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

Perhaps, then, the most dangerous piece of ‘common sense’ in Peterson’s new book comes at the very beginning, when he imparts the essential piece of wisdom for anyone interested in fighting a powerful, existing order. ‘Stand up straight,’ begins Rule No. 1, ‘with your shoulders back.’

Caitlin Flanagan, in the Atlantic Monthly.

Samizdata quote of the day

A few weeks ago in central London, I watched a group of protestors holding aloft anarchist signs as they demanded greater government spending. They seemed almost as confused as the fellow who tweeted me his denunciations of globalisation the other day – using a mobile device made in Korea and software written in California.

Douglas Carswell, Rebel, page 295.

The presumption of liberty

My attention was drawn to an article about a harmless Australian eccentric who was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the authorities.

The gentleman who was harassed, a certain Mr. Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow, had removed the fare chip from a train travelcard and had it implanted in his hand, thus allowing him to access the train system without needing to carry the card — he could wave his hand over the card reader instead. No allegation was made that he had defrauded the Sydney transit system in any way. He paid his fare, he was just using a chip implanted in his hand instead of into a plastic card.

However, the humorless martinets of the prosecution service decided to go after him anyway, even though he had obviously done no harm to anyone. Why? Presumably because we now live in a society where the implicit rule is, that which is not explicitly permitted is forbidden. Never mind that he’d paid his fare, never mind that no tangible harm was done to anyone or anything, it annoyed them that someone might do something they found peculiar, and so they set forth to crush that behavior.

(Mr. Meow-Meow’s fare chip was cancelled, by the way. This, to me, seems like a breach of contract, and possibly even a theft, as he had paid legitimately for his travel, and his money was taken without recourse.)

The assumption in any civilized society society should be this: that which harms no one is legal, and should not be subject to punishment upon the arbitrary and capricious whims of humorless prosecutors who decide to find something irritating for no important reason. Laws should be few, clear, irredundant, and should exist only to deal with actual interpersonal conflicts in which one party has actually damaged another and not merely offended their sensibilities. It should never be possible for an official to decide to crush someone merely because they find them vaguely distasteful in some manner.

Indeed, any official who decides to do such a thing should, in turn, themselves be guilty of an offense, for they have proposed to use the weight of the courts not to restrain a malefactor but to deprive someone of their freedom.

The presumption should always be that things which harm no one are perfectly legal. The fact that your neighbor doesn’t like your haircut, or the music you prefer, or the fact that you like keeping your proximity chip in your hand rather than in your wallet, or that you eat strange food or enjoy sleeping at the wrong time of day should never be an offense, and indeed, society should vigorously and mercilessly prosecute those who would interfere with the liberty of others.

Mr. Meow-Meow won his day in court this time (although he found himself forced, unaccountably, to pay court costs when he had caused no one any harm), but I fear that the presumption of liberty in the Anglosphere has long since been forgotten. It is long past time to resurrect it, and vigorously.

The world’s governments are mostly followers of Jeremy Bentham, but most people follow Epicurus – and there is some hope in that

Most governments, whether they know the writer or not, tend to follow the assumption of the late Mr. Jeremy Bentham. They regard humans as soulless machines, not beings with free will and moral agency, and they regard the idea of rights against the State as ‘nonsense’ and natural justice itself, which is to say limiting state power, as ‘nonsense on stilts’.

To most governments and the witchdoctors in universities and media – and the establishment generally, rights are goods and services from government – not limits on the size and scope of government. They may or may not believe that there should be 13 Departments of State seeking to produce “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” like Bentham – they may believe they should be 11 Departments of State controlling society or 14 or some other number, but they agree that there should be a permanent bureaucracy which is neither elected or appointed by people who are elected (thus making elections to some extent a sham) dedicated to the Progressive agenda of spending ever more money and imposing ever more regulations. To most modern governments, and the evil establishments they represent, such works as “The New Atlantis” by the collectivist supporter of despotism Sir Francis Bacon (the mentor of Thomas Hobbes) are not horror stories – they are an inspiration, as they were for Jeremy Bentham. For more modern examples, see Richard Ely (the inspiration of both “Teddy” Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) and “Philip Dru: Administrator” by President Wilson’s “other self” Colonel House.

