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

We live in a world where Ricky Gervais and JK Rowling are, to everyone’s surprise, not least their own, ‘right-wing’. The supposed rule breakers such as Frankie Boyle, Nish Kumar and Stewart Lee are crushingly orthodox. Roger Waters has a portfolio of crankery going back decades but remains unbesmirched, whereas a single tweet from Winston Marshall saw him exiled from polite society. (As I write, it seems Craig L Potter of the band Elbow might be heading the same way, merely for daring to criticise trans charity Mermaids.)

Gareth Roberts (£)

Exhibitionists like to know that others dare not object

Kayla LeMieux

“The kids here most definitely don’t think [it’s] normal…but realistically we can’t say anything,” said a person on Twitter who claims to be a student at Oakville Trafalgar. “Last year, the teacher was a man. I don’t think the school can fire him.”

Canada’s Post Millennial reports, “Canadian biologically male teacher wears massive prosthetic breasts to school”

The teacher is Kayla Lemieux and the school is Oakland Trafalgar High School in Ontario. Please note that there exist several other people with the same name, some of whom have been in the news recently.

The Daily Mail picked up the story: “Canadian high school defends transgender teacher who wore enormous prosthetic breasts underneath tight T-shirt to class”, and has plenty more pictures if you need to be convinced that this is not a joke.

Even after I was convinced that it was not a joke, I originally had plenty of jokes to make. But upon reflection I edited them out. This is not a funny story.

Kayla Lemieux’s motivations bear no relation to the motivations of a transwoman who was born male but simply wants to be female. Nor does Ms Lemieux want to be accepted as having an ambiguous gender identity. She does not want to be accepted at all. Kayla Lemieux wants to shock. She also wants the pleasure of knowing that the people she shocks dare not say anything. Better yet, she wants to have the pleasure of thinking that some of the people seeing her are secretly, even unwillingly, sexually aroused by her fetish costume. She is a teacher, so when I say “people” I mean “children she teaches”.

Imagine the sexes/genders were reversed, and a female-to-male transgender teacher turned up at school to teach the children while wearing an enormous prosthetic penis. Imagine – but the imaginary scenario scarcely differs from what is actually happening.

Let me be clear that I believe that adults should be free to alter their appearance in any way that pleases them. I would go further than most in defending people’s right to have body modifications that are designed to shock, though I would also defend the right of others to exclude such people from their premises, and that is one of the reasons why I would like to see less public space (which is open to absolutely everyone by definition) and more private space that is open to the public so long as they adhere to rules of behaviour. I would also, though more reluctantly, defend the right of a private school to employ a person with deliberately shocking body modifications as a teacher, and the right of parents to send their children there.

However, Oakland Trafalgar High School is a public school in the North American sense, a state school. Most of the families whose children attend have no other option. Even if that were not so, the pupil quoted at the beginning was correct to say, “I don’t think the school can fire him.” As the statement from the school says, “Gender identity and gender expression are protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code”.

And Kayla Lemieux knows it.

First there was #GamerGate and then there was #NAFO

I have written here about the #GamerGate phenomenon before, which was a series of rolling online flash mobs, events and activist commentary mostly doing its thing circa 2014-16. This was kicked off by something specific but quickly evolved into a far wider reaching grassroots pushback against rampant corruption, collusion and ever more woke politicisation in games ‘journalism’ and indeed games themselves.

Naturally the gaming press harrumphed with indignation, howling that GamerGater was an unconscionable harassment campaign; its largely nameless supporters all racist/sexist/homophobic. And much to their shock it didn’t work. GamerGaters ridiculed their evolving official narratives. And to the PR wonks working for MSM publications and their assorted vassals, none of it made any sense, which is why they still make sure the preposterous Wikipedia entry conforms to the official narratives (i.e. very little relation to reality). Too bad guys, you can’t bomb a hashtag.

GamerGate was something that drove (and still drives) many people insane, living rent free in their heads for years. Even now, the mere sight of GamerGate mascot Vivian James (video games, geddit?) can cause hilarity and rage in certain people.

Vivian James

Fast forward to 2022 and behold #NAFO: the North Atlantic Fellas Organisation.

And who are ‘the fellas’? A large and growing online pack of attack dogs countering, dare I say smothering, official Russian troll factory output, as well as other pro-Kremlin talking heads online. And their mascots are daft cartoon dogs (variations of a Shiba Inu to be precise). If journalistic collusion was a constant target of #GamerGate, the Russian troll farms are the modern analogy to that, constantly targeted and smothered by NAFO posting either pro-Ukrainian counter-narratives or just ridiculing or flagging up pro-Russian ones.

