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]

Melanie Phillips on why she left the Left – and in particular on antisemitism

Just now, a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands, and might therefore be open to the idea of watching and listening to a talking head for the best part of an hour. Accordingly, I now recommend this video interview, which I myself have just watched for the first time. Steve Edginton of the Sun newspaper asks a few short questions. Melanie Phillips supplies some much longer answers.

At the end of the interview, Phillips mentions a couple of relevant books she has written. These are her novel, The Legacy, and her memoir about how she used to work for the Guardian, Guardian Angel: My Journey from Leftism to Sanity.

A lot of us also now have more time for books. For actually reading them, I mean.

Melanie Phillips did this interview a few days ago. I wrote this Samizdata posting about Labour antisemitism in May 2018. I deduced what I did from the distant din of battles which I was not personally part of. Phillips tells the same story from direct personal experience, along with several other closely related stories.

Like I say: highly recommended.

Samizdata quote of the day

The 1619 project wasn’t about being right. It wasn’t even about history. It was about pushing an anti-American narrative. It’s best understood as a psywar operation aimed at demoralizing the enemy, in this case the American people.

Glenn Reynolds

One of my favourite places to find SQotDs is in the little summaries of issues that Glenn Reynolds often adds to the links he supplies.

Why Jack Powell and 1828 are not wasting their time trying to influence the Conservative Party – despite what Steve Davies says

Tomorrow evening, I am hosting a talk at my home which will be given by Jack Powell. Here’s the short biographical note that Powell sent me, to send out to my email list of potential attenders:

Jack Powell founded 1828, which is a new neoliberal news and opinion website, to champion freedom, especially within British Conservative politics. He is the editor of the website as well as being in his final year at King’s College London, studying Spanish and Portuguese.

Interesting guy. Here is the link to the 1828 website.

In the spiel about his talk that followed, Powell goes on to say that 1828 is especially trying to champion freedom in British universities. What this actually means is that he’ll be operating in the territory where politicians and students come together, to think about the bigger picture. An important spot in the political landscape, I think.

In general, Powell’s blurb for his talk abounds with ambition, energy, enthusiasm, attention to detail, and also with the names of Conservative Party politicians (Liz Truss, Priti Patel) and Media organisations (CapX, Guido, Quillette, New Statesman) with whom 1828 has had dealings and who have said good things about the efforts that Powell and the rest of the 1828 team have been making.

I have spent my libertarian life so far trying to spread libertarianism way beyond the merely party political arena, an approach which paid off big time when the internet arrived, in the form of such wonders as, well, Samizdata. But part of the reason I did that was that when I started out being a libertarian activist, it seemed to me that too many people were doing only party politics, and not enough people were trumpetting broader and undiluted libertarian principles to the wider world. There was not nearly enough proclaiming of the libertarian “metacontext”, as we here like to put it. But ever since that earlier time, the last two decades of the previous century basically, the Conservative Party, and in particular its youth membership, has moved away from those freedom-oriented principles and towards the as-much-government-as-we-can-afford-and-then-some position. I am very glad that people like Jack Powell are now trying to reverse that trend.

Recently, and I’m not changing the subject, I attended a talk given by Steve Davies, in which he talked, as he frequently does these days, about political realignment. In particular, Davies has long been noticing a definite shift by the Conservative Party away from free market policies and towards economic dirigisme. This shift, he says, is no mere whim of the people who happen to have been leading the party. He sees a deeper trend in action. So, does that mean that Jack Powell and his fellow 1828-ers are wasting their time talking to and listening to Conservative politicians?

My short answer is: No, they are not.

I say this not because I assume that Davies is wrong about where he sees the Conservatives going. I now suspect that he exaggerates this shift somewhat, but the policy direction he sees is the direction I also see, as, now, do many others. But that doesn’t mean that 1828-ers communing with Truss, Patel and also with the likes of the recently resigned Chancellor Sajid Javid and with the likes of Steve Baker won’t count for anything. When politics goes through upheavals of the sort that Davies now observes, this doesn’t mean that all the politicians who lose internal battles within their parties just vanish. Some do, but others often hang around and find new party settings to operate in, new allies to collaborate with. Davies himself said this in his talk, and offered historical examples of just such behaviour, by William Gladstone for example. Therefore, any time and effort that the 1828-ers spend talking to, listening to and generally cheering on freedom-sympathetic politicians could end up being very significant, no matter what happens to the broader political landscape.

