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Category archive: Libertarianism
Earlier this evening, I attended this gathering. I took a ton of photos, of which I choose this one to show you:
I choose that photo not because it is any great shakes as a photo, but because it focuses (insofar as it does focus) on what was in many ways the most impressive thing about this event, namely the number and quality of those who attended. In this respect, the evening reminded me of those big Liberty League gatherings that happen earlier in the year. Simon Gibbs and his helpers put in a huge effort to make this occasion work well, and to get a decent turnout of intelligent, paying customers.
Don’t get me wrong, the speakers were numerous and articulate, and all admirably concise, which was necessary given how many of them there were. A lot of ground was covered. A lot of food for thought was served up. If there was a big winner issue, so to speak, that best explains how much harder it has recently got to make ends meet, it was probably the cost of housing. There was general agreement that planning regulations need to be relaxed, although also general pessimism about the politics of accomplishing that. Also making a strong showing were energy costs, and the heavy and rising taxes on petrol and drink and tobacco.
But you can have all the speakers up front that you like. If enough aren’t there to listen, then your event falls very flat. This one was the opposite of that.
Earlier this evening I attended a talk given by Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown in Southwark. Read Michael’s background briefing about the things he talked about further this evening, either here, or here.
I have friends who seem to revel in having their photos taken, but Michael is not one of them. He entirely lacks vanity, and tends, when being photoed, to have the look of a man worrying about how bad he fears he will look in the photo. So it was that, having earlier been asked for a photo of Michael by Simon Gibbs, the organiser of the meeting, I was only able quickly to find one that was remotely good enough. (You can see it at the other end of the second of the above links.) This evening I made a particular effort to correct this, and here is one of the better shots that I took of Michael this evening:
The most dramatic moment in the evening came when the Putin-echoing stooge Russian lady in the audience (there always seem to be one such stooge at any public event mentioning Russia and its current policies) tangled with Michael on the subject of Poland. Why were the Poles so paranoid about Russia and so keen to join NATO?
Michael replied with a short history lesson that was brief, and crushing. Nazi-Soviet Pact. (The stooge later denied that this had even happened, so Michael later told me.) Katyn Massacre. Warsaw Uprising. (Stalin parked the Red Army outside Warsaw and let the Nazis crush it.) An imposed Communist government, that the Poles would never have chosen for themselves, for the next half century. Final sentence, something like: “If fearing Russia after all that means you are paranoid, then yes, I guess the Poles are paranoid.” Applause. With any luck, this little interchange will be viewable on video, along with the talk itself of course.
Earlier, the lady stooge had waxed eloquent to me, in the socialising period before the talk, about the superiority of Russian education over English education. She had a point. Russian children are indeed made to work far harder at their lessons than English children are these days. But what if the lessons they learn are a pack of lies?
See also this, recently at Samizdata.
On a happier note, I harvested several names and emails of various young, clever libertarians to add to my Brian’s Last Fridays list. A couple of them being, so it seemed to me, of exceptional promise. (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising.) I was particularly impressed by this guy.
Just about to go to bed following a very satisfactory Last Friday meeting, addressed by Priya Dutta, on the subject of education and libertarianism. Priya, many thanks for an excellent talk, and for attracting such a large and intelligent throng to listen to it. Although I don’t want to definitely promise anything, I will try to say something more about what you said than that, Real Soon Now. But right now, I am too tired to attempt anything.
Something I often forget to do at these things is take photos, probably because the photos I take are usually not very good. Tonight, Rob Fisher took photos, and I of course photoed him doing this ...:
... and then I took other photos. But the really good news is that Rob’s camera is much better than mine, especially in bad light. He has promised to send me his best, and I look forward to seeing what he got.
For something rather more substantial from me, about libertarianism if not about education, try this recent Samizdata posting.