Many people, particularly those operating within institutions, don’t understand #NAFO for same reason PR departments of various video games companies & press outlets didn’t (and still don’t) understand #GamerGate.

Is #NAFO engaged in ‘information warfare‘? Absolutely. They even get a shout out from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. But they are not managed out of an office in Langley, Virginia nor by some adjunct of the Ukrainian intelligence services. #NAFO is a hashtag, a phenomena, it isn’t “run” by anyone, because it doesn’t need to be. Like GamerGate, NAFO is a confluence of the motivated willing in every timezone on the planet.

And just as GamerGate had a single original trigger, which was then largely forgotten as the ‘movement’ grew and started attacking larger more juicy prey, NAFO started as a fund raising effort for the Georgian Legion (a now battalion sized unit of about 600 within the Ukrainian army made up mostly of Georgian volunteers). At blinding speed, NAFO rapidly morphed into a wider distributed online effort supporting Ukraine in the “information space”.

NAFO… daft, puerile, bonkers, pervasive. But it works.

What was he expecting?

Last week, James Sweet, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and President of the American Historical Association, published a very few, very cautious criticisms of the 1619 project (carefully bookended by impeccably woke remarks about the supreme court and etc.). Within two days, the (same) Professor Sweet, President of the American Historical Association, abjectly, cringingly apologised for having written those sentiments. Read this for the criticisms, and scroll down for the apology. (And read this and this for why I call his criticisms very few and very cautious – why even the project’s 1619 date is ridiculous.)

After Sweet begged forgiveness, some people tried to defend his original article, or at least his right to write it – whereupon the same American Historical Association that seemed OK with the vicious online pile-on after Sweet wrote his article complained that the discussion

“has been invaded by trolls uninterested in civil discourse in the last 12 hours”

and restricted outside access to end this “appalling” state of affairs.

Elsewhere on the web, Ilya Shapiro has blogged again about his experience of cancel culture, and the apology he wrote “in the wee hours that morning” after a tweet raised an online mob. I commented on it. His courteous reply said it was not written “in fear or desperation” and promised to blog more about the strategy of his various apologies in the period before he resigned from Georgetown.

While I wait with interest for that, I’ll discuss this oft-seen phenomenon: an academic says something extremely mild and cautious about some woke propaganda line – and then swiftly says something abjectly cringing about how appalling it was to say it.

If you read Sweet’s apology very attentively and in a very generous spirit, you could wonder whether he is actually apologising for his opinion as such, or whether, adorned with embarrassingly kowtowing adjectives, he is actually literally apologising only for causing dreadful, unforgivable distress to his piling-on accusers, exploiting his white privilege and all that, but not quite literally unambiguously saying that his views were actually, completely, factually false as such. In the same way, the attentive reader of the Soviet Union’s 1930’s show trial confessions can see that, hidden amid their florid admissions of political guilt, the actual literal owning up to the specific (absurd, and sometimes impossible) criminal acts was occasionally implicitly withheld or slyly discredited – like the blinking of hostages trying to signal their true situation.

But only the rare attentive reader saw this in the 1930s. To the ordinary Russian and the outside world alike, the spectacle of the accused calling themselves vile criminals and begging to be shot was baffling – but was also a fact: “All the accused confessed” seemed far more indisputably true than the accusations themselves. (In ‘I Chose Freedom’, Kravchenko says that, in the party circles he moved in, insisting on the literal truth of the accusations would have been treated as a confession of congenital idiocy. Only in America did he encounter people who would not just defend the trials on political grounds – as everyone in Russia had to, for life itself – but would spontaneously, openly claim to believe in the literal truth of the accusations themselves.) The confessions’ propaganda demonstration of the power of the communist state over the individual seemed unqualified – and all the more frightening because it was baffling.

Returning to Professor Sweet and the many like him, what was he expecting? Did he – could he possibly – have found the narrative’s punitive reaction to being questioned surprising? Was he unprepared for the demand for an apology? Or was he prepared – did he have his act of grovelling ready in draft? Did he think an apology so self-damning in form could preserve some fragment of truth (if so, I suggest he is making the same mistake as the ‘blinking’ show-trial accused did, but with far less excuse)?

