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

“A termite has about 100,000 neurons and we probably get through that number over a big weekend.”

John Searle, American philosopher.

A book right out of the R. A. Heinlein tradition

Gregory Benford has a new book out, called Rewrite, and while I tend sometimes to be careful of pre-publication hype, this looks mighty promising and a good way for me to while away the hours as I fly to Hong Kong in a few days’ time. The author gets an interview in Wired magazine, proof that good things occasionally do appear in that publication, despite what appears to be its turn to eco-lefist nonsense in recent years.

I really enjoyed his novel, Timescape. Chiller, a book that features cryonics, is also good.

By the way, there is a Robert Heinlein Society, which runs a scholarship programme. I think the writer, former Navy officer, fencing expert and blood donor advocate would have approved.

Heinlein once wrote about The Crazy Years, a period in his early writings known as the Future History series. I am not the first person to wonder if our own era deserves that moniker, although with hindsight is it any nuttier than any other?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Corbyn’s first wife, Jane Chapman, told his biographer Tom Bower that she never knew him read a book in four years of marriage.”

Nick Cohen.

The constant denial that humans possess agency

Following on from the posting below about the “ISIS bride” is this comment from Brendan O’Neill at Spiked:

Indeed, the story of these three London girls who ran off in 2015 was always a very telling one. It contains lessons, if only we are willing to see them. Too many observers have focused on the girls’ youthfulness and the idea that they were ‘groomed’ or ‘brainwashed’ by online jihadists. Note how ‘radicalisation’ has become an entirely passive phrase – these girls, and other Brits, were ‘radicalised’, we are always told, as if they are unwitting dupes who were mentally poisoned by sinister internet-users in Mosul or Raqqa. In truth, the three girls were resourceful and bright. All were grade-A students. They thought their actions through, they planned them meticulously, and they executed them well. Far from being the passive victims of online radicalisation, the girls themselves sought to convince other young women to run away to ISIS territory. The focus on the ‘grooming’ of Western European youths by evil ISIS masterminds overlooks a more terrible reality: that some Western European youths, Muslim ones, actively sought out the ISIS life.

A point that comes out of this is how it is so common these days to downplay the fact that people make choices and have agency. Whether it is about young adults joining Islamist death cults, or people becoming addicted to drink, porn or social media, or falling into some other self-destructive and anti-social behaviour, very often people talk about the persons concerned as passive, as victims. “She was groomed to be a terrorist”…..”he suffered from alcoholism”…..”he was damaged by over-use of social media”……the very way that journalists write sentences or broadcast their thoughts seem to suggest that people don’t really possess volition, aka free will. (Here is a good explanation of what free will is, at least in the sense that I think it is best formulated, by the late Nathaniel Branden.)

Sometimes debates about whether humans really do have volition can sound like hair-splitting, an obscure sort of issue far less important than other matters of the day. I disagree. For decades, centuries even, different arguments have been presented to show that humans are pushed around by whatever external or internal forces happen to be in play, whether it is the environment, toilet training, parental guidance, economics, the class system, whatever. Over time, these ideas percolate into wider society so that it becomes acceptable for people to talk as if their very thoughts and actions aren’t really under their control. The self-contradictory nature of people denying that they have volition (to deny is, after all, a decision) is rarely remarked upon.

When people think about the problem of “snowflake” students, or identity politics, or other such things, remember that these phenomena didn’t come out of nowhere. We are seeing the “cashing in”, as Ayn Rand put it almost half a century ago, of the idea that people are not agents with will, but mere puppets.

Update: A lively debate in the comments. There is some pushback on the idea that the ISIS bride sees herself as any sort of victim but I think that charge is correct because of the entitlement mentality she is displaying by demanding that she returns to the UK to have her child, and no doubt fall on the grace of the UK taxpayer. And that mindset is all of a piece of thinking that actions don’t bring consequences.

After all, if she is the devout believer in creating a Global Caliphate, based on killing and enslaving unbelievers and all the assorted mindfuckery of such a goal, it is a bit rich, really, for her to come back to a country the prosperity of which is based on it being a largely liberal, secular place. She wants to have her cake and eat it.

Of course, some young jihadis can be brainwashed and are surrounded by a culture that encourages such behaviour, but it is worth pointing out that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who, whatever the pressures, don’t do these things, and some are trying their best to move away from this mindset. And one of the best ways that liberal (to use that word in its correct sense) societies can resist the pathology of Islamist death cults is by resisting the “victim culture” and insisting on people taking ownership of their actions, with all the consequences for good or ill that this brings.

