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.

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Samizdata comedy quote of the day

Clever Churchgoers Avoid Arrest By Disguising Themselves As Rioters

LOS ANGELES, CA—Religious people in Southern California have found a bold, creative solution for in-person meetings in spite of the continuing lockdown. This past weekend, several area churches attended church services disguised as righteously indignant rioters.

“We already have the righteous indignation thing down,” said one church elder. “Now, we’ve simply added black balaclavas, hoodies, Guy Fawkes masks, and baseball bats! We found that when we do this, we can meet in large groups without much interference from the local authorities. It’s been a delightful experience.”

It’s satire 🙂 – I think? 🙁

I feel like commenting that comment is needless – but don’t let that restrain you.

The Plague

“Are you able to condemn absolutely?”

“No – but surely that is not necessary?”

“It is not – though the situation is very bad. But testimony without reservation is the only testimony I will give – so I will give no testimony in support of your testimony.”

Ostensibly, these two characters at the start of Albert Camus’ The Plague are talking about the health situation of Algerian natives under French colonial rule. But The Plague is not actually about an outbreak of the black death in Oran. It is about France under Nazi occupation, recast as a description of French behaviour in an epidemic. The plague represents the Nazis: deadly, relentless, reigning in terror for a time and then gone. The book’s interest is in how people act when a thing like that sweeps over them; about the scum it brings to the top; about who decides to resist and when and why; about Vichy and freedom and the human heart.

By setting the book in Oran, Camus gave himself an advantage: he could describe the city he grew up in very well (and the ostensible event – an outbreak of plague – was more likely). But he also gave himself a problem. France was under the Nazis but Oran was under the French colonial authorities. The French readers of Camus’ book are like the French readers of the newspaper whose journalist “cannot condemn absolutely”. So Camus explains – very exactly, in terms of his analogy – that he will say nothing, and from that point on, the book focusses only on how the ethnically-French inhabitants of Oran behave.

I have been a little surprised never to see mention of The Plague in my recent web browsing. (Only a little surprised – the amount that is on the web and not noticed by me is vast.) That an epidemic can be like an invasion, empowering Vichy-like petty tyrants and harming freedom, would seem topical at this time. I’m no great fan of Camus (though, like anyone honest, I greatly prefer him to Sartre and suchlike) and it is from old memory that I provide the quote heading the post. But some people think highly of him, and I’ll grant that, even in translation, a certain quality of the prose shines through. The left did not welcome his post-WWII advice that what they needed most was “pitiless criticism”, but they never managed to push him all the way down the memory hole.

In the UK and the US, I’ve seen criticism of the lockdown that I thought very fair – and other criticism I thought OTT, as if it were rational to think Boris and Trump really loved lockdowns and wanted them to last forever. The cruel absurdity I see in France seems to belong in the pages of The Plague.

L’absurdité cruelle

Not long ago, I posted that events in the UK distantly echoed

“the cruel absurdity of the Roman princes, unable to protect their subjects against the public enemy, unwilling to trust them with arms for their own defence” (‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, Edward Gibbon)

But events in France offer more than an echo.

France’s general population remains under extremely strict lockdown; the police have been ordered to enforce the rules ruthlessly. Permits to leave one’s home were limited to 60 minutes, once a day, and no farther than half a mile. … more than 915,000 citations have been handed out; 15.5 million persons have been stopped and checked …

People living in no-go zones [zones-urbaines-sensibles “sensitive urban zones”] are treated differently. Police officers have been told by the government not to stop them at all and to avoid as much as possible going near where they live.

(Excerpted from France’s No-Go Zones: The Riots Return.
Read the whole thing.)

The ‘zones sensibles’ of Gothic immigrants in the dying western Roman empire were not ‘urbaines’ but they enjoyed the same cruel absurdity of being exempt from the harsh laws Rome enforced on the areas it still effectively controlled. They showed the same pattern of growth too. In 2005 there were less than 100 zones urbaines sensibles; today, France has more than 750 zones where the absence of lockdown casts the growing reality into stark relief.

The evolution of ruling attitudes makes another parallel.

In 2005, the police tried to quell the riots, unsuccessfully. For three weeks, the country seemed on the verge of a civil war. Today, because members of the government seem to believe that if riots occur, a civil war really could happen, the police are asked not to intervene and to stand aside until the destruction stops.

In ancient times, a similar period takes us from the Battle of Adrianople (378 AD) when the empire tried and failed to quell ‘rioting’ Gothic immigrants, to that of Frigidius (394) where the emperor used a Gothic army to defeat his internal rivals. The Goths lost heavily in that battle, which probably did not bother the emperor – but also did not slow much the speed with which they rotted the empire. I doubt Macron will lose sleep if the ‘zones urbaines sensibles’ lose people to the virus through ignoring his lockdown – which they won’t much, certainly not enough to slow their rate of growth much.

