Friday, 13 October 2017

Experts agree: no-deal Brexit catastrophe now completely impossible/inevitable

Depending on who you believe, the British government has now reached the cliff edge and either stepped back, or  maybe carried on walking into thin air.

The uncertainty's a tad worrying. Good job nothing important rests on the outcome...

When I said "enemy" I meant "friends", obvs

For Christ's sake,  Philip, it's Boris who's in charge of the diplomacy! Just remember that and everything will be fine...

Despotic diagnosis disorder

I learnt a new word today - "drapetomania."*

Drapetomania was a psychological disorder invented by the American physician Samuel A Cartwright, to account for the fact that some slaves tried to escape from their owners. Cartwright speculated that these unaccountable symptoms must have been triggered by slave owners who "made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals" and prescribed the remedy of "whipping the devil out of them" (the slaves, not the over-familiar slave owners).

It's an extreme example of medicalising behaviour which challenges existing power relations. Other examples which spring to mind are the abuse of psychiatry to silence dissent in the Soviet Union (a practice which now seems to be enjoying a revival under Putin and his fellow authoritarian leaders in different parts of the former USSR) and the made-up diagnosis of "hysteria" as a catch-all term to pathologise women who were uppity, unhappy, or otherwise failing to comply with male expectations.

There are less dramatic, but still sinister, pathologies being invented in the our own age. In 2012, Bruce Levine warned about children being given a new diagnosis - "opposition defiant disorder", complete with the auto-stigmatising acronym "ODD."
Of course, a stroppy kid who fails to comply with the requests of even a reasonable authority figure might just be a little brat, but that's not really a medical diagnosis. There are cases when adult authority figures are anything but reasonable and throwing a major strop would be a completely reasonable response from a sane child.

This is how authoritarian whims are camouflaged as objective judgements. Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to Donald J Trump. Most of the outrageous antics coming from the Trump White House seem designed to distract from more important things (for example policies which are either failing to happen, or which would be unpopular if people stopped thinking about the latest 3am Tweet for long enough to think about what the guy's actually doing). However, some of his outbursts do also shine a light on the sort of power relations behind labels like drapetomania, hysteria and ODD

The authoritarian mindset is all about enforcing certain norms of behaviour and swiftly punishing transgressors - in Trump's mind it's perfectly OK to try and get NFL players who take a knee to protest against police brutality, fired. But Trump himself is all about flouting norms, being more outrageous, offensive and abusive than all you other losers, because he can. His behaviour here is a useful reminder of the hypocrisy at the heart of most** authoritarianism - the less powerful are punished for putting a toe out of line, while unreasonable authority figures get to stomp all over the rules at will.

In the Trump clown show, the hypocrisy is out there. If you want to disguise and embed such blatant double standards in a whole society, it helps to have a science-y sounding diagnosis to explain why the powerless must be mad if they expect to get away with half the stuff their "betters" do as a matter of course. I'd diagnose this ailment as form of social perversion, and I'm calling it Despotic Diagnosis Disorder until somebody comes up with a better name.

**Not all - I guess there have been, and are, ascetic authoritarians who practice self-discipline whilst also disciplining others - Savonarola, warrior monks, abusive Christian Brothers and nuns in Catholic institutions, presumably living frugal lives of self-denial, while battