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]

President Bush will soon bring Gilead to America!

Some time ago a striking article by Fiona Maddocks appeared in the London Evening Standard. The link that Google gives you to the Evening Standard’s own site is dead, but I found a working one on Questia. Here it is:

A Twist in the Tale; Margaret Atwood Is Dreading the UK Premiere of the Opera of Her Novel the Handmaid’s Tale – It Will Be a Shocking Theatrical Experience

THE question all readers of The Handmaid’s Tale want to ask its Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, is: “How did you know?” Her 1986 best seller, set in a futuristic totalitarian regime called the Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, has chilling prescience: Christian fundamentalists have seized control and imposed repressive laws, brainwashing women and depriving them of all the rights they have spent the past 1,000 years securing – education, property, freedom to give birth when and via whom they choose.

(I commented at the time, “I don’t know why poor old Dubya does hold off from imprisoning all the women and depriving them of their names so that the top men’s personal concubines are called “ofdonald”, “ofjohn” and “ofdubya”, according to the system described in the book. That’s obviously what he wants, as proven by the fact that he sometimes goes to breakfast prayer meetings, and it’s not like he gets any credit for restraint.”)

The book, already translated into 35 languages and a regular A-level and university set text, was turned into a film starring Natasha Richardson, with a script by Harold Pinter. Tonight an operatic version of this dark fable, by the Danish composer Poul Ruders and British librettist Paul Bentley, receives its first UK performance at the Coliseum, having been premiered to rapturous reviews in Copenhagen three years ago.

[…]

To underline contemporary parallels, English National Opera’s publicity material shows a woman, naked and heavily pregnant, prone on an unfurled Stars and Stripes, observed by a helmeted soldier.

“There’s nothing new in The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood says. “One of my rules was that I couldn’t put anything into the novel that human beings hadn’t actually done. Stories exist within the world. They’re not on some other planet called literature or the moon.” Small, droll, benignly austere, Atwood hardly strikes you as a Cassandrine figure. Only her startling eyes, clear blue, slightly exotic and almond shaped, hint at some farseeing otherness.

[…]

The general critical response was ‘what a jolly good yarn’, and that was the end of the matter. You’d had Oliver Cromwell and religious war. You wouldn’t expect it to happen again. In Canada, instead, people asked, ‘Could it happen here?’

“Well, no, probably not, because of Canada’s history and its disparate elements. Only in America did people ask, in utter seriousness, ‘How long have we got?’ They realised that they were closest of all to the real thing, especially compared to Europe, which is now so much more secular a place than the States.

“How long did they have?” asks the narrator, in an epilogue written long after the events described. Since that article was dated April 3rd 2003 and the Gileadification of America is not yet upon us we can safely answer “a minimum of 16 years, 5 months and 8 days”. But do not be deceived. Gilead is coming. Real soon now.

“The Handmaid’s Tale increasingly rings true”, writes Alice Thomson in today’s Times.

They walked, heads bowed under their white bonnets, red capes trailing along Piccadilly, past men in Lycra ogling on their bikes and into Waterstones. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” women shouted at the fertile handmaids as they joined the midnight celebrations for the publication of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. There were green drinks and talks on how to embroider feminist wall hangings. Then the 79-year-old prophet spoke, warning that her characters had a new resonance in her dystopian sequel because of threats to women’s rights.

She wasn’t just talking about President Trump boasting of grabbing women “by the pussy” and curtailing their reproductive rights but about any country trying to force women back into the “unnaturally cramped spaces” from which they had so recently emerged.

[…]

We pretend that women’s rights are still progressing, with more jobs for the girls and in some areas more equal pay, but in many ways Britain feels increasingly like Atwood’s theocracy of Gilead where women are expected to know how to cook a quiche, the man is master and only the sisterhood saves them. #Silenced, which started trending yesterday, seems to be about so much more than the proroguing of parliament: it’s about vulnerable groups, women, gays and ethnic minorities once more feeling excluded from the hierarchy. “Are we to be silenced like little mice,” as the handmaid Offred says in Atwood’s novel.

The prime minister thinks nothing of using femininity as an insult, calling Jeremy Corbyn “a great big girl’s blouse”, associating masculinity with power. The journalist William Cash wrote an article this week about having a relationship with a former girlfriend of Boris Johnson as though she were some vassal, and volunteering to bring his illegitimate child up for him. David Cameron’s “calm down dear” now seems relatively benign.

Good, so you won’t mind if I say “Calm down dear” to you.

