A Mind @ Play

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Brexit in Germany

You almost have to feel sorry for Greg Hands, sitting as a guest on Anne Will’s show, trying to defend Tory policy. Invited to a five-to-one Brexit bashing, it’s a debate of the ilk where the quacks aren’t invited in the name of ‘balance’. From the off, and as if to distance himself from the madness he’s supporting, Hands immediately claims to have been anti-Brexit, to have been anti-Boris during the leadership change. But not one to let principles get in the way, he’s supporting both of them because ‘democracy’. What follows is a virtuoso display of logical acrobatics skills as he attempts to defend his position: the shittiness of Britain’s democracy (being old is apparently a compliment?); that the referendum somehow showed clarity of purpose; that Boris threatening to ignore the law to push through a no-deal Brexit is democracy in action; that proroguing parliament is standard procedure and clearly shouldn’t be reconsidered at such a crucial juncture; that an election could show what the people want, but a second referendum would be undemocratic. If he weren’t sitting there looking like a naughty schoolboy called to the headmaster’s office, his mind-bending mental tricks might have earned some applause.

Unfortunately for him, the loudest applause comes when Rolf-Dieter Krause said that the only time Boris Johnson doesn’t lie is when he says his name. You kinda want to give Hands the benefit of the doubt, acknowledge that he’s standing with his back to the wall, maybe find the language barrier in his favour. But then the contents of his words would sound hollow in any tongue. ‘I didn’t vote for Brexit,’ he protests on more than one occasion, trying to distance himself from the shitshow he’s fighting for. Because ‘democracy’. Already proud to show his lack of a spine or conscience, Greg shows he’s also packing a crate of gullibility, when arguing that Johnson is trying to renegotiate, that negotiations are taking place, that there is a solution to the backstop.

He almost looks like he’s break down in tears when discussion turns to the little bone Frau Merkel threw Boris, the notion picked up in British newspapers that the German chancellor was keen on finding a solution within 30 days. The irony of the situation is completely lost on him: the true of the backstop is that it only comes into effect if Britain fucks up in resolving the Irish border, and it is entirely unpalatable to the British parliament because they know they will fuck up.

This is where Hands proudly gets his homework out: a special report he’s been preparing that will finally solve the Gordian knot. I couldn’t help laughing at the top-rate accidental trolling which followed from host Anne Will. Asking the rhetorical question, whether the EU needs to take Britain seriously when they say the ball is in Britain’s court, ‘well here’s Greg Hands, and he not only has a ball, he’s brought a brochure too.’ Sorry Greg, everyone else knows that someone asked you to write that report so they could throw it in the bin. Hope you didn’t put much effort into it.

Whether it’s stupidity, gullibility, or simply brazen loyalty to his football club party, Greg is dancing to the nationalist tune like a good little boy, genuinely espousing the lies and subterfuge of the hardliners or, more likely, swallowing them whole himself. As he seems to keep reminding us, he didn’t want this, he didn’t vote for this, but he’s happy to play his part as a useful idiot. Sitting as a guest on the show, isolated and alone, trying to defend someone else’s corner across an ever widening gulf whilst simultaneously protesting his own innocence, Greg perfectly embodies a microcosm of the shitshow playing out on the European fringe.

[Full programme]

6 Ways of Breaking the Brexit Deadlock

If at first you don’t succeed, you fail.

GLaDOS, Portal

Ardent Remexiteer Theresa May managed to spend the latter half of her illustrious spell as prime minister trying to ram her deal through the Commons like a skipping needle on a strong and stable turntable. Now she’s abandoning ship, the sycophants and navel-gazers are lining up around the block to be the next hero to try to pull the sword from the stone. Unfortunately, with yon parliament rejecting the deal, and selfsame parliament rejecting no deal, the likelihood of the next helmsman managing to successfully navigate this particular brown waterway looks slim. And with the public still split down the middle, even a new referendum would probably only turn back the clock as far as 23rd June 2016.

Meanwhile the EU looks on in amazement as the revolution eats its children. They can wait; it’s Britain that so desperately wants to leave… ish. If only the Conservative Party were thinking with Portals… instead they’re all obsessed with having/eating the cake. (Spoiler alert!)

Since Article 50 is turning into a euphemism for perpetuity, here are seven bloody ways to break the bloody deadlock.

