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 Matrix Preloaded

I thought that after most of a lifetime reading science fiction and alternate history I knew all the ways Hitler could have won World War II if just one little thing had turned out differently, but I had never heard of this one:

Onthisday.com for May 12th included this entry:

1941 Konrad Zuse presents the Z3, the world’s first working programmable, fully automatic computer, in Berlin

W-w-what? Straight to Wikipedia I went. Here is the entry for the Z3:

The Z3 was completed in Berlin in 1941. It was not considered vital, so it was never put into everyday operation. Based on the work of the German aerodynamics engineer Hans Georg Küssner (known for the Küssner effect), a “Program to Compute a Complex Matrix”[b] was written and used to solve wing flutter problems. Zuse asked the German government for funding to replace the relays with fully electronic switches, but funding was denied during World War II since such development was deemed “not war-important”.

The original Z3 was destroyed on 21 December 1943 during an Allied bombardment of Berlin.

Well, good. While it is interesting to speculate on how the development of the computer might have been different, it sounds like the Lord guided the bomb-aimer’s hand on that occasion.

Anyone know, how close did they come?

A timely warning from Daniel Hannan

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

Some proposed amendments to the programme of public events when the revolution comes

So who is to be first against the wall? The traditional view is that it should be the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. While anyone who could call a robot “Your plastic pal who’s fun to be with” deserves their fate, bear in mind that Douglas Adams died before the triumph of the chatbot.

“For God’s sake, chatbots, let me talk to a human being”, cries Jessie Hewitson in the Times. She had a rotten time when both her bank cards stopped working.

Cross though the bus driver looked, he took pity on me and waved me to a seat. When I got off at the Tube station I tried again with the card readers at the gates. Same problem. My cards weren’t working, so there I stood, stranded, unable to get to work.

I called Barclays. After ten minutes of extreme faffery, an automated voice told me that I had to use the chat function because I had downloaded the phone app. So, thumbs frozen outside the tube, I typed my problem into the “chat”.

It was more like an endurance test, where the bank pushes you to the limit of your resolve. To see how long you will hang on to speak to a real person, if indeed you can figure out when you finally are.

In comparison to that “your plastic pal” doesn’t seem so bad. At least you can hit it. Let us spare the Sirius Cybernetics Corp. for a little while and execute the entire British banking establishment instead. But even they, citoyens, do not go first. So far, Ms Hewitson’s article is a pretty standard moan about the way the telephone number of your local bank now sits alongside the nuclear codes as a closely-guarded secret. Things are indeed grim. They have taken to giving themselves names. Happy female names, mostly amusingly mis-spelled variants of human ones. We may also have to kill everyone who has ever used the term “customer engagement”. But bad as our current plight is, there are very few bad situations that government “help” cannot make worse:

Why are financial companies doing this? The obvious reason is money, but there’s another one: banks, broadband providers et al are keenly aware of the complaints figures that are given to the Financial Conduct Authority and other regulators.

If they manage to reduce these, customers view them as more trustworthy. The harder they make it for you to speak to a person, the fewer complaints that will be logged. And so you have a warped situation where the good banks that encourage people to raise problems look worse than the bad ones that don’t.

I present my revised schedule for the public entertainments on Day One:

3. The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation
2. BarcWestLloydHSBCrap
1. The Financial Conduct Authority

Time for a word cull

As we enter the final month of 2021 – the year of Sleepy Joe, Boris “Peppa Pig” Johnson and snarling M. Macron, there are a few words and expressions that I’d like to see the back of. Feel free to add your own to the shit-list:

Build back better;
Great Reset;
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion;
It is what it is;
She’s a strong, independent woman;
Toxic masculinity;
Levelling up;
Hard-working families (what’s wrong with a bit of indolence, occasionally?);
Our NHS;
Taking a holistic view;
The view from the trenches;
Key worker (which begs the question of what everyone else has to do or be compelled to do);
Let’s hop into this (boing!);
Agile (everyone is a sodding gymnast now);
A solutions provider;

Free market squirrel

Buitengebieden tweets, “This squirrel always brings dried seed to trade for some nuts..”

