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 – the enemy class at work

I had direct experience of how certain messages are everywhere in the culture. I recently went to a forum hosted by a large London law firm. (The event followed Chatham House rules, so I am being deliberately vague about names.) The forum was about the role of philanthropy advisors, and the kind of issues in philanthropy today. The panel included a Black guy, who is at an Oxford business school, who talked a lot about how conventional models of philanthropy are full of problems, such as how they are more about people trying to impose a view on communities and how from his point of view, philanthropy is more about supporting local people who should be in charge of their own destinies. I actually agree with quite a lot of that. But then he came out with the term “my truth”. This is post-modernism and a red flag. Another panelist said much philanthropy is questionable because the people who make lots of money and want to give it away do so in “extractive” ways or by exploiting people. He is some sort of Green and also reiterated fairly standard lines about neoliberalism, inequality and the evils of capitalism.

Another panelist was an advisor who is also a paid-up member of the Labour Party, and she said it was necessary to have philanthropy, however much one may prefer the State to do what philanthropy does, because we cannot wait for progress. (There is a kernel of truth to that.) Two other panelists were talking the conventinal lines about the need to “understand” clients and so on.

No-one, apart from your correspondent, challenged any of this. When I said that much of the modern philanthropy sector appears very political, and that some of these conversations are better had in Westminster, I was told by the Black guy that I had “come to the wrong place”. Further, this gentleman talked about the need to have “uncomfortable” conversations with rich donors. Others agreed. I bet it must be fantastic for a rich donor who writes a check to endow a hospital to be told he is legitimising an unjust capitalist order, or whatever. (Of course, there is nothing wrong if an advisor says, “Sorry sir, but we don’t approve of the sources of your wealth, and don’t want you as a client.”)

Where am I going with this? Well, the room was full of largely middle-aged, middle class lawyers, charity advisors and the like. I was left feeling pretty much on my own in asking the question that I asked. And this goes for lots of other issues in the public square right now. For instance, I bet that 99% of those present fully buy the catastropic, Man-made global warming scenario, and the decarbonisation agenda. Their views are, to them, so normal and right that dissent of any kind is regarded more than just unusual, it is seen as unseemly.

Interestingly enough, one or two people at the event came up to me and rather sheepishly said they agreed with some of what I said. I have no idea what effect my questions would have had.

Johnathan Pearce, whose comment here was too good not to be highlighted.

We are at the point where tolerance is not an option

For some reason, it turns out that if someone suggests that there is something wrong with a white family having white offspring in front of a gazillion people, you are supposed to enthusiastically nod along and pass on your congratulations. Naively, I failed to comply and recklessly set out on a voyage of light-hearted piss-taking, asking immature questions such as ‘does everything have to be viewed through the prism of race, sexuality and culture?’.

Turns out the answer is: YES! And what’s more, your skin colour dictates the type of questions you’re allowed to ask.

– Paul Cox, writing “You’re White – You Can’t Write About This” Local Newspaper Tells Comedian.

And apropos that, the other day commenter Ferox made this remark:

My view has always been (and I have argued it here on this site) that if you need to know the color (or demographic trait in general) of the speaker before you know if you are offended or not, then the hate is coming from you – not from the speaker. What you hate is not what was said but the person saying it.

Ferox, making a not unrelated point.

The West – how did the West really get so rich? – Episode 5

Recommended once again

Is the problem with AI tools not capability but rather trust?

From what I have seen, AI tools can do amazing things. But is the problem going forward not their capability but rather one of trust?

You do not need to trust a pen or a piece of paper, before writing or drawing something. The penmaker, the papermaker, they really do not care, and more important do not know, what you have done with the tools they made.

But is that true with interpretive AI tools? The experience of the “Cthulhu Land Theme Park” art project using Midjourney AI suggests even if what you want is within the tool’s capability, it may simply not allow you to create such content.

Will an AI tool effectively be a pen that refuses to write words the penmaker disapproves of? Paper on which you cannot draw ‘bad’ images the papermaker dislikes? I am by no means an expert on the new AI tools but I am curious to see what people have to say on this subject.

