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]

The response demonstrates why it needed to happen

The launch of Turning Point UK felt to me like an important moment.

Douglas Murray agrees:

Earlier this week I made the usual mistake of looking at Twitter and saw that ‘Turning Point’ was trending. This is unusual in Britain. Turning Point is a very successful organisation set up in the US to counter the dominance of left-wing views on campus. It turned out to be trending because of the launch of Turning Point UK this week. In essence the response to the launch of Turning Point demonstrated the need to launch Turning Point in the UK.

This is also how I now feel about the Brexit vote. The response to that also explains why it needed to happen.

Turning Point?

Turning Point UK is getting quite a lot of attention, and I think it deserves a little more, from any Samizdata readers who are hearing about it for the first time, now.

Here is a recent Tweet of theirs:

Young people are waking up to the biased political narrative we receive during our education and we won’t be passive to this anymore.

I want to believe that. I also want to believe that Turning Point UK will stick around long enough and loud enough to do something substantial about it. I don’t assume anything, but I wish them well.

These young people seem to be libertarian-inclined but basically partisan supporters of the Conservative Party. Fair enough. The Conservative Party has suffered dreadfully from the shutting down of the Federation of Conservative Students in 1986, by Norman Tebbit of all people. The resulting ideological vacuum lead directly to the Labour Lite Nannyism of the Theresa May generation of Conservative leaders. If Turning Point UK can merely help to correct that sad circumstance, they will be doing the UK a great service.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The problem is not primarily intellectual; it’s moral. It seems that many professional academics have not been taught to develop the basic virtues of emotional self-restraint, justice, charity, and humility. They feel no need to hold in check their feelings of irritation, indignation, hatred – and fear. They recognise no obligation to be scrupulously fair to their opponents. They don’t understand that the most cogent critique is one that charitably construes the opposing case in the strongest possible terms, and only then sets about dismantling it.”

Nigel Biggar

Ah, happy days

“Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong”, writes Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics.

Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor. This way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place.

The comments give me hope.

Samizdata quote of the day

“This modern society seems to be threatened by a number of serious threats, and the one that I would like to concentrate on which will in fact be the central theme, although there will be a lot of subsidiary little items, the central theme of my discussion, is that I believe that one of the greatest threats to modern society is the possible resurgence and expansion of the ideas of thought control; such ideas as Hitler had, or Stalin in his time, or the Catholic religion in the Middle Ages, or the Chinese today. I think that one of the greatest dangers is that this shall increase until it encompasses the whole world.”

– Richard Feynman. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, page 98. The comment comes from a talk he gave in Italy in 1964. I don’t doubt that he’d be alarmed and saddened at the censorious crap going on some Western universities today.

Let’s be blunt: classical liberalism is losing

I put this comment up on a group page on Facebook about the latest comments from the young Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, quoted approvingly by two academics in the US, and re-post them here, with some adjustments:

The problem, as I keep noting, is the zero-sum mentality. For such an approach, creating wealth is incomprehensible, and that therefore having much wealth must be evil. She carries the assumption that for A to be richer than the average, B must have been robbed in some way. There’s no sense of a rising tide of wealth, or any grasp of the division of labour, the benefits of innovation, anything. And then there is a sort of hatred of the good for being the good, a hatred even for people who have achieved great success. Even if her concern for poor people is sincere, she’s just treating rich people as means to an end (giving that wealth to others); she just assumes that their wealth was gained wrongly. (In case Paul Marks or others make this point in the comments, some of the rise in inequality in recent times is down to central bank creation of money, which has tended to benefit owners of real estate and equities, but I suspect that Ms Ocasio-Cortez isn’t going all Ludwig von Mises on the Fed.)

She’s not alone in calling for massive redistribution and it is obviously tempting these days to be patronising and poke fun at a not-very-smart young woman (she has a certain cunning in how to market herself), but we should not do so. I don’t pity her. I despise her and her revelling in what amounts to thuggery (which is what coercive state redistribution amounts to, stripped of the fancy language). The rot goes far wider. Prominent academics (such as the people quoted in that NYT article I linked to above), the likes of Thomas Piketty, newspaper columnists, TV broadcasters and arguably even the Pope all press the same, flat-Earth economic buttons. They haven’t been confronted enough. So many “right-wing” politicians aren’t any good at this; they behave all too often like rabbits caught in headlights. Since 2008, this has become worse.

This book, Equal is Unfair, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, is particularly good at skewering this egalitarianism.

Also I would argue that Robert Nozick’s renowned book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, and its chapter on egalitarianism and the flaws of Marxism contains just about the most deadly critique of this egalitarian mindset I have ever read. It’s now almost 50 years’ old, but it remains totally on target.

At some point, Ms O-C is going to over-reach, and make an ass of herself, as they often seem to do. Or she may be shocked at being outflanked by people even more collectivist than she is, and start to get a bit wiser. Who knows?

But the mindset she represents is not going away. And our universities and colleges are full of people who imbibe re-heated Marxist, egalitarian notions from their post-68 lecturers. There’s a huge task for genuine classical liberals to take up.

