This Blog was fun while it lasted – but now it is approaching its end

First I got diagnosed with lung cancer, and that was bad. And then I started taking the pills, and that was good. The cancer got no worse, and I got better.

But now the side effects, if that’s what they are, are starting to pile up, the worst of these being a loss of appetite, and consequent loss of energy. So – to cut a long and medically very dreary and off-putting story short – the time has come for me to stop fretting at all about this little blog every day, and concentrate on writing stuff for Samizdata, of the sort that really matters to me, even if not necessarily mattering that much to anyone else.

I thought I’d be able to do daily stuff here, and go on making headway with the more serious stuff, but it hasn’t worked out that way, and something has to give. Basically I am now back staring death in the face, and there are still things I want to say of a Samizdata sort. Anything that gets in the way of that has to stop.

It’s not that everything here will necessarily stop, although it may well. I just don’t know. What I do know is that all of the limited energy that I have left has to be spent on saying what to me are big things, now. This Blog has been more about accumulating half-baked small thoughts, with a view to fully baked and bigger thoughts suggesting themselves to me in the fullness of time. But I now have no “fullness of time” that I can rely on. So, postings here will happen whenever they happen and when they’re no bother to do, which will not mean every day.

It was fun while it lasted. For me, and I hope for lots of you.

Perry de Havilland on those Covid demonstrations

Well, I managed to do a posting that I had merely hoped to do for Samizdata, about the Covid demo in London the weekend before last, linking back here to all the photos of it that I stuck up here.

Here. and there, I added some rather rambling verbiage about how I had mixed feelings about such demos. Do they work? What do they achieve? That kind of thing.

And I really liked Perry de Havilland’s comment on my Samizdata piece in response:

Demonstrations are much misunderstood; particularly ones like this (& this was a huge demonstration).

They are not going to change state policy directly because that just isn’t how things work, they are mostly about deisolating activists, they are about demonstrating to the demonstrators that they are not crazy (even if some of them are as is the case in any group of disparate people).

Demonstrations are a building process. Demonstrations in this case are particularly effective at highlighting assorted lies about this particular disease. After all, get hundreds of thousands unmasked unvaccinated people shouting for a few hours face to face, there is going to be an observable spike in deaths each time, right? Right? 🤣

Some demonstrations against the lockdown got hammered by the police earlier on … why? Because they were small enough to get hammered by the police to try and discourage other demonstrations. In this demonstration, the police were so vastly outnumbered, by a march that refused to even tell the police where it was going to march (by design), there was never any chance it could be stopped with truncheons. And the demonstration’s organisation was connected yet dispersed, utterly protean: a couple organisers were arrested before the march to try and derail it, and expecting that, others on various platforms seamlessly took over.

What THAT demonstrates to the marchers is that resistance is not futile, they are not alone. In fact, they are legion. It was an anti-lockdown march but it was also an anti-media march, giving lie to the idea that utterly dominating the media dominates public opinion (as if Brexit had not already proven the falsity of that in the internet age). How many times do crap opinion polls have to get it wrong for demonstrable things (such as election & referendum outcomes) for you to stop believing them when things are less demonstrable?

If you don’t ‘get it; then who cares; you are most likely not the target audience. But these marches are not a pointless hissy fit like some marches, these particular marches are literal in-your-face defiance of instructions by the state intending to protect you from “the inevitable consequences of a terrible disease spreading amongst crowds”. These marches are an absolute refusal to obey & a demonstration that the state relies on your willing even if grudging compliance, because there is a tipping point beyond which they do not have enough people with truncheons to force your compliance. That is what demonstrations like this are for & it is working just fine.

Perry and I have since talked further about this, and it is clear, from his and other comments, that libertarianism, as I merely speculated hopefully, really is spreading amongst those demonstrators. In general, says Perry, a lot of people are going to be radicalised by Covid, more precisely: by the response to Covid. This will take time, as the economic damage done by this response makes itself felt and as the facts start emerging in greater detail, both the scientific facts and the policy making facts. Of course, nothing like all of this radicalising will be in a libertarian direction, but a lot of it will.

And I had completely ignored the crucial point that this one was a demonstration in favour of the right to demonstrate, and in defiance of the claim that demonstrations would spread The Plague.

Perry and I also agreed that if it had been a real Plague – dead bodies in the street, double digit percentage deaths and so on – our attitude would have been very different. This is an argument about the mishandling of medical data, not just a libertarian “hissy fit”, to quote his phrase.

Although, I rather suspect that for many, “hissy fit” is simply a demonstration they don’t agree with. Which was why I mentioned those pro-Remain demos in what I wrote at Samizdata. I disagreed with those demos, yet they were clearly demos, and they clearly will have consequences, even if not those that the demonstrators will be fully satisfied with, of just the sort that Perry described.

Perry also mentioned how getting to know this lady had informed his thinking on these matters. He zeroed in on this sentiment, that I also mentioned in that earlier posting:

Being a dissident wasn’t about overthrowing the regime; it was merely about staying sane.

