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]

Harry Potter and the Ignorance of Ignorance

Many will know Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, a fun essay by Benjamin Barton on episodes in the books that insinuate scepticism about government (and about mainstream media, though this is less the essay’s theme). In the Potter books (and even in ‘A Casual Vacancy’, which is a bad book written by a good writer), J.K.Rowling (sometimes wittingly, sometimes quite unwittingly, I think) teaches lessons that are indirectly unhelpful to those who love statism. Telling an 18-year-old, “You realise Corbyn’s Bureaucracy will be every bit as efficient, as fair and as restrained as the Ministry of Magic”, can be a more useful start to a conversation than mentioning Stalin or Venezuela. (Not that you’ll get any agreement from Rowling herself on that – but my post “Harry Potter and the Silly Tweets” must wait till another day. 🙂 )

When “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” came out in 2003, at the height of the protests against attacking Iraq and the war on terror, the PC brigade went off her for a while.  The book’s picture of a hidden evil leader inspiring hideous acts of terrorism, while politicians and the media corruptly downplayed the danger, didn’t quite suit them. Of course, she had planned that plot in the mid-90s as a natural part of the series’ architecture – its appearance in 2003 was coincidental – but the essay has a point.

However right in the middle of his argument, Benjamin shows that he is an American – that the everyday experience of growing up as a child in Britain, with UK politics as a “noises off” background one gradually starts to notice, is one he has not had – and does not suspect that he needed. To him, it seems obvious that the politics of the Magical world are not democratic:

Defenders of bureaucracy argue that democracy justifies bureaucracy as a result of deliberation and public buy-in. Rowling strips the Ministry of Magic of even this most basic justification, as Fudge is replaced by Scrimgeour as the Minister of Magic with no mention of an election. To the contrary, Rowling uses the passive voice of the verb “to sack” repeatedly to describe Fudge’s fate. … It is unclear who appoints the Minister of Magic, but perhaps the elites.

Benjamin is arguing logically from his US experience: presidents are elected and are never just ‘sacked’. But the British reader instantly recognises that Benjamin is arguing from an ignorance of UK experience. Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister without an election. An election has now been held and Theresa May is still prime minister, but had she not accepted her inevitable future by promising her party to “serve as long as you wish me to”, she might already have been sacked. She will cease being prime minister before the next election – probably long before. British children and teenagers, the book’s protagonists, grow up knowing that there are elections from time to time, and that the head of government changes from time to time, and that the two are related, but often only indirectly. They also see that Fudge talks like a politician in Britain – like a man with an electorate to worry about, a man who has to care about whether it ‘looks like’ he’s doing the right thing for the magical community.

So, transatlantic commenters, what things about the US do I not know that I do not know? And have I any company in my ignorant ignorance? Have you met an ignorance more ignorant, and more ignorant of it, than mine?

I appreciate it’s a hard question:

Bernard: “What is it that the prime minister does not know?”

Sir Humphrey: “How can I tell you what the prime minister doesn’t know? It could be almost anything!”

(From ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, episode 6, quoted from memory)

Can happiness be distributed less unequally?

The replies to Natalie’s recent question, What were you doing a year ago… contain many a phrase like “I just couldn’t stop grinning” and “Ah, the happy Friday and Saturday”.

Reading them reminded me of a Christmas card I got from friends six months ago. Usually it contains a printed newsletter of what they and their children have been up to during the year. For the first time in some three decades since we left university, there was no newsletter – just a short hand-written note saying that Brexit and Trump had so depressed them that they had decided to “cultiver nos jardin.”

Elections – and politics generally – seem to cause great inequality of happiness. As the result of each election or vote is announced, some are very elated and others are very depressed. If equality of happiness is the goal, should we diminish the importance of politics? After all, it surely can hardly be that they enjoy our misery – or we theirs – since such a view of human nature would seem to rule out the kind of grand government plan that risks the perverse incentives of its methods in order to advance its worthy goals. 🙂

At a time when standard arguments against socialism are not being quite as effective as we could wish here in the UK, I wonder how this one might fare?

The Shadow of Free Speech

In the USA, the first amendment says that mere speech can never make a crime. Such a constitutional right has a penumbra, as the lawyers call it (many a complex case has gone to the supreme court).

Suppose a politically-incorrect remark makes it criminal for you to do what would be legal for you to do if you had not uttered it. Is it the remark that has been made criminal?

Throughout the ruling, Judge Watson concedes there’s nothing about the executive order that would be problematic if not for his interpretation of Trump’s statements made in the months and years prior to issuing it.

If it is illegal for Donald to do for four months what Barack legally did for six, solely because Obama’s speeches about immigration were always impeccably PC whereas Trump’s remarks on the 2016 campaign trail were not, are Donald’s first amendment rights violated? I’ve read plenty about a president’s constitutional right to control immigration under laws that congress had a constitutional right to enact, but what about his right to have uttered a politically incorrect opinion during the previous year? Can the same logic debar every candidate with a history of un-PC remarks from any executive position? Can an otherwise constitutional congressional law be nullified because people on the side that voted for it said un-PC things the day before – or the decade before?

If the ultimate ruling on this were that you guys across the pond could still speak your mind, but only at the cost of making acting on it illegal, then the penumbra of the first amendment would have grown short indeed – which is a surprising way to say it, since it would look to me like your free speech had become a mere shadow of itself.

[Added later] Commenter Chip expressed my post in a sentence:

Clearly, the only lawmakers who can restrict immigration are those who never said they would.