You can never be entirely sure, but neither Sajid Javid nor Steve Baker seem to me like they are about to just fade away without any more fight.

Baker in particular, fresh from his Brexit agonies and ecstasies, is now making all sorts of promising noises. Scroll down, for instance, to the bottom of this piece, where it says:

The outgoing ERG chair has said he wanted to focus more on constituents and that it was time for him to “return to certain economic issues which I consider as least as important to the future of the country as exiting the EU”.

The writer of the piece, David Scullion, adds:

The Wycombe MP is known to be critical of the current system of global finance and what he sees as the problems of Keynesian ‘easy money’.

If you doubt Baker’s continuing commitment to such ideas, just listen to what he starts saying about two thirds of the way through this very recent interview with Scullion. That’s the same link twice, but that’s not the half of what it deserves. Really, seriously. As I believe they say on American battleships: Now hear this! Now hear this! Not many politicians have major impact on two huge issues in one career and in one lifetime, but if I had to pick someone who might be about to score two out of two, I’d now bet on Baker.

So, whatever Jack Powell and his 1828 mates manage to accomplish in the years to come, it is likely to do some good. Listening to him talk about that tomorrow evening will be very interesting.

Heresies of our time: that children should be taught to read music

As Trotsky never said about war, and only maybe said about the dialectic, “You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.”

Richard Morrison is the music critic of the Times and writes for BBC Music magazine. A man at the heart of the arts establishment, one might reasonably think. But he had an unsettling experience not long ago:

Do I talk rubbish? The thought crosses my mind frequently, but with particular force as I chaired a discussion at the annual conference of the people who run Britain’s orchestras. The talk turned to education and I expressed my fervent belief that teaching children to read music is the key that opens up everything.

First jolt: the music director of Arts Council England (ACE), no less, vehemently disagreed with me. Musical literacy doesn’t matter much, she declared. Second jolt: in the ensuing discussion not a single person spoke in my favour. More than 100 people were in the room, all engaged in running orchestras that depend on instrumentalists who can sight-read to an incredible level, and not one agreed that teaching children to read music was a good idea.

After the event I had coffee with someone in the audience. “Of course nobody sided with you,” she claimed. “Everyone here depends on ACE subsidy. Nobody will contradict publicly what the ACE music director says.”

This was not a singular event. As Mr Morrison writes in his Times article, “The arts world is tolerant, as long as you’re left wing and anti-Brexit”,

I wouldn’t recount this small personal trauma except that it suddenly seems so relevant. Today the excellent website ArtsProfessional published Freedom of Expression, a report based on a large survey it conducted last autumn into censorship and self-censorship in the cultural sector. By promising anonymity to participants, it has lifted the lid on a shocking state of affairs.

Here’s a sector that prides itself on tolerance and free speaking. In reality it seems that the opposite is true. Nearly 80 per cent of participants agreed that “workers in the arts who share controversial opinions risk being professionally ostracised”. You can speak freely within your arts organisation, it seems, only if you conform to a narrow set of political and social views.

Take Brexit. I knew that most arts people were fervently against it, but I didn’t realise how much pressure was put on pro-Brexiteers working in the arts to, basically, shut up. One participant claimed that “in our organisation those who voted to leave the EU have been ostracised”. Another noted that “17.4 million voted for Brexit”, but that “most of the opinions of these people, on many subjects, would lose them employment in the publicly funded arts sector”.

The “ArtsProfessional” survey he mentions was introduced here and the findings can be read here (subscription required).

I did wonder why teaching children to read music has come to be regarded as a bad thing. I suspect it is part of the same phenomenon that has caused the Oxford Classics faculty to propose dropping Homer and Virgil from the first part of an Oxford Classics degree.

