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]

Money without Kings

It appears that Kenya has some something surprisingly sane: it has decided to remove portraits of real people, especially politicians, from its currency.

At one time, policy in the United States was quite similar; anthropomorphic representations of abstract concepts (like “liberty”) were the only human images permitted on government produced money. Then, slowly, the inevitable happened, and politicians began to be deified by putting the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and the rest on coins and bills.

I think the notion that senior politicians are not, in fact, kings and emperors, and ought not be the subject of secular worship, remembered with expensive public memorials, put onto money, have bridges and airports named after them, etc., is a rational one, and I hope that it someday becomes much more widespread.

On Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is the U.S.’s Thanksgiving holiday. It is a fine time to reflect on the bounty that the productivity increases brought by capital accumulation and technological improvements have brought to us.

The cost of the ingredients of a Thanksgiving feast for ten are now said to cost an average worker their wages for under 2.25 hours of labor. A 16 pound turkey now costs less than what an average worker earns in an hour.

We live lives of such astonishing wealth that we scarcely notice it. Only a fool would rather be an Emperor in 1600 than a poor person living today. Compared to a king of several centuries ago, poor people in the developed world live in astonishing luxury. In the developed world, we eat fresh vegetables in midwinter, our homes are heated toasty warm in the winter and cooled and dehumidified in the summer, we travel in enormous comfort (no wooden wheeled carriages without shock absorbers for us, and indeed, we can fly to the other side of the world for a quite modest sum of money), our medical care is incomparably better, our beds more comfortable, our entertainment options beyond any ancient potentate’s wildest dreams. This is true even of quite poor people, at least in developed countries.

Whence comes this bounty? It is not because of union organizing, or minimum wage laws, or the triumph of the proletariat over the evil factory owners. Indeed, a few centuries ago, there were few mass production factories to triumph over.

No, the source of this bounty is productivity, and the engines of productivity are deferred consumption being invested in improved infrastructure (that is, capital accumulation), improved technology, and specialization. Thanks to our better means of making things and the sacrifices needed to construct those means, productivity per worker is orders of magnitude higher, and thus there’s more stuff to go around.

Centuries ago, it required something like 750 hours of human labor to produce a simple tunic; today it requires minutes of human labor. Almost no one is capable of truly internalizing this change. The shirt on your back once was a valuable capital good requiring four months of constant labor to produce. Now it’s not even worth repairing if it tears, it’s too inexpensive to replace it. Because of this change in productivity, even quite poor people in developed countries own many sets of clothing.

Centuries ago, there was barely enough food to go around, and often far too little, as a result of which starvation was common. It required constant labor by most of the population to produce enough food. Then, mechanization of agriculture set in, and the production of synthetic fertilizer, and pest control, and improved breeding methods; today, it requires very few people to grow more than enough food for everyone. There is so much food, in fact, that obesity has become a disease of the poor, an unprecedented development in human history.

So it is across the span of consumer goods. The amount of labor it requires to produce enough light to read at night has gone down by orders of magnitude, and the quantity of light produced by an ordinary lightbulb is 100 times greater than that of a candle at a tiny fraction of the price. Many goods didn’t even exist before; in my father’s youth there were no televisions, and now people can buy 4k 130cm flat screens.

We were assured by Marx in his writings that the unavoidable result of capitalism over the long term would be the persistent reduction in the quality of the lives of poor people. This was inevitable because capitalists would be forced to engage in greater and greater extraction of the surplus value of the production of their workers. As with essentially all of Marx’s predictions, this did not come to pass; indeed, the opposite has been true.

Marx’s views were based in an entirely counterfactual set of theories of how the world works. Sadly, even though essentially everything Marx claimed about economies and society has proven false, and although essentially every prediction he made has been falsified, and even though his ideas led to the deaths of at least 100 million people in the 20th century, Marx is still wildly popular with the supposed educated classes of our society. (Indeed, even though Marx’s vicious bigotries were the cause of as much or more horror than those of the fascists, it is still respectable for academics to call themselves Marxists. Calling yourself a Nazi will rightfully cause you to be ejected from polite society, but call yourself a Marxist and you can get tenure. But I digress.)

Sadly, the myriad of capitalists that have kept us fed, warmed, clothed, entertained, and healed are largely forgotten. Like fish forgetting they live in water, we forget most of the time that we owe so much to the market economy we are surrounded by, to the vast number and diversity of producers, bringing to bear astonishing specialization and division of labor, creating an incomprehensible number of goods.

We owe so much to people in the past denying their current wants to carefully invest in the future that they might have more tomorrow. It has been the capital they slowly accumulated for us over centuries that has made us all so comfortable. The resources carefully husbanded by capitalists looking to the future were converted into capital equipment of all sorts, from house insulation to computer networks, from injection molding machines to automated teller machines, from to MRI scanners to torque wrenches.

Ultimately, we owe everything to them, and to the never-ending quest for higher productivity among selfish people desperately trying to out-compete their brethren. To quote Adam Smith:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

So tomorrow, when I, as with millions of others sit down to have an unnecessarily large meal with my family, I’ll try to be mindful of how hard the struggle was to move from caves and huts to comfortable modern homes, from bare subsistence to feasts that can acquired by trading less labor than it used to require to make a chair leg, from a world lit and heated only by fire to one where I can sit in shirtsleeves reading comfortably at night while a freezing wind howls outside.

What’s even more amazing is this: if people cease to try to prevent the world from getting better, our descendants may pity those living today for our astonishing poverty, for they may someday be vastly richer than we are.

A Dissent

Today is the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, which killed something between 15 and 19 million people, an astonishing and colossal waste of human life and potential.

Sometimes it is necessary to engage in violence to prevent even worse violence, but it is always a terrible thing when that happens, and is nothing to be celebrated. At best, the “victory” of the allies was that nothing particularly worse happened, although what happened (including the deaths of about 2% of the population of Great Britain and 4.25% of the population of France) was pretty much as awful as one would imagine to begin with. As an anti-nationalist, I note that there is no good reason to believe the deaths of millions of Austrians and Germans (something like 4% of the population in those countries) was any less of a tragedy. All deaths are tragedies, and all deaths are premature.

War is not glorious. It achieves no great goals. It cures no diseases, it bridges no rivers, it builds no great cities, it does not launch people into space, clothe the naked, or feed the hungry. Those are worth celebrating, those sorts of achievements represent mankind at its best. War does quite the opposite thing — it destroys resources in bulk, kills vast numbers of people, and sets back human achievement, sometimes by years, sometimes by decades or longer.

Nor is participation in war laudable. Sometimes it is necessary to defend oneself, but there is never any glory in it. Dying face down in the mud is tragic, not glorious, and World War I was almost nothing but one tragedy after another, over and over, multiplied by the millions.

So, today is properly a day of mourning, for a world that was happily growing in population, accumulating capital, and engaging in peaceful trade, which was rent asunder by a stupid, useless waste of human life.

At one point, this trauma was deeply etched into the minds of most average people, but the memory has faded as the generations have passed, and thus the world flirts with horror again and again. Humans do learn, but far too slowly, and there are many people who work actively to tell other people things that are not true.

Sadly, intelligence and rationality are not universally revered, and thus, many are forced to learn the same things over and over, with bloody results.

The First Man and the unfashionableness of optimism

A week or so ago I went to see The First Man at the cinema. At first it seemed to do a good job of turning historical figures into real people. The domestic lives of the astronauts contrasted with the bravery of their test flights. There were lots of scenes of worried housewives which seemed believable enough. Armstrong is portrayed as a serious engineer with good attention to detail. He makes some mistakes which his bosses put down to being distracted by his daughter’s ill health. After she dies, Armstrong is understandably never truly happy. He does not express his emotions, and tells one friend who tries to talk to him, “if I wanted to talk to someone, do you think I would be standing out here [away from everyone]?” I like that line: I have felt like that at times.

When the Gemini 8 flight has problems, his wife hears about it and she goes to complain that her audio feed has been switched off to protect her from hearing about what is going on. Don’t worry, she is told, we have everything under control. No you don’t, she retorts, “you’re a bunch of boys playing with balsa wood models.” There is a certain truth to that line which I enjoyed: it is hard to have complete understanding of a complex enough system, and there is a certain playfulness to engineering.

