We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The treason trials of 2021

The Mirror‘s columnist Susie Boniface*, who writes under the name “Fleet Street Fox”, would like to see them happen. She writes,

If you abandon your country to join ISIS, you can be stripped of citizenship. If you join a proscribed terror organisation, you face 10 years in jail. And if you talk about staging a coup, encourage birth defects, or lie about a lifesaving vaccine, you’re committing something terrifyingly close to murder, insurrection, and child abuse, yet go unpunished.

Spreading lies that damage the NHS, downgrade democracy, or cause child deformities is a crime against all that Britain is supposed to stand for, but it’s difficult to proscribe a loose affiliation of lunatics. Updating our laws to make the spreading of harmful conspiracy theories an act of treason, though, would mean that not only could the ringleaders be shut down, they also could be deradicalised, medicated and educated. They are terrorists, and should be treated as such.

Take out the co-ordinators, and their converts could be deprogrammed. Which would leave the rest of us able to continue the important business of moving as far away as possible from the 14th century, and all its terrifying ignorance.

*In the early days of her “Fleet Street Fox” identity, Ms Boniface wanted to write anonymously. If that were still the case, I would not have said her real name even if I knew it. But since she outed herself in the pages of the Times back in 2013 and is quite happy to identify herself as being “Fleet Street Fox” on her personal website, her pseudonym is clearly now part of her brand rather than actually intended to keep her name secret.

Stealthing

Olivia Petter has written two articles for the Sunday Times about her experience of being “stealthed” that have generated much discussion. She explains the term as follows, “What happened to me, and the other women I heard from, is known colloquially as “stealthing”. It’s a term used to describe the act of removing a condom without a partner’s consent.”

The first article was published on June 27th: “I saw the condom on the floor – and realised I’d been ‘stealthed'”

Extract:

That’s when I noticed the condom lying on the floor. “Oh yeah, I wasn’t wearing it when I came,” he said, strolling back into the bedroom naked. “You should probably get the morning-after pill.”

I was sexually assaulted that day, though I didn’t know it at the time. Stealthing, as it’s colloquially known, is a crime in England. It is recognised by the Crown Prosecution Service as an example of a “conditional consent” case, whereby consent is granted under conditions that are then vitiated: I had consented to having protected sex with Sam, not unprotected sex.

Her second article appears in today’s Sunday Times: “Recognising being ‘stealthed’ as rape is shocking. After my story, women wanted to talk”

Discussing the reaction to her earlier article, Ms Petter writes,

There is nothing ambiguous about sexual assault – consent is either violated or it isn’t – but I’ve found that there tends to be a lot of ambiguity surrounding it. There are currently more than 260 online comments underneath my piece, and they’re mostly between people debating what does and does not constitute rape. One woman explained she felt that referring to stealthing as rape “dilutes” the experiences of others who may not have consented to any form of sexual contact. Others concurred that it “diminishes” other people’s experiences, while one person wrote that Sam deserved “a good sound thrashing”, but that calling his actions “rape” devalued the word’s definition.

I felt the above passage was a fair reflection of the two main strands of opinion in the comments, two strands that are not entirely in opposition to each other. All agree that as described, the behaviour of “Sam” was despicable and did violate Ms Petter’s consent.

But was it rape?

It depends what you mean by rape. That answer is not a cop-out. It is the only possible answer to that sort of definitional question, which is why that sort of question will be debated forever. It would do more good to ask something more specific like “Should it fall under the definition of rape in law?”

By the way, another question that can never be settled is whether transgender women really are women. It depends how you define the word “woman”. It often seems to me that there would be more scope for respectful compromise if people could agree to differ on the definition and get down to questions of what to do in difficult cases.

Returning to Olivia Petter’s article, I felt she lost her way in the next paragraph after the one I quoted above. She writes,

This debate highlights one of the key problems with regards to how we talk about sexual assault: that there is a spectrum of experiences, with “extreme” stories on one end, and ones that are somehow “lesser” on the other. It perpetuates the idea that some assaults are more worthy of our attention than others. Not only does this ignore the fact that sexual trauma of any kind can have lasting consequences for survivors, but it’s the very thing that stops people like Jess, Sally and myself from feeling like they have the right to say they’ve been raped when, under UK law, they have. And, as I know all too well, grappling with that feeling alongside sexual trauma can be incredibly isolating and, in some instances, means that the perpetrator is more likely to be vindicated, which may enable them to assault someone else.

Of course there is a spectrum of seriousness. Of course some experiences of sexual assault are extreme and some lesser – while still bad. Of course some assaults are more worthy of our attention than others. The most serious sexual assaults are most worthy of our attention, and the police’s attention, and the attention of judges, and the attention of those who provide support to victims, and the attention of lawmakers, and sociologists, and teachers, and parents, and media commentators, and of the public… and none of this in any way excuses the perpetrators or disrespects the victims of less extreme but still despicable violations of consent.

