Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Category archive: Libertarianism
Last Saturday, I journeyed forth to check out a statue. I’ve been reading this book, which got me interested in Frederick, Duke of York, second son of George III and C-in-C of the British Army, for real, not ceremonially. A hugely important figure in British military history, apparently, and there is a statue of him at the top of a column, right across the road from where he used to work, where he used to work being a walk away from where I live. I’ve always liked this statue, and its column, but had never, until now, given a thought to what the bloke at the top of it had done to deserve it, for deserve it he did.
But before I checked that out, I encountered, in Parliament Square, that big Anti-BREXIT demo, and since today is a rather important date, BREXIT-wise, I’ll leave the Duke of York to other days, and focus on that demo, and in particular on all the signs that I saw. The light was very bright, so here, with many a shadow getting in the way, are most of the signs that I saw:
Given that I personally voted BREXIT, why did I go to all the bother (and when I do this kind of thing it is a lot of bother) of showing all these snaps here?
Here are a few reasons:
I was struck by the enthusiasm and inventiveness and personal commitment on show, especially illustrated by the number of hand-done signs I saw. This enthusiasm is a significant political fact of our time, I think, no matter what you think of it. My personal opinion is that it is going to do terrible damage to the British left, in a sort of mirror image way to the damage that Britain’s participation in the EU did to the British right. (See this posting and this posting, at Samizdata.)
Second, many people whom I like and respect, some of them people of the left but most of them not, nevertheless voted against BREXIT, for reasons I thoroughly respect. Much of the motivation behind the vote against BREXIT was libertarian in spirit, and much of the motivation behind the vote for BREXIT was anti-libertarian in spirit. I voted the way I did despite all that, because of my pessimism about the future development of the EU, and because in my opinion the EU brought out the very worst in our politicians and public officials. Turned them all into a pack of bloody liars, basically. But those who did not see it that way had their reasons. This posting is my nod towards all those who disagreed with me in this great matter.
Third, this posting reflects a photographic enthusiasm of mine, which is for large sets of objects which are all of the same kind, yet all different from one another. I reacted, photographically, to this demo, in the exact same way that I reacted to an NFL jamboree that I encountered a few years back, in Trafalgar Square, where I found myself snapping lots of NFL name-and-number shirts, likewise all the same yet all different.
And see also this demo.
I have included a few signs which verge on self-parody. 1.1: “I AM QUITE CROSS”, made me chuckle, and wonder whose side they were on. As did 9.1 and 9.2, “Tut” and “DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING”, the latter being a sign that goes back to Father Ted. 11.2, “mewn” baffles me, though. What is that? Does it mean: me-EU-UN?
I just got back from an ASI event, where Mark Pennington was talking about Equality, “acceptable” and “unacceptable”. It turns out, surprise surprise, that ASI type neo-liberalism does it best! How about that!
Seriously though, it was a good talk, very well attended and very well received:
What interested me, as much as what Mark Pennington said, was how he looked:
And how he looked was like a cross between Ralf Fiennes and Jonny Depp. To be exact, Ralf Fiennes‘s facial features, and shortened version of Jonny Depp’s famous Cry-Baby hairstyle. With a touch of Morrissey thrown in.
Now you may say, what does it matter how a libertarian professor merely looks? My answer: it matters, if he happens to look quite good.
I just sent out the mass email flagging up Chris Cooper’s talk on the Rise of Our Robot Overlords, chez moi, next Friday. I have asked his permission to reproduce his entire spiel. Meanwhile, here is how it begins, which I really like:
I’ve only recently realized the staggering implications of the project of AGI, or artificial general intelligence – the Holy Grail of present-day AI research. (I prefer to talk about AGIs, or AGI systems, rather than “robots”; “robot” has tin-man connotations that are part of the problem – they suggest the possibility of fraternization.) …
Which is why the talk is now officially entitled: “The Threat to Life and to Liberty of Artificial General Intelligence”.
