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]

Samizdata quote of the day

One might imagine that civil liberties organisations would have something to say about the authoritarian groupthink creeping from the leftist fringes of British politics. But amidst the predictable statements in support of Black Lives Matter it seems Liberty’s central campaign is the possible infringement of rights posed by facial recognition software, rather than the real and present threat to livelihoods and liberty of those with heterodox opinions. Indeed, earlier this year Liberty, Amnesty International UK and Human Rights Watch signed a joint statement arguing that ‘dehumanising discussions and ‘debates’ lead to human rights abuses.’ One wonders how an organisation like Liberty, which claims to ‘challenge injustice, defend freedom and campaign to make sure everyone in the UK is treated fairly’ can fulfil these laudable aims without free and open debate.

Josephine Bartosch

Samizdata quote of the day

Guardian readers, union officials and other blobby types would have conniptions. Why should our wonderful ‘world class’ education system be turned into a supermarket, where people pick and choose what schools they want for their children?

Well, it wasn’t the supermarkets that let us down in this crisis, was it? They never closed, while their poorly-paid staff ran ostensibly much greater risks of infection than those in the classroom.

If our teachers don’t like the marginal risks which a return to school might bring, they should perhaps consider another career. Sadly, there are going to be plenty of young and not-so-young graduates who will be looking for such secure and reasonably well-paid employment in the near future. They might make a better fist of it than many current teachers.

Len Shackleton

What is so bad about Russian “interference” with UK referendums anyway?

“49% of voters believe Kremlin interfered in Brexit referendum”, reports the Guardian.

Almost half the British public believes the Russian government interfered in the EU referendum and last year’s general election, according to a poll. The latest Opinium poll for the Observer found that 49% of voters think there was Russian interference in the Brexit referendum, with 23% disagreeing. Some 47% believed Russia interfered in the December general election.

The poll findings come after the long-awaited publication of the report into Russian interference by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee last week. It found that the government had not attempted to investigate potential Russian interference in the referendum. It said the UK had “badly underestimated” the Russian threat.

I am busy and must be brief. Vladimir Putin belongs at the end of a rope for his crimes: crimes like murdering his political opponents, sponsoring terrorism and waging aggressive war against neighbouring countries. But most of the events described in this hyped up list are technical crimes of a sort that should not be a crime at all. Most rules on election spending and use of data to target potential voters are nothing but political protectionism. We call it “interference” when the Russian government tries to influence the political opinions of British people and “outreach” when the British government or the European Union tries to influence the political opinions of Russian people. You hear the words “interference in elections” and are meant to think of stolen ballot boxes and forged votes. But Russians posting anonymous, dishonest and obnoxious opinions on Twitter and Reddit for money – who cares? They are lost in the crowd of Brits doing the same for free.

Samizdata quote of the day

Tin whiskers. If you use a pure tin solder then the electronics will grow little whiskers which will, over the course of perhaps 3 or 4 years, short circuit the system. Hmm, OK, has a good chance of doing so. The cure for tin whiskers is to add lead to the tin solder. This is now illegal because using lead is verboeten on environmental grounds. Thus we have a shorter life span for electronics. And yes, it is worth noting that the electronics which really does have to be reliable is not subject to the no lead rule.

Tim Worstall

Why they fear their lying eyes

cult conversions … occur by using doctrine to resolve some core emotional vulnerability. … A… clear sign that one is dealing with a cult indoctrination … is making the mark live up to contradictory demands. You must understand racism and admit that you cannot understand racism. You must admit to your complicity in racism and pledge to do better knowing that it is impossible to do better. You must be an ally but accept that you will always do your allyship wrong. … these impossible and paradoxical demands dramatically deepen commitment to the cult … The concept of “white fragility” in the antiracist Woke cult is exactly this sort of emotional shakedown. … Lead the mark to take a step further in, coach them into rationalizing why that step was good, and then repeat with a further step. … when the mark rationalizes these objectively bad decisions and the cognitive dissonance that doing them causes, they nearly always rationalize themselves much further into the cult.

The Cult Dynamics of Wokeness analyses how it spots and indoctrinates its marks, but says little about the mark’s original issue that the woke exploit:

Sometimes, the underlying emotional vulnerability is there for personal reasons, or as a result of life events.