There is a montage about protestors complaining about the cost of the Apollo program and listing better ways of spending tax dollars such as by helping poor people. We see Gil Scott-Heron on stage reading his poem Whitey On The Moon. It made sense to portray these things in the movie.

A lot of Armstrong’s colleagues are killed. The Apollo 1 cockpit testing scene is hard to watch if you know what is coming. A lot of the movie is spent with Armstrong taking the deaths hard. There are a lot of funeral scenes. There is a scene where Armstrong’s wife makes him explain to his kids that he might not survive Apollo 13.

They fly to the moon. I have a big criticism of the cinematography: I am sure spacecraft do not vibrate that much. There must be other ways to portray speed and acceleration. They fly home. Once home, Armstrong’s wife visits him in quarantine. He seems sullen. She seems sullen. The End.

And then it hit me: no-one is happy about going to the moon. There is no pride, no sense of achievement, no celebration of the accomplishment whatever. All we learn is that we are doing it to beat the Soviets, it costs a lot of money, there is a huge human cost, people worry and suffer, relationships are strained. This is a joyless movie. It portrays no up-side. The closest we get to any kind of positive commentary on the Apollo project is when Armstrong first applies for the job. The superiors ask why he wants to go to the moon and he answers with a speech about mankind’s need to explore. The superiors seem skeptical, but pleased: the message is that this guy can be trusted to say the right things. Being happy about going to the moon is for the stupid masses.

On my bookshelf I have a couple of anthologies of the Eagle comic from the 50s and 60s.

Phosphates for The World

They feature cutaway drawings explaining wonders of technology, present and future, all of it wonderfully unapologetic. We are doing awesome things and we will do even more awesome things soon, kids are told. Today’s teenagers are bombarded with worry and pessimism. BBC Focus magazine is a science magazine that seems to be aimed at young audience and it features an article about climate change and how having children is bad. The Week Junior seems to be full of articles about endangered animals and banning plastic. If I did not know that most of the terrible problems are not terrible problems and that the world is in general getting better, I might be a bit despondent about all that. If I was an impressionable youth I might rebel against it; I hope they do.

A statement of corporate philosophy I can get behind

These days, there is a lot of effort behind what is called the corporate social responsibility movement to inject what some of us might see as Leftist political ideas into the ways companies operate. (There is debate about this among free market folk, it ought to be conceded. See an article at Reason magazine.) Some of this is mandated by state regulation; some of it can also come from pressure certain types of shareholder (if there is consent involved, libertarians can’t object to that in principle). The old idea, put forward by the late Prof. Milton Friedman, that the primary obligation of company management is to maximise shareholder value, is shocking to the modern mindset. During my time in writing about and following the modern investment and financial industry, I am relentlessly bombarded by calls for firms to be more mindful of their social, environmental and related obligations. Making profits is all too often treated as a tad vulgar, even immoral. (This perspective might change a bit as and when the next recession bites.)

With that in mind, it’s refreshing to read a statement of corporate philosophy like this, from the Asgaard (as in the Vikings) business that runs the Starting Strength weight training operation, associated most famously with barbell lifting trainer and wonderfully plain-spoken Mark Rippetoe. The whole statement is great, even if you have never been to a gym or aren’t interested in lifting weights (full disclosure: I am doing the barbell lifting programme (in the UK) and it has already changed my health for the better).

Here are a couple of paragraphs:

We don’t like big government, government regulation of the workplace and personal space, and government safety nets for those who decide not to finish life’s heavy sets of 5. We don’t appreciate people who are constantly offended for other people at no cost to themselves, and who feel the need to force us to agree with their opinions, which we cannot be made to do. We like people who take personal responsibility, who do not ask for charity, and who give freely when they feel compelled to do so. We appreciate an honest effort toward a worthwhile goal, and we will help if we can.

We like nice guns, good food, strong drink, talented musicianship, thoughtful art, and the effort it takes to create them. We appreciate beautiful women and handsome men, masculinity and femininity, and we know the difference. We also understand that some people have different opinions about these things, and we respect their opinions at precisely the same level of enthusiasm with which they respect ours.

