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]

It pays to argue against what your opponents actually believe

They say that the Earth’s magnetic poles swap places every few hundred thousand years.

“Roe v Wade: US Supreme Court ends constitutional right to abortion”, reports the BBC.

A miracle or a catastrophe, take your pick, but how did this happen after half a century in which Roe and Wade were the fixed poles by which the compass of the American abortion debate could be set? It is bad form for me to quote myself, but in this post, “How not to change minds on abortion”, I made the point about as well as I am ever likely to:

…in the US and the UK, the pro-choice side almost never engaged with what their opponents actually believed. Over the years I must have read hundreds of Guardian articles on abortion, mostly in its US section because abortion is such a live issue there. I do not recall a single one that argued against the main sticking point of the pro-life side, namely that abortion takes a human life – let alone argued for it. On other issues the Guardian would occasionally let the odd Conservative or other non-progressive have their say about fossil fuels or the nuclear deterrent or whatever, and would often feature writers who, while left wing themselves, at least knew enough of the right wing view to argue against it. However when it came to abortion the line always was, and judging from Twitter in the last few days, still is, that opposition to abortion arises (a) only from men and (b) only from men who wish to control women’s bodies.

It works, a bit. Some men who read that will decide that they do not want to be that sort of man, others will decide that they do not want to be thought to be that sort of man. But an argument that does not even acknowledge the existence of female opponents of abortion will obviously not change their minds. Nor will silence reassure women who are not firmly pro or anti. If the Left will not talk to them about their doubts, then by definition the only arguments they hear will come from the other side.

Related post: It pays to brief your own side properly. I might make a series of “It pays to…” posts.

Autumn is coming

You may think that mid-June is a little early for me to be saying that, but I do see signs that Britain, and perhaps the world, is not as green as it once was:

  • Ben Spencer and Harry Yorke in the Times: “Ministers quietly abandon ‘green crap’ as focus shifts to food security”

    Boris Johnson has scaled back plans to rewild the country as the government retreats from the green agenda to focus on the cost-of-living crisis.

    Ministers last year announced a post-Brexit scheme that would pay farmers up to £800 million a year — a third of the farming budget — to transform agricultural land into nature-rich forests, coastal wetlands, peatlands and wildflower meadows.

    But the fund, called the landscape recovery scheme, has been quietly slashed to just £50 million over three years, less than 1 per cent of the budget.

  • Nick Cohen in the Guardian: “Why bankers close their ears to the ‘climate nut jobs’ talking about the end of the world”

    If the future remembers any corporate villain from 2022, it will be Stuart Kirk. The satirically titled head of “responsible investment” at HSBC looks the part: shaven headed, tightly trimmed beard, hard, sharp eyes. Like all the best villains, the banker’s arguments are insidiously appealing. He says out loud what his audience thinks, cutting through polite society’s pious crap to reveal its selfish desires.

    “There’s always some nut job telling me about the end of the world,” he told the Financial Times’s Moral Money conference – and I haven’t made that title up either. “Who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six metres underwater for ages and that’s a really nice place.”

  • A poll by Redfield and Wilton Strategies asked, “Would Britons support or oppose the Government suspending its environmental taxes to reduce the cost of living?” The result:

    Support 49%
    Oppose 18%
    Neither 23%

    A majority (58%) of 2019 Conservative voters and a plurality (46%) of 2019 Labour voters support the suspension of environmental taxes.

  • An end to medical progress

    Mark Johnson writes about ‘Health misinformation’: the latest addition to the Online Safety Bill

    … we have seen Big Tech increasingly taking on the role of online speech police in recent years. During the coronavirus era, this reached new extremes. At the beginning of the pandemic, Facebook took the step of removing content which promoted face masks as a tool to combat the spread of Covid-19.

    Yet within a short space of time, the medical consensus on masks changed. But rather than acknowledge that it was wrong, Facebook flipped its position and censored in the other direction. A high-profile example saw Facebook label, discredit and suppress an article in The Spectator, written by the Oxford academic Carl Heneghan, disputing the efficacy of masks. What grounds or competency Silicon Valley’s fact-checkers had to overrule reasoned arguments by a Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine remains to be seen.

    This approach is a direct threat to the epistemic process, so central to the free and open development of knowledge and ideas in liberal democracies. The fact that not even academics can escape this kind of truth arbitration speaks volumes.

    Censorship is indeed a threat to the epistemic process, and one that is not limited to the UK. The threat is particularly dire in the field of medicine, where progress depends on a flow of information about the symptoms of illnesses and the efficacy of treatments coming in from patients and doctors.

    Related: Facebook’s hired “fact checkers” versus the British Medical Journal.

    The president offers his condolences, but that’s enough about you

    The president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, offered his condolences over the massacre of worshippers at a church in Owo, Nigeria.

    News Letter reports,

    Forty people were killed in the attack at the Church of St Francis in the Owo district in the Ondo region of Nigeria on June 5. Over 126 people also suffered injuries following the attack.

    In a statement last week, President Higgins appeared to link the attack with climate change.

    His comments have drawn criticism from the bishop of the Catholic Ondo diocese, Jude Ayodeki Aroguande, who acknowledged and thanked the president for his condemnation but said the “incorrect and far-fetched” link drawn between the slaughter and climate change was “rubbing salt to the injuries of all who have suffered terrorism in Nigeria”.

    In his statement, President Higgins had condemned those responsible for the attack and cautioned against “any attempt to scapegoat pastoral peoples who are among the foremost victims of the consequences of climate change”.

    The Labour politician also called for solidarity with “all those impacted not only by this horrible event, but in the struggle by the most vulnerable, on whom the consequences of climate change have been inflicted”.

    The former president of the United States, Barack Obama, offered his condolences over the massacre of children at a school in Uvalde, Texas.

    The New York Post reports,

    The former president shared the message on Twitter Wednesday in the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 children and two fourth-grade teachers.

    “As we grieve the children of Uvalde today, we should take time to recognize that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer.” Obama tweeted. “His killing stays with us all to this day, especially those who loved him.”

    Government love

    “Tinder Wants Money. We Want Love. The Solution: Socialize Dating Apps”, writes Nick French in Jacobin magazine.

    Really jump in

    “Top Biden aide prods big tech to crack down on climate change misinformation”, Axios reports.

    Gina McCarthy, President Biden’s top domestic climate adviser, said tech companies should do more to prevent the spread of inaccurate information about climate change and clean energy.

    Driving the news: “The tech companies have to stop allowing specific individuals over and over again to spread disinformation,” she told Axios’ Alexi McCammond at a virtual event that aired Thursday.

    “We need the tech companies to really jump in,” McCarthy said.

    Who is “we”?

    And what the [fossil fuel] industry is now doing is seeding, basically, doubt about the costs associated with that and whether they work or not.”

    Expressing doubt about the cost of a proposed government measure, and whether it will actually work as promised? How dare they! Such dangerous speculation cannot be allowed.

    Hat tip: Iain Murray.

    The Lady of Heaven did not stay long

    It is a film that is “more interesting on paper than in practice”, according to this review:

    This British-made epic earns a significant accolade: it is the first film to put the “face” of the prophet Muhammad on screen. No single actor is credited with playing him, or any of the other holy figures in his entourage. And, as a nervous initial disclaimer points out, their faces, often shown in dazzling sunbursts, are computer-generated. Presumably, this is enough to placate Islam’s prohibition on visual representation of the prophet, but this is a Shia-aligned film that is evidently a little more lenient on the issue.

    The Guardian‘s reviewer underestimated the interest that the film would generate. UK cinema chain cancels screenings of ‘blasphemous’ film after protests, the same newspaper reports today.

    Paul Embery tweets, “This is reportedly the manager of a cinema in Sheffield addressing a theocratic mob protesting at the screening of a “blasphemous” film (The Lady of Heaven). Thoroughly depressing to see him capitulate to their demands and confirm the film has been binned.”

    I post this to make an important political point

    Please tell me what it is in the comments. Via Seth Dillon of the Babylon Bee, who offers one suggestion.

    Boris Johnson’s evitable inevitable downfall

    My paper paper and the online version of the Times have different headlines this morning. Royalty fills the paper, but online the focus has returned to the Commons:

    Politics live: Boris Johnson faces confidence vote tonight

  • Sir Graham Brady announces confidence vote in PM to be held at 6pm
  • Rebels fear they do not have 180 votes to oust Johnson
  • Memo from backbench MPs brands PM ‘Conservative Corbyn’
  • PM booed outside St Paul’s thanksgiving service for Queen

    Boris Johnson faces a vote of confidence in his leadership today after the threshold of Tory MPs calling for him to go was reached.

    In a statement Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, revealed that 54 MPs — amounting to a 15 per cent of the parliamentary party — had now lost faith in Johnson’s leadership and want to oust him.

    The vote will take place between 6pm and 8pm tonight with an announcement of the result to follow shortly afterwards.

  • Perhaps I should mention for foreign readers that this is an internal Party vote of Conservative MPs, not a vote of the House of Commons as a whole.

    Though the prime minister will – probably – win the vote, to be facing it at the hands of his own party relatively soon after winning a huge Parliamentary majority is an embarrassment. He has lost his magic, and for what? There might have been a sort of glamour about a prime minister throwing it all away to sport with Cytheris, but Boris threw it all away to sport with Secret Santa.

    I am fascinated by the question of whether his troubles were inevitable or not.

    At the start, of course, they were more evitable than Eva Duarte. Boris Johnson, like Agustin Magaldi in the musical, could have evaded all this bother simply by saying “No” to the offer of some illegal fun that probably wasn’t all that much fun anyway. But he said “Yes”. Repeatedly. Involving hundreds of people, all of whom had these new “mobile phone” thingies that have cameras.

    What an idiot! Could he not have foreseen that it was inevitable that someone would blab?

    Well, yes and no. In the end someone did, but it took long enough. The Ur-party took place in May 2020, but the first “Partygate” stories only appeared in the press in late November 2021. Am I the only person who is oddly impressed by this?