In other words demos say, if only to the demonstrators, but typically also to many sympathetic but timid onlookers: You are not the only ones thinking like this.

Big demo – zero Covid result

Winston Tarquin Smith:

Evening all … 1 million marched in London 2 weeks ago … and nobody died of Covid.

And in the follow up tweets, this:

I don’t know why it’s “CONVID” rather than COVID.

To be clear, the question is not: Are they now getting this wrong? Yes, of course, but merely guessing wrong is forgiveable. The question is: Should they have known a long time ago? I suspect: Yes again.

I reserve the right to change my mind about all things Covid. (Come to think of it, something like that applies to everything I say.)

But, see also, this on Samizdata today. Every time I see a clever person talking this way, the more I am inclined to believe it was all a horrible over-reaction. And yes, this is an “argument from authority”. Arguments from authority are to be taken with seasoning, but they are not a “fallacy”, like post ergo propter hoc (after therefore because). They aren’t definitive proof, because experts can certainly be wrong. But they are a clue, to add to all the other clues.

Happy Easter!

I hope you are having one.

I definitely am, and I will tell you (a big part of) why. This, on YouTube, from Steve Baker MP, no less.

Just over two minutes long, so not a big chunk out of your life it you follow the above link and watch it all.

I’ll surely have more to say about this by way of thanks. But, busy day for me today, and I could hardly postpone at least noticing this here.

Ask, and you shall receive. This exploiting my impending death to achieve a dose of upward social mobility thing is really working out well.

Patrick and I talk about the current state of libertarianism

I’ve had a busy day doing other things, but last Tuesday, Patrick Crozier and I recorded a conversation about the current state of the libertarian movement, and I can at least today report that Patrick has now done the editing and introductory blogging and linkage, and you can listen to it by going here. It lasts, after Patrick had sliced out the pauses (which we discuss at the end), almost exactly an hour.

As the title of Patrick’s posting alludes to, we speak in particular about how libertarians happen to have been divided about recent Big Issues of the Day, like Brexit, Trump and Lockdown. In each of these arguments, libertarians have been on both sides. However, we both express guarded optimism that libertarians will be more united in the argument that will soon be raging about how best to recover from Lockdown. Our voice may not win, but it will at least be more like one voice.

For further clues about the kinds of things we discussed, see the categories list below. Notice that “Education” is not in this list. For some reason we failed to even mention this.

How to win the libertarian argument with hippos

Once again, I am saying a big thank you to Rob Fisher, for doing his bit to make my life and libertarianising echo in eternity. (Commenters, what movie am I quoting there? I liked that phrase the moment I first heard it.)

If you go to the website that Rob is referring to, you will see that right near the top there is a slowly moving clutch of quotes that come from the publications in question. I think this is a good idea. My strong point is probably not essays, or even long explanations. When I attempt any of those, I generally make some mistakes, especially given that when I wrote a lot of this stuff I was, as now, my own editor. Books? forget it. No, my biggest strength is, or was, single sentences, or at the most small clutches of sentences.

I only just saw Rob’s posting, which went up yesterday, but today is my day here for animal stuff, so, is there an animal connection here? I only started really banging on about animals in an animal rights sort of way when scientists started creating semi-affordable artificial meat, which will mean that we humans can now stop being so mean to animals, which we now do by stuffing them full of food and then slicing them up and eating them. When we’re not just keeping them as pets and merely stuffing them full of food.

However, there is an animal link, at any rate as of now, in Rob’s very kind posting. Early manifestations of which included the subject of “Hippos”, in the bit just under the title where it says what the posting is about. “Opinions on liberty” gets a mention, but Rob would appear to have forgotten to scrub Hippos from the list, Hippos being what goes on a Samizdata posting by default if you forget to mention any subjects. Here, it is merely “uncategorized”. But Samizdata Supremo Perry de Havilland likes hippos, and knows how to make things like that happen.

If you have an argument with a hippo, about anything never mind about libertarianism, chances are you’ll lose, especially if it thinks you are in its way.

Steve Stewart-Williams on the evolution of the Breton fishing boat

I finished reading The Ape That Understood The Universe about a week ago now, but there is one further bit from this book that I want to scan into this blog, because I think it is my absolute favourite.

At the beginning of the second half of the book devoted to Man, “The Cutural Animal”, SS-W offers six examples of cultural evolution in action. These are: Breton Boats, Conditioned Behavior, Language, Teddy Bears, Businesses, and Science. I have already copied the bits on Teddy Bears, and on Language. Here is the bit about Breton Boats (p. 224):

The first example concerns the fishing boats used by Breton fisherman in the ĂŽle de Groix. Where did these boats come from? At first glance, it looks like a no-brainer: If anything’s a product of intelligent design, it’s a boat. On closer inspection, though, it turns out it really is a no-brainer … or at least a partial-brainer, in the sense that human brains played a more modest role in crafting the boats than we normally assume. This possibility was first mooted by the French philosopher Emile-Auguste Chartier (aka Alain), who in 1908, took a Darwinian hatchet to the common sense view. “Every boat,” he observed,

is copied from another boat … Let’s reason as follows in the manner of Darwin. It is clear that a very badly made boat will end up at the bottom after one or two voyages, and thus never be copied … One could then say, with complete rigor, that it is the sea herself who fashions the boats, choosing those which function and destroying the others.

