Now

Clock Clock Face Wave Present Year
Standard

A couple of weeks ago, when some of the company I work for were away for a team meeting in Oxford, the late evening talk turned philosophical. The conversation revolved around spirituality vs. ‘secularism’ (for want to a better word), and the idea that what many perceive as God, or some kind of spiritual agent in their life could just as easily be perceived as the Extended Order in action – whereby ‘coincidences’ appear to happen because you are on the look out for something that just happens to pass by as you were expecting it. The causes of that event are usually so complex that the brain has reduces it down to two things, a) it happened for a reason, there must be someone/thing making it happen, or b) our poor brains could never begin to guess the complexities of what caused the event to happen, it’s all bit of a mystery, but it’s nice it happened then, just when I needed it to.

I’ve touched on all this before, but it struck me this evening that there is a parallel between that debate and the argument of two very good books I’ve read in recent years – The Power of Now by Elkhart Tolle and Clarity by Jamie Smart. Both, I think, argue the same point; that by worrying about future events, or spending too much time in our thoughts obsessing about the future is a waste of time, and that the true way to think is to focus only on the present moment.

I like this idea a lot, and if taken to it’s logical conclusion, can mean that life becomes one walking meditation or prayer. Difficult to maintain, but quite fulfilling if you can pull it off (I rarely achieve anything close to it).

The point is that Echart argues his point from a quasi-religious perspective, Jamie from very much a rationalist/scientific perspective. Both achieve the same result.

As I’ve said before, rational viewpoints and religious viewpoints both emerge within the Extended Order, and people choose one or the other depending on their subconscious biases. Either way, they often end up at the same place, one where the future is not set in stone, but open to chance and the vagaries of randomness.

Many find a future they cannot predict to be terrifying (particularly those of a negative disposition), but really that’s all it will ever be – a terrifying future; the present is rarely scary, and we are usually more than capable of dealing with unpleasant or bad things if they do occur. Take a look around you now and appreciate all that you have. It may not be everything you wanted or even expected, but there is always plenty to be positive about.

I believe

Street Sign Note Direction
Standard

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.

Cuts both ways?

Brexit Europe Britain Referendum
Standard

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.

Stories and Beliefs

Nepal Sadu Religion Belief Sadhu
Standard

What we choose to believe and the choices we make are, by and large, controlled by our subconscious, based on the stories we tell ourselves and those that we’ve been told by our parents, our friends and those we respect and admire. These, along with our life experiences, the autobiographical information and memories we store about ourselves, and many other factors are all integrated into a whole in our heads.

There is often no rational reason why we choose to believe some things; it’s a blend of so many factors. This is why in some respects debates around politics and, topically, Brexit are circular and fruitless, and we’d be better off finding our common ground and moving forward from there.

Rationalist thinking that beliefs are somehow malleable when subjected to rational scrutiny is not helpful. We have to accept that the choices we make are often arbitrary and nonsensical, and trying to put them into words is more often than not, incredibly difficult.

Our beliefs run deep, and it takes a long time for anyone to change their minds on deeply held beliefs. I would argue that Damascene conversions are more likely people finally letting go of old viewpoints, where their new ones were either a bit scary for them, or they just didn’t realised they’d moved on, and then something has given them the excuse to drop the old beliefs – a shift in perspective of the group around them or a move to a new group of friends/colleagues etc.

This is why a second Brexit referendum is pointless. Very few people will have changed their minds. If anything, I think a lot of people felt bullied into voting to remain, and have since seen that, while there were blatant lies on both sides of the argument, the lies on the remain side were malicious and designed to put fear into people. Not a good way to build trust.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography of Voltaire wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This is a hard premise to live to, but as a libertarian I truly believe this to be the core of society and getting along. We will never agree on everything – how dull would life be if we did? But to rationalise and dig your heels in and point fingers on a wave of Noradrenaline and say, “You’re wrong!” is to miss out on the magic of life.

On Rationalism

City Road Travel Tourism
Standard

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…