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]

“I know that I will not be able to avoid destroying humankind.”

That was a line from a Guardian op-ed written entirely by a robot. The machine was instructed to focus on why humans have nothing to fear from AI. I do not find this reassuring.

The sad story of Scots Wikipedia

Hats off to the Guardian for the pun in this headline:

Shock an aw: US teenager wrote huge slice of Scots Wikipedia

Nineteen-year-old says he is ‘devastated’ after being accused of cultural vandalism

The Scots Wikipedia entry on the Canada goose – or “Canadae guiss” – was at first honest about its provenance. A tag warned: “The ‘Scots’ that wis uised in this airticle wis written bi a body that’s mither tongue isna Scots. Please impruive this airticle gin ye can.”

But, as the author grew in confidence, so he removed the caveat, and continued on his Scots-writing spree.

Now an American teenager – who does not speak Scots, the language of Robert Burns – has been revealed as responsible for almost half of the entries on the Scots language version of Wikipedia.

If you are wondering how a nineteen year old managed to be responsible for creating or editing tens of thousands of articles, the answer is simple:

He wrote: “I was only a 12-year-old kid when I started, and sometimes when you start something young, you can’t see that the habit you’ve developed is unhealthy and unhelpful as you get older.”

Naming no names except my own, that sounds like a few of us here. Ten edits a day, most days, for two and a half thousand days. The work of half his life. The thing that made him special. And now they revile him for it. Believe me, I am not laughing when I call this a sad story.

Believe me, too, when I say I do not want to mock Scots. The Samizdata “Languages” category includes many other posts by me about endangered tongues. I want them to survive and grow. A world where everyone spoke only one language would be a grey place, and one more likely to fall to tyranny. For many a soul living under oppression their knowledge of something other than the majority language has been the one window to freer times or places that the censors could not brick up. Less portentously, I like the vigorous style of Scots. The fact that it is mostly mutually intelligible with English English has been the source of endless arguments about whether it is a dialect of English or a language in its own right. It is a pity that this question has been politicised. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that although Scots was a separate language in the Middle Ages, enough linguistic convergence has occurred to say that nowadays it is a dialect of English. There is nothing wrong with that. It would be equally valid to say Standard English and Scots are both dialects on the continuum of English (and that the group as a whole is called “English” is just a matter of historically familiar terminology, not an attribution of superiority. Brits should remember that if numbers of speakers were the criterion that decided the name of this language we would be speaking American.)

It is a sad reflection on the state of Scots that nobody stopped “AmaryllisGardner” for five seven years. Scarcely anyone seems to have questioned him. I cannot help thinking this fiasco would never have happened if linguists and the penumbra of people who are “into” languages had not been so down on prescriptivism. After all, if there truly is no correct or incorrect way to use language, our laddie’s version of Scots has as much claim to be right as the one they speak in Glasgow.

I am an anti-prescriptivist myself when it comes to daily life. It is wrong to sneer at anyone for their local mode of speech, and still worse to beat it out of them as was common in the past. The variety of any language that has become the standard did not do so because of any intrinsic superiority; it was mere chance. Nonetheless a command of standard English can unlock doors across the world for children in Barlanark, as it does for children in Brixton or Beijing. Fortunately children are good at picking up more than one language and code-switching between them.

Meanwhile, in debate I will continue to extol both languages and Wikipedia as splendid examples of spontaneous order. They still are. Most of the time.

Too late now

Labour launches new campaign with “24 hours to save British jobs” warning, reported the website Labour List the day before yesterday.

The political purity spiral as experienced by the Instagram knitting community

I cannot knit and I am not on Instagram, but as someone who sews and is into politics, I cannot think how I came to miss this article from Gavin Haynes when it came out in January of this year. After seeing it recommended on the UK Politics subreddit, I hastened to post it here:

How knitters got knotted in a purity spiral

Mr Haynes discusses purity spirals throughout history, then narrows his focus to a couple of examples from 2018/19:

Our documentary analysed just two latter-day purity spirals — Instagram knitting culture and young adult novels. Both seemed perfectly-sized to be taken over — they were spaces big enough to have their own star system, yet small enough for the writ of a dominant group to hold.

In each, a vast tapestry of what were effectively small businesses competed for attention online by fluidly mixing personal and professional brand. On social media, opinion, diary and sales often existed within the same posts. Each individual small business was uniquely vulnerable to being un-personed, ‘cancelled’. But, simultaneously, each could benefit enormously from taking on the status of thought leader — from becoming a node that directed moral traffic.

To take the example of Instagram knitting: the unravelling began with a man called Nathan Taylor. Gay, living with HIV, nice as pie, Taylor started a hashtag aimed at promoting diversity in knitting, Diversknitty, to get people from different backgrounds to talk. And he did: the hashtag was a runaway hit, spawning over 17,000 posts.

But over the following months, the conversation took on a more strident tone. The list of things considered problematic grew. The definition of racism began to take on the terms mandated by intersectional social justice ideology.

