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]

What is driving the current policy

Janet Daley is on splendid form today, in the Daily Telegraph (£). Some choice paragraphs:

The establishment of social democracy as the prevailing governing system in the advanced nations of the West, bringing with it powers to distribute wealth and prevent gross inequalities, seems to imply that the state is now morally responsible for the welfare of everyone. From this principle of total responsibility it follows that every instance of ill health or death is the direct fault of the Government – even if those who are dying have reached the age at which it is statistically normal for them to die. The state must promise not just the best healthcare it can provide, but a kind of immortality: every death should be preventable. Every death (at whatever age) is a political failing. Those who govern must not only be infinitely caring, they must be omnipotent.

The secularism of modern democracy adds more weight to this. To accept any death (at any age) seems like a medieval fatalism which modern progressive thinking should reject. Along with the passive acceptance of mortality, the notion of acceptable risk – and the individual’s right to choose it – has to go out the window too. We must all look after one another – and we must all be responsible for the fate of everyone.

But this collectivist ethic is strangely contrary to the other strand of popular consciousness which is playing a major role in today’s events. This is the legitimising of chronic hypochondria. I cannot remember a time when there was such a neurotic obsession with health as a positive condition rather than a simple absence of illness or disability.

Ironically this more or less permanent state of anxiety about one’s individual well-being (which is really a form of narcissism) sits side-by-side with the unselfish commitment to the well-being of society at large. Maybe we have managed to create, with our conflicting compulsions – on the one hand, unrealistic expectations of comprehensive, government-enforced social responsibility, and on the other an equally unrealistic idea of an individual right to be free from pain or suffering – the perfect climate for the mess we are in.

Welcome to our horrible racist university

Heather Mac Donald has written an important essay for City Journal, Conformity to a Lie. (Hat tip to Sarah Hoyt at Instapundit.)

The essay contains much that saddens and enrages me, but in places it is funny. After quoting several examples of college presidents and deans craving pardon for the racism of their institutions, she writes,

All such institutional self-accusations by college presidents leave out the specifics. Which faculty members do not treat black students fairly? If that unjust treatment is so obvious, why weren’t those professors already removed? What is wrong with an admissions process that lets in thousands of student bigots? In other moments, college presidents brag about the quality of their student body and faculty. Are they lying? Shouldn’t they have disclosed to black applicants that they will face “racist acts” and “systems of inequality” should they attend?

Edit: Thinking about it, this is a smaller scale example of the rule that in time of revolution it is safer to be a Tsarist than an Old Bolshevik.

Discussion point – was Churchill right about the atomic bomb?

There was never a moment`s discussion as to whether the atomic bomb should be used or not. To avert a vast, indefinite butchery, to bring the war to an end, to give peace to the world, to lay healing hands upon its tortured peoples by a manifestation of overwhelming power at the cost of a few explosions, seemed, after all our toils and perils, a miracle of deliverance.

– Winston Churchill, writing of the decision by the Allies to use atomic weapons on Japan. Victory over Japan day was seventy five years ago today.

The political purity spiral as experienced by the Instagram knitting community

I cannot knit and I am not on Instagram, but as someone who sews and is into politics, I cannot think how I came to miss this article from Gavin Haynes when it came out in January of this year. After seeing it recommended on the UK Politics subreddit, I hastened to post it here:

How knitters got knotted in a purity spiral

Mr Haynes discusses purity spirals throughout history, then narrows his focus to a couple of examples from 2018/19:

Our documentary analysed just two latter-day purity spirals — Instagram knitting culture and young adult novels. Both seemed perfectly-sized to be taken over — they were spaces big enough to have their own star system, yet small enough for the writ of a dominant group to hold.

In each, a vast tapestry of what were effectively small businesses competed for attention online by fluidly mixing personal and professional brand. On social media, opinion, diary and sales often existed within the same posts. Each individual small business was uniquely vulnerable to being un-personed, ‘cancelled’. But, simultaneously, each could benefit enormously from taking on the status of thought leader — from becoming a node that directed moral traffic.

To take the example of Instagram knitting: the unravelling began with a man called Nathan Taylor. Gay, living with HIV, nice as pie, Taylor started a hashtag aimed at promoting diversity in knitting, Diversknitty, to get people from different backgrounds to talk. And he did: the hashtag was a runaway hit, spawning over 17,000 posts.

But over the following months, the conversation took on a more strident tone. The list of things considered problematic grew. The definition of racism began to take on the terms mandated by intersectional social justice ideology.

