Why revoking Article 50 or suchlike would make me really really angry

I voted leave in the 2016 referendum, for reasons outlined here, and would vote the same again. What has happened since then has in my mind rather served to confirm my reasoning, and indeed emphasis the need for accountability in some nearer places too. Obviously a number of people disagree with the result – the majority of MPs for one – and a number of these figures – the Liberal Democrats as a whole, key figures amongst Conservatives and Labour and so on – have proposed revoking Article 50 (our notice to leave) altogether, or holding a second referendum (which for some reason they dub a “people’s vote”; I suspect the hand of Tony Blair in this, since he liked to add “people’s” to all sorts of things in an attempt to generate support) or a “confirmatory vote”.

The issue has become highly contentious, and there seem to be some who think if the whole thing can be undone, such disagreements would disappear. For those who liked or benefited from the political status quo prior to the referendum, such is likely to be highly attractive. It is also impossible. Setting aside the arguments over Brexit itself, what I want to communicate is why I personally find the suggestion to revoke article 50 or similar so objectionable, and why in many respects this issue is now far bigger than Brexit itself.

What should not be forgotten is that the referendum itself, voted for by an overwhelming majority of Parliament, was presented to the British public as:

This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.

Upon the result, many MPs now committed to revocation or to a second referendum spoke about the need to respect and implement the referendum result (including luminaries such as Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna). Many of them subsequently stood on an election manifesto in the 2017 election promising to implement the result, the Conservative members explicitly on a manifesto that no deal would be preferred to a bad deal.

So when MPs argue for revocation, they are explicitly arguing that Parliament should break a promise it made to the British public to respect the public’s vote, one that many of the members subsequently remade by the platforms they stood upon for the 2017 election. Some might argue that legislatively, the referendum was “non-binding”. But that doesn’t change the commitment made to the electorate, the assurance that it was there decision. To argue this is to confuse legality with legitimacy. It would be legal, but it would be illegitimate. And Parliament’s authority to make laws for the rest of us depends on its legitimacy.

To revoke article 50 would in short be to void my vote; it would effectively disenfranchise me by making my vote of null effect. This strikes at the very heart of the implied social contract by which we give Parliament any right to rule over us at all. We permit Parliament to fill this role because we are assured we have a say in what happens, via our exercise of our vote. Thus even if a vote doesn’t go our way, the result is legitimate if we had the opportunity to have our say. This has been the situation for most of my life: there are very few decisions the Blair government made that I agreed with. But while I disagreed with that government and its decisions, I could give a broader consent to the legitimacy of that government, because I’d had the opportunity to vote but was sadly on the losing side.

That calculus changes if it appears that my vote is to be ignored if it is on the winning side: then it appears my vote is a fraud, designed to give the illusion of a say, but to be ignored lest there be any danger of me having an actual say. It breaks the implied social contract upon which our system of government depends. To attempt to defend any such moves on the idea of Parliamentary supremacy is to ignore the question of why should we permit that supremacy. What gives Parliament the right to rule over us? Until now, it has been that it has, imperfectly perhaps, reflected our communal decisions. But if my vote is to be outright rejected, then Parliament doesn’t reflect or allow for my input at all. It is, perhaps ironically, making a new claim to a “divine right”, but in this case a divine right of MPs. A right I must reject. As I must likewise reject any supposed “government of national unity” that takes as its starting point excluding the votes of the largest vote in British history. They would be no government of mine, and I’d reject their right to rule over me.

It is particularly infuriating when many of those pushing for revocation within and without Parliament have been seemingly happy to go along with the system so long as the results were congenial to upper middle-class politicians and lawyers. It is a seeming double standard that I have had to consent to results I disagree with most of my adult life, but the moment a result is reached they disagree with it is the result that is to be dispensed with. I say a seeming double standard, because in reality it sets up a new single standard: they get to decide, whereas the rest of us will have things decided for us. We are to be effectively disenfranchised, while they effectively enthroned as our new masters.