The Oxford Student newspaper reports that it

…has been notified about a proposal by the Classics faculty to remove the study of Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid from the Mods syllabus, a decision which has surprised many across the faculty.

This proposal forms part of a series of reforms aimed to modernise the first stage of the Classics degree, known as Moderations (Mods), which take place during Hilary term of second year for all students taking Classics courses across the university.

The Mods course, which is assessed by a set of ten exams at the end of Hilary, has been increasingly criticised in recent years, due to the attainment gaps found between male and female candidates, as well as between candidates who have studied Latin and/or Greek to A-Level (Course I) and those who have not (Course II).

The removal of Virgil and Homer papers, which take up two out of the ten Mods papers, have been marketed as a move that will reduce the attainment gaps and thus improve access to the subject.

Educational “attainment gaps” between the official oppressors and the officially oppressed are to be avoided at all costs, except that of providing teaching of a high and even standard to all. What are they afraid of? When the Victorians saw an attainment gap between the upper and the labouring classes they did things like build a University for working people, funded by contributions from the meagre paypackets of quarrymen and farmers. When the early feminists saw an attainment gap between men and women they attained to such effect that the gender gap in the universities is now the other way round. They closed educational gaps by pushing upwards. We don’t even have the honesty to openly push downwards.

The Wokists are losing the Mandate of Comedy

Here’s how the Bursar of St John’s College Oxford responded to a student demand that the college “declares a climate emergency and immediately divests from fossil fuels”.

“I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice. But I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect. Please let me know if you support this proposal.”

The appropriately named Hot Air got this report out from behind the Times paywall, and tells how the dialogue developed from there. Thank you Ed Driscoll of Instapundit for the link.

Two snapshots of our times

1) Eurogamer reports,

PC Specialist ad banned for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes

An advert for a bespoke PC retailer was banned for perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes of women.

The TV ad, below, for UK retailer PC Specialist, begins with a computer exploding, then shows three men getting excited over using a PC Specialist PC for gaming, making music and coding.

[…]

The Advertising Standards Authority received eight complaints from people who said the ad perpetuated harmful gender stereotypes by depicting men in roles that were stereotypically male, and implied it was only men who were interested in technology and computers.

PC Specialist responded to the watchdog to say its customer base was 87.5 per cent male, aged between 15 and 35 years, and “their product, branding and service had been developed for and aimed at that target audience and the characters in the ad therefore represented a cross-section of the PC Specialist core customer base”.

Ten years ago the Advertising Standards Authority would have said something like, “We just want you to stop portraying women as laughably incompetent at computers until a man helps them. Surely that’s fair? After all, some women are great at computers.” At that time it must have seemed ridiculous to make a fuss about freedom of speech when faced with such a reasonable request. But when the beast is fed it grows stronger.

2) And from the BBC:

Sheffield students paid to tackle racist language on campus

A university is to hire 20 of its own students to challenge language on campus that could be seen as racist.

The University of Sheffield is to pay students to tackle so-called “microaggressions” – which it describes as “subtle but offensive comments”.

They will be trained to “lead healthy conversations” about preventing racism on campus and in student accommodation.

Vice-chancellor Koen Lamberts said the initiative wanted to “change the way people think about racism”.

The students will be paid £9.34 per hour as “race equality champions”, working between two and nine hours per week to tackle “microaggressions” in the university.

These are described as comments or actions which might be unintentional, but which can cause offence to a minority group.

It gives examples of what it means by microaggression – such as:

  • “Stop making everything a race issue”
  • “Why are you searching for things to be offended about?”
  • “Where are you really from?”
  • “I don’t want to hear about your holiday to South Africa. It’s nowhere near where I’m from”
  • “Being compared to black celebrities that I look nothing like”

    Rather than being about controlling people’s speech, the university says it is “opening up a conversation”.

  • Judging from the first two examples, they are allowed to open the conversation but you are not allowed to close it.

