Debate Is Pointless So Have It Today

Lord_Humungus
At the next General Election I’m voting for this guy

I’ve been silent for a long time, again, because I’ve said pretty much everything I had to say about Brexit. The main area of my understanding, and main point of disagreement was with the assumption that the limit of democracy was:

“Everyone gets one vote. Ever. Now fuck off.”

Thank the Tories for that.

Well, thank the Corbots too, their

“If you don’t like Brexit then you’re a Tory so fuck off.”

attitude has been REALLY HELPFUL (if your sarcasm detectors overloaded there, that just means they’re working). Hell, I’d quite like Corbyn if he hadn’t spent so much time supporting the Tories vision of Brexit (no matter what their vision of Brexit was, is or turns out to be – he just waved it through with no meaningful criticism). I may come around to quite like him in the future when the dust has settled.

I’ve also realised something very important to me.

Debate doesn’t work.

At least, not in the way that people would like it to.

The ideal debate is a cooperative endeavour, two or more people engaged in a search for truth (much like the vision of democracy I’ve referred to in the dim and distant past).

Unfortunately, it nearly always degenerates into a battle over who gets to be right, who gets to win. Even in cases where the two people/sides agree it often turns into a fight “well, you could have said that better” or “that tweet doesn’t go into an in depth analysis of every possible aspect of the question” seemingly forgetting (if they’d ever even thought about it) that an in depth analysis of any question would be tens of thousands of words long and the tweet they were trying to pick apart was a simple message of support for people going through a tough situation.

Imagine being the sort of bell end who sees a message like “If you’re a child then no adult has any reason to be romantically or sexually interested in you” and tries to argue with it by saying such obvious bullshit as “what about if the child is 17 and the adult is 19, that seems ok”. Yeah mate, well fucking done, you’ve noticed that the legally defined age of “adulthood” has very close ages either side of it which make things a bit different.

Was that really the point though?

I’ll answer for you.

No it fucking wasn’t.

If people actually want to educate themselves on a topic then they go to the library, or they go to the internet, or they go anywhere else where they might be able to access a wide range of views to properly inform themselves. They don’t go and pick fights on Twitter (which I have been guilty of). That said, debate can be very useful if you’re trying to test out your opinions, if you want to find the weak points of what you’re saying then you have to put them out there and let people pick away at them.

Unfortunately…

Unless you go out and pick those fights the only people you’re likely to find as an audience are people who already agree with you. If you’re reading this, you’ve made it through at least a minute or two of reading by this point. You probably agree with me in at least my general attitude. Debate doesn’t work, unless you approach it as a testing ground for your own ideas. That is, a way to change your own mind and not as a way to change anyone else’s mind. Try it!

Anyway, that’s enough for now. I’m still waiting for the Brexit dust to settle, it’s really taken up far too much of my energy over the last TWO YEARS FFS (one problem being that it directly affects me as my partner and her family are all EU nationals living in the UK). It’s about time I started to focus on something else, anything else!

I’m still waiting for Brexit to bring about the Mad Max-esque utopia we were promised by that one guy. Also, I chose the title because the first letters of each word spell out DIPSHIT and I’m feeling childish.

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Why you should abandon democracy now

More than a year has passed since the referendum.

After a long time spent trying to reason with people, I gave up (hence the long gap between my last post and this).

There is no point trying to argue with people who simply can’t, or won’t, understand your point of view.

So, fuck ’em.

They still bleat on endlessly about “the will of the people” this and “you lost, get over it” that. Well, as I’ve said before, that’s only because they’ve missed the whole point of democracy.

The advantage of a well-functioning democracy is that it allows everyone’s voice to be heard. Nobody’s point of view is excluded from consideration in a truly democratic process of collective decision making.

The problem is, for this sort of democracy to work, all sides have to acknowledge that the other sides have valid perspectives and respect each other’s abilities to engage in dialogue aimed at reaching an outcome which is acceptable to everyone.

