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]

Some things look better in hindsight

Back in March US Vice-President Mike Pence was mocked from all sides. According to Olga Khazan in the Atlantic:

In a recent, in-depth Washington Post profile of Karen Pence, Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, a small detail is drawing most of the attention: “In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”

The article went on to say that:

Pence is not the only powerful man in Washington who goes to great lengths to avoid the appearance of impropriety with the opposite sex. An anonymous survey of female Capitol Hill staffers conducted by National Journal in 2015 found that “several female aides reported that they have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.” One told the reporter Sarah Mimms that in 12 years working for her previous boss, he “never took a closed door meeting with me. … This made sensitive and strategic discussions extremely difficult.”

In conclusion, Ms Khazan argued that:

Without access to beneficial friendships and mentor relationships with executive men, women won’t be able to close the gender gap that exists in most professions.

I am not convinced that there is a gender gap, but that is a subject for another post. Ms Khazan made a fair point about mentoring, and her tone was reasonable. Ashley Csanady of Canada’s National Post, not so much:

Ashley Csanady: Mike Pence’s evangelical refusal to lunch with ladies is easy to mock. It’s also rape culture at work

At its core, Pence’s self-imposed ban is rape culture.

Nor is that a label I assign lightly. “Rape culture” is a phrase so overused it’s become almost meaningless, like calling someone a Nazi on the internet. But it has a very clear meaning: the notion, whether conscious or unconscious, that men can’t control themselves around women because “boys will be boys.”

The explicit reasons for Pence’s restriction are religion and family, but the implicit reason is that he must avoid alone-time with women lest his stringent religious moral code fall apart in the presence of a little lipstick and décolletage. That is rape culture.

Given that the list of men accused of sexual misconduct since Harvey Weinstein is growing like a beanstalk, and a great many of these men were loud in their scorn for the “puritanism” of Pence and all like him, Ms Csanady and a few others might like to re-evaluate their earlier remarks. I am not saying it is necessary to behave like Pence in order to avoid behaving like Weinstein. But it does seem that Ms Csanady might have been looking in the wrong place for rape culture.

To be given in marriage

What would be the point of a royal engagement without a Guardian article to miss it?

In celebration of the forthcoming nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Afua Hirsch writes,

Almost two decades ago, during the heady first months of the new millennium, an unruly baroness named Kate Gavron made a shocking suggestion. Prince Charles, she said, should have married someone black. It would be, she imagined, a powerful symbol of the monarchy’s commitment to racial integration and multiculturalism.

Gavron’s comments were not well received at the time. As is so often the case with race and the royals, far more interesting than these remarks themselves, were the media reactions to them. Some suspected this was merely a clandestine attempt at “getting rid” of the monarchy, erasing their heritage through interracial marriages. Not so much revolution, as racial dilution.

Others assumed that for the Prince of Wales to marry a “black girl” – as the hypothetical person was described – would be to return to the loveless, strategic marriages the royals were once so famous for. It was obvious to commentators at the time that marrying a black girl, and marrying someone you actually loved, were both antithetical and mutually exclusive. After all, you couldn’t expect an heir to the throne to actually be attracted to such a person.

Ever charitable, I had initially assumed that Ms Hirsch was too young to personally remember this furore, by which I actually mean briefly successful effort on the part of a few journalists to keep each other in work by pretending to be outraged at each other’s stories, and that was why she portrayed something that happened in the year 2000 as if it happened in the 1960s. But that cannot be the case. She was nineteen at the time it was published. Perhaps her observations were tinged with a wistful desire to re-enact the heroic days of the Civil Rights era. If so, perhaps I should be more charitable after all; seventeen years ago that sort of playacting was not less common than it is now but was more excusable.