So far a depressing picture – but I do not think that most people in most countries fully share this Benthamite view of things. I think that most people are closer to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. The philosopher Epicurus did not deny the Gods (he was not a materialist as Hobbes and Bentham were), but he did not stress them either – his concern was with this life. Nor did Epicurus deny moral agency: the ability to meaningfully choose – free will. On the contrary, his philosophy was based upon the principle of free will – he hoped to convince people to choose to change their lives. And how to change their lives? Not by politics – but by their own efforts and by cooperating with their friends. Not in wild orgies (the short term pleasure undermining longer term happiness)… but in the simple joys of life and friendship. About a million miles for someone like me – I am really a Stoic in my political attitudes, always looking for a noble cause to die horribly for (telling me to forget politics and “enjoy your life” is like telling acid to be alkaline), but also a million miles from a follower of Jeremy Bentham with their obsession with planning society – treating people as non-sentient (non-beings).

Take the example of a young lady I overheard whilst on a recent overseas trip. The young lady asked a friend to help her decide which bangle on a table was the most pretty – this was a very serious matter for her, indeed her face was a picture of serious consideration into what was, for her, a very serious matter. This young lady was not unintelligent (I heard her speak at least two languages with total confidence) – it was just that her concerns were not political. Her mind was not bent on the planning of society (or preventing it being planned – in a desperate stand against the forces of evil) – and making (by force and fear) everyone do what she wanted them to do. The young person’s concern was with her own happiness and the happiness of the people around her – happiness to be promoted voluntarily, not by force.

I think most people are like this – large numbers of evil people exist, but most are not. Most people are, whether they know the man’s name or not, followers of Epicurus. I am not – most people are utterly alien to me (people like Cato the Younger are my sort of people). But most people are NOT followers of Jeremy Bentham with his desire to plan society, which means that (deep down) most people are not on the same side as most modern governments and the entrenched establishments they represent.

Television and posters (and so on) is all a good example of this. It is not all socialist, ever bigger government, propaganda. Most television, posters, magazines etc. are really focused on ‘life style’, fashions, holidays, house design, clothing, food, drink…

→ Continue reading: The world’s governments are mostly followers of Jeremy Bentham, but most people follow Epicurus – and there is some hope in that

Samizdata quote of the day

“Often people who do not wish to bear risks feel entitled to rewards from those who do and win; yet these same people do not feel obligated to help out by sharing the losses of those who bear risks and lose. For example, croupiers at gambling casinos expect to be well-tipped by big winners, but they do not expect to be asked to help bear some of the losses of the losers. The case for such asymmetrical sharing is even weaker for businesses where success not a random matter. Why do some feel they may stand back to see whose ventures turn out well (by hindsight determine who has survived the risks and run profitably) and then claim a share of the success; though they do not feel they must bear the losses if things turn out poorly, or feel that if they wish to share in the profits or the control of the enterprise, they should invest and run the risks also?”

Robert Nozick: Anarchy, State, and Utopia, page 256. I suppose one answer to the question the late Prof. Nozick poses is that some people are parasites, and desire the unearned, and that socialist doctrines give their parasitism a gloss of intellectual credibility.

I have been re-reading this early 1970s book, seen at the time as a classic and which still holds up well.

The assumption of equality of outcome

The legitimacy of altering social institutions to achieve greater equality of material condition is, though often assumed, rarely argued for. Writers note that in a given country the wealthiest n percent of the population holds more than that percentage of the wealth, and the poorest n percent holds less; that to get to the wealth of the top n percent from the poorest, one must look at the bottom p per cent (where p is vastly greater than n), and so forth. They then proceed immediately to discuss how this might be altered.

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (page 232).

By coincidence, a classic example of “the rich are gobbling up all the wealth and something must be done about it” mind-set was in perfect view in this Guardian article yesterday.