As an aside, here is an interesting essay by a Canadian academic debunking what might be called “apocalyptic ethics” and a rebuttal of the argument that as religious fanatics embrace death, they are beyond the rational self interest test of ethics. The article deals with that argument beautifully.

Samizdata quote of the day

“With journalism’s popularity waning and scandals raging, journalists have never been more interested in the political opinions of `stars.’ While the idea of a reporter caring what they think about matters beyond what it was like to work with some other actor or director, this wading by the make-believe set has begun to impact its bottom lines. `Stars’ are asked to weigh in, to speak out on everything, and fewer and fewer people want to hear it. It’s a business model straight out of a Monty Python skit.”

Derek Hunter, Outrage Inc: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism and Hollywood. Page 209.

(As per usual I put in my bleat about how sad it is that the word “liberal” nowadays means something rather different than what it once did.)

Nissan, Brexit and the state of journalism

Guido Fawkes has a smart observation about the recent announcement by Japanese carmaker Nissan that it will not produce a new model from its plant in the UK’s Northeast. This has produced a storm, with people claiming that this shows the UK’s move towards independence from Brussels is a mistake, and that all those thick Northerners who voted for Brexit were misled, and will suffer, etc, etc.

However, there’s a big fat problem with this “a pox on Brexit” narrative. If moving out of the snug embrace of the EU and its Single Market is such a dumb idea, only to be entertained by fools or knaves, etc, why hasn’t Nissan relocated to France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, or some of the other benighted states of the EU, rather than produce the new models in far-away Japan?

Guido also mentions EU emission standards and other issues as a factor for the firm pulling out. Of course, it may be that one reason why not a single other EU state appeals to the folks in Tokyo is the high labour costs and restrictions of doing business in these places (imagine Italy, for instance!), but if that’s true, then the Single Market’s alleged charms aren’t enough to outweigh the Big Government features of the EU’s constituent members. The EU is, in this sense, stagnating under the weight of its own bureaucracy.

Guido asks why Sky News and others haven’t asked the kind of questions asked here, but that misses how for much of the UK media, to ask these questions assumes a level of objectivity and understanding of business that simply isn’t encouraged in journalists today. (I should know, as I have been a financial reporter, but being a crazed libertarian I just about avoided the infection when I was being trained.) Most UK journalists regard business with suspicion and tend to tilt left politically, in my experience. So points about regulation and red tape encouraging a firm to move from A to B just don’t compute. As a result, the questions aren’t asked. (Just imagine, if you will, how the average Western journalist would react to a book such as this, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Institute, defending banking and modern finance. You just know what the response will be.)

A few months ago, a US-based commodities and derivatives business, ICE, decided to pull certain futures contracts out of London and back to Chicago, because the costs of complying with EU regulations known as MiFID II were so great they outweighed the benefits of being in the Single Market. As the regulatory process gets worse (I see zero desire to reverse it), the presumed desirability for non-EU countries to be involved will wane. This is a point that we cannot expect the likes of the BBC, or Financial Times, Economist or most of the rest to grasp. And part of the reason is the mindset of the journalists who work for these entities.

Caffeinated

Now it is fashionable to sneer at Starbucks. The coffee, once recognised as a marked improvement on what was available before, is disparaged as being bitter or tasteless or inadequate in any one of a number of different ways. That is the proof of Starbucks’ success. You are free, and indeed able, to complain about the quality of its product because of Starbucks.

In that respect, the company is a shining example of how capitalism and the market is supposed to work. A new product creates a new market and is in turn — for some, anyway — superseded by other competitors offering, in this case, smaller, independent, more innovative and interesting, coffee served in a less “corporate” environment. Innovation inspires emulation and then, in turn, the original innovator begins to look cumbersome and outdated. But your local independent artisan coffee shop selling coffee sourced form a single Indonesian estate only exists because of Starbucks and the corporate muscle it flexed to create the very market upon which smaller competitors can piggy-back. This, again, is the way the system is supposed to work. The rising tide, in this instance, really has lifted all boats.

Alex Massie.

Well, it may be “fashionable” to dislike Starbucks (usually a pose taken by those who haven’t the faintest notion of what building a business involves) but I could not give a flying expleted-deleted about a lot that passes for fashion. I use Starbucks quite a lot and it has also helped spawn the model of the coffee shop that is also a sort of office/study zone for anyone with a laptop.

The dislike of Starbucks is often nothing more than a reworking of the general hatred of enterprise and trade that is indulged by people who, hypocrically, enjoy its fruits. I recall this great episode of South Park and how it lampooned the hatred of big business chains of this type.