Sometimes, indeed it is – their prime targets are students, who often arrive at university with plenty of youthful insecurity and teenage angst. But wokeness itself can provide the distress as well the abusive ‘resolution’. Students arriving at a politically-correct university are immediately plunged into an an artificial racial reality that they are forbidden to notice: affirmative-action admissions ensure that the academic ability of their fellow students correlates strongly with skin colour. Next, the disparate impact theory they are taught offers them only two explanations, one explicit, the other implicit, for the disparities it highlights:

– blacks are statistically unequal to whites because of white racism

– blacks are statistically unequal to whites because they are inferior

No third option is allowed into any target’s mind – not if the woke can help it (if they even know one themselves!). So the mark has a simple choice: believe in the explicit explanation, or become the moral equivalent of Hitler by believing the implicit one. No-one wants to be morally equivalent to Hitler, so, since they know no third option (since the very idea there could be any other alternative to the evil implicit one has never risen into their awareness), every doubt that subtle white racism explains the discrepancy, every argument that denies that white racism, however hidden, is at the root of the differences they’re taught to hate and the even more obvious differences they’re forbidden to notice, threatens them with becoming that object of loathing to their (and society’s) principles, a racist! When these two alternatives are the only ones that a student knows deep down (and up top, in the surface of the mind, they hardly dare think of the implicit one) then the claim that one is either a racist or else admits to being a racist seems to make sense.

(It was the same under Stalin and Mao. In both Russia and China, the mass famines were followed a few years later by the mass purges. Either you accepted that saboteurs, wreckers and enemies were fouling up the scientifically-proven socialist dream, or you were a vile capitalist-roader, an exploiter. One communist who had served the Party in the Ukraine famine and been shaken by what he saw, later wrote:

For that very reason, however, my conscious mind reached out desperately for alibis, for compromises with conscience. … It was imperative to squelch these emotions, to drive them into the underground of my mind. I laboured to repair my loyalties. With the purge in the offing, this urgency was even greater.

“With the purge in the offing …” – the far lesser but real dangers of cancel culture have a similar effect of ‘encouragez les autres’. This encouraging of indoctrinated minds to discipline themselves is as important to wokeness as the conscious fear that cancel culture inflicts on outsiders.)

So, does a better understanding of the problem point us towards any solutions?

The only ways I know of to effect a deprogramming of this are these three: (1) striking right to the heart of the point of vulnerability in a completely different and more healthy way …

The first of the three is what I will talk about. However,

None of this is easy. In fact, it’s all usually very difficult … … People who have been reprogrammed into a cult mentality will perceive all attempts to free them from the cult as malicious attempts to drag them … back to the Bad Emotional Place that they have come to strongly associate with that awful feeling of vulnerability that was used to initiate them into the cult in the first place. The doctrine is the opium that dulls their emotional pain … anyone trying to talk sense to a fully reprogrammed cult member … will be, in a very real sense, interpreted as trying to do harm to them … because the cult doctrine is the proffered resolution to the … emotional vulnerability that led them to be indoctrinated and reprogrammed in the first place. And you must appreciate just how much that vulnerability has been inflamed by the cult initiation, indoctrination, and reprogramming process.

At this point it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room; that third explanation (for why blacks in the US today can be statistically unequal to whites) which, of all others, wokeness most trains its victims never to see. Political correctness is a parasite on the backs of those it pretends to help.

“Although the big word on the left is ‘compassion’, the big agenda on the left is dependency.”

I owe that quote to Thomas Sowell, who has described how lucky he was to be born at a moment when the old prejudices about blacks were dying, and the new ones with which the PC would replace them had not yet grown strong (read his books). Sowell’s long life also lets him witness against what another coloured academic calls the woke’s “ever-present soft bigotry of low expectations”. A third black analyst concludes that

“woke whites would do more good by doing nothing”

Etc., etc., etc.

So in a way, I’m not disagreeing with those woke whites who say they’re racists. THAT’S MY POINT! They are – just not in the way they’ve been led to believe. That fact is the ‘more healthy way’ to confront their distress. Even in a struggle session, with leaders organised and ready to shout or sneer you down, it may sometimes be better – and even safer – to be last heard expressing the ‘wrong sort’ of anti-racism than just denying their sort. In a private conversation with an early inductee, it may even be productive.

cult deprogramming almost always proceeds from an initial doubt that spirals out of control

I agree with Edmund Burke that “lying and falsehood are allowed in no cause whatever … but a man may speak the truth by measure, that he be allowed to speak it longer”. If you can either avoid triggering the emotional vulnerability at the very start of a personal discussion or else trigger it in “a more healthy way”, then you may manage to speak the truth for longer – maybe as long as can save a soul from the woke lie. The very fact that your truth is more costly to adopt than their current lie can be turned to polemical advantage. Robert Conquest became a communist at 17 – and also ceased to be a communist while still 17. Thomas Sowell was a marxist in his early 20s – but not thereafter. Modern victims of the education establishment experience are more propagandised than those two ever were, but can still be reached.

