I believe

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Robert Tombs made an interesting argument yesterday on the difference between Leavers and Remainers. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the logic, but I do agree with the conclusions that on the whole, Remainers seem to come from a position of pessimism, while Leavers are naturally optimistic.

Tombs argues that the Remainers are irrational, and have an unhealthy fixation on their gut instinct that drives them to denigrate Britain’s ability to survive outside of the EU, and a logical consequence of this is to look down on the plebs of Britain, imagining themselves not British, but part of the greater European Empire. In contrast, Leavers must be rational optimists.

I would argue that the pessimism vs. optimism argument holds true, although the rationalism vs. irrationalism does not.

We are all ‘rational’ creatures, but what we ‘think’ about various subjects is down to our subsconsious (see Why Do I love You?). As our subconscious does not deal with language, emotions bubble up from our subconscious, mostly filtered through the right brain before the logical left brain can start to make sense of them.

Those opinions espoused by the subconscious are driven by our unconscious biases which have been shaped over the years by the countless stories we’ve been told and we repeat to ourselves. We try to make sense of these emotions with our logical, rational mind, and usually fail (or at the very best manage to stop ourselves saying anything too politically incorrect or embarrassing). Unless the debate is blindingly obvious, (and Brexit is not), rationalising anything usually ends up in us trying to grapple with things our brains can’t really deal with, so we just end up going with what we feel is right.

As the debate for Brexit was, from a rational perspective, fairly balanced (you could comfortably argue for or against), the final decision comes down to our unconscious biases. Thus, the general attitude towards Brexit of Leavers, from what I’ve seen, is one of optimism and belief in the country; that of Remainers, one of pessimism and a lack of faith in the country and its people. It is this issue of faith that is, I think, the real dividing line between Leave and Remain. It’s down to whether you believe we can or we can’t.

I personally choose the optimistic outlook every time. I believe that we are all intelligent, clever people (and not so dissimilar as those obsessed with class or of a liberal authoritarian bent would like to believe). We may express this in many different ways, which to me just makes the whole thing more wonderful. Time and again, we are the embodiment of proof that when we work together the result is much, much greater that the constituent parts.

Brexit was not a populist vote

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One thing I’ve seen popping up time and again in the media, and in conversations at home and work is how Brexit was some kind of populist vote.

It was not.

To be populist, in the strict sense of the term, it has to:

1) be pioneered by someone who is not part of the establishment

2) claim to be representing the ‘all of the people’ in some kind of opposition to the establishment, even though, in reality it may only actually cater for a small percentage of the population

Clearly, from these definitions, the Brexit vote was not in any way populist. It was pioneered by the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, who promised to abide by the result, and both sides had representatives from the main political parties campaigning for the respective votes. It was offered to the whole of the UK. Everyone took part.

So, in and of itself, Brexit was not populist. In fact, the only thing you could argue was populist about it was Nigel Farage’s comment on the day after the vote, when he said that it was a ‘victory for real people’, clearly indicating that the Leave vote represented the whole country and that somehow the 48% who voted Remain were somehow less than real.

The Brexit Party now, though, is classically populist. Nigel Farage, continuing his rhetoric from after the vote, claims to represent the country outside of London, when really he’s just representing the Brexiteers. He rails at the ‘elites’ in power, something the failure of the Conservative party to deliver Brexit thus far has only inflamed.

Mr Farage’s piece in the the Telegraph today is gloriously populist, ticking all the boxes, with a clear and simple argument (us against them because democracy has failed). The shame, I think, is that he has a point, particularly after Theresa May’s latest offer. Even though I can see the sense in a lot of what the Prime Minister is trying to do, it all feels like a bit of a mess, trying to pander to too many different agendas and satisfying none of them.

For a really good exploration of Populism, check out Jan-Werner Müller’s What is Populism.

Cuts both ways?

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One of the enduring cries from those who voted for Remain in the Brexit vote (and one the government seems to have taken the line of itself, being on the whole, pro-remain – the ‘rational’ position), is that as the vote was ‘so close’, we should respect the views of the losers too, to try to find a balance between the two viewpoints. William Hague argues just such a thing in the Telegraph this morning.

I guess the whole dogmatic democracy vs. liberal democracy debate will bubble along under any democratic system, and I would hate to paint myself as a dogmatic type, but sometimes, context matters, and it does here.

If the vote in 2016 had gone as expected and remain won, what would the remainers have done in respecting the opinion of those who lost? There’s nothing they could have done, as nothing would have changed. They would have ignored calls to reform Europe, particularly after David Cameron’s failed attempts to change things.

Leavers would have continued to voice their protest – ‘It was so close, let’s have another referendum!’ These cries would certainly have fallen on deaf ears. Dogmatic democracy would have prevailed and it would have been considered reasonable.

