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 EU stands up for financial privacy (yes, really)

For once (yes, it happens) the legal authorities of the EU are in the right, in my view, and their critics are wrong, contrary to what Henry Williams, author of this article in CapX, says.

A top EU court has ruled that creating public registers of beneficial ownership, so that everyone can just find out who owns what, is a dangerous loss of privacy. In my view, if people are concerned that X or Y is an owner of a company or trust and that is somehow nefarious, they should get clearance first from a court or suitable legal authority and show some reason for the desire to obtain that data. It is not, in my view, acceptable to put everyone’s beneficial ownership details in the public domain so that journalists and others, many of whom seem to have it in for anyone whom they deem rich, can put this information into the public domain. For instance, public registers means that people can simply go on “fishing expeditions” and dump all kinds of financial data into the public domain, and damn the consequences. Sure, if politicians and the like have questionable financial affairs, some on the libertarian side will think they are fair game, but those whose only “crime” is to be rich or successful will get caught in the crossfire.

There are also risks, as lawyers have pointed out, that such owners can be targeted by gangs. This is not paranoia. And paradoxically, the pressure for beneficial ownership disclosure clashes with data protection rules in the EU – known as GDPR.

It is arguable that Swiss bank secrecy was a step too far, but there is such a thing as legitimate privacy. Would, for example, the author of the linked article from CapX be happy for there to be public databases, accessible to all, of medical information, etc? (Maybe he is.) We seem to live in an era where due process of law and respect for privacy are forgotten or seen as old-fashioned issues.

Being independent of the EU does not mean that everything in the EU is bad or worse than in the UK. Occasionally, the EU gets things right. The key is that decisions rest in the hands of the UK electorate.

Financial privacy is not a popular subject, and there are lots of campaigners, sometimes coming from a good place, who think putting everything in the public domain is a good thing. They are wrong, and for once, a court has done the right thing. I doubt, of course, that this debate is over.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Don’t talk to me about Partygate. Don’t talk to me about Suella Braverman’s emails. Talk to me about the fact that a 28-year-old man with devastating injuries was left in unimaginable pain and terror as fire engines drove in the other direction and ambulances stayed away. Talk to me about the fact that our emergency services step back from horrific incidents because of ‘safety fears’. Talk to me about this institutionalised cowardice, where the emergency services now make bureaucratic safety assessments rather than behaving with courage and bravery to assist people in dire need. Avoiding risk is a completely surreal principle for the emergency services to adopt. These people should take risks. They should be rushing into danger to help the men, women and children facing that danger.”

Brendan O’Neill, writing about the descriptions of shocking slowness by emergency services around the time of the Manchester terrorist attack of 2017. (Here is a link to the second report into the brutal attacks, and how services did, or did not, respond.)

Samizdata quote of the day

“The Tory vision of the country is, or should be, one where people are busy – working, thinking, travelling, prospering, bettering their lives. It involves building things and going places. It involves houses and factories, roads and cars, ports and airports, as well as parks, countryside and gardens.”

David Frost, a former member of the Boris Johnson administration, who resigned in part over things like tax hikes. I get the impression that his views are falling on deaf ears among many Conservative MPs, for whom building things, travelling, entrepreneurship, or of how life should be about a sense of adventure, are all terrible things to be banned or viewed with suspicion. Maybe we will get a political realignment at some point, where the Tories revert to their 19th Century default of being the party that largely resisted, or was snooty about, industry and an upwardly mobile class, with a different party championing such things. It may not happen, but I get the sense that there is a lot of change in the political culture at the moment. If you are a young, ambitious person, what on earth does much of the UK political order have to offer if you detest politics and want to just get on with life? The answer, for many, will be to leave.

What was he expecting?

Last week, James Sweet, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and President of the American Historical Association, published a very few, very cautious criticisms of the 1619 project (carefully bookended by impeccably woke remarks about the supreme court and etc.). Within two days, the (same) Professor Sweet, President of the American Historical Association, abjectly, cringingly apologised for having written those sentiments. Read this for the criticisms, and scroll down for the apology. (And read this and this for why I call his criticisms very few and very cautious – why even the project’s 1619 date is ridiculous.)

After Sweet begged forgiveness, some people tried to defend his original article, or at least his right to write it – whereupon the same American Historical Association that seemed OK with the vicious online pile-on after Sweet wrote his article complained that the discussion

“has been invaded by trolls uninterested in civil discourse in the last 12 hours”

and restricted outside access to end this “appalling” state of affairs.