Perils of alternate history wargaming

A father and son duo run a YouTube channel about historical tabletop wargaming called “Imperator Vespasian”. They run through demo games, talk about making and painting models and so on. Recently they were offline for about six months. They explain why in the following ten minute video:

“Unexpected side affects of Gaming! Channel update”

The two of them were creating a game called “A very British Civil War” set in an alternate-history 1938 in which Prime Minister Oswald Moseley was fighting to put down an anti-fascist rebellion. The British Union of Fascists was a playable faction. Here is a video they made about this game from six months ago.

Then the son’s school reported him to the police as a potential terrorist. Note that the father and son both say that the police were quite quick to realise that this case was not the best use of their time, and reserve their criticism for the school.

I am a little more sympathetic than are the “Imperator Vespasian” duo with the dilemma faced by schools over whether or not to bring the police in when they suspect a pupil is involved in crime as victim or perpetrator or both. The pair of them did make one unwise decision. Apparently their standard practice in their YouTube shows is to make announcements of what is happening in their games while “in character” for the various factions, with appropriate props as the backdrop. Fine when your prop is a medieval helmet, not so fine when it’s the lightning flash emblem of the BUF.

But was there really no one among the school staff who had ever wargamed? Or whose kids had wargamed, or whose kids’ friends had wargamed, or who was simply enough in touch with the lives of their male pupils to know that playing the Tyranids in Warhammer 40K does not mean you seek to literally devour all life? Given the nerdiness of historical tabletop gaming, I would have guessed that gamers were just as likely to end up as teachers as in the police force. So why did the police quickly get that this was fictional while the teachers did not?

A book right out of the R. A. Heinlein tradition

Gregory Benford has a new book out, called Rewrite, and while I tend sometimes to be careful of pre-publication hype, this looks mighty promising and a good way for me to while away the hours as I fly to Hong Kong in a few days’ time. The author gets an interview in Wired magazine, proof that good things occasionally do appear in that publication, despite what appears to be its turn to eco-lefist nonsense in recent years.

I really enjoyed his novel, Timescape. Chiller, a book that features cryonics, is also good.

By the way, there is a Robert Heinlein Society, which runs a scholarship programme. I think the writer, former Navy officer, fencing expert and blood donor advocate would have approved.

Heinlein once wrote about The Crazy Years, a period in his early writings known as the Future History series. I am not the first person to wonder if our own era deserves that moniker, although with hindsight is it any nuttier than any other?

Ah, happy days

“Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong”, writes Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics.

Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor. This way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place.

The comments give me hope.

Two discussion points inspired by Stephen Wolfram

The first one is straightforward. The internet threw me a talk by the computer scientist and businessman Stephen Wolfram today. It lasts three minutes 21 seconds and is called “How humans can communicate with aliens”.The subject is one that has so often been used as the basis for fiction that we sometimes forget that when you look up at night, what you see is real. There is a whole universe out there. It might have intelligences in it. Mr Wolfram contends that we might have been seeing evidence of intelligences all the time without realising it.

Do you think he is right? And assuming we can talk to them, should we?

Alien contact sounds wonderful at first but then becomes terrifying as you think more deeply. The second topic for discussion I want to put forward sounds terrifying at first but then becomes –

Well, you tell me what it becomes. There is a very strange final paragraph to Mr Wolfram’s Wikipedia page:

Personal analytics

The significance data has on the products Wolfram creates transfers into his own life. He has an extensive log of personal analytics, including emails received and sent, keystrokes made, meetings and events attended, phone calls, even physical movement dating back to the 1980s. He has stated “[personal analytics] can give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives”.

One of my recurring nightmares is that as spy devices get smaller and the computational power available to analyse what they learn gets bigger someone – or lots of someones – will be able to analyse my life in that sort of detail, down to every keystroke I make. It had never occurred to me to think of it as something I might like to do to myself.

Does anyone reading this do anything similar? Would you like to?

It was a GOOD day for justice

Of the many stories of science fiction, fantasy and horror that I have read in my time, the one – I think the only one – that for years afterwards I wished I had never seen was It’s a Good Life by Jerome Bixby. That Wikipedia link contains spoilers, obviously, but it is a story some of you might prefer to have spoiled. If not, the full text of the story is here. It is, of course, one of the greatest science fiction/horror stories ever written. If it were not it would not have had such an effect on me when I came across it concealed like a tarantula among sweet fruit in an anthology of science fiction stories for and about children that I got from the library.

Most of the horrors described in the story belong solely in the realms of nightmare. But there is one aspect of life in Peaksville, Ohio, that like all the best fantasy tropes, derives its power from the way it resonates with certain situations in real life. They, the forty-six inhabitants of Peaksville who might or might not be the last remnants of the human race, dared not be unhappy. “Oh, don’t say that, Miss Amy … it’s fine, just fine. A real good day!”

