Posts by Simon Gibbs

Editor of the Libertarian Home blog and meetup organiser.

BookMarks store invasion was a gross failure of character

I was shocked to hear via Guy Herbert and Sky News that there had been an attack by right-wing thugs on a socialist bookshop in London. Socialism is an inaccurate world view and unethical political policy which promises economic utopia without an algorithm for allocating resources. When it is proceeding tolerably it undermines individual autonomy and crushes free expression, when proceeding along it’s inevitable decline it is associated with mass murder, starvation, preventable deaths, and economic collapse.

The fact that socialists advocate such destructive policies does not remove their rights. The books they are selling do not advocate for the terrible consequences of socialism, but for the unobtainable dreams they intend. They are fools, dangerous fools, but not devils.

Socialists are blind advocates of destruction on a scale I find unimaginable, despite several historical and current examples to look to. I cannot think of a worse political policy to advocate, but I still respect the rights of the bookshop owners to trade freely and exercise their free speech. In fact, as a literal marketplace of literary content book shops are places worthy of deep respect.

Who was it that organised this store invasion? Who could go that low? What is a devil, or a fool?

I know that the person leading the group that day was Luke Nash-Jones. I do not yet know if he is a devil, I trust he is a fool.

After a morning defending the free speech rights of Alex Jones, conspiracy theorist, Luke Nash-Jones lead, or perhaps followed, his protest group into the BookMarks bookshop. He says on a video that he met a bloke in a Trump mask in a pub. The guy was refused service. Other “third parties” suggested pranking the nearby book store instead. He says he went in first with a cameraman to challenge the store owner on his political views, already a confrontational course of action. He says that others followed him in and caused the trouble. He does not mention in the video that the people who entered were waving his Foundation’s placards and wearing his Foundation’s hats. The most charitable interpretation here is that he inflamed a store-invasion by mistake, while attempting to act like a prat.

Nash-Jones is leader of a group formerly known as Young Britons for Liberty. I spoke at a Young Britons for Liberty event on the topic of Marketable Ethical Libertarian Policies (an early warning sign was that at that Q&A I was upstaged by excited chatter about Trump) and again under the Young Chartists name at a pro-Brexit rally where I told them Brexit would be defeated, based on electoral arithmetic if they promoted a nasty, racist post-Brexit outcome – because there is no support for that outcome. I went back to tell them again, and warned them that nasty rhetoric would easily drown out voices helping to build a positive Brexit.  At the latter of these events I noticed the shift towards Trump related imagery and populism. I have not been back.

Luke Nash-Jones’ video has condemned the things that left-wing media have read from the store invasion – that the right is on the rise and they hate free speech and that they are violent thugs. There is undoubtedly exaggeration of the events in the media (the managers account ring’s truest) but Luke’s error was to imagine himself able to control not-only the mob he gathered, but the way their ignorant impromptu actions are interpreted. Luke must apologise for taking his protest group to BookMarks.

LATER: Luke Nash-Jones apparently uttered the words “The Jihadi Has the Machete Hand Over the Englishman” to a stonily silent audience on 28th July. Devil or Fool? Hmnn…

Why I’m Backing the West Lynn Ferry Crowdfunder

The appeal reads:

The historic West Lynn ferry is in danger. The present owner cannot run it for another winter and needs to sell the business or shut down and sell his boats. If that happens we may not be able to start a new ferry for years, if ever.

I know the words well because I was involved with writing them. I met Ben Ellis the prospective buyer of West Lynn Ferry, a going concern, in the King William pub in Terrington and helped him finish off his page on, his selected platform.

The ferry is an established commuter route into from rural West Lynn into Kings Lynn and is a helpful option for all manner of errands, such as visiting the library or shopping in town. Taking the ferry comes with free parking and cuts out all of the traffic on the long route round the other way. But the owner has joint issues and wants to finance a lifestyle change and take on less demanding work.

After 17 years invested in the ferry, which probably did not help his joints, he will be rightly determined to sell up or asset strip the business. He has been trying to sell the business for 18 months and although this summer is lovely, he is not looking forward to yet another winter of running services every 20 minutes. The ferry needs a particular set of skills to run and Ben Ellis is the only buyer to have come forward, but Ben does not yet have all of the £65,000 price tag.

Ben has various offers of finance, all of them unreliable and all of them with strings attached. He can’t proceed to buy the ferry if he doesn’t know he can make it work. On top of landing those prospective investors, his challenge is doing it without crippling the business with debt. Asking for gifts from his community – a helping hand in this otherwise private endeavour – makes sense.

Of course, there is a chance that the money will be handed over and the ferry will still end up closing. Plenty can still go wrong. Yet for the people in Terrington, Clenchwarton and West Lynn sharing a little of that risk with Ben has a better chance of keeping their ferry running.

For the wider community, and in particular for libertarians and conservatives, it is a chance to demonstrate that we are committed to practising what we preach. It does not matter that we come from London and have all the ferries and tunnels we need for ourselves. If we believe that public services can be provided by private enterprises then we have a responsibility to lead by example and support them when they falter.

You won’t find my donation on crowdfunder. He had my money before his page existed, but it is already very late. We have here a real example of the world working they way we want it to. The time to step up and get involved is past due.

Bringing pareto distributions to drunken philosophising

Avid followers of Libertarian Home will know of a tension between the amount of time people want spent on history and abstract philosophy and the amount spent on concrete political policy and the everyday problems

encountered. Between talking to ourselves in pubs and talking to the public at large. This tension is, in my view, a false dichotomy. In truth we need more, lots more, of all of it. It seems, however, that since most libertarians are working hard on being happy that they have little extra time to dedicate to that effort. Libertarians have a resource shortage that is a bigger issue than any issue with resource prioritisation.