Inevitably, in some of these cross-examinations, this blog came up, with me saying that I write here about whatever I feel like writing about, with very little thought for the interests of my readers. Cats on Fridays, general trivia, etc. I do Big Issues at Samizdata and trivia here. Blah blah.
However, an American lady friend, whom I had not met in quite a while and whom I was very pleased to meet again, told me that she quite liked my trivia stuff, and that she even read my postings about cricket (this being the most recent one). I thought that only I and Michael Jennings and Darren the Surrey Member were at all interested in those. It seems not.
I’m guessing that this interest on her part is partly actual interest, but also partly that a principle is at stake here. Which is: that the trivia that other people are interested in, but not you, is not actually an entirely trivial matter. Life is not only Big Issues. It is the small pleasures that give colour and texture and individuality to life. Watever matters, to someone, matters. Your opinion about what the Big Issues are should not be allowed to drive a tank or a government bureaucracy over my trivial pleasures.
So, her reading about the trivial pleasures of others is her asserting this Big Issue to herself, as well as maybe learning something about other little parts of the world, like the world of cricket (actually quite big of course, as I daresay are the worlds of embroidery and gardening and croquet and rap music and all the other little things in life that I don’t personally care about, other than to believe that tanks or government bureaucracies should not be driven over them).
Me being me, my way of asserting the importance of trivia, in general, to people, in general, is me writing about the trivia that interests me.
Her way of asserting the importance of trivia to people generally is her reading about the trivia that others write about. But we are both making the same point.
I don’t want to say that I have entirely described why my American lady friend likes to read what I write about cricket. I merely speculate that the above speculations might be a quite small part of why she does this.
(She, like me, probably also thinks that thinking about trivia can often lead to interesting angles on Big Issues, of the sort that merely looking straight at the Big Issues might cause you to miss. Pointless fun and truly original insight are often delightfully close neighbours, I think. But that’s a tangent for another time, hence this paragraph being in brackets.)
Spent the whole day fretting about not enough people coming to my Last Friday of the Month meeting this evening. Richard Carey would, I knew, be fine, but would the number of listeners be insultingly small? Happily, two people showed up who hadn’t emailed that they were coming, and the room was, if not full, at least not embarrassingly empty.
Better yet, I also fixed my speaker for next month, which I had also been fretting about. Priya Dutta, who attended this evening, will be speaking about Education, libertarianism and similar things. The Gove reforms, the various attempts to set up cheap new free enterprise schools of various sorts, that kind of thing. She is a teacher, so this is bound to be good. I’ll say more as I learn more.
Too tired to expand on what Richard said (about English Republicanism and its influence in the American colonies and later the USA), other than that in the brackets is what it was about and that it was very interesting. But since this is Friday, here is news of Cats on Kickstarters, and of Catstarter , which I think is a book, or maybe a blog. Also cat related: Ceiling Netanyahu is watching you tunnel.
Nothing from me here today, but something at Samizdata (which makes a change), in the form of a remarkable song lyric from the 1920s by Cole Porter. Pure libertarianism. They maybe did not have the word back then (I don’t know), but they certainly had the thing itself:
Live and let live, and remember this line:
Your business is your business,
And my business is mine.
The key moment for me on that boat trip came near the beginning, when Eamonn Butler, Joint Head Person of the Adam Smith Institute asked me to send in any good photos that I took.
Until that moment, I had not been sure whether photography was really tolerated, let alone encouraged. But I took that as an invite to snap away all evening. (It wasn’t that really, but that’s how I chose to interpret it.)
The bread-and-butter shot when photoing occasions like this one is the posed group. People in groups, who are friends, or who are maybe becoming friends, and who know that they are being photographed, are duly photographed, resulting in pictures like most of these ones:
Photos 1.1, 2.3 and 4.2 don’t quite fit the posed group template, because here the people in the shot aren’t posing for it, merely being photoed. But the message is much the same. Here are some attractive, intelligent, companionable young people, having a good time in each other’s company. They believe in libertarianism and free markets, and are going to make that count for something in the years and decades to come. Socially isolated human atoms they are not.