As an aside, I came across Rippetoe (or “Rip” as everyone calls him) via Glenn Reynolds. So I owe the law professor and blogger supremo for putting me on the path to getting stronger.

An Open Letter to a Terrible Podcast

[I’m intensely interested in the current generation of space entrepreneurs. They really do have the capacity to transform the future of our species. I’m obsessed enough to listen to several space-related podcasts and watch a couple of Youtube channels on the topic. For reference, good podcasts include “Planetary Radio” for coverage of planetary science missions and government space policy, “Interplanetary Podcast” (an irreverent program produced by the British Interplanetary Society), the “Aerospace Engineering Podcast” (a recent addition I don’t yet have a strong opinion of) for insights into new technology, and I watch Youtube episodes of “TMRO”, “The Everyday Astronaut”, and Scott Manley’s show, all of which have interesting content. “TMRO” in particular is wonderful at conveying enthusiasm for the progress being made these days. “Planetary Radio” is much stodgier and more government space program oriented, but has excellent content and typically covers the whole spectrum quite fairly.

And then, there’s “Talking Space”, a podcast that I’m no longer willing to listen to. I rarely tell people that I’ve stopped subscribing to their content, but in this case, I felt compelled to write them a note — it’s unusual to find people in this media segment who so faithfully channel Ellsworth Toohey. Even though almost no one who reads Samizdata will have heard their tiny podcast, I’ve included the entire content below:]

I regularly listened to your program until your episode just after Falcon Heavy’s test flight. I was disgusted at that time with your astonishingly negative attitude about that launch, and unsubscribed for a while, but I decided to give you another chance. Having just stopped listening halfway through “To the moon, Elon!”, I think I’m through with your podcast permanently.

The BFR, if it flies, will be the first fully reusable orbital launch vehicle in history, and will also be one of the heaviest lift vehicles in history. Musk claims it will reduce launch costs by a factor of about two orders of magnitude. Even if it only reduces launch costs by a factor of ten and not one hundred, it will be a major milestone in human history, and I don’t believe that I’m exaggerating.

Not a single mention of that had been made by the time I shut off the episode. All I heard was “it might take a years longer than Musk says” and “this will cost money, where will it come from?” and the even more offensive “Yawn” remark where one of your hosts expressed actual boredom with the news.

On the cost, Musk has a long track record of securing the funding he needs, and as to the former, when he was asked about the timing at the press conference, he absolutely owned up to the fact that they were unlikely, saying that the dates in question were optimistic and based on nothing going wrong.

We all know by now, after his work at several companies, both that Musk rarely makes his dates, but that he almost always manages to achieve the the engineering goals he’s set. SpaceX had its first orbital launch only ten years ago, but is now the world’s leading launch provider, with only the Chinese government launching more often, and given the customer contracts they have in hand and the continuous increase in launch rate, by next year SpaceX may be approaching the Chinese launch cadence. There’s very little reason to doubt that they’re technically capable of building BFR or that they’ve got real revenue that they can apply to R&D, given that even a cursory estimate shows that their operating revenue is now into ten figures.

As for the ridiculous “Yawn” comment: presuming BFR launches, and I presume it will given enough time, it will dramatically alter the cost of human access to space. If the costs end up where Musk claims they will, the price of things like human colonization of cislunar space will be in the feasible range for the first time. If they end up 10x past what he thinks they will be, they’re still going to cut the price of access to space by 90%. This changes everything, even for science missions, which will benefit tremendously from far cheaper launches.

Spending your time nattering about how much you dislike Musk (which was a clear subtext) or are bored by him, how unlikely it is that he’ll get the money needed for development when he clearly managed to get the money needed for the development of all his projects to date, and how he might miss his date by years when that’s utterly immaterial, demonstrated to me that you guys are not my sort of people. You utterly miss the interesting part here — I can imagine your analysis of the first passenger railroad being something like “but the cross-ties are made of wood and will rot! They’ll have to be replaced at intervals!”.

Further, even if Musk doesn’t manage this and Bezos (who is working to the same goals) does, it still doesn’t matter — the world is about to be transformed, and all you can do is look for excuses to grumble.

I realized, in the midst of listening, that I understood the name of your podcast at last. It’s “Talking Space”.

Not “Doing Space”. “Talking Space”.

The lot of you are talkers, and the same sort of talkers who have naysayed pretty much ever interesting development since private development of space technology began in earnest. People like Musk, and Bezos, and Beck, and Haot, and all the others, who are putting their money on the line and their skin in the game, are the doers.

I’m done listening to talkers who have nothing to say but negative things when they themselves haven’t done anything. Musk’s people managed to go from zero to launching 20+ commercial orbital missions a year in a decade. What have you gotten done that makes you feel you can look down on SpaceX’s achievements?

I’ll conclude by saying this even more bluntly: the people responsible for human progress don’t spend all their time negatively gossiping from the sidelines about people who have done far more for humanity than themselves. We need more competent entrepreneurs, not more nasty talking heads.

Those MEPs, eh?

For me, one of the arguments for getting out of the EU (the list of reasons is very long, but this is a Friday, and the pub beckons) was due to the lack of decent democratic accountability of the EU as a structure. That doesn’t of course mean that I am a naive believer in majoritarian democracy (I’m well aware of Tocqueville’s wisdom about the tyranny of the majority). But given that the direction of travel of the EU is towards more centralisation of powers, which may be needed to make the dysfunctional euro work (fiscal transfers, more ability to shuffle money around, etc, etc), such a process requires serious democratic legitimacy. Such a polity does not exist, and an example of its non-existence came this week with the EU Parliament’s vote to agree moves to move against the internet in certain respects.

A big majority of MEPs voted for the directive, and a thousand curses upon them. So here’s a thing: how many European citizens, even if they are interested in this matter around copyright, the internet and use of memes, know who their MEPs are? I’d wager that only a small, single-digit percentage, do. Now I am a Londoner who writes about current affairs a bit and follows these things, and I had to Google up a search to find out who my MEPs are. And given how such MEPs don’t directly represent a constituency as with an MP under our first-past-the-post system but are elected via proportional representation under a list system, there’s no real connection between voters and the chap or woman in suits sitting in the parliament. Add to the fact that the parliament has no great ability to repeal directives as far as I know, and cannot initiative laws, etc, then its value as a break on power appears to be very low indeed. But the parliament does, as this case shows, have the ability to confer a sort of cloak of legitimacy over the law-making engines of the European Commission. The lack of connection between voter and MEP also means the latter’s vote will be a mystery to the electors in whose name the members supposedly act.

There may be other reasons why the UK is leaving the EU that are easier to put into a newspaper headline, but for me this is the sort of reason why the EU is a remote, yet malign force, and not, as far as I can see, a bulwark of anyone’s liberties.

A brash, native New Yorker commits the most heinous of crimes, refusing to apologise

The man is a politician known for his implausible hair, and has certainly made some outrageous remarks about a certain foreign politician, which was no bar to high office. I refer of course to the (part-Turkish) Right Honourable Boris Johnson MP. He has made, in passing, remarks against a burka ban, with, I’m told, an allusion to it making the wearer resemble a letter box. His Party Chairman called on him to apologise, but, so far, he has not done so.

He is also, we hear, accused of breaching the Conservative Party’s Code of Conduct:

lead by example to encourage and foster respect and tolerance;

So give him some respect and tolerate his use of language. Is he not fostering tolerance by showing the Conservative Party’s leadership up for the intolerant, virtue-signalling, Lib Dem prigs that they are?

not use their position to bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others (see further the interpretation annex);

He wrote a newspaper article, whilst an MP, but not as an MP.

The annex to the Code defines discrimination etc.

Discrimination includes victimising or harassing any other person because of race (including colour, ethnic or national origin, nationality, citizenship), sex, gender re-assignment, sexual orientation, marital or civil partnership status, disability, age, religion or belief [which should be interpreted as fully adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism], pregnancy and maternity status.

Harassment is any unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive situation or environment for them. A single incident can amount to harassment. Harassment may involve conduct of a sexual nature (sexual harassment), or it may be related to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partner status, pregnancy or maternity, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Harassment is unacceptable even if it does not fall within any of these categories. Victimisation provisions protect certain individuals who do (or might do) acts such as bringing discrimination claims, complaining about harassment, or getting involved in some way with another complaint (such as giving evidence).

Victimisation may therefore occur where a person subjects another person to a detriment because either that person has acted in such a way and/or is believed to have acted in such a way, or may act in such a way.

Bullying is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour involving the misuse of power that can make a person feel vulnerable, upset, humiliated, undermined or threatened. Power does not always mean being in a position of authority, but can include both personal strength, influence and the power to coerce through fear or intimidation. Bullying can take the form of physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct.

It seems to me that an actual person is required to be on the receiving end here, and although Mr Johnson’s article is behind a paywall at the Telegraph, I don’t think it would have mentioned any particular person as being the ringer for a letter box.

So the case against him is crock. He is of course, a ‘renegade’ having resigned over Mrs May’s Munich, and a possible threat to the FFC. And whatever the ‘crime’ is , the one thing that is expected by the media and, it seems, most of the political class, is the ritual apology for ‘offence’ found. If he can hold out, he will show himself to have considerable political courage, just what is needed these days.

And if he can face down the PC-boo-hiss crowd and sit out the storm, the curtain hiding the impotent media/politico Wizard of Oz may start to fall, and truth may flourish, like flowers in a woodland glade, just cleared by a storm.

There never was a man so hated, as he who told the truth.

Elon Musk just made a lot of enemies in Britain

There is a lot to admire about Elon Musk. I thought the space car was glorious. The whimsicality of it, which so many objected to, delighted me.

It is sad that Mr Musk has now shown that his whims can take a nastier turn.

British cave diver considering legal action over Elon Musk’s ‘pedo’ attack

A British cave diver who was instrumental in the rescue of 12 children trapped in a northern Thailand cave says he is considering legal action after the inventor Elon Musk called him a “pedo” on Twitter.

Vernon Unsworth told the Guardian on Monday he was “astonished and very angry” at the attack, for which Musk offered no evidence or basis. The billionaire initially doubled down on the comments made on social media, but has since deleted them.

Apparently it started when Mr Unsworth was rude about Mr Musk’s offer of his mini-submarine to help in the rescue:

Previously, Unsworth had described Musk’s offer to help the rescue effort as a “PR stunt”, and had told CNN Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts”.

If nothing else had been said, my sympathies would have been with Mr Musk. Even if it was something of PR stunt, I am sure Musk did genuinely want to help save lives. Still, I dare say tempers often flare in these high pressure situations. One man’s praiseworthy offer of aid can be another’s dangerous distraction from an urgent task.

However then Mr Musk went on to call Mr Unsworth a “pedo”, not just once – in which case it might have been written off as a random zero-content insult like calling someone a “bastard” when you neither know nor care whether their parents were legally married – but repeatedly. Mr Musk’s “evidence” for this allegation out a blue sky was that Mr Unsworth is a white guy living in Thailand. Musk said that that in itself was “sus”, meaning suspicious.

Angry comments are coming thick and fast to the Times article “Thai boys’ rescuer Vern Unsworth could sue Elon Musk over paedophile smear”. If even a fraction of those commenting on the Times website and those of other British newspapers who have said that they are about to cancel their Tesla order follow through with it, Musk’s UK operation could be in real trouble. That comes on top of the doubts already raised about the company by Tesla’s failure to live up to some of Musk’s earlier extravagant promises. For all the fame of the brand, the number of Tesla electric cars in the UK is still only in the low thousands, and Times subscribers are exactly the sort of people who would be most likely to buy them.

Charismatic individuals can push forward scientific innovation. They can also screw up big time.

Friends versus Followers: A latecomer’s personal experience of joining Facebook and Twitter

I remember the moment when I had to get plugged into email, some time in the mid-to-late 1990s. I was on the phone and he asked me: What’s your email? I had no answer. He said: oh. It was the way he said it. I knew I had to get an email address sorted immediately.

With social media it was much more gradual. For about a decade, the social media were sold to me as mechanisms for me to influence the world. But during that same decade my desire to influence the world slackened, and a rule of mine is: do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem. So, no social media. But as time passed, I realised that I wasn’t just not changing the world, I was ceasing to understand it. The more I read things, the more I heard echoes of social media conversations and dramas of which I had no direct knowledge, which had been going on for a fortnight or more before I even heard rather confusing reports about whatever it was. I was losing touch. (In particular I failed to understand the last two US Presidential elections.)