The drama played out in the time-honoured way:

Finally, just as the guillotine had eventually come for Robespierre, Nathan Taylor, who had founded the #Diversknitty movement, found himself at its sharp end.

When Taylor tried to inject positivity back into Diversknitty, his moral authority burnt up inside minutes. A poem he’d written asking knitters to cool it (“With genuine SOLEM-KNITTY/I beg you, stop the enmity”) was in turn interpreted as a blatant act of white supremacy. When the mob finally came for him, he had a nervous breakdown. Yet even here, he was accused of malingering, his suicidal hospitalisation described online as a ‘white centring’ event.

Gavin Haynes also made a half hour Radio Four documentary telling the same story. (A BBC iPlayer sign-in is required to listen.) I am about to listen to it now.

Samizdata quote of the day

True, they were hypocrites. Jefferson himself was clearly aware of the ghastly contradictions. Pity they did not apply their own wise philosophies even-handedly, but they didn’t. That is was why Samuel Johnson hated them. And yet, their good ideas stand on their own merits.

– Perry de Havilland in response to “How do you respond to people who say that the Founding Fathers were hypocrites for owning slaves?”

Samizdata quote of the day

“Rather than aiming for a better future, woke militants seek a cathartic present. Cleansing themselves and others of sin is their goal. Amidst vast inequalities of power and wealth, the woke generation bask in the eternal sunshine of their spotless virtue.”

John Gray

(As a reminder to readers, quoting a person does not imply I endorse everything that the writer in question says. Gray is a decidedly mixed bag of a thinker. Far, far too gloomy for my liking and he buys the whole Green deal, or at least he did. But this essay makes important points about the parallels between the culture war being played out in the West right now and the madness of the 15th and 16th centuries. Yes, I think those parallels are accurate. This is a rat with a long tail.)

Samizdata quote of the day

“The only corner of the world that you can control is yourself.”

– Richard Cooper, of the “Entrepreneurs and Cars” show he does (he’s one of the “manosphere” chaps out there), talking about the shit-show going on lockdowns, identity politics nonsense.

I don’t buy into all of his views – I am not a big evolutionary psychology fan – but he is on the mark here in this brief broadcast. He looks like a guy on the edge a bit, in a state of despair. I suspect there are an awful of lot of others like him out there now.

The sleep of reason brings forth monsters – a continuing series

Glenn Reynolds’ Instapundit has put up a long set of videos of the riots, here. Be sure to share this widely. People need to know what has happened. This is not about rectifying an injustice.

The vast majority of the people I see in these clips are young, probably in their late teens, early 20s. Many are white, and they look like gawky college students, out for a bit of mayhem and maybe to steal some stuff. They are the sort of morons who get called – not always correctly – as “snowflakes” – the ones beating up people they dislike on university campuses, etc. There are a few women in here too, nearly all young.

Because nearly all are wearing masks, video ID recognition tech will not pick them up, but they may find they still get identified at some point, and I hope – naively perhaps – that some of these idiots are hit with the full force of the law.

Obviously some of them are angry for a host of reasons, and such is the wreckage of our culture and education system that they lack the intellectual tools to know what to do other than strike out in rage. Ayn Rand wrote about this phenomenon 50 years ago. She contrasted people rolling around in the mud at Woodstock with Aldrin and Armstrong walking on the Moon, – see this article. In the end you need to choose a side: are you for values grounded on reason, independence and liberty, or are you a nihilist who wants to blank out your brain with trash?

I imagine that quite a lot of the youngsters here are hoping to go to college, or in it, or have recently graduated. The kind of people on the receiving end of their thuggery – security guards, truck drivers, store clerks, maintenance staff and so forth – are not from such backgrounds. Another point, which is not original to me of course, is that the “Antifa” thugs involved in some of this are well organised, and have probably planned these attacks for some time. Some may even be in cahoots with radical Islamist groups (although I haven’t seen any specific evidence of this so far, to be clear), and funded by people who want to do ill to the US. In any event, any graduate who has left college, been involved in this, and now wonders why he or she struggles to pay off their huge loan for studying some liberal arts degree might want to ask themselves a few questions. (A side-issue is that much of the Western Higher Ed. sector needs to be drastically restructured. What we are seeing here are mal-educated people, and on a large scale.)

Here is a podcast from Reason Magazine involving a discussion about the mayhem. Charles Cooke and Kevin D Williamson of National Review have their take on this, and other issues, here.

Is Political Correctness most fatal to those with co-morbidities?

