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]

How time flies…

On November 2nd 2001, we started scribbling random thoughts on this blog. My goodness, how much the world has change since then, and us along with it.

Defending the Billionaires

Nobody gets to the vast levels of wealth of someone like Bezos without being a gangster. Nobody.

Once again, someone is here to give voice to the voiceless: the poor, underrepresented billionaires who cannot defend themselves.

My disinterest in arguing with you could only be described as “sexual” in intensity. Go rant on your own blog.

          — A famous internet personality

Those are three choice quotes from an argument I got into on the popular blog of a popular San Franciscan. He was a shareholder and early employee of the first company to make a commercial web browser, became quite wealthy in the IPO, and then proceeded to buy a nightclub, and later a pizza parlor next to the nightclub. He also writes regularly, with undisguised loathing, of his distaste for wealthy people.

You can find the original argument using a search engine, but I do not care to direct people to it, and would prefer that you not look, and that if you do, that you leave it unmolested. There is no point in trying to educate those who do not wish to learn; it is generally a waste of time, and I don’t actually enjoy irritating people even if they are themselves less than perfectly civilized. The blog owner suggested I “[g]o rant on [my] own blog”, and so here I am.

The conversation that triggered the “ranting” which I reproduce below suggested, among other things, that the fact that Jeff Bezos is rich is evidence in itself that he’s a bad person, that it is impossible to get rich without foul means, etc. (In other words, it suggested the usual array of collectivist arguments for why envy of wealth should be a guide to political policy.)

The comments also implied that it is horrible that anyone would come to the defense of a wealthy entrepreneur, that one must be a terrible person to defend people who are so clearly not in need of defense. Let me, then, be that horrible person. I think that anyone who is slighted for no reason beyond bigotry and envy deserves defense — indeed, that such defense is necessary for a functioning society.

Here, then, are (lightly edited) my comments from the thread. I’ve separated the individual comments with horizontal rules. If you are a regular on this blog, you may accurately guess the content of my counterparty’s brief and non-substantive comments without reading them.


I always thought that envy was a vice, not a virtue, but I guess people are into reveling in it anyway.


I’ve found fairly few of the “Eat the Rich!” crowd who are actually virtuous, but boy do they do a good job getting angry with others for the “crime” of having earned more money. Such people also pretend it is a virtue to criticize business people for existing, and rich people for having their money, as though it was all a zero sum game, which of course it isn’t — the game isn’t even remotely zero sum. The world’s total supply of goods and services is not, after all, fixed, so it is not the case that one person having more means another has less.

Many of these adherents to the practice of vigorous public expression of thinly disguised envy are even fairly rich people themselves, even have businesses, but naturally they think of themselves as virtuous and anyone who has more money than them as being remarkably evil, or at least, so they proclaim in public. Somehow their own stores and restaurants and factories and the like aren’t evil, though, only other people’s are. (“I run a nice honest business, but he’s got more money than me, so he must be terribly, terribly bad” certainly reads a great deal like envy.)

There are, of course, societies that do operate on a zero sum principle, and those are precisely the societies where most such upper class critics of other people earning money would find themselves imprisoned for having even the “modest” businesses they themselves own. Those societies are also generally desperate and poor. (Many such people were happily chirping about how great Hugo Chávez was and how wonderful Venezuela was, even past the point where it became obvious that starvation was growing in a country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world. I’ve heard few to no retractions from the former admirers, many even claim that the Bolivarian paradise Chávez was building has somehow been ruined by foreigners, but the mechanisms they propose for this are universally implausible.)

Anyway, I find it interesting that people complain about others for no better reason than that they earn some large amount of money per minute, as though this was in itself a reason to think they were somehow bad.

Again, envy is a really, really ugly emotion, and this reads as nothing more than the sort of envy we usually try to teach children not to indulge in, but it seems that at least at the moment, we have political movements (on both sides of the supposed political divide) who anchor their entire program in the basest possible human emotions: envy, fear of people unlike themselves, dehumanization of those judged to be members of outgroups, etc. This tendency appears both among the “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!” types and among members of the “eat the rich!” crowd, though remarkably each believes that only the other exhibits such abhorrent beliefs.