What to do about the resource shortage?

Well, one thing we could do is to make more libertarians – by way of persuading non-libertarians – until we have enough libertarians to get everything done. This is begging the question since effort is required to make the extra libertarians.

One of the things we do manage is lots of drunken philosophising. I have a lot of time for drunken philosophising and one of the reasons for that is that I do not think it is as useless as people imagine. It is also not always drunken philosophising, sometimes it is drunken strategising. Furthermore,  time spent drinking together is time in which communities are built and ideas shared.

That community is the fertile soil in which more impressive enterprises are grown. Those ideas are the seeds being scattered upon that soil. The hope is those randomly scattered seeds sprout into something wonderful.

The process is, however, somewhat inefficient. How many times have the conversations in a pub moved away from something exciting and insightful and onto the thing that the guy with the loudest voice has an anecdote about? Those moments do not ruin social evenings but they are as frustrating as they are unproductive.

In the facet of our universe concerned with business management there is an intellectual school called “Lean”. Look it up, it offers interesting insights into how to avoid waste. One of it’s insights is something called “LeanCoffee” which is simply a format for semi-formal meetings held in coffee houses in the early hours. I have been to a few and found them fun. The description of the format can be a bit wordy, so I’ll leave it out. Understand only that is it not as formal as it sounds. It is actually quite lightweight and relaxed, even with coffee involved.

What the format does is it quickly surfaces the interests of the attendees and exploits natural pareto / power-law distributions in the topics they are interested in. Focusing the conversation on the mutually interesting topics means the non-starters are filtered out. That boring anecdote is gently suppressed.

The other thing it does well is it dedicates some time to each of the attendees’ common interests. This ensures that the right amount of time is spent on each topic (where “right” is also defined by the attendees).

So, the least interesting conversations cannot take the spark of life out of the more interesting conversations until the appointed hour is reached and then only by consensus. That this remarkable feat can be managed without excess administration is really quite impressive.

Can you imagine the impact on our resource shortage if the resources we presently invest in drunken philosophising were an order of magnitude more productive? What would happen if the deeply-interesting and popular conversations dominated the evening and the merely fun and merely-of-normal-interestingness were put aside for a while?

I think this meeting format will be interesting and fun to try out with beers rather than coffees, and with politics rather than business management.

Let’s do it this evening in Westminster

Who’s in?

Event Update: The NHS with Stephen McNamara and Stef Johnstone

Tonight we are being joined by Stephen McNamara and Stef Johnstone. Who are nominations officer and deputy leader of the Scottish Libertarian Party.

Stephen McNamara has previously stood as a councillor for the party achieving 53 first preference votes and 305 seconds. He’s been a member of Solidarity and the SNP in the past and describes the discover of libertarianism through the SLP as a major moment in his life. He is also involved in the creation of an underground radio station – KA Radio – from his home.

If you want to get a feel for the guy, I recommend this interview with SLP leader Tam Laird:

Stephen will be presenting his views on the NHS as a libertarian.

Location Change

A reminder that the venue for the event has changed.

New location:

The Cock Tavern
23 Phoenix Road

This was arranged as a courtesy to our guests. As always the best way, at the moment to keep up to date with Meetup changes is to be registered and to Star or RSVP events on Meetup.

Letter: Re: Crackdown on university students silencing free speech

We welcome news that the Office for Students will enforce the expectation that universities should once again tolerate all legal viewpoints. The OfS must tackle not only bureaucratic meddling in speaker meetings but also the violent and disruptive protests such as the recent no-platform attack at Kings College London. At that event, security staff were hospitalised but non-violent saboteurs succeeded in shutting down the event by setting off fire alarms and shouting the speakers down. There must now be a clear commitment to enforcing existing law to ensure lawful speech is not prevented by force of any kind.

Simon Gibbs
Martin Keegan
Danny Al-Khafaji


[Address provided]

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Context and Intent Must Matter. Royal Babies Don’t

It has been shown that, in complex domains, punishment is an ineffective means of controlling behaviour. The reason is that if someone cannot tell whether a decision will lead to punishment then they cannot rationally incorporate that factor.

Communicating your ideas in a way that is both accurate and also funny is a complex domain. Locking up a comedian for making a bad joke is therefore unlikely to be effective. Pragmatically, it is a stupid idea.

Markus Meechan, Count Dankula, is today being sentenced for the crime of using “gas the jews” as a cue for a cute dog to make a Nazi salute. The context was a joke about cute dogs not really being so special. The intent was to ridicule Nazis. Making jokes to illustrate what aspects of a thing are genuinely special and valuable is an unequivocal social good. Ridiculing the third most evil political movement in recent history is an unequivocal social good. I wish people would make similar jokes about Stalin and Mao.

I’ve written before about how speech precedes politics and should not be regulated by political action. Setting that aside for a moment, there are social goods embedded in  Meechan’s intent. We know punishing people in complex domains won’t work, but what it will do is force people out of the complex domain. If there is a clear line between the complex and the straightforward it will mean fewer people crossing that threshold. It will force them out of attempting to create edgy jokes about bad people. It will force comedians to make safe, tame, infantilised rubbish, and will stop people taking the time to ridicule Nazis.

If we want good comedy, if we want bad people to get a hard time, if we want good ideas and good humour to come to the surface, then we need to tolerate dark dank corners where people are allowed to get it a bit wrong. Context and intent matter both as a way of filtering genuine evil and make believe evil (Meechan’s evil was make believe), but also as a way of guiding our eye to what is valuable.

If you forget them, your TV will be full of bad comedy and Royal babies.