1. Bosworth Field

It’s been far too long since the Glorious Revolution saw that conclusive and permanent defeat of the traitorous papist Tory party [wait, what?]. No doubt some of the current crop remember it well. In the spirit of fair play, it would only seem appropriate to give them another crack at the whip. Rather than assaulting one another with American cowjuice, maybe the hardest of Brexitards and Remoaniacs can meet on the field of battle for a glorious victor-takes-it-all decider. I’ve no doubt traditionalists like Jacobus Moose-Rogg have only been chomping at the bit to saddle up and fly the standard.

2. Partition Party

Cyprus, Israel, Ireland, India – Britain has its fair share of examples around the world for peaceable coexistence between loving neighbours. In fact, British meddling consultancy work was often instrumental in setting up those amicable arrangements in the first place. The next government could have the whole thing unravelled in two shakes of an ear of wheat, and Britain can both have its cake and allow someone else to eat it. We’ve already got a map. Maybe that nice fellow Trump can do us a deal on a wall pretty garden fence in part-exchange for some bits of the NHS in his free trade agreement.

3. Nigel Mandela

Gandhi marched to the sea, Mao slogged it around China, and the Crusaders of Jarrow trudged down to London. If only Farage had listened to The Proclaimers, he might not have flaked on his own little galumph to the capital.

But while marching is one way of showing your staying power, some long walks don’t need you to move anywhere. Instead of drowning the airwaves with their gobshitery flawless political debate, maybe our most impassioned politicians could give their mouths a rest and let their arses do the talking. All we need to do is lock up the loudest Remoaners and Brexiteers for as long as necessary; they can leave at any time, and whoever gives up last, gets to decide the outcome. Maybe while they’re in there the rest of parliament might be able to get some actual work done, and the rest of us can enjoy some semblance of normalcy. Well, at least for one morning… given his track record, Farage would be out by noon!

4. Toss a Coin

When things get too close to call, sometimes there’s no better way to prevent a logjam than call on the wisdom of chance. The London Eye would only need a quick lick of paint to make a wonderful symbol, dismounted and rolled into Trafalgar Square to decide the nation’s fate. The mother of parliaments can vomit its members onto the square to form the biggest assembly of tossers the planet has ever seen, while the nation watches the televisualised event as their alderpeople reinvent the time-honoured tradition of casting lots.

After all, more important things have been decided on the flip of a coin before now.

5. Neverendum

It’s been over four hundred years since Britain added something worthwhile to the national calendar, and what better way to commemorate buffoonery and intolerance than through an annual celebration. Every 23rd June should henceforth be rejoiced as Referendum Day, when the polity goes down to the ballot box to check if the political barometer has discernibly changed, before sitting around a burning effigy of David Cameron and celebrating the almighty fuck-up their greatest democratic achievement as a nation.

6. National Lottery Brexit Special

Lottery tickets have been changing people’s lives for a quarter of a century, ever since King Arthur granted his house a royal commission [is this right?]. Why not furnish one winning ticket the right to change everyone else’s lives? The Brexit EuroPhilians Lottery would give the lucky crackpot winner the right to decide exactly how the Brexit debate should be settled.1This would also make a great way of choosing the UK’s Eurovision participant. Surely they couldn’t do much worse than average. (Guaranteed no winning tickets to ensure the decision just keeps rolling over and over and over.)

[Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash]

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1. This would also make a great way of choosing the UK’s Eurovision participant. Surely they couldn’t do much worse than average.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

Surveying today’s political landscape, it’s easy to suppose we’re approaching a precipice. Passionate intransigence divides societies into blocks which, even where decidedly secular, are rallied around with religious fetishism. It seems that ideological boundaries are increasingly hardening, poisoning the political dialogue, preventing constructive discourse and contributing to almost maddening levels of senseless blustering.

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt investigates the concept of morality and shows how differing political groups can reach such disparate conclusions from the same starting point. Gradually building up his argument, Haidt succinctly retreads a lot of territory covered elsewhere in more detail, but which is vital to understanding his standpoint.

Of particular importance is the idea that morality has little if nothing to do with rational thinking. The human mind reacts intuitively to situations at a very basic level, leaving our cerebral rationality running to catch up when it comes time to explain ourselves. Moral reasoning is almost a misnomer; moral intuition is at the core of our decision-making. What this means at a basic level is that people tend to react to statements with their guts, and later defend those reactions with their minds. In politics, this is epitomised by the kind of debate you find on populist media stations, like this example from LBC’s James O’Brien (also available on their website should YouTube receive a letter):

Moving the goalposts

In the exchange, Brexiteer Ashley is asked to justify his strongly held position. Pinning down his argument is like trying to catch an errant moth flitting around a brightly lit room. It’s all those EU laws the country won’t have to obey. Which laws? Well, it’s not so much the laws, as how political the discussions are in Brussels. Politicians talking politics? Well, it’s not really the politics, it’s the uncontrolled immigration. From outside the EU? Well, if Britain were no longer in the EU, it would be better able to integrate the immigrants. Err… right.1I’d argue that’s why you shouldn’t ask people a stupid question, but that’s a debate for another post.