This is the first paragraph of an article by Hugo Rifkind in today’s Times:

Besides the red face, and the shouting, and the hurt indignation, and the mad howls about still liking beer, one thing was very obvious last week about the US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. With a litany of legal achievements behind him, this was not a man who had expected, at 53, to be answering for his behaviour as a teenager.

They really do want to extract the last drop, don’t they? It is not enough to demand that Kavanaugh prove where he was thirty-six years ago when he was seventeen. Correction, approximately seventeen, since Christine Blasey Ford cannot even specify the year in which the alleged crime took place. It is not enough to demand that he defend himself against a baying claque who joyfully proclaim abandonment, not just of the presumption of innocence, but of the very possibility of innocence when the accusation is sexual assault and the accused is male. (Just one example via Instapundit: Students demand professor fired after he champions due process, says ‘Accusers sometimes lie’). That does not sate them. They also demand that the man in the dock must suppress his emotions as utterly as must the slave of a cruel master. Indignation is not permitted him. His voice must remain low and humble. And woe betide him if the involuntary reactions of the body send blood rushing to his face.

Perhaps too much science fiction has addled my brains, but when I read that I really did think of the scene in It’s a Good Life where poor Dan Hollis suddenly can’t find it in him to be happy any more. And I also thought of what followed soon afterwards, not in the context of Judge Kavanaugh this time, but in the context of all those “liberal” journalists like Hugo Rifkind who once upon a time would have been all for due process and the presumption of innocence, but whose courage nowadays – though tested infinitely less than that of the people of Peaksville – stretches only to not being the loudest in the mob:

Some of the people began mumbling. They all tried to smile. The sound of mumbling filled the room like a far-off approval. Out of the murmuring came one or two clear voices:

“Oh, it’s a very good thing,” said John Sipich.

“A good thing,” said Anthony’s father, smiling. He’d had more practice in smiling than most of them. “A wonderful thing.”

In order of priority

“Comicsgate is the latest front in the ongoing culture wars”, writes J A Micheline in the… I don’t really need to say it, do I?

The results of both the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election relied heavily (if not, solely) on the narrative of white loss and the tears of the white working class – while conveniently eliding the needs of working-class people of colour and what they stood to lose.

How can such events be combated? How can they be undone? But these are the wrong questions. Merely combating or undoing Comicsgate, Brexit, and the flourishing of American fascism is not enough.

The great battles of our time.

Samizdata quote of the day

An Engineer, a Mathematician and a ‘Climate scientist’ are each asked “what is 2 + 2?”

The Engineer says “somewhere between 3.9 and 4.1”, the Mathematician says “4” and the ‘Climate scientist’ says “what would you like it to be?”

David Bidstrup

A question for our times

Anyone else watching Star Trek: Discovery? ‘Tis quite the novelty in Solent Mansions: my dear husband and I sit down and watch television. On the very day a new episode comes out, my dears, for we will not wait!

Now we all know that by the time the era of Classic Trek rolls around after about a quarter of a century, certain things must have happened:

– the Spore Drive will not merely have dropped out of use, but will have been erased from human and Klingon memory.

– same goes for the holodeck.

– and for standards of starship interior design.

– the Klingons will look like Kang from Day of the Dove, not like Face Paint Thingy or Girl Thingy who can scarcely move under all those bone ridges.

– miniskirts will be back in.

– Captain Lorca will be revealed to be bad and wrong. The Star Trek universe has “proving warmongers wrong” listed higher up in its job description than “entropy”. But it is OK to quietly relish their badassery à la Gene Hunt in Life on Mars while we wait for the inevitable.

The question is how will all that is prophesied come to pass?

Book review: First Hook

Simon Gibbs has a review of Clive Fox’s cute quick techno-thriller ‘First Hook‘, which has launched today.

The series is modelled on shows like the A-team, but produced natively for consumption in written form as a serial short story. Much as Bleak House was originally published by Charles Dickens as a regular newspaper feature this punchy little story will be added to over time in the way that a TV show is added to with a new episode broadcast each week, except that future episodes are not yet all written. As such it borrows something of the currency of a soap opera, able to evolve and adapt constantly, but is firmly in the sci-fi category. This is an interesting and novel form of written fiction.

Anyone questioning why a lightweight techno thriller should be reviewed on Samizdata would do well to read Brian Micklethwait’s summary of The Power of Fiction, a talk given by former City AM managing editor Marc Sidwell. Anyone wondering what on Earth they might do about it, finding themselves unable to write fiction of their own should read the thoughts of Richard Gleaves, author of Ride Headless and Ride (itself reviewed on Libertarian Home).

So anyway, here is the Amazon review. You can buy it, read it and write your own review on Amazon:

Clive Fox is making an important contribution at a critical time.