I have put this under the category of “Twitter nonsense” because we have no category for “Twitter video that is so adorable that gratitude for it almost makes me hope that Jack Dorsey succeeds in his attempt to escape the righteous vengeance of the populace.”

Never apologise. Explain without apology.

“In politics apologies just make things worse”, writes Daniel Finkelstein in the Times. The subtitle to his piece is “Boris Johnson should be sorry about the Owen Paterson affair but actually saying so would do him more harm than good”, and that sums up the article: the rather bleak observation that in politics apologies do not pay. Finkelstein stresses that he is not saying they shouldn’t work, just that they usually don’t. To illustrate this he cites an experiment carried out by Cass Sunstein:

In Cass Sunstein’s recent book This Is Not Normal he describes two pieces of work that seek to measure the impact an apology has on people’s opinion of the person doing the apologising.

The first uses two real events. In a survey respondents were told about an occasion when the senator Rand Paul seemed to suggest that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was wrong to forbid private discrimination on the basis of race. They were also told of the difficulty Lawrence Summers got himself into as president of Harvard University. Summers had talked about genetic differences between men and women that might influence their scientific interest and ability.

Different versions of each of these stories were tested. Some respondents were told that Paul or Summers had apologised and tried to make amends; some were told they had toughed it out. Would you vote for senator Paul? Should Summers face negative consequences?

For Paul, an apology made no difference. For Summers the apology produced a serious negative reaction. And indeed in real life Paul avoided an explicit apology and remained a senator while Summers repeatedly apologised yet had to resign.

That was Finkelstein quoting Sunstein. This is me: neither Rand Paul nor Larry Summers should have apologised. The inefficacy of apology as a tactic had very little to do with it. They should not have cringed, they should have roared.

Senator Paul was right to say what he did. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was wrong to forbid private discrimination on the basis of race. The various US Civil Rights Acts were utterly right to sweep away the state-mandated apartheid of the Old South, and to dismantle the system of legal dirty tricks designed to make it almost impossible for black Americans to actually exercise their theoretical right to vote. But they should have left individuals alone. There would now be less racism, not more, if the US government had stuck to its job of enforcing the equal application of the laws and had kept out of men’s souls. Instead for my entire lifetime it has been trying to help the poor, poor blacks and reform the wicked, wicked whites. The keenest supporters of that policy proclaim its utter failure: they tell us that fifty-seven years after the Act white supremacy is embedded in every American institution. So let’s take them at their word, cease pursuing this obviously futile strategy, and try something else.

Lawrence Summers was also right to say what he did, which was that people should be unafraid to honestly consider all hypotheses as to why there are fewer women in science and engineering, including the one that men just tend to be better at science and engineering. He was right to say that no hypothesis should be off the table, and even if he had been wrong about that particular hypothesis (speaking as a woman who was once in that world, I don’t think he was wrong), he was right to raise the question. Harvard’s decline from a place of free scientific enquiry to a training ground for little Lysenkos became almost inevitable from the moment it forced out its last independent president. Not that the other American universities or the British ones are much better. They are all full of people each competing to apologise the most fervently for their own institution’s sinful existence. I begin to think that, here, too, the best thing might be to take them at their word.

Have you ever changed anyone’s mind?

Libertarians often like to tell their own “conversion story”, perhaps with just a touch of “humble-bragging” about their own open-mindedness. It seems impolite to boast of having changed someone else‘s mind. If the other person is present there is a distinct danger that they will purse their lips and announce they have jolly well changed back. In any case those who are good at changing people’s minds, as the late Brian Micklethwait was, do not think of it as winning a duel but more as clearing up any misconceptions that were stopping the other person from seeing the true situation and changing their own mind.

