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

“Totalitarianism depends on the enforcement of false beliefs. Postmodernism admittedly and purposively leaves us no way to adjudicate beliefs. Likewise, postmodernism lends itself to totalitarianism.”

Michael Rectenwald

Ideas are more powerful than armies – a tribute to Brian Micklethwait

I have often disagreed with Steve Baker as of late, but I must say this is good to see.

The “differend” is not just a difference of opinion

Perhaps the most stark form of differend lies in what philosophical logicians call ‘The Fallacy of Many Questions’. When, in the court dock for instance, a wily prosecutor asks a witness for the defence, “And do you still have a drink problem, sir?”, the witness had better be on his toes to avoid confirming the prosecutor’s implied allegation. If he answers “yes” – well, the game is over. If he answers “no”, then he implies, at least, that he has had a drink problem. One hopes that a good judge would overrule this question, on grounds of its leading the witness – that is to say, leading him without his knowing it to confirm some version of the drink-problem narrative, the framework of the question having excluded the option that there neither is nor ever was a problem with alcohol consumption.

Owen Jones’s ‘Denier’ allegation commits a similar fallacy: either Sikora, Gupta et al. do not deny ‘Covid’; or they do deny ‘Covid,’ in which case they are cast in the role of refusing to accept that Britons have this year died in their thousands. The option of accepting that there have been deaths but rejecting that they have been extraordinarily due to a ‘Covid pandemic’ is taken out of play.

Sinéad Murphy discussing An Incredible Berk of Staggering Ignorance.

The “differend” is not just a difference of opinion, it is a disconnect between fundamentally different world views. This is a discussion about what in these parts we refer to as “meta-context”, the unspoken & largely unexamined axioms that underpin how people understand everything.

I wonder what future generations may say?

People in years to come will speculate on the reasons why so many developed countries went for lockdowns, and on such a scale and for so long. The economic, social, cultural and psychological damage is so great that future generations will wonder at the insanity. There are going to be a lot of ruminations on this in future, so here are some brief thoughts from yours truly:

Technology reduced the costs to certain classes of lockdown: A lot of people, myself included, have been able to work from home and run a profitable business. Modern tech tools have enabled this to happen. It is fashionable to rag on Big Tech and all the gadgets we have, but they have been crucial. Before the internet, this would not have been so possible. And I suspect the government pre-internet could not have got away with long lockdowns. Infrastructure is important.

Central bank Quantitative Easing (creating money from thin air by buying assets): This has inoculated (geddit?) governments from the fiscal short-term consequences of lockdowns. UK debt now exceeds GDP for the first time since the end of WW2. Central bank fairy dust reduces the pain. Since the 2008 financial crash, much of the developed world has been on a morphine drip. It is addictive. Mainstream economists, even those who profess to support free markets, think this is okay. But at some point the wheels will come off.

The mainstream media: Much of the modern media is full of people who are college/university-educated, and have imbibed much of the Big Government/Precautionary Principle mindset. Nearly all of the MSM criticism of governments during the pandemic has been about them not being even more harsh. There are some dissenting voices, but generally quite marginal. This has created a climate in which governments operate.

There is a natural fund of goodwill (although it is eroding) towards most governments trying to cope. Several senior figures such as Mr Johnson got very ill. There is natural sympathy.

The role of social media platforms will be analysed in how views and panics spread. In fairness, I have seen a lot of examples of contrarian points of view, including some nutty stuff, so I am not so sure how big an “enabler” social media is.

Fear of death: although it is too glib to say that the decline of mainstream religious belief opens the doors to paranoia about death, since people with a secular, philosophical view of the world can face mortality, it clearly must be a factor. Again, preventing death, even if it means creating a living hell, seems a bargain a lot of people are willing to take.

Trust in vaccines: modern science appears to be quicker at coming up with cures and treatments, and we have the growing field of genetics etc to thank for this. A paradox of this is that it means people are even more cautious because they don’t want to put health at risk if there is a vaccine along the way.

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.