3.1 is also a bit of a departure from the norm, but you want a bit of craziness at such events. If absolutely everyone is being nice and polite and well behaved, then it ain’t a proper party. Once again, Mr Arm Tattoo (the previous posting in this series featured that same Arm getting itself a drink) contributes a bit of quirkiness and danger to the event. When I was a kid, only self-declared professional criminals had tattoos like that, or so I was raised to believe. At best, people who worked at fair grounds. Those days are now long gone.
A while back, I asked Madsen Pirie how it was that the Adam Smith Institute had been so successful in getting young people interested in libertarianism, free markets, and so on. Simple, he replied. Have a party, with free drink. That gets them to come. Start the party by saying that libertarianism and the free market and so on are great but get that over with quickly, and then serve the drink. That’s it? That’s it. Well, there is a bit more to it than that. The message may be brief on the night, but it needs to be good and it has to be backed up during the day with a mass of sober activity and verbiage. But, ignore the free drink and you are not understanding the ASI.
This was certainly the formula for this Boat Trip, as you can see:
When I first got there, I chatted with ASI Junior Boss Sam Bowman, and I think I mentioned this give-them-the-message-and-then-fill-’em-up doctrine. Sam then talked about how the ASI gets ideological bang for its alcoholic buck by buying its own good but cheap drink - good but cheap champagne on this particular evening - in bulk (that being why it’s cheap), and bringing it to events like this. Which means that lugging big crates of drink around London, from the ASI office to wherever the latest event is is a big part of the life of an ASIer. Serving alcohol is central to their entire way of going about things. This is not some sort of afterthought. Alcohol is to the ASI almost what petrol is to a car.
Drink also makes for good photos, I think. (The ASI used the one of the table full of glasses, with the tattooed arm.) Nothing says jollification to come like a table full of full glasses, especially if the sun is shining all over them. And once the punters get their hands on the bubbly, that makes for more good photos, because the bubbles make automatic focussing work so very well.
Yes, looking at those boat trip photos again this morning, I could see that there was plenty there, in among the vastly greater number of duds.
Some jobs you have to get entirely right, like waterproofing a submarine or making an oil refinery safe. One serious mistake and it all goes pop.
Other jobs have to be done mostly right, but not entirely. Seven or eight out of ten will suffice. Nine out of ten will more than suffice. Trying to get ten out of ten is just tiresome.
But photoing a party with a digital camera is one of those jobs (I’m guessing that selling stuff might be another) where if you get one out of ten then you’ve done fine. The marginal cost of digital photography being zero, I actually mean, of course, one hundred out of a thousand, the more exact number of shots I took last night being nearer to 850. Last night all I could see was the 750 pieces of junk. I remembered what those duff shots were supposed to be, but which they were not. This morning I took another look, and saw that the news was not all bad. In other words: it was absolutely fine.
Today I extracted those one hundred good ones into a separate file, stuck them on an SD card and took the card around to the ASI. They liked them, and up onto Facebook went about thirty of them. Lots of the photos here were taken by me, and lots of them were not. I am proud to have helped. I even got a name check.
I was also lucky to be there. “TNG” stands, I believe, for The Next Generation. That hasn’t been me for quite a while.
What seems, judging by the pride of place that the ASI awarded it at Facebook, to have been my shot of the night came right at the beginning, in the form of a group shot of a bunch of the guests assembling, and talking with Madsen Pirie, the one in the blue striped jacket with his back to us.
However, in order to avoid any suggestion that this Next Generation consists only of males, here are a couple more shots that I took immediately after that one, also involving those same rather striking shadows.
More to come. Quite a few more, I hope.
I will go on saying that the tower, as featured in all these photos that I recently photoed, ...:
... should be called the Spray Can, until everyone is calling it the Spray Can. Or the Spraycan, that’s optional.
Or until someone comes up with an (even) better name.