The drama played out in the time-honoured way:

Finally, just as the guillotine had eventually come for Robespierre, Nathan Taylor, who had founded the #Diversknitty movement, found himself at its sharp end.

When Taylor tried to inject positivity back into Diversknitty, his moral authority burnt up inside minutes. A poem he’d written asking knitters to cool it (“With genuine SOLEM-KNITTY/I beg you, stop the enmity”) was in turn interpreted as a blatant act of white supremacy. When the mob finally came for him, he had a nervous breakdown. Yet even here, he was accused of malingering, his suicidal hospitalisation described online as a ‘white centring’ event.

Gavin Haynes also made a half hour Radio Four documentary telling the same story. (A BBC iPlayer sign-in is required to listen.) I am about to listen to it now.

A contribution to debate

The Right Wing Dictionary – Here’s what the words and phrases conservatives use REALLY mean.

They’re not sending their best. However I must admit that “arse-badger” is a nifty little insult which I shall save for future use.

If you do not have the time or energy to follow such an intellectual analysis of the true meaning of terms used in political debate, try this for light relief:

‘Defund the police’ is not nonsense. Here’s what it really means

The Great Unfollowing…

A man in Minneapolis was asphyxiated by a policeman, all the while with bystanders pleading with said cop to let the man breathe. Yes, I know the victim had past convictions and was being arrested as a suspect in another crime, but so what? He was effectively tortured to death in a street, slowly over nine minutes, whilst intermittently begging for his life when he could actually speak. The whole ghastly incident was captured on video by bystanders; an open and shut case of grotesque police brutality, no doubt about that.

This incident soon leads to riots and looting, ‘Antifa’ & other assorted political scavengers and opportunist thugs using this egregious crime as an excuse, and it all kicks off nationwide. At the time of writing, many American neighbourhoods are in the process of being trashed, including many largely black ones (not that it should make any difference whose neighbourhood is being looted and burned). This is an American tragedy, the whole thing, no doubt about that either.

Now we all have differing interests and it is unreasonable to expect everyone else to share our own particular obsessions. I am British, and for all the problems we have in Britain, the police here very rarely kill people. And whilst race relation can be fraught at times, UK lacks the all consuming obsession with race that poisons discourse in the USA, despite constant attempts by advocate of identity politics to import such sensibilities here.

And so, whilst I found this crime appalling, I saw no reason for the death of one man somewhere in the USA to dominate the headlines in Britain, particularly as widespread police brutality in France scarcely gets reported at all. Likewise, police violence in Hong Kong is also greatly underreported (albeit a bit better than official thuggery France). But if all you watch is the BBC, you might be forgiven for thinking the only places violence happens is in America and Palestine.

Being British, goings on in France are of concern to me, what with them being the place I get my claret from and our nearest major neighbour (sorry Ireland, it’s a size thing). Likewise, Britain has long historical links to Hong Kong, given ours was the nation that signed the treaty with China, turning the place over to Peking under the ‘One Nation Two Systems’ doctrine.

Those are my interests. And if you do not share them, well okay.

Then I turn on the stupid screen and behold a large pustule of iPhone wielding bourgeoise leftists gathering in Britain to protest what happened in America (the murder, not the riots, naturally). Do they march on the US Embassy? No, of course not, they assemble in Trafalgar Square and then shamble past Downing Street to scream at the Metropolitan Police, as if the local Plod are culpable for some psycho cop strangling George Floyd to death on the other side of the fuckin’ Atlantic.

Okay, I get it now. This is not really about police brutality in another country, it is a certain sociopolitical ilk of people, tearful that Dom Cummings and Boris don’t give a damn what they want, and bored by the Wuhan coronavirus lockdown. This is about having a nice day out in the sun, emoting their virtue and then posting it on Instagram. Were they chanting for the battered, crippled and dead students in Hong Kong? Do they give a flying fuck about some Gilets Jaunes getting the living shit beaten out of them in France? How about Spanish riot cops putting the boot in to separatists in Barcelona? Nah.

Fine, like I said, we all have our own obsessions, but I hope such folk marching in London, Berlin and Amsterdam understand why I think their public concern for what a man’s murder in Minneapolis represents is daft posturing, basically cosplay.

Then I scroll through Instagram, which for me at least is for pictures of food, cocktails, holiday snaps, cats and fit babes-in-bikinis. How odd, I see a hitherto non-political photographer in France has posted a solid black graphic, a blackout in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter. Sigh. Unfollow.

And a rather fetching model in Prague has done the same, along with an incoherent something something racism platitude. Unfollow. Trendy furniture designer in Dublin whose work I quite like, they have just posted a black square. Unfollow. Italian actress, black square. Unfollow. Unfollow. Unfollow. Unfollow. I have probably unfollowed a hundred people today thus far, not kidding, and the day is still young. Seriously, just fuck off.