Going “woke” is bad for business – hopefully

There has been something of a trend, it seems, of big firms adopting “woke” or politically correct agendas (here is a definition of “woke” for the befuddled) in recent months and years. The latest example is that of razor and men’s grooming products business Gillette, part of consumer giant Proctor & Gamble. Here is the advert and a discussion around it by the Wall Street Journal. Here is another version of the advertisement.

So what’s going on here? In my view, this is an attempt by a firm that is keen to stem outflow of market share to rivals, and which also fears a reduced demand for its products at a time when a lot of men seem to want to grow beards these days (although they still will want to trim them and keep them neat, etc). The firm’s top brass have concluded that in the current culture, where masculinity is considered to be “toxic”, and probably a contributor of right wing views, global warming and competitive team sports, that a change of tack is required. Make men buy something by worrying about their primal urges! Get into the good books of the chattering classes and the distributors of ad. industry campaign awards!

The problem here is that this illustrates the disconnect that there now is between that segment of the chattering classes that is influenced by leftist ideas and the rest of the population. The CEOs of modern firms may not all tack in this direction, but they have become convinced, or been convinced, that going “woke” is smart for business. Also, the kind of folk most likely to rub up against CEOs are the consultants and advertisement gurus who imbibed such modish ideas in colleges and unversities.

We see this kind of agenda at work in the wealth management industry, where firms are keen to stress how much of what they do is to promote environmental, social and governance-linked investment, never mind actually making money for clients and owners. Entrepreneurs are as celebrated as much for giving their wealth away as for the grubby process of, you know, making it in the first place. (One of my least-favourite expressions used by business folk of a certain type is how they want to “give back” to the “community” – this implies that they “took” something initially that wasn’t fully theirs.)

Clearly, a lot of this may be incubated in Western universities, and you have to wonder what sort of business decisions will be made by the kind of “coddled” youngsters now going through universities. I have been reading the Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, and what alarms me, as it should anyone, is what sort of future businessmen and women we will get if they are drawn from the sort of ranks these academics describe. What will be their desire to take risk, to invest wisely, to cater to genuine client needs? How susceptible will they be to political fads entering the boardroom and factory floor?

In the end, as some classical liberals say, the ultimate arbiter of all this is profit/loss. If Gillette’s market share rises after these ads, maybe the management will say “there, I told you so” and move on. I have made my own tiny vote on this by ensuring I buy from rivals such as Wilkinson’s Sword instead. Possibly, so will others of us “toxic males”.

Mock the anointed at your peril

Then:

Laws protecting a nobleman’s “honor” illustrate the importance which the noble attached to his person. Preservation of honor (i.e., reputation) was a serious matter, essential to ensure that society would respect noble rank. Honor was a distinguishing mark which set nobles apart from commoners, since townsmen and peasants were not thought to possess it. Offences against honor included insulting the noble personally, charging him with a crime, or calling into question his own or his mother’s legitimate birth. If the antagonist could not prove his charges, he was punished at law. According to King Casimir III’s statute for Little Poland, a person who impugned the honor of a noble had to pay a fine and retract his insult in court, repeating “with a dog’s voice” the words: “I lied like a dog in what I said.”

– from East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500 by Jean W Sedlar.

Now:

Portland State University Says Hoax ‘Grievance Studies’ Experiment Violated Research Ethics

Peter Boghossian, a professor of philosophy best known for his involvement in the “grievance studies” hoax papers, is now in trouble with Portland State University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which has accused him of violating its policies regarding the ethical treatment of human test subjects in the course of his experiment.

“Your efforts to conduct human subjects research at PSU without a submitted nor approved protocol is a clear violation of the policies of your employer,” wrote PSU Vice President Mike McLellan in an email to Boghossian, according to Areo.

This charge makes Boghossian sound like Dr. Frankenstein. But the “human subjects” in question are the peer reviewers and journal editors who accepted Boghossian’s hoax papers for publication. Their reputations may have suffered as a result of being duped—and they were indeed unwitting participants in the experiment—but their physical well-being was not compromised. Moreover, it may not have been obvious to Boghossian and his co-conspirators that research conducted outside his field, bearing no formal connection to Portland State University, was still subject to IRB approval.

Nevertheless, the professor could face sanctions for his conduct, including possible termination.

– Robby Soave, writing for Reason magazine.

Samizdata quote of the day

Generally the better educated are more prone to irrational political opinions and political hysteria than the worse educated far from power. Why? In the field of political opinion they are more driven by fashion, a gang mentality, and the desire to pose about moral and political questions all of which exacerbate cognitive biases, encourage groupthink, and reduce accuracy. Those on average incomes are less likely to express political views to send signals; political views are much less important for signalling to one’s immediate in-group when you are on 20k a year. The former tend to see such questions in more general and abstract terms, and are more insulated from immediate worries about money. The latter tend to see such questions in more concrete and specific terms and ask ‘how does this affect me?’.

– Dominic Cummings, On the referendum #21: Branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’

Relentlessly mocking the SJWs

Blogger David Thompson suggests that his round-up of the year might be of interest to Samizdata’s readers.