Samizdata quote of the day – Guardian insanity edition

“In recent years, the Guardian has devoted considerable time and energy to exposing the truth about Britain and slavery, as if we didn’t know it already. The fact that a British government was one of the first to outlaw the practise in Europe and the Royal Navy helped end the trade worldwide was to the Woke Left too little too late – which it was. But that was then and this is now, which makes it a little galling that the dead of Bristol and Liverpool and, naturally, the City of London, are being put in the dock for events that took place when ships were still propelled by sail and a woman could be hanged for stealing a sheep.”

Walter Ellis

The great thing for a while, in the minds of some, about atoning for the sins of people decades/centuries ago is that there is no real cost to oneself, although in the case of proposed reparations to the alleged descendants of slaves, the bill could be very large indeed. The absurdities and injustices this will cause, and the way it undercuts notions of personal responsibility by suggesting a whole nation should pick up a bill for something done by people a long time ago, are too obvious to need explaining in these pages. (Douglas Murray is good on the subject, as he is on most things.)

These are, as the late Robert A Heilein said, the Crazy Years.

Ideology and Insanity on the New York subway

The first few dozen grownup books I read were an odd selection. As I sampled them almost at random from my parents’ bookshelves, I became dimly aware that my parents were different people from each other, were different from what they had once been, and read books by people with whom they disagreed. Alongside the works by G K Chesterton and C S Lewis one would expect on the shelves of liberal British Catholics of the 1970s, I found such things as a book of essays by the Stalinist physicist J D Bernal – and a copy of Ideology and Insanity by Thomas Szasz. Attracted by the strangeness to my young eyes of the name “Szasz” and the wonderful cover art of the Penguin edition that depicted two men playing chess across a Escher-like dimensional warp, I gave it a go.

Almost a decade before I heard the term “Libertarian”, I thus had my first introduction to an important strand of libertarian thought. Until the copy of that same 1970 Penguin edition I just ordered on eBay arrives, I shall have to go by memory and Szasz’s Wikipedia biography as to exactly what the book said, but I do remember being thrilled to feel my perspective suddenly widen, in a manner akin to what I had felt when I realised that the Earth was but one of an infinite number of possible vantage points in the universe.

Szasz cited drapetomania as an example of a behavior that many in society did not approve of, being labeled and widely cited as a disease. Likewise, women who did not bend to a man’s will were said to have hysteria.

He thought that psychiatry actively obscures the difference between behavior and disease in its quest to help or harm parties in conflicts. He maintained that, by calling people diseased, psychiatry attempts to deny them responsibility as moral agents in order to better control them.


Szasz believed that if we accept that “mental illness” is a euphemism for behaviors that are disapproved of, then the state has no right to force psychiatric “treatment” on these individuals

Great stuff. I think Szasz still has much to teach us… but I suppose by now you have all heard of the killing of Jordan Neely on a New York subway train?

→ Continue reading: Ideology and Insanity on the New York subway

You can’t joke about that… a review

Comedy is a serious subject: A book review of Kat Timpf’s You can’t joke about that: Why everything is funny, nothing is sacred, and we’re all in this together (2023)

By Dr. Douglas Young, U. of N.GA-Gainesville political science professor emeritus

Comedienne and libertarian commentator Kat Timpf’s first book is a serious examination of comedy that is also quite funny and challenges many well-intentioned but mistaken myths about social taboos. A regular on TV’s Gutfeld! and former National Review writer, Timpf taps personal experiences, extensive observations, a slew of studies, and relentless logic to make a convincing case that humor has remarkable power to help us heal, face our fears, grow, and come together. Despite some disappointments, You can’t joke about that: Why everything is funny, nothing is sacred, and we’re all in this together makes a reliably witty, warmly candid, and solidly convincing case that the present censorious atmosphere surrounding comedy harms us on many fronts.

Indeed, Timpf persuasively argues that our society is mired in an unprecedentedly restrictive cultural climate constipating so much of our public and private dialogue, including comedy. As proof, she cites a passel of comics’ careers recently destroyed due to a single joke that upset the cancel culture mob on social media, as well as survey data documenting that over three times as many Americans say they censor themselves today than in the supposedly straitjacketed “1950s – the era of McCarthyism.”