My team and I knew the president’s comments could trigger a backlash against the idea of UV light as a treatment, which might hinder our ability to get the word out. We decided to create a YouTube account, upload a video animation we had created, and tweet it out. It received some 50,000 views in 24 hours.

Then YouTube took it down. So did Vimeo. Twitter suspended our account. The narrative changed from whether UV light can be used to treat Covid-19 to “Aytu is being censored”.

These days, politics seems to dictate that if one party says, “The sky is blue,” the other party is obligated to reply, “No, it’s not, and you’re a terrible human being for thinking that.” That leaves no room for science, in which the data speak for themselves, regardless of ideology, and only when they’re ready.

(Quoted from a Wall Street Journal article – paywalled, but relevant quotes are on instapundit.)

I read an article that mentioned Aytu yesterday.

In fact, the president’s reference was to Ultraviolet catheter technology. It was recently in the news and Dr Birx was unfamiliar with it. Here’s how it works.

The first link still works because it goes to Aytu’s own website. The second no longer does because it goes to Vimeo; today, it shows the VimeUhOh page.

One of the great questions of our time is whether the left is innately inferior to the right, innately more intolerant of all thought but its own, innately determined to live in its bubble and make others do the same, or else it is not and its current state is wholly an artefact of its current media power.

One view is that there is no such superiority in either approaches or statistics, that too dominating a control of the megaphone makes any group live in an ever-narrowing bubble. If Donald (in some alternative world that is so not this) could do more than just drain the swamp a bit, could actually transform its denizens into people as fervent for making America great again as they now are for cancel culture, then (according to this view) the right would take no more time than the left did to establish a mirror culture of censoring freedom-hatred, and would not generate significantly greater internal resistance than the left’s mavericks currently offer to those the left empower.

A rival view is that the innate vice of the left is lying but the innate vice of the right is violence. Hitler lied a lot and Stalin murdered (and tortured) a lot (arguably more than Hitler in his longer period of rule) but the most fundamental law of Hitler’s land was “Thou shalt kill” and the most fundamental law of Stalin’s land was “Thou shalt bear false witness”.

– Stalin killed like a gangland lawyer: if the inconvenient witness can’t be made to stutter out the prepared story in court then he’d better be fitted with concrete overshoes at the bottom of Lake Michigan, but the court case, not his death, is what matters. When the story is that socialist agriculture works, that means there are a lot of peasants to kill, but it doesn’t matter which individuals get shot, which die of starvation, which die of slave labour in the gulag, and which survive, so long as the useful idiots can go on thinking socialism is wonderful on the farm. It does not matter which of the “two traditions, as a dark age historian would say, about the death in modern times of the vice premier of the soviet state” are true – was he shot at once or left to die years later in a camp – because the story of his confession is what matters. The lie matters and to protect it communists replaced an encyclopaedia article on Beria with one on the Bering Sea, they scrubbed Beria’s image from a Metropole Hotel corridor’s photograph in the early hours of the morning after he died, they painted a smiling young man (or sometimes a woman in a large hat) over Beria’s image on giant posters of the ruling group in cities and towns across Russia. The lie is everything.

– Hitler lied like a general – pretend you won’t attack then do attack, pretend to attack on the right then actually attack on the left – but once the lie had achieved its practical effect, once the enemy were surprised and routed, he spent less time maintaining the lie. What mattered was maximising enemy casualties, tracking and killing every last one of the fleeing foe, treating “the flight of a few Jews from torture and slow death as a matter of the gravest concern”. (Although left-wing lying has much to do with it and also honest debaters may honestly debate, this difference in focus between the communist and nazi regimes is a part of why, although nazi is short for National Socialist, Hitler is perceived as right-wing.)

A third view is that the right is simply better than the left: more anchored in reality, applying principles more likely to produce good outcomes and better able to protect those who hold them from corruption. The right is to the left as capitalism is to communism. In a capitalist state, you will find some who are unworthily rich and some who are unworthily poor. In a communist state, you’ll find a lot more of both and a lot less wealth overall. Likewise with right and left (if your focus is the last century or two; most holders of this view would concede that, as you go further back in time, opportunities to make debating points that challenge it increase).

My own opinion, FWIW, is that all three are true. I think the right compared to the left would resemble capitalism compared to socialism even if the MSM and the tech oligarchs were more balanced. I think that a degenerate-right culture will typically manifest more in a trend to violence than to lying, while a degenerate-left culture’s stereotypical indicators will be the reverse. And I support free speech because I think that while some political movements, like some people, have stronger characters than others, the power to silence criticism is a very dangerous temptation to any.