While I browsed for a few minutes in Hatchards, the bookshop, yesterday, I came across this book by Daniel Halliday, which attacks the right of people to bequeath their property to heirs, friends, etc. So in other words, the author thinks your wealth isn’t yours to give away. It is rare for such attacks on the right to transfer property to be stated so baldly. I might see if I can grab a review copy and read it, and maybe Fisk it later. (The book has already been reviewed from a fairly benign point of view in the Financial Times, here.)

The Gullibility of Cynicism

Under these conditions, you could make people believe the most fantastic lies one day, and if the next day they were presented with irrefutable proof that their leaders had lied, they would take refuge in cynicism: they would protest that they had always known they were lies, and admire their leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.     (‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’, Hannah Arendt)

Arendt states that ideology and terror are two sides of the same coin, preparing people for their two-sided role as persecutor or victim in a totalitarian state. She never quite says – but it is close to the surface in several remarks – that cynicism and gullibility are likewise two sides of the same coin, not opposites at all, preparing people for their two-sided role as liar or dupe in enforcing political correctness.

Jeremy Corbyn does not trust the UK’s forensics and wants the nerve gas sent to Russia for their analysis. Mr Ed may be right that Corbyn’s reported statement – that “the nerve agent be sent back to Russia” – reveals his true opinion, but the boy who came from a posh-enough background and attended a grammar school, yet still managed to leave it with two Es, is quite thick enough both to reveal an unconscious assumption and to believe his conscious words. Jeremy is too cynical to credit UK forensics – so he wants Putin’s people to examine the evidence and announce whether Putin did it or not. (One might guess he likewise thinks reports of Russian athletic doping are western lies – after all, Putin’s experts say so – and be even more sure he thought that in the days when the ‘peoples republics’ won many an olympic medal. But perhaps even Jeremy is not rash enough to say so – there are voters who ignore politics but understand sport well enough. 🙂 )

Scepticism can be very healthy (this blog has always had a very healthy number of eurosceptics 🙂 ). But when you want to believe the forensic analysis of the Russian state because you are too cynical to believe the forensic analysis of the British state then you have indeed demonstrated Arendt’s point: cynicism and gullibility are not opposites. The precise evidential value of the UK’s ongoing forensic tests can be debated. The evidential value of anything announced by Russia, were Corbyn’s idiot demand acted on, cannot be.

A Century of Horror

I struggled for a while for what to write here, but I felt I had to write something, because today is a fateful anniversary.

Exactly 100 years ago, on November* 7, 1917, the Communist Revolution in Russia began.

In the ensuing decades, about one hundred million people died because of the Russian Revolution and other communist revolutions it inspired.

These deaths were not an accident, not the result of some deviant misinterpretation of Karl Marx’s true intent, and not some minor incident of history we all should ignore. They were a direct consequence of what you can read in Marx’s writings and those of his successors.

There is no gentle way to say this: if any ideology can be said to be evil, if any set of ideas can be said to be evil, then Communism is evil.

I’ve seen it said recently, on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, that we mustn’t compare the Communists to the Nazis because the Nazis started with bad intentions while the Communists had good intentions.

I must disagree. The Communists started with intentions every bit as monstrous as those of the Nazis.

No one ever believes their intentions to be evil of course, and our society has, sadly, a great many people who retain a romantic attachment to communism, and who teach this romantic attachment to their friends, neighbors, and (in the case of the huge number of Marxist academics who unaccountably are working in every university), their students.

The Nazis didn’t believe themselves to be evil, and neo-Nazis today do not believe themselves to be evil. So it is with the apologists for Communism — they do not believe themselves to be evil. I’m sure that Marx didn’t perceive himself to be evil, he believed his enemies to be evil, and I’m sure Hitler felt the same. That doesn’t matter. Self-perception has nothing to do with the thing. It’s the hateful ideas and the trail of corpses that are relevant.

And so we face the problem that many people, even now, even after a century of almost inescapable evidence, still hold a romantic attachment to Communism, do not react to a red star or a hammer and sickle with the instinctive horror that they feel for a swastika.

In other words, our society still has not come to grips with Communism.

This is so much the case that, as I’ve mentioned, there are Marxist professors all over our universities inculcating their ideas into young minds, a fact that should fill us with as much horror as the notion of Nazi professors in our universities. I was taught by some of them, and for a time I became a Marxist. After all, my teachers taught me that Marxism was a perfectly okay idea, not an aberrant horror. They seemed like nice people at the time, and the university had hired them, and so surely they couldn’t have been bad? However, I don’t care how nice such people seem, their ideas have killed people in numbers so large I cannot understand them, and although those ideas deserve to be studied and remembered, they should not be studied or remembered with reverence, but rather the way we remember the behavior of the Spanish Inquisition or the priests who sacrificed human beings every day in the Mayan Empire.

What does it even mean for an ideology to have killed one hundred million people? I can’t look at a crowd and easily distinguish numbers in the hundreds or thousands without aid. I certainly do not understand what a million lives means. I truly do not understand what a hundred million mean. That’s too many for my primitive primate brain to understand.

And so, these people who still preach Marxism are aligning themselves with a level of horror and death so beyond human comprehension that it is basically not possible to come to grips with it. And yet, no one protests them the way they would (correctly) protest the hiring or tenuring of a Nazi.

I see kids in the street sometimes wearing Che T-shirts, sometimes wearing red stars. By all rights, of course, a picture of Karl Marx or Che Guevara should be thought of the same way as a picture of Goebbels or Himmler or Hitler himself would be regarded. Red stars and hammers and sickles should, as I said, be viewed the same way people view swastikas, and yet they appear, ironically and without irony, on various bits of pop culture ephemera all around us. Indeed, dare I say it, such symbols even seem to be carried all too often by various contemporary protesters.

Such symbols and people should inspire horror, because they represent piles, veritable mountains, of human corpses. One hundred million deaths means that there’s six and a half billion kilograms of decaying human flesh that your Che shirt or hip little Red Star should bring to mind.

Why doesn’t it inspire horror? Part of it is that somehow we’ve normalized hiring huge fleets of academic apologists for Communism into our universities, but generally speaking, I’m not sure why people have so much trouble coming to grips with this.

Part of it, of course, must be the human capacity for denial of normalized horror. Apparently normal people in 1850 weren’t overly horrified by the idea of human beings being bought and sold and forced to labor and raped at will by their putative “owners”. Apparently normal people in 1400 didn’t think too much of the idea of burning heretics at the stake.

And so, even today, many normal people don’t seem to think too much of how horrifying their romantic attachment to communism is.

I hope, however, that the human race makes progress on this over time. It has abandoned human sacrifice, and slavery, and burning heretics at the stake, and I hope that, someday, it at last rids itself of its residual acceptance of the most disastrous set of ideas the world has ever seen.

[*Today is November 7th, and some of you may be asking yourselves “wasn’t it called the October Revolution?” It was still October in the Russian calendar of the time because they had not yet switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.]

The mistaken legal philosophy of Mr Damian Green and the incorrectly named ‘Great Repeal Bill’

The de facto Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr Damian Green, has been doing the rounds of the television studios explaining why, in his opinion, all European Union laws should be “incorporated” en bloc into British law.

In a wonderful example of missing-the-point, the opposition (the BBC and so on) are complaining about everything – apart from what they should be complaining about. The ‘Great Repeal Bill’ does not actually repeal any regulations – it turns European Union regulations into British regulations, but it does not repeal them. It does not make them ‘void’ as the regulations of Cromwell (for example banning Christmas and punishing adultery by death) were declared ‘void’ en bloc in 1660.

But why does Mr Green (and the Prime Minister – and others) think that European Union regulations have to be ‘incorporated’ into British law – why not allow them to become void in March 2019 and return to the Common Law? The question is not really an administrative one, as Mr Green would claim, it actually goes to the heart of legal philosophy.

