Tuesday, August 17, 2021


“You were given the choice between war and dishonour.  You chose dishonour and you will have war.”

There are no historical analogies, nor does history repeat itself. There are precedents, however, and the precedent of delivering an ally as a gift to your enemy is not a promising one.

And when that enemy is, in this case, an anti-democratic, totalitarian, ideologically committed misogyny with a history of ultra violence and the persecution of minorities, it is likely to be a catastrophe for the people who have been abandoned.

The trickiest question in history is to ask how wars end, rather than how they begin. And twenty years is not as long as people may think to achieve a settlement. If patience is a virtue, impatience is a weakness that feeds into a nirvana fallacy.

I don't know enough to be able to say anything more, other than express my moral disgust and sense of unease. I don't think that this will turn out well.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

No transport of delight

I like this piece, 20 reasons why there is shortage of drivers in the UK. In the media the shortage is being presented as either down to the 'pingdemic' or Brexit, depending on your ideological position. It's a bit more complicated than that though.

Of the twenty reasons Oryński gives, only one is COVID and half a dozen are Brexit related. The others are long-standing issues about working conditions and employer relations. If they had been addressed earlier, the system might have been more resilient to the temporary shock of COVID but probably nothing could have stemmed the damage of the permanent impact of Brexit. Especially when it was imposed without proper preparation and against all expert advice. It's not just the new trade barriers that are a shock, it's the interaction with structural weaknesses that were already present. And just as the shock was radical, so is the response.

And here lies the problem. COVID will end, but the social and economic impact of Brexit is long lasting. Once people and businesses have left, once the investment has flowed out to the EU to stay in the single market, they won't ever come back. We could rejoin tomorrow, but they have gone forever. The UK's reputation is ruined. Why return? Especially for people who have experienced this: 

Brexit had opened a black hole into the deepest layers of British society that we haven’t seen before. The level of harassment and hate crime has risen to unprecedented levels. If you were European, would you really want to come to the country where at every little step – from dealing with Home Office and Border Forces to the trip to your local pub – you can be reminded in a very clear manner, that you’re not welcome here?
In just seven months, decades of damage has been done - permanent damage. And every single thing was as predicted and was warned about. Experts in trade, in European law, people in the arts, business organisations, trade unions, and even the two previous Prime Ministers who negotiated peace in Northern Ireland all warned against Brexit. They pointed out the pitfalls and dangers. All were dismissed with a single phrase, 'project fear.' It was a neat formulation that meant that the warnings could be conveniently ignored without the effort of engaging with their substance. 

I am writing this in Greece. A short distance across the Aegean, the beautiful island of Evia is burning. Further south, Athens is threatened. We are safe here but on high alert. It's a national catastrophe following on from an unprecedented heatwave. And it struck me that Brexiters are peddling ignorance in the same way that climate change deniers did, and still do. Then I thought of the COVID sceptics doing the same. It's a particular pathology. People who are experts in their field, have deep knowledge and experience, are ignored in favour of people spouting what they would prefer as an alternative to truth. Comforting fictions only work for a time until reality bites. And for most of us, reality is sinking its teeth deep into our flesh. Then I looked at these denialisms again, and not only are their ways of thinking and propagandising the same, so are the people. There are exceptions, but there is a big overlap between extreme Brexiters, climate denial, and COVID scepticism. Dig deeper and you find the same sources of funding too, as Peter Geoghegan explores in his excellent book.

This is how democracy is undermined. If democracy is reduced to winning a vote through successful marketing and misdirection rather than popular and expert deliberation, when it can delay action or push a government to behave irresponsibly against the national interest, then it becomes the instrument of special interests and the plaything of political hobbyists -  people with the time and money to pursue their obsessions; a huge over-confidence in their own abilities; disregard for the consequences of their actions on others; and disdain for any institutions and processes that restrain them. 

The result is that we get caught up in a vortex of utter bollocks, convenient ignorance expressed with all the confidence that privileged inexpertise brings with it. And we all have to live with the consequences of their attempt to impose their fantasy worlds on people living in the real one.