Whatever. I too remember Baroness Gavron’s remarks and the reaction to them. The previous week a report had been released by the Runnymede Trust called The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. Lady Gavron was one of the authors. Unfortunately but inevitably the authors had received abusive hate mail from the sort of embittered nobodies who used to send hate mail to people they read about in the papers. (Nowadays we have Twitter for that.) But no, the reaction of the mainstream media to Lady Gavron’s remarks did not include talk of “racial dilution”. Note the absence of any names. All Ms Hirsch tells us is that “Some suspected” a clandestine attempt at getting rid of the monarchy through interracial marriages. Well, yeah, in a population of 56 million as it then was, some will suspect almost anything. But if a journalist on any publication other than National Front News had said any such thing they would have been out of a job the same day.

At this point the reader might be asking themselves why if it was all so trivial I am claiming to remember Lady Gavron’s remarks across seventeen years? To answer that let’s look again at this passage from Ms Hirsch’s article:

Others assumed that for the Prince of Wales to marry a “black girl” – as the hypothetical person was described – would be to return to the loveless, strategic marriages the royals were once so famous for. It was obvious to commentators at the time that marrying a black girl, and marrying someone you actually loved, were both antithetical and mutually exclusive.

As I remembered it the reason so many had assumed that Lady Gavron was advocating that Charles enter a loveless strategic marriage was not at all that they found the idea of a love match between two people of different race inconceivable. It was because Lady Gavron had advocated exactly that: a strategic royal marriage not for love but in order to send a message. Worse, she had said that it would have been “great” if Prince Charles had been told to marry someone for political reasons, with the assumption that once he had been given his orders on whom to marry he should obey them.

To be fair to her, Ms Hirsch does supply a link to a Telegraph article from October 2000 so that one can see Lady Gavron’s exact words. Here is the link again:

Prince Charles ‘should have married black woman’

THE Prince of Wales should have married a black woman as a symbol of his support for multi-cultural Britain, according to a member of the race relations think tank the Runnymede Trust.

Lady Gavron, vice-chairman of the commission that produced last week’s controversial report on the future of multi-ethnic Britain, said the Royal Family should take a lead in promoting racial integration.

“It would have been great if Prince Charles had been told to marry someone black. Imagine what message that would have sent out,” she said yesterday.

It wasn’t someone black, and it may not have been phrased as a command, but Charles probably was pretty much told who to marry, and for reasons to do with what “message” his marriage would send. It did not work out well. One ancient royal tradition that all should be glad to see extinct is that of marriage as a tool of policy.

Of course no one in their right minds would insert such a mad device as the monarchy if they were designing a nation from scratch. It is a historical relic. But history is a powerful force, and this nation is not being started from scratch. I hope and believe the monarchy does still have a role, so long as people can be found willing to play it. I hope the whole royal wedding shebang goes off well and a good time is had by all. If Ms Markle being mixed race makes more people feel included in the celebration, that’s great. More importantly I wish Harry and Meghan a long and loving life together.

Samizdata quote of the day

Certainly flirtation is gone from the workplace. Some years ago your humble correspondent was an intern at a National Public Radio affiliate station in Chicago. The chief engineer had a habit of referring to me as Legs, as in, ‘Woooah, here she comes. It’s Legs Gutmann.’ Dear Reader, I am not ashamed to admit I liked it. I flashed him a big smile and a giggle. He was a very decent chap and I have no doubt that if I had instead looked wounded and frightened he would have cut the ‘Legs’ thing faster than he could unplug a sound cable.

Now, of course, he wouldn’t even try such hijinks. The risk is too great. He could be fired for such ‘sexual harassment’. Or what if I had been fired by National Public Radio (if you can be fired from an internship)? I could have retaliated by claiming that NPR (of all places) created a ‘hostile work environment’ in allowing such a beast continued employment. At the very least I could get my internship back; at most, I might be able to snare a big payoff. Sexual-harassment allegations can make you rich.

Stephanie Gutmann

“Women take things more emotionally”: I bet she was happy when she took them for £360k

The Times today:

‘Clumsy’ sexist remark by BAE Systems manager costs £360,000

A manager’s “clumsy” comment to a secretary that “women take things more emotionally than men” will cost Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer more than £360,000.

BAE Systems argued that the law had gone mad and attacked the payout to Marion Konczak for “a single sexist comment” as “an affront to justice”.

Three appeal court judges ruled yesterday, however, that Mrs Konczak, 62, was due every penny after the manager’s comment led to her having a mental breakdown.

BAE was working on a project for the Royal Saudi Air Force when Mrs Konczak complained that she had been bullied and harassed, including sexually. Her line manager later told her that “women take things more emotionally than men, whilst men tend to forget things and move on”.

The judge opined,

“The basic rule is that a wrongdoer must take his victim as he finds him, eggshell personality and all. That is not inherently unjust.”

Emphasis added. And Lord Justice Underhill might like to reconsider his use of “he” as a generic third person singular pronoun. I expect someone from Diversity will be calling him in for a quiet word in due course. On the other hand, perhaps it becomes acceptable if the alternative suggests that a “victim” with an eggshell personality might conceivably be female?

As a commenter called Geraldine said,

Will this encourage companies to employ more women? The cause of feminism is set back years [e]very time something like this happens. I say this as a woman and old-school feminist.

Somewhere Thomas Sowell wrote that manufacturers in the US avoid building factories in black areas, not because they care what skin colour their workers have, but because the more diverse the workforce the greater the risk of being sued for discrimination.

Added later: In the comments below Umbriel explained why the judge might have used those particular words:

…“eggshell personality” is a legal term, not technically an insult (though, it the shoe fits…). The theory was an extension of earlier doctrine that if, for example, someone smacks another person in the head during an altercation, and the victim happens to have some sort of congenital defect or calcium deficiency, such that their skull shatters and they die, the assailant remains responsible for the damages resulting from their assault even if they couldn’t have anticipated the magnitude of the result. This was dubbed the “Thin Skull Doctrine”. When tort law evolved to apply that principle to the infliction of emotional distress, the corollary was dubbed the “Eggshell Personality Doctrine”.

The problem with said doctrine, of course, is that a thin skull is a thin skull, regardless of the law. “Eggshell Personalities” in contrast, can be expected to proliferate and become ever more brittle the more lucrative they become.

Depressingly true.

Guardian comment of the day

Technology has become another way for men to oppress women, says Lizzie O’Shea’s sub-editor. For example,

Millions of people bark orders at Alexa, every day, but rarely are we encouraged to wonder why the domestic organiser is voiced by a woman.

And it is all because of “sexism in the tech industry”. Therefore my nomination for Guardian comment of the day, if not longer, goes to monkeyrich:

You’d have to ask Toni Read, Miriam Daniel and Heather Zorn – the three women who created Alexa, managed the team which engineered it and released it to the public.

It is not just the Guardian, by the way. Cristina Criddle in the Telegraph wrote in 2016, “Female digital assistants that do not fight back reinforce the connection between a woman’s voice and submission. In fact, it encourages it.”

No, they do not.

Jordan Peterson on identity politics

With blogging (as with life in general), there is often a tug-of-war between doing it soon, and doing it right. This posting is strictly a case of me doing it soon. And what I am doing soon is saying: watch this. It’s psychology academic Jordan Peterson, denouncing (the word “bloody” occurs quite a lot) the legal imposition upon Canada of identity politics (excused by, among others, some of his fellow academic psychologists), and all the chaos that this misuse of law is going to and is starting to cause.

The video goes on for the best part of two hours, and I have so far only watched twenty minutes of it. Like I say, doing it soon. But I already know that this is the kind of thing, and the kind of man, that many Samizdata-readers will want to see, and at the very least to learn about, perhaps by other and quicker means. The phrase “individual freedom” gets quite a few mentions, along with “bloody”, bloody being the word Peterson uses to describe the ideas which and the people who threaten individual freedom.

See also today’s QOTD here, which points towards the same intellectual territory and the same battles. Before posting this, I checked in the comments there, to see if anybody had made any mention of the above video, or of Jordan Peterson. Had they done so, I’d have had to write this differently. So far: not. I could have appended this link to that comment thread, but I reckon it deserves a bit more prominence.