Even more interesting, perhaps, how was he thinking about it? In ‘Darkness at Noon’, Arthur Koestler suggests the revolution had destroyed the very concept of truth in its communist votaries, so where could they find reason, let alone willpower, to resist confessing to fictional crimes just because the crimes were fictional. Hannah Arendt argues that a totalitarian leader’s power depends less on his subordinates’ belief in his superior abilities

“about which those in his immediate entourage frequently have no very great illusions”

than on the fact that, in the case of disagreement with him, they will never be very sure of their grounds, since they think that even the maddest policy can succeed if properly organised. Robert Conquest notes all that but points out that, to get communists to the point where they would denounce themselves in open court, the interrogators had to use sleep-deprivation, torture and threats to life and family, and seated each accused facing their (disguised as a member of the audience) chief NKVD interrogator while testifying; they did not just rely on philosophical doubts about objective truth. However Conquest also notes that those very few among the senior communist accused who were never known for rapturous acclaim of the doctrine’s absoluteness also never came to open court; they were pronounced guilty and killed without an audience.

To be sure, modern academia is full of it – full of the sort of philosophy that inverts every meaning and denies that 2+2 makes 4 – and this can hardly be helping its denizens make sacrifices for objective truth, or even believe in it, but if professor Sweet was already wholly on board with that, why risk speaking out (even as quietly as he did) in the first place?

It may be that, like some 1930s communist discovering that what the secret police did to peasants they would also do to him, Sweet genuinely did not expect that level of vitriol to be turned on someone like him, not just on some right-wing ‘deplorable’. Or it may be that even more goes on behind the scenes than we suspect: was Sweet prepared for something, but not for what happened? Or did it just feel much more frightening than he’d anticipated when it actually started happening?

We may or may not learn more as this example of cancel culture plays out. Meanwhile this post ends as it began, with a question: what was Sweet expecting?

“The media could not be played”, and that frightens me even more

The video embedded in this tweet from Laurence Fox apparently shows someone being arrested for tweeting. I cannot see the video, but the top comment says,

“Chap shares a post by @LozzaFox and the police arrest the chap, even though Laurence is actually stood there 👀

This is disgraceful. People upset by hurty words need to turn the Internet off and remember the old children’s rhyme – Sticks and Stones.”

Apparently the arrest had something to do with that meme that shows four LGBTQ+ Progress Pride flags (my goodness, “Newsround” has changed a lot since John Craven presented it) arranged so that the triangular inserts form a swastika. Fox’s Wikipedia entry says, “In June 2022 Fox tweeted an image of a swastika made from the LGBTQ+ Progress Pride flag with the caption ‘You can openly call the [Union Jack] a symbol of fa[s]cism and totalitarianism on Twatter. You cannot criticise the holy flags’. This led to him being temporarily suspended from Twitter for a day.”

This tweet from Richard Taylor of GB News may show the same video.

As you can probably tell, I am not at all sure what is going on. Is my inability to play the video censorship by Twitter, or just my old computer not being up to the job? Some accounts seem to imply that that the threatened arrest was not carried through, although that reassures me very little. As we have all seen, making the process the punishment has been a very successful way for the police to chill free speech while avoiding having to defend their actions in court.

Book Review: Konstantin Kisin “An immigrant’s love letter to the West” Part I

Konstantin Kisin is a former stand-up comedian who, along with current stand-up comedian Francis Foster hosts the YouTube channel Triggernometry, which is partly a political interview show and partly a comedy show. His thoughts have even been referred to a couple of times here on Samizdata. Kisin is also a Russian who moved to this country when he was eleven to study, oddly enough, at the same English public school that produced Earl Haig.

And now he’s written a book. I have only just started reading it so these are initial observations hence the Part I bit. There may be a Part II but I promise nothing. Kisin is a good writer (all the comedy stuff showing through?) and a thoughtful one. As he says:

If there is one thing my Soviet childhood taught me, it’s that subscribing to someone else’s ideology will always inevitably mean having to suspend your judgement about right and wrong to appease your tribe. I refuse to do so.

Kisin’s essential argument is that we in the West don’t know how lucky we are. We don’t know what it is like to live in non-Western countries. We don’t appreciate how much better life is here. And if we do we don’t know why it is so much better. Kisin has seen Russia and he has seen Britain and it is not difficult for him to decide which is better. Which is why he is so angry when well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) activists start playing around with our traditions and institutions. They – the well-meaning ones – think that they’re just improving things. He thinks that they are playing a game of civilisational Jenga – at least he does since Foster came up with the analogy. Jenga’s the one where you have a tower made of sticks you remove them one by one and eventually the whole edifice collaspses, isn’t it?

