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]

Mahsa Amini was beaten to death by the Iranian hijab police. Guess what Twitter did next.

Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian Kurdish woman, was arrested by the morality police for having an improperly adjusted hijab. Witnesses say that she was beaten in the police van. Her relatives published pictures of her lying in a coma in intensive care. They wanted the world to know what had been done to her. She never woke from that coma.

Anything a social media company might do pales in comparison to the evil of beating a woman to death because she did not cover her hair in the approved way – but what Twitter did next is still worth noting.

Vahid Yücesoy reports,

I’ve just spoken to @AlinejadMasih. @Twitter chose to suspend her account because she shared the picture of #MahsaAmini, 22-year-old Iranian girl in coma after she was severely beaten by the hijab police and later died.

Alinejad Masih’s post was mass-reported by supporters and hirelings of the Iranian regime. The grounds for suspension of her account were that she had included an image of “graphic violence” in her tweet. The fact that it was a true image of Iranian government brutality that Mahsa Amini’s family wanted the world to see was ignored. This is how a system of pre-emptive censorship inevitably works.

(Via Jim Treacher.)

Free speech is indivisible

Let no one say that the police response to anti-monarchist protests is without precedent:

Nizhny Novgorod, 12 March 2022: Russian police arrest demonstrator for protesting with a BLANK SIGN

London, 13 September 2022: Man threatened with arrest if he wrote ‘not my King’ on blank sheet of paper

It is true that I am tempted to sarcasm when I see all the outrage about this from people who were silent about such things as the police telling someone to take down a tweet because it contained the term “illegal alien” a few days ago, or about five coppers being sent to arrest a man for posting an image of four “LGBTQ+ Progress Pride” flags arranged so the triangular bits formed a swastika.

Still, new recruits to the great cause of free speech are always welcome. Better late than never!

Daniel Hannan had a good response:

So we’re all agreed then? Hate speech laws are wrong? Provided you stop short of incitement to violence, you can insult King Charles, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad or George Floyd? Because that’s the thing about free speech: it’s an indivisible principle.

The Queen indirectly honours Dr Shipman

HM The Queen today presented the George Cross, the UK’s highest award for bravery not in the face of the enemy, to the National Health Service, (for the response to the covid pandemic etc.), surely making the NHS Eisenstein’s ‘mass hero’ of our age. This is the third ‘collective’ award (one not to a real person – living or dead) in the history of this medal, founded by her father in 1940; the other recipients being the island of Malta for the bravery of the populace in what seems to me to have been ‘in the face of the enemy‘ as being bombed for years by the Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe wasn’t just that, what was it?; and the other was the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was scrapped and given the George Cross as a consolation. However, one of the Palace bureaucrats celebrating the award is quoted as below:
Lt Col Michael Vernon, comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s office with responsibility for organising ceremonial events, said: “This award recognises all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations.
So being snarky, that includes perhaps the most prolific individual murderer in British history, Dr Harold Shipman, a GP fond of polishing off his elderly patients, for free. And of course, this gushing tribute necessarily covers former nurse and convicted murderer Beverley Allitt, who also did not charge her victims. But of course, there have been systemic issues, like the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital scandal. But looking at it in the balance, it seems that the NHS deserves its honour, despite being a bureaucratic abstraction, and an expensive and ineffective one at that. I seem to recall the Army being drafted in during the coronavirus pandemic to (give the impression that the government could) do something about the appalling logistics in the NHS. And now the token medal is going on tour, a holy relic, as if a modern-day equivalent to the bones of a saint:
NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard paid tribute to those who worked on the front line and said the vaccine programme saved hundreds of thousands of lives. She told the Queen that the medal will go on a tour of the NHS before a permanent home is found.
Is it heresy to say that honours don’t really exist? That an honour is just a piece of cloth and metal, with a document relating to it? That veneration of medals is simply absurd, it is simply reflective of the opinion of a committee, the absurdity of it made evident here for all to see. And, if you are to think of honours, not deeds, as somehow noteworthy, let us not forget that the first time that the Queen awarded a George Cross, it was to the widow of Flight-Lieutenant John Quinton, who gave away his only parachute after a mid-air collision. If you wish to measure the decline of this nation under (but not, I say, due to) Elizabeth II of England, I of Scotland, compare the two awards and all that happened in-between. Can we please stop pretending that the State can make things not what they really are?