Elsewhere on the web, Ilya Shapiro has blogged again about his experience of cancel culture, and the apology he wrote “in the wee hours that morning” after a tweet raised an online mob. I commented on it. His courteous reply said it was not written “in fear or desperation” and promised to blog more about the strategy of his various apologies in the period before he resigned from Georgetown.

While I wait with interest for that, I’ll discuss this oft-seen phenomenon: an academic says something extremely mild and cautious about some woke propaganda line – and then swiftly says something abjectly cringing about how appalling it was to say it.

If you read Sweet’s apology very attentively and in a very generous spirit, you could wonder whether he is actually apologising for his opinion as such, or whether, adorned with embarrassingly kowtowing adjectives, he is actually literally apologising only for causing dreadful, unforgivable distress to his piling-on accusers, exploiting his white privilege and all that, but not quite literally unambiguously saying that his views were actually, completely, factually false as such. In the same way, the attentive reader of the Soviet Union’s 1930’s show trial confessions can see that, hidden amid their florid admissions of political guilt, the actual literal owning up to the specific (absurd, and sometimes impossible) criminal acts was occasionally implicitly withheld or slyly discredited – like the blinking of hostages trying to signal their true situation.

But only the rare attentive reader saw this in the 1930s. To the ordinary Russian and the outside world alike, the spectacle of the accused calling themselves vile criminals and begging to be shot was baffling – but was also a fact: “All the accused confessed” seemed far more indisputably true than the accusations themselves. (In ‘I Chose Freedom’, Kravchenko says that, in the party circles he moved in, insisting on the literal truth of the accusations would have been treated as a confession of congenital idiocy. Only in America did he encounter people who would not just defend the trials on political grounds – as everyone in Russia had to, for life itself – but would spontaneously, openly claim to believe in the literal truth of the accusations themselves.) The confessions’ propaganda demonstration of the power of the communist state over the individual seemed unqualified – and all the more frightening because it was baffling.

Returning to Professor Sweet and the many like him, what was he expecting? Did he – could he possibly – have found the narrative’s punitive reaction to being questioned surprising? Was he unprepared for the demand for an apology? Or was he prepared – did he have his act of grovelling ready in draft? Did he think an apology so self-damning in form could preserve some fragment of truth (if so, I suggest he is making the same mistake as the ‘blinking’ show-trial accused did, but with far less excuse)?

Even more interesting, perhaps, how was he thinking about it? In ‘Darkness at Noon’, Arthur Koestler suggests the revolution had destroyed the very concept of truth in its communist votaries, so where could they find reason, let alone willpower, to resist confessing to fictional crimes just because the crimes were fictional. Hannah Arendt argues that a totalitarian leader’s power depends less on his subordinates’ belief in his superior abilities

“about which those in his immediate entourage frequently have no very great illusions”

than on the fact that, in the case of disagreement with him, they will never be very sure of their grounds, since they think that even the maddest policy can succeed if properly organised. Robert Conquest notes all that but points out that, to get communists to the point where they would denounce themselves in open court, the interrogators had to use sleep-deprivation, torture and threats to life and family, and seated each accused facing their (disguised as a member of the audience) chief NKVD interrogator while testifying; they did not just rely on philosophical doubts about objective truth. However Conquest also notes that those very few among the senior communist accused who were never known for rapturous acclaim of the doctrine’s absoluteness also never came to open court; they were pronounced guilty and killed without an audience.

To be sure, modern academia is full of it – full of the sort of philosophy that inverts every meaning and denies that 2+2 makes 4 – and this can hardly be helping its denizens make sacrifices for objective truth, or even believe in it, but if professor Sweet was already wholly on board with that, why risk speaking out (even as quietly as he did) in the first place?

It may be that, like some 1930s communist discovering that what the secret police did to peasants they would also do to him, Sweet genuinely did not expect that level of vitriol to be turned on someone like him, not just on some right-wing ‘deplorable’. Or it may be that even more goes on behind the scenes than we suspect: was Sweet prepared for something, but not for what happened? Or did it just feel much more frightening than he’d anticipated when it actually started happening?

We may or may not learn more as this example of cancel culture plays out. Meanwhile this post ends as it began, with a question: what was Sweet expecting?

Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?