But naming no names, have you ever done it?

The fundamental hubris of modern humanity

Some interesting analysis by commenter Wintergreen.

When I ponder the societal response to COVID, the theme that leaps out at me is the fundamental hubris of modern humanity. Of course I’m speaking in sweeping generalities that don’t apply uniformly to all individuals, but modern man has convinced ourselves that we are the masters of the universe. We scoff at the benighted fools who went before us, we tear down their statues if they do not rigidly adhere to every tenet of certain strands of modern philosophy. We laugh at their belief in the old gods, or in old now-falsified scientific theories, but always lacking the self-awareness to see that our recent forebears who are now the target were doing the same and that we will soon be the butt of the joke.

We have torn down the old gods, and I’m not here to tell you that they were true (or to agree that they were false), but it is audacious hubris to be certain that there was nothing at all to be taken from the millennia of distilled thinking on the human condition that they represented. They sometimes led to horrors – crusades, inquisitions, jihads, witch hunts, and those horrors confirm our rectitude. But in their place, men have been forced to find other animating reasons for being. Nationalism, Marxism, socialism, totalitarianism, environmentalism, and now scientism and Wokism have all attempted to fill this void, and they have produced their very own horrors, but no matter. Yesterday’s intellectual craze that lit the world on fire is discarded and replaced by a new one, and this time it will surely be utopia.

So confident are we in our status as masters of the universe that when the utopia fails to materialize, it takes at least a generation to consider that perhaps the new ideology was not the answer. In the mean time, it must be that other humans have foiled the triumph, because humans have conquered all (confusingly, the high priests sometimes acknowledge that we are small, not particularly physically-gifted creatures trying to use our brains to carve out an existence for ourselves on a small rock circling a small star in a small galaxy in some far-flung corner of a largely empty and cold universe, but do so to buttress their own authority rather than admit their own fallibility). So some group must be otherized and the blame laid on them. Depending on the ideology that’s been foiled, it might be a religious or ethnic group, it might be the opponents of the ideology in question, or it might be polluters, capitalists, or the unvaccinated. In any event it must have a purely human source because to consider other possibilities would be to shake the foundations of the fundamental hubris. If people are hungry, it must be because some other human is hoarding resources. If people are not reaching their potential, it must be because some other human is oppressing them. If people are sick, it must be because some other human is failing to subjugate themselves enough to “stop the spread”.

Even an ideology that rejects objective truth and grand narratives like post-modernism is used not as it might be to reject human hubris but rather simply as a cudgel with which to kill the old gods and the old ideologies. All ideologies have the potential to fall into hubris and otherizing, but the risk can be greatly reduced when an ideology embraces the notions of inalienable individual rights, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression — notions that if they were ever truly embraced have now been disregarded as the the cynical refuge of the scoundrels who are blocking utopia.

The opiate of the masses being deployed in this moment is not promises of an afterlife but promises of a life after – a life after two weeks then months then years of being deprived of some of the most simple pleasures of human existence. Just as the priests of old could not actually deliver on their promises in a verifiable manner, neither can the priests of today. As many of their parishioners await their future reward, they may die of non-COVID diseases, suicide and drug abuse, their intellectual and social skills may atrophy, but surely they will emerge on the other side sicker and older and weaker because no amount of intellectual posturing can overcome the physical constraints of the human condition itself.

Scientism is proving to be one of the most dangerous of the new ideologies because it mutates with the speed of a virus, and each mutation wipes out the memory of the previous iteration so as to not puncture the hubris of its adherents. It can credibly claim to do so by expropriating the mantle of science, which is a way of thinking that requires old beliefs to be jettisoned when evidence demands. Scientism, though, plays fast and loose with the evidentiary requirements, treating hypotheses as theories and requiring that the currently fashionable hypotheses be venerated as in a faith.