So far I’ve read chapters on the Soviet Union, slavery (and the Soviet Union) and free speech. All good stuff. Or mostly. In one bit he says, “Think of it like Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 – which forbade the promotion of homosexuality in Britain in 1988.” That’s not how I remember it. I remember it as local councils not being allowed to promote homosexuality as “a pretended family relationship.” Otherwise people were free to promote homosexuality to their heart’s content. And did. He also seems to think that people were broadly-speaking equal in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union of my imagination has Zils, dachas and shops for party members only. Not equal at all. I suppose this is how distorted history gets propagated down the ages but that is the subject for another blog post.

Samizdata quote of the day

Only good stories matter, ‘representation’ should not be an objective in and of itself or daft things happen. That is why a super diverse cast in The Expanse works superbly but black elves in a Tolkien story are as laughable as Kate Beckinsale playing Martin Luther King.

Perry de Havilland

Someone is banned/cancelled…

Someone is banned/cancelled, then someone else is banned/cancelled for talking about the person who was banned/cancelled…

Samizdata word for today: paraprofessional

their paramilitary character must be understood in connection with other professional party organisations, such as those for teachers, lawyers, physicians, students, university professors, technicians and workers. All these were primarily duplicates of existing non-totalitarian professional societies, paraprofessional as the stormtroopers were paramilitary. … None of these institutions had more professional value than the imitation of the army represented by the stormtroopers, but together they created a perfect world of appearances in which every reality in the non-totalitarian world was slavishly duplicated in the form of humbug. (Hannah Arendt, ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’)

After seizing power, the Nazi party ‘coordinated’ all the existing professional organisations they had already duplicated. Sometimes the party organisation was the direct instrument of ‘coordination’ but at other times it could be just the threat – the ‘coordinated’ organisation could survive and even thrive if it outdid its party rival in zeal for “working towards the fuhrer”. For people and for the organisations they led, out-radicalising your rival was key to survival.

David Burge described today’s ‘coordination’ technique in fewer words: Identify a respected institution. Kill it. Gut it. Wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

Each organisation they gain helps the paraprofessionals conquer the next. In the US, coordinating education helped them coordinate the media step by step. The death of standards in those two then assisted coordinating some electoral processes, which in turn is now enabling more vigorous work on coordinating the military – and much else.

Meanwhile, the trains themselves may not run on time but those who run them are well-coordinated. If your bank is not doing much for your wealth, then it’s probably doing wonders for your pronouns. Medical organisations march in coordinated lockstep, from the psychologists to the pharmacists; even your pet had better get used to the care of a coordinated vet. And I could write so much more.

Paraprofessional: I think it is a word we need again today. And, like Hannah Arendt, I think its relationship to ‘paramilitary’ needs to be understood.

Samizdata quote of the day

If police were opening fire on protesters in a European nation, we would have heard about it, right? If there was a mass uprising of working people in a European Union country, taking to the streets in their thousands to cause disruption to roads, airports and parliament itself, it would be getting a lot of media coverage in the UK, wouldn’t it? The radical left would surely say something, too, given its claims to support ordinary people against The System. Cops shooting at working men and women whose only crime is that they pounded the streets to demand fairness and justice? There would be solidarity demos in the UK, for sure.

Well, all of this is happening, right now, in a nation that’s just an hour’s flight from Britain, and the media coverage here is notable by its absence. As for the left in Britain and elsewhere in Europe – there’s just silence. This is the story of the revolting Dutch farmers. These tractor-riding rebels have risen up against their government and its plans to introduce stringent environmental measures that they say will severely undermine their ability to make a living.

Brendan O’Neill

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.

Passing the port from left to right at the Science Fiction Writers of America dinner

“Dammit, Clive, don’t be a bloody fool. Think of your wife. And the children. And the regiment.”

It was a British thing. One passed the port from right to left. When in a moment of madness poor, doomed Clive passed the port to the right, there was only one way to atone.

Back in 1979 when that episode of Ripping Yarns came out, I expect our colonial cousins were amused at our former belief that right-to-left was fine yet left-to-right was abominable. Such absurd stress on an insignificant difference in the manner of performing an everyday action!

The Yanks of 1979 laughed at Brits of 1979 laughing at Brits of 1879. The Yanks of 2022 say, “Hold my beer.”

Jim Treacher retweeted this from “Undoomed”:

Read their statement and was like: Holy shit, what did she do? Did she drop N-bombs on stage while wearing a white hood and setting a cross on fire??

Undoomed is referring to the following statement by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) on the removal of the author Mercedes Lackey from the Nebula Conference.

Click on Undoomed’s link to find out what Mercedes Lackey actually did. Dashed bad show. Off you go, Mercedes.