Of course, woke leaders (and many a follower – those who believe the dogma for other reasons or none, or because they were not infected with emotional vulnerability by indoctrinating educators but brought a personal one with them to university), will not be reached by this, but as the increasingly abusive rituals of politically-correct ‘anti’-racism show, there are a lot of self-flagellating followers.

Samizdata quote of the day

I suspect current “progressive” thinking on racism and the white shaming and white self-loathing that comes out of it is doing more to set back racial harmony than neo-Nazis and the rest of the “white power” hate crew.

I’m not alone in thinking this.

Amy Alkon

Xinjiang: where lives don’t matter

Twenty prisoners live in one small room. They are handcuffed, their heads shaved, every move is monitored by ceiling cameras. A bucket in the corner of the room is their toilet. The daily routine begins at 6 A.M. They are learning Chinese, memorizing propaganda songs and confessing to invented sins. They range in age from teenagers to elderly. Their meals are meager: cloudy soup and a slice of bread.

Torture – metal nails, fingernails pulled out, electric shocks – takes place in the “black room.” Punishment is a constant. The prisoners are forced to take pills and get injections. It’s for disease prevention, the staff tell them, but in reality they are the human subjects of medical experiments. Many of the inmates suffer from cognitive decline. Some of the men become sterile. Women are routinely raped.

Such is life in China’s reeducation camps, as reported in rare testimony provided by Sayragul Sauytbay (pronounced: Say-ra-gul Saut-bay, as in “bye”), a teacher who escaped from China and was granted asylum in Sweden. Few prisoners have succeeded in getting out of the camps and telling their story. Sauytbay’s testimony is even more extraordinary, because during her incarceration she was compelled to be a teacher in the camp. China wants to market its camps to the world as places of educational programs and vocational retraining, but Sauytbay is one of the few people who can offer credible, firsthand testimony about what really goes on in the camps.

That’s only the beginning of her long, detailed account. It’s a distressing read – but to anyone familiar with survivor testimony from Stalin’s camps, it’s not a surprising read. I noticed just one significant ugly addition to what the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics did back in the day: “every move is monitored by ceiling cameras”. The Chinese communist guards can’t monitor everything in real-time, any more than the NKVD guards could back then, but they can replay it. No longer do they have to rely on the ubiquitous informers that for a crust of bread would sell their cellmates out in the Gulag. No longer does recognising and avoiding them offer hope of a brief safe conversation.

Now, as then, powerful media political interests would rather the story got ignored – so I encourage people to spread it around. (And h/t instapundit from whom I got the link.)

Refelections on wealth from City 17

Sometimes you do not quite appreciate a thing until you find you can not get it. In the game Half Life: Alyx (one of the best things you can do in virtual reality right now), the Earth is oppressed by totalitarian inter-dimensional rulers and the player must roam the deserted, alien biohazard-infested quarantined streets of City 17 as part of a resistance attempting to sabotage enemy super-weapons. Needless to say luxuries are hard to come by. It is all a bit close to the bone for a game that was in development for four years and released on March 23rd.

As Alyx, controlled by the player, has to make her way down a dark, slime-soaked, head-crab-infested passageway, she asks her friend Russ to talk about the past to provide some comfort. What was life like before the coro^H^H^H^H Combine? “Alyx, have you ever heard of a club sandwich?” Er, nope, not once.

Right. To make a club sandwich, you need to start with bread. Not from a bread line. From a bakery across the street, baked that day, okay? You add tomatoes, lettuce — not vegetable paste — fresh. Then you add bacon — that’s from an animal we used to call the pig. You toast the bread, and you put all that inside it.

You guys had all that? That’s insane.

It is! And I’m not done. Then you add a second sandwich on top of the first one. You put ham in it — also from a pig — and turkey, from an animal we used to call the “turkey,” and more tomato, more lettuce, and a bunch of other things I’m forgetting. It was six inches tall and weighed a pound and had a dozen ingredients from five different continents. It was the most impossible food item you could imagine in any age before ours.

Wow. That does sound pretty amazing. I am really going to appreciate my next club sandwich.

Masks, pollution and implied consent

I occasionally follow the Institute of Economic Affairs’ weekly videoed chats about issues of the day, and obviously the IEA, as fronted by Mark Littlewood (he now sports a sort of “bovver boy” haircut associated with football gangs circa 1980 – the lockdown hairdo!), spends a good deal of its time on the pandemic. I thought the latest discussions were particularly interesting, and certainly did not lead to an echo-chamber of jolly agreement. In fact things got quite fiery when Sam Bowman, formerly of the Adam Smith Institute and now in public affairs, got going at 1.21:44.