Yet, Leave won, and because the majority of Leave voices promptly went silent after their unexpected success, liberal democracy suddenly seemed perfectly acceptable, giving rise to the ludicrous populist situation we find ourselves in now, with those ‘out in the sticks’ beyond London feeling betrayed by their ‘elite’ masters in their crumbling edifice.

Which is a shame, because Brexit was never a populist thing (more on that tomorrow), but now we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. The Conservatives, in taking the liberal democracy approach have fluffed it up, and are now staring down the barrel of a gun they handed to the Brexit Party, which will divide their own vote and more than likely allow Labour to waltz into Downing Street.

Just goes to show, it’s not only the socialists that get hung up on rationalism to their cost.

Oh, and while I think about it, if we’d had Dominic Raab’s proposed 15% tax for the £11.5K – £45k bracket in 2017/8, it would have reduced the amount of tax by around £16 billion (down to £100.8 billion-ish from £116.8 billion-ish). Make of that what you will, but I suspect merging a few government departments wouldn’t cover it too well, although I applaud the idea of reducing tax for the lower earners.

Digital democracy

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I see the Brexit Party are proposing using an app to help people either vote, or express opinions matters to share with their MP. This is something that I’ve long thought would be a good idea.

I guess it wouldn’t be much use if you were ‘on the payroll’ in government, as it were, but as a backbench MP, it could be a great way of ensuring that you are in tune with your constituency, which, in this day and age of liberal authoritarianism, seems to be notional at best.

There would be issues around security, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome with some decent web protocols, programming and a bit of thought.

I keep coming back to the idea of social currency that Corey Doctorow outlined in his book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I did come up with a web idea a couple of years ago (and have since discovered it was based on sound actuarial principles), but most people looked blankly at me when I tried to explain it to them.

It worked on the idea that everyone has a limited amount of Whuffies, social currency that they could assign to people they thought were worthy. Depending on various factors, like length of time assigned to a person etc. the Whuffies could increase in value, much as money accumulated interest, and hence your social worth increased or decreased. And in the best tradition of feedback loops and evolution, the system could morph and grow with reciprocal assignations and ways to increase your stock of Whuffies. I think I even worked a little bit of blockchain theory in there to keep it all secure.

I dare say the economists out there would laugh at the idea, and I’m not entirely sold on it myself, but it was a fun little project. I wonder if, in the future, technology will make us more democratic, or will we head down a more socialist route? As with anything useful, technology can be used for good or ill, but in the same way we have an extended order that generally keeps us order us on the straight and narrow in the real world, it will grow to encapsulate the digital world as well.

Priorities in filmmaking

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I find it quite telling that while the UK film industry, from my limited viewpoint, appears to be bogged down in left-thinking, anti-Brexit, anti-capitalist mind-think*, one of the greatest neo-liberal Presidents of the USA was an ex-actor.

It always struck me as a bit of an over-simplification, but the simple difference between Hollywood and the Indy scene is their attitude to money. Hollywood is a business, it’s run by free-market thinking types keen to return a profit to make their next film with, the Indy scene by ‘artistic’ types, who have no idea about making a commercially viable product, and who balk at the thought of creative such a vulgar thing as a profitable film.

Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film by Peter Bisking, as well as being a great read, displays the dichotomy well (even if he does slightly blur the sound marketing and commercial sensibilities of the Weinsteins with their more unpalatable traits, although, I suppose, what else could he do?).

I’ve never really understood the auteur mentality. The age-old struggle of any filmmaker is where the money for the next project is coming from. Money tends to create money, so if you want to prove yourself, make a ‘commercially viable’ film. To do this you have to start with the audience in mind. An inventor worth his salt wouldn’t set about trying to improve society by creating a device that didn’t solve a common problem. The problem that the entertainment industry should be looking to solve is simply that people need entertaining. They just want to be carted off to another place, become someone else for a while and enjoy their suffering and success in a nice comfy chair.

I get the feeling, seeing reports in The Hollywood Reporter about the preponderance for data and spreadsheets at places like Netflix, that the industry is starting to overthink things, but that’s still possibly a better place to be than not thinking about these things.

It’s not easy to make a low-budget, entertaining film, but it’s not impossible. But if you don’t start with the audience in mind, you’ll get nowhere fast.

* Yes, I know not everyone, but a lot of people!

Second’s out

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With Mr Lidington confirming yesterday that we will be partaking in the European elections, while there is much breast-beating among the leavers, it strikes me this could be a good thing.

I’m no fan of a Second Referendum, both for reasons I’ve explained plus the fact that, if it goes with the rumoured three-way split of No Deal, Deal and Remain on the ballot slip, the Leave vote will be split between the first two and Remain will romp home with their one option (which somewhat offends my Libran send of fair play, even of it doesn’t Theresa May’s) .

But if we use the European elections as an unofficial referendum, voting for Brexit Party if you want to leave, Conservative/Labour if you prefer some some kind of deal, or Lib Dem if you want to remain, we’ll have a great indicative vote, without the danger of Remain getting the unfair advantage in the real thing.