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October 29, 2019



"As Paul Evans says, the EU plebiscite helped weaken our traditional system of representative democracy which was “almost specifically designed to stop leaps into the unknown.”"

Shame that didn't apply when we were taken in......


"Paul advocates mechanisms for doing this. We also require institutions (pdf) of deliberative democracy, whereby citizens can weigh evidence properly rather than act upon irrational whims."

AKA making sure that the masses can't vote for anything I don't like.............


“Why should we satisfy preferences that are irrational or mean-spirited?”

There’s a danger in presenting “irrational” and “mean-spirited” almost as if they’re synonyms. Especially with issues of public health, the “mean-spirited” approach can sometimes be the one that will save the most lives.

A classic case is the two Samoas, during the 1918 flu outbreak. New Zealand had conquered Western Samoa from Germany during the war, and their NZ governor was anxious to be liked by the Samoans. So he refused to impose quarantine. Eastern Samoa was under US control, and the US governor responded to news of the flu outbreak with draconian quarantine, firing warning shots at any ships that attempted to land. The end result was stark: Western Samoa had the highest fatality level from the outbreak, while Eastern Samoa had the lowest.

I mention this because, during the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak, I noticed a tendency among many decent liberal types to oppose quarantine. Apparently quarantine was cruel, it limited people’s human rights, maybe it was even racist. When a Spanish nurse infected with the disease returned home on a commercial flight, the biggest protests occurred when the authorities entered her apartment and destroyed her dog.


“None of this is to claim there was ever a Golden Age of wise legislators exercising Solomonic judgment. There wasn’t. But it does mean we have a problem. We know that we all have limited rationality and knowledge.”

That’s why the most important quality a polity needs is nimbleness / flexibility. Rapid error correction. The ability to execute a quick 180º turn with the minimum disruption.

Imagine if our postwar policy choices had been routinely quizzed from the following perspective: suppose your proposed policy is completely wrong - how difficult will it be to reverse course? It turns out the Attlee government’s wholesale nationalisation of major industries was actually very easy to reverse; not so the Heath government’s decision to join the EEC, apparently.


For a Marxist, you seem surprisingly uninterested in the class conflicts between the credentialed optimates and the un-credentialed plebs. You can’t analyse politics simply as if the optimates will be rational, disinterested and beneficent, while the plebs will be a seething mess of incoherent prejudice. The two groups are differently situated, and often, what’s good for one class is bad for the other. Politics exists partly to manage such class conflicts.


The sad revelation of the Brexit debate is that it is precisely those who are most educated who are furthest from Habermasian ideals. Indeed it is so often these people that use procedural tricks to get their way, thus eating away at the very institutions that are hoped to give communicative rationality. Reason is power, power is reason: and that is all ye apparently need know on this Earth.

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