Could you live in this socialist country?

Is the challenge from YT Vlogger ‘bald and bankrupt‘, in this video, filmed recently in Cuba. ‘bald’ as he is referred to, appears to be a chap from Brighton (if you watch his oeuvre) who walks around various parts of our Earth and makes short documentaries about what he sees. He speaks fluent Russian (it seems to me, and his former wife we have been told is Belarusian) but not such good Spanish, and his sidekick is a Belarusian woman who does speak enough Spanish to get by and who interprets for him.

He presents Cuba by the simple device of walking around and going into several retail outlets to show what is on offer, and it looks pretty grim. He also talks to locals, most of whom seem well-drilled in what to say about the Revolution and to profess their loyalty to Fidel. He notes that everyone seems to want to escape. There is an unresolved side-issue of an abandoned kitten in the video.

And yet 10,000,000 people in the UK voted last December for a party just itching to get us to this economic state, without the sunshine. And in the USA, there seems to be far too much enthusiasm for socialism.

Bald’s ‘back catalogue’ contains a great travelogue for much of the former USSR. Whilst he admires all things ‘Soviet’ in terms of architecture (there is a running ‘gag’ about his excitement at finding himself in a Soviet-era bus station, he does acknowledge the grim reality of Soviet rule.

Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020) RIP

“Falling to the bottom in my own country, I have been raised to the top elsewhere, and looking back over the sequence of events I can only be glad that I have lived long enough to see this happen. Coming close to death you begin to know what life means, and what it means is gratitude.”

Sir Roger Scruton, academic, writer and supporter of East European dissidents, died yesterday after a short illness. I knew he was getting on in years but his death nevertheless came as a shock to me. I did not agree with all of his views, but I did on most of them, and he was one of those men I regard as a defender of liberty and of civilisation in its fullest sense.

I met him when I was only 22, having recently graduated from my college. I had contributed a couple of small items towards the Salisbury Review journal that he edited, and was invited to a wonderfully posh and fun black-tie dinner at Hatfield House, ancestral home of the Salisbury dynasty, and joined by such luminaries as the journalist T E Utley, and Enoch Powell. I remember – this being 1988 – that Powell spoke with his customary intensity about Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges Group speech of that time, and remembered thinking that this issue over Europe would dominate much of our politics. I wasn’t wrong.

When you are a young graduate, making your way in the world and trying to get the advice of clever people, it makes a lot of difference when the folk you meet and admire turn out to be great as people. Roger Scruton was one of them – I remember his wit, kindness and helpful advice. The same applied around the same time when I met two outstanding thinkers: Anthony Flew, and David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman). A few years later I met P J O’Rourke, who was hilarious and full of encouragement towards me as I told him I was a trainee journalist. I had the same experience when I met Auberon Waugh once. It really matters that people whom you meet like this give the time and trouble to talk to young people, and I try and remember that when, now that I am in my greying middle age, that youngsters whom I come up against ask me about what I do. Scruton was a model of the good and considerate teacher.

It has been remarked elsewhere that Scruton was more admired abroad than he was in the UK, and that applies of course to the UK’s education establishment, much of which is dominated by the Left. His book, Thinkers of The New Left, is one of his most brilliant, and dissected the likes of Foucault, Derrrida, Heidegger and Althusser – a veritable gallery of knaves and fools. Their defenders weren’t happy, and Scruton’s chances of academic grandeur suffered. He taught in the US, wrote more books and ran a farm. In middle age, he took up horse riding and hunting with hounds with a zeal of a convert. In some ways he was a bit of a paradox: the grammar school boy with a bit of a rebellious streak, except that for him, being a true rebel meant being conservative rather than a socialist. It is a quality I share in some ways, as do many of those who write for this blog.

I think that history will be kind to him: his focus on issues such as understanding the importance of beauty in human life, for example, will last a bit longer than some present obsessions, including, I hope, the intellectual cul-de-sac of “woke” politics. (Here is an obituary in the National Review, from the US.)

All that remains is for me to express my condolences to his family and many friends. In particularly, I think of those people in Eastern Europe he helped, at some risk to himself, during the years ahead of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Unlike some academics, he was also a man of action and he was brave as a lion. RIP, Sir Roger.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Did you know that your dog owns your house, or rather some portion of it? If this is not immediately obvious to you, you will find it helpful to consider some aspects of the ethics and economics of redistribution.”

Anthony de Jasay, the political philosopher who died not long ago, and one of those intellectuals that many people will not have heard of. A marvellous writer. The essay from which these words come is a gem.