But meanwhile, what shall we call the ”Salesforce” Tower?
The new name should please the residents but piss off Salesforce, for renaming towers all over the damn place, and make them wish they hadn’t attempted this in London. Salesfuck. Something along those lines. Not good enough, because too profane to be printed in regular newspapers. Salesfarce? Failsforce? Close enough to Salesforce to make the connection. But insulting. To Salesforce. The obvious thing would be to just carry on calling it the Heron Tower, but I don’t think that will punish these Salesfuckers nearly enough. Their stupid name needs to be dragged audibly through the mud.
In case you are wondering, yes I am still a libertarian. Capitalism, hurrah! But the thing is, when you complain about a business doing something really annoying, there’s quite a decent chance they may stop, or at least, if they persist, be commercially punished. At the very least there is a decent chance you can make whoever did whatever it was squirm a little, and generally be made a bit of a prat of. When you complain about the government, there is much less chance of any such good stuff happening. No way will you get, e.g., refund. Just another bill to clean up whatever the original mess was.
So, complaints against capitalism are rewarded, by capitalism. Complaints against governments are not rewarded nearly so much, by governments or by anything else.
So guess which, in defiance of all sanity, you get more of.
That’s quite profound, I think. (This is why I like tangenting. See below.)
Yesterday was the last Friday of the month, and that means a do at my place. This time I remembered to take photos:
I’m not expecting many marks for artistic impression with that one, but it gets across what these things are like quite well. It’s not a big place, so there’s only room for a few more than a dozen, a dozen in comfort, and that is always the number of people that seems to show up. (There were a few more present last night than you can see in that picture.)
What the turnout lacks in quantity it really seems to make up, time and again, in quality, and that was especially so last night. And because numbers are small, that means that people can really dig into the subject. They can really think aloud, so to speak, rather than just soak up what the speaker says and then maybe ask the one snappy question. Which means that people who came to learn about the subject, really do, more than they would have done from just the one speaker. Afterwards, there isplenty of time for further talk and networking, what with the place being mine, rather than some hired venue that has to be vacated in a rush.
Although I promise nothing, I will try to say more about the actual topic (Internet Governance - more about that in this posting) in future blog postings. Today was busy for me, and tomorrow will also be crowded, although the main reason for that is I’m meeting my mates in a pub to watch the IPL Final.
What’s that you say? What does IPL stand for? IPL means Indian Premier League, 20-20 cricket, tomorrow’s final being between the Rajasthan Royals and the Kolkata Knight Riders. Last night was also full of acronyms. More about them (see above) later. Maybe.
It’s over for the Liberal Democrats. They may not realise it, but it is. Before the 2010 general election, the party was pursuing two contradictory strategies at the same time. On the one hand, it presented itself as a moderate, centrist party, liberal on both social and economic issues, broadly pro-business if occasionally interventionist. On the other, it was a radical, anti-war alternative to Labour.
As long as the party was in opposition, these two stories could be maintained simultaneously. As with Schrödinger’s cat, both states were, so to speak, co-existential. But, when the Lib Dems entered government, the box was opened. Only one version of events could now be true. And it was clear which version that had to be.
Nick Clegg could no longer lead a protest party of the Left: half his voters had walked away in disgust at his deal with The Evil Heartless Tories. The Lib Dems’ sole remaining option was to make the Coalition work, to show themselves to be competent and responsible, to make a virtue out of having put the national interest first. To behave, in short, like an adult party of government.
Oh, dear. For once, the string of mixed metaphors that the Daily Mail often makes its house style is apt: “The poison at the heart of the Liberal Democrat party burst into the open last night after an explosive resignation statement which rocked the political establishment…” The impression of haplessness and hopelessness, to say nothing of nastiness, is overwhelming.
The Lib Dems have, in short, managed to make a mess of both strategies, showing all the inept crankery of a party of permanent opposition, but without any commensurate principles. Schrödinger’s cat lies cold and stiff.
