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]

Why the West is worth saving

Recommended.

My dear friends on the Left: what happened to you?

Half a century ago, when I was a young man, you were the ones celebrating individuality and anything-goes self-expression.

Back then, you were the ones burning the draft cards and defying authority. Today you’re a masked lump sitting on an airport bench, scolding with narrowed eyes anyone who delights in the air touching her face. What happened to you?

Back then, you were the ones demanding to be heard, saying the things the establishment didn’t want to hear, speaking truth to power. Today the phrase “free speech” terrifies you, and you offer a dozen excuses why we’re better off muzzled and restrained by those in power, like some kind of pet.

Henry Racette

(h/t David Foster)

What comes next?

To reiterate. The mRNA shots don’t stop infection or transmission, we don’t know whether they interfere with the development of durable immunity post-infection, and whether the next variant is deadlier than Omicron is “mostly a matter of luck.”

Politically, none of this matters at the moment. The people who pushed the shots – in other words every Western government and the entire public health establishment and media – have zero incentive to admit that the roulette wheel is still spinning.

Alex Berenson

And not unrelated…

The events of the past two years have been a wake-up call to those of us who naïvely believed our liberties were more or less secure under Western democracy. We discovered that a viral epidemic with an estimated Infection Fatality Rate somewhere in the range of 0.15-0.3% was sufficient for governments to claim the power to lock citizens up in their homes, prohibit citizens from taking walks in the park, tell citizens how many visitors they could have in their homes, shut down religious worship indefinitely, and order mass closures of businesses, all “for our own good.”

If all of this can happen once, it can surely happen again, especially if we are hit by another global crisis, be it global warming, terrorism, a global recession, an energy crisis, or a food shortage.

And if the crisis is not quite severe enough to convince citizens to renounce their liberties, governments can apparently count on the support of an uncritical media to stoke up people’s anxieties and fears, priming them for more “emergency” interventions and ever more illiberal restrictions on their property, life, and mobility.

Governments have restricted a wide range of civil liberties during the pandemic on the basis of unsubstantiated doomsday predictions, highly unorthodox methods of disease control, and hardly any serious consideration of the likely harms such restrictions would inflict on citizens and on our way of life. Future governments could exploit this dangerous precedent in a future crisis, whether real or manufactured, especially if the media jump on board to drum up some public hysteria.

David Thunder

Breaking the Chains: a Guide to Nudging You

A superb video-fisking by PANDA of a Covid-propaganda video:

Samizdata quote of the day

“The old truths remain unchanged: The free world isn’t free because it is rich — it is rich because it is free. Freedom is not only a moral good but also a practical one: Because we have a system that enables us to fail quickly and fail cheaply, we can try many different approaches to social and material problems, throwing everything we have at them and seeing what works. Authoritarian societies, in contrast, have trouble adapting to fluid conditions, often discomfited by problems that cannot be solved with bayonets. One by one, Americans and Germans and Englishmen aren’t any more intelligent than Russians or Chinese or Saudis, but the institutions of free societies — from the free press to competitive elections — enable free people to rally and deploy their collective intelligence in a way that is difficult or impossible in unfree societies.”

Kevin D Williamson

The rot goes deep

I was going to say the rot goes deep in Scottish politics, but it ain’t just Scotland.

It started with a minor story about a senior member of the Scottish National Party getting into hot water. Until this story broke Dr Tim Rideout was the SNP’s currency guy. Quoting the Times:

“Nicola Sturgeon ‘will root out racism’ in SNP after adviser Tim Rideout suspended”

Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to “root out and condemn toxic racist political discourse” in the SNP after a senior party member said that Priti Patel should be “sent back to Uganda”.

Tim Rideout, a member of the nationalists’ policy development committee, was suspended from the party after the controversial social media posts about the home secretary came to light.

Pam Gosal, the Conservative MSP and the first Indian Sikh member at Holyrood, urged the first minister to condemn the “appalling racist comment”.