    “Big uni”

    “Climate alarmists and Corbynistas (the former increasingly a front organisation for the latter) often put the word ‘Big’ in front of industries which they dislike — Big Pharma, Big Oil. Those of us who do not share their views should copyright a comparable concept — Big Uni.”

    Charles Moore, Spectator, (behind paywall).

    I like the term, and intend to use it. Here are some more paragraphs from the item for those who cannot get through the pw:

    As universities grow larger, and their average intake therefore dimmer, they become more intellectually uniform. Almost no one in British academia, except for emeritus professors whose careers cannot be damaged by their frankness, speaks in favour of Brexit or dares challenge any assertion made about the dangers of climate change (green research projects, after all, attract stupendous sums of public money).

    Those universities — Britain has many — which have long and proud traditions increasingly scorn them, removing portraits of their dead benefactors and thinkers, deciding that a Latin grace is offensive, a student debating society with a paying membership (such as the Oxford Union) elitist. Throughout the election campaign, BBC Radio 4’s Today is travelling the country, presenting the programme from university premises. This means that the audience and subject matter are automatically skewed against the Conservatives and (much more important) against any plurality of view on anything. Big Uni is probably the largest cartel in modern Britain.

    Another idea, riffing off the late Pres. Eisenhower, is to refer to this phenomenon as the “university-politics complex”.

    Meanwhile, here are worthy books from the US by Glenn Reynolds and Bryan Caplan on the growth of state-driven Western higher education and the downsides of that.

    A question about the racial experience at Harvard

    A recent post looked at the hypocrisy of Harvard’s racist admissions policies. I want to look at what it teaches – not at what Harvard says but at what the actual experience it gives to its students teaches them.

    1) Harvard invites students to attend a university – one of the halls of academia. By presenting itself as elite, it invites its students to think that academic ability, academic ways of thinking, are hallmarks (the hallmarks!) of an elite.

    2) Having implied the importance of academic talent in overt and subtle ways, Harvard creates an artificial racial reality: it selects its asian-american students to average 140 Scholastic Aptitude Test points more that its white-american students. It selects its white-american students to average 130 SAT points more than its hispanic-american students. And it selects its african-american students to average 180 SAT points less than its hispanics, 310 SAT points less than its whites and 450 SAT points less than its asians.*

    Thus Harvard gives members of each of these easily-distinguishable racial groups the routine experience of encountering a consistent, marked discrepancy between their group and other groups in precisely the area that the whole essence of being at Harvard implies is important, not just for gaining some academic degree but for being worthy to decide on politics, social mores, life in general. Day by day, the experience of being at Harvard teaches its students that, in the quality that matters, asians are typically superior, whites are typically normal, hispanics are typically inferior and blacks even more so. Harvard is a university – a pillar of academia, a place that implies academic is everything – and they chose the racial mix of their students to incarnate academic racial inequality.

    3) Harvard also teaches that it is the most appalling sin, unspeakably evil and harshly-punished even when the evidence is slight or non-existent, for any student ever to refer in the slightest, most micro, most indirect way to this routinely-experienced reality that Harvard admissions has created. Students must not in any way betray that they have noticed any aspect or even distant side-effect of the artificial reality Harvard has created for them – and this of course compounds the artificiality of the Harvard reality.

    So my question is: what does this experience in fact teach Harvard students?

    In the early 1930s, workers in Kiev and similar cities frequently had to step over starving people and corpses in the streets as they walked to catch their trams for the daily commute, on which they could read newspaper articles about the “new, happy life” that collectivising agriculture had brought, or look at posters proclaiming “Life has become better, life has become more joyful – Stalin”. (The NKVD swiftly removed the man who, by adding a letter, changed the Russian to mean: “Life has become better, life has become more joyful – for Stalin.”) The few trustworthy reports of the time say the bizarre contrast between experienced reality and official propaganda (that one did not dare question) produced strange mental dislocations.

    Harvard (thank God!) is a far lesser evil, but similar in this respect: students are immersed in an artificial reality – and then told it is a vile crime to betray the smallest symptom of having noticed it. Does anyone know anecdotes, or studies, of what the psychological effects of this are?