We don’t have this in our current system and we never really have had it. The people who hate the EU and any and all immigration have been kept out of it by being deceived, anyone who supports anything other than hard Brexit is being kept out of it by being shouted down with the “will of the people” crap.

I admit that I can’t remember where I read this, I think it was Elster, maybe Cohen (I’ll update this later if I feel like it) who said (paraphrasing) “you can’t get to a situation you’d like by behaving as if you were already in it”. In other words, we’re not in a situation where everyone respects that we should all be trying to reach an agreement which is acceptable to everyone and we’re not in a situation where reasoned argument works.

We got to the situation we’re in now through allowing the oligarchs in charge of the UKs media to constantly spew lies and propaganda. They control the narrative. We cannot reason our way out. Propaganda is conditioning people’s emotional responses to political issues. We need to expand our own use of propaganda, and we need to take it seriously.

If we ever want to get to a situation where democracy works as a shield for those who need protecting from the unconsidered whims of mob rule rather than as a sword to cut off and silence anyone who disagrees with the wisdom of the herd given as “the will of the people” then we need to smash our way out. Our current system just isn’t working, and while we are under a constant unrelenting barrage of right wing propaganda it can’t improve. We need to disrupt this. Our own propaganda is the only way to go. Democracy is dead and it will take profoundly anti-democratic action in order to resurrect it.

Calling it democratic doesn’t make it democratic

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They call it the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” does that make it true?

I feel like a broken record sometimes. It seems like every single time I interact with a Brexit supporter it boils down to them making some version of the statement “we won, shut up”. (I’m not trying to claim that remain voters are above this sort of crap. I have no reason to believe that there wouldn’t have been the same thing going on if the referendum had gone the other way).

Well, if you believe that “might is right” or that tyranny is OK just as long as it’s the tyranny of the majority then fine, I suppose. I can disagree with you but I wouldn’t be able to fault your logic. The disagreement would come down to a difference in fundamental values and there’s not always a lot you can do about that.

The problem I have is that they always go on to claim that this silencing and domination of the opposition is in some way democratic. Well, it has some surface similarities in that there was a vote at some point but it manages to miss out on everything that makes democracy worthwhile.

Think about the most basic, and loose, definition of democracy possible. What’s distinctive about democracy? Why should we prefer democracy to dictatorship or absolute monarchy?

The core idea of democracy is that it is a method for groups to make decisions where the participants in that decision making are equal. So, why should we want our political systems to be democratic rather than authoritarian? There are plenty of reasons which have been given both for and against democracy, (take a look at the SEP article on democracy, it’s well worth a read) but the most important reason is that political equality is only way for everyone’s interests to be taken into account. It’s a question of legitimacy, if my interests are not being taken into account, if I’m not even given the opportunity to state my case, then what reason do I have to respect the decision?

Of course this doesn’t mean very much if there are no limits placed on what can be decided. If a majority can legitimately call for the enslavement of everyone else then we lose both the justification for democracy and the democratic position of everyone except the majority. It may be the case that everything up until that enslavement is done well enough to count as democratic, but everything after that enslavement is no longer democratic.

Why not?

If democracy requires equality in decision making and is valuable because it ensures that everyone’s interests are taken into account then there must be limits to democratic authority. If a majority can vote to take that equality away from the minority then the system ceases to be democratic. There may still be democracy amongst the majority but the minority is now living under tyranny. Let’s assume for a second that it’s legitimate for a majority to vote everyone else out of having any say and take this to an extreme.

  1. We have a population of 100 people.
  2. They vote and 52 of them vote that the other 48 should be excluded from future decisions. The 48 are no longer living in a democracy.
  3. Time passes and at the next vote 27 vote to exclude the other 25. 73 are now living under the authority of the 27.
  4. More time passes and 15 vote to exclude the other 12. 85 are now living under the authority of 15.
  5. 8 vote out 7. 92 live under the authority of 8.
  6. 5 vote out 3. 95 get to live how 5 tell them to.
  7. 3 vote out 2.
  8. 2 vote out 1.
  9. Stalemate, neither of the 2 have the democratic authority to vote out the other. They have to find solutions which work for both of them (which is really what they should have been doing amongst the 100). At least they get to tell the other 98 people what to do and none of them have the right to complain, after all, they were voted out democratically.