Pam Gosal was right. It was a nasty bit of snide directed at the Home Secretary solely because of her ancestry. I already knew Rideout was a twit on financial matters – here he is speaking at some sort of Modern Monetary Theory conference – but I had thought better of him than that.

A Conservative MSP angrily saying that a Scottish National Party official has said something appalling, when he has, is normal politics. What shook me, because not that long ago it was not normal politics, was the remark from the (Labour) Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Ian Murray:

Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary, has called for police to take action against Rideout. He added: “These are truly horrendous and outright racist remarks from a key advisor to Nicola Sturgeon.

Once laws against “hate” unaccompanied by any clear crime are passed, as the SNP has done in Scotland, it does not take long for the policing of political speech to become literal.

Samizdata quote of the day

“If you scare people enough, they will demand removal of freedom. This is the path to tyranny.”

– Elon Musk: entrepreneur, spacefarer, and annoyer of the Woke. (Quoted by Yaron Brook here.)

Central banks and cryptos – what could possibly go wrong?

An interesting article in Reason, the US magazine, about central bank digital currencies, which appear to the reverse of the libertarian, ground-up approach of Bitcoin’s original champions:

You know who thinks that cryptocurrencies are the future? Central banks, that’s who, and they’re jumping on board the crypto bandwagon. But that doesn’t mean you should anticipate the folks at the Federal Reserve stepping aside to make way for Bitcoin adoption—far from it. Instead, central bankers want to displace grassroots cryptocurrencies with central bank digital currencies (CBDC) of their own design that absolutely will not protect privacy, and that will let governments control private transactions.

In the race to adopt state-sponsored digital currencies, the United States is behind the curve. China recently banned the use of private cryptocurrencies to make room for the digital renminbi. Cambodia launched its digital currency, the Bakong, in 2020. Nigeria plans to introduce the eNaira this month. But America lags, and for very good reason.

“Depending on its design, CBDC accounts could give the Federal Reserve access to a vast amount of information regarding the financial transactions and trading patterns of CBDC accountholders,” Christopher Waller, a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, commented (PDF) in August. “The introduction of a CBDC in China, for example, likely will allow the Chinese government to more closely monitor the economic activity of its citizens. Should the Federal Reserve create a CBDC for the same reason? I, for one, do not think so.”

It should surprise exactly nobody that China’s digital renminbi promises only “controllable anonymity” between private parties, and that the state retains the ability to monitor transactions.

This raises the old debate that I have read about and been involved in over the years – can technology tools really help free us from the State, or will the State simply adjust and use said tools for its own purposes? Down the years I have seen how entities such as the Internet, 3-D printing, social media platforms and so forth will empower individuals at the expense of Big Government, but that’s not always worked out.

The brute fact is, in my view, is that to push back against the State, it is necessary to win battles of ideas, and that is a slog. No wonder some hope that technology can help. Maybe it has to be a mix: good ideas that are spread, and new ways of living and working that feed off them.

A few years ago, David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) had a good book out, Future Imperfect, where he wondered about such matters. Strongly recommended. He gave a talk on the issues here.

“Legal but harmful”

“The draft Online Safety Bill delivers the government’s manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while defending free expression”, says the gov.uk website. It would be nice to think that meant that the Bill would make the UK the safest place in the world in which to defend free expression online.

The text of the draft Bill soon dispels that illusion. Today’s Times editorial says,

In the attempt to tackle pornography, criminality, the promotion of suicide and other obvious obscenities rampant on social media, the bill invents a new category titled “legal but harmful”. The implications, which even a former journalist such as the prime minister appears not to have seen, are worrying.

It is sweet to believe the best of people, but that “appears not to have seen” is either sweet enough to choke on, or sarcasm.

Could they give the censors in Silicon Valley power to remove anything that might land them with a massive fine? That would enshrine the pernicious doctrine of no-platforming into law.

Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, has expressed alarm at what he fears the wording could do to his publication. Any digital publisher who crossed the line might find an article on vaccine safety or on eugenics, or indeed any topic deemed controversial, removed without warning, without trace and without recourse to challenge or explanation. The decision would not be taken by human beings, but by bots using algorithms to pick up words or phrases that fell into a pre-programmed red list.