David Thompson has more to say about this, as does his commentariat. My thanks to him, because this was how I found out about this video, and about this man.

Donald and Hillary sex change

A university professor wondered what would happen if Donald Trump was a woman and Hillary Clinton was a man.

Salvatore says he and Guadalupe began the project assuming that the gender inversion would confirm what they’d each suspected watching the real-life debates: that Trump’s aggression—his tendency to interrupt and attack—would never be tolerated in a woman, and that Clinton’s competence and preparedness would seem even more convincing coming from a man.

[…]

We both thought that the inversion would confirm our liberal assumption—that no one would have accepted Trump’s behavior from a woman, and that the male Clinton would seem like the much stronger candidate. But we kept checking in with each other and realized that this disruption—a major change in perception—was happening. I had an unsettled feeling the whole way through.

[…]

Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling. And a lot of people were just very surprised by the way it upended their expectations about what they thought they would feel or experience. There was someone who described Brenda King [the female Donald Trump] as his Jewish aunt who would take care of him, even though he might not like his aunt. Someone else described her as the middle school principal who you don’t like, but you know is doing good things for you.

I would like to see more video than this short excerpt. But they are working on a film version, “shot for shot, as they were televised on TV.”

Armed neutrality in the gender-neutral pronoun wars

There has been much huffing and puffing recently about gender neutral pronouns. In principle, I rather like the idea. The fact that I dislike some of the other people who like the idea ought not to affect that. Not, I hasten to add, that I feel any animus against anyone purely on the grounds that they prefer to be referred to by one sound rather than another, or that their gender is difficult to specify externally, or that they feel that neither “he” nor “she” describes them, or that they advocate for lexical change. While it is true that the set of people currently talking loudest about gender-neutral pronouns would, if displayed on a Venn diagram, have considerable overlap with the set of people who wish to get others arrested for using the wrong word, that is a symptom of the addiction of our society to the use of force rather than persuasion, not a logical necessity.

The cause of the gender-neutral pronoun is ill-served by many of its current advocates. But in itself, it would be handy. That’s “it” as in “having a third person singular pronoun available to use to describe human beings without specifying gender”, not “it” as in “it”. It (as in the situation, not a person) tends to get an itty-bit hairy when one person refers to another (by which I mean another person, not another situation) as “it”. Thus, if I may reiterate, using “it” (as in “‘it'”) as a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to a person would put the user in a bad situation, even if they (here used in the singular) were not a singularly bad person. Wouldn’t it?

OK, I got drunk on words there. Sobering up, I am not seeking perfect “representation” for every one of Facebook’s 71 gender options. They can represent themselves. I just think it would be nice to have one more option, and to settle on one. That way those prone to being easily offended, and the subset of them that resort to bullying, could be kept from unhappiness and the occasion of sin.

I do think that the traditional use of “he” and “man” to include the female is a little, y’know, presumptuous. I am not one to go through old documents cutting out every offending “he-including-she” with a razor, but I would just as soon have some more inclusive style in new documents. It is tedious have to write “he or she” every time.

Singular “they” sounds all right when the subject is indefinite (e.g. “If anyone wants more details, give them a brochure”) but sounds wrong if the gender is known. At this point someone usually pipes up to say that Shakespeare used it in their plays. Only they don’t say their plays, they say his plays, unless they (gender unspecified here: no problem) are making some sort of claim that Shakespeare was a collective, a Borg or a woman.

The distinction between singular and plural third person is useful. We feel its lack in the second person. The singular/plural distinction keeps trying to creep back in with “youse” and “y’all”. In some dialects spoken in Northern England, “thou” never went away, merely faded a little into “tha”. If making no difference between singular and plural is sometimes confusing when talking to people, it is a swamp when talking about people. Imagine an action scene in a novel where all the characters including the protagonist were referred to as “they”.