I’m sure I’ll now be told that it’s different here, but everyone claims their own vices are not actually vices and that the people they mindlessly hate deserve it. No one ever admits there’s something wrong with their own views. No one ever admits to having base and unreasonable emotions, no one ever sees themselves as the bad guy. I know people who honestly believe Mexicans are going to destroy U.S. society by committing the horrible crime of crossing the border and working hard, I know people who honestly believe that landlords are evil for wanting to charge market rents. The arguments are all the same, the claims that I’m a bad person for pointing it out and that the arguer’s personal hatreds are different from other people’s hatreds are dull and basically inconsequentially distinct from those of others.


“Earned”, right. How about crimes like not paying taxes, which are only crimes if you’re poor?

Don’t you own a business? How do I know you paid your taxes? I mean, you say you have, but everyone says they have, right? Shouldn’t I be protesting your wealth? I mean, you’re wealthier than all but a small fraction of a percent of the US population, and by world standards, you’re in the top tiny fraction of a percent. Clearly if you were a decent person you would be giving all your worldly goods up — no one “needs” to own a nightclub and a restaurant and the rest, right?

Only, that argument would be as unreasonable as all the others being made, even if it’s no different in any respect from the one you’re making.

Really, though, it is a fantastic signifier of that. Nobody gets to the vast levels of wealth of someone like Bezos without being a gangster.

Jeff Bezos’s company ships something to me several times a week. I use his service because it is vastly easier for me to get decent products at a reasonable price that way than any other. In doing this, he’s done me a huge service. A new clock for my office wall arrived not very many hours ago, as did a book I couldn’t possibly have found at the local store. He’s probably saved me thousands of hours over the years hunting around on foot only to get worse products at a higher price. I’m glad to have paid him for the service of saving me that time and providing me with better merchandise. Over the years, I’ve paid him only a small fraction of what those many hours would have cost me in lost earnings — he captured only a tiny fraction of the value that I captured.

Because hundreds of millions of other people find his products and services useful, they voluntarily use them, and as a result he’s very very rich — but only because hundreds of millions of people want to use his firm’s services. I could choose to buy from all sorts of firms, but I don’t, because his does better by me than theirs along a variety of metrics. (For certain products, like computer parts, I use competitors services, because they’re better.)

So he got really rich doing what he does well. Not by “gangsterism”, which would imply using guns to use violence to get your way. Which is, by the way, what most people who think he doesn’t pay enough taxes would like — they would like their prejudices and hatreds to be enforced by the police. They would cheer if (say) they saw a cop beating Jeff Bezos up. In this, they’re not much different from the people who think any given group, from blacks to bankers, need to be kept down by the police more of the time. And it’s true, he’s more able to defend himself than the average black person who is victimized by racists, but it’s not true that the sentiment being displayed is any more savory. In the end, it’s the same desire to see people who are part of an outgroup physically harmed, mostly just for being members of the outgroup.

Anyway, though, I’m sure loads of other people could make precisely the same argument about other people, say people who own restaurants. “How did he get wealthy enough to buy a restaurant? Normal people who work stocking shelves don’t have that sort of money. He must be a gangster. He must have stolen it. These excuses about how he worked hard and his company IPOed are garbage — it was theft from other people that got him his money.”

The problem is, of course, that the argument is false. But it’s easily applied to people who own nightclubs, not just people who own internet department stores.

Anyway, I’ve heard this same argument thousands of times. In no case does it seem to amount to more than “I’m envious of the rich person, and because it is socially acceptable to slag rich people, I’ll express that anti-social sentiment in public, pretending that it’s virtue and not vice.” Only, from what I can tell, envy is just about never virtuous, and should not, in fact, be socially acceptable.

Samizdata quote of the day

Sometimes I think maybe I’m becoming too strict as I age. Maybe this is all a natural evolution of a technology. But I can’t close my eyes to what’s happening: A loss of intellectual power and diversity, and on the great potentials it could have for our troubled time. In the past, the web was powerful and serious enough to land me in jail. Today it feels like little more than entertainment. So much that even Iran doesn’t take some — Instagram, for instance — serious enough to block.

I miss when people took time to be exposed to different opinions, and bothered to read more than a paragraph or 140 characters. I miss the days when I could write something on my own blog, publish on my own domain, without taking an equal time to promote it on numerous social networks; when nobody cared about likes and reshares.

