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

“Yeah, the reason the speaker can’t come here is because he promotes violence – by us, his enemies.”

Robert Murphy

Quoted by David Thompson.

Of what crimes do the contents of your bookshelves convict you?

My mother was in her early teens in World War II. I once asked her what it was like not to know who would win. Alas, I cannot remember in detail how she answered, but among the things she said was that she did not speculate about it much because any such discussion would have been instantly quashed by her father, a former soldier, with some words along the lines of “There will be no defeatist talk in this family, young lady!”

Yet this atmosphere of stern patriotism did not stop her openly reading a translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf on the principle of “Know thy enemy”.

“Owning a book isn’t a declaration of belief,” writes Janice Turner in the Times.

Journalists own a lot of odd books. Some are sent to us unsolicited, others we buy to illuminate a news story. That Michael Gove, a former Times columnist, has The War Path by Holocaust-denying historian David Irving nestling among Alastair Campbell diaries and Stalin biographies does not alarm me. But the online outrage at a photograph showing this book on Gove’s shelves does.

Because if I’d covered, say, the 1996 libel case brought by Irving I’d have bought his work, too. Why? Curiosity; the desire to quote from original sources; to hear Irving’s authorial voice; to understand how he magicked away mass murder. Later, my piece written, I’d have squeezed it in my unruly shelves with Mike Tyson’s Undisputed Truth and Naomi Wolf’s Vagina.

At this point I feel I ought to mention that the original Times article has that last word in italics.

Yet owning Irving’s book was to activist-journalist Owen Jones a window into Gove’s dark soul. On Twitter, people questioned why you’d read Irving rather than his many critics, as if they couldn’t trust their own minds not to be swayed. Gove was accused of “proudly displayed” antisemitism in his home. But books are not posters or cushions, mere expressions of personal taste.

What is the correct thing to do when you’ve read this book, in case some visiting fool concludes you’re a Nazi? Donating it to a charity shop risks further dissemination of evil. Well, you could burn it. That always goes well.

Here is Owen Jones’s tweet in all its glory.

Which of the books on your shelves would make you wish you had enabled the “blur background” function before turning on Zoom?

Apart from the obvious – a copy of Chavs by Owen Jones – I have three coffee-table books of reproductions of selected articles from the English language edition of Signal magazine, issued by the Wehrmachtpropaganda from 1940-1945. (It continued to publish an English language edition even after the US entered the war, ostensibly for the benefit of the Channel Islanders.)

How about you? Confess all and the tribunal will be merciful.

TIL: Tippex thinner no longer exists but the Oxford University Student Union still does

Back when I was clever, I went to Oxford. My time there was not wasted. I learned that the best place to get stationery was the OUSU* shop in Little Clarendon Street, or Little Trendy Street as it is properly known. There you could get jolly nice ring binders with the university crest on them for £3.50, I think it was, and, if memory does not fail me, bottles of Tippex for 70p. Proper Tippex with a cute little brush, not a silly foam applicator. Also available were bottles of Tippex thinner. Change and decay all around I see: apparently Tippex thinner is no longer a thing.

Buuut…

The Oxford University Student Union voted for a policy that transgender, working-class and female students needed more protection and urged the university to give faculties guidance and make more use of trigger warnings.

The motion, proposed by Alex Illsley, co-chairman of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ campaign, stated that there were multiple examples of “ableist, transphobic, classist and misogynistic content” on reading lists. He cited an article advocating that it should be a moral duty not to have disabled children, which was included on a medical law and ethics reading list, and one “advocating for the murder of disabled children after they have been born”.

Perhaps not all change is decay. In a departure from its usual policy of dignified pusillanimity, the University grew a pair:

The university issued a statement saying there would be no changes as a result of the motion. “[There are] no plans to censor reading materials assigned by our academics,” it said. It referred to its policy on free speech, adding: “Free speech is the lifeblood of a university. It enables the pursuit of knowledge. It helps us approach truth. Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful. Inevitably, this will mean that members of the university are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive.”

Cambridge, take note.

*Back in those days OUSU stood for something. Though it always seemed a little odd that “The one that isn’t the Oxford Union” didn’t start with a T.

“Possible equity issues”

“Coronavirus in Scotland: Parents and children left to struggle after councils ban online teaching”, Helen Puttick of the Times reports.

It seems many private schools in Scotland are using video conferencing and other internet tools to continue to educate pupils while they are in quarantine. Some state schools are doing likewise. But fear not, Scotland’s ever-vigilant local councils have been alerted:

However, a number of councils in Scotland have banned state education via live video interaction. East Dunbartonshire council said: “Streaming live lessons is not recommended at this time due to safeguarding and possible equity issues.” East Renfrewshire said they were “not advocating” the approach. East Lothian and Stirling also cited safeguarding issues. Midlothian council told headteachers: “No platform is considered suitable for interactions involving young people at this time.”

You may send any enquiries as to what “Possible equity issues” might mean by letter or postcard* to:

East Dunbartonshire Council
12 Strathkelvin Place
Kirkintilloch
G66 1TJ

*Enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope if you wish to receive a reply. Please note that the council does not accept owl post as not everyone has owls.

East Dunbartonshire council thanks you for your ongoing understanding and co-operation as we put measures in place to support our children and their families during this difficult time.

The homeschooling menace

One trend that has been a big push in recent weeks is – for obvious reasons – homeschooling. And those who run the education system in North America (and I presume, in other places) are worried that if youngsters learn at home, they’ll be less prone to teachers’ ministrations. Kids will start to think for themselves. This must be resisted because it undermines civic spirit, apparently, according to this Harvard Review article:

She views the absence of regulations ensuring that homeschooled children receive a meaningful education equivalent to that required in public schools as a threat to U.S. democracy. “From the beginning of compulsory education in this country, we have thought of the government as having some right to educate children so that they become active, productive participants in the larger society,” she says. This involves in part giving children the knowledge to eventually get jobs and support themselves. “But it’s also important that children grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints,” she says, noting that European countries such as Germany ban homeschooling entirely and that countries such as France require home visits and annual tests.

Here’s another gem:

She concedes that in some situations, homeschooling may be justified and effective. “No doubt there are some parents who are motivated and capable of giving an education that’s of a higher quality and as broad in scope as what’s happening in the public school,” she says. But Bartholet believes that if parents want permission to opt out of schools, the burden of proving that their case is justified should fall on parents.

The problem with this article is that the author of the piece appears oblivious to parents’ worries about the poor quality of much public schooling in the US. There is also the default assumption that the State is entitled to impose a certain view and set of aptitudes and attitudes on children and that the burden of proof is on those who want the family, not the State, to be the primary decision-taker on education. An article in Reason magazine last year also directly challenged the idea that homeschooled kids are less likely to be well-adjusted adults. (Like with all these issues, there are clear exceptions, such as with children who are maltreated by parents, etc).

I will be interested to see if any of you fine Samizdata commenters have been schooled at home for any part of your time, and what your experience has been.

In times of crisis, certain viewpoints are challenged. Now is such a time.

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.