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]

Final farewell

Brian Micklethwait departed this world earlier today, leaving the samizdatistas poorer for his absence but richer for his lifetime dedication to the cause of liberty.

There was a time when Scottish universities were havens of free thought

Then:

After the Uniformity Act 1662, for about two centuries, it was difficult for any but practising members of the Church of England to gain degrees from the old English universities, at Cambridge and Oxford. The University of Oxford, in particular, required – until the Oxford University Act 1854 – a religious test on admission that was comparable to that for joining the Church. The situation at the University of Cambridge was that a statutory test was required to take a bachelor’s degree.

English Dissenters in this context were Nonconformist Protestants who could not in good conscience subscribe (i.e. conform) to the beliefs of the Church of England. As they were debarred from taking degrees in the only two English universities, many of them attended the dissenting academies. If they could afford it, they completed their education at the universities of Leyden, Utrecht, Glasgow or Edinburgh, the last, particularly, those who were studying medicine or law.

Now:

After making their grades and unpacking their bags, new students may be forgiven for thinking they are ready to launch themselves into university life.

But at one of Britain’s leading institutions, they must now clear one more hurdle before beginning their studies: they must accept “personal guilt”.

St Andrews has introduced compulsory modules on sustainability, diversity, consent and good academic practice and will not allow students to matriculate if they do not “pass” by agreeing with certain statements. The university is one of a growing number insisting that students undertake training on subjects including anti-bullying and climate change.

[…]

At St Andrews, the induction asks students to agree with statements including: “Acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful start point in overcoming unconscious bias.” Those who tick “disagree” are marked incorrect and too many wrong answers mean they have failed the module and must retake it.

Another question from the course asks: “Does equality mean treating everyone the same?” Those who respond yes are told: “That’s not right, in fact equality may mean treating people differently and in a way that is appropriate to their needs so that they have fair outcomes and equal opportunity.”

Students are also asked to agree with the statement: “It is important to think about and understand our own prejudices and stereotypes so we don’t treat someone else unfairly or inappropriately.”

Samizdata unintended ironic quote of the day

“China is serious about building a cleaner, fairer, and sustainable society.”

As you know, I get press releases, and this one, from the Swiss private bank and investment manager, Vontobel, was too good not to let go without sharing.

Further comment from me is superfluous. Reading that comment, considering how the CCP operates and what it does, has left me dumbstruck.

The era of Covid-totalitarianism

Michael Rectenwald has written a very interesting essay Living in the Age of Covid: “The Power of the Powerless” that raises many very alarming parallels, musing on the original essay by Václav Havel The Power of the Powerless.

Just as the greengrocer was compelled to display signs of his loyalty under Soviet bloc communism, signs transmitting semantic content to which he was indifferent, so the covid citizen is compelled to display signs of compliance and complicity under the covid regime. The signs have included donning the mask and, increasingly, displaying the vaccine passport—to take part in society. And, as under communism, these displays are compulsory rituals. What function do they serve?

Let us take note: if the covid citizen were compelled to wear a sign that said, “I am afraid, therefore unquestionably obedient,” he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The covid citizen would be embarrassed and ashamed to don such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of fidelity must take the form of a sign which, at least on its surface, indicates a level of credulousness in the covid regime. It must allow the covid citizen to say, “What’s wrong with the vaccine passport? The experts say that the vaccine is necessary, for my health and that of others.” Thus, the vaccine passport helps the covid citizen to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, while at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. The vaccine passport hides them both behind the façade of something high. And that something is ideology.

The [indented] text above is my revision of a passage from Havel’s essay—with “the covid citizen” and “vaccine passport” of the covid regime replacing the greengrocer and the greengrocer’s sign of the Soviet regime. The point is to show, mutatis mutandis, the substitutability of terms. Although the vaccines have shown some efficacy at mitigating the effects of the virus, they neither protect their recipients from infection and disease nor prevent them from spreading it. And the dangers of the vaccines are not all known, although many short-term side effects, including death, have been documented. The vaccines may also be driving antibody-dependent enhancement, and, with the selective pressure they put on the virus, the production of mutations (variants). The vaccines are, after all, “state of emergency” measures, rushed into use before the necessary scientific testing to gauge their efficacy or ensure their safety could be done. Thus, they are anything but “science”—if by “science” we mean unhampered and open inquiry using the scientific method. The vaccine passport thus serves an ideological function, just like the greengrocer’s sign.