That’s the web I remember before jail. That’s the web we have to save.

Hossein Derakhshan, who is speaking at State of the Net in Trieste today

Government to ban Uber in London

In 8 days time.

Fuckers.

Lots of people – including some Uber supporters – saying stupid things.

Talking of which, I see Sargon of Akkad – he of This Week in Stupid – has been “unpublished” on Facebook.

What a shit day.

Not much blogging today

Sorry for the lack of blogging. Blame Tim Newman 😀

If samizdata was a person…

… then it would be well into the rebellious years of smoking behind bike sheds and dealing with raging hormones, because today Sami turns fifteen, which means it can legally do the wild thing in France as of this moment. What could possibly go wrong? 😛

smite_control

Iizjustafluffysmite

Thisiswhatitfeelsliketogetsmitedonsamizdata

Samizdata quote of the day

Anyway, my point is that it was the dissatisfaction of a large number of people with the mainstream media’s coverage of a major global event that drove the growth of blogging, both in the US and Britain. We are now in a period where people’s dissatisfaction with the mainstream media is plumbing new depths as it behaves abominably over issues such as the US election, immigration, and a whole load of others which people care deeply about. Twitter and Facebook have already shown they are prepared to censor unwelcome opinions, which has left more than a few people voiceless (at least until Gab picks up and develops a smartphone app.). Indeed, I’ve always been surprised how many bloggers – who had full control of their own hosting platform and content – switched to Twitter, where they had none of the former and now, we discover, not so much of the latter either. The beauty of blogging for me was always that I run the site and its content is wholly mine and subject to nobody’s approval. There is no “report inappropriate content” on this blog.

This period in the runup to the US Presidential Election is starting to feel a lot like the spring of 2003: plenty of angry voices and a feeling nobody is listening. If Trump loses, the opposite side will try to silence them. One way of making themselves heard is via a blog, leading me to believe that we might see a renaissance of blogging in 2017.

Either way, I’ll still be here. Hopefully.

Tim Newman, very accurately describing what caused the blogosphere to appear seemingly ab nihilo, and why similar conditions of widespread alienation may well be coming into alignment to cause a new media surge tide once again, perhaps this time ab Milo.

Steven DenBeste: one of the OG bloggers passes

Steven DenBeste, who ran a blog called USS Clueless back in the early days when we were all known as “warblogs”, has pressed Ctrl+Alt+Del and gone to the great blogroll in the sky. Steven and I often agreed on things, for he was certainly not an ‘idiotarian’, but we often crossed swords as well. Like me he was an atheist but nevertheless, Godspeed Good Sir, you were part of the social media New Wave before anyone called it social media.

And then they came for Instapundit…

First they came for Robert Stacey McCain but I had no idea who he was…
Then they came for Milo but I had no idea who he was either and anyway, he had silly hair…
Then they came for Instapundit…

A little earlier today Instapundit’s Twitter account got blocked. Due to Twitter’s Orwellian… no, Kafkaesque censorship policy it was not initially clear which tweet or tweets had earned Twitter’s ire. There was certainly no question of Glen Reynolds (Instapundit’s webmaster) being allowed to defend himself. At least not to Twitter – to the rest of the world Reynolds is most robust.

This is serious stuff. Instapundit was one of the original blogs. Although I was not present at it’s conception, my belief is that if it hadn’t been for Instapundit there wouldn’t have been a Samizdata. Certainly, Instapundit blazed a trail for hundreds, if not thousands of others and crucially Reynolds is not a nutter. If they can ban him they can ban us all.

Worse still, it is not as if Twitter is alone. It is remarkable how quickly internet stalwarts like Google, Facebook and Twitter have gone from being dynamic, “don’t be evil”, believers in freedom to being fully paid up members of the bansturbationary elite.

The question is what do we do now? Rob attempted to answer this very question earlier this week and I am happy to give gab.ai a go. The key question is if anyone else is prepared to. These things need critical mass and right-wingers are not known for engaging in collective action.

Like many I had high hopes for the internet. I thought it would lead to a renaissance of freedom. Instead it is quickly coming to resemble the very MSM I hoped it would check. And what have we got to show for our 15 years or so of being able to say what we think?