These robots, whose pronouncements I have been following in recent days and weeks, don’t seem very fraternal:
They sound more like they’re artificial general intelligence.
It has taken me quite a while to learn how to photo my meetings. The problem is that the room is so small that whichever way you point the camera, you are going to miss two thirds of what is going on.
The best place to photo from is above, standing on a stool:
That shot was taken at last Friday’s meeting, the one addressed by Marc Sidwell, Marc being the one sitting, in a white shirt, on the brown sofa with the big arms, next to Real Photographer Rob with his real camera. The formalities have ended and informality has begun. It was an excellent talk and an excellent evening, and I hope to be saying more about it, maybe here, but more probably there.
In a perfect world, I could attach my camera to a stick, and take the shot from the middle of the ceiling, rather than from its edge. Even in this picture, there are people missing who were present.
This would be a good use for a selfie stick, of the sort that those who moan about selfie sticks don’t pause to think about.
Last night I sent out the email concerning the Brian’s Last Friday meeting this coming Friday, at the end of which email I found myself blurting out this:
Whenever I concoct these promotional emails I end up feeling very excited about the forthcoming talk. This time, this effect was especially pronounced.
This was what got me “very excited”:
Marc Sidwell will give a talk entitled: Promoting Freedom in a Post-Expert World.
He will be speaking about “the ongoing erosion of power and technocratic authority (most recently visible in the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump) and proposing some ways libertarians can respond to this shift.”
Other talk titles that were considered: “Twilight of the Wonks” and “The Revenge of Common Sense”.
Marc Sidwell is an journalist, editor, publisher, and writer, most recently of a How To Win Like Trump, now riding high in the Kindle best-seller List. More about Marc, his career and his publications, here.
For further information about the kinds of ideas Marc will be presenting, I strongly recommend a visit to: marcsidwell.com/.
It was there that I gleaned this quote, from Brexit campaigner Dominic Cummings:
“All those amazed at why so little attention was paid to ‘the experts’ did not, and still do not, appreciate that these ‘experts’ are seen by most people of all political views as having botched financial regulation, made a load of rubbish predictions, then forced everybody else outside London to pay for the mess while they got richer and dodged responsibility. They are right. This is exactly what happened.”
It wouldn’t surprise me if that quote gets a mention at some stage during Marc’s talk.
I would add that there are some kinds of expertise that continue to be held in very high esteem. Nobody doubts the expertise of the people who make all the machines and devices, mechanical and electrical, that keep our world ticking over efficiently and entertainingly. Not all expertise is now held in low regard, only the kinds of expertise that Cummings itemises.
The room is already starting to fill up.
Email me (see top left of this blog) if you want to know more about these monthly speaker meetings at my home.
Yesterday I told you about a photo I took on January 20th of this year. Earlier that day I had journeyed to Bromley-By-Bow tube station, then walked south along the River Lea, and ended my wanderings at Star Lane Station. It was a great day for photoing, and I especially enjoyed photoing this witty sculpture:
But who did it? This evening I realised that I seemed to recall Mick Hartley having something to say about this, and so it proved.
It’s by Abigail Fallis, and it is called DNA DL90. Well, I say that’s what it’s called. That’s what Abigail Fallis called it, but I bet nobody else calls it that. I bet what most people call it is more like: Shopping Trolley Spiral. I’m guessing further that Abigail Fallis regards her sculpture as some kind of critique of late capitalist consumerism. But such ArtGrumbling need not stop the rest of it thoroughly enjoying the thing, and also continuing to relish our trips to the supermarket, there to sample the delights of early capitalism. Because you see, Abigail, capitalism is just getting started.
Yes. I was right. Says Hartley:
It is, says Fallis, a symbol of modern society’s consumer culture, which has now become entwined in our genetic make-up. They can’t help themselves, can they, these artists?
The usual bitch about Artsists is that they are predictable, and indeed they are. But this was something else again. I literally predicted this, before I read it. How predictable is that? Very, very.