And who can possibly dislike a business that got a name-check in an Austin Powers movie?

Oh behave!

Borders and Brexit

Here is a good, succinct demolition of the argument that if the UK leaves the European Union on World Trade Organisation-based terms, rather by some “Brexit-in-name-only” fiasco, there will need to be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. From the very start, I have suspected this issue was being exaggerated considerably by those trying to derail UK independence from the European Union, and the detail here proves it.

This is all contextual: where there are amicable relations, technology, goodwill and a certain degree of co-operation, it means border posts and the rest are not needed, or not used all the time. A case in point is Switzerland: it has access, via scores of bilateral treaties, to Europe’s Single Market, but also has the freedom to do its own trade deals with nations far beyond Europe. When I have driven from France to Switzerland, or over to Germany, there were no border controls I was aware of. Switzerland is in the Schengen Agreement area, which removes the need for passports. Now there’s no theoretical reason why the UK could not also come to a specific agreement on such a basis with Ireland (although it might still reserve the right to require passports to be produced where necessary).

Sometimes situations can change: a few years ago, after the 2015 November mass murders in Paris, border controls were enforced on the Swiss-French border. Also, there are customs checks but these don’t all require “stop at the border and let a bloke search the truck” sort of process. This Q&A guide is an example of what happens.

Now, this being a classical liberal/libertarian blog, some people are going to complain that there are any kind of borders, requirements of passports, period. As a minarchist (minimal state, not anarchist) I take the view that one cannot have a jurisdiction of law without knowing what the boundaries of that legal network are, and so there is a border, even if only expressed as a squiggly line on a map, rather than a wall, fence or something more technically snazzy. England has its Common Law, while the continent has a Civil Code (Napoleon and the Roman legal heritage) and there is therefore a boundary between them, even though in many ways mutual recognition/equivalence agreements can and do take quite a lot of the friction out of where these codes come into contact. (There are some parts of the world with both legal traditions at the same time (such as Malta, which was once run by the French before the Brits kicked the buggers out). And these boundaries may also require people to prove where they reside as citizens, if only to know that they cannot run away from certain legal agreements they have entered into by fleeing to another jurisdiction.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The problem is not primarily intellectual; it’s moral. It seems that many professional academics have not been taught to develop the basic virtues of emotional self-restraint, justice, charity, and humility. They feel no need to hold in check their feelings of irritation, indignation, hatred – and fear. They recognise no obligation to be scrupulously fair to their opponents. They don’t understand that the most cogent critique is one that charitably construes the opposing case in the strongest possible terms, and only then sets about dismantling it.”

Nigel Biggar

The beating heart of NYC

Today I am reading and watching all those weather reports about how extremely cold it is in the US and some of my friends in New York and Chicago have been telling me about it. But what impresses me above all is that these urban hubs, these centres of modern human civilisation, go on. And we take it for granted that apart from certain disruptions, they do. I came across this wonderful graphic item on the web that visually conveys the daily commute volume into and out of Manhattan.

Have a good weekend and keep warm and safe. This global warming is a real bitch.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Look around any developed country and it is obvious that there are a lot of people who eat too much. But there is another affliction of modern societies that too often gets overlooked: the greed for attention. If members of the Lancet Commission on Obesity had a taste for food as great as their appetite for hyperbole, their bellies would prevent them getting near a dinner table.”

Ross Clark, Daily Telegraph, 29 January (£).

Thomas Piketty gets the Theodore Dalrymple treatment

In Britain, as in other countries, more than a quarter of the income tax is paid by 1 per cent of the population. But this is not enough for the Professor, irrespective of whether increasing the rate would increase the take (the purpose of tax being primarily symbolic). He would like capital to be taxed too, from above the not very high limit of $900,000. This would increase both equality and efficiency, according to the Professor, in so far as the money raised would then be redistributed and invested productively by the philosopher-kings of whom the professor is so notable an example.

All this is to be done in the name of what Piketty calls solidarity. ‘If Europe wants to restore solidarity with its citizens it must show concrete evidence that it is capable of establishing cooperation’: that is, it must raise taxes on the prosperous. Overlooking the question of what Europe actually is, or how it is to be defined (I suspect that the Professor thinks it is not continent or a civilisation, but a bureaucracy), this seems to me the kind of solidarity that only someone suffering from autism could dream up, solidarity equalling taxation administered by politicians, bureaucrats and intellectual advisers.

Theodore Dalrymple.