So now a vast campaign of othering has commenced against those who refuse an experimental vaccine for a disease they are very unlikely to suffer serious harm from. That it is completely infeasible, even with an utter disregard for individual rights, to vaccinate 8.8 billion people in time to prevent new variants from emerging is no matter. The first major campaign demonized those who refused to accept indefinite house arrest, the wonton suspension of economic and civil liberties, and the complete disregard for all aspects of life other than virus avoidance. The second demonized those who questioned the efficacy of cloth talismans. Woven throughout was the dismissal of those who questioned how this disease emerged and whether it may in fact itself be a manifestation of human hubris, and of any possible remedies that didn’t line the pockets of DME manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. But this new campaign is the most vicious, because while the others were at least theoretically temporary in nature, there is no way to walk back an injection, and the campaign now seeks to physically rather than simply rhetorically otherize its opponents.

The admirers of the experts (e.g. Fauci) will defend their flip-flops by saying “the science changed”. Well, actually, the science didn’t change. Perhaps our understanding changed, but the workings of the natural world that we are grasping to understand did not (of course, viruses evolve and conditions change etc., but that’s not how it’s being invoked). Maybe you should show a little humility as a result, and submit yourself to honest cross-examination while allowing people to dissent.

To call it “Project Cassandra” was hubris

As soon as I saw it I thought of psychohistory. I was not alone, judging from the most recommended comment to this fascinating Guardian article:

‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war

An extract:

In one of his last reports to the defence ministry, towards the end of 2019, Wertheimer had drawn attention to an interesting development in the Caucasus. The culture ministry of Azerbaijan had recently supplied libraries in Georgia with books carrying explicit anti-Armenian messages, such as the works of poet Khalil Rza Uluturk. There were signs, he warned, that Azerbaijan was ramping up propaganda efforts in the brewing territorial conflict with its neighbouring former Soviet republic.

War broke out a year later: 6,000 soldiers and civilians died in a six-week battle over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the war to bolster his strongman image, hailing Armenia’s defeat in December as a “glorious victory”. Russia, traditionally allied with Armenia, successfully leveraged the conflict to consolidate its influence in the region. Germany and the EU, meanwhile, looked on and stayed silent: being able to predict the future is one thing, knowing what to do with the information is another.

Because serious is overrated…

After listening to Boris bloviating, I am totally with cats on this. Sweet meteor of death, Cornwall… Cornwall…

Who funds the IEA?

It is a perennial question:

The answer has been unearthed, in a long-lost document from 1990.

You’re a socially quite well connected sort of a fellow, with lots of rich acquaintances, and with the energy to cultivate plenty more. What do you do if your rich supporters demand immediate results for their money, while you know that this is impossible and that the job must start with academics and intellectuals, rather than with mass publicity and instant policy transformations? There being no mass market for liberty, how do you find the money, now, instantly, to start financing the creation of such a market? Are you bright enought to get instantly wealthy, and yet bright enough in a quite different way to realise that liberty is a lifetime project, and more?

What do you do about rich people who say they believe in freedom but who, to an appalling degree, don’t? Do you somehow magic their money out of their wallets anyway, and, despite having the poor taste to be willing to sacrifice the only life you have consorting with such people, do you nevertheless have the brains to team up with somebody else, deeply unfoolish, who does your editing and supervises your publishing? And does your editor have the brain and the brawn to publish everything sensible that the rich people will permit, nothing sensible that they won’t, and nothing senseless? It’s asking a hell of a lot. It is called the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Government response to Covid-19 explained in a single video

Addendum: Suitable narrative courtesy of “Bell Curve”:

Government: We must lockdown due to this terrible disease!

Data literate people: Hey, good news, this is a nasty disease if you fit certain profiles but for most people, this is not that big a deal.

Government: We must lockdown again due to this terrible disease!

Data literate people: Guys! Please! Listen, not only is this not that big a deal, we now know early treatment means this is REALLY not a big deal.

Government: We must lockdown yet again due to this terrible disease!

Data literate people: Oh for fuck sake…