So it was that, finally, years after most others of my acquaintance, I have now plugged myself into Facebook and into Twitter.

Not that this was easy, mind you. They kept asking me to type in bits of code which I had just asked them to send to me and which they claimed that they had just sent to me but which they never did send to me. But, with help, I eventually got it all sorted. Having waited a decade, the further wait wasn’t a problem.

First impression: I greatly prefer Twitter to Facebook. Indeed “greatly” doesn’t communicate the gulf. Twitter is, for me, now, very useful. Facebook is, for me, not useful, at all, not yet and maybe not ever.

The basic reason for this disparity of usefulness is that whereas I think I am pretty sure that I understand what Twitter means by the word “follower”, I have no clear idea at all of what Facebook means by the word “friend”.

As soon as I got connected to Facebook, a hoard of total strangers sent me emails (or Facebook sent me emails about them) referring to “notifications”, which said something along the lines of: let’s be friends. Who were these people? They didn’t seem like “friends”. More like email spammers. And what would it mean for me to be a “friend” of them? If I shared a home with a Facebook veteran all this would no doubt have been explained to me in about half a minute. But, I do not.

Some of the names involved in these Facebook “notifications” I recognised. These were the names of actual friends. I now have three Facebook “friends” who are also real life friends. But frankly, I am learning a lot less about these Facebook-and-real-life friends than I thought I would. I do, after all, possess and make use of: a telephone. And given how little I have learned about these genuine friends from their Facebook postings, I am not inclined to venture further into the great, for me, confusion that is Facebook.

It is always pleasing to see one’s immediate personal reactions seeming to be echoed by others, and I am pleased to note that Facebook is being criticised by others who know much more about it than I do. In particular, it is being accused of deranging rather than enhancing people’s social lives, crucially their friendships, and even, to some extent, driving them a bit mad. Perhaps this is just the usual moaning whenever you get a new technique of communication springing upon the world, but I’d be interested to hear what others say about these sorts of complaints.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a new friend.

“Follower” is a concept that made and makes, to me, immediate sense. No doubt the way that Twitter defines “follower” has ramifications and subtleties of which I am unaware, but the basic idea coincides with reality in a way that Facebook’s notion of “friend”, to me, absolutely does not.

My arrival on Twitter coincided almost exactly with the explosion into something resembling mass celebrity of Jordan Peterson, author of the current best seller 12 Rules For Life. This is a man whom I had already noticed, but whom a whole new slice of humanity is now noticing. And I too am now “following” Jordan Peterson.

But there is no suggestion, from Twitter or from anyone else, that Jordan Peterson is “following” me, and certainly not that he and I are in any sense “friends”. To Jordan Peterson, I am but one tiny blip in a cacophony of new-found celebrity. The concept of me being Jordan Peterson’s “follower”, in other words, precisely describes what is going on and, equally importantly, what is not going on. I am following him. He has no idea of my existence.

Twitter, in other words, makes sense to me because it separates two utterly distinct concepts: me paying attention to you, and you paying attention to me. Twitter also makes sense because attention is just that and only that, attention. It is the lowest form of human relationship, and anyone can start doing it, to anyone they learn about, whenever they please.

There are many more things to be said about Twitter and Facebook, and perhaps commenters on this will say some of these things. (I’m thinking of such matters as the ongoing debate about how and how much Twitter and Facebook are politically biased, and how much that matters.) But for now, instead of speculating about things that others know a lot more about than I do, I will instead turn my attention to concocting further Samizdata postings concerning the things which Twitter has told me about. And which Facebook has not.

One final point. Some of my favourite Tweets have come to me courtesy of this excellent man. No pressure was put upon me to say that, but say it I do. This elephant doing some tidying up, which this man retweeted a few days ago, is particularly wonderful. Jordan Peterson would surely approve.

My 2017 in London photos

This posting may not see the light of day until tomorrow, or worse, because this evening I have a date at Chateau Samizdata to see in the New Year. But, I will now try to get it posted before the end of the year that it is retrospectively about. And yes, it’s one of those month-by-month photo-postings, one photo for each month.