If a boat returns, the boat makers may copy it. If it doesn’t, they definitely won’t. The boats that are most likely to be copied are therefore those that survive the longest. As Daniel Dennett points out, no one needs to know why these particular boats survive. To make a good boat, you don’t need to understand what makes a boat good; you only need to be able to copy another boat. How do you know you’re copying a good boat? Well, you don’t need to know, because the sea automatically culls the not-good ones from the boat population. Meanwhile, any especially good boats get copied at a faster rate. Over time, this process of culling and copying fashions more and more seaworthy boats.

Now maybe each and every step in the gradual evolution of the boat was a product of intelligent design: of a thousand forgotten boat makers figuring out a thousand different ways to make their boats more sea-worthy. But maybe not. Maybe many steps along the path were simply fortuitous accidents, which were automatically preserved and propagated. To the extent that this is so, the design evident in Breton boats comes from blind, mindless selection, rather than the machinations of intelligent minds.

Language and Teddy Bears are a bit off the beaten tracks I like to beat. But with this discussion of the design of a quite big physical object, in this case a boat, SS-W’s core agenda, and one of my obsessions over the years and decades ever since I was a failed architecture student, overlap in a very big way. As I said at the end of the language posting linked to above, I have long been thinking along the same lines as SS-W, about “mindless” design. And as I said at the end of another recent posting here, about Facadism, Keeping Up Appearances and so on, it is my earnest hope that I will, by and by, be able to pull such thoughts together in a bigger piece for Samizdata.

The Modern Movement in Architecture was, when it started out, shot through with the idea that you should not “mindlessly” copy an established design, even if it worked well, unless you knew why it worked well. Wrong.

Equally and oppositely, the first lot of Architectural Modernists said that you should turn your back on “mindless tradition” and design anew, from “first principles”. Very dangerous, as a design technique. Something like this is sometimes necessary, provided you choose good “first principles”, but it is never without extreme hazard. Architectural Modernism only worked well, and in a country like Britain has only started to work well, when Modernism itself became a tradition, embodying the experience of what worked and what works, and what did not work and what does not work.

I was writing about Modernism versus Ancientism back in 2014

I have done no copying over of postings from the Old Blog to the New Blog recently. This is because recently, I have not been experiencing the Screen of the Red Death (although me mentioning this now may cause it to return just out of spite).

However, today I embarked upon transferring a posting from back in March 2014 entitled “Keeping up appearances”, only to discover that it had already been transferred. It featured a rather excellent photo that I photoed in Oxford Street:


What this tells you is that architectural modernism has utterly conquered indoors, but that out of doors, modernism is only popular because its totalitarian impulses have been held at bay, by what you might call ancientism.

Well, somewhat held at bay. Modernism still has a fight on its hands.

But it would appear that the idea of “ancientism”, which I think is useful, was only then occurring to me, what with me then calling it “what you might call ancientism”, rather than just ancientism.

Somewhere on that bucket list of things I want to write for Samizdata before I die is something pulling together all my thoughts and discoveries about Modernist and Ancientist architecture, battle between, etc.. Something tells me that if I do ever manage this, the above photo may get yet another showing.

The Brian Micklethwait Archive goes public

Just over a month ago I learned that I will die rather sooner than I had been supposing, and I asked, by way of being cheered up, for people to say nice things, preferably in public, about my various writings and doings over the years.

The most impressive consequence of this rather vulgar entreaty has so far been the Brian Micklethwait Archive.

It is in the nature of this Archive in my honour that if I had constructed it myself it would be an absurdity, which wouldn’t outlast me any more than this blog will. In contrast, the fact that Rob Fisher, a far younger man than me, has embarked upon this project is a source of profound gratitude and satisfaction to me. If I die soon, this will be a big reason for me nevertheless to die in a state of moderate contentment. Posthumous reputations, such as I now crave on a scale way beyond what I merely deserve, do not establish themselves. They have to be established. I want to be remembered as a writer, yet I do not have so much as one book to my name. This Archive that Rob is gathering up, by cherry picking from my many bits of writing over the years, will make a big difference to whatever continuing impact and influence I may have after I have died.

Rob is in charge of this Archive, not me. It needs to be something he is happy to go on polishing and adding to in the months and years to come, so it must be as he wishes it, rather than as I might have wished it. And I waited until he made it public before drawing attention to it, here, myself. Now I feel that I can without upsetting whatever announcements Rob had in mind to be doing.

Great Men don’t need to advertise themselves. Their achievements speak for themselves. Lesser men like me need to beat their own drums. And it makes all the difference when someone else joins in.

A link

Another rough day, I’m afraid, so not a lot here.

But something there, with a couple of quotes from a book about Beethoven. But quotes not about Beethoven. About war.