Read the whole thing.

Samizdata quote of the day

I didn’t look too closely when in 2015 a Conservative administration proposed changing the law on gender recognition. A few trans people want more easily to get official confirmation for the new gender they have become? Well, I thought, that’s probably OK. No skin off any part of me.

Then the issue appeared to morph into a different kind of conflict. It had clearly somewhere along the line become impermissible for those who thought that there was something ineluctable about biological sex to say so. It wasn’t whether they were correct or mistaken on the subject that was in question, but their right even to express their view.

A recognisably totalitarian declension seemed to be being imposed: if you said biological sex was real then you argued with the ability of someone who felt they should be the other sex to simply assert that uncontested. That meant you were denying their “existence” as the new sex. Which was tantamount to denying their existence as a human being. Which was close to saying you wanted them and everyone like them dead. Which is the kind of thing the Nazis did. So you’re a Nazi. And we can’t let Nazis publish Nazi thoughts in books. Or speak at universities, or sully our public spaces with their terrible prejudice.

Here I drew the line. I saw people I knew being bullied and harassed for having an opinion on biological sex (actually the majority opinion on biological sex), and even if I didn’t know whether I agreed with them, I knew that was wrong. …

David Aaronovitch in the Times (£), writing about this book by Helen Joyce, quoted by and commented upon by Mick Hartley (not £).

Samizdata quote of the day

“The cliche goes that the UK is a former empire in search of a role. That is not strictly true. The NHS has become Britain’s all-consuming project, the millstone around its neck and the cloying source of confected national pride. Its hold over the country is so powerful that even a libertarian Conservative PM decided this week to risk sacrificing our ordinary freedom rather than dare to reform it.”

Sherelle Jacobs, Daily Telegraph, 13 July (£) My only quibble is the appellation “libertarian”, in this case. Mr Johnson’s libertarian views increasingly resemble entities of myth and legend, such as the Loch Ness Monster, Atlantis, or the 1966 English World Cup winning football team.

The future works, just as it is being stolen from us, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is now real

The future of the flying car is finally arriving, a flying car, the AirCar, has completed a test flight between two airports in Slovakia, reports the BBC.

This wonderful development brought to us by Professor Stefan Klein (the article has a short video showing the car flying etc.) is not yet licensed to fly, and given the caution around aviation, such approval may be a long way off, but it is technically possible now, almost a century after the English Electric Wren which was seen as a rival to the emergent motor car. To think that within around 31 years, English Electric would build the Lightning is simply mind-boggling.

However, this fantastic development runs on a petrol engine, has an airborne range of c. 1,000 km (625 miles) and can cruise at 170km/h (c.106 mph), at 8,200 feet (pressurisation not an option at the moment it seems). Imagine the liberty of flight, in your garage, the horror of unrestricted travel, no speed cameras, the Left’s (and the State’s) hatred of mobility and autonomy will shine like the fiery pits of Hell.

Two passengers, provided that they don’t weigh more than 31 stone. Let physics limit your weight, not the government.

Dr Stephen Wright, senior research fellow in avionics and aircraft, at the University of the West of England, described the AirCar as “the lovechild of a Bugatti Veyron and a Cesna 172”.

but there is obviously a cautionary note:

“I have to admit that this looks really cool – but I’ve got a hundred questions about certification,” Dr Wright said.
“Anyone can make an aeroplane but the trick is making one that flies and flies and flies for the thick end of a million hours, with a person on board, without having an incident.
“I can’t wait to see the piece of paper that says this is safe to fly and safe to sell.”

With a 600 mile range, a self-fly/drive break on the Continent would be a breeze. Short-haul aviation is pointless in such a world, as are inflexible trains (HS2 etc.), even car hire. Bring it on.

More photos of the London Covid demo last Saturday

Last Saturday a mate of mine dropped by to see me, having just been at the Covid demo
mentioned here
earlier. My mate brought photos with him. You can see most of those he gave me here and here.