Sam’s argument is, I hope I summarise fairly, something like this: Government experts now conclude that wearing masks in shops and other places is a good idea, even though it is annoying that they have changed their minds a lot and this has not helped public trust. Wearing masks cannot be left up to private discretion and choice; it is a response to a very serious menace, and wearing masks is more about protecting others than oneself. As Britons often lack any civic sense and the “negative externality” of not wearing a mask is potentially deadly, fines for non-compliance with the rules are acceptable, because experts say it is necessary, given what we know about how people can catch this virus. So stop being a bunch of anarchists, and do what you are told!

Okay, maybe I simplify but not by a lot. Sam talked about the “negative externalities” of human behaviour, such as coughing over others when you have an illness, or playing v. loud music late at night, etc. Translation: he means pollution.

And where I thought the discussion took an interesting turn was when Mark Littlewood, defending his stance, asked Sam where one draws the line about human actions that might affect others in a negative way? Isn’t there a “slippery slope” here – should the State, in its wisdom, coerce the benighted public to wear masks/other whenever there is a flu season or some other scare about health, etc? None of the other panelists gave what I thought was a very good answer to this, particularly for anyone coming to this discussion from a cold start. At one point, when responding to Mark L’s point about how all kinds of behaviour can negatively affect others, Sam replied that murder obviously harms people, and that is why we punish it. At this stage I rubbed my eyes – no-one consents to murder, by definition, but one might, for instance, consent to moving into a neighbourhood where people play music late at night if one knows that in advance.

This is the guts of the matter. This IEA discussion was flawed – albeit stimulating – because the issue of “implied consent” wasn’t really fully aired here. A shame because that is where it could have gone. Also, not enough was done to stress the importance of several property rights to handling issues, since a person entering a building is giving his implied consent to the rules of the place. This also speaks to the need for a “bottom-up” set of solutions to problems, rather than a requirement for a top-down approach.

There can be, of course, an issue of a “tragedy of the commons” problem where there aren’t walls or fences to keep a virus from harming A or B. It is for this reason alone that a State might have some justification to enforce pollution-minimising actions (like wearing a mask) but always with the proviso that such actions should be strictly limited by time, and second, that where possible people should be encouraged to do the sensible thing, and not endlessly nagged with contradictory advice, often doing so by wild exaggeration.

One feature of Sam’s comments I object to is where he said that there is no sense in trying to distinguish between the mask-wearing rules as they apply for vulnerable people with underlying health conditions, such as the elderly, and everyone else. But without some ability to distinguish between young adults and the elderly, we are faced with an indiscriminate and open-ended lockdown/enforced mask regime. Given the economic costs of the situation, this seems to ignore the cost/benefit issue. Sam rightly said that even younger people who get coronavirus suffer. But the death rate for the older population is of a magnitude higher, and to ignore that and demand everyone is treated the same is bizarre.

Another thing: there should be a burden of proof on those who demand coercive laws to deal with such alleged externalities, and not on those who resist or who are sceptical. That presumption of liberty, in my view, was shockingly absent in Bowman’s account and the others on this segment of the IEAs’ show did not really make that point. Perhaps what this also shows is that even in classical liberal think-tank land, understanding of the proper meaning of liberty is uneven.

For as we have seen, the apocalyptic predictions about COVID-19 and the drastic measures to contain it have undermined a great deal of public trust in the advice given to governments, and the actions taken by them. As even Sam Bowman acknowledged, this trust deficit is a big problem and being arguably made worse by policies that look more like arse-covering than the public welfare.

Samizdata quote of the day

Twitter is not on the masthead of the New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing moulded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.

Bari Weiss

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.

VIDEO: Boris Johnson with two naked men

No, this is not one of my clickbait headlines. The video is from 2000 and at 1:03 we see a younger, slimmer Boris express commendably libertarian views on the right to be naked in conversation with two people exercising that right.

Sad to say, an older, fatter Boris has recently “ditched ‘libertarian’ position on obesity after coronavirus battle”, according to PoliticsHome.

The Prime Minister is not the only one to cut a poor figure compared to his earlier self. His host on that trip to Glastonbury – for there it was that these events took place – was the singer and songwriter Billy Bragg. Bragg has always been a massive lefty, of course, but in that video from the turn of the millennium he came across as enjoying the exchange of political barbs with Johnson. In contrast, the Billy Bragg of a few days ago who wrote this miserable article in support of cancel culture in the Guardian comes across as an old man abasing himself before the cult of youth.