What then of a second referendum or a “confirmatory vote”? Note again the double standard. The Blair government, for instance (and indeed feel free to use the example of any post-war government of your choice), introduced sweeping changes to public life and law. Do we get a confirmatory vote on all of those? Why not? If some argue that the referendum result was too close (despite having an outright majority of votes cast, by over a million votes), then what do we say of the Blair government with 43.2% (1997), 40.7% (2001), and 35.2% (2005) of votes cast, i.e. no majority of votes at all. No British government since 1935 has had a majority of votes. Once again, my vote is to be subject to confirmation, while their vote is to be implemented without question. Of course, the leaders of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have already admitted that were a second referendum produce a leave result, they’d ignore that too.

In a democracy, the ultimate civic right and the ultimate means of redress is the ability to vote. It is this that allows Citizens to reign in their governments and to secure their interests and all other rights. Conversely, establishing a principle by which votes may be ignored if they go against the desires of the influential is to effectively strip people of that civic right and render effectively meaningless that means of redress. And so I ask of you, if MPs and others are to ignore my vote and render it null and void, what means of redress remain open to me?

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A False Quotation

I was reading the news, as one does, and came across an article talking about the implications of Israel’s current political gridlock during a period of increasing conflict between Iran and the likes of Saudi Arabia. Such articles, of course, tend to attract those who argue that the Israeli nation itself is illegitimate and/or is responsible for all the Middle East’s problems (usually turning a blind eye to the rest of the Middle East), and comments tend to become swiftly impassioned.

There’s a lot I could say on that topic, but what caught my attention was an excerpt of an article that someone produced in support:

After studying the establishment and fall of old empires, and the existing conditions early in the twentieth century, they drew up their suggestions in a report, which ended with a declaration stating that the dangers facing colonialist empires lay in the Arab land if and when they are liberated, united and progress. Thus they recommended to the seven colonialist powers to maintain the prevailing status quo in the region, divided and backward, and keep its people in their current status: disunited, backward, ignorant and quarreling.

The report also recommended fighting the unity of the people of the Arab nation culturally, spiritually and historically, resorting to strong scientific means wherever possible to separate its components from each other, namely keeping apart its western wing away from its eastern wing, that is separate its African wing from the Asian wing, by establishing a foreign and powerful barrier on the land bridge that connects Arab Asia with Arab Africa, which connects them together with the Mediterranean Sea, and near to the Suez Canal, a powerful entity friendly to western colonialism and enemy to its people.

This was, it was claimed, “the plan of Prime Minister Campbell-Bannerman”.

Something didn’t seem right about this. Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister was Prime Minister from 1905-1908, a period where the European powers were hardly acting in concert (as would be proved just a few short years later). Furthermore, North Africa and Egypt were already separated from the Levant and Arabia: the latter at the time were not governed by any European colonial power at all, but were territories of the Ottoman Empire. And of course it would certainly be nonsensical to attribute the origins of Zionism to this, considering political Zionism (that is the belief in establishing a Jewish homeland) and other such movements arose in the 19th century.

A quick search on the above text found found the full article, attributed to an author called Awni Farsakh, and claimed to be translated by an Adib S. Kawar; I find little more details of either. although the article itself was supposedly published in Al-Khaleej, based in the United Arab Emirates, on May 11, 2007, while the latter individual is a member of the website, tlaxcala.es,  that had the supposed translated version. Virtually all searches head back to that website, however, as do all other citations. The full article, however, made an extended argument along the lines of the excerpt above, and furthermore attempted to support it from a quote attributed to “the Campbell-Bannerman Report, 1907”:

There are people (the Arabs, Editor’s Note) who control spacious territories teeming with manifest and hidden resources. They dominate the intersections of world routes. Their lands were the cradles of human civilizations and religions. These people have one faith, one language, one history and the same aspirations. No natural barriers can isolate these people from one another … if, per chance, this nation were to be unified into one state, it would then take the fate of the world into its hands and would separate Europe from the rest of the world. Taking these considerations seriously, a foreign body should be planted in the heart of this nation to prevent the convergence of its wings in such a way that it could exhaust its powers in never-ending wars. It could also serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects.

This is a supposed quotation from this report in 1907. Yet there are already issues with it. There’s the claims, for instance, that the region has “one faith, one language”, claims that anyone familiar with the Middle East should recognise as simply not true, now or in 1907. They are, however, claims that are often advanced both by Arab Nationalists and by Islamic Fundamentalists, and indeed the last few years have witnessed the efforts of groups like ISIS to try and make such claims reality by eliminating groups such as Yazidis, Assyrian Christians and so on.