It’s not necessarily the case that there was anything wrong going on at each point, but it should be fairly clear that the reasons for wanting a democracy in the first place are no longer there for the people who were voted out at each stage. As such, they have no reason to recognise its authority.

Reality is less extreme but the same principle is at work whenever anyone says “we won, shut up” and claims it as democratic. Even if we assume that the referendum was run perfectly, everyone was perfectly informed, perfectly rational and voted for the option that they believed was best for the country as a whole the most that could be claimed is that the referendum was democratic.

In or out? Are we leaving the EU? That was the only question we were given.

The questions that remain are:  How are we leaving? What sort of arrangement do we want once we have left? What concerns do people have? Why did people vote leave? Why did people vote remain? How can we address the interests of both?

As I wrote before the referendum, and will no doubt write again before too long, I don’t think that referendums are good expressions of democracy. At least not when they are run as an “us vs them” rather than “let’s try to reach a solution that works for us all”. I believe in public deliberation and trying to reach a consensus rather than simple domination of one group by another. Of course consensus may not always be possible and some people may have to go along with democratically made decisions that they do not agree with. As long as those decisions were made with a genuine attempt to take their interests into account I don’t think this is the worst thing in the world. They can always fight to change the decision later.

However, any claim that a person has no right to disagree with any democratically made decision is a claim that their citizenship was revoked as soon as they disagreed with the majority. That’s not democracy. It’s simply mob rule and I will not accept it.

Nevermind whether they’re children, our whole approach to refugees is unethical

MP David Davies has suggested that we should be carrying out dental checks on refugees to ensure that they are young enough to deserve our help.

In his own words

Think about that for a second.

On the surface, the idea of trying to confirm the ages of refugees entering the country as children makes sense. If someone is 25 then it is inappropriate to be enrolling them in schools or arranging foster care for them. There’s no argument there, it’s certainly inappropriate to treat adults as children and it’s also certainly appropriate to attempt to ensure that that’s not what we’re doing.

The problem is that phrasing the objection as “British hospitality … being abused” promotes the idea that entering the UK as a refugee is in some way abusive and that being a child is the only excuse for doing so.

If we are to maintain any pretence of behaving ethically, then we must approach every situation with the intention of making it better, or at the very least not making it worse.

With the refugee issue, this entails the starting assumption that it would be best if we could help as many people as we possibly can.

Now, it may be that David Davies shares this assumption and is only concerned that we might be treating adult refugees as if they were children and that he doesn’t actually have a problem with the UK taking in our fair share of refugees. I don’t know enough about him to say, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

However, even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, it is absolutely clear that many of the people who are getting angry about this issue are in fact not willing to even attempt to improve the suffering caused by the refugee crisis.

If they were approaching the situation with the goal of making things better then their objections, if they had any, would be along the lines of “we should check how old they are to make sure they all get the appropriate assistance”. Or even, “of course we should help but we don’t have the resources”. They don’t.

I’m just going to paraphrase the main reason I’ve seen because I have no desire to give more oxygen to the ghastly people who think like this – “all refugees are violent criminals”.

Come on.

We know this isn’t true. It is true that refugees have committed crimes. It’s also true that refugees have committed violent crimes in Calais. It’s just as true that there were 37 violent crimes in Wolverhampton city centre during August 2016. We don’t know whether all of the people responsible for these crimes have been arrested. We also don’t know how many people who live in Wolverhampton might commit crimes in the future.

If you support keeping people trapped in refugee camps rather than being allowed in to claim asylum on the basis that we don’t know whether some of them might be criminals, but you don’t support building a wall around Wolverhampton for the same reason, then you need to provide a convincing explanation of the difference. 

If it’s simply that people in Wolverhampton are British and refugees are not then you are making the claim that “Britishness” is a quality which makes a moral difference.