Despite their self-righteous boasts of being devoted to protecting “marginalized” communities, Timpf contends that today’s “woke” censors are generally totalitarian bullies virtue-signaling in the pursuit of power. In fact, she argues: “[c]laiming ‘words are violence’ is a tool to dictate and control, all while engaging in a massive fraud that they are on the side of compassion.” The reality as she sees it is that “[t]he words-are-violence crowd doesn’t want conversation – at least not one that is an equal playing field… They want to make you afraid.” Noting instances of even violence against individuals for mere controversial jokes, Timpf posits this is in fact inevitable because, “[w]hen you say that words are violence, you inherently are saying that violence is an acceptable response to words, because violence is universally considered an acceptable response to violence.”

Interestingly, she holds that:

[H]umans have actually treated words as violence for most of our history. From the caveman days all the way through the Civil War, duelling to the death was a socially acceptable way to deal with a dispute. If you consider words violence, you’re not a forward-thinking progressive; you’re a knuckle-dragging troglodyte. It’s only as we have become more modern and civilized over the past few hundred years that we have moved away from this, opting to instead respond to words that insult us with words.

At the core of the book is its case for the healing power of humor. Citing a plethora of personal experiences, as well as a multitude of observations and respected studies, Timpf believes poking fun at even our most painful ordeals not only can relieve stress through laughter but knock down walls to create connections with others. Of her early days performing stand-up comedy when her life was a miserable mess, she fondly recalls:

[T]here was only one thing to do: Go to open mics and tell jokes about my dumpster-fire life onstage. Everything was awful, but I’ll never forget how great it felt to turn my pain into jokes that made me — and other people — laugh about all of it. During the loneliest time of my life, comedy became my means of connection. It was my one refuge from hopelessness, the only thing that gave me power over the things that were making me feel so powerless… I didn’t feel powerless or lonely when the audience was laughing along with me.

Reflecting the book’s title as she examines lots of times when humor helped her endure a variety of traumas, Timpf boldly asserts that “[t]he darker the subject matter, the greater healing that laughter can bring, disarming the darkness and making the people who are feeling isolated by their trauma feel less alone.”

To further reinforce this theme, perhaps the book’s best and most brilliantly original chapter points out many parallels between comedy and religion, including medicinal ones. Regretting the loss of the comforting Catholic faith of her youth, Timpf confesses that “the closest thing that I have to any sort of religion is comedy,” and cites research showing both worship services and laughter “are associated with an increase of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin in people’s brains, making them feel happy.” As to “[t]he power of comedy in terms of coping emotionally with difficult or even traumatic situations,” she cites U.S. “Vietnam War prisoners who claimed making jokes about their captivity was even more helpful than religion in getting them through it.” Timpf goes on to reference research showing that, like religious faith, “laughter can make a difference in terms of physical healing, too.”

→ Continue reading: You can’t joke about that… a review

Samizdata quote of the day – media capture edition

However, what followed was an extraordinary one-sided item. Newsnight’s presenter, Victoria Derbyshire, proceeded to hold a three-way discussion between herself, a Just Stop Oil activist, Indigo Rumbelow, and, er, Rupert Read, formerly of Extinction Rebellion. Read now leads an embryonic organisation called the Climate Majority Project, whose web page suggests it has a strikingly similar outlook to Extinction Rebellion.

There were obvious questions to ask Rumbelow: namely, who do you think you are, thinking you have the right to ruin a sporting event that is enjoyed by millions, either as participants or spectators? And why target a running event, which is surely all about doing something of which you ought to approve: getting about on foot?

There were questions to be asked of Extinction Rebellion, too – given that it has offered to ‘police’ the event. Are climate pressure groups now operating as a kind of protection racket, to which we are also supposed to go and negotiate before we are allowed to go about our day-to-day business?

None of these questions got asked. Rather, Newsnight first ran a short video in which it asserted that ‘violence’ was being shown towards climate protesters; it illustrated this partly with a police officer doing his job and arresting a member of a mob vandalising a building with red paint.

Ross Clark

Samizdata quote of the day – Oxfam delenda est

Oxfam has come a long way since it was founded 81 years ago. There was a time in the dim and distant past when its primary purpose was to raise money from well-meaning, relatively affluent folks and use their donations to assuage the hunger pangs of the poor and downtrodden across the globe. It was a worthy cause.