Tegnell was aided by another worthy candidate to share the Nobel, Johan Giesecke, who had formerly held Tegnell’s job and served during the pandemic as an advisor to the Swedish public health agency. Decades earlier, he had recruited Tegnell to the agency because he admired the young doctor’s willingness to speak his mind regardless of political consequences. In early March 2020, as leaders across Europe were closing schools, Giesecke sent his protégé an email with a sentence in Latin. It was a famous piece of fatherly advice sent in 1648 by the Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna to reassure a son worried about holding his own in negotiations with foreign leaders. An nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur: “Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”

The quote is from an article (h/t instapundit) that starts

The frontrunner for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize … is the World Health Organization. It’s hard to imagine a worse choice. (Okay, Vladimir Putin.)

Most of the world ignored Tegnell and Giesecke, but they had equivalents in Florida. Those Floridans may have known Count Oxenstierna’s remark. But it’s more probable they knew what John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson on July 9th, 1813.

“While all other sciences have advanced, that of Government is at a stand … little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.”

Clearly they also knew that science bureaucrats are a lot more like bureaucrats than like scientists – not advancing science but at a stand as to how to apply it for anyone’s benefit but their own.

If Boris Johnson had listened to the Swedes instead of Professor Neil Ferguson and suchlike, he would still be prime minister. Boris (and Dominic Cummings too!) should have remembered what Dominic saw during the Brexit campaign.

Most people in politics are, whether they know it or not, much more comfortable with failing conventionally than risking the social stigma of behaving unconventionally.

It made a strange end to his career that, after getting his dream job by winning unconventionally, Boris then lost it as a delayed side-effect of failing conventionally. Fate offered him his longed-for Churchill moment – whereupon Boris let the Swedes, not the Brits save themselves by their exertions, and give the world their example: not something I would have predicted before I first saw it.

A Modest Proposal for containing Monkeypox

The WHO has proclaimed Monkeypox a global health emergency.

A major study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that Monkeypox is being driven overwhelmingly by sex between men. Yesterday the CDC reported the first two child monkeypox cases in the US:

“California toddler and an infant in D.C. were likely infected by ‘household contacts’ and both had contact with gay or bisexual men, CDC chief says”

Although the report is consistent with the study, I suspect Ian Miles Cheong thinks the phrase “between men may be understating the age range involved. “Are we allowed to ask any questions?”, he tweeted – to which the literal answer may be ‘no’, since Twitter has announced it will censor those who use the word ‘Groomers’, and I suggest the question Ian has not (yet) asked might involve that word.

However, I have a question – a modest proposal (and it truly is modest, as it would be dishonestly vain of me to pretend it was my idea; I owe it all to the inspiration of Professor Neil Ferguson and Dr Fauci).

Why don’t we just ban male homosexual sex – for three weeks “to Flatten the Curve” or fifteen days “to Slow the Spread” or whatever period sounds good? (How long hardly matters, provided it’s long enough to prepare a case for banning it for a lot longer. Here again, I must modestly disclaim all inventiveness of my own. I owe the idea of banning briefly, then using that time to get the ban extended to Dr Deborah Birx.)

Of course, such regulations reduce liberty – but surely global health experts have established beyond question these last two years that liberty can and should be sacrificed whenever the WHO declares a global health emergency.

Of course, Sweden claimed they would (and did) get a better outcome through doing much less by regulation, leaving far more of the distancing and restraint decisions to individual discretion – but the health authorities and media of most of the rest of the western political world treated the idea as ridiculous then, and do not call themselves ridiculous now.

So I put it to my readers that it would be absurd for those who guided us through the last pandemic not to enact my modest proposal for handling this one (especially as the rules would be easier to draft, since I’ve a vague notion that there’s an old law that could be revived to ban this unhealthy behaviour).

So who was Britain’s Dr Birx?

Although it is already being offered at 50% off, I feel so reluctant to put money in the pocket of Dr Birx that I will delay reading her new book until I see a remaindered copy on a charity bookstall.

Meanwhile, I recommend reading the whole of this and then also this (h/t instapundit) for some rather important information about the attitudes of one of the not-very-scientific science bureaucrats who brought lockdown to the USA. Here is a tiny sample.

No sooner had we convinced the Trump administration to implement our version of a two-week shutdown than I was trying to figure out how to extend it. Fifteen Days to Slow the Spread was a start, but I knew it would be just that. I didn’t have the numbers in front of me yet to make the case for extending it longer, but I had two weeks to get them. However hard it had been to get the fifteen-day shutdown approved, getting another one would be more difficult by many orders of magnitude.