More photos of the London Covid demo last Saturday

Last Saturday a mate of mine dropped by to see me, having just been at the Covid demo
mentioned here
earlier. My mate brought photos with him. You can see most of those he gave me here and here.

But look at these, and you’ll get the picture:

I have very mixed feelings about demos. When they work is when people generally are surprised by the demo, either because they didn’t know about the issue in question until now, or because they had no idea people felt so strongly about it, or because they didn’t think enough people had the guts to complain about it in public. None of this applied to this demo. There’s been a Lockdown, which many consider to have been pointless, a cure worse than the disease, and even if it did once serve a purpose it should end now. And, here are some of those grumblers, gathering in a crowd in London, with signs. I can see why some genuinely don’t think this is big news. Although, despite gloomy prophecies of a news black-out, it was small news.

Another problem is that demos are awfully liable to put out mixed messages. It only needs a few off-message demonstrators to get in on the act, and the whole thing can be sabotaged. In this case, I recall some of the news coverage I caught saying that this was a demonstration against vaccines. Vaccines have been mostly very popular, are much touted now as one of the government’s few definite successes, and are in many anti-Lockdowner opinions a big reason why Lockdown should now stop, rather than part of it. There are no anti-vaccine signs to be seen in any of my mate’s photos, but a news team only needs one such to be bending the whole reporting of the event completely out of shape.

Where demos, even of the most un-newsworthy sort, do have an impact is that those who attend them get to know each other and exchange ideas. I remember watching some Remain demos, long after Brexit had won the referendum, and even I think, after the voters had voted “Get Brexit Done” at the last general election, and thinking that this couldn’t change the decision, and I was right. These Remainers, only then, I now realise, were realising what they were about to lose. Until they finally lost, they thought they’d win. But these too-much-too-late demonstrators would, as I realised at the time, at least be influencing each other, forming networks and spreading ideas, and this might have consequences down the line. Perhaps one consequence will be a slight strengthening of any campaign in the future for Britain to rejoin the EU. I can’t see such a campaign succeeding, but if it gets its fangs into any major political party, it will surely damage that party, in the eyes of all those who voted Leave, and many more besides. “Move on.” “Get over it.” You can just hear the young besuited types trying to stop such talk, because they will surely know how it will damage the new arrangements that they are now busily contriving.

In the case of this London demo last Saturday, there is surely at least the possibility that libertarian ideas may spread amongst the demonstrators, from all those who already think this way, to all those who didn’t, but may now be starting to. I, of course, want to believe this. I also wonder what other consequence this demo, and all the others like it up and down the country, may have.

How long will the doctors be in loco parentis?

Thirty years? Women of childbearing age should not drink – WHO

How about forever? Face masks should continue ‘forever’ to fight other diseases, says Sage scientist

What our canine friends are owed, and what they’re not

“Your dog is alert, plucky and a fearsome guardian of your property. For all we know, without his services, you would have been burgled over and over again. Your belongings would be depleted and the utility you derived from your home would be much reduced. The difference between the actual value of your home and its unguarded value is the contribution of your dog, and so is the difference between the respective utilities or satisfactions you derive from it. We do not know the exact figure, but the main thing is that there is one.”

Anthony de Jasay, the late French political philosopher.

His essay addresses a form of argument one sometimes hears from communitarians of the Left and Right, as in the case of former President Barack Obama, who infamously told US entrepreneurs and other such movers and shakers that “you didn’t build that”. (Some people claim that Obama was quoted out of context, so in fairness here is a link to a discussion on that.) It is an argument – if we can dignify it with that word – used to undermine defences against tax and other State predations of private property.

On a related note, one of my least-favourite expressions is “giving back to society”. The term carries the implication that one took something, or rented it, from some sort of collective entity, and must return it to the rightful pool. Of course there can be genuine gratitude of living in a free, prosperous place and wanting to leave something even nicer for others. That’s totally fine. But the “giving back” expression, unless qualified and understood in context, carries a sort of embedded reproach. It’s a way of saying “nice piece of property you have there but don’t get too comfy and it would be a shame if anyone wanted to take it”. (Here is a related discussion about such attitudes.)

The point about people benefiting from what others have done is rarely considered the other way around when the costs are involved. We also inherit, or deal with, lots of bad things that others intentionally or unintentionally impose upon us, such as hostile attitudes towards those who are successful and so on. There are liabilities and costs imposed on us that we have no control over, and which are a burden to handle. So the “you didn’t build that” works in the other direction too.