Those days are long over. For some time now it’s been more associated with Left-wing agitprop than famine relief. Indeed, you almost get the impression feeding the famished is now seen by some in Oxfam as an annoying diversion from the far more important work of political activism.

Andrew Neill, of whom I am not a great fan overall but this is certainly true.

Samizdata quote of the day – the death of history

Race becomes the supremely important phenomenon, masking every other aspect of a complex culture. Racial politics provide the framework of values by which every institution concerned with the past is to be judged. There are many important factors in the way that human societies develop. Race is only one of them and not necessarily the most important. Any serious commentator on the current state of historical studies ought to welcome attempts to present aspects of history which have previously been ignored or marginalised. That includes the story of ethnic minorities and non-European societies. But it does not mean that the whole of Britain’s modern history should be viewed through their eyes. It does not mean that the role of slavery or empire in Britain’s economic, cultural and social history should be exaggerated beyond recognition. And it does not mean that current political priorities should determine how we understand the past.

Jonathan Sumption

Samizdata quote of the day – Hard copy edition

[T]his also proves that relying on a Kindle or other tech is a folly. I have quite a library in my flat, and sometimes friends of mine poke fun at it and ask why I don’t put all this on a digital device. The naivete is clear.

Buy the actual books; learn to look after them, keep copies of really valuable ones. And give them to those whom you respect and love in your will. Beware anyone whose bookshelf is smaller than their plasma TV.

Johnathan Pearce

Re-writing the Fleming and Dahl books to make them “safer”

Well done on James Bond enthusiast David Zaritsky for taking a stand. Let’s treat readers like adults. Sure, the language in some of the books isn’t what I would want it to be, but then Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, and many other writers could be faulted on the same basis. I understand that the Fleming family (I know some of the members and they are good people) has authorised this. But I think this is a mistake, because this process isn’t going to stop.

In a free market (I hardly need to stress the point in this neighbourhood) the owners of copyright and so on can of course do what they want. Their house, their rules, etc. But from a broader perspective, caving into this sort of pressure for change is a mistake that the owners will regret. Fleming wrote books that were racy at the time (even the late journalist, Paul Johnson, was furiously angry about them, showing his prudish side). Fleming had a journalist’s ear for accuracy in conveying dialogue, and the Harlem and Jamaica scenes in Live and Let Die, for example, show that. It isn’t nice, but segregation America and the language used at the time wasn’t nice, and Fleming was both beguiled by American prosperity and shocked by its underside. He conveyed that in muscular prose. (This is a man, who, remember, covered the Moscow show trials in the 1930s, and he knew what censorship meant.) I also think it is presumptious for his descendants to suppose that he’d be fine with having his books re-written to suit more sensitive tastes. The evidence cited in support of this claim is flimsy. One thing he condemned, as the books show, was moral priggery. (This short collection of essays nicely explains this.)

And then there is the Roald Dahl case. Puffin, the publishers of books for children and young adults, has re-written his stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to remove words and sentences that, for various reasons, are deemed unacceptable, such as making some characters gender-neutral, or removing the word “fat” around one of the various horrible children, etc. It is bowdlerisation, and some of the actual story “punch”, and that sense of subversive naughtiness that Dahl had, has gone.

Here’s an incisive commentary on the sorry business from Yaron Brook. Dr Brook thinks the whole “woke” phenomenon has peaked, and maybe it has. There is a defensiveness and sneakiness around what’s gone on in the Dahl case that suggests the perpetrators know what they are doing is bad. I am unsure: I think a lot of foolishness lies ahead of us. The Fleming adjustments are more open and proud, and that bothers me.

Anyway, my take is it that if you don’t like a book, fine. Explain why. That’s what learning, and education, is supposed to give us in developing a capacity to judge and discriminate. A person who cannot do that is not educated.

In the meantime, pre-censorship copies of Dahl, Fleming and others will be worth a lot more money. I have sets of all the Bond stories, and several moth-eaten paperbacks. I intend to keep good care of them. They’re not for sale.

By a sort of savage irony, today is World Book Day. Isn’t that nice?