The Outrage!

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It would appear that my ‘admiration’ for Labour’s cunningly devised Brexit stance was slightly misplaced in its attribution of credit. According to Ruth Davidson today in the Telegraph, the plan was nothing to do with any Labour MPs at all, but the brainchild of a coalition of leaders from the five biggest Labour supporting Unions (Unite, Unison, the GMB, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and USDAW, the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers).

These brave minds, who clearly know a lot more than the Labour Party itself on how it should run it’s own affairs (amazing where £6.5 million of union members’ money will get you), apparently closed themselves in a room on Monday, formulated the plan and ordered Jeremy Corbyn off to the shadow cabinet for rubber stamping on Tuesday.

As Ruth Davidson points out, this complete negation of democracy appears to have at least initially gone unreported, or at least kept quiet long enough that no-one cared enough when it did break. And, yet, had this been the Tories, all hell would have broken loose.

I completely fail to understand just how something so opaque and, while corrupt is possibly too strong a word, it can’t be that far from the mark, can happen. I can only think that Labour MPs are so against any idea of free speech or liberty, and/or so in fear of the leadership, that they accept this fait accompli against all they, in their various factions, have fought for over the past few years.

If I were more left-wing in my outlook, I’d say it was outrageous, but I’m not so I merely shrug and move on.

Blind faith

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Diving back into Dominic Cumming’s epic blog post, while taking a sidelong look also at Alastair Heath‘s piece in the Telegraph yesterday, I noticed an aligning of ideas that answered something that has been bothering me for a while now.

In Dominic’s post, he quotes Bret Victor on the quality of political debate that often goes on these days. The bigger picture, as Dominic points out, is that the quality of information being presented to MPs is woeful at best, which is worrying when these people are often making life and death decisions, that can have ramifications for generations to come.

Victor, talking of many self-proclaimed ‘experts’ in climate change, says: ‘And why trust them? Their rhetoric is catchy, but so is the horrific “denialist” rhetoric from the Cato Institute and similar. When the discussion is at the level of “trust me, I’m a scientist” and “look at the poor polar bears”, it becomes a matter of emotional appeal and faith, a form of religion.’

This quote really struck a chord with me, and has been bouncing around the old cerebellum for a couple of days now.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Alastair Heath writes about how left and right often misunderstand each other because they emphasise different core moral values. He writes:

‘The seminal works here are the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, as well as his more recent The Coddling of the American Mind. As Haidt points out, there are six main moral intuitions: fairness, justice, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. The Left judge almost everything by the first two – and don’t really realise that there are moral intuitions other than their own, fuelling their anger – the Right by the last four, though they are usually more aware of the first two, which makes them more puzzled than angry. Such self-awareness is a key differentiator between Lefties, conservatives and libertarians.’

This was a bit of a light bulb moment for me. The reason being that having immersed myself so thoroughly in Hayek for the past year or so, certain things didn’t feel quite right, and one of them was his argument that intelligent people tend to be socialists because they are intelligent and rational, and if you are intelligent and rational, you can’t accept that you don’t know everything.

Yet, the level of debate I’ve had with a lot of people around Brexit has been of a similar poor quality. Now, I know that I said here before that the part of the brain that deals with decision making doesn’t deal with language, so it’s often hard to articulate why choose to like what we like. That said, it is usually possible for us to at least come up with something, even if we feel it doesn’t really do it justice. There is usually something rational we can salvage from it.

And yet, with Brexit, the two camps have definitely taken each of their core values and run with them at a visceral level, not really thinking things through logically at all. And so we find those in the remain camp in a situation of almost loathing people in the leave camp. I suspect this is because their core values of fairness and justice have been mortally affronted by the result. Those who adhere to the latter for end up perplexed as to the amount of vitriol they sometimes receive, as they adhere to the other four codes, that allow them to be somewhat more tolerant of people who disagree with them (though, not always!).

The problem is that in both cases, rationality has gone out of the window. As Dominic says, both parties need to up their game in terms of proper objective arguments based on sound contextualised data to make the best decisions.

As Hayek argues, the extended order operates somewhere between instinct and reason. In recent years, many, particularly on the left, have shied away from rationality and taken refuge in instinct. This is the thing that has confused me for a while. I expected these rational, intelligent people to have the answers as to why they voted to remain, and yet they didn’t. More often than not they had nothing but, ‘You’re wrong, you’re an idiot.’ End of argument.

It reminded me of a very young and naive me, in my days of being a bit of a God-botherer.

In that context, it almost feels like socialism has moved away from being the rationalist’s home to being the believer’s home. It’s become a religion. And many of the key issues of our day, including Brexit, climate change and veganism have also taken on the blind faith qualities of religion, with an anger to rival some of the fiercest fundamental Christians or Muslims.

Strangely enough, I’m writing this on the train, and have just looked up to see a headline in the Evening Standard, ‘Now to we have a nasty left to match the nasty right?’

We need to find the middle ground again, and the start of that is proper, well informed, rational debate based on the latest techniques in data modelling and forecasting. Not only that, we need to start telling some proper stories to reflect the truth in these facts and figures. Time to bring on the actuaries?

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…

It’s The Law!

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Continuing on from my brief excursion into Liberty on Saturday, there’s one further fundamental that I think is all important for a sensible, modern society; the Rule of Law.

Bizarrely, this is something that I’ve always understood as important, but yet only recently twigged that it was in fact the Rule of Law, and for some unknown reason, figured that what I thought was the Rule of Law, was in fact something completely different.

So, for my own sanity, if no-one else’s, the Rule of Law is simply the concept that all people are equal in the eyes of the law. No-one is above the law, or too important to not be tried if they are accused of wrongdoing, even if they are the one’s who uphold the laws themselves. All shall be treated the same, thus saving us from despotism, absolutism, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism.

I do worry that in recent years, certain people have weakened this concept in the UK, but generally I don’t think we’re in too bad a place. I feel that social media and poor reporting sometimes make it feel like some people are ‘getting away with it’, but I think there would be an awful hue and cry from the judiciary if this were the case, and I’ve not seen that yet.

On Liberty

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I suppose, before I get too far into this, I had better define what I understand liberty to mean. There are many types of liberty, some truer than others (mental, spiritual, political etc.), but for the purposes of this blog, I shall stick to the simple negative freedom of not being coerced by another person.

Following on from that, I adhere to the libertarian principle that this freedom from coercion is intimately linked to each person enjoying the positive right to a private domain (house, flat, accommodation etc.) within which he or she is protected from people who would not wish them well. This private domain is fundamental to modern life. It follows a fairly conservative line, I know, but it’s what I believe to be the bedrock of a free society.

Freedom from coercion is important for many reasons, not only fundamentally does it tie in with bigger concepts such as the extended order and how a free society operates, but it also resonates on a personal level. It means that a person is ‘stress free’ and so able to function properly on a day to day basis. Obviously, there are many other things in life that can cause stress, but in my experience, coercion of any kind, whether it be bullying by individuals or organised at a state level, can be one of the most stressful things a person can experience.

As we’ll see later, stress causes things to go wrong on all sorts of ways. Remove stress and we as humans can operate better, both individually and as part of a wider community.

How We Become We

Thought Brain Mind Idea Psychology
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I’m listening to a fascinating audiobook at the moment which is so full of big ideas I’m sure I’ll be listening to it again and again in the coming months and years. It’s called ‘The Neurobiology of We’ by Dr Daniel J. Siegel M.D.

It’s more like a series of lectures in which he builds up a coherent argument based around relationships, the mind and the brain and how the three interact. He starts with exploring how memories are formed before moving on to look at how our character traits develop as children. This he uses as a foundation to explore what emotions are (and they are more complicated than you’d think) before topping it off with the most sensible and meaningful exploration of mindfulness I’ve seen in a long time, if ever.

I’ll be exploring a lot of the ideas in coming posts, but if you have an Audible account, it’s well worth checking out (although stick with it as it starts quite slowly, and I almost wrote him off as a bit of a hippy before the serious science kicked in).

I’m still processing a lot of the ideas and trying to tie it in with my fledgling theories of society and liberty based on my readings of Hayek (in particular) and von Mises, but the links are definitely there. It’s a shame there’s no book version (that I’m aware of). Two key concepts that have really got my mind whirring are maximising complexity (which comes out of chaos theory) and his ideas of coherence and integration.