But look at these, and you’ll get the picture:

I have very mixed feelings about demos. When they work is when people generally are surprised by the demo, either because they didn’t know about the issue in question until now, or because they had no idea people felt so strongly about it, or because they didn’t think enough people had the guts to complain about it in public. None of this applied to this demo. There’s been a Lockdown, which many consider to have been pointless, a cure worse than the disease, and even if it did once serve a purpose it should end now. And, here are some of those grumblers, gathering in a crowd in London, with signs. I can see why some genuinely don’t think this is big news. Although, despite gloomy prophecies of a news black-out, it was small news.

Another problem is that demos are awfully liable to put out mixed messages. It only needs a few off-message demonstrators to get in on the act, and the whole thing can be sabotaged. In this case, I recall some of the news coverage I caught saying that this was a demonstration against vaccines. Vaccines have been mostly very popular, are much touted now as one of the government’s few definite successes, and are in many anti-Lockdowner opinions a big reason why Lockdown should now stop, rather than part of it. There are no anti-vaccine signs to be seen in any of my mate’s photos, but a news team only needs one such to be bending the whole reporting of the event completely out of shape.

Where demos, even of the most un-newsworthy sort, do have an impact is that those who attend them get to know each other and exchange ideas. I remember watching some Remain demos, long after Brexit had won the referendum, and even I think, after the voters had voted “Get Brexit Done” at the last general election, and thinking that this couldn’t change the decision, and I was right. These Remainers, only then, I now realise, were realising what they were about to lose. Until they finally lost, they thought they’d win. But these too-much-too-late demonstrators would, as I realised at the time, at least be influencing each other, forming networks and spreading ideas, and this might have consequences down the line. Perhaps one consequence will be a slight strengthening of any campaign in the future for Britain to rejoin the EU. I can’t see such a campaign succeeding, but if it gets its fangs into any major political party, it will surely damage that party, in the eyes of all those who voted Leave, and many more besides. “Move on.” “Get over it.” You can just hear the young besuited types trying to stop such talk, because they will surely know how it will damage the new arrangements that they are now busily contriving.

In the case of this London demo last Saturday, there is surely at least the possibility that libertarian ideas may spread amongst the demonstrators, from all those who already think this way, to all those who didn’t, but may now be starting to. I, of course, want to believe this. I also wonder what other consequence this demo, and all the others like it up and down the country, may have.

Samizdata quote of the day

In Britain there is overwhelming popular support for the legalisation of cannabis, yet because recreational drugs are illegal, our cities are being ravaged by criminal turf wars over drug distribution. Taking the products out of the hands of criminals and into regulated markets would not only end the bloodshed, it would end the unnecessary criminalisation of thousands of young people. Drug addiction would be treated as a medical, not judicial problem. The war on drugs has failed and will always fail because humans like to alter their mental state. Voters should be allowed to enjoy drugs safely …

Guido Fawkes

Ever since I attended Essex University in the early 1970s I have been of the the opinion that cannabis can have a very bad effect on some people. I watched it turn a few relatively normal people into excessively placid and “pacific” people who, if you then verbally pressurised them even quite mildly, but in a way they couldn’t handle, were liable to turn on you like cornered rats, in ways that were wildly excessive compared to any rudeness you had subjected them to. In short, cannabis drove them mad. In particular, paranoid. All sense of proportionality in how they defended themselves in a vigorous but basically friendly conversation went out the window. That’s what I think I then saw. And ever since then, I’ve heard further anecdotage that confirms that prejudice.

Which does not mean that I favour cannabis being illegal, any more than I favour it being illegal to smoke, or to drink alcohol, or to borrow money unwisely, or to gamble, or to climb mountains, or to parachute out of airplanes, or to do anything dangerous merely because it is dangerous. Guido frames this as an argument about the right to do drugs safely. I prefer to think of it as the right to do unsafe things, to decide what risks you will take with your life, to make your own judgements about how to balance pleasure against danger.

Insofar as Guido merely implies that dangerous things which you can only get from criminals are a hell of a lot more dangerous than if they are legal, I wholly agree.

Courage in Comedy

Courage is not just a virtue; it is the form of every virtue under test. For a kindness or honesty which is only kind or honest while it is safe is not very virtuous. Pontius Pilate was merciful – till it became risky. (C.S. Lewis)

It’s not just virtue that needs courage. Jokes can need a little courage too. On one of Prince Philip’s visits to Australia, a virtue-signalling politico decided he would be asked the same questions as any immigrant.