I have just done a rather belated posting at Samzidata about a talk given there a week ago, at which I was present and at which I attempted photos. At Samizdata, I grumbled about the light for photoing the speaker, but showed one of my less bad efforts. I rejoiced that there was also present an internally lit screen, and showed one of those photos. Here is another such:
Smith wins, of course. Marx’s prophecies were clearly wrong, even while he was still alive and pretending otherwise.
I spent today (a) fretting that my meeting this evening at my home might not be a very good meeting (on account of me not managing to persuade enough people to attend it), (b) having the meeting, and then (c) being pleased that it was a very good meeting. Thank you Nico Metten, the speaker.
I forgot, as usual, to take any photos of the meeting, so here is something (chosen because Friday is my day here for cats (and other creatures)) I photoed earlier:
I was in horse country earlier in the week, but only saw an electric horse. That real horse (with cart) was photoed in the vicinity of South Bermondsey railway station, just over a month ago.
Indeed. Photoed by me this afternoon:
I remember enjoying the original Ghostbusters, because of its pro-free-market political angle. This piece explains this political angle well.
Mostly what I think about all the feminism in this latest iteration, and of all those complaining about the feminism, is that you don’t own works of popular entertainment just because you liked them when you were young. If you like the original but not the new one, then ignore then new one and watch the old one again. It is very childish to get all steamed up about your childhood memories being mucked about with, if they have not actually been mucked about with. I mean, the original Ghostbusters survives, and has not in fact been in any way tampered with.
I am currently spending all my blogging time, apart from the late night hour or so that it took to bash out this, working on a summary of a talk given to Libertarian Home by Mark Littlewood, about Brexit. Lilttlewood used to be for Britain staying in the EU, but has since changed his mind. I hope to be sending that summary in to LH some time tomorrow.
Meanwhile, my understanding of the referendum is that the Jo Cox murder has made a bit of a difference, in favour of Remain, but that a stronger swing towards Leave has also been happening.
The whole immigration argument, now being pressed hard by the Leavers, is obviously making a big difference. But I reckon some other forces are also in play.
I was struck by the news that Leave was appealing to Labour voters by saying that voting Leave would wipe the smile off the faces of Cameron and Osborne. I think that’s probably proving to be very persuasive. In a General Election, you can hate Cameron and Osborne all you like, and vote against them. But, against you are all those people who think that a Labour Government would be a catastrophe. They all vote for Cameron and Osborne despite not liking them. But in this referendum, all those Labour voters whose overriding emotion is loathing of Cameron and Osborne can actually cause Cameron and Osborne to lose. I’m guessing that’s a very appealing idea.
I also think that Eddie Izzard’s bizarre appearance – literally his appearance – on shows like Question Time destroyed with one viral image the claim that all Remainers are normal people and only the more unhinged of the Leavers are a bunch of nutters from some other planet. Izzard reminded me of that bonkers woman in a beret that the late Victoria Wood once did, to such comic effect.
To be clear. I’m not saying that everyone now thinks that those arguing for Leave are all normal. Leavers have long been reckoned by normal people people to be, many of them, about as sane as a sackful of drunken badgers. What Izzard did was say to the nation: Lots of us Remainers are barking mad too.
Izzard, in other words, completely changed a widespread and very influential idea. If everyone had been supposing that all Leave freaks are actually not freaks at all, any of them, than the Jo Cox murder would also have changed things, a lot. As it is, this horror story merely confirms what most people already know about Leave freaks. They’re freaks. Meanwhile, the mainstream politicians arguing for Leave are not nearly such freaks. They are fairly normal looking. They look normal in the way that Farage looked normal, when he was sitting next to Izzard on Question Time. The Jo Cox murder doesn’t change that.
Izzard, on the other hand, actually changed things. The murder of an MP is a much bigger deal than Izzard. But that murder, horrible though it was, does not change what most people think about Leavers. Many Leavers are freaks. But what Izzard did was use his small national presence to suggest a really rather big change, and not in a way that helped the cause he was arguing for. He said that many Remainers are freaks too.