Furthermore, there’s anachronistic elements to the quotation, such as the idea that the region could “serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects”. First, the European powers – who were very much focused on their rivalry with each other – were exceptionally unlikely to think of themselves as acting as a unified “West” (in fact that term would be used by the likes of the UK and France to define themselves against other European powers, such as Germany). And then springboard to what? The British Empire of 1907 already included all of India. If one were following the expansive definition of “West” employed here and includes all the other colonial powers, there’s little else left in 1908.

The most fundamental problem with this quotation, however, is that it appears to be a complete fabrication. One can find the full minutes of the proceedings of the Colonial conference of 1907 here. It does not contain that text. Nor is there is any evidence of any other such report; indeed the only sources in English of such a text go back to the article mentioned above. Digging deeper I found a lengthy but interesting recording of a seminar on the topic at the Oxford University Website: Eugene Rogan – The Myth of the Campbell-Bannerman Report: Arab views on Israel after the Suez Crisis, in which Rogan recounts his own research, including interviewing Antoun Canaan, the Egyptian lawyer who is the first to have made claims about the existence of said report in a paper he presented following the Suez Crisis. It appears Canaan himself was unable to explain quite what his sources where, and his paper did not include any citations or quotations. All other references to said report appear to rely on Canaan, and it is some of these later sources that appear to have invented the wording found above. In other words, the above quotation is spurious, and little more than a conspiracy theory. So once again, one should never believe something just because it’s written down, especially if it’s written down on the internet.

On Prorogation

It’s worth pointing out:

1) Prorogation is what happens – every single time – before a new session of Parliament with a new Queen’s speech can take place.

2) The current Parliamentary session is the longest since the Rump Parliament was dissolved in 1653, which had similarly out-stayed its welcome. It’s been over 2 years since the last Queen’s speech and anything like a legislative programme existed. If we’re looking to constitutional “outrages”, one can begin there.

3) Anything we are proceeding towards in the meantime – such as an exit from the EU on WTO terms in the absence of any alternative treaties – will happen only because of legislation voted for by the current crop of MPs. They legislated that into law.

4) Of course, the reason certain MPs are protesting this (in rather overblown terms) is because of the desire they have to undo the laws they’d already agreed to and effectively void the largest vote in British history. Their proposed “government of national unity” would be a real outrage, since it wouldn’t represent national unity, only parliamentary unity against said vote and the nation.

Even experts are ignorant – UnHerd

There’s an interesting article on UnHerd today, about a book called The Hidden Half: How The World Conceals Its Secrets by Michael Blastland, which apparently examines how strange reality really is, and how little we sometimes know about it (or even how little know we know about what little we know).

Some highlights:

So what caused these differences if not genetics or environment? Answer: we don’t know. And most laypeople – myself included, before I’d read Blastland’s book – didn’t even know we didn’t know. You, like me, probably thought that the argument in science was between genes and environment; not between genes and environment and… this other thing. Yet this other thing – this hidden half, called “enigmatic variation” – doesn’t just apply to crayfish. As much as half of human variation can’t be accounted for, writes Blastland, by either genetic or environmental factors.

 

You all know by now, for instance, that economic forecasting isn’t hugely reliable; perhaps it seems obvious that that’s in the nature of the thing. Animal spirits, irrational exuberance and all that, right?

But economic reporting, it turns out, is just as dodgy. Not only do we not know what’s going to happen, we don’t know what did happen. ONS figures for the economy two or three years ago continue to be revised in light of what has followed – and are often subject to confidence margins that can make the difference between a boom and a recession (Blastland cites one where a fall in unemployment of 3,000 was sombrely reported with a confidence margin of +/-77,000 – i.e. the figure could be a rise of 74,000 rather than a fall of 3,000).

 

And then there’s the “replication crisis” in the social sciences, where results on which whole subsequent fields of research have been built turn out to be, literally, junk science. Again, as many as half of the accepted results in the whole of social science or medicine are feared to be unreliable or plain wrong. The experiments simply don’t replicate. Even medicines that we know work may only work for a tiny percentage of patients – and we can’t predict which ones and we don’t know why.

