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]

“Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted”

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge writes in the Times that the decisions of the government during a crisis were wise and good and that if, perchance, any slight errors were made, fear not, lessons will be learned.

Bzzt. Click. System error. Commence program reset.

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge – Lord Sumption – writes in the Times that “Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted: it was a disaster”.

In a remarkably candid interview with The Spectator, Rishi Sunak has blown the gaff on the sheer superficiality of the decision-making process of which he was himself part. The fundamental rule of good government is not to make radical decisions without understanding the likely consequences. It seems obvious. Yet it is at that most basic level that the Johnson government failed. The tragedy is that this is only now being acknowledged.

Sunak makes three main points. First, the scientific advice was more equivocal and inconsistent than the government let on. Some of it was based on questionable premises that were never properly scrutinised. Some of it fell apart as soon it was challenged from outside the groupthink of the Sage advisory body. Second, to build support, the government stoked fear, embarking on a manipulative advertising campaign and endorsing extravagant graphics pointing to an uncontrolled rise in mortality if we were not locked down. Third, the government not only ignored the catastrophic collateral damage done by the lockdown but actively discouraged discussion of it, both in government and in its public messaging.

Lockdown was a policy conceived in the early days by China and the World Health Organisation as a way of suppressing the virus altogether (so-called zero Covid). The WHO quickly abandoned this unrealistic ambition. But European countries, except Sweden, eagerly embraced lockdown, ripping up a decade of pandemic planning that had been based on concentrating help on vulnerable groups and avoiding coercion.

At first Britain stood up against the stampede. Then Professor Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London published its notorious “Report 9”. Sunak confirms that this was what panicked ministers into a measure that the scientists had previously rejected. If No 10 had studied the assumptions underlying it, it might have been less impressed. Report 9 assumed that in the absence of a lockdown people would do nothing whatever to protect themselves. This was contrary to all experience of human behaviour as well as to data available at the time, which showed that people were voluntarily reducing contacts well before the lockdown was announced.

I find myself in the odd position of being slightly more in sympathy with the government than is a former supreme court judge. Frightened men make mistakes. I also find myself slightly more in sympathy with Rishi Sunak than I was yesterday. However, I have to ask why he did not voice his doubts at the time.

Should we be obliged to register a death?

When I first saw this story, “Daughter who buried father in illegal woodland pagan funeral avoids jail”, my outrage-meter went off the scale at the apparent violation of religious freedom. Unnecessarily, it turned out. Eirys Brett was not in court for conducting a pagan funeral. She would still have been in court had the funeral service been the Order for The Burial of the Dead from the Book of Common Prayer. She was in court because she did not register her father’s death and because she buried him in a place not set aside for that purpose:

Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard that frail Mr Brett made last requests that he wanted to be buried in woods in a medieval non-Christian style near his farmhouse home, in Aberedw, near Builth Wells.

The judge was not without sympathy. He said,

“Everybody’s entitled to their beliefs and make no comment about yours. But you should have gone about it in a different way.

“You could have achieved the same objective by following the law and that is not simply where you think or where he thinks is appropriate but where you are permitted to bury him and to register the death – those were the two things you failed to do.”

It is not clear to me whether the woodland area where the late Mr Brett was buried was on his own land. If it was, I can see no reason why he should not be buried there. However, if the vaguely specified “woods” were not his woods, I do see a problem. If I found out that someone had buried their dead relative in my garden I would be disconcerted, however well they cleared up afterwards.

It is the second charge that interests me more. She failed to register his death. In the UK it is a criminal offence not to register a death.

Why?

As an inveterate reader of detective stories, I can think of some good reasons for this law. But as a libertarian, I feel obliged not to simply accept it because it is a law that goes back to the days when the State laid fewer burdens on us than it does now.

What do you think?

Government love

“Tinder Wants Money. We Want Love. The Solution: Socialize Dating Apps”, writes Nick French in Jacobin magazine.

“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 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 day

Two years since “two weeks to slow the spread,” life appears to have returned to some kind of normal. With a few indefensible exceptions, most pandemic mandates have been rolled back. The vaccine passes that cropped up across the western world in a wave of faddish illiberalism have largely been abandoned, at least for now, often with little pretext of an apolitical rationale. Lost in the mainstream media’s memory hole, the strict lockdowns that brought the free world to its knees in 2020 seem to many like a distant memory.