Border Official: “Do you have a criminal record?”

Prince Philip: “I had no idea it was still a requirement.”

Witty remarks need wit – and timing (the worthlessness of ‘l’esprit d’escalier’ – that clever retort you think of whle descending the starcase after the party – has been proverbial for centuries). Humour cannot survive a too-timid inner censor (“Can I really say that? Dare I really say that?”) stealing the moment.

I’m not just talking about the overt courage some jokes need. That can be very real of course. Christabel Bielenberg fell in love with a German in 1932 and married him in 1934.

‘There can’t be many weddings in which the father of the bride stops the car on the road to the church and says to his daughter, “You can still call it off.”

In the very last days of WWII in Europe, she walked into the mayor’s office in the German community where she lived and noticed that the picture of Adolf Hitler was missing from the wall. Seeing her glance, the mayor explained he had put it in the fire the day before. Christabel thought of a joke about Adolf and his picture, automatically reminded herself not to say it out loud – and then realised with delight that for the first time in many years she could say it out loud, she no longer had to think first whether everyone present was ‘safe’. In the joke, Adolf muses to his picture, “I wonder what will happen to us after the war?” The picture replies, “I don’t wonder – I know: you’ll be hung and I’ll be unhung.” The mayor, like the vast majority of Germans, had never heard it – and till the day before would not have dared laugh at it. He spent the rest of the aftenoon suddenly guffawing and murmering, “hung – unhung”. Despite everything, the new freedom to laugh seems to have been a relief to him too. He – unlike Christabel but like too many Germans – had not had the courage to remain aware of his inner censor during the Nazi years; it had become part of him.

It’s not just the comedian who needs a little courage. The audience can also use a little of it. Prince Philip once joked to a British student in China that if he stayed there too long he might acquire ‘slitty eyes’. Thinking people (people not too scared to think) know that a joke does not mean what it literally says (and that Prince Philip did not imagine that the facial features of other nationalities could be caught through proximity, like a disease). Imagine that, back in 1937, visiting a family funeral in Germany, he had told a British student there to beware staying too long lest his head become squarer. The alleged ‘squareheads’ of native Germans in the first half of the 20th century betokened the too ordered, too obedient, too constrained thoughts within them, as the alleged ‘slitty eyes’ of native Chinese in the second half betokened the deceitful propaganda of the CCP. It should not be hard to get the joke’s point – unless of course, the very idea of thinking about an ethnic slur before condemning it is too terrifying to contemplate. “Do not trust China. China is asshole.” as a chinaman in Hong Kong more recently put it.

Orwell explained that putting the mind in a politically-correct box kills a writer’s creativity. Such cowardly conformity also hurts the sense of humour – the sense of humour.

The courage to joke also helps if your position tends to make others nervous:

“I realised afterwards that all his so-called ‘gaffes’ were quite the reverse. They were masterclasses in putting people at their ease. If he’d kept the royal drawbridge up and encouraged deference, all he would have had in his 73 years as the Queen’s husband would have been a series of terrified, tongue-tied people to talk to at a thousand events. For a serious, curious, clever man, that would have been agony. What he wanted was information, and perhaps a few laughs.” (The Truth about Prince Philip’s Gaffes)

And facing your death with courage will often mean facing it with humour. When the brilliant Oxford mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah (not so long before his own death) told Prince Philip how sorry he was to hear he was standing down from official duties in late 2017, Prince Philip replied:

‘Well, I can’t stand up much longer!’

The freedom to make a joke. The freedom to take a joke. Freedoms worth tending in the garden of your mind.

The Streisand-Challenor effect

On the evening of the 22nd March, visitors to the main UK politics subreddit, /r/ukpolitics found a mysterious message saying that the subreddit, which has nearly 400,000 members, had been set to “private” by its own volunteer moderators.

It was the beginning of a cascade. The lights are going off all over Reddit! Subreddit after subreddit was set to private in sympathy with /r/ukpolitics. Most of them dealt with topics unrelated to politics. At its peak the wave of protest closures affected subreddits collectively having tens of millions of members all over the world.