That is, you are claiming that it’s OK to ignore another person’s suffering unless they happen to be British.

There’s a word for that, I think you know what it is.

The gutter press have a lot to answer for in this. Every day they spread another horror story about foreigners and, funnily enough, the people who read this every day end up believing it. I blame the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the current re-normalisation of racism, for the problems faced by every single refugee that we could help but are refusing to. They are deliberately spreading their hate in order to persuade the average person that every refugee is a personal threat.

They are approaching a humanitarian crisis with nothing but utter contempt for the people who most need our help.

The fact that so many people seem to be going along with this is absolutely disgusting. 

#NoMandateMay and the will of the British people

Theresa May is hell bent on destroying any illusions that the UK is any kind of democracy.

Theresa May has now said that getting parliament involved in deciding the terms under which the UK will be leaving the EU would be “simply an attempt to find another way to thwart the will of the British people”. She does say that parliament will have some role after negotiations have started but, from what I’ve seen so far, that role may be limited to just watching in horror and being told that any attempt to improve relations with the EU or to save free movement is somehow “undemocratic”.

I’ve written about this before so I won’t say too much. Simply, May is claiming that because around half of the population voted to leave the EU in favour of some other arrangement that must mean it is the “will of the British people” that we go for her particular version of hard Brexit.

This is nonsense.

48% of the population are happy enough with keeping free movement and single market membership that we voted to remain members of the EU.

Apparently the concerns of these 48% don’t count, or maybe it’s just that half of the population are the “liberal elite” and therefore utterly out of touch with the interests of the population, including their own. Somehow, people earning average wages and living in average places are more out of touch than a small gang of millionaires? Forgive me if I find that a little hard to believe.

There are, of course, perspectives that I simply will never be able to fully understand which we must take into account in our political decision making if we are to plausibly maintain that we are any type of democracy. However, I really take exception to the claim that the interests of at least 48% of the population no longer count.

I say at least because, even amongst leave voters, there will have been many who favoured a softer version of Brexit. Norway was one of the models we were told would be the likely outcome of a vote to leave. Why are we now being told that nobody voted for that?

Theresa May is claiming that any attempt to move away from the most extreme interpretation of the vote to leave the EU is an attempt to “thwart the will of the British people”. Nothing could be further from the truth, it’s an attempt to determine what the actual will of the people is and to protect all of our interests.

May has abandoned democracy. If she wants to go down this route, she should at least have the decency to tell us directly “actually I don’t care what the will of the people is, we’re destroying the UK anyway”.

 

 

The supposed “right to not be offended”

A favourite whinge of the fragile reactionary is “oh, you’re just offended” or “we’re not allowed to do X because it offends people!” which is treated as if it somehow magically ends the debate and proves that anyone who is offended is wrong.

 

In the last few years this has been backed up by some very intelligent people (Stephen Fry, John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson) who have phrased this as some version of “there is no right to not be offended”. To a certain extent, they’re absolutely right. There is no plausible blanket right to be protected from hearing anything that might upset you. If there was such a right then nobody would have been able to argue for gay marriage, abortion, freedom of religion or any number of other things which are both important and which people get extremely upset by.

For a quick example, go on twitter and argue in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, it won’t take too long before you’ll have insults thrown at you by offended leave voters who are appalled that you have the audacity to disagree with them. The same is probably true if you argue the other way.

The thing is, I might be (probably will be) offended if you say something sexist or make a racist “joke” but the simple fact that I am offended isn’t what makes it wrong to tell it.

Communication shapes beliefs, beliefs shape actions, actions affect people.

When you focus excessively on crimes that have committed by immigrants while glossing over crimes committed by locals, you are unnecessarily reinforcing anti-immigrant beliefs. When you reinforce these beliefs you are increasing the likelihood of people taking anti-immigrant actions.

When you make a joke that relies on racial or gender stereotypes, you reinforce them. The reinforced belief that such and such race has such and such characteristics increases the number of actions which treat members of that group as if they have that characteristic.