I’m glad all nine supreme court judges are not sure this is what the constitution actually says – and less glad that only three seem able to see at a glance that it is not.

Exception, meet the new normal

It has finally happened.  Here in Britain, a man has driven a van into a group of people he sees as evil.

Clarification: it has finally happened in Britain that a man has driven a van into a group of muslims.

If we followed PC precedent, we should be as cautious in assuming this man was not a muslim as we were told to be of assuming earlier perpetrators were muslim. How could it be safer to treat a reported shout of “I want to kill muslims” as more decisive than a reported shout of “Allahu Akbar”? Murder of a gang rival with collateral damage; killing  a group of not-muslim-enough muslims with ingenious collateral propaganda advantage; anything is possible. But I suspect he wasn’t a muslim.

In the well-armed US, it has not yet happened – that I have heard, and I think it would have been blazoned forth by the media (no doubt will be if and when it does). But the US is exceptional. In third world countries (whose cultures it is racist to regard as more flawed than our own), tit-for-tat retaliation has long been part of the culture.

In its quieter, understated way, British exceptionalism has always been as proud as US exceptionalism – and as hated by the politically correct. They decided to “rub the British people’s noses in diversity” in order to get rid of it.

We are less exceptional today than we were yesterday.

“But she knows me !”

Late one night near the start of the 1930s in Germany, Leni Riefenstahl dropped in on friends whose house she chanced to pass as she returned from the very first Nazi rally she attended. For ten minutes, she raved about the the glorious future awaiting National Socialism, the insight of Hitler  – until the expressions on the faces of her stunned-into-silence hosts finally penetrated the haze she was in and she recalled that this married couple (that she’d been friends with for years) were two of her several Jewish friends. She murmured something about how she was sure that aspect of National Socialism would not amount to anything that need concern them. Then she finished her coffee and left. She never came back. Her circle of friends changed to contain fewer Jews, then fewer still.

(Leni’s next chance to meet Jews in numbers came in the early 1940s, when she borrowed concentration camp inmates to be extras in crowd scenes in her films, returning them to the camps after their scenes were shot. The couple who gave her coffee were not among them. Before that night, they were typical intellectuals, sure that National Socialists were all very stupid self-defeating people. That a girl like Leni – clever, strong-willed, career-minded, inventive, unorthodox – could become one was incomprehensible to them, so incomprehensible that it shattered their intellectuals’ conviction that they were the ones who understood things. Therefore they fled Germany early and so they lived – long enough to tell the story of that night on a television programme I watched long ago.)

I was reminded of this by the woman named by Sarah Hoyt in a recent post. Like the rest of Sad Puppies, Sarah has been accused of every sin in the politically-correct calendar by SJWs who’ve never met her, but also, to her astonishment, by Rose Beteem, a woman who knows her, who knows her views, who knows she’s from Portugal and can look like she comes from somewhere south of it, who knows Sarah is no more plausibly accused of all these -isms and -phobias than Leni’s friends were of starting WWI. Sarah was astonished that Rose could do that since “she knows me.”

I wasn’t. Beteem’s knowledge of Sarah Hoyt is part of her experience. Beteem’s knowledge that all Sad Puppiers are vile people, guilty of every -ism and -phobia, is part of her political theory. To be politically correct is to value theory above experience. Khrushchev noted the strength of Stalin’s tendency to believe a thing if he’d read it in a book or report, whatever the counter-evidence. In C.S.Lewis “That Hideous Strength”, Mark treats a sociology report on agricultural labourers as the reality and the actual agricultural labourers he meets as irrelevant because his modernist views meant “He believed as firmly as any mystic in the superior reality of that which is not seen.”

Treating the theory you’ve been taught as a surer guide than your own experience is the essence of political correctness. SJWs don’t just refuse to learn from the past; they resist learning from their own present. If this ever changes, they become that well-known type who is a socialist at 20 but wiser at 40. Otherwise, don’t rely on their knowing you to make a difference.

[All quotations are from memory. Khrushchev’s remark is in Robert Coquest’s, “Stalin, Breaker of Nations.”]

“Why did I bother !”

The left are about intentions. They treat their own good intentions as evidence they will do good – and that we, who oppose them, have evil intentions. We notice incentives. If the planned road to utopia rewards freeloading while punishing those who pay for it, it will not get there.

“Why did I bother!” is what Natalie’s exasperated neighbour said when the Tory manifesto came out. That neighbour is one of the goodies: never rich but she paid her way (plus taxes), raised her kids, worked at many a humble low-paying job (as her neighbours’ cleaned kitchens could testify) and ends up with a house, a life she can respect, and no other major assets. May’s intention was presumably to balance the budget. But taking that neighbour’s house to pay alike for her care and freeloaders’ care incentivised her to demand, “Why did I bother!”

Theresa May was stuffing envelopes for the Tory party when she was twelve years old. But maybe that’s the problem. Given my family background, it is mere lucky chance I was not stuffing envelopes for Labour at that age. Almost 5 years separated my reaching voting age from the next general election – which is why I can tell you I have never voted Labour. I had to work out, as the years and days to that first election ticked down, why I should not do what I would have done on my 18th birthday. That is why, today, I could not look at a policy proposal without the thought occurring, “What incentives will this create?”  Evidently, Theresa May can.

[ADDED LATER:  should Natalie’s neighbour have been so exasperated?  My thoughts are here.]