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April 02, 2019



Perhaps one further point: the number of topics that form part of conversations may have increased. Folk are now expected to have opinions on very many subjects of which they can have little or no direct knowledge (the doings of Michael Jackson, the policies of Donald Trump, the thoughts of Theresa May) or deep understanding (global warming, trade policy, the latest dietary recommendations). The adoption of an opinion is infinitely easier than the acquisition of knowledge.



I rather like this piece on what Brexiteers (generally) believe in, which tends to kill the Remainer lie that the (we) are racist knuckle-draggers who want to recreate the 1950s: https://brexitcentral.com/remainers-wont-get-brexit-understand-caricature-brexiteers-entirely-wrong/

Mark Thompson

@Mark - I live in a heavily Brexit area and most of the characteristics that Tom Harris piece ascribes to "Brexiteers" most certainly does not apply to most of the people I speak to. In the main they want "closed borders" and are very much not internationalist in any sense of the word. I suspect there is much wishful thinking in that piece and an attempt to ascribe the characteristics of the author's feelings about Brexit to the general Brexit voting populous.

Dave Timoney

You might also have mentioned the consistency illusion, which you wrote about last week. Some people are actively "re-evaluating" Jackson's music, not just boycotting him, presumably because they feel they must have misjudged him (or been conned) in the past..

As regards the media, I think another dimension to this is their tendency to present issues in binary terms as part of their commitment to "balance", which gives the impression that opinions are far more divided and entrenched than they are in reality.

chris s

How many votes for the causes of Brexit do we have to ignore based on support for somewhat ameliorating the effects of Brexit?


Bang on. The "childlike binaries" puzzle me too.
All of your explanations have something.

To use old-fashioned terminology, "we" increasingly lose the presumption of respect for each other. This is serious. It's not that it's good manners, or something authoritarian and weaponised like etiquette: it's that we damage and impoverish ourselves. Of course, there are people who deserve no respect. But you should listen, try to understand, think, and to learn something. Judge only on time-out. We all know something about our own fallibility, and that knowledge is a supremely valuable resource. It is just mad to throw it away.


"What interests me is: why do so many people fall into such childlike binaries?"

I'd guess "meritocratic" ideology, the diligent inculcation of entitlement into the young and a bourgeoisie (plus fellow travellers) grown accustomed to effortless victory on one hand and the remorseless crushing (complete with gloating and anathemas) of incomes, lifespans, agency and working conditions on the other.

I'd also, at the risk of falling into a childlike binary, argue that group one is much, much worse.


We have to simplify even before these sociological considerations, because binarisation simplifies logic. When you take into account things which might be true, you soon get into a combinatorial explosion of possibilities and have to start pruning. So parsimony of considerations is an inherent part of the way we think, rather than something only dumb people do. Biassing an ever-present mechanism is easier than inventing a new one.

Will Pickering

Maybe the reason the left "persists in the 'evil Tories' meme" is because we know people who have been deliberately targeted for impoverishment, discrimination, incarceration or deportation by Tory policies at different times over a period of decades. We may even have been those people. These experiences are often why we find ourselves on the left in the first place.


An excellent post.

Most of what passes for political debate today consists purely in declaring our opponents to be bad actors whose arguments aren’t even worthy of refutation. Everything dithers down to “who/whom” thinking.

To pick an example: one of the most important reasons for the current Brexit impasse is the DUP’s objection to the Irish “backstop”. Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader at Westminster, says that Unionists can live with either a No Deal Brexit or the total abandonment of Brexit, but not with any semi-Brexit which implements a backstop.

Here is an Independent article about it: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-news-latest-dup-revoke-article-50-nigel-dodds-theresa-may-a8846671.html

If you read the comments, you will see that no-one bothers to address the DUP’s arguments, even to explain why they’re wrong. All we get is people saying that DUP members and supporters are religious maniacs who still live in the 17th century, so to hell with them.

Personally, I feel no affinity with the DUP. In particular, I think its opposition to marriage equality is wrong, and actually undermines the case for the Union (“we love the UK so much, but we don’t want UK-style laws on marriage”). But even the most loathsome people sometimes have a real argument, which deserves to be answered.


" only people who hold the all correct positions merit empathy or respect"

What a stupid piece of self-congratulatory fluff. No one is saying a person needs to hold every correct position to merit empathy or respect. People are just no longer willing to give respect based on hierarchy ("He's an MP/millionaire/journalist at a major daily so he deserves respect!") or overlook a myriad of "incorrect" positions which have actively harmed people because the person holding the position was able to turn those positions in to actual policy.

A lot of this type of moaning seems to be thinly veiled anger at how believing in terrible things and helping make terrible things happen no longer gets ignored by the rabble. Plus, now the rabble can make the moaners aware of the contempt the rabble holds them in, when in the past one didn't ever interact with the rabble other than through seeing an angry letter to the editor.


"Not only do Remainers and Leavers have little mutual understanding, but much of the left persists in the “evil Tories” meme whilst some on the Right seem to think that anyone to the left of Tom Watson wants to reopen gulags"

No. Leavers understand the Remain position quite well. Some want the status quo. Some want a federal Euyrope. All believe that being in the EU is better than being outside. It's a view. Leavers just disagree.

People think the left are dangerous because of the things they say and the way they behave. If they didn't;t say those things, and didn't behave the way they do, we'd think differently.


"No. Leavers understand the Remain position quite well. Some want the status quo. Some want a federal Europe."

Some of us are tempted by the brittleness built into its structure. If it can't/won't amend its liberal underpinnings - which it can't/won't, it will eventually break. And that's roughly a quarter of the world's output at the mercy of a royally pissed off continent-wide gilet jauneariat.

Plus who wants to queue up for passport control at Peretola Airport?

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