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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]

Jimmy Aldaoud

As Thomas Hobbes once fathered the phrase, life before the central state was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. In Jimmy Aldaoud’s eyes, life with the United States wasn’t much better. Aldaoud was victim to the kind of cretinous bureaucracy touched by a sprinkling of laughable xenophobia. Not that there’s anything funny about the result. A man died as a direct consequence of the kind of senseless and callous rule-making that surely the gobbiest semi-democracy in the world ought to be a little ashamed of.

What’s particularly interesting is the reactions on both sides of the spectrum. Those more moved by their hearts wonder how this differs from murder, somehow an interesting hyperbole given the fact that the American state does in fact take lives on a regular basis, whether through using excessive force in policing, enjoying a bit of Goliath vs. David on the international stage, or occasionally executing its citizens.

Meanwhile, the heartless end of the spectrum wonder what all the fuss is about. On paper, everything was legitimate: the man was an illegal immigrant, he committed some petty criminal acts, and he was duly deported to his home country. Never mind the fact that he had never been to the country he was being deported to, that he was clearly unwell and in need of medical treatment, that he was a member of a minority who had fled religious persecution, and that his death was an entirely predictable outcome from his deportation.

The case is clear as mud for anyone with a couple of braincells, though it would be going too far to assume that the persons processing his case would be in possession of such aptitude. But that’s why it’s mind-boggling that safeguards are not in place to prevent this. Clearly for a person who missed out on being a citizen by 6 months, who had never known another country, who had been invested in by the state for the formative years of their life, who were to all intents and purposes already citizens of the nation, surely the first response should be to give him a few forms to fill out and a helpful nudge that ‘we consider this important’? For a nation built on the expropriation of land from other people, it’s insane how the United States are so blindingly obsessed to birthrights being tied to the soil.

But who gives a shit, right? He was only an Iraqi.

[Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash]

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.

Daily Links

Reflections – A fabulous series of photographs from Tom Hussey showing elderly people looking at the reflections of their past selves.

Anthea Bell Obituary – One of the most prolific and successful translators into English from French, German and Danish, and brainmother of the brilliant Dogmatix and Getafix generation of loveable Asterix characters.

Paul Ryan’s Long Con – An interesting article from Vox on this failed poster boy for an almost sane GOP.

TED: Economies of Growth – Economist Kate Raworth on the importance of breaking out of the growth trap. I’m sceptical that mankind will voluntarily find a happy equilibrium, but Malthus will get us in the end.

[Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash]

Daily Links

Good faith, bad faith and no faith in reasoning – With the world seemingly going mad and history tending to repeat itself, this post on the dangers of offering debate to the intolerant.

Politicians are people too! – This tweet is a wonderful reminder of how politicians can wonderfully embody their principles.

Map of quotation marks in European languages – Probably one of the more versatile punctuation marks in European written languages.

15 Images That Show Why Letter-Spacing is Important – Learning kerning: sometimes a second pair of eyes can go a long way!

[Photo by Jordan McGee on Unsplash]

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