up in front of Hollywood luvvies and more or less telll them they are a bunch of narcissistic, ignorant twats is quite something and suggests we have reached a sort of tipping point. It even got mentioned on the BBC this morning.

OK, I hear you cry, is Gervais’s intervention necessary? If “woke” films lose money and Netflix/other hoover up the market, that is capitalism in action in its most brutal and bracing way. That of course is all true. And there have been and will be films made that upset fans and conventional wisdom, whether from a traditional conservative or socially radical point of view. So long as it is a free market, that’s fine. (But when the State intrudes with subsidies, this becomes a big problem.)

But the benefit at times of having someone such as Gervais drop some bombs on an awards ceremony is that paradoxically, he highlights the place of awards events in business sectors. Industry awards ceremonies are marketing exercises, and there is, as with all types of business, a law of diminishing returns if there are lots of them: the more awards there are, the less each one matters over time. The decisions about who gets what gong and for what are subject to lots of political eye-gouging. A lot is at stake in terms of PR, contracts and connections. And in a slightly less venal way, awards are a chance for people to meet old friends, make some new contacts and have a glass or two in convivial surroundings (and there’s nothing wrong about that, by the way).

However, for all their annoying qualities and diminishing returns, awards events can also be a chance for an industry that is a bit under the cosh to put its best faces forward, to plead a case, to show it still counts. There are awards events for every sector under the sun, from architecture to IT.

Funnily enough some of the smarter Hollywood people (yes, they exist) probably know they have a problem with how the sector has been going, and Gervais touched on some of them: competition from new media; stale franchises and lack of originality, and yes, a liberal-left culture that alienates a large number of potential customers. The industry is vulnerable if actors and actresses lecture people about their carbon footprints or about sex, and then fly on private jets and hang out with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein. So awards ceremonies, even when someone like Gervais is nasty to the guests, have their uses, sometimes if only to tell a sector that it has a dose of the flu and needs to get better. They might even encourage change if the reaction is serious enough.

In my own industry of financial media, we have awards ceremonies too, and it is often quite a tricky point to know what sort of man or woman to nominate as the sort of warm-up act. A few years ago I went to a black tie gala evening run by an investment industry body. The bloke doing the warm-up gags was a hard-left socialist by the name of Frankie Boyle. It was like inviting Lenin to talk to the Institute of Directors. Boyle was disgusting and unpleasant, and people walked out. The Golden Globe audience, methinks, got off quite lightly.

Do read the Gervais speech. It is glorious.

I do think, reconsidering my article from a day ago, that Gervais was pretty out of order swearing at the crowd, and part of me wishes that he hadn’t done that, and that we could have a Hollywood that was classy and elegant. But rather as with Donald Trump, a vulgar, rough and no-nonsense person is necessary to burn down what exists before the rebuilding can take place. Or to use an expression from the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, we need creative destruction.

Another reason why the Internet is so useful

As it appears to be fashionable these days for those in some quarters to denounce modern technology such as social media (ironically, usually doing so via social media, or the internet), let’s take some time out this holiday season to shower praise onto that platform, Youtube. It it is sometimes stated that the younger generation of adults knows little about DIY around the home, lacking the upbringing or training to do anything more challenging than change a light bulb. Sometimes factors such as the decline (in relative terms) of home ownership, or the supposed waning influence of DIY enthusiast Dads and the inadequacies of those much-maligned Millennials, are mentioned. While there is some truth in that, it is also worth noting that it has never been easier to find out ways to learn how to fix problems by firing up the internet and looking for demonstrations on how to solve an issue, such as sorting out a Kindle problem (which I did the other day and trouble-shot a problem), strip wood floors and revarninsh them (same) or clean old antique furniture with boiled linseed oil (ditto). When a gizmo goes wrong, chances are that a guy (it seems to be a man thing) has done a Youtube item about it, and shared it.

Here is an example from a person under the brand name of MrFixIt DIY.

That “Overton Window” thingy

In the nerdier ends of the political press one comes across the term Overton Window, and here is a short version via Wikipedia:

The Overton window is the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time.[1] It is also known as the window of discourse. The term is named after Joseph P. Overton, who stated that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within this range, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences.[2][3] According to Overton, the window frames the range of policies that a politician can recommend without appearing too extreme to gain or keep public office given the climate of public opinion at that time.

Since last Thursday’s big win for the UK Conservatives, I have read more and more about how Boris Johnson, with his Scotty the engineer in the back, Dominic Cummings, is pushing a sort of “One Nation” Toryism, a mixture of free market economics in some respects, a resistance to forms of nanny state micro-regulation of our lives, greater national independence, plus a solid, Disraelian dose of high public spending “on our marvellous National Health Service”, lots of transport and tech infrastructure in the Midlands and North, plus a focus on STEM education and tech research hubs (Cummings is, so we are told, really keen on this). It is not quite the paternalism of older forms of “One Nation” Toryism that one might have got from, say, Stanley Baldwin, or a bit of a faker like Disraeli (he never actually used that term in his public speeches, as biographers Douglas Hurd and Edward Young pointed out).