Perhaps ironically (or perhaps not), I have not unfollowed a number of commentators on both ‘left’ and ‘right’ who frequently discuss such topics, even though they felt the need to post black squares. It is not the topic itself that annoys me, I have written rather a lot about civil rights myself over the years, it is the sheer fashionable vacuous insincerity of it all.

The Great Unfollowing continues 😐

Covid-positive sex-mad Nazis and the Terminal Markets Act 1973

OK, the inclusion of the words “sex-mad” in that title was merely a desperate scheme1 to try and get you to read an article on a case brought against the UK by the European Commission in the European Court of Justice regarding the Terminal Markets Act 1973. However there really is mention of Nazis, and of the coronavirus, though not of the former being infected by the latter. In fact I would have preferred it if there had been less of the Nazi stuff2: the rather tasteless comparisons to World War II made me inclined to dismiss this “Briefings for Britain” piece on the case from two days ago, but I have a feeling that maybe it ought not to be dismissed.

In it, Caroline Bell writes:

This Thursday, the European Court of Justice delivers its verdict in the European Commission’s infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom for failing to impose VAT on transactions in the City’s multi-trillion-dollar derivatives markets. Launched during the murky days of the Brexit withdrawal negotiations in 2018, this judicial time bomb has the potential to blow up both free trade talks and the Withdrawal Treaty itself if the Court finds against the UK.

Which it did. The judgement issued today can be read here.

Caroline Bell speculates that a decision against the UK might have dramatic consequences:

In terms of trade talks, an adverse judgment would probably mean the City could kiss goodbye to any sort of enhanced equivalence (which Brussels is not willing to grant anyway) and even basic equivalence for financial services could be an issue. But for every blow the EU tries to strike here, the UK is in a position to retaliate much harder against EU financial institutions, so the outcome is again likely to be neutral. Does anyone even expect there to be a financial service agreement with the EU anymore? The EU’s action against the Swiss in this area to try to bring them to heel has badly backfired, and would do so if they applied the same tactics on the UK.

I know that quite a few of our readers work in the legal and financial fields. Is there anything to this story? What effect will the verdict on Case C‑276/19 have?

1I think it was the humourist Alan Coren who said that since the bestseller charts back then in the 70s always seemed to be topped by sex books, WWII books and golf books, his next book ought to be about sex-mad golfing Nazis. Edit: I had misremembered. Alan Peakall and Mr Ed have pointed out the existence of Golfing for Cats, pub. 1976. How many publishers would dare have that cover today?

2A wish shared by most of Planet Earth in 1945.

Samizdata quote of the day

So you don’t read people you disagree with? Do you at least read the CliffsNotes version to know if you actually disagree with them?

To be fair, not uncommon, which is why my party trick of attributing Mussolini quotes to Marx to see what someone really thinks works so well.

Perry de Havilland

Earth Day thought for 2020

Just imagine the current Wuhan Coronavirus lockdown, not for a month or two, but forever, with government telling you when you can go out, when you can travel, who can work and what jobs are ‘essential’. Welcome to the NetZero future some people want for everyone.

If this message lodges in enough minds, the Chinese Bat Lung pandemic might actually have a substantial upside.

It lets us pretend that it is us talking

Samizdata no longer needs me. Soon it will no longer need you. I took the text from the sidebar:

The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property.

and copied it into Talk To Transformer.

The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property. Most of them are rich white males who are probably atheists, but many are probably questioning the existence of a god as they revel in their limitless wealth. They believe that anyone who is unprotesting of their cause is a threat to their cause and a threat to their own existence. They don’t care if you are a child and a physician or an Arab and a journalist. You must conform and accept their conspiracies. This is the true face of

Comments are, as ever, welcome. Even from humans.

Samizdata half-forgotten sorta-quote of the day

If there is a disaster, would you like people for hundreds of miles around to drop everything and make herculean efforts to get those worst affected exactly the sort of help they need most – even when the helpers have no personal connection with the victims? Would you like factories worldwide to rush to switch production to making whatever they are short of in the disaster zone?

You would? Then let people make money by doing it. You can either rely on the small subset of people who will seriously disrupt their lives to help strangers out of pure charity, or you can also get help from the much larger pool of people who who are pushed from vague thoughts of benevolence into action by the prospect of profit. Let them sell goods of which there is a shortage at a higher price and soon there won’t be a shortage any more.

– something sorta like this was said by someone, whom I would gladly credit if I could remember who they were.

My post was prompted by this story by Edward Thicknesse in City A.M.: Coronavirus: Calls for price controls dismissed as ‘economically illiterate’.

A little thing you can do to help businesses struggling due to the quarantine

You could pay now for a session with a business such as a hairdresser, gym or restaurant that has been forced to shut during the quarantine, the voucher to be redeemed whenever the establishment re-opens. The appointment could be for your own use, or as a gift for someone else. It might be a way that someone who has been in isolation can thank whoever did their shopping, while helping the proprietors of the business get some cash coming in when they need it most.