If you’re a fan of Tough Decisions, then current British politics is an absolute bonanza for you. On the one hand, we have to make Tough Decisions about what to do in Syria, and on the other we have to make Tough Decisions about Trident and the nation’s capability to kill millions of people. You can tell that these are Tough Decisions because the punditocracy keep telling us just how tough they are and how important it is that the right decision is made before they all come down on the same side of the issue. None of the pontificators will have to actually go ahead and implement any of the things they advocate, but they’d all like you to know that it’s tough being an important columnist because you have to weigh up all the options at times like these and using your trademarked moral clarity is a wearying process.
In the end, though, all the Very Serious People will nod in unison and tell us that the single characteristic needed to be Prime Minister is the willingness to kill millions of people with the push of a button, and that said Prime Minister must be willing to authorise the dropping of bombs on people far away safe in the knowledge that when our bombs explode, they’re much safer than when their bombs explode. The punditocracy in full Very Serious mode is a sight to behold, now echoed by the Very Serious choir of supporters who’ll cheerlead the Tough Decisions on social media, while also ither vigorously denouncing or sadly shaking their heads at those who don’t want to accept the inherent logic of tough moral choices the Very Serious People have made.
The problem with this, as James Graham points out in a good post today, is that while the Serious People are denouncing those of us who won’t go along with them as suffering from a nirvana fallacy, they’re stuck in a fallacy of their own. James calls it the ‘hell fallacy’, and it drives the belief that everything is bad and corrupt and so the only way we can prevent things getting worse is by taking the official tough decision. Sure, some people who aren’t us may die – and the punditocracy will give a paragraph or two of consideration to them in their next column – but the argument will be that we need to make things worse for someone else now to prevent things being even worse for us and them in the future.
You might be thinking of suggesting that maybe there ought to be other ways to do this that perhaps aim for a better end than ‘maybe everything won’t fall apart until after I’m dead’, but unfortunately putting a huge amount of effort and time into making the world a better place through positive actions isn’t the sort of Tough Decision the Very Serious People approve of. That that course of action would give them an opportunity to do something other than tell everyone just how bad things are is not entirely unrelated to their unpopularity amongst them as a solution. Why go out and make a better world when telling people how bad the current one is pays a whole lot more?
The problem is that far too many of the basic assumptions that the Very Serious People base their assumptions on are granted without challenge, not least that they’re Very Serious and anyone coming from a different perspective is thus Silly (or sometimes just naive, if they want to be patronising). By presenting themselves as somehow being brave in their defence of power, rather than just taking the path of least resistance in supporting the establishment’s goals, they take a moral high ground that they haven’t earned. Once they’re up there, sneering at anyone who dares to suggest that maybe there might be another way, a good chunk of the argument has already been lost. We need to challenge the basis of their arguments, not just try and finesse the detail of them.
With the dissertation over, I can get back to blogging some more. So here, have some links:
Not such a good idea: Why you should think twice about online voting – a good article setting out the flaws with online voting.
I work in PR – and we’re all terrible people – Also, water is wet. But this is an interesting insight.
Hard to be a god – An interesting essay from Ken Macleod on the intersections of SF and politics.
If the Hinkley C nuclear deal looks astonishing, that’s because it is – The strange economics of nuclear power are getting stranger.
My current reckons on Tim Farron and the Lib Dems – A good summing up of the current state of the party by James Graham.
The Overall Benefit Cap – a little time bomb under UK buy-to-let housing – Not only is the benefit cap a terrible idea for the people subjected to it, Daniel Davies shows that it has the unintended side effect of causing terrible ripple effects through the rest of UK housing provision.
The Seven Hurdles for Repeal of the Human Rights Act – David Allen Green goes through the hurdles that need to be surmounted before Tories would be able to push through their plan. It’s almost like they didn’t think this through before promising it.
There was an alternative: three things the Lib Dems could have done differently – James Graham on the alternative decisions the party could have made during the last five years.
The awful truth about climate change no one wants to admit – “The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit.”
Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck – Scott Santens on a looming threat to the structure of the US economy as we know it.
Some of the more interesting takes on the election:
My traumatised Liberal Democrat party must rediscover its radical heart – David Boyle on the way forward for the party
Random thoughts on the election – James Graham has a few of them
Three more years of Cameron – but it will be a rocky road ahead – Very interesting analysis and prediction from the LSE’s Patrick Dunleavy
The vision thing – “is it possible to combine both popularity and intellectual coherence?” asks Chris Dillow
Back from the election – Anthony Wells looks at what the polls might have got wrong
And that’s that – “The trouble with lefties, and I say this out of love, is that we give a shit about integrity. Do you think the Right care about lies? They couldn’t give a shit if their leaders kicked you in the face and set fire to the rabbit hutch; they’re born to rule and that’s their place. Know your place, peasant. Nice one centurion. They lead and we vote for them, and that’s the way it will always be. If their leaders somehow forget to deliver something they promise or – it happens – completely lie about something, they just keep on plodding on. So what? They’re born to rule.”
I’ll add more as I see them.
A Brief History Of The Yemen Clusterf*ck – A useful primer and historical background to help you make sage and expert comments about the latest flashpoint.
The deficit: It’s a productivity thing – Failing to acknowledge lower productivity in the British economy isn’t helping economic debate make any more sense.
My Lib Dem ambivalence – James Graham explains his current issues with the party.
Floating voters: How living on a houseboat meant I didn’t officially ‘exist’ – Beyond the issues with registering to vote, there are some very interesting facts in this story about the number of people living in ‘alternative arrangements’.
Dan Hannan isn’t even wrong on the history of poverty – Left Outside on “around 900 words of nonsense from Dan Hannan. He’s a politician, I am sure of that because he definitely can’t be a historian.”
Cis People Know Best, They Tell Us – How the New Statesman used the death of Leelah Alcorn for a spot of anti-trans concern trolling.
Will the UK voting system survive 2015? – “It’s actually quite clear which way people are going to vote; what is unpredictable is a voting system that is so poorly suited to its purpose that the numbers that it chews out could go anywhere. That this doesn’t lead more people than it does to declare that it is time to pick another system is a sad testament of how badly let down our media and politicians are letting us down.”
Worse than a defeat – James Meek on the many errors that we’re made in Britain’s most recent foray into Afghanistan.
Who bears risk? – “The idea that capitalists are brave entrepreneurs who deserve big rewards for taking risk is just rubbish.”
Are You Really Talking About Rehabilitation For Ched Evans? – What rehabilitation of offenders actually involves, and why Ched Evans’ behaviour doesn’t show he’s rehabilitated at all. (Warning: post discusses rape and related issues)
Bill Drummond: the five lessons I learned from Ken Campbell – Some memories of the 70s and the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool’s production of Illuminatus!
No sign yet of a solution to the shambles within the Tory ranks – Peter Oborne questions why the Tory equivalent of the Bennites are given such leeway by the party.
Freedom of speech and the right to protest – James Graham on how the latest ‘you’re oppressing my right to be an arsehole!’ kerfuffle is actually freedom of speech in action.
Alternate Universe What Ifs? – Parts of XKCD responses from other universes.
Britain First: More then the mere sum of the parts left over by the BNP and EDL – Some interesting information on the background and methods of the newest incarnation of the far right.