It makes for amusing radio, but for O’Brien it’s an exercise in futility. This kind of spiralling debate has no end, because the fundamental impetus for the decision wasn’t arrived at rationally, but rather – at least judging by the responses – morally. Tear down the edifice stone by stone if you will, the invisible foundations go much deeper, and cannot be struck by logic’s hammer. When every vestige of rationality has gone, the argument generally reverts to something along the lines of ‘I don’t really know, it’s just wrong.’

Where the book gets interesting is where Haidt investigates the different reactions to moral issues amongst people of different social backgrounds and political persuasions, and attempts to weigh their stances up on a six-axis matrix. This ‘Moral Foundations Theory’ measures the axes of care versus harm, fairness versus cheating, liberty versus oppression, loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion and sanctity versus degradation. While as human beings we are all affected by these, the differences between us are essentially down to our weighing and valuing these axes differently.

An interesting theory, though his ultimate conclusion seems to be the laudable but rather yawnable axiom that people need to understand where the other party stands and find the middle ground. A laudable suggestion, but one which doesn’t really do anything to help solve our intractable problems: as Theresa May might one day realise, a half-baked Brexit is about as likely to please all parties as a half-aborted baby.

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1. I’d argue that’s why you shouldn’t ask people a stupid question, but that’s a debate for another post.

Brexit Bullshit

Back in the UK for a while watching the Brexit bullshit slowly roll from one stagnant puddle to the next, occasionally spattered by the shrill wailing tweetarrhia from Trump’s cot, it’s sometimes tempting to imagine we are really all lying inert, plugged into machines while hackers play pong on the Matrix. Is there an infectious disease going around causing collective cerebral atrophy? Maybe a race of bodysnatchers seeding the populace with cretins wondering how long it will take us to twig? Or are we just watching the unfolding of H. L. Mencken’s prophecy and the glorious consummation of democracy and technology?

Politics isn’t normally something I bother writing about, but occasionally peering into the quagmire every few months and seeing the same revolving vortex of bullshit is as maddening as trying to thread a needle with no arms. I need to vent.

What Brexit Means

As Danny Dyer so succinctly put it, no one knows what Brexit means. It isn’t quite the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma as Churchill once referred to the Soviets, even though it’s entirely possible those selfsame Russian national interests are the key. But it isn’t surprising given the fact that the referendum on the subject was more of a gesture than a manoeuvre.

For me, the issue is simple: Brexit is backwards. Look to the future, and what world do we want to see? A world governed by sensible values, humanity living in harmony with itself and its environment, where equality is more or less a reality rather than a buzzword and people are free to live their lives with equal opportunities yadda yadda. Wait for the bile to go down, but that’s an essential hope and dream that we find embodied in any image of the future. I’m no trekkie, but I don’t recall there being a footnote for sovereign island rights under the United Federation of Planets.

Nation states were a nice stepping stone to an organised society, but they must shrivel to the fake sound of progress and become a vestige of the past. Brexit is the childish fear of change embellished by the subcutanean jingoism that riddles the British psyche and is perpetuated by its education system. Splendid isolationist Britain went it alone before, it can do it again. None of that kowtowing to unelected Brussels, we have our own laughably undemocratic philistines to obey. Take back control, give our sovereignty back to someone else!

It’s here that several points of view conflate. Who voted for Brexit? There are obviously a few core groups. By far the largest I would maintain is made up by the Thickies, Brexit’s rank and file. Before you start, yes, there’s a whiff of condescension on your retinas. These are people who lose out during every economic hiccough, and have done significantly badly since the last singularly spectacular singultus. Meanwhile they devour mendacious tabloid headlines and have neither the time, the inclination nor the wherewithal to really inform themselves. For them, the EU bogeyman is responsible for all the woes that could fairly be placed at the British government’s feet.