All around, artefacts of the psychosis that gripped the global psyche for two years remain. Holdouts of COVID hysteria cling to their N-95 masks, even while alone in their own vehicles, and insist that others do the same. Medical offices demand proof of vaccination and perfunctory COVID checklists upon entry. Airports, ever the bulwarks of security theatre, continue to enforce all the bells and whistles of the biomedical state. Every day, workers and students are forced out of their institutions over noncompliance with vaccine mandates.

A fanatical cult continues to preach the gospel of COVID doom, hoping that some new variant or surge in hospitalizations will again empower them to dictate the lives of their neighbors and silence all who disagree. They peddle the same circular arguments, insisting that more lockdowns and mandates are the key to preventing lockdowns and mandates, bolstered by their faith that although every policy they’ve suggested has failed, this was merely the fickle nature of an ever-changing “science.” Thus, even if they were wrong, it was the right time for them to be wrong, and their opponents, even if right, were right for the wrong reasons.

Michael Senger

What comes next?

To reiterate. The mRNA shots don’t stop infection or transmission, we don’t know whether they interfere with the development of durable immunity post-infection, and whether the next variant is deadlier than Omicron is “mostly a matter of luck.”

Politically, none of this matters at the moment. The people who pushed the shots – in other words every Western government and the entire public health establishment and media – have zero incentive to admit that the roulette wheel is still spinning.

Alex Berenson

And not unrelated…

The events of the past two years have been a wake-up call to those of us who naïvely believed our liberties were more or less secure under Western democracy. We discovered that a viral epidemic with an estimated Infection Fatality Rate somewhere in the range of 0.15-0.3% was sufficient for governments to claim the power to lock citizens up in their homes, prohibit citizens from taking walks in the park, tell citizens how many visitors they could have in their homes, shut down religious worship indefinitely, and order mass closures of businesses, all “for our own good.”

If all of this can happen once, it can surely happen again, especially if we are hit by another global crisis, be it global warming, terrorism, a global recession, an energy crisis, or a food shortage.

And if the crisis is not quite severe enough to convince citizens to renounce their liberties, governments can apparently count on the support of an uncritical media to stoke up people’s anxieties and fears, priming them for more “emergency” interventions and ever more illiberal restrictions on their property, life, and mobility.

Governments have restricted a wide range of civil liberties during the pandemic on the basis of unsubstantiated doomsday predictions, highly unorthodox methods of disease control, and hardly any serious consideration of the likely harms such restrictions would inflict on citizens and on our way of life. Future governments could exploit this dangerous precedent in a future crisis, whether real or manufactured, especially if the media jump on board to drum up some public hysteria.

David Thunder

Breaking the Chains: a Guide to Nudging You

A superb video-fisking by PANDA of a Covid-propaganda video:

Covid: The lessons must not vanish down the memory hole

I have been struck in my reading of the media, in conversations with people in the City and elsewhere, as to how the topic of COVID-19 has suddenly disappeared from regular conversation. It is true that the UK came out of lockdowns a bit earlier than some other countries. It is true that the embarrassments of the Boris Johnson Downing Street machine meant that Mr Johnson was afraid to reimpose any controls given that no-one would take him seriously. (One reason I am very sad about the passing of the late P J O’Rourke is the sport he would have had the expense of various governments over such hypocrisies). Even so, it is striking how fast Russia’s attack on Ukraine was able, in a flash, to take the bug away. Gone. Kaput. This is a virus that seems to know the news agenda. Amazing.

But we should not forget the past two years or more of lockdowns, of the pettiness, the bullying, the hysteria, the use of fear, the “what we can get away with”, the suspension of civil liberties, the North Korean-style worship of “Our NHS”, and indeed, we shouldn’t overlook the heroism of medical staff who dealt with the crisis particularly in the early months when the full nature of this bug was unknown. We should not forget China’s refusal to enable a clear analysis of what caused this shitshow, or its bullying of those who asked questions, of the biases of the World Health Organisation, the questionable actions and financial involvements of people such as Anthony Fauci in the US and the unease in asking if this bug came from a lab. We should not forget the shenanigans over PPE contracts in the UK, the frauds over loans to businesses, the cowardice and horribleness of the teaching unions and damage to education. We should not forget the stoicism of lorry drivers, supermarket workers, farmers, delivery drivers and logistics workers. We must not forget how parents could see what their children were learning online, and were shocked.

We must not forget these things.

The deadline for giving your opinion on the proposed ban on “conversion therapy” is tomorrow, Friday 4th February

I wrote this post about the proposed ban on 7th December 2021, when the deadline for responses to the government’s consultation document was given as December 10th. The deadline was then extended to February 4th 2022, which is tomorrow. Did I mention it’s tomorrow?

