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]

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”.

Why you should support the “And A Pony” Party

I am writing today to solicit your support in favor of the “And A Pony” Party, the only party that truly cares.

Other parties advocate minimum wage laws, but only the AAPP advocates raising the minimum wage to $175 per hour and giving all workers a pony. (We ask why our political opponents lack the courage to stand up for our working people.)

Other parties favor preserving old-age pensions, but only the AAPP proposes tripling all old-age pensions annually and giving every retiree a pony. Why do our opponents fail to support our position? It can only mean that they hate the elderly, don’t want them to live well in their golden years, and wish to deny them the companionship that only a pony can provide.

Other parties propose providing all citizens with health care paid for by someone other than themselves, but only the AAPP proposes giving all citizens free health care, weekly massage and spa treatments, and a pony. Our opponents clearly do not care sufficiently about the well-being of all our nation’s citizens, and refuse to join us in this call.

Other parties propose spending more money on education, but only the “And A Pony” Party is bold enough to insist upon reducing class size to one half (that is, two qualified and state licensed teachers per student) and providing a pony for every child in school. Surely every child will learn better if provided with two full time teachers, and what could be more important than educating our youth? We call on our political opponents, who do not seem to care about our children as much as we do, to stand aside in favor of those who truly are concerned for their future.

Other parties would like to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, but only the “And A Pony” Party proposes to provide every family, completely free of charge, with as much electricity as they could ever use, generated entirely by clean technologies, and a pony, too. Our opponents, who are in the pockets of big energy and the anti-pony lobby, would have us continue to enrich the fat cats forever, and would deny families vitally needed ponies.

Other parties believe the government should reduce unemployment, but only the AAPP proposes to give a good, high paying job to every worker who wants one no matter what their skill level or age, and a pony. Would our opponents give every worker a good, high paying job? They have been in power for decades, and yet they have not delivered for our people. It is time for a change!

Other parties pretend that they want to do something about the growing problem of hunger in our country, but only the AAPP promises to provide every creature with a functioning digestive tract within the bounds of our nation’s borders as much free, nutritious and well prepared food as they can possibly eat, as well as a pony. (The astute will note that we are therefore promising to give every pony a pony. This is correct. You will note that the other political parties do not promise to give every pony a pony, let alone provide free meals to all ponies, thus demonstrating that they are indifferent to the suffering of our nation’s noble equines. Indeed, it appears they do not care about the hungry at all!)

Other parties pretend to care about the plight of the homeless and advocate for more public housing, but only the “And A Pony” Party would give every citizen, living or dead, an eight bedroom mansion complete with a fully heated swimming pool, a tennis court, and a stable with a pony in it. Our heartless opponents pass the indigent begging for scraps on the street every day and cannot find even a trace of kindness in their hearts for their plight, let alone work, as we will, to assure that every citizen gets a mansion and a pony.

In the next election, you face an important choice. If you truly care about the future of your nation — if you truly want to see our people live the lives of prosperity, happiness and pony ownership that they deserve — there is only one possible party you can vote for: the “And A Pony” Party. I sincerely hope, for the sake of our country, that you support us in our quest to help our children, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the old, and the poor.

Samizdata quote of the day

Socialism is tribal economics.

Guy Herbert

(These four words suddenly clarified something I’ve been trying to explain for years with mixed success.)

“But if Pavlov had been given the task of introducing communism, he’d have quickly proved, by experimenting on dogs, that this way of life isn’t suitable for a living soul!’

So spake a brave and wise Czech man to a Soviet Army Zampolit (Political Officer) in an angry exchange after the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, per the wonderful, semi-biographical novel The Liberators by Soviet defector Viktor Suvorov. (BTW did the young (or old) Mr Corbyn ever condemn that particular Soviet invasion?).

But I digress. It turns out that scientists have now (perhaps inadvertently) tested a sort of socialism (we all know that the paradise of communism was always just around the corner under socialism) on dogs, and it turns out that they don’t like it.

Dogs have their own innate sense of fairness and did not learn this from humans as previously believed, a new study has concluded.

You might wonder what tree they were barking up, so let’s have a look:

In tests, wolves and dogs would both refuse to take part if they received no reward for pressing a buzzer while a partner animal got one for doing so. The same was true if they received a lower quality prize.

It was thought that dogs had learned the importance of equality – seen as a sophisticated trait found in humans and some primates – during the domestication process, but the study found the wolves displayed a greater reluctance to take part once they realised what was going on.

See how the piece smuggles in an unscientific value judgment?

So dogs don’t like being ripped off? Who does? I once met a falconer who told me that an eagle he knew remembered a ‘breach of contract’ when the owner’s son didn’t give him his due piece of meat, contrary to established custom and practice. He told me that when the son came back from University, the eagle still showed him great hostility, which lasted for years afterwards.

So it appears that dogs don’t like doing the work and others getting the rewards. The dogs are quite lucky, as they haven’t been slaughtered for opposing socialism, or just not being ‘in’, unlike 100,000,000 humans.

Some of the findings might appear to corroborate old folk tales…

the dogs in the study had been “highly socialised with humans in their first weeks of life” but did not have a pet-owner relationship.

“Nevertheless, they were still more eager to please the human experimenter than were the wolves,” the researchers wrote.