What a miserable, tawdry end for a party with such noble antecedents. ...
Actually, this Schrödinger’s cat metaphor is itself pretty chaotic, because the question originally posed by Schrödinger was not: What kind of cat is Schrödinger’s cat? It was: Is Schrödinger’s cat alive or already dead in the box? Hannan’s own piece is about both what sort of Lib Dems the Lib Dems are, and about whether the Lib Dems are themselves, now, alive or dead, on account of them previously having been contradictory things. What the Lib Dems were concealing was the contradiction between two different versions of the Lib Dems, not the possibility that the Lib Dems might already be dead. So, as so often in human affairs, Hannan accuses the Daily Mail of just the sort of metaphorical muddlem that he is guilty of. It’s like that rule about how, if you ever accuse someone of spelling something wrong, you spell something else wrong yourself. No doubt there are other mixed metaphors in this.
But the box bit of the metaphor works okay. The box is now open, and we are seeing the Lib Dems for what they are.
However, I think that saying the Lib Dems are merely two-faced is an absurd understatement, as Hannan himself goes on to say, later in this same piece:
The rest of the party became what it is today: a tricksy, self-righteous alliance of convenience, prepared to say whatever local people want to hear.
In other words, they present not a merely two faces, but as many faces as there are people to be talked to. They tell you what you want to hear, no matter what that is. Almost every former Lib Dem voter will thus have been swindled by the Lib Dem bit of the Coalition. All have been promised things that the Lib Dems subsequently didn’t even argue for, let alone make the Cameron government do. Even people like the Greens were promised far more and far Greener stuff than the Lib Dems have come near to delivering on that front.
If the Lib Dems now start fighting like cats in a sack, good, because that will also destroy another carefully cultivate Lib Dem myth, which is that they are nice people, unlike all the other nasty politicos. Ask any nasty Labourites or nasty Tories with any campaigning experience, and they will all agree on this one thing, that the Lib Dems are utterly unprincipled shits (this being the private between-ourselves version of Hannan’s “tricksy” above). The ones who are not unprincipled shits are deluded idiots, their big delusion (usually one among many) is that their particular version of LibDemery is getting somewhere, by being a part – big, small, tiny, one solitary member - of the Lib Dems as a whole. No, as current events are now proving. A vote for the Lib Dems really is a wasted vote, because it’s anybody’s guess what voting Lib Dem means. Mostly what it means is that if you voted Lib Dem, you were lied to, successfully.
What the Lib Dems are now actually finished remains to be seen. Hannan clearly hopes so. So do I.
Perhaps the Lib Dems are dead, but there will be a dead cat bounce.
If I have a particular hatred of the Lib Dems, it is because the old Liberal Party as was – pretty much all of it - used to stand for something very like my particular opinions, which of course they went on telling me were really what they all wanted, long after that had stopped being even remotely true. Hannan feels the same.
When you get to be my age, time flies whether you’re having fun or not.
I found it here.
Indeed. The picture on the left is the only one I managed at Richard Carey’s talk about the Levellers last Thursday at the Rose and Crown. I forgot my proper camera, and so took a few shots with my mobile, of which only one was the slightest use. And then when I got home, I could not persuade my mobile to transfer its picture to my regular computer.
The problem is, I use this process too infrequently. The simple truth about computer processes, always and everywhere, is that a computer process you use regularly is easy, while a computer process you use only very occasionally is extremely difficult. Ignore all prattle about “computer friendliness”. Either you know it, in which case all is simplicity. Or you don’t in which case your chances of success plummet towards impossibility. Repeat business is all. And I use my mobile phone so rarely to take photos that I do not regularly transfer photos from it to my regular computer, and that causes this process to be impossible. I looked at various videos claiming to answer this question. All were useless. My phone did not do any of the things they said it would do when I pressed the buttons they told me to press. Why not? Who can say?