So what is going on here and how should an unapologetic “neoliberal” (translation: classical liberal with a few tweaks) like yours truly respond, now that the dust has settled a bit? In the short run, I am like I imagine most readers mightily relieved that a stoat such as Jeremy Corbyn has been dethroned. Gloating is understandable. But like a bit of a party-pooper it is worth taking time out to note that more than 10 million people who presumably have a pulse voted Labour at this election, and although many will have distrusted Corbyn, many did trust or like him, and also liked voting Labour to thwart leaving the EU. Second, there’s an age divide of sorts: it appears a large chunk of adults in their 20s and 30s tilt socialist, and even if some of them change as the joys of paying tax, getting into business and raising families have their effect, many will not do so. (It is also worth recalling, to be fair, that younger adults, used to switching broadband, booking holidays online and dreaming of working for startups are also quite “Thatcherite” in certain respects.)

The Tories need to remember several things, not least that the last time a government shovelled vast amounts of money into a system of state-run healthcare run as a monopoly, during the Blair/Brown years, much of that money was wasted, and inflated a huge public sector payroll. That left the public finances dangerously vulnerable when the sub-prime mortgage bubble burst.

Another, perhaps more fundamental mistake the Tories might be making if they aren’t careful is misreading areas of the country such as the North and Midlands. It’s not all Coronation Street. In my day job as a financial journalist I’ve written a bit about how banks such as UBS (the Swiss private banking group), Coutts and Kleinwort Hambros, among others, have set up regional offices in places such as Manchester, Leeds and Bristol. If the area outside the M25 of the Southeast was really some sort of Dickensian gloomville, rather than a place containing many entrepreneurs and actually plenty of activity, this would not be happening. Every Yorkshireman I have ever met seems to be a solid Thatcherite. So it appears to me that the Tories need to remember to use the political capital earned from this victory to push that “Overton Window”back a bit, and think of new ways to build support for individual liberty, an open market economy, and private property. Some new version, for instance, of the wildly successful policy of letting tenants buy their council houses would be a good start. Put it another way: don’t let the purveyors of the latest conventional wisdom dictate that what the Tories must do is deliver Big Government but without the Corbynite craziness. I’m hoping for better than that. And to that end, I have joined the Conservatives to try and push the needle in the right direction.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Whole tranches of the state have been privatised over the past 40 years, and yet still we have a state broadcasting service that is funded via a hypothecated tax – a system that dates from the days when the technology did not exist to charge for watching an individual TV channel and devised at a time when broadcasting was, in any case, a state monopoly. It ought to be pretty obvious that such an arrangement is bad for competition. It is as if we were all forced to pay an annual fee to Tesco, in return for which we could help ourselves to all the groceries we liked at no further cost, and we still had to pay Tesco even if we wanted to do our shopping at Sainsbury’s or Asda. What would that do for the market in food? It would quite clearly kill all competition, as well as damage the quality of the food on sale at Tesco.”

Ross Clark.

“Big uni”

“Climate alarmists and Corbynistas (the former increasingly a front organisation for the latter) often put the word ‘Big’ in front of industries which they dislike — Big Pharma, Big Oil. Those of us who do not share their views should copyright a comparable concept — Big Uni.”

Charles Moore, Spectator, (behind paywall).

I like the term, and intend to use it. Here are some more paragraphs from the item for those who cannot get through the pw:

As universities grow larger, and their average intake therefore dimmer, they become more intellectually uniform. Almost no one in British academia, except for emeritus professors whose careers cannot be damaged by their frankness, speaks in favour of Brexit or dares challenge any assertion made about the dangers of climate change (green research projects, after all, attract stupendous sums of public money).

Those universities — Britain has many — which have long and proud traditions increasingly scorn them, removing portraits of their dead benefactors and thinkers, deciding that a Latin grace is offensive, a student debating society with a paying membership (such as the Oxford Union) elitist. Throughout the election campaign, BBC Radio 4’s Today is travelling the country, presenting the programme from university premises. This means that the audience and subject matter are automatically skewed against the Conservatives and (much more important) against any plurality of view on anything. Big Uni is probably the largest cartel in modern Britain.

Another idea, riffing off the late Pres. Eisenhower, is to refer to this phenomenon as the “university-politics complex”.

Meanwhile, here are worthy books from the US by Glenn Reynolds and Bryan Caplan on the growth of state-driven Western higher education and the downsides of that.

The strange mental softness around the NHS

UK Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson has made much of how he would shower “our wonderful National Health Service” with money (from we lucky taxpayers and future generations, no doubt) in this election campaign. Cynics will say that he probably does not mean it all that much but such statements are the price one must pay for persuading wavering Labour voters into switching from the Red to the Blue team, etc.