Back to De Jasay’s point, he’s noting how the protection we are afforded by a guard (“woof!”) can and has been used to command political fidelity and support for all manner of State institutions. He brilliantly dissects this way of thinking. It is one of those essays that ought to be better known.

A dastardly personal attack

I thought it was a photoshop prank when I first read Matt Walsh’s tweet, but this does appear to be a genuine Independent headline: “Rightwing blogger launches gofundme for AOC’s Puerto Rico grandmother in latest personal attack”

In an attempt to shame Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Mr Walsh then started a gofundme to raise money for the congresswoman’s grandmother’s home repairs, paying just under $500 into the fundraiser himself.

Ben Shaprio, another conservative commenter who regularly attacks the congresswoman, also donated $499 and called on other conservative media personalities to do the same.

The fundraiser’s goal of just under $50,000 was met and exceeded by Friday afternoon, currently sitting at just under $60,000.

“Hi @AOC, we are raising money to help your abuela. It’s been inspiring to see the response so far. Can you send me a DM so that I can get the necessary information to ensure that this money makes it to your grandmother? Thank you!” he wrote on Twitter.

So long as the money is transferred as promised, and is transferred without strings attached so that Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s grandmother can turn right round and give it to her granddaughter’s re-election campaign if she wants to, I felt that the Independent‘s description of this as an “attack” was… incomplete.

Just as a discussion point for the libertarian argufiers out there: in what circumstances would giving someone money, or giving their relatives money, actually violate the non-aggression principle?

The European Digital Identity is born

The Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age loves the idea:

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age said: “The European digital identity will enable us to do in any Member State as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles. Be that renting a flat or opening a bank account outside of our home country. And do this in a way that is secure and transparent. So that we will decide how much information we wish to share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. This is a unique opportunity to take us all further into experiencing what it means to live in Europe, and to be European.”

However Laurie Clarke of TechMonitor is not so keen:

“The EU digital ID scheme could be a boon for SMEs but a security nightmare”,

Today, the EU announced plans for a bloc-wide digital identity scheme that will allow citizens to use public and private services online. The digital wallet would store payment details, passwords and digital ID cards, and be interoperable across the 27 EU member countries. But the scheme is yet to settle on technical standards, and could be besieged by privacy and security concerns before it gets off the ground.

The EU will reportedly force a structural separation preventing companies that use the system from repurposing customer data for other commercial activities, such as marketing. It also stressed that users of the digital identity solution will be in control of their data. But the melding of public and private services could pose privacy concerns in future. Privacy advocates have repeatedly warned about the potential for digital ID cards to erode civil liberties – particularly when data collected by the scheme ends up being used for immigration control or policing purposes.

On the security side, “This puts an awful lot of sensitive data in one place,” says Marcus. Cybersecurity threats have been growing over the years both from commercial and government-sponsored hackers, which could threaten the digital ID scheme. “This is a high-value target, both for criminal gangs and for governments. If this data gets out in the wild, it would be bad.”

Some of the responses to Ursula Von der Leyen’s tweet are less enthusiastic still. Someone called “Tom” says,

This would sound like an impending Orwellian nightmare if not for the inevitable certainty that the Commission will find a way to f*** it up.

Inclusion and diversity is so 2020

“Chicago mayor’s decision to only speak to journalists of color is commendable, not racist”, writes someone in the Independent. The apparent erasure of the author’s identity was the Independent‘s doing, not mine, but they – the author – describe themselves as a Black and Native American writer who finds Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s demand to only speak with journalists of colour commendable.

On libertarian principle, I support the right of Ms Lightfoot or anyone else to refuse to associate with people of a different race, but unlike this author I disapprove of racism.

CMV: the threat to liberty from mandatory voter ID is insignificant

“CMV” stands for “Change my view”. It is the name of a subreddit where people go to argue, expecting disagreement, as I expect it now.

In the most recent Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty told the Lords and the Commons that “My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs”, but there were serious proposals as well. She also said, “Legislation will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections”. This was a reference to the proposed Electoral Integrity Bill. You can read the Hansard account of the debate in Parliament here. Chloe Smith MP, who it appears is the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, there’s posh now, said,

Asking voters to prove their identities will safeguard against the potential in our current system for someone to cast another person’s vote at the polling station. Showing identification is something people of all backgrounds do every day.

Northern Ireland has used voter identification in its elections since 1985, and expanded this in 2003 during the last Labour Government. In the first general election after photographic identification was introduced in Northern Ireland by the then Labour Government (2005), turnout in Northern Ireland was higher than in each of England, Scotland and Wales. Since then, the experience in Northern Ireland has shown that once voter identification is established as part of the voting system the vast majority of electors complete the voting process after arriving at the polling station. A wide range of countries, such as Canada and most European nations, require some form of identification to vote.