This link takes you to a piece called “The Need for a Gender-neutral Pronoun” which lists some of the leading contenders for a new pronoun. By clicking on the suggested pronoun itself (or the title of the set in the case of the Spivak pronouns named after their creator), you can read an extract from Alice in Wonderland using that set of pronouns. The author also rates the proposed words by ease of pronunciation, distinctiveness, and how truly neutral they are. The author prefers the set of pronouns based on “ne” in the nominative case. If you agree that a gender neutral pronoun would be desirable, which option would you like to take hold in the language? If you object to the whole idea, what would you like to see become dominant – strict use of “he” (or “she”), or “they”, or “s/he” and variants?

The thing is, I will not be the first in my circle of acquaintance to start writing “xe” or “ne” in any other context but science fiction for the same reason that I will not be first in my circle to start taking a daily stroll in the nude.

I would if you would, but I know and you know, neither of us will.

When does a child become an adult?

Milo Yiannopolous seems to have got himself into a spot of bother over remarks about homosexual sex with teenagers. The gist of it – especially if you read his clarification – seems to be that he was ready to take it up the bum at 13 and if it was OK for him then it would probably be OK for others. I suspect – given the little I know about him – that Milo at that age would have been capable of weighing up the pros and cons of such a decision. But not many others.

Milo raises – albeit indirectly – an important question: when does a child become an adult? As it happens, I drafted an attempt at an answer to this some time ago but lacked the guts to publish it. It’s time I did:

As the law stands if a man has sex with a female of 15 years and 364 days he is a scoundrel who should be imprisoned for a very long time. However, if he has sex with a female of 16 years and 0 days that’s just fine and dandy.

Or to put it another way, in the opinion of the law all women undergo the transition from young, innocent child to responsible, rational adult in a split second at exactly the same age.

That’s absurd; but, for the law, hardly uncommon. Similar rules apply to all sorts of aspects of growing up: when you can drive a car, enter into contracts, vote, marry, drink alcohol, leave school, get a job etc. And in each case the state’s answer is some arbitrary, one-size-fits-all number. And often it is a different number: 17 for driving (I am referring to English law here), 18 for drinking, 16 for sex. That can’t be right.

Could there perhaps, be a solution that is – to paraphrase H. L. Mencken – simple, neat and not wrong? The argument for numbers is that you have to draw the line somewhere, meaning: the law has to draw the line somewhere. But why should it be the law drawing the line? Why can’t it be the child? What if when the child comes to the decision that he is old enough to take on the rights and responsibilities of adulthood he just does? Obviously, he would have to tell people but that implies some sort of arrangement not unlike marriage with documents, ceremonies and cooling-off periods. Hardly beyond the wit of man.

I’ve been trying to think up some drawbacks. One might be that a girl’s declaration of adulthood might look awfully like a declaration that she wanted to have sex. And women are a bit coy about that sort of thing. Another might be that some children would decide to become adults at an absurdly young age and then proceed to ruin their lives, perhaps by driving the car into a bunch of passers-by. Or drinking themselves to death. But how likely is that? My personal experience of childhood is that I was perfectly well aware of my unpreparedness for taking on the responsiblities of adulthood. Perhaps we should be more worried about the other end of the age scale. Would some people choose to extend their childhood into their 20s and beyond?

Perhaps one way to look at this is to consider when we might ourselves have felt ready for the transition. In my case I think it was about 14-15. The only issue for me at that age would have been the predatory homosexuals who made up the school’s English Department.

Discussion point: porn on the bus

Here are two contrasting articles from the Guardian:

Watching porn in public is not OK. It’s harassment – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Pussy Riot celebrate the vagina in lyrical riposte to Trump – Luke Harding

It is no discredit to the Guardian that different writers for the paper have said contradictory things, although none of the dozens of comments I read to Ms Cosslett’s article brought up the the difference between the views of old and new feminists on whether it was liberating or deplorable to shock the public.

Many Libertarian-ish people would say that incompatible preferences across different groups of people regarding what should be seen in public could be solved by property rights and competition. Each shopping mall and bus company could set its own rules, some catering to the puritans, some to the libertines. That would be nice, but until we find the door into Libertopia we must deal with the major regulator of such things being the State.