To understand why this protest against Reddit by its own users gained such traction, we need to go back to the 8th of March when the Spectator published an article by its unlikeliest new writer, the radical left wing “gender critical” feminist Julie Bindel, called “The Green party’s woman problem”. It contained the lines,

The formidable feminist author and journalist Bea Campbell, a former Green party candidate, resigned from the party last year after being disciplined, in part for refusing to keep quiet about the shocking and disturbing Aimee Challenor case.

That brief reference to “the Aimee Challenor case” was to have dramatic consequences. A hyperlink on the word “case” linked in turn to this Independent article dated 13 January 2019:

Aimee Challenor: Green star failed to properly alert party of father’s child rape charges Independent investigation found transgender activist only alerted two colleagues in ‘informal’ Facebook message

Having parted ways with the Greens, Aimee Challenor joined the Liberal Democrats. Once again her association with the party ended as a result of child safeguarding issues related to someone with whom she lived. This time it was her fiancé Nathaniel Knight. He claims his twitter account was hacked.

A point to note: these events were widely reported. Given a prompt about a person who had left both the Greens and the Lib Dems under a cloud, anyone who follows UK political news would probably be able to dig up her name in half a dozen keystrokes.

Getting back to the main story, at about quarter to eleven on the morning of the 23rd, the ukpolitics subreddit reappeared. It now carried the following announcement:

→ Continue reading: The Streisand-Challenor effect

How to win the libertarian argument

The converting-Libertarian-Alliance-pamphlets-to-HTML phase of the Brian Micklethwait Archive project continues.

When I add something new, I also add a news update post about it. These usually briefly describe what the update is with, perhaps, a quote. Today’s update about How to Win the Libertarian Argument contains some of Brian’s most important and useful wisdom: how to spread libertarianism by arguing (and not necessarily by winning arguments). I could not choose which quote to use, so there are a lot of them. I’ll repost them here.

When was the last time you *won* an argument, right there in front of you? When was the last time someone said to you: “By heavens! You’re right about this, and I’ve been wrong about it all of my life, until you took the trouble to straighten me out. How can I possibly thank you? Let me, as a pitifully small token of my infinite gratitude, kiss your shoes.”? Not recently, I would guess.

The article covers the importance of politeness:

The *right* way to be an extremist is to say what you think and why, while absolutely *not* assuming that the person you are talking to has any sort of obligation to think likewise, and if anything while making it clear that you rather expect him not to. You think what you think, and he thinks what he thinks. And if he hasn’t told you already what he does think, then an obviously polite next step would be to ask him to talk about that. The two of you can then try to pin down more precisely how you disagree, assuming you do. It is possible to be an extremist without deviating from good manners, and that is how.

By merely proving that libertarianism and decency can cohere in the same personality, you will be a walking advertisement for the cause, as I might not be.

And it covers how to sell your ideas:

First announce your product, and try to spin out the conversation about it. You do this by finding out what your audience wants, and you try to explain, if you can, why your product will supply this. In the case of El Salvador, find out what the man thinks is now wrong with El Salvador and explain how your ideas might improve things, and why his ideas might only be making things worse.

It offers the sort of wisdom that people on Twitter could do with hearing:

No matter how “extreme” is the opinion I may read in a pamphlet or magazine, I am never, so to speak, at its mercy. I can stop reading it at any moment, and so in the meantime I need not feel threatened or even discomforted by it.

The world is full of people with wildly different views about the philosophical foundations of life, of the universe and of everything, yet on the whole they get along peacefully enough. Where there are major breaches of the peace, these are just as likely to be between peoples with near identical views on “the fundamentals” as between people without such philosophical affinities.

And there are descriptions of the ways in which people change their minds.

The notion that one can “convince” somebody of the truth of libertarianism with one mere “argument” is rooted in a false model of how people think about political matters. Political thought is rooted not merely in “facts” but in contrasting “world views” or “models” of how the world is and how it ought to be improved.

For some anti-libertarians it comes as a shattering revelation to learn that there actually are real live libertarians, and that we mean what we say. Until then they had assumed that people only believed in capitalism for the sake of their dividends. The mere *existence* of a sincere libertarian might for such a person be the decisive, conversion-inducing “fact”.

Do keep an eye on the updates, or follow the Twitter feed if you are so minded. I have been managing about two per week so far.