That’s the problem with showbiz people. They confuse showbiz popularity with being popular with the entire nation. If you find a comedian to be annoying or just not very funny, you can simply ignore him, happily leaving those who adore him to carry right on adoring him. The comedian makes a good living. You are not bothered. Problem solved. Everyone happy. Personally, I think Eddie Izzard has one joke - “Hey, I’m completely random in what I say!” - and I’ve heard it enough not to want to hear it again. So, I now ignore Izzard.
But politics is, by definition, the stuff that comes for you whether you want it or not. Politics is like having to sit and listen to a performer whom you don’t like. When Izzard steps forward, dressed like that, spouting political opinions, he then provokes, from those who do not like what they are seeing, not a mere shrug of indifference, but active opposition. Izzard made people want to vote against what he was saying.
In this recent piece in the Independent, it was claimed that how Izzard had been arguing was the problem. I wonder if even the anonymous editors who signed off on this editorial really think this. They carefully avoided saying that Izzard looked like a freak. Which is fine for late night telly fun. But it is not fine when the subject being argued about is the manner in which our country should be governed. There is a reason that ambitious politicians do not, any of them, present themselves as Izzard just did.
If the Brexit referendum result is as close as it could well be, Izzard’s contribution to the Leave cause could prove to have been decisive.
This has been a been a rather muddled and repetitious piece of writing. This is because I was working out what I thought, as I wrote. The point about how the Jo Cox murder doesn’t change how anyone feels about Leave Freaks, but that Izzard’s pratting about does change what lots of people feel about Remainers, and that lots of people now reckon that a lot of Remainders are Freaks too, only emerged as I wrote. But, me thinking aloud is one of the things this place is for.
I have been neglecting Libertarian Home of late. Let me assure LH’s Dear Leader Simon Gibbs that this is not permanent, just a combination of the declining energy that accompanies advancing years, and being, first, knackered by my French expedition, ant then preoccupied with the meeting I hosted on Friday addressed by Dominic Frisby. (Because this was a dry run for a theatrical performance at the Edinburgh Festival in August, some rearranging was required in my tiny front room, to make it less completely unlike a theatre.)
Simon has made it easy for me to respond positively to his constant nudgings, by serving up a nudge that is very easy for me to respond to, and in fact which I am glad to respond to, because it takes care of my something-every-day self-imposed rule here, for today.
At the Libertarian Home secret coven site where Simon nudges most of his nudgings to his various LH helpers and comrades, he posted this picture, which he recently snapped in Trafalgar Square:
Click on that to get the original, bigger and with more verbiage.
It is typical of Simon that he nudged this in my direction (picking me out individually thereby ensuring that an email about the nudge would reach me immediately) by emphasising the horizontality of this photo. (He had other ways of recommending it to others.) What this illustrates is that Simon is good at tuning in to how others think, which is the bedrock of the art of persuasion.
Photographic horizontality interests me because it suits the blogging format by helping to make blog postings vertically shorter and hence less unwieldy than they would otherwise be, and because horizontality also suits other circumstances that happen to be of interest to me.
So, he used it. Thus are ideological movements built and strengthened.
That Brexit thing is getting less and less horizontal by the minute, apparently. Although I promise nothing, I have in mind (more Gibbs nudging) to go to Trafalgar Square this afternoon and try to photo the whole thing.
Nothing much here today, but I just did three Samizdata postings today and yesterday:
I have always felt that the fascination with cat photos that has engulfed the internet was somehow more important than just being a matter of cat photos, engulfing the internet. Now it seems that cat photos are a threat to Islam, and must be forbidden. For me, cats means pure fun. No purpose is served. Other than the purpose (purr-puss) of having fun. And it seems that there is this crazy Sheikh who also thinks that photoing cats is pure fun also, and that this is why photoing cats should be forbidden. For him, I guess, fun is never pure. Quite the opposite.