It pays to argue against what your opponents actually believe

They say that the Earth’s magnetic poles swap places every few hundred thousand years.

“Roe v Wade: US Supreme Court ends constitutional right to abortion”, reports the BBC.

A miracle or a catastrophe, take your pick, but how did this happen after half a century in which Roe and Wade were the fixed poles by which the compass of the American abortion debate could be set? It is bad form for me to quote myself, but in this post, “How not to change minds on abortion”, I made the point about as well as I am ever likely to:

…in the US and the UK, the pro-choice side almost never engaged with what their opponents actually believed. Over the years I must have read hundreds of Guardian articles on abortion, mostly in its US section because abortion is such a live issue there. I do not recall a single one that argued against the main sticking point of the pro-life side, namely that abortion takes a human life – let alone argued for it. On other issues the Guardian would occasionally let the odd Conservative or other non-progressive have their say about fossil fuels or the nuclear deterrent or whatever, and would often feature writers who, while left wing themselves, at least knew enough of the right wing view to argue against it. However when it came to abortion the line always was, and judging from Twitter in the last few days, still is, that opposition to abortion arises (a) only from men and (b) only from men who wish to control women’s bodies.

It works, a bit. Some men who read that will decide that they do not want to be that sort of man, others will decide that they do not want to be thought to be that sort of man. But an argument that does not even acknowledge the existence of female opponents of abortion will obviously not change their minds. Nor will silence reassure women who are not firmly pro or anti. If the Left will not talk to them about their doubts, then by definition the only arguments they hear will come from the other side.

Related post: It pays to brief your own side properly. I might make a series of “It pays to…” posts.

The president offers his condolences, but that’s enough about you

The president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, offered his condolences over the massacre of worshippers at a church in Owo, Nigeria.

News Letter reports,

Forty people were killed in the attack at the Church of St Francis in the Owo district in the Ondo region of Nigeria on June 5. Over 126 people also suffered injuries following the attack.

In a statement last week, President Higgins appeared to link the attack with climate change.

His comments have drawn criticism from the bishop of the Catholic Ondo diocese, Jude Ayodeki Aroguande, who acknowledged and thanked the president for his condemnation but said the “incorrect and far-fetched” link drawn between the slaughter and climate change was “rubbing salt to the injuries of all who have suffered terrorism in Nigeria”.

In his statement, President Higgins had condemned those responsible for the attack and cautioned against “any attempt to scapegoat pastoral peoples who are among the foremost victims of the consequences of climate change”.

The Labour politician also called for solidarity with “all those impacted not only by this horrible event, but in the struggle by the most vulnerable, on whom the consequences of climate change have been inflicted”.

The former president of the United States, Barack Obama, offered his condolences over the massacre of children at a school in Uvalde, Texas.

The New York Post reports,

The former president shared the message on Twitter Wednesday in the wake of the massacre at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 children and two fourth-grade teachers.

“As we grieve the children of Uvalde today, we should take time to recognize that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer.” Obama tweeted. “His killing stays with us all to this day, especially those who loved him.”

The Lady of Heaven did not stay long

It is a film that is “more interesting on paper than in practice”, according to this review:

This British-made epic earns a significant accolade: it is the first film to put the “face” of the prophet Muhammad on screen. No single actor is credited with playing him, or any of the other holy figures in his entourage. And, as a nervous initial disclaimer points out, their faces, often shown in dazzling sunbursts, are computer-generated. Presumably, this is enough to placate Islam’s prohibition on visual representation of the prophet, but this is a Shia-aligned film that is evidently a little more lenient on the issue.

The Guardian‘s reviewer underestimated the interest that the film would generate. UK cinema chain cancels screenings of ‘blasphemous’ film after protests, the same newspaper reports today.

Paul Embery tweets, “This is reportedly the manager of a cinema in Sheffield addressing a theocratic mob protesting at the screening of a “blasphemous” film (The Lady of Heaven). Thoroughly depressing to see him capitulate to their demands and confirm the film has been binned.”