His email to me quoted how this roundup begins:

The year began on a highbrow note as the University of Denver’s Professor Ryan Evely Gildersleeve informed the world that laziness is a “a political stance,” a way to “combat the neoliberal condition,” and a “tool for contributing to social justice.” Half-arsed incompetence is, we were assured, both radical and empowering. The professor also shared his belief that plastic is sentient. Inanimate objects also troubled Dr Jane Bone, a senior lecturer at Monash University, Melbourne, who specialises in “feminist post-structural perspectives” and the political implications of problematic furniture. Dr Bone’s research involves quite a lot of “embodied knowing,” i.e., visiting IKEA and sitting on chairs. Her work, she revealed, is “not necessarily logical.” Further feminist insights came via Phoebe Patey-Ferguson, whose feminist fight club is “a mode of resistance,” because the spectacle of unhappy ladies body-slamming each other and breaking each other’s ribs is an obvious way to “destroy the Conservative government” and “bring down the patriarchy.”

Thompson adds:

That’s January. There’s another eleven months to get through.

You can read all twelve months here.

This piece by Thompson has already been noticed by Instapundit, as have quite a few of his pieces in recent months.

The dog park paper

Some epic, god-level trolling has occurred. A group of left-wing academics (about whom Jonathan wrote below, as did Libertarian Home) became concerned that *extreme* left wing politics was getting in the way of certain kinds of sociology research. They submitted ridiculous papers to test the level of critical thinking of the editors and reviewers of certain kinds of journals.

The dog park paper is very entertaining. It was published in a journal called Gender, Place and Culture.

The data suggest that the deciding variable for whether or not a human would interfere in a dog’s rape/humping incident was the dog’s gender. When a male dog was raping/humping another male dog, humans attempted to intervene 97% of the time. When a male dog was raping/humping a female dog, humans only attempted to intervene 32% of the time.

The Twitter account Real Peer Review called out the article when it was published, before they knew it was a spoof. They are now posting commentary on the peer review of the paper.

It is all highly amusing. It is also useful, both to reveal the silliness of the silly ideas, and to understand the evil of them. In the video, James A. Lindsay explains:

There’s this kind of religious architecture in their mind where privilege is sin. Privilege is evil. And then they’ve identified education as the place where it has to be fixed. So you can come up with these really nasty arguments, like ‘let’s put white kids in chains on the floor at school as an educational opportunity’. And if you frame it in terms of overcoming privilege, and you frame their resistance — that they won’t want this to happen to them, that they would complain about this — in terms of ‘oh they only complain about that because they’re privileged and they can’t handle it because their privilege made them weak.’: then it’s right in.

Incidentally, this author is not surprised that “women’s and gender studies, feminist studies, race studies, sexuality studies, fat studies, queer studies, cultural studies, and sociology” are prone to politicisation. It is much harder to politicise bridge building and electronic circuit design.

Addendum: From the NYT article about this:

“What strikes me about stunts like this is their fundamental meanness,” Sean Carroll, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, wrote on Twitter. “No attempt to intellectually engage with ideas you disagree with; just trolling for lulz.”

Jacob T. Levy, a political theorist at McGill University in Montreal, said in an interview that even some colleagues who are not fans of identity-oriented scholarship are looking at the hoax and saying “this is potentially unethical and doesn’t show what they think it is showing.”

Besides, he added, “We all recognize that this kind of thing could also be done in our disciplines if people were willing to dedicate a year to it.”

No. You can’t troll a physics journal for lulz. I propose that the usefulness of your school of thought is in inverse proportion to its susceptibility to being trolled for lulz. Attempting the latter is a way to measure the former.

The sleep of reason brings forth monsters

Any scholarship that proceeds from radically skeptical assumptions about objective truth by definition does not and cannot find objective truth. Instead it promotes prejudices and opinions and calls them “truths.” For radical constructivists, these opinions are specifically rooted a political agenda of “Social Justice” (which we have intentionally made into a proper noun to distinguish it from the type of real social progress falling under the same name). Because of critical constructivism, which sees knowledge as a product of unjust power balances, and because of this brand of radical skepticism, which rejects objective truth, these scholars are like snake-oil salespeople who diagnose our society as being riddled with a disease only they can cure. That disease, as they see it, is endemic to any society that forwards the agency of the individual and the existence of objective (or scientifically knowable) truths.

Having spent a year doing this work ourselves, we understand why this fatally flawed research is attractive, how it is factually wrong in its foundations, and how it is conducive to being used for ethically dubious overreach. We’ve seen, studied, and participated in its culture through which it “proves” certain problems exist and then advocates often divisive, demeaning, and hurtful treatments we’d all do better without.

From the publication Aero. The authors deserve praise for exposing the intellectual disaster zone that so much “grievance studies”, and their denial of the existence of objective truth, amount to. The authors are left-liberals who use the word “social justice” without, I wonder, being aware of FA Hayek’s demolition job on the use of the word “social”. Even so, bravo to them: they obviously have stirred up a hornet’s nest. Further, they highlight how peer review in some higher ed. fields is a shambles.

The more I read, the more urgent it is for parents to really consider whether sending their offspring to these places is a form of harm.