What do you think? How should people behave here and now? Do the existing laws come first or ten millionth on our list of things to oppose – or should we support them? Is there more of a problem than there used to be, now that people can watch R18 movies on their Kindles on the bus while a twelve year old sits next to them? Or is this just another moral panic that could be solved if people kept their eyes to themselves?

By the way, consider this blog post to be a a venue where, as they say on the cinema screens, “Strong language may be permitted, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using the language, its frequency within the work as a whole and any special contextual justification”.

Two articles about sexual violence in left wing papers that surprised me

The first article was by Eve Livingston writing in the Guardian: “The state is an enabler of sexual violence. So what hope for the victims?”

The headline caught my interest, which lasted well into the third paragraph. She wrote,

Violence does not exist solely in the instant that blow meets body, but in the circumstances that facilitate it and the systems which excuse it.

My heart soared. Could it be that Ayn Rand’s argument that all state laws are ultimately enforced at gunpoint had penetrated the pages of the Guardian? For it is certainly true that the state facilitates and excuses its own violence, and I have long thought that this produces a climate of opinion that tends to facilitate and excuse violent acts by anyone.

‘Fraid not. It was just another rehash of the tired old trick of redefining “violence” to mean “anything I don’t like”. Ms Livingston thinks that the government spending less money than she thinks it should on women’s refuges is “violence”. As is the government spending less on anything, or talking in metaphors that might induce unpleasant thoughts.

If economic policy too accurately embodies its violent language of slashing and cutting,

Whatevs, thought I. And nearly missed a rather good point:

…legislation around crime and justice delivers an almost laughable irony. In some cases, the very laws purportedly designed to protect women from violence can, in practice, enable it: the criminalisation of various activities relating to the sale of sex, for example, is universally opposed by sex worker-organising collectives, on the grounds that it limits their ability to work safely – for instance, in groups or designated zones – and without fear of violence from both clients and state agencies.

I was surprised and glad to read this. Until now almost the only voice in the Guardian opposing the fashionable “Nordic model” put forward by an unholy alliance between old style authoritarian conservatives such as Caroline Spelman MP and Gavin Shuker MP (one of whom does and one does not have the abbreviation for “Conservative” written after their name, not that it matters) and new style authoritarian feminists such as Guardian regulars Joan Smith and Catherine Bennett, came from Melissa Gira Grant. Ably though the latter writes, she tends to be discounted because she would actually know. Dear me, we can’t have that.

I really was glad to see that Eve Livingston sees that laws that claim to protect women from violence can have the opposite effect. It is sad that she almost hid her message from me (and not only me judging from the comments) by that silly attempt to stick the label “violence” on something that, even if one believes it to be bad, is not violence. Ironically that same trick is played by the crusading politicians she rightly opposes. Click on the link relating to Gavin Shuker MP above to read the following (emphasis added):

The year-long parliamentary enquiry argues that prostitution should be seen as violence against women and an affront to sexual equality, but sex workers have reacted furiously to the proposals arguing that the criminalisation of clients will push sex work underground, further stigmatise women and put lives at risk.

The second article that surprised me is from the New Statesman. Sarah Ditum writes, “What’s missing from the transgender debate? Any discussion of male violence.”

One of those things that supposedly never happens, happened. Luke Mallaband was convicted of six voyeurism offences after a female student at the University of East Anglia found his phone hidden in the university library’s gender-neutral toilets. The probation report described him as “high risk of posing serious harm to females”.

Here I was simply and honestly surprised that a piece in the New Statesman admitted there was a potential problem at all. I had thought that the whole “transgender bathroom rights” issue was still so new and shiny, like a newly socialist country whose economy has not yet visibly gone to pot, that no one on the Left dared break ranks. But Sarah Ditum did dare, and despite the many poor arguments elsewhere in her article, she saw where Eve Livingston did not the danger in the attempt to use the emotions stirred up by a word as a substitute for argument:

“Inclusion” and “equality” are words with strong positive connotations, and those positive connotations can sometimes smother the problem of competing rights in a warm feel-good fuzz. On 1 December, Parliament debates the report of the Women and Equalities Committee into transgender equality: from reading it, you would have very little idea that the rights of women and the rights claimed by trans people have any points of conflict.