“In none of these places were any human remains unearthed.”

You have probably heard the shocking story, reported worldwide, of the discovery of mass graves in Canada containing the bodies of what were then called Indian and are now called First Nations children sent to residential schools.

What you heard was exactly that, a story. It is not true.

Canada’s National Post carries an important and well-researched article by Terry Glavin: “The year of the graves: How the world’s media got it wrong on residential school graves”.

As for the most recent uproars: not a single mass grave was discovered in Canada last year. The several sites of unmarked graves that captured international headlines were either already-known cemeteries, or they remain sites of speculation even now, unverified as genuine grave sites. Not a single child among the 3,201 children on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 registry of residential school deaths was located in any of these places. In none of these places were any human remains unearthed.

Mr Gavin rightly acknowledges that the treatment of these children was shameful. It was denounced as such a full century ago:

…it was exactly 100 years ago this year that Peter Henderson Bryce, the former medical inspector for the Department of Indian Affairs, published a shocking account of the federal government’s indifference to deaths from infectious diseases and heartless neglect in the Indian residential schools. The 24-page booklet was titled, “The Story of a National Crime: Being an Appeal for Justice to the Indians of Canada; The Wards of The Nation, Our Allies in the Revolutionary War, Our Brothers-in-Arms in the Great War.”

The passage of a century has added other charges to the heartless neglect that Peter Henderson Bryce denounced. Beatings and sexual abuse were common at these schools, most of which were run on behalf of the government by the Catholic church. Their openly-stated purpose, at least at first, was to strip away the children’s native languages and cultures. While not every child’s experience was bad, the policy of taking children away from their parents en masse to be compulsorily educated in the majority culture was a monstrous act of repression.

The historical facts were not dramatic enough for the media. Perhaps not maliciously, but certainly recklessly, they promoted a different story, a new story:

The “discovery” of unmarked graves at the Marieval cemetery was one of the most dramatic front-page sensations that circled the world last summer. The June 24 headline in the Washington Post was typical: Hundreds of Graves Found at Former Residential School for Indigenous Children in Canada. The number of graves reportedly discovered: 751.

Except that’s not what happened.

The Cowessess people noted from the outset that they didn’t discover any graves; the crosses and headstones had gone missing under disputed circumstances decades earlier, and ground-penetrating radar had been brought in to enumerate and pinpoint the location of each burial. Cowesses Chief Cadmus Delorme told CBC News: “This is a Roman Catholic grave site. It’s not a residential school grave site.”

The predictable result of the sensationalist reporting of this and other grave sites was a wave of church burnings and vandalism that in any other context would have been called “hate crimes” but in Canada are known as “protests”. (Official Canadian terminology inverts the previous meanings of these two terms – peaceful protests for unapproved causes are deemed to be hate crimes and suppressed by force, as the disabled Indigenous woman trampled by police horses at the truckers’ Freedom Convoy protest in Ottawa could tell you.) I know from reading the comments to many of these news stories that an awful lot of people got the impression that the children buried in these graveyards were murdered. That might simply be because many people are happy to comment on newspaper stories they have not read past the headline, or it might be that some reporters do not work very hard to dispel misunderstandings that will get them more clicks, or it might be due to the existence of a full-blown conspiracy theory to that effect. Mr Glavin links to this piece by Frances Widdowson that describes how Kevin Annett, a defrocked United Church Minister,

…has been disseminating the stories of Combes and others about the residential schools for about 25 years. One of these stories, recounted by Annett, claimed that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip took a group of students from the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) on a picnic and then abducted them. Thorough fact-checking has shown that the Royals did not even travel to Kamloops in 1964.

While the Queen Elizabeth abduction story probably would be regarded with skepticism by most, many similar improbable accounts of “murders” and “missing children” are being repeated by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc “Knowledge Keepers” and are now accepted as “truth.” Knowledge Keepers, after all, cannot be questioned, because to do so would be perceived as “disrespectful.” This raises questions about the extent to which the “oral tellings” of the Knowledge Keepers, which have been provided as evidence for the existence of “secret burials” at KIRS, have been influenced by the lurid stories circulating over the past 25 years. These stories were given additional momentum in May 2021 and are now firmly ensconced within the Canadian consciousness.