Read more at Even experts are ignorant – UnHerd

“Big Tech”, Privacy and the Brave Web Browser

The power and influence of certain technology companies is something that I – and I’m far from the only one, as seen in the various US Senate hearings – am increasingly concerned about, and I’m not just talking about Apple. Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others all raise monopolistic concerns, but are even more worrying because of their approaches to personal privacy (since you are their product, not their customer), and increasingly their willingness to throw their weight around and leverage your personal data to promote their own ideological and social views (many in areas that are already concerning), and even enforce them via censorship, boycotts and so forth. There’s often a whiff of hypocrisy about this: witness Paypal threatening to boycott North Carolina over transsexual issues, but being rather happy to do business in the Middle East, or big tech’s happiness to cooperate with authoritarian regimes like China in pursuit of their money. But their willingness to operate what increasingly seems like a privatised version of China’s “social credit” system in the West, combined with the mob-like tendencies of social media, is truly worrying: being “unpersoned” by the big tech companies can leave individuals without income and with limited capacity to rebut charges against them.

All of which means I’m quite interesting in looking towards alternatives to the big, and especially the most egregious, players in that market (particularly Google, who seem to be taking their former motto of “Don’t Be Evil” as some kind of challenge). Of course, any data you put online should be regarded as potentially compromised, but there are options that are either more secure or at less danger of being misused or subject to censorship. I shifted away from the Gmail/Google Drive ecosystem a while ago, in favour of Microsoft’s offerings in Office 365 and Onedrive of all things, on the basis that they at least seemed principally interested in my money, and not my soul (and who in the 1990s would think the day would come when they were considered the lesser of evils)! While stuff there can hardly be thought of as private, much of it is about stuff I plan to publish anyway, the principal concern being that it not fall victim to Google’s trials at locking out or deleting things based on their analysis of the contents of user documents. For a more private email service, there’s things like Protonmail people might like to try, which offers a basic free service and paid offerings for those who require greater storage, and which offers services like encrypted emails.

One area worth looking at for alternatives is the humble web browser, where people may wish to reconsider the amount of personal data they offer Google for free via Google Chrome. Again, I switched from that a while back, but felt unable to switch to Mozilla Firefox considering the Brendan Eich case, in which Brendan Eich, developer of Javascipt, was effectively pushed out his position as CEO of Mozilla after 9 days due to having made a financial contribution to Proposition 8 in support of traditional marriage a number of years earlier. Since they wouldn’t want me to be an employee they clearly didn’t want me as a customer, and in any case there’s something quite sinister about the attempts to crush people’s professional endeavours because of opinions held in other spheres: the unspoken implication of trying to deny employment to those you disagree with is that those you disagree with should be starved into submission.

For several years I’ve used Opera. That’s not free of privacy concerns, since it’s owned by a Chinese company, but since I don’t live in the People’s Republic I’m not sure having the Chinese in possession of my personal data is any more of a concern than Google having it. Opera did offer some nice features as well too, such as a built in ad blocker. Unfortunately their mobile offering didn’t seem to offer any way of changing the default search engine from Google.

However, one option I’ve looked into from time to time has been Brave, which has been developed by a company headed by the aforementioned Brendan Eich. This browser offers a range of privacy features, without sending as much data off as possible to either Beijing or California. When I first tried this several years ago, however, it didn’t quite seem ready for everyday use. I’m delighted to report, however, that after trying it the other day this seems to have changed immensely, so much so that I’ve switched to it on all my devices (including mobile). I’d honestly recommend trying it out: it appears to have a host of features it didn’t have when I last tried it (including an integrated Tor mode), and seems very stable and fast to boot. One can download it here.

Now if only I knew what to do about the Android/Apple dilemma…

Liberalism: the other God that failed – UnHerd

A very thought provoking article on Unherd, suggesting that belief in modern liberalism (including the myth of progress) may resemble belief in Communism more closely than some might think, and that liberalism may suffer the same eventual fate. An excerpt:

That liberal societies have existed, in some parts of the world over the past few centuries, is a fact established by empirical inquiry. That these societies embody the meaning of history is a confession of faith. However much its devotees may deny it, secular liberalism is an oxymoron.