Oilfield Expat

I have been meaning to link to the excellent blog Oilfield Expat ever since I found it mentioned in a comment here a few weeks ago. There is so much goodness. You can start with its author’s comment on low oil prices below.

I particularly enjoyed this piece of prose, which I find a useful retort to doom-mongers. It is important because people need to realise that we have it good in order to understand why we have it good, lest they throw it all away, the risks of which the article it is taken from is partly about.

I have long subscribed to the view that, in the developed Western nations, we solved the major issues facing mankind several decades ago: infant mortality, hunger, disease, poverty (the genuine kind, not the SJW “relative poverty”), and deadly violence. Nobody of my generation died of malnutrition, treatable disease, or sectarian violence outside of a (statistically) few extreme cases. By historical standards, those who were born in the West after about 1960-70 were the wealthiest, safest, and most fortunate people ever to have lived. Several factors contributed to this situation. The guns falling silent after WWII followed by a Cold War which thankfully never got hot was probably the most important. The Western nations becoming wealthy was probably the second most important.

[…]

three successive generations of Westerners who have found themselves fully fed, clothed, housed, healthy, educated, and blessed with luxuries unseen by anyone else in history (one word to those who doubt this: dentistry). Spoiled rotten, in other words.

[…]

Having never seen wholesale malnutrition, destitution, and death, the populations of Western nations believe their standard of living is inevitable, as irrevocable as being born. Fewer and fewer grasp the mechanism by which their standard of living is a result of a section of the population spending their time, efforts, and capital to produce something of value, something that people want to buy with their own money.

[…]

They lead lives of such wealth and luxury that pontificating over a potential rise in global average temperatures is considered a more worthy and valuable activity than generating the electricity that powers their entire way of life, and without which most would almost certainly die within weeks.

The blog is robust and straightforward. On concerns about population: “it isn’t condoms that the poor need to start having smaller families, it is 1) increased wealth and 2) reliable, cheap electricity”.

On “those jumped-up tossers in places like Aberdeen”: “A cruise past the offices of the oil and gas companies, the engineering companies, and service providers would show the car parks full of Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, Jags, and Bentleys, enabled by soaring wages and full employment of those who work in the oil industry. And now they need a bailout? Fuck them.”

On architects: “Fordham is your run-of-the-mill statist, authoritarian rent-seeker who has amassed a veritable fortune of taxpayers’ cash by preaching to governments from the environmental pulpit (naturally, his grubby mitts can be found all over the London Olympic 2012 facilities). The world would have been better off if he’d stayed in his spare bedroom the past 50 years.”

On the Hubbert curve: “In other words, the curve is subject to change at any point due to unlimited external factors and therefore utterly useless save for an object over which academics can while away the hours pontificating.”

There is technical insight into how to invest in oil in the face of low prices. There is discussion of how well-run Netflix seems to be. There is good, old fashioned Fisking.

I am not even having to drill deep for this quality. It is lying about on the surface in plain sight.

The return

I have for some time been occupied first with survival and then with a transition to a new existence. I have never entirely ‘left’ Samizdata, but I have been a very scarce quantity as there are only so many bits into which a human brain and the day may be split.

Not that my time availability has changed all that much: if anything it has gotten worse. What has happened is that I have become fed up enough with my words vanishing on Facebook and the technology delta between posting there versus posting here has narrowed to point at which it is more worth my while to type words here rather than there. The only real problem that remains for me is the relative difficulty of posting photos there versus here where I have to pre-edit the sizes, which takes time I do not have, versus just clicking on the image and not worrying about the size.

So to many of the long time readers who have known me as one of the Samizdata founders and to the many more recent readers who wonder “Who the hell is this guy?”… let the games begin!

Mickey is back and he speaks truth

Rand Simberg pointed out this link over on Transterrestial Musings. Mickey Kaus has gone back to his old Kausfiles blog and is trashing Fox News on a topic on which they very richly deserve it. They have joined the Democratic controlled media in burying the story of the congressional immigration fight.

My suspicion is the Golf Club Republicans do not want a fight on immigration because that will play more to the strengths of the populist side of their party. The Golfers want to keep their toys and really do not want to share them with the unwashed masses.