Were it not for that amorphous mass of malleable mammothrepts, Project Brexit would never have gotten off the ground. But useful idiots can easily be manipulated into nayvoting, rallied by the Reactionaries and roused by the Cynics. The former are the classic Tories of yore, the true believers still sore about the ’45, who genuinely believe that the ‘great’ in Great Britain is synonymous with ‘excellent’ rather than ‘large’. The latter are harder to distinguish, except that they couldn’t care less about the political outcome, as long as their hunger for self-importance is slaked. Economically they’ll do just fine thank you very much; in fact the greater the upheaval, the better the opportunities.

What the People Want

The soup is rather clouded by the cynicism in the recipe. The Brexit referendum was advisory, but is being treated as a binding mandate; the people most directly affected by the decision – EU nationals in Britain, as well as many British nationals in the EU – were excluded from the vote; the result was not statistically significant. The classic argument from the hardliners is that whatever deal is proposed or muted, it’s not ‘what the people want’. Which is just a petulant way of saying it’s not ‘what I want’. Otherwise such paragons of democracy couldn’t give two figs for what ‘the people’ want. Assisted dying? The legalisation of cannabis? A reformed House of Lords? More money for the NHS? Nuclear disarmament? No, no, no, ‘the people’ don’t know their own minds! But backing out on Brexit would be a betrayal.

We’re told Brexit is all about money and sovereignty. £350 million per week which could be spent on the NHS, if it weren’t for foreign intervention. To say nothing of £900 million per week spent at the behest of Brussels… oh wait, that’s NATO’s 2% guideline. Brexiteer politicians remain curiously silent when it comes to fawning to demands from another organisation with its headquarters in the Belgian capital. Hell, Britain’s about one of the only sodding states to pull its weight on that particular demand. Presumably because the table-bashing comes indirectly from Washington and is only routed through Brussels? Gotta keep that special relationship sweet, or sugar daddy might start looking elsewhere.

What the People Will Get

Ever so occasionally I’m lured into believing, however briefly, that May is playing a delicious sleight of political grandmastery, a glorious symphony of subterfuge to bring Project Brexit crashing back to the status quo. Or it may be that May be taking an even longer look at history than Braudel, and hoping to see Britain reapply for membership under normalised terms. Then I remember her professional career and realise I’m daydreaming. And so is she.

Brexit will not be a disaster. It’ll bring plenty of setbacks and hardships, cause difficulties and unnecessary stress for millions of people, flow tears as businesses go belly-up and families are faced with extremely hard decisions. But it won’t be a disaster. Like the linear model of radiation poisoning, the few million microsieverts from the Brexit fallout will seed plenty of cancerous harm throughout the population, but the seismograph will barely waver. When London’s streets are packed with protesters on 20 October, nothing will change except that perhaps another generation will be disillusioned with our sham democracy.

Brexit is liable to end without a deal. Britain will spend some years catching up to where it was, while with any luck the rest of the EU just bloody gets on with it. The aftershocks in Britain may cause some fault lines to crack, with Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar likely candidates for a realignment. Some years ago I’d have burned the big fish in the SNP at the stake for high treason; now I’d be willing to fund their next kickstarter for independence. And then burn them.

What the People Deserve

The Brexit beans are out of the tin now, and tensions are too high to solve it without sparks flying. While many just want it to be over, the shadow is likely to hang over the nation for a while whatever happens. Perhaps the die-hards can all be rounded up and sent somewhere to settle their differences. Naseby perhaps?

Otherwise it’s time to move the democratic experiment up a notch. When more than 60 million people can cast their votes for an unelectable dunce, people are clearly crying out for an end to the suffering suffrage. Voting rights should be limited to the likes of th’X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Before that, Britain’s political landscape could use some topiary work. We should find the time machine Jacob Reese’s Moggie fell into and send him back to the early 18th century where he belongs. Boris John’s son should be reverse expatriated and forced to resume his Americanhood. Meanwhile Theresa Mayday should be given a brain and a conscience and sent on a package holiday to a place with lots of cornfields so she can let her hair down.

But enough ranting, it’s a waste of good vitriol. I’ve some naturalisation papers to fill out.

[Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash]

Daily Links

What If English Were Phonetically Consistent? – Seriously impressive little piece of Thespian skill, almost like going through the English fossil record.

The Rogue Consultant – One man fed up with Brexit has decided to say it loud. One van, 32 countries, 30,000 km, two words.

Auditorium – A playful mix of colour and music all packaged in a little Flash game.

Badger or Bulbasaur – have children lost touch with nature? – Young children are now more capable at identifying Pokémon than real animals.

[Photo by Hans Veth on Unsplash]

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