“By refusing to take part in this collective operation”

Idrissa Gueye is a Senegalese footballer who plays for his country and for the French side Paris Saint-Germain.

On Sunday 15th May, Paris Saint-Germain played Montpellier. On that day, players in the French Ligue 1 were meant to wear football jerseys with the numbers in LGBT rainbow colours in order to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. Unexpectedly, Mr Gueye did not play in that match. So far as I can find out with my limited ability to search news reports in French, he has not said why he sat out the match, but it is widely believed that it was because he felt that it would be incompatible with his religious beliefs to wear a shirt in Pride colours. He is a practising Muslim.

Via Paul Embery, I found this quotation from a letter that the FFF (Fédération Française de Football / French Football Federation) sent to Mr Gueye on May 17th:

“There are two possibilities, either these allegations are unfounded and we invite you to speak out without delay to silence these rumours. For example, we invite you to accompany your message by a photo of yourself wearing said shirt.”

“Or the rumours are true. In this case we invite you to realise the impact of your act, and the grave error committed. The fight against discrimination towards different minorities, whoever they might be, is a vital fight for all times. Whether it’s skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, or any other difference, all discrimination is based on the same principle which is rejection of the other because they are different from the majority.”

“By refusing to take part in this collective operation, you are effectively validating discriminatory behaviour, and rejection of the other, and not just against the LGBTQI+ community. The impact of football on society and the capacity for footballers to be a role model for those who admire them gives us all a particular responsibility.”

The report and translation come from the website Get French Football News. It says that it is quoting a story from the French sports paper L’Equipe. I believe the original L’Equipe story is this: “Le Conseil national de l’éthique de la FFF a écrit à Idrissa Gueye (PSG)” The headline means, “The National Ethics Council of the FFF has written to Idrissa Gueye (PSG)”.

One does not have to share Mr Gueye’s religious beliefs, or his (probable) opinions on LGBT issues, to see something sinister in this demand that he make a display of loyalty to prove his “innocence” of a charge that he did not participate in what is effectively the visual equivalent of compelled speech.

Why do they bother? They say Gueye must get himself photographed in a rainbow shirt because he’s a footballer and thus allegedly a role model. But such gestures of solidarity are inspiring only if they are known to be sincere. No one is going to be inspired to rethink their prejudices regarding gay people if and when Idrissa makes some obviously reluctant gesture of support.

How not to convince people

I am an atheist – I don’t even seek any cover in the “foxhole” of agnosticism, or pull the “religion isn’t true but it keeps the plebs in line” sort of argument that I have sometimes come across. Full disclosure: I am a confirmed Anglican but fell away over the years, primarily because I could not engage with the idea of belief via faith. I know a lot of people who are religious, if not noisily so. I respect them and love many of them, and vice versa. It really is as simple as that.

Occasionally I come across the phenomenon of the “noisy atheist”, and am reminded what an unlovely creature that is. On my Facebook page, I follow a few groups such as one dedicated to Second World War allied pilots (I am an aviation history geek. Bite me.) Recently, a Canadian pilot, who flew Spitfires in the war, died at the tremendous age of 100. I wrote something along the lines of “Rest in Peace and blue skies to the brave gentleman.” All of a sudden, when I woke up the following day, I noticed that my comment and that of many other people had elicited comments from a person who wrote words to the effect of “religion is crap – grow up” or “your beliefs are a piece of shit”. The person has his own FB page on the subject of military history and makes a big point of his being an atheist. So it is probably not a Russian bot, although one never knows.

What to make of this other than the fact that some people are sociopaths, or just plain unpleasant and in need of some direct lessons in manners? Well, what it proves to me is that if you firmly hold to the idea that belief in a Supreme, omniscient god is nonsense, then it is absolutely fine to express that view, but not in a way that is so rude, or by injecting your views into the conversations of others, and ignoring context completely. Ironically for this digital yob, he has achieved the opposite effect in anyone whom he might have tried to convert, by associating unbelief with rudeness and crassness.