To someone like Mr Green ‘the law’ means detailed regulations governing every aspect of economic life – to him the only alternative to this is chaos (people eating each other – or whatever). Mr Green has indeed heard of the Common Law (most certainly he has) – but the term ‘Common Law’ to a legal mind such as that of Mr Green means ‘the judgements of judges’, the Rule of Judges rather than the Rule of Law.

I am reminded of a ‘Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England‘ by Thomas Hobbes. The ‘philosopher’ is, of course, Mr Hobbes himself – and the defender of the Common Law is a made up character who is written by Mr Hobbes to lose the ‘dialogue’.

To Mr Hobbes, as to Mr Green, ‘the law’ is just the ‘commands’ of someone (a legislature, or an official. or a judge), there is no sense in Mr Hobbes that ‘the law’ is a set of PRINCIPLES of natural justice that one tires to apply in everyday life (in individual cases).

→ Continue reading: The mistaken legal philosophy of Mr Damian Green and the incorrectly named ‘Great Repeal Bill’

On dismissing questions about democracy with cliches

I’m more than a little sick of people quoting Churchill (and generally mangling the quotation badly) in discussions about democracy as though his famous remark on the topic was a substitute for clear thinking.

Blithely saying “yes, it’s the worst form of government… except for all the others! hahaha!” doesn’t really lend any new information or depth to a discussion about legal systems, decision making and institutions.

Indeed, bringing up the quotation seems to often be a way of de facto avoiding meaningful in-depth discourse rather than a way to illuminate discourse. Perhaps I’m excessively caricaturing here, but one almost imagines the subtext as: “Ha, ha, yes, isn’t it funny and uncomfortable that this goddess I worship, Democracy, is such a fickle and awful violator of my trust. In fact, so deep is my devotion to Her in spite of Her terrible behavior, and so uncomfortable is this realization that my devotion may be misplaced, that I’d rather not have this discussion at all. So, how about the baseball playoffs?”

This is not useful. Turning away from a problem that makes you uncomfortable doesn’t fix the problem, it just perpetuates it. I recognize most people don’t agree with my view of the necessity, morality or efficacy of having a state, but even among those of you with the mainstream position on that topic, there is a lot of legitimate, and even important, discussion to be had here.

For example, there is always a central question about goals versus methods. That is to say: is the point to have as good a set of laws and as well managed a legal system as possible, with voting being used as a tool to try to achieve that, or is the notion that the maximally faithful expression of the general will is in itself the goal?

If it is the latter, of course, one must accept the idea that at intervals “the people” will vote for censorship, suppression of minorities, genocide, and even worse. If it is the former, then voting is a decision making process, and one must ask, really ask, if it is truly so important that one make sure that every last person, no matter how uninterested, uninformed, or frankly stupid, should get their input into the decisions being made?

As just one more of many example of this: the drafters of the U.S. constitution (and we know this because we have their writings) feared the very sort of Imperial Presidency we’ve developed. They wanted a very limited Presidency, and they wanted the President to be elected quite indirectly. Indeed, at the start of the U.S.’s experiment in government, the Electoral College was a meaningful body, and the Electoral College members were often chosen by state legislatures and not even directly by the people. This was specifically intended to impede the potential for large, ignorant mobs to have too much of a hand in the selection of the President.

Now, if your goal is to give “the people” as much say as possible in the selection of the President, well, this probably seems like a bad thing, and indeed, the electoral college would seem like an institution to be subverted or defanged to the greatest extent possible. If, on the other hand, you are trying to make sure that on average the decision made is reasonable (though perhaps not a particularly imaginative or interesting one) and that extreme decisions (especially extremely bad ones) are very unusual to impossible, this choice makes considerably more sense.

When people whip out the old “democracy is terrible except for everything else!” chestnut, and wink at you, what they’re ultimately doing is impeding thinking about this sort of thing, and certainly impeding having a meaningful discussion about the available points in the design space for institutions. Don’t be one of the people who quotes it as a substitute for having a real conversation.

(BTW, as an aside, most people get the original Churchill quotation badly mangled. It was:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

That comes from a speech before the House of Commons on November 11, 1947. You will note that he’s far less glib than the average person misquoting him.)