Unlike, say, Michael Jennings, I not only live in London but spend almost all of my time in London, and I spend a lot of that time wandering about in London, taking photos of London’s architecture, of its adverts, of its other photographers, and of its many other oddities, such as this one:

I love to discover out of the way spots in London, spots that others don’t know about, but which, if they did, they might enjoy greatly, almost as much as I do. That strange and rather funny sculpture (be patient with this link (to my personal blog) – I do believe it worth the wait), which I photoed in January of 2017, is to be found beside the River Lea, just before it does a kink on its way south. It’s a hard place to describe, because if you look on Google Maps there is little of note in the area. The best I can do is to say that to get to this place, I went to Bromley-by-Bow tube station, went east across the River Lea and then went south, past big warehouses, of the sort that have become so important in this age of computerised shopping. There’s a big Amazon shed there, for instance.

The above sculpture concerns itself with the more regular sort of shopping, and what with it being the work of an artist, she thinks that it criticises such shopping. Materialism, the badness of capitalism, consumerism, blah blah. But to me it looks more like a celebration of shopping. Whatever it “is”, I like it.

Next up, a photo which notes the fact that exactly a hundred years ago from this year, there was that Revolution, in Russia. I didn’t visit the exhibition that this poster advertises, because I feared that too many of the exhibits would be celebrations of that disastrously destructive event, and would hence annoy me. But I did photo the advert:

Thank goodness for the movie The Death of Stalin, which came out later this year, and which I did see. That is very comical, but it is anything but a celebration of Soviet communism. The horrors are not wallowed in photographically, but they are portrayed, in the form of the terror felt by all those who had anything to do with Stalin, and in the form of all the absurd events that Stalin’s most casual instructions were liable to set in motion. Although I promise nothing, I hope to be writing more here about that movie.

March, and more politics, this time in the form of a big anti-Brexit demo that I chanced upon, in Parliament Square:

It’s tempting to mock this demo as a complete farce. It happened, after all, several months after the Brexit referendum had yielded its result. But although a demo like this attracts little public notice, given that the vote it denounced was, you know, a vote, such demos do still accomplish quite a lot. There is more to politics than mere voters merely voting. Demos, much like indoor meetings (of the sort I continue to hold every month in my own home), strengthen the personal relationships which add up to a political movement, and draw more adherents to the cause, whatever it is. Thanks to this effort, and many other less photogenic efforts, the anti-Brexiteers have been able to put all sorts of political barriers in the way of Brexit, to spread all sorts of doubts in the minds of waverers. I still don’t think they will accomplish their central goal, but they are putting up quite a fight.

→ Continue reading: My 2017 in London photos

If a fascist doesn’t say anything fascist is he still a fascist?

Some time ago a chap called Paul Golding from an organisation called Britain First followed me on Twitter. When people I’ve never heard of follow me my standard procedure is to have a look at their most recent tweets and if they sound interesting I follow them back. If at some later date I find them obnoxious or boring I unfollow them.

This rule is not quite universal. Out of fear of ending up in an echo chamber I follow a small number of communists. Communists, of course, are nothing but obnoxious and boring. But such is the price we have to pay if we want to know what the other half think believe.

Anyway, it would appear that thanks to the wonder of the Donald and the Jack, Mr Golding is now famous and people are saying all sorts of nasty things about him. Which is a surprise to me. I cannot recall him saying anything particularly unreasonable. He certainly doesn’t like Islam. But then again neither do I. But if he’d had a go at the Jews I would have noticed. Similarly, if he’d had a go at a racial minority I would have noticed. But he hasn’t. At least not in the tweets of his I have seen.

Now it may well be the case that Mr Golding harbours all sorts of unpleasant opinions – opinions that I violently disagree with – but if so he doesn’t seem to think they are ready for the ocean. For the time being they will have to remain stuck in port much like the French fleet prior to Trafalgar. Maybe he is biding his time in the hope that if he can lure enough ships into harbour he can then board them but if he is then he is making an appalling strategic mistake. If you want to win the argument first you have to have the argument. He may be a fascist but he might as well not be.