Atheism is the absence of belief, rather than a positive belief in X or Y. (To go further, atheism is the view that the idea of god is incoherent and therefore existence of gods cannot be true. A thing cannot be beyond nature and above it, as a god is, because nature is all of existence and to be outside it makes no sense. (That is my understanding of what atheism is, properly defined.)

There are, in my experience, a great variety of atheists, such as by their political beliefs and for some, belief in political or other ideologies fills a sort of philosophical hole. For other atheists, the lack of belief in a God creates no such “gap” – they have a coherent philosophy of life requiring no props of any kind. That is where I stand. Some atheists can be socialists/collectivists, others on the libertarian, classical liberal/Objectivist end of the spectrum, others traditional conservatives and so on. Some can be agreeable, philosophical and rounded as human beings. Some, alas, are just plain bloody awful. It seems to me that I have encountered the latter.

Anyway, I share these musings to reflect on etiquette and how social media has given opportunities to encounter humans at their best and their worst. On a positive end point, I have met a lot of good people via social media, in terms of actual friends whom I meet for real.

How not to change minds on abortion

Last December Meghan McArdle tweeted,

“Looking at abortion opinion, it’s actually quite striking how little men and women differ on this question. The whole pro-life is about men telling women what to do with their bodies” schtick simply isn’t grounded in reality . . . Men are more likely to self-id as pro-life, and women as pro-choice, but when you drill down into specifics, it’s clear this stems from differences in labeling quite similar views.

She backed up her opinion with a link to this article by the polling organisation Gallup: “Abortion Trends by Gender”.

On specific questions relating to abortion, the opinions of American women and men were amazingly close. For instance, in this detailed survey from 2012, 71.5% of men and 69.4% of women said abortion should be legal if there is a strong possibility of a serious fetal defect, and 43.1% of men and 43.3% of women said abortion be legal for married women who don’t want more children.

Opinion has also been remarkably consistent over the years. According to the Pew Research Center, in 1995 60% of Americans thought that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Now it’s 61%. In 1995 38% of Americans thought abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. In 2022 it is 37%.

Why are the lines so flat? Over the same period church attendance has dropped. Support for other ideas once considered the preserve of the radical left, such as gay marriage, has steeply increased. The standing joke is that the Right won on economics and the Left won on culture. So why did the Left’s advance falter on that one issue?

By the way, although I talk about abortion as a left-right issue, because it certainly is one in US politics and to a lesser extent in politics across the Anglosphere, in this post I am not making an argument for or against abortion. If you wish to read my slightly indecisive thoughts on the issue you can do so here: “Thinking aloud on a mountainside”.

I am just interested in the Left’s relative failure to change the minds of Americans on abortion when in the same period it did so well in changing minds (including mine) on issues usually bundled with abortion.

I think it was because in the US and the UK, the pro-choice side almost never engaged with what their opponents actually believed. Over the years I must have read hundreds of Guardian articles on abortion, mostly in its US section because abortion is such a live issue there. I do not recall a single one that argued against the main sticking point of the pro-life side, namely that abortion takes a human life – let alone argued for it. On other issues the Guardian would occasionally let the odd Conservative or other non-progressive have their say about fossil fuels or the nuclear deterrent or whatever, and would often feature writers who, while left wing themselves, at least knew enough of the right wing view to argue against it. However when it came to abortion the line always was, and judging from Twitter in the last few days, still is, that opposition to abortion arises (a) only from men and (b) only from men who wish to control women’s bodies.

It works, a bit. Some men who read that will decide that they do not want to be that sort of man, others will decide that they do not want to be thought to be that sort of man. But an argument that does not even acknowledge the existence of female opponents of abortion will obviously not change their minds. Nor will silence reassure women who are not firmly pro or anti. If the Left will not talk to them about their doubts, then by definition the only arguments they hear will come from the other side.