When you refer to people on benefits as scroungers, you make it easier for the government to use them as scapegoats.

Etc.

When people are treated badly it makes their lives worse, even if it’s just by making their lives harder. When people are routinely treated badly it puts an extra obstacle between them and living as well as they could. People are more likely to be routinely treated badly if common beliefs about them cause other people to treat them badly. None of this should be controversial.

The issue with people whinging about the “right to not be offended” is that they’re targeting the wrong thing. When I criticise you for being racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever it’s not just because I’m offended. It’s because you are reinforcing ways of thinking that actually make people’s lives worse. More than that, you’re reinforcing ways of thinking that make people’s lives worse for no good reason.

It’s important that we work for a society where as many people as possible can live well. Sometimes it’s necessary to offend in order to achieve this; but making other people’s lives worse for its own sake doesn’t help anyone. This is why the accusations that “the left tolerates everything except intolerance” don’t work. They’re not aimed at the right target. The point isn’t tolerance, tolerance of diverse ways of living is instrumental in ensuring that people can live well. Tolerance of hurting people is entirely unnecessary.

The next time you see someone deciding that they’re going to draw a picture of Mohammed, have a think about whether they’re really doing it for a good reason, or if it’s just to try to upset Muslims and to stir up anti-Muslim feelings. That is – is it just offensive or is it gratuitously so?

If anything I’ve written has offended you, well…

Article Image is  “A man in a rage” By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/82/9f/f1dfe8faad95df6ab64f5a73b0f3.jpg Gallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0009120.html, CC BY 4.0, Link

Hypocrisy, Theresa May and “subverting democracy”

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Theresa May’s accusation that anyone trying to stop the UK from leaving the EU is “subverting democracy” is both entirely inaccurate and demonstrates incredible hypocrisy.

Democracy has already been subverted.

The whole point of democracy is to ensure that the people’s interests are taken into account in political decision making. In order to take this seriously we need to make sure that there is honest, open discussion over political issues with the goal being, not to determine a winner and allow the winning groups to override the interests of all others, but to reach a consensus. Everyone involved must be committed to honest discussion and must believe that everyone else is committed to the same. Full consensus may not always be possible where there are mutually exclusive interests but everyone’s interests must be taken into consideration and consensus should be the goal.

This cannot be done with even a well run binary referendum.

IN/OUT. One winner. Nobody else counts. This just isn’t good enough.

So, in this sense, the opposition to Brexit is based on the belief that democracy has already been subverted. The referendum itself was a subversion of democracy. Half of the population are now being completely ignored in favour of the other half. The same would have been true if the result had gone the other way. This is the sort of treatment which has lead to people having no trust in the government in the first place.

Maybe you think that the goal of aiming at consensus and taking everyone’s interests into account is too extreme, maybe I’m asking too much of democracy. So, let’s look at a weaker version.

Think of an extremely simplistic version of democracy. This seems to be the version that’s most popular amongst angry leave voters. Majority vote wins. Nobody else counts. You lost, get over it.

Even by this minimal standard the referendum was undemocratic! The issue of EU membership is just too complicated to be summed up in it’s entirety with an IN/OUT, or YES/NO vote.

Which of the many options really has the most support? Remain? EEA? EFTA? Isolationism?

Even the very limited requirements of pure majority rule haven’t been met. Again, democracy has already been subverted. If the referendum had given us a list of options and used something like the alternative vote (where people vote by ranking the given options in order of preference) then there would be a case to be made that the referendum was in at least some sense democratic. As it is, we don’t even have that.

What really has subverted democracy is allowing representatives of only one of the possible options to take over completely without taking any concerns from anyone who would have preferred any of the other options into account or even confirming that this is what the majority wants. Taking a roughly 50/50 split as evidence of a strong mandate for either side is nothing less than an outrage.

Even beyond all of this, if Theresa May really wants to talk about who is subverting democracy, maybe she shouldn’t be having private meetings with billionaire media bosses who have been quoted as saying “When I go into Downing Street, they do what I say“.