One of my regular automatic google-searches is “face recognition”, and just now this has been alerting me to all the various tricks that are coming on stream for making face recognition not work, by putting on make-up, or spectacles, and such like.
Here is my contribution to this discussion:
I know what you’re thinking. Who might that be?
Exactly. Although, if you’re are supercomputer, you have probably worked it out. You have a special programme which tells you to take particular interest in any faces that are trying to not be recognised.
Most of my libertarian friends think that such tech solutions are the front line of this battle. I have long assumed that the world is moving rapidly towards a state where the question of what is X doing at the moment is technologically answerable, and impossible to prevent being answered. For me, among other desirable things, libertarianism is the claim that although we can see X saying or doing something we don’t approve of, we shouldn’t legally prevent him or her from doing that, unless it is really, really bad.
In a world of Total Surveillance by the Big Machine, the proliferation of stupid rules and regulations with no huge moral content becomes a problem like it never used to be. I means rules about things like what you should eat or smoke or, now, say in conversation. Rules like that mean that we can all now be seen and heard breaking such rules. (Okay, maybe not now, maybe not yet, but that’s where things are headed.) And that means that anyone who wants to fuck up your life or my life (for an actual real reason that has bugger all to do with the stupid rule actually being broken) can then do it. Worse, some legislative maniac might demand that anyone that the Big Machine sees breaking this or that rule that he personally is obsessed about, should be automatically fucked over, by the Big Machine, with no human intervention involved. With a big long list of exceptions, like legislators. The Big Machine can’t touch them. Libertarianism has arisen, partly, because it has become ever more necessary to insist on certain principles, principles which were imposed upon the world in former times by sheer ignorance of what other people were getting up to.
The other thing people have to do is develop thicker skins, psychologically speaking I mean, because although legislative pressure is not now a problem for most people, social pressure can become a big problem, for example if you find yourself being mobbed on the internet for some innocuous thing you said or ate. Just because a million idiots on the internet are screeching that you are an idiot, that doesn’t mean you are, or that if you are, it matters. When it does matter, bosses should chill, and not fire people just because the mob is screeching. I applaud, tentatively, the recent tendency to give social media mobsters a going-over, using the same methods on them that they have been using. Who is this mad bitch? What has she (it does often seem to be she) been up to lately? What is her job? Who is her boss? Etc. (In the age of cyber-bullying, I feel that I now understand witchcraft crazes better.)
Another problem is that as something easily mistaken for a state of everyone knowing everything increasingly pertains, that old illusion that everything will accordingly be centrally plannable is likely to keep rearing its very ugly head, and keep on having to be experienced as a disastrous illusion. (More libertarianism.) The point is, everyone doesn’t know everything. Nothing like. We can’t. Our heads aren’t big enough, and even if they were, knowledge is not like that. Everyone can known anything in particular that is easy to know (like where X is just now) that they want to know and ask the Big Machine about. That’s entirely different from actual omniscience.
I keep wanting to write about music, but (a) it isn’t easy, unless both you and your readers know all the technical terms of your preferred sort of music. And (b) whereas words go fine with music, words about music, especially if they are attempting to be descriptive of a particular piece of music, can be devilishly hard to contrive in a way that is comprehensible without being banal and superficial and generalised.
A specialist blog or website devoted to a particular sort of music, with musical illustrations supplied to click on rather than only descriptive verbiage, whose writer(s) and readers are united by their taste in that particular sort of music, that makes perfect sense to me. I don’t read any such blogs, but it makes sense. I do read old school paper magazines (I see that there is a new one of those out that I’ve not yet seen) exactly like this. But a blog about other things which from time to time goes musical, not so much. I have no problem at all with my favourite bloggers (6k and Mick Hartley spring to mind) doing postings every so often about music that they happen particularly to like. Their gaffs, their rules. But I mostly skip such postings. I possess a lifetime and more of music in the form of a vast CD collection that I already want to listen to.