How about male opponents of abortion and/or men who are not sure what they think? In most cases they simply will not feel that this charge that they want to control women’s bodies has any relevance to them. It’s like being accused of bank robbery when the most you’ve done is put non-recyclables in the recycling bin. Or like being accused in the modern fashion of misogyny rather than sexism: a conscientious man might examine himself and admit that some unjustified assumptions about women might be lurking in his subconscious, but that does not mean he hates women. All in all, that way of presenting the abortion argument is great for firing up those who already agree, but ensures that practically no women’s minds will be changed, and few men’s.

The above “model” is just my supposition, of course. But the remarkable stability of US opinion on abortion over decades is a fact that needs explaining, and that would explain it.

Samizdata quote of the Vaccine Mandate Exemption

As the restrictive form of a poem sometimes forces a clearer expression of a thought than less demanding prose, so the need to present his belief in the scientific process as a request for religious exemption to the vaccine mandate forced physician Joseph Fraiman to create what Sarah Hoyt called “one of the more interesting pieces of writing i’ve seen in a while.”

Given my faith in the scientific process, I do not claim that this observational data is a good representative of reality; however I also cannot claim with certainty that it is false. Without randomized controlled trial data comparing the rare risk of hospitalization in young healthy participants, there is no way of estimating if the vaccine is more likely to prevent hospitalizations than to cause a serious adverse event. …

The entire concept of the mandate is based on the idea that it is safer for patients and staff to be near vaccinated individuals. This is not based on any experimental evidence; this is classical anti-science ideology. It is offensive to believers in the scientific process that one can claim to be certain regarding the truth of an objective reality, without experimental data to support that view. … those who have faith in the scientific process are concerned that this hubristic certainty of benefit, without experimentation, can easily harm more than benefit. … Now if our hospital system was attempting a cluster randomized trial across its many hospitals, in which hospitals are randomized to mandate or no mandate, I would gladly be a participant in this study and be randomized to a hospital with a vaccine mandate or not. …

… followers of the scientific process believe that experts do not dictate what is true about our objective reality. … To a follower of science who has reached a different conclusion than experts on the potential benefits and harms of the vaccine; in this situation for an employer to mandate the vaccine in question would be the equivalent of forcing an individual of Judeo-Christian faith to pray to a pagan idol to keep their employment.

Would being vaccinated interfere with your sincerely held religious belief or your ability to practice or observe your religion? If so, please describe.

Yes, being vaccinated would interfere with my sincerely held beliefs which is the reason I am requesting the exemption. I believe I should be allowed to finish my scientific evaluation of the meta-analysis of the vaccines, which is still ongoing. If my evaluation determines the harm benefit profile in an individual of my demographics is favorable I will gladly take the vaccine, but not until that point.

The longish text is worth reading in full here (h/t instapundit).

That Fraiman did not get a mere arrogant refusal owes as much, I suspect, to his presentation (both skilled and restrained) as to his factual details – a bureaucrat would have to be fanatical indeed not to realise that, if they just said ‘no’, the writer might prove a persistent and difficult opponent, not so easy to denounce and silence. But of course, like a Judeo-Christian in a Mohammedan country, this believer in the scientific process had to pay the Jizya to those who believe science is a result, proclaimed by ‘experts’ who are not to be doubted, still less mocked.

Your religious exemption has been reviewed and approved. Because of the direct threat posed by individuals who are infected with Covid-19, our accommodation requirement for your needs [my bolding] is to wear a N-95/KN-95 mask (which we will provide) and undergo weekly testing.

If it is OK to hit someone who insults your wife, is it OK to hit someone who insults your religion?

The controversy on Will Smith hitting Chris Rock after the latter made a distasteful joke about his wife’s hair loss is interesting because it cuts across party lines. Though most politicians have made statements disapproving of Smith, some traditional conservatives and radical left wingers have both spoken in support of him. To take but two of many examples:

– Representative Ayanna Pressley (D) said, in a now deleted tweet “#Alopecia nation stand up! Thank you #WillSmith Shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults.”

– Simon Hoare MP (C) said, “I’d just hope if someone thought it in good taste to make a joke at the expense of a medical condition of my wife then I’d get up and lamp him.”

Me, I support Rock. His joke was cruel. Smith had a right to be angry. But I would rather not set the precedent – or rather go back to the precedent – that words justify violence. For why, see the title of this post.