But is this science? Where, I ask myself, are the controls? I had a thought, why not use as a ‘control’ not just a wolf, but a dog raised in North Korea, where it will have only known socialism. But then again, I understand that they have already eaten the dogs there, during a famine caused by socialism…

Samizdata quote of the day

“Taxing wealth reverses the relationship between citizen and state: rather than it being in charge of protecting our life, liberty, and property, we now work for it. There are no more proud freeholders; citizens become meek leaseholders with the government in charge. Our property becomes a temporary privilege, to be used until accumulated taxes return to the ultimate owner, the state.”

Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph, 1 June. (Behind a paywall.)

Samizdata quote of the day

Inculcating guilt as a tool of power and control. This is a time-honored tactic of manipulative mothers, of many religions, and of political ideologies, like socialism, progressivism, and environmentalism. It works because self-respect is one of our most basic psychological needs: We all need to feel that we are basically good, right, valuable, worthy of esteem. So if you can make someone ashamed of themselves and defensively wallowing in remorse, you can get them to do pretty much anything you want, because they’ll be desperate to make amends and redeem their self-esteem. And you can also cash in on their guilt-driven quest for redemption, as they surrender to you their money and control over their lives.
Call it the Guilt Racket.

As written by Robert Bidinotto on his Facebook page.  He links to this item about the current nonsense around “white privilege” – another of those daffy ideas which seem designed to fill the pockets of shakedown artists of various types.

On Civilization

The true mark of the civilized society is not that it defends the rights of people who are loved by the bulk of the population, for those people need no defense. No one, after all, will arrest a popular person for saying or doing popular things. The true mark of the civilized society is that it defends the rights even of those who are universally reviled.

Indeed, in a truly civilized society, there would be no question but that you would defend the rights of people who disgust you provided they do no violence to others.

Our society is not civilized.

Hume is not… er… humerous

One can not get an “ought” from an “is” said Mr David Hume, and he also said “reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions”.

So Mr Hume denies what we, in fact, do every day – for example when we say to ourselves or others “this is wrong, so I ought not to do it” (an “ought” from an “is” – it is IS wrong so I OUGHT not to do it), and then he does this himself “reason IS, and OUGHT to be, the slave of the passions”.

“Ah but Paul – Mr Hume puts the word “and” in there so that makes it O.K.”

Fine so I should use my reason to bring Mr Hume back to life, as I have a “passion” to torture him. Perhaps Mr Hume led a sheltered life and did not understand what sort of Hell-on-Earth people create if they let their moral reason became the slave of their passions, rather than have their moral reason control their passions. David Hume inverted the moral tradition for amusement (“look how clever I am – I am going to reverse the traditional answer that moral reason should control the passions” is what he is really saying), but the results are not good.

“But he does not mean this – he really means that you can not get the first “is”.

Please no one play that game – Davy Hume knew what he was doing (behind the gentle language and the endless pages of “philosophical argument”), he was playing the “shock the suffered shirts” game, but it is not funny when it is now treated as “great philosophy”.

The British Whig tradition and Mr John Stuart Mill

The British Whig tradition, and the Tory tradition also (Dr Johnson and all that), starts from the principle of moral personhood – the ability of human beings, with effort, to tell moral right from wrong and, again with effort, to choose to overcome our evil passions and do what it is morally right. To choose do other than we do. As Ayn Rand reminded us in the 20th century – one can be an atheist (and hold that the soul, the human person. dies with the body) and still hold to these principles.

Typical Whig thinkers including Thomas Reid and the Scots “Common Sense” School of Philosophy who dominated the Scottish Enlightenment (the modern association of the Scottish Enlightenment with David Hume is bizarre, considering he was the arch critic of it), but the Whig tradition and (in this) the Tory tradition also, reached back to Ralph Cudworth (he enemy of the determinist and political absolutist Thomas Hobbes) and in law to Chief Justice Sir John Holt and Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke (the enemy of Sir Francis Bacon – whose servant Thomas Hobbes was). For law is based on the “metaphysical” assumption that people can choose NOT to commit crimes – if they can not choose to do other than they do, then punishment is unjust. And, of course, to the Christian (and Jewish) understanding of man – seen, for example, in the work of the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker (and Joseph Butler much later) and the Christian Talmudist and Common Law thinker John Selden.

This view of what a human is (a human being) goes back, at least, to the Arisototelian Alexander of Aphrodisias – see his “On Fate”. As for “compatibilism” – determinists (those who deny the existence of the soul, in the Aristotelian not just religious sense, and hold humans to be flesh robots) should at least state their doctrine openly, rather than hide it. The words of Immanuel Kant and William James (whatever their other faults) are just on this matter – it is a contemptible subterfuge leading to a wretched quagmire. Of course Dr Johnson would not even waste words on the doctrine – and when he heard that his “fellow Tory” (the quote marks are because Johnson did not really recognise Hume as a Tory) it just confirmed his low opinion of the man. But at least David Hume did not claim to be a Whig – unlike some of his more recent followers. In America the determinist Johnathan Edwards was less influential than the libertarian (libertarian = believer in Free Will, sometimes I suspect people do not remember even this) Samuel Johnson (not to be confused with the British Dr Johnson, although their opinions were similar on this matter). It is a sign of our evil and degenerate times that Edwards is remembered as a “great philosopher” and people who were more influential among the American Founders (most importantly Thomas Reid) are almost forgotten.

→ Continue reading: The British Whig tradition and Mr John Stuart Mill