New research published yesterday on www.gov.uk clearly indicates that the vast majority of the electorate of Great Britain, 98% of electors, already own an eligible form of identification, which includes a broad range of documents and expired photographic identification.

And, um, that sounds fair to me. Note that the Northern Irish Electoral Identity Card is not required to be shown before one can vote. It is but one of several acceptable forms of ID, and is issued free of charge to those people who don’t have any of the other forms so that nobody will be unable to vote due to poverty. It is not the abominable high-tech integrated without-this-you-starve Identity Nexus proposed by the Right Honourable Tony Blair. My opinions on that have not changed since 2003. To look at, the Northern Irish Electoral Identity card is a poxy little photocard that looks like it was issued by your local library. This lack of sophistication, the fact that you only need the effing thing once every five years or so, and the fact that voters have been obliged to show ID before voting in Northern Ireland for years without any obvious bad consequences, lead me to not to fear the rollout of a similar scheme in the rest of the UK as the first step on the slippery slope towards a national ID card.

As to whether a legal requirement to show photographic ID before one votes is a thing good, bad or indifferent in itself, that is a separate debate. Dawn Butler MP, writing in the Times, says, “This, to me, is nothing more than a cynical attempt at voter suppression by our government — and it must be stopped. It mirrors some of the subversive tactics deployed in some states in America.” Jess Garland of the Electoral Reform Society writes in the Guardian that it would undermine democracy. Over in the US, where the state of Georgia has recently passed its own Election Integrity Act, President Biden said a thing about eagles.

How pausing the world leads to catastrophe

Well worth your time:

Samizdata quote of the day

For centuries, women have fought for the right to bodily autonomy. Having an abortion is a medical intervention, and women are just as entitled to it as any other treatment. But by adopting a philosophy which surrenders our medical autonomy to the state, we are hypothetically giving governments the power to ban abortions. Moreover, we are giving them the power to enforce them, if they so choose.

The rights of the individual to assess risk and prioritise the quality of their own life has been forgotten

In the past 12 months, dramatic shifts in mainstream attitudes to public health have moved us closer to this reality. The rights of the individual to assess risk and prioritise the quality of their own life has not only been forgotten — it has been scoffed at and derided, as though it never existed in the first place. The precedent set by the smallest step towards this broken philosophy is incredibly dangerous. Over the next few weeks, we must all ask ourselves what kind of world we want our children to grow up in. Do we grant them ownership of their bodies — indeed, their self, their soul, their identities? Or do we bequeath that ownership to the state? Some may argue that vaccine passports are the first step towards eradicating a disease. Rather, they are the first step towards the eradication of basic human rights.

Tom Moran

“Adam Smith was on the side of the angels …”

The following is the text of an email that I and all the many others on the Adam Smith Institute email list received today, from the ASI’s Eamonn Butler:

Today marks 245 years since the publication of The Wealth of Nations, one of the most important books ever written.

Smith revolutionised our understanding of commerce. He explained how trade enriches our lives and his works laid the foundations of a whole new field of study: economics.

Today though, Adam Smith’s legacy is under threat from those that would rewrite history.

Smith’s grave and statue have been linked to “slavery and colonialism,” according to Edinburgh City Council.

The grave and statue are being reviewed by the SNP-Labour Coalition Council’s Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group. Their claim rests upon a quote by Adam Smith that said “slavery was ubiquitous and inevitable but that it was not as profitable as free labour“.

This is an extraordinary mischaracterisation.

Smith not only argued that slavery was morally reprehensible, but also provided intellectual ammunition to the abolitionist movement. The link Adam Smith has to slavery was as one of the authors of that vile practice’s destruction.

Smith, writing in the 18th century, thought slavery would continue. He could not have foreseen humanity’s subsequent liberal turn.

But it is abundantly clear that Smith thought slavery was grotesque. Smith wrote, in no uncertain terms, that slave owners’ “brutality, and baseness, so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished.”

Smith also argued that slaves are inefficient workers, because they cannot keep the fruits of their labour. His arguments against slavery were used by abolitionists.

Smith was on the side of the angels, holding humanist views well ahead of his time.

The links, all in the original email, are well worth clicking on.

As Eamonn Butler says, it was liberals, which then meant people who prized liberty, who put slavery on the defensive. It never completely went away, and socialists, national and otherwise, gave it a whole new lease of life in the twentieth century, although lease of death might be a better phrase. And in doing this socialists provided several more mountains of evidence that Adam Smith was right about slavery’s inefficiency, as well as about its brutality and baseness.