The editorial continues,

The bill specifically excludes from the category [of “legal but harmful”] existing media outlets. If Facebook or another platform took down an article from a British newspaper without explanation, Ofcom, the media regulator, could penalise the platform.

That’s us bloggers dealt with then. Notice how the article frames the threat to free expression almost entirely in terms of its effect on newspapers. Still, in the current climate I am grateful that the Times has come out against the Bill. If self-interest is what it takes to wake them, then good for self-interest.

However, social media giants operate on a global scale. In any market such as Britain, where they have a huge following and earn billions, they will not risk a fine of 10 per cent of their annual turnover. They will simply remove anything deemed “harmful”, or, to counter the bill, downgrade its visibility or add a warning label. Given that America’s litigious culture will influence those deciding what constitutes harm, this could include political assertions, opinions or anything the liberal left could insist constitutes “fake news”. If Donald Trump can be banned, so can others.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The pandemic tempted governments and their elite allies to treat citizens as passive objects to be dictated to, bullied and coerced en masse—an attitude not unlike that found in China, Cuba and North Korea—instead of as active thinking subjects with whom government is in partnership. With few exceptions (the Nordic countries are the best examples), governments failed to find ways to affirm that despite the pandemic, citizens were still individuals imbued with inalienable rights and independent moral standing. This is, after all, how most people see themselves in modern society—as free autonomous beings rather than as laboratory rats in a series of social science experiments.”

– Arthur Herman, writing in the Wall Street Journal ($). Herman is the author of excellent books about the Scotland’s contributions to the world, the Royal Navy, and philosophy.

Explaining the past two years

The bully doesn’t want the victim to do X, Y, and Z for their own sake. He wants to establish the principle that the victim will do X, Y, Z, or A, B, or C, on demand. That’s why arbitrary, unreasonable, ever-shifting demands are characteristic of an abusive relationship. The more irrational the demand, the better. The controllers find it satisfying to see everyone dutifully wearing their masks. As with O’Brien, it is power, not actual public safety, that inspires them. That is why they roundly ignore science casting doubt on masks, lockdowns, and social distancing. Effectiveness was never the root motivation for those policies to begin with.

I learned about this too in school. In the senseless, degrading busy work and the arbitrary rules, I detected a hidden curriculum: a curriculum of submission.3 The principal issued a series of trivial rules under the pretext of “maintaining a positive learning environment.” Neither the students nor the administration actually believed that wearing hats or chewing gum impeded learning, but that didn’t matter. Punishments were not actually for the infraction itself; the real infraction was disobedience. That is the chief crime in a dominance/submission relationship. Thus, when German police patrol the square with meter sticks to enforce social distancing, no one need believe that the enforcement will actually stop anyone from getting sick. The offense they are patrolling against is disobedience. Disobedience is indeed offensive to the abusive party, and to anyone who fully accepts a submissive role in relation to it. When “Karens” report on their neighbors for having more than the permitted number of guests, is it a civic-minded desire to slow the spread that motivates them? Or are they offended that someone is breaking the rules?

Charles Eisenstein

Samizdata quote of the day

“No one has fought themselves free of the intellectual stranglehold which anti-classical liberal political sentiment currently enjoys among intellectuals and opinion-formers can have any illusions about just how difficult the task will be to convince public opinion that the best solution to the manifold problems that afflict the world today is that recommended by classical liberalism. Equally, however, no one who has come to embrace classical liberalism will fail to appreciate that nothing less than its eventual triumph will enable human beings to enjoy the best lives of which they are capable. To this extent, classical liberals need have no embarrassment about being considered utopian in political aspiration. Unlike other forms of utopianism, the classical liberal variety springs less from naivety about what is humanly possible than from a suitably modest and realistic assessment about what would make human lives as good as they can be.”

David Conway, Classical Liberalism: The Unvanquished Ideal. (Page 138). St Martin’s Press, 1995. Conway also wrote “A Farewell to Marx”, which in my view is one of the most lucid demolitions of Marxism ever written.