It is not that I have any particular opinion on whether gender neutral public toilets are a Good Thing or a Bad Thing in general. Of course they should be allowed, and of course gender segregated public toilets should be allowed. Libertarianism offers a way out of the contradictions about the “competing rights” of this or that group: respect the right of whoever provides the toilets in a premises to enforce what rules they think best and the right of potential users of the toilets to use those ones or go elsewhere as they think best.

Consent and the Space Cadets

Yesterday something reminded me of the Space Cadets:

The series described itself as the most elaborate hoax perpetrated in television history. The title is a comical reference to the slang phrase, which is used to describe vacuous, gullible fools, untethered to reality (compare airhead).[citation needed] It was not clear if the contestants were aware of the show’s title, although a whiteboard in the ‘barracks’ had “Space Cadettes” [sic] written on it during one of the parties organised in the facility.

A group of twelve contestants (who answered an advert looking for “thrill seekers”) were selected to become the first British televised space tourists, including going to Russia to train as cosmonauts at the “Space Tourist Agency of Russia” (STAR) military base, with the series culminating in a group of four embarking on a five-day space mission in low Earth orbit. The show and space mission contained aspects of Reality TV, including hidden cameras, soundproofed ‘video diary’ rooms and group dormitories.

However, the show was in fact an elaborate practical joke, described by Commissioning Editor Angela Jain as “Candid Camera live in space” and claimed by Channel 4 to have cost roughly £5million. Unknown to the “space cadets”, they were not in Russia at all, but at Bentwaters Parks (formerly RAF Bentwaters, a USAF airfield from 1951 to 1993) in Suffolk staffed by costumed actors, and the “space trip” was entirely fake, complete with a wooden “shuttle” and actor “pilots”. Indeed, during the shooting of Space Cadets, smokers amongst the production crew were given Russian cigarettes to smoke in case any of the cadets discovered the butts. The production crew went so far as to replace lightswitches and electrical outlets in the barracks with Russian standard. In addition, three of the Cadets were actors, included to misdirect any suspicious cadets and to help reinforce the illusion.

At the time I talked about it a great deal, as everybody did, but I could not watch it for more than a few seconds at a time. Too close to home. On discovering that it was a hoax one of the cadets said, “I was planning my speech about achieving my childhood dreams. I’m a little bit broken-hearted.” I was a little bit broken-hearted for her. I, too, had grown up dreaming of space. The cruellest aspect of the show was that it made clear to the world that the cadets had been selected for their credulity and lack of scientific knowledge. Like many of those reading this I would have “failed” that particular test. But let us not put on airs; it is proverbial among scammers that there is good hunting to be had among educated people who think they could never be fooled by anything.

Why am I still thinking about these nine innocents sold a pup when a whole decade has gone by? Millions agree to take jobs and find them not as advertised. Billions agree to take spouses and find them not as advertised. Such is the way of the world. At least the cadets were handsomely paid. Enough, I assume, to head off any lawsuits about breach of contract – and I would imagine that those contracts were written by clever lawyers in the first place. If the cadets had been the type to read every sub-clause in a contract they would not have been chosen to be filmed larking around in a wooden replica spaceship allegedly equipped with gravity generators.

My memory was triggered (not, like, triggered triggered; just triggered) by all the talk now about consent. I am not thinking primarily about sexual consent, although that is relevant, but about the increasing sensitivity around posting any photographs and films of people without their permission. This new sensitivity isn’t just politically correct wailing. Brian Micklethwait of this parish finds it entirely consistent with his libertarian principles to take care to hide the faces of ordinary people he photographs, as he mentions here, even as he points out that the case is different for public figures. The world has changed. The internet never forgets a name. It is getting closer to never forgetting a face. When the cadets signed their contracts that wasn’t so obvious.