A similar number of years then takes us from Frigidius to the fall of Rome in 410. One day soon, France may do something sensible about the ‘zones urbaines sensibles’. Or, one day, France may do something horrible because for too long political correctness forbade her doing something sensible. Or Paris may ‘fall’ – may become one big zone urbaine sensible.

Meanwhile, I find it a disturbing symptom that the French government seems so acclimatised to the cruel absurdity of enforcing laws that take liberty from natives who obey you, while allowing exemptions that give liberties to immigrants who don’t. I can dislike a law yet dislike its arbitrary enforcement more. I do not care for this ‘lockdown pour nous, mais non pour vous’. Between 2005 and 2020, a kind of degeneration has taken place.

Our astonishing controls

Who would have thought that Sweden would end up being the last place in Europe where you could go for a beer?

writes an understandably surprised Swede (No lockdown please, we’re Swedish). In Sweden, the state tells people

how many slices of bread to eat per day … We still close liquor stores at 3 p.m. on a Saturday. The general idea is that if people were given the freedom and responsibility to figure out these things on their own, anarchy might follow.

And I can’t work out whether to call it ‘hardly less surprising’ or ‘barely more surprising’ that, at the other end of Europe, Portugal is (for now) following the same path. Instapunditer Sarah Hoyt was born and raised in Portugal but left because it lacked things like the first amendment, the second amendment and a lively SF culture.

The cynic in me is happy to suggest some less-than-libertarian explanations.

– Sarah Hoyt quotes the Portuguese Prime Minister explaining they avoided lockdown because the Portuguese are “more organized than other Europeans” – then adds

I have no idea what he’s smoking, or where he found it, but that’s potent stuff.

– Sweden has an unusually docile native population, an unusually different immigrant population and a political class that calls it bigotry for visible police actions to betray statistical differences between the two. Trying to enforce a lockdown is sure to offend many politically-correct regulations. Further, a society whose police seem already unable to control immigrant predilection for grenades and automatic weapons lacks the reserve of unused power needed to enforce a lockdown.

However the same attitudes that give me those thoughts also tell me that Swedish politicians will not only not speak them, even behind closed doors, they will have a hard time thinking them – which challenges my cynical explanation. Ordering the police and media not to mention the colour of suspects they seek lest the public see trends, yet thinking that

in a liberal democracy you have to convince and not command people

not to go to the pub, may seem absurd to logical libertarian and logical statist alike – but freedom owes much to the fact that humans are not logical. That Portugal may be too ill-organised to enforce statist solutions is another common way in which liberty survives its enemies, but at the moment it is not that they are trying and failing – they are actually not trying.

Thus we have our experimental controls – our null-hypothesis case studies. We’re doing a huge experiment to see how well locking down a nation can address a pandemic – an experiment whose costs’ ability to rise exponentially over time matches that of any disease graph. I don’t know how good or bad it will be for the Swedes and Portuguese, but it will be very good for the after-action report on this if a couple of moderately comparable nations stick with seeing what happens when you don’t lock everyone up.

What will you yield?

Duke Gorlois of Cornwall: “Lord Uther, if I yield to the sword of power – what will you yield?”

Uther Pendragon: “ME YIELD !!!??”    (from the film Excalibur*)

We are yielding quite a few liberties to the dread virus – to the need to flatten the curve of disease to what the NHS can handle. Steve Baker’s speech says it well.

As regards mere money, the government will provide tide-you-over assistance to those whose cash flow cannot outlast these measures. Their loss will still be a net loss (and since all the government’s money is ultimately provided by us, the tide-you-over sum will one day be repaid with interest) but there is help for those facing outgoings with no incomings.

How about the liberty account? As we yield many liberties, could the state perhaps yield back a few others they have taken? Might the police who will now ask, “Is your journey really necessary under our latest emergency regulations?”, include all who were previously asking, “Is your remark really permissible under our modern hate speech laws?” Any chance the power of the state, when not enforcing the new rules, could be wholly focussed on fighting things the public consider criminal, not things the politically correct consider offensive?

It is a fair question (to the state, but even more to the ‘elite’ apocalypticists): if we yield to the danger of the virus – what will you yield?


* (Quoted from my old memory of the film. If I’ve remembered it right, I think Uther’s grammar is wrong here – it should be “I YIELD”.)