There was a lively debate on the nature of human sexuality in the comments to that post – but, fascinating as the contributions were, for me that issue is beside the point. The point is that the government seeks to ban people from attempting to persuade other people to do something that is not a crime by talking to them.

Would you let him out of the box?

Yesterday’s Sunday Times carried a story to break your heart: “‘Life in a box’: young autistic man confined in hospital’s former file room”.

The first thing to say is that the headline is clickbait. It gives the impression that he’s locked in a cubbyhole. In fact quite a lot of money has been spent by the state to construct a purpose-built apartment with bedroom, bathroom, “snug room”, lounge, an unlabelled room, and a garden. It is not a dungeon. But it is a jail – this young man, referred to as “Patient A”, is has been confined there alone for years. In terms of lack of privacy his “secure apartment” at Cheadle Royal Hospital is worse than a conventional jail: he is monitored by closed circuit TV at all times.

Behind a serving hatch with a small Perspex window, a figure of a young man shuffles into view and reaches out to receive a pizza box being pushed through the hole by his mother.

“Mum, please, put me in the car and take me home,” the 24-year-old says. “I don’t want to be here any more.”

His mother, Nicola, 50, does her best not to cry. “I would if I could,” she replies. “I’m trying my best.”

Patient A, a young autistic man, has been confined to his small secure apartment in a hospital since September 2017.

A Saturday night takeaway pizza, pushed through the hatch by his mother and eaten alone in his room, is the highlight of his week.

Why is he imprisoned? Because he is violent. After a relatively happy and normal childhood his behaviour began to deteriorate in adolescence, until…

Eventually he was admitted to a unit for patients with severe mental illness at the Countess of Chester Hospital, where his behaviour was put down to “neurodevelopmental difficulties”.

There, he was restrained for the first time by clinical staff. The experience left him terrified. He stayed on the ward for three weeks, losing half a stone. He was prescribed risperidone and sent home — but the attacks continued.

“He would just constantly want to hit you,” Nicola said. “He would want to run at my mum. Run at my dad. All of us. You couldn’t stop it. I’ve never seen anything like it. He would open his eyes, and the moment he woke up he was on us.”

The Sunday Times report is much better than its irresponsible headline would suggest. It goes on to describe in depressing detail the failure of various treatments. The young man continues to attack the hospital staff, with the result that they are no longer willing to play football or computer games with him. Ever more isolated, he gets worse.

It’s horrible. But what would you have them do? His mother wants him to be released into supported housing in the community. This was due to happen, but at the last moment the care provider lined up for him pulled out. “They said his behaviour had become too challenging,” Nicola [his mother] said. “But his behaviour is challenging because of where he is.” I hate to say it but her second sentence, while undoubtedly true, does not solve the problem described in the first. Can an organisation be forced to take on the care of someone who constantly attacks their staff? To an extent, that is what is happening now at Patient A’s secure apartment at Cheadle Royal Hospital. The state does what it is obliged to by law. But care in the community for a potentially violent patient requires more intelligent and responsive supervision than keeping someone in prison. No company providing paid care is willing to provide that level of supervision for Patient A. It has been established that his family cannot do it; part of his mother’s torment is that she herself was the person who started his imprisonment by calling the police while her son attacked his grandmother.

In any case, though supported care in the community has transformed many lives for the better, it can go horribly wrong. One of the comments mentions the case of Jonty Bravery. He was the man who threw a six year old boy from the roof of the Tate Modern gallery because he wanted to be on the TV news. He caused the child life-changing injuries. Before the attack Bravery had been living in just such a placement, with two-to-one care, no less.

Back and forth the arguments go…
“Mum, please, put me in the car and take me home.”
“He would open his eyes, and the moment he woke up he was on us.”

I was going to ask, “What is the Libertarian solution to this?”, but forget Libertarianism – what is any solution to this?

New Zealand as Neverland: where children never grow up

“New Zealand smoking ban: young to be barred from ever buying cigarettes”, the Times reports.

New Zealand will ban young people from ever being able to purchase tobacco under world-leading plans to make the country virtually smoke-free within four years.

No one who is under the age of 14 today will ever be legally permitted to buy cigarettes in a drive to eradicate smoking from the country under new legislation to be introduced early next year.

Each year the legal smoking age, now 18, will be increased, with new age groups added to the ban list until the country is almost smoke-free.