    —-

    * That the differences are large is not open to honest dispute – which excludes many a PC commentator. Back in the 1990s, when this situation was less developed, Thomas Sowell (in e.g. “Race and Culture”) reported that the black-white discrepancy was well into the three-figure range while asian-americans had to average 50+ points above whites to have the same admission chances. Admissions discrimination against asian-americans, and for those minorities the PC like, appears to have grown since then. My figures above come from this article. The effect and its scale are clear; the precise SAT point values are debatable and vary (rather growing than diminishing) over time.

    The Students For Fair Admissions Case

    Lionel Shriver, writing in the Spectator:

    For American schools, the sole purpose of turning ‘diversity’ into a crowning educational asset has been to disguise the affirmative action that these same universities once openly pursued and now can legally enforce only by calling the practice something else. Fifty years ago, the notion took hold in the US that racial equality would never evolve naturally, but had to be socially engineered by giving historically disadvantaged groups an active leg up, especially in higher education. Bald racial quotas and substantially lower admission standards for minorities became commonplace. Yet using racism to combat racism obviously doesn’t sit easily with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so multiple previous cases of this nature have ended up in the Supreme Court — whose rulings on the matter have been, to use a technical jurisprudential term, a big mess.

    She goes on to explain:

    What makes the Students for Fair Admissions case different is that it’s not white high school students with excellent records objecting to being shafted. Asian applicants to Harvard with dazzling grades and perfect test scores, who play the violin, speak four languages, volunteer for the Big Brothers programme, captain the volleyball team, adopt rescue dogs and memorise the value of pi to 31.4 trillion digits have still received rejection letters in droves.

    Asians are doing too well and have to be stopped. They work too hard. They are too disciplined. They are too willing to make short-term sacrifices to reach long-term goals. They are too inclined to obey their parents. They stay up too late studying and get up too early to resume studying. Obviously it’s not fair.

    The author goes on to point out what a clearly absurd situation this is. Asian-Americans remind us that culture counts, a point that economists such as Thomas Sowell have repeatedly pointed out.

    One thought that occurs to me is that Asian-Americans who are denied entry for reasons of “positive discrimination” (towards African Americans, to be blunt about it) are increasingly likely to attend places more open to them, just as Jews, who fell foul of Harvard’s admissions prejudices for being “too focused on their studies” ended up forming institutions such as New York University (NYU), one of the greatest American universities. At the same time, this saga reminds me of the insight at which US economist Bryan Caplan arrived that much of the value of a university degree – in terms of the bump to earning power – from some places hinges around its “sheepskin” effect rather than because of the knowledge acquired by a student.

    As an aside, I recall reading a few years ago this renowned book about the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon. And there is story about the rigour of mathematics education in Singapore.

    The US lawsuit about Harvard admissions has gone to appeal and could end up in the Supreme Court. And that is where the debate is going to go full blast, because the ugly truth about “affirmative action” (aka, positive discrimination) will come out, and with it, the absurdity of the egalitarian idea itself. I remember a passage from Robert Nozick’s book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, where he pointed to the central fallacy of much egalitarian thinking, namely, the way that arguers for equality of starting points draw the false picture of athletes about to run in a race towards an end point. As the late Prof. Nozick argued, if life was like that, then anyone who came from a supportive, comfortable background would be forced to wear poor shoes or carry weights to give those from difficult backgrounds – such as those born in broken homes with no education stimulation – a “fair start”. (In real-life athletics, this desire for fairness explains the row about men who undergo sex-change operations and compete in women’s athletics events, benefiting from their higher testosterone levels. It also explains why drug abuse is a big deal in sports.)

    But, as Prof Nozick said, life is not a race towards a fixed point. It is about people exchanging things with one another and transferring things/values to those whom they choose, such as parents encouraging children to read, or play a musical instrument, or play outside on their own and develop self confidence, etc. Only a person taking a zero-sum view of the world can object to such exchanges.