Thoughts about what happened in Virginia this weekend

“It’s becoming so clear now why the war of words between SJWs and the new white nationalists is so intense. It isn’t because they have huge ideological differences — it’s because they have so much in common. Both are obsessed with race, SJWs demanding white shame, the alt-right responding with white pride. Both view everyday life and culture through a highly racialised filter. SJWs can’t even watch a movie without counting how many lines the black actor has in comparison with the white actor so that they can rush home and tumblr about the injustice of it all. Both have a seemingly boundless capacity for self-pity. Both are convinced they’re under siege, whether by patriarchy, transphobia and the Daily Mail (SJWs) or by pinkos and blacks (white nationalists). Both have a deep censorious strain. And both crave recognition of their victimhood and flattery of their feelings. This is really what they’re fighting over — not principles or visions but who should get the coveted title of the most hard-done-by identity. They’re auditioning for social pity. “My life matters! My pain matters! I matter!” The increasing bitterness and even violence of their feud is not evidence of its substance, but the opposite: it’s the narcissism of small differences.”

Brendan O’Neill, as seen on his Facebook page. He is writing about the violence in Virginia at the weekend.

I think he is broadly right, and if we are trying to work out where the rot of identity politics comes from (the libertarian scholar Tom G Palmer actually calls it “identitarianism”) I would wager that post-modernism, and the idea that there are no objective standards of truth and value, has something to do with it. Of all the books I have read in the past decade, Prof. Stephen Hicks’ short masterpiece, Explaining Postmodernism, gets as close as I can see to putting a finger on today’s nonsense.

Speaking for myself, I had a glimpse of this retreat from reason last week when, in an online chat with a friend about the Google sacking of James Danmore, a woman jumped in to state that no matter what arguments or logic I could use to object to the firing of this man, that her “lived experience” (ie, the fact that she knows Google female employees who are upset) would outweigh it. Not logic, reason or evidence, but “lived experience”. What this person failed to realise, perhaps, was she had committed a classic stolen concept error: the very attempt to deploy “lived experience” as a sort of “I win!” itself implies that there is some sort of logic against which one can test it. If there is no logic against which one can test and evaluate one “lived experience” against another, all one has left is that the gang of those with “lived experience” A beats those with “lived experience” B. This is known as Might is Right, or the power of the mob.

And in a world where logic and reason are dethroned because of hurt feelings, the results are very unpleasant. As we are seeing now almost daily.

Update: great editorial by the Wall Street Journal. ($)

True to her principles

I was moved by this story in the Times:

French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle drowns saving children off St Tropez

A leading French philosopher who argued that taking risks is essential to life has drowned while trying to rescue two children off Saint-Tropez.

The government and the intellectual world paid tribute to Anne Dufourmantelle, 53, who was famous for decrying the caution imposed by a risk-averse society.

Ms Dufourmantelle was in the water about 50 yards from two children, one of them the ten-year-old son of a female friend, off Pampelonne beach in Ramatuelle when a strong wind worsened and lifeguards raised the red flag to indicate that swimmers ought to return to shore.

The children were saved by lifeguards but Ms Dufourmantelle was overcome while swimming against a strong swell driven by an east wind, the local newspaper, Var Matin, said. She suffered a cardiac arrest and the rescuers were unable to revive her. Françoise Nyssen, the culture minister, praised “the great philosopher who helped us to live and understand the world of today”. Raphaël Enthoven, the philosopher and former companion of Carla Bruni Sarkozy, tweeted his sorrow and shock over the death of the woman “who spoke so well of dreams”.

Ms Dufourmantelle, whose partner was the writer Frédéric Boyer, devoted much of her career to the relationship between fatality and freedom.

In 2015 she told Libération newspaper, for which she wrote a monthly column, that “zero risk” was a fantasy. “When there really is a danger that must be faced in order to survive . . . there is a strong incentive for action, dedication, and surpassing oneself,” she said. In 2011 Ms Dufourmantelle published Eloge du risque (In Praise of Risk), in which she said that “risking your life is one of the most beautiful expressions in our language”.