When business paper The Financial Times offers advice to tech CEOs it is to warn them of their waning popularity and their “responsibilities”. Tech giants in California bring fantastic wealth to the area, and amazing technology to mankind, only to be slammed for the crime of gentrifying impoverished San Francisco – their staff hounded on company minibuses. Those companies branch out to the UK bringing us world changing products and brilliant new services, only to be pumped for more cash. Modern society fails to appreciate the source of it’s modernity.

Aftermath clearly know all about the problems of modern – and future – technology. Yet they have the balls to value it, master it, become one with it, and when necessary to beat it. The resulting tensions and dramas are evident in this first outing. I am thirsty for the next instalment.

– Simon Gibbs

The Walking Dead

“Walking Dead” and the rest of television and movie entertainment shows that the left still have not learned the lessons of the the colony the Mayflower founded.

In the “Walking Dead” the world is overrun by zombies – and the remaining humans are either brutal raiders and exploiters, or living in communes where people work together to produce food and so on for the common good. There is no large scale private ownership of anything and no large scale private employment – and it is NOT really because the zombie plague had destroyed the world, it is because the entertainment industry people (and the education system) hate large scale private ownership of the means of production and hate large scale private employment. The moral ideal of both the education system and the media (especially the entertainment media) is the caring-sharing community where everyone loves each other and works for the common good.

This view of humanity is not confined to the “Walking Dead” – it is basically the view offered in all popular entertainment. Either people are working together in little communal “communities” or they are being exploited by evil “capitalists” (“Big Business” – boo-hiss). To the left (i.e. the education system and the media – especially the entertainment media) a “capitalist” is not someone who invests and thus helps produce goods and services, a capitalist is a vicious sadist (such as Negan in “Walking Dead” or a million other “exploiter” examples in literature, television, film and school “history” books) who “exploits” people partly for loot (taking the “product of their labour” – Labour Theory of Value) and partly simply out of sadism, cruelty – the desire to inflict suffering for the pleasure of inflicting suffering.

To the left, the education system and media, a company is a “psychopath” because businessmen seek to maximise profits, and profit (in the minds of the education system and the media) means loot, the exploitation of the workers and consumers. That many media companies are, well, companies does not change this – even many high ranking business executives subscribe to the world view that business is evil as they have never been taught any other world view. Even if they went to a private school and university they were, mostly likely, taught that private property is evil (“selfish”) and that the highest good is a caring-sharing local commune – as we see in “Walking Dead” and a thousand other shows. In their own business dealings they are often indeed very treacherous and seek to cheat both employees and customers – as they have been taught that is what “capitalists” are like, and like the late Robert Maxwell they regard their own immoral conduct as proof that “capitalism” is evil. The obsessive, and dishonest, greed of many on “Wall Street” and their leftist politics are not in contradiction – they are mutually reinforcing.

→ Continue reading: The Walking Dead

Heke’tan or Rogal Dorn, which is right? Perhaps neither of them (with due thanks to the creators of the Warhammer 40K universe)

In the distant future the Emperor of mankind (not yet referred to as “God Emperor” as the official position, at this time, of the Imperium of mankind is that the Emperor is not a God) faces a terrible revolt led by his son Horus – a war that future generations will call the “Horus Heresy”.

Horus has been seduced by what future generations would call the “Chaos Gods” or “Infernal Powers” – but which the Imperium presently describes as creatures of the warp, the dimension that craft use to travel between solar systems faster than the speed of light in normal space.

Many worlds have been reduced to burned husks, and many millions of people have been (and are being) killed as the war spreads across the galaxy and the forces of the enemy advance towards the Earth itself. But worse even than this – many of the Emperor’s most trusted warriors (the genetically enhanced Marines) have sided with Horus – who was, after all, the Warmaster (commander) of the Imperial armed forces. The behaviour of those genetically enhanced Marines who side with Horus is baffling – they ignore all rules of engagement, and revel in the torture and killing of civilians. They have also scored massive victories by surprise attacks on Imperial forces – turning on their own brothers in arms without warning and with a savagery (and sadism) that leaves their opponents (and former brothers) first baffled and then dead. At least the fortunate opponents are dead.

At first stunned by its terrible defeats the Empire of Mankind slowly responds – using interrogation (often brutal) to reveal traitors, both ordinary human and genetically enhanced, before they can strike. And the Empire strikes back (no Star Wars reference intended) in space – attacking worlds that are either captured or declare for Horus, literally meeting fire with fire.

Many planets hesitate in deciding which side to declare for – after all either side may prove the victor and both sides are destroying planets.

→ Continue reading: Heke’tan or Rogal Dorn, which is right? Perhaps neither of them (with due thanks to the creators of the Warhammer 40K universe)