    A final thought: there is no reason why a private organisation could not set out quotas or other, entirely arbitrary rules of admission. If it did so honestly, then it might for example have to say that “Hardworking Asian students from supportive homes might not get in because we have to ensure enough students from favoured group A and B who aren’t as capable and hardworking get a chance because of diversity”. Such a stance would, conveyed clearly, let everyone know that having a degree from such a place is compromised in such a way, and employers and others could judge such an institution accordingly.

    Here is an article in the Wall Street Journal, saying that Asian-Americans are being treated as Jews were treated by US higher education more than half a century ago. (Behind paywall.)

    That Which Shall Not Be Named

    It waits. It hungers. In its tenebrous embrace all memories, all identities, all names are lost. What was once known becomes unknown.

    And a jolly good thing too, that’s what I say.

    The Scottish government’s creepy Named Person Scheme has been fed to Azathoth, the BBC reports.

    An earlier post of mine called “Sixty pages” described one father’s experience of the pilot scheme:

    The surviving extracts appeared to indicate that the minutiae of his family life had been recorded in painstaking detail for almost two years, under a Named Person scheme which has been introduced in his part of the country ahead of its final roll-out across all of Scotland in August. A separate note made by the Named Person charged with keeping an eye on the academic’s two little boys was concerned with nappy rash.

    Rob Fisher also wrote about it here: What the GIRFEC?

    Discussion point: which little Guardian to believe?

    Cartoons depict a character wrestling with his conscience by placing a little devil on one shoulder whispering sweet temptations into one ear while a little angel urges rectitude from the other side.

    The Guardian says,

    The Guardian view on 16-year-old soldiers: armies are for adults

    But as Guido points out, the Guardian also says,

    The Guardian view on the voting age: time to lower it to 16

    Which little Guardian is the angel, which the devil?

    I could have just asked you at what age you think children should become adults, but the two little Guardians united to demand their moment of fame. Perhaps both of them should be ignored and there should be no fixed age of adulthood. History provides no guide. From the twelve year old boys who served as “powder monkeys” during naval battles in the age of sail, to the Roman man who remained under the authority of his father for as long as the latter lived, every extreme of custom has seemed natural to those that lived under it.

    Are there any oddities of law relating to the age at which young people can first do a given activity that particularly annoy you?

    Can you see any way in which fourteen year olds could be stopped from buying hard drugs without the use of law? Or do you dispute that they should be stopped at all?

    Perils of alternate history wargaming

    A father and son duo run a YouTube channel about historical tabletop wargaming called “Imperator Vespasian”. They run through demo games, talk about making and painting models and so on. Recently they were offline for about six months. They explain why in the following ten minute video:

    “Unexpected side affects of Gaming! Channel update”

    The two of them were creating a game called “A very British Civil War” set in an alternate-history 1938 in which Prime Minister Oswald Moseley was fighting to put down an anti-fascist rebellion. The British Union of Fascists was a playable faction. Here is a video they made about this game from six months ago.

    Then the son’s school reported him to the police as a potential terrorist. Note that the father and son both say that the police were quite quick to realise that this case was not the best use of their time, and reserve their criticism for the school.

    I am a little more sympathetic than are the “Imperator Vespasian” duo with the dilemma faced by schools over whether or not to bring the police in when they suspect a pupil is involved in crime as victim or perpetrator or both. The pair of them did make one unwise decision. Apparently their standard practice in their YouTube shows is to make announcements of what is happening in their games while “in character” for the various factions, with appropriate props as the backdrop. Fine when your prop is a medieval helmet, not so fine when it’s the lightning flash emblem of the BUF.

    But was there really no one among the school staff who had ever wargamed? Or whose kids had wargamed, or whose kids’ friends had wargamed, or who was simply enough in touch with the lives of their male pupils to know that playing the Tyranids in Warhammer 40K does not mean you seek to literally devour all life? Given the nerdiness of historical tabletop gaming, I would have guessed that gamers were just as likely to end up as teachers as in the police force. So why did the police quickly get that this was fictional while the teachers did not?