No bible cake – fine; no trans cake – crime

Ironically, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission actually defended another baker who refused to bake a cake that would convey a message. In 2015, the commission declined to take up an appeal involving Azucar Bakery, which refused to bake Bible-shaped cakes with messages against homosexuality. The bakery’s owner, Marjorie Silva, said she refused to bake the cakes because the writing and imagery were “hateful and offensive.” Christian Baker Again Under Fire for Refusing Transgender Cake Despite Supreme Court Win

I’m all for there being as many articles as possible exposing the Colorado commission’s ongoing war on free speech, but I do not think the word ‘irony’ means what this article thinks it does. I see not irony but consistency. When the Colorado commissioners treat the supreme court’s ruling on them as a joke, but expect the bakery to treat their new case against it as no joke, they’re not being ironic. They are consistently pushing their freedom-hating agenda.

Now if this were to help Trump and the GOP in the midterms, that would be ironic.

(One other thought: the she-it-he person who demanded the bakery bake a trans cake has apparently also demanded that it bake a satanist cake, but AFAICS the commission has not taken action over that. Is the commission prejudiced against satanists?)

A slap in the face becomes a kick in the balls for the Education nomenklatura

A fresh instalment in the case of the man, the heroic Jon Platt, prosecuted for taking his chid out of school in term time for a holiday, but was acquitted by Magistrates. Scandalously, bureaucrats on the Isle of Wight appealed against the decision of the Magistrates to throw out the case, only to find that the High Court has found ‘no error of law’ in the Magistrates’ decision, so the acquittal remains. This has now blown back in the face of the bureaucrats, as this decision sets an unwelcome precedent with two High Court judges giving a ruling on the law, and meaning that for years, bureaucrats have harassed parents and got many to pay fixed-penalty notices on what was likely, in most cases, to be a wholly wrong interpretation of the law. As Mr Platt put it:

“Is there really 100,000 parents who are so criminally incompetent that it warrants dragging them to court?”

It appears that the scale of the problem is vast:

According to local authority data, almost 64,000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences between September 2013 and August 2014.

And are the bureaucrats saying ‘Oh well, the law is the law, we must respect it’? If they are, I can’t hear them.

This is, of course, great news for parents in England and Wales who may now take their children on holiday in term-time without a realistic prospect of a prosecution. It also means that the old and absurd complaint about prices and supply-and-demand, ‘Oh look, holiday prices go up at half-term, how exploitative blah, blah, blah, regulate the holiday industry…‘ will be less easy for buffoons and villains to make out, and there will be a more economic use of resources in the holiday industry, taking use one more step away from the Stone Age.

What’s not to like when the light of freedom flickers more brightly?

‘No offence’ – in Northern Ireland…

Thirteen members of a Loyalist marching band, the Young Conway Volunteers, have had their criminal convictions for ‘doing a provocative act likely to cause public disorder or a breach of the peacequashed after the Public Prosecutor agreed not to oppose their appeals.

The non-offence occurred after the marching band found themselves marching in a circle outside St Patrick’s Church (Catholic) in north Belfast, whilst playing (allegedly aggravated by hostility) a tune alleged to have been ‘the Famine Song’ with the presumably catchy refrain ‘The famine’s over, why don’t you go home?‘, but what they said was the Beach Boys ‘Sloop John B‘ (reportedly an easy mistake to make, the basic tune is widely used). How this was proved at the original trial when they presumably were playing a tune on instruments and not singing was not made clear.

Although now acquitted, the band members agreed to be bound over to keep the peace for 2 years (not a conviction but a promise of good behaviour, breach of which could lead to a 7 day jail term).

Whilst this acquittal in the face of ‘hate legislation’ is certainly a good thing for liberty, I note the apologetic tone of the response of the Orange Lodge, which presumably has some connection to the band:

In a statement, The County Grand Orange Lodge of Belfast welcomed the successful appeal.

“We are glad that justice has finally been achieved for these band members who had been wrongly vilified by the media and nationalism,” it said.
“There never was an intent to cause offence.”

One might ask what on Earth were they marching for if not to ‘cause offence‘ (in the subjective sense) on 12th July by their celebration of the lifting of the siege of Londonderry? To say that there was ‘no intent to cause offence‘ appears to concede that offence was caused, rather than taken or even perhaps rejoiced in as an opportunity to throw the legal machinery of the State at the band.

Why not say that this legislation is oppressive, tyrannical and makes the law itself a politicised weapon, a sword, not a shield?

To me as an Englishman, the whole shebang seems utterly alien, the intolerance and fanaticism on both poles of the Ulster divide mark them as having more in common with each other than with insipid, fundamentally apolitical England. Whether or not that is a good thing for Northern Ireland, or for England, may in the long run be another matter.

Trial? What do you mean, trial?

Civil libertarians had noticed that the Blair administration is impatient with conviction rates. We have seen real attempts to reduce the availability of jury trials and to lower the burden of proof. And we have had strong hints from the Prime Minister that he doesn’t regard the principle of innocent until proven guilty as applicable in the modern world.