A later generation of ex-communists confirms this conclusion. Trotskyists such as Irving Kristol and Christopher Hitchens who became neo-conservatives or hawkish liberals in the Eighties or Nineties did not relinquish their view of history as the march towards a universal system of government. They simply altered their view as to the nature of the destination.

via Liberalism: the other God that failed – UnHerd

The disappeared paper and the Grievance Studies Scandal

Some recent articles that reflect on the current (poor) state of academia.

On one hand, here’s an account of a paper which was ultimately suppressed and removed after publication, after some academics found it politically unacceptable (that is, they did not address the actual arguments or content of the piece: they simply disagreed with its conclusions and so strove to make it disappear):

Academic Activists Send a Published Paper Down the Memory Hole – Quillette

On the other hand – and on a related theme – there’s the recent academic scandal in which several authors have attempted to expose some of the problems currently pervasive in academy (especially in certain portions of the humanities), by seeking to publish fake, and deliberately ludicrous, articles in several academic journals. Which they successfully did. To quote from the following article:

“To date, their project has been successful: seven papers have passed through peer review and have been published, including a 3000 word excerpt of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, rewritten in the language of Intersectionality theory and published in the Gender Studies journal Affilia.”

Source: The Grievance Studies Scandal: Five Academics Respond – Quillette

Apparently the sort of sentiments one finds in Mein Kampf are far more acceptable to a number of academics, provided they’re directed at the right targets (the linked article – which is mostly the reactions of some other academics – doesn’t in fact mention one particularly egregious case, in which the authors pretended to argue for a pedagogic technique in which some demographics – white males for example – should be ignored in class and even kept on the floor in chains. Apparently some of the peer reviewers felt that the authors’ paper was too sympathetic to such demographics).

It should be increasingly recognised that there are growing portions of academia, especially within the humanities, that are both intellectually corrupt, and politically in thrall to what are ultimately evil ideologies.

Link: Transgenderism and the Social Construction of Diagnosis – Quillette

An interesting article on Quillette about a topic I’ve touched briefly on before (well, one link here and some theological considerations here), namely transgenderism, in this case about the significant increase of adolescents being diagnosed with gender dysphoria. As the article makes clear, Western society’s increasing willingness to perform severe and irreversible medical interventions on said adolescents may have the consequence of sterilizing thousands of people who may feel very differently in adulthood. Critiquing this state of affairs, however, is becoming increasingly difficult as academic journals hew to a new orthodoxy on such issues. The article also had a number of interesting points on mental illness generally (including the interplay of biology and social factors):

Last week saw another attempt to silence debate and research whose findings diverge from an accepted orthodoxy. In the Advocate, transgender activist Brynn Tannehill decried a 2017 abstract that appeared in the Journal of Adolescent Health, stating that the research into rapid onset gender dysphoria or ROGD was “biased junk science.” The research that Tannehill so strongly objected to was undertaken by Lisa Littman, MD, MPH. Littman surveyed parents about their teen and young adult children who became gender dysphoric and transgender-identified in the context of belonging to a peer group where one, multiple, or even all the friends in a pre-existing peer group became transgender-identified in a similar time frame, an increase in social media use, or both. The findings of the research support the plausibility of social influences contributing to the development of gender dysphoria. The full research paper has not yet been published. Tannehill subsequently posted the article to the Facebook page of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). A discussion ensued in which some commentators asked WPATH leadership to request that the journal …

Source: Transgenderism and the Social Construction of Diagnosis – Quillette

Slippery Words

A phenomenon that I have been increasingly struck by is the role that different and shifting definitions can play in debates and arguments. I’m not talking here about mere loose or imprecise language (such as the use of cowardly described by Theodore Dalrymple here; I came across his similarly titled article after the title for this post leapt into my mind). Nor am I talking simply about how the same word can carry different meanings (that’s simply linguistic fact). Rather what I am describing is the situations in which both parties may be arguing over something, but be using different definitions for the same term, even without realising it. More recently, I have become increasingly aware of how participants involved in certain debates appear to be seeking to win an argument by default by redefining the very term from a more common definition.