So, I do not wish myself merely to do postings about bits of music that I happen to like, hoping - implicitly or explicitly - that others will be infected with my tastes. I love Western classical music more than life itself, often a lot more. But most people don’t these days, and that’s fine with me. If I thought that western classical music was about to be completely expunged from the earth any time soon, I might feel differently about trying to infect others with the love of it, but it isn’t. Meanwhile, this music is, for me, mostly a personal thing. It is not an evangelical religion. If I meet a fellow devotee, we exchange enthusiastic exclamations of love for this or that piece or performance, but I mostly refrain from inflicting such True Believer talk on non-believers.
I am evangelical and anti-evangelical about some things. If you are not a libertarian, I want that to change. You should become a libertarian forthwith. If you are a Muslim, I want you to know, now, that I think you should stop being a Muslim, now. But if you hate Beethoven and adore hip-hop, that’s fine with me, so long as you have no plans forcibly to stop me listening to Beethoven or to force me to listen to hip-hop. If you merely want me to adore hip-hop, or even to stop adoring Beethoven, again, fine. Just so long as you don’t recommend the use of sticks or stones to make those points. Insofar as you do, then shame on you. But exactly the same point applies to people who force Beethoven upon those who resist Beethoven’s charms. I am evangelical about that sort of behaviour also. Are you threatening others with Beethoven? Stop doing that, now. Do you favour such behaviour by others. Don’t even think that.
However, more general postings about music (this one being an example) about the different ways we listen to it and enjoy it, how love of music spreads or should spread (that is what this posting has partly been about), about how those who contrive it contrive it, and so on, of the sort that all music lovers can read and tune into, even as they are hearing in their own heads quite distinct musical illustrations concerning whatever is being said, that makes more sense to me, and - memo to self - I want to do more of such postings here.
Today I attended Deirdre McCloskey’s talk for the Adam Smith Institute. I know what you’re thinking. Okay, okay, photos, as per usual. But: What did she say? Fine. Go here, and you can find out. What I can find no link to is any information about the event – when, where, and so on. It’s all now gone. Maybe it was never there in the first place.
But the Man from the Adam Smith Institute told me to send in some of my snaps, and these are the ones I sent them:
McCloskey’s basic point was what is rapidly becoming the libertarian orthodoxy, to the effect that (a) the world started getting humungously rich in or around 1780 (Yaron Brook‘s preferred date for this is 1776 (to coincide with America starting and Smith’s Wealth of Nation’s getting published)), and (b) we did this. Our enemies tried to stop us and they failed. We know how to make poor people rich, and we’ve been doing it ever since. Our enemies only know how to make rich people less rich and poor people more poor. Bastards.
My recent favourite example of enrichment is a very tiny one offered at today’s talk by McCloskey, which is that you can now use your smartphone as a mirror. Better yet, McCloskey said, before the talk she was giving, she spotted Steve Baker MP doing this exact thing with his smartphone, while perfecting his appearance prior to doing his MP socialising bit.
The reason I particularly like this is that I just recently learned about this trick myself, when I saw someone doing it, and took a photo of it:
If you photo someone looking in a mirror, they can see their face, but you can’t. (Unless it’s a crap movie, in which case the audience sees the face and the person with the face doesn’t. I know. Ridiculous. But this is truly what often happens.) But, if you photo someone using their smartphone as a mirror, both you and they can see their face.
McCloskey’s point was that enrichment doesn’t only come in the form of more money, but also in the form of the ever more amazing things that you can buy with your money. Like a phone that is also a NASA circa 1968 supercomputer. And a face mirror.
Finally, here are a couple more photography-related photos. On the left is the official photographer for the McCloskey talk:
And on the right there is a photo which I also took at the venue for the McCloskey talk, which I will not name, because the people in charge of this place might then learn of this blog posting and see this picture and then who the hell knows what might happen? Are you wondering what I am talking about? Click on the picture and work it out. I only realised what I had photoed after I had got home.