So instead, I simply photographed my mobile phone with the picture on it (getting it simply to display the picture was itself very difficult), and that is the picture you see below, on the left. On the right is a picture of a mug, which I found while searching for a better version of the picture of John Lilburne than what you see in my picture of Richard Carey’s T-shirt:
Richard’s talk was outstanding, and I am told that the video of it will be available very soon.
By the way, I tried to put a thin black line all around the mug picture, but I very seldom do this and couldn’t make that work either.
The speaker I had previously arranged had to cancel, hence the delay in me telling the world about it, but … my speaker at my last Friday of the Month meeting on April 25th, i.e. this coming Friday, will be my good friend (and frequent commenter here) Michael Jennings, talking about Russia. Russia is lways an important topic of discussion, but it is of course now also a particularly timely and newsworthy one.
Here is what Michael has just emailed me about what he will be talking about.
On the 21st of last month, I arrived in Moscow. This was my first trip to Russia. That this was my first trip to Russia was somewhat curious. I have been a frequent traveller for twenty five years and a compulsive one for the last ten years, and throughout that time I would have always put Russia in the top few countries that I wanted to visit, and yet I never did.
This was not, however, remotely, my first trip to the lands of the former Soviet Union. I had previously been to Latvia and Estonia (twice). I had previously been to Ukraine (five times). I had previously been to Moldova (twice). I had previously been to Georgia (four times). I had previously been to Armenia (twice). The former Warsaw Pact countries further west than that, I have been to many times - around 20 times in the case of Poland, half a dozen times to Romania, and multiple times to all the others.
My reasons for visiting these countries have always been private. I go where my curiosity takes me. I go where my financial resources can take me. And I go where other, bureaucratic and practical obstacles are relatively easy.
What factors led to my choice of destinations? Well, two practical factors. One was the ease or difficulty of obtaining a visa. The other was the ease, of difficulty of physically travelling there. The rise of discount airlines was a key factor in all of this, also. Their presence in markets not only makes it easier and cheaper to get there, but is at least an indicator in how open to the west the country is trying to be.
Going east, there has long been a psychological boundary between places looking east to Moscow and places looking west to, well, no particular city or place, but western Europe in general. The business with the visas and discount airlines has made it easy to go up to that boundary, if you will, as it moves around. At times, it has allowed me to go over that boundary, sometimes to slightly hairy places such as Transnistria and Abkhazia - breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia respectively. More commonly, though, what I mean by this is the drabber regions of Ukraine or Moldova.
However, it was time to bite the bullet, and go completely to the other side. So, Moscow. As it happened, the wall appeared to be permeable. The western discount airlines have started flying to Russia, at least in a small way. The visa process was baroque and Soviet, but the customer service was with a smile. I had Russian contacts who were happy to catch up for a beer in one of the many English pubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. Even when they worked for the Russian government, they were happy to talk pretty frankly about what was going on.
And yet, in the couple of weeks before I arrived, Russia had been asserting its power over Crimea. On the day I arrived, (according to Russia, at least) Russia formally annexed Crimea. (I got to see a lovely fireworks display over the Moskva river in the evening.) The places I could go on a discount airline without a visa retreated that day, possibly for the first time since 1991.
And that was the overall impression I got of Moscow and St Petersburg. There is a feel of modern cities in both places, but certain things are askew. And certain things are absent. (Soviet style customer service still exists in many places. But in others it doesn’t.) Middle class life feels like middle class life in many places, although if you are poorer, I suspect life is very different. On Friday I will describe some of this, and if I am bold I will try to draw some conclusions.
Excellent. And to Michael, my gratitude for having got me out of a small bind with what will, I am sure, be an excellent talk at rather short notice. Not that the short notice will affect its quality. If it is as good as the talk he gave at my home last year about globalisation, all those who attend this Friday will be much educated and much entertained.
I’m guessing that the mood of the meeting will be a lot like this Samizdata QotD from Michael Totten. But that’s only a guess.