Meet El Presidente

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The EU council’s overly long-winded debate to choose a Commission president made a bit of a mockery of its own convoluted structures. Tim Stanley wrote an interesting piece in today’s Telegraph about how these structures of the EU are designed to be deliberately confusing and long-winded as to obfuscate the fact that a small cabal of leaders are calling the shots. It’s these structures that I’ve always had an issue with.

In essence the EU is made up of the Council, the Commission and Parliament. The Council decides, the Commission encodes, and Parliament negotiates and approves. Sounds like a sensible structure, until you realise that it’s designed in a way that, for the most part, is completely unnecessary and cannot hope to keep things together as they move forward.

As Tim argues, most Remainers want the same as the Leavers. We all love the vast and wondrous continent of Europe with its multitude of languages and cultures. Most would want free movement and free trade with all of these people. But to wrap that up in some ideological governmental structure, while noble, is flawed and I cannot see how it will be sustainable, as Western Europe languishes in liberalism, while Eastern Europe becomes generally more dictatorial.

Something will have to give sooner or later. I suspect Ursula von der Leyen will have her work cut out in the next five years.

What’s next?

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Nigel Farage writes in the Telegraph today that he believes people no longer identify as left-wing or right-wing, but rather as Remainers or Leavers.

It’s an interesting stance to take, but I’m not convinced it holds much water. In the short term it does; all the time there is the chance Brexit could be stopped, conservatives (small c) that wish to keep things just as they are, will do all they can to preserve the status quo.

Mr Farage identifies these people as un-democratic, and focuses his party on ‘restoring democracy’. Obviously, this is a populist stance. It’s easy to paint the government as patently anti-Brexit, particularly with its pervading liberal authoritarian viewpoint. But Brexit is convoluted and complex. Most of the current MPs voted for Article 50; they all agreed we should leave. Since then though, they’ve become hopelessly divided over exactly how to leave. Simply reducing it down to ‘we haven’t left yet, democracy is broken’ might be a little bit disingenuous. Yes, the likes of Letwin, Cooper, etc. have tried to take control of the situation to ‘stop the process’, but they could only do that because of the division about the way forward and lack of leadership from number 10, not necessarily because the system was broken. Indeed some people went along with them as they saw it as a way to break the deadlock, particularly with the indicative votes.

This disparity of consensus is also showing up in the leadership race. Each of the 5 million candidates has a slightly different take on how to do the Brexit thing, from Hard-No-Deal Raab through to Second-Referendum Gyimah.

The thing is, ‘we haven’t left yet, democracy is broken,’ is a nice simple concept for people to wrap their heads around. It’s also emotive. It ticks all the right boxes to get the old brain chemicals firing and stir up a bit of conflict in the old grey matter.

But what happens once Brexit actually happens (and it should do, most MPs agree with that)? We’ll move on, some people will be disgruntled, others vaguely happy something got done, but maybe not so happy with the eventual compromises I think we’ll have to make (even No Deal is a sort of compromise). What does a Leaver or a Brexiteer stand for once we’ve left? These are the messages that the Brexit Party need to focus on, I think. Some of the conservative leadership candidates have cottoned on to this, like Boris with his UBI-lite school funding.

It’s about time the Brexit Party started defining more of what they would stand for post-Brexit, and show how they will unite the likes of Fox and the Widdecombe. There is plenty to talk about, I’d just like to hear it.

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.

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.

On Rationalism

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Before I worked in London, I always used to hear about ‘the elite’, those who worked in London, leaned somewhat to the left, and seemed to hell bent on doing something to upset the rest of the country, whether that be remoaning or trying to put the kibosh on some grand scheme or other.

“It’s the bloody elite,” the cry would go up. “Always trying to ruin things.”

I wondered who these people were and why they would be so different to people outside of the M25. Since I’ve been working in London these past two years, I’ve discovered them and realised a few things.

Firstly, they are for the most part normal humans with normal daily problems like families and shopping and housing to deal with. So far, so dull. But I would hear them talking, and find them reading the Guardian website, and it made me wonder why these people from diverse backgrounds all thought the same. And then, after much pondering, it hit me. Rationalism.

Rationalism is the great enemy of freedom, and it’s ever so easy to fall into the rationalistic way of thinking. Just surround yourself with intelligent, intellectual types and a sort of hive mind grows. And it seems to have infected London.

Intelligent and intellectual people like to think that they know things. Aristotle’s wise words of wisdom are rarely found in London. There is an opinion and an answer for everything. And they are, more often than not, very good, intelligent answers. But not always well informed or even correct.

These people consider themselves liberals, but the problem is that they’ve gone down the wrong path. If a true liberal is one who puts liberty as the highest value in society, then you have to accept a certain amount of uncertainty in life, and understand that we do not have all the answers as individuals, and never will. This runs counter to the intellectual agenda of knowing best.

Rationalism has snuck in and embedded itself into our culture, thanks to the likes of the great thinkers of the past few centuries – Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein etc. and so where we find a high percentage of the intelligent population all gathered together in one place, so rationalism has festered. It’s there in our universities too for the same reasons.

People have taken the facts as they see them and formed their opinions, not understanding (or be willing to admit) that the information they have is a tiny fraction of all the information out there needed to really form a valid opinion (if one could ever be properly formed).

I’m not saying everyone who works in London thinks this way, but I do see a lot of it. And most of these people do seem, underneath it all, a little muddled (not that they’d admit that) as I don’t think true liberalism can truly square with rationalism.

And there is more to this, which I’ll explain in the next post or two…