Decide to lockdown first, find justification later. I resist the urge to add quote after quote; read the two complementary – but very uncomplimentary 🙂 – reviews of her book at the links above!

In Britain, it was ‘three weeks to flatten the curve’, not two weeks, but in both countries somewhat reluctant chief executives were persuaded, against their instincts, to go along with it – and with extending it. (Both Trump and Boris would probably still be safely in office if they had refused.)

Birx wittingly and unwittingly reveals much. Boris will soon have some spare time for reflection and for writing another book. Will he – will anyone – tell us more about the Birxing of the UK?

Samizdata word for today: paraprofessional

their paramilitary character must be understood in connection with other professional party organisations, such as those for teachers, lawyers, physicians, students, university professors, technicians and workers. All these were primarily duplicates of existing non-totalitarian professional societies, paraprofessional as the stormtroopers were paramilitary. … None of these institutions had more professional value than the imitation of the army represented by the stormtroopers, but together they created a perfect world of appearances in which every reality in the non-totalitarian world was slavishly duplicated in the form of humbug. (Hannah Arendt, ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’)

After seizing power, the Nazi party ‘coordinated’ all the existing professional organisations they had already duplicated. Sometimes the party organisation was the direct instrument of ‘coordination’ but at other times it could be just the threat – the ‘coordinated’ organisation could survive and even thrive if it outdid its party rival in zeal for “working towards the fuhrer”. For people and for the organisations they led, out-radicalising your rival was key to survival.

David Burge described today’s ‘coordination’ technique in fewer words: Identify a respected institution. Kill it. Gut it. Wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

Each organisation they gain helps the paraprofessionals conquer the next. In the US, coordinating education helped them coordinate the media step by step. The death of standards in those two then assisted coordinating some electoral processes, which in turn is now enabling more vigorous work on coordinating the military – and much else.

Meanwhile, the trains themselves may not run on time but those who run them are well-coordinated. If your bank is not doing much for your wealth, then it’s probably doing wonders for your pronouns. Medical organisations march in coordinated lockstep, from the psychologists to the pharmacists; even your pet had better get used to the care of a coordinated vet. And I could write so much more.

Paraprofessional: I think it is a word we need again today. And, like Hannah Arendt, I think its relationship to ‘paramilitary’ needs to be understood.

Ve’re askink ze qvestions!”

Last Wednesday, Jodi Shaw received a Hero of Intellectual Freedom Award – and got to rap on-stage in NYC, four years after Smith College told her she couldn’t because rapping while white was racist.

The freedom to rap while white is a form of free speech it has never occurred to me to pursue, but something Jodi said struck me.

“These terms are never defined … It’s just ‘social justice’.”

“And you’re afraid to ask,” she added, because “that might put a spotlight on you,” and people will think you are racist … According to Shaw, there was an “ever-present terror” at Smith “that any unverified student allegation of racism, or any other ‘-ism,’ has the power to crush our reputations, ruin our livelihood, and even endanger the physical safety of ourselves or our family members.”

It’s not the first time a movement has refused to define its central idea.

Himmler vehemently directed “not to issue any decree concerning the definition of the term ‘Jew’ … with all these foolish commitments we will only be tying our hands.” (The quote is from Himmler’s letter to Berger, July 28th 1942, Nuremberg Document No. 626.)

Identify a respected institution. Kill it. Gut it. Wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect. I’ve seen that spot-on description of how the woke operate applied so many times – to institutions. But it’s just as true of ideas. Totalitarians always gut the ideas they proclaim of all actual meaning. The woke wear the murdered carcass of words like racism (structural racism) or justice (social justice) as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

Sonnets are racist says SalfordU

Salford University has banned sonnets and suchlike “products of white western culture” from its creative writing course to “decolonise the curriculum”. I say ‘banned’ but they say they merely

“simplified the assessment offering choice”

and I have to admit there is a sense in which ‘simplified’ is the mot juste.

Frequent readers of Samizdata will now be expecting Niall Kilmartin (a.k.a Bilbo Baggins) to inflict some of his own poetic doggerel on you, but as none of mine even try to be any kind of sonnet, I will instead quote Neo’s response to the news.

My grief is deep, as deep as oceans vast
But virtue has its own reward, and so
I’ll give up sonnet-writing, and the past
Can sink beneath the waves of gloom so low.
Old Shakespeare, with his bootless bootless cries,
No doubt was white and certainly supreme.
Let’s stamp him out, and “colonization” dies.
We’ll show fidelity to the new meme.
Oh Wordsworth, even more forlorn are we.
Bereft of your old counsel, now we stand
On their less wise and quite unpleasant lea
Without the comfort of tradition’s hand.
The poems they write today are stupid shite
And sonnets are too challenging to write.

[If you compare with Neo’s original you will see that Niall get-the-scansion-perfect Kilmartin has made a tiny change at the start of the fourth-last line; feel free to comment and/or upbraid me any who wish. I have also skipped Neo’s link to the meaning of ‘shite’, assuming British readers know it, and transatlantic ones can deduce it from the context and from a certain rather obvious homonym. 🙂 ]

Neo has not offered an example of the modern, de-colonised poem that must now be written instead. Commenters are welcome to fill the lack with genuine examples or their own spoofs, or to share much loved poems, or just to give their opinions.

It was foresighted Robert Conquest who wrote, decades ago, that alongside ‘War is Peace’, ‘Freedom is Slavery’ and ‘Ignorance is Strength’, there was another essential slogan of totalitarianism that Orwell had (surprisingly) omitted:

Rubbish is Art

and of course, its corollary: Art is Rubbish (and racist and …).

“Who said the ‘N’ word?”

Natalie asked, “Can you guess what Lufthansa is talking about here?” For a bonus point, can you guess what word, beginning with ‘N’, the German policeman is prohibiting here?

… Jewish passengers were confronted by a layer of armed police who stood between them and the departure gate. In a scene that conceivably would have won critical praise had it been staged in a dark historical comedy, one of the distressed passengers asked plaintively, “Why do you hate us?” as the officers grimly surveyed them. Then someone else said the word “N—” … one of the offended police officers began barking in a thick German accent, “Who said the ‘N’ word? Who was it?”

[Excerpted from this article, edited to omit some letters following ‘N’ lest these offend any German police readers, or sympathisers thereof.]

One can hardly blame a German policeman for speaking “with a thick German accent”, and in Germany, it is a crime to call a police officer that word. Prudent Germans who wish to use the word without consequences are better advised to apply it to Donald Trump, or to call Israel a ‘N— state’. And prudent Jews who find themselves in Germany were reminded three years ago by the (perhaps unfortunately termed) ‘German anti-semitism commissioner’ to avoid looking Jewish – advice these “visibly Jewish” Lufthansa passengers had completely failed to heed.

I guess one take-away from this is that, next time anyone make a fuss about “the ‘N’ word”, they’ll need (and frequently deserve!) to be asked, “Which one?” Commenters are welcome to add any other take-aways that occur to them.

Samizdata quote of the night that identifies as a day

Kathleen Stock’s latest article in Unherd is titled “The emptiness of being queer” and subtitled “Sexual libertarians and rainbow bureaucrats created the perfect racket”. She should have subtitled it “Sexual libertines and rainbow bureaucrats created the perfect racket”, but given Stock’s own background and orientation, I happily overlook the minor misphrasing of her subtitle in view of the free-speech-forthrightness of her title.

Perhaps it won’t have escaped the reader thus far that there’s a biological element to all this too. The sexual libertarians are mostly men; the staff and trustees of Mermaids are nearly all female — no matter how they identify — and, in my experience, so are most other rainbow bureaucrats. Despite foundational intellectual myths, it turns out biological sex matters in the queer world too. And though they won’t like it, it’s tempting to see these two factions as part of a tediously conventional nuclear family, with rebellious jack-the-lad Dad and solicitous stay-at-home Mum, and with many confused children shunting between the two.

It was always inevitably a Stalin or a Mao who rose to rule any free-speech-hating communist party, unhindered by the purgeable presence in its early ranks of sincere types like Victor Kravchenko or Jung Chang’s father. I explained here why, similarly, groomers and pedophiles would come to control the free-speech-hating ‘identify’ movement, whatever other motives also helped start it.

However I forgot to add (as yet another example of oppressive tyrants pretending to be oppressed rebels, of those who hurt you pretending they help you) that the rainbow-bureaucrat-groomer side of that movement would aggressively self-identify as protective helpers.

Compared to that, it is indeed “no matter how they identify” otherwise.