I’ve written before about several theological examples amongst arguments in LDS circles, namely the terms inspiration and spiritual. But similar examples appear to about in many of the political and cultural arguments at large in society today. Terms such as fairness, justice, equality, consent, racism, privilege and a host of others have been increasingly subject to different and shifting definitions. This is not entirely new (the definition of justice, for example, has been argued over for millennia), but it seems increasingly the case that some of the loudest voices in particular controversies are insisting upon their own private definitions of key terms.

While some cases may simply be the result of different definitions, others appears to be cases where people are seeking to change or even manipulate definitions to win arguments by default. The connection between the thoughts we can have and the language we possess is a strong one, and Orwell and others have warned how changes in language may be used to control political thought. Furthermore, as I observed about the public endorsement of untruths, such manipulation of language can serve to erode the sense of right and promote acts of wrong. Witness, for example, the increasing trend to define the expression of particular ideas as violence. Word are powerful (or this subject would be hardly worth worrying about), but they are not physical force. The claim that they are, however, encourages the idea that actual violence may be used to suppress or retaliate against objectionable statements, and rationalises increasing political violence on the left and on the right.

At the very least, there is often the need to clarify definitions in any such discussion. If we are conversing on the basis of different definitions, then in practice we really have a different language. Like the inhabitants of Babel, our language will be confounded and so will we, and any discussion will profit little.

Furthermore, on some occasions, we must also notice and if necessary refuse to concede to attempts to manipulate or win an argument in advance by adopting a new or alternate definition. Such definitions are often, consciously or unconsciously, loaded dice, designed to win the argument in advance. Accepting them often concedes the argument, not because we are convinced it is right on its merits, but because we’d already accepted their presuppositions and frame of reference without realising it. Such alternate definitions can also limit thought and obscure actual concepts at stake by eliminating the very vocabulary used to describe competing ideas (for example, if the “spiritual” is defined down as simply an emotional event, what term is left to describe the literally spiritual). Accepting such redefinition can thus suppress communication, rather than promote it. Confusion over such terms can also be deceptive, seeking to claim approval for new concepts by cloaking them under more generally accepted ideas. And as described above, it can be used to justify violence and other such acts.

If we are to avoid being manipulated, or to be the manipulator, or simply to avoid confusion with others, then we need to be clear in our own language. This includes, where necessary, explaining how we understand any particular terms at stake and why we understand them that way. We need to allow others to explain their thoughts too. Perhaps we are also best served by avoiding jargon where possible. Language should clarify, not be used as a battering ram against our opponents.

I am reminded of Nephi’s words in 2 Nephi 31:3:

For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.

While there are occasions where less plainness may be required, clarity of communication is not just useful to man but is a divine ideal. If we are seeking to become more like him, then seeking to be likewise clear in our own communications seems to be something to strive for. Furthermore, I can’t help but feel that if we are to avoid being misled, or confounded, or caught up in some spiral of political violence or oppression, then we have a responsibility to keep language as something that illuminates rather than let it be used to blind and bind.

Link: “Wilfrid Laurier and the Creep of Critical Theory”

Here’s an excellent article on some increasing – and disturbing – trends in academia, especially in the humanities. In a recent case at Wilfrid Laurier University (in Canada), a Graduate teaching assistant was reprimanded for presenting a televised debate about transgendered nouns, principally because she did not condemn one side of the debate first, and thus help the students reach the correct conclusion (more on that case here). In that particular case, the University has only apologised because the Graduate student involved happened to covertly record the meeting and released it publicly, leading to the unfortunate lesson (in the words of the Graduate student herself): “make sure to secretly record all meetings or they won’t take you seriously.”

As the first article discusses, however, this is not an isolated incident. Under the banner of ‘critical theory’, academics are increasingly acting  as ideologues in service to an ideology that explicitly rejects freedom of speech and thought. Some senior academics increasingly see it as their role to ensure students reach the right, “critical” conclusions, and are prepared to punish those who risk otherwise. And similar trends can be seen in the Entertainment and News industries. In each case, the demands of pursuing a new orthodoxy are overriding what were previously regarded as the most vital functions of these institutions.

The article may be read (and is well worth reading) at Wilfrid Laurier and the Creep of Critical Theory