But I wonder. There does seem to be a deeply rooted attachment to the NHS that goes beyond all logic and reason. A service created in the late 1940s, run as a monopoly (private healthcare in the UK is relatively small versus the NHS), paid for out of tax and delivered free at the point of use. Result: its services must be rationed. Some of its actions are pretty good, some far less so. I got treated for water on the knee last year and was dealt with reasonably well, although the diagnoses given were so wide and contradictory that in the end I learned more by surfing the internet and talking to some medically savvy friends. Many people’s experiences with NHS treatment vary from excellent to terrible. It does certain things very well, but in my view is poor at area such as tracking patients after their initial encounters to make sure they are keeping on a regime, etc. I think that the UK could and should move towards private healthcare provision for the bulk of the population, via a mix of healthcare accounts that one builds up over time (people will tend to draw from these funds more as they enter middle age), insurance (for large, catastrophic spending) and some public provision for those in serious poverty. The Soviet model that we operate under seems not just anachronistic, but dangerously resistant to innovation and change. (James Bartholomew had good thoughts on the NHS in this article.)

And yet the NHS is, as former UK finance minister Nigel Lawson once said, rather like a state religion, such as the Church of England. Criticise it at one’s peril. The other day on Facebook an acquaintance of mine, a senior nurse on a good salary, bleated about the hours she has to work. I pointed out that as a small business owner I have put in 60-plus hours a week, but accepted that as part of my choice to work in this way. The meltdown, and the sarcasm, that I received from this person’s friends was something to behold.

The NHS is, like the BBC, one of those institutions that seems to defy all logic, no matter what it does and how ropey its output is.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I came here to die with you. Or live with you. Dying ain’t so hard for men like you and me. It’s living that’s hard when all you’ve ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don’t live together–people live together. With governments, you don’t always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well, I’ve come here to give you either one or get either one from you. I came here like this so you’ll know my word of death is true, and my word of life is then true. The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche. And so will we. Now we’ll only hunt what we need to live on, same as the Comanche does. And every spring, when the grass turns green, and the Comanche moves north, you can rest here in peace, butcher some of our cattle, and jerk beef for the journey. The sign of the Comanche, that will be on our lodge. That’s my word of life.”

Josey Wales, played by Clint Eastwood in the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Context: the film is based in the aftermath of the Civil War, and Wales is on the run and took refuge in Indian territory. I rather like the libertarian sentiments in part of this quote (such as his line about governments), and Clint Eastwood, by the way, has always struck me as one of the more intelligent men to have worked in Hollywood. His movies are famously delivered on time, and on budget.

The Outlaw Josey Wales is, in my view, his best Western. Terrific supporting performance from Chief Dan George.

Discussion point: the term “stakeholder”

There are certain words that get bandied about that say more about the politics and philosophy of those who utter them than about whatever might be the actual meaning of the word. Examples such as “sustainability” (translation: get rid of carbon fuels) and “neo-liberal” (mix of free markets and some central bank/State intervention, boo, hiss!) spring to mind. But arguably one of the worst offenders is “stakeholder”. In my view it usually means some group of people who consider themselves affected by the operations of a private group, such as a firm, and who interact with it, but who do not own property of said group, and who demand control/rights over that group/firm above and beyond any contracts they may have signed. For instance, in the great wodges of press releases I receive from advocates of corporate social responsibility the term “stakeholder” comes up. A lot.

So a question for you folks. Does the term have any value at all or is it simply a term to describe groups of persons who want free stuff and should be more accurately described in less, er, flattering ways?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Did you know that your dog owns your house, or rather some portion of it? If this is not immediately obvious to you, you will find it helpful to consider some aspects of the ethics and economics of redistribution.”

Anthony de Jasay, the political philosopher who died not long ago, and one of those intellectuals that many people will not have heard of. A marvellous writer. The essay from which these words come is a gem.

What’s going on with men’s magazines these days (not the naughty kind)?

Time and again multinationals and public companies turn out to be as happy as junior members of the Royal Family to sign up to an ideology which will come to eat them next. If anyone is in any doubt about this trend, they should look to the men’s magazine GQ – or what we should more properly describe as the former men’s magazine, GQ.

Douglas Murray.

By the way, a guy in the US called Brett McKay became so fed up with men’s magazines, because they were often about how to get “six-pack abs”, implausibly expensive gear and full of ads, that he decided to create his own website, Art of Manliness, which adopts a deliberately retro look. It’s actually pretty good, with plenty of podcasts to tune into. I get the impression it is pretty conservative (small c) politically and culturally, and has a slightly worrying admiration for that old monster, Teddy Roosevelt, but a lot of it contains content a lot more thoughtful than you will get out of a glossy at WH Smith. Here is an interview with McKay by the inimitable Mark Rippetoe, the “Starting Strength” strength training coach, who is based out of Wichita Falls, Texas.

By the way, Rippetoe is not very “woke”.