    1989.06.04

    BBC Archive: Chinese troops fire on protesters in Tiananmen Square

    First broadcast 4 June 1989.

    Chinese troops opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Saturday evening. The collection of students and labourers had been occupying the site for several weeks. Despite the outbreak of “unremitting gunfire”, the protesters refused to leave. The BBC’s Kate Adie reports from the scene.

    Also watch this interview with a soldier of the People’s Liberation Army from ABC News (Australia). That interview is from 2019. I doubt if it could be made in 2022.

    2019 was also the last time that the massacre was commemorated by a public ceremony in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. This year, as it was in 2020 and 2021, the park has been blocked off by police and anyone lingering there threatened with prosecution. The reason given for forbidding the demonstration was coronavirus. I have a premonition that in Hong Kong the Covid-19 pandemic will go on forever.

    In order to save freedom of expression it became necessary to destroy it

    “Protect women from chilling effect of misogyny, Ofcom urges tech firms”, the Times reports:

    Ofcom has told social media companies to stamp out misogyny, arguing that it is having a “chilling effect” on women’s freedom of expression online.

    Emphasis added.

    The media regulator, which is preparing to police tech firms under powers granted by the Online Safety Bill, said that companies have a duty to protect women from harmful content.

    Ofcom spoke to 6,000 people for its Online Nation study, and found that over the past month women were more likely than men to have seen content that “objectifies, demeans or otherwise negatively portrays” their gender.

    Of the women surveyed, 43 per cent said they were likely to be distressed by harmful content, compared with 33 per cent of men. Some 60 per cent of women highlighted trolling as being particularly concerning, whereas only 25 per cent of men were anxious about online abuse.

    Ofcom said that women spent more time online than men, but felt less able to express an opinion or be themselves on social media platforms.

    If you really think “2000 Mules” has been debunked, allow comments

    The Guardian has acknowledged there might be an elephant a mule in the room.

    Trump’s ‘big lie’ hits cinemas: the film claiming to investigate voter fraud

    2000 Mules has been resoundingly debunked by factcheckers, but the film has earned praise from Trump and other Republicans

    Not having seen 2000 Mules, I will offer no opinion on how convincing it is. But I do have some advice for the Guardian, and other media outlets too, and it is advice that would be exactly the same whether the claims made in Dinesh D’Souza’s film turn out to be right or wrong. If you genuinely want the truth to come out, allow comments.

    The Guardian‘s opinion section used to be called Comment Is Free, taken from the words of C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian from 1872 until 1929, “Facts are sacred but comment is free”. CiF was great. Although the majority of the commenters were left wing, they were kept on their toes by a strong minority who were not. Equally important, the Guardian‘s writers were kept on their toes. A badly researched or tendentious article would not go unchallenged. For instance, see the comments to this article about the George Zimmerman case. After she became the paper’s first female editor, Katharine Viner replaced “Comment is Free” by an initiative called “The Web We Want”. The web she wanted was one in which comment was no longer free: ever since then, comments have been disallowed on most articles, especially those where the response was likely to be hostile to the Guardian worldview.

    Their gaff, their rules. But didn’t Ms Viner’s birthing parent ever tell her that what we want is not always good for us? As I argued in a post called “It pays to brief your own side properly”,

    The mainstream media has passed a milestone in its decline to irrelevance when someone who wants to successfully argue for the same things the MSM argues for must use other sources besides the MSM.

    Since CiF became TWwW in April 2016 the repose of the Guardian-reading classes has been disturbed by some unpleasant shocks. Among them were Brexit, the election of Donald Trump in the US, and, ten days after I wrote the post on briefing your own side properly, the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. A reader in 2021 who relied on the Guardian alone would have had no idea that was coming. A reader in 2013 who kept half an eye on the below-the-line comments to stories like this and this would have certainly known that George Zimmerman’s acquittal was a strong possibility.

    So? No one asked me to be the guardian of Guardian readers from nasty surprises. Maybe they prefer the curtains of their mansion drawn, even if that does mean that trouble in the street only becomes apparent when a brick comes through the window. But that is to assume the worst of them. Judging from the number who took part in the arguments back when comment was free, there were plenty who, quaint though it might seem, wanted to know the truth. And it seems to me that vigorous, uncensored argument between people from all political tribes would be an excellent tool in itself to settle the truth or falsehood of the claims made in 2000 Mules. What’s this about the accuracy of geolocation data? The Guardian has an educated readership. Ask the audience.

    Sadly, saying that a factchecker working for the Associated Press has deemed the documentary to have “gaping holes” does not impress as much as it once did. Here is what the Associated Press said in 2020 about Hunter Biden’s laptop: “AP Explains: Trump seizes on dubious Biden-Ukraine story”:

    ARE THE NEW EMAILS AUTHENTIC?

    The actual origins of the emails are unclear. And disinformation experts say there are multiple red flags that raise doubts about their authenticity, including questions about whether the laptop actually belongs to Hunter Biden, said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the nonpartisan Wilson Center in Washington.

    Nina Jankowicz? That name sounds familiar. Well, the AP did get it right when their fact-checkers called her a “disinformation expert”.