Astonishingly, however, none of those is enough. A guilty plea may in future permit prosecutors to operate without court process. Idiotically the BBC captions this as “Petty criminals could avoid court“: but a better headline would be “criminal convictions without courts”. People will be convicted and punished by prosecutors and police if prosecutors or police can persuade them to confess. This is a recipe for abuse.

Magistrate’s courts may not be the most reliable finders of fact or interpreters of law, but they have no direct interest in the guilt of the defendant or in clearing up unsolved crimes. They can and do hear defenses and pleas in mitigation. They can, and very occasionally do, insist on entering a not-guilty plea if the defendant appears to be have been browbeaten or to be incapable of understanding his position.

The inevitable consequence of introducing summary police punishment will be an assertion on behalf of the authorities that those who are convicted at trial instead of submitting to official processing ought to be more heavily punished because they have somehow wasted the court’s time. Which will place the accused under more pressure to make admissions regardless of guilt, regardless of whether prosecutors abuse their position.

A new kind of freedom

As the report stage of the Identity Cards Bill approaches in the Lords, a reminder of one highlight from the first day of the committee stage Hansard, 15 Nov 2005, Col.1012:

Lord Gould of Brookwood: Both the previous speakers—the latter with great emotion—were arguing for freedom. We have to ask what greater freedom is there than the freedom to place a vote for a political party in a ballot box upon the basis of a mandate and a manifesto. That is the crux of it: the people have supported this measure. That is what the noble Earl’s father fought for. But that is too trivial an answer. I know that. The fundamental argument is that the truth is that people believe that these identity cards will affirm their identity. The noble Lord opposite said that he likes to be in this House and how he is recognised in this House because it is a community that recognises him. That is how the people of this nation feel. They feel that they are part of communities, and they want recognition. For them, recognition comes in the form of this identity card. Noble Lords may think that that is strange, but it is what they feel. This is their kind of freedom. They want their good, hard work and determination to be recognised, rewarded and respected. That is what this does.

Of course it is right and honourable for noble Lords to have their views, but I say there is another view, and it is the view of the majority of this country. They want to have the respect, recognition and freedom that this card will give them. Times have changed. Politics have changed. What would not work 50 years ago, works now. It is not just me. I have the words of the leader of your party:

“I have listened to the police and security service chiefs. They have told me that ID cards can and will help their efforts to protect the lives of British citizens against terrorist acts. How can I disregard that?”.

This is not some silly idea of the phoney left. It is a mainstream idea of modern times. It is a new kind of identity and a new kind of freedom. I respect the noble Lords’ views, but it would help if they respected the fact that the Bill and the identity cards represent the future: a new kind of freedom and a new kind of identity.

This is the sort of rhetoric that makes my blood run cold. Here’s a prefiguring example:

In our state the individual is not deprived of freedom. In fact, he has greater liberty than an isolated man, because the state protects him and he is part of the State. Isolated man is without defence.

– Benito Mussolini.

Terry Eagleton (from a review of Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism in the New Statesman) elucidates the connection:

Conservatives disdain the popular masses, while fascists mobilise and manipulate them. Some conservatives believe in ideas, but fascists have a marked preference for myths. If they think at all, they think through their blood, not their brain. Fascists regard themselves as a youthful, revolutionary avant-garde out to erase the botched past and create an unimaginably new future.

All supporters of the old-fashioned conception of individual liberty, whether they think of themselves as left or right, conservative or progressive, must do what can be done. Resist. We should not expect any quarter for outdated ideas under a new kind of freedom.

[cross-posted to Samizdata]

Insulting the government can get you arrested

Perhaps you think I am talking about Venezuela under the thuggish Chavez?

Nope. I am talking about Britain.

Depressing news from The Guardian

Gustave Le Bon would have something to say about this. He’d point to the sugestibility of the emotionally aroused crowd:

Almost three-quarters of the public believe that it is right to give up civil liberties to improve our security against terrorist attacks.

A Guardian/ICM poll published today shows that 73% of respondents back the trade-off, with only 17% rejecting it outright. The results provide evidence of public support for Tony Blair’s anti-terrorist reforms which he unveiled before leaving on his summer holiday earlier this month.

Full article here.

I simply do not accept there is a trade-off to be had. Our liberty is our safety.

The world is replete with counterexamples to the trade-off twitch. (One cannot call it a theory.)

Take Saudi Arabia. Civil liberty does not exist there. It is an alien concept, and, in common with other alien concepts, banned. There is no protection of citizen from state, and no limit to the actions that can be taken.

Yet terrorism is in robust health. The Kingdom’s official figures for the last two years (which one would expect to paint the rosiest picture) are 129 dead and 720 injured among civilians and security forces. More than twice Britain’s casualties among a population that may be around a third of ours–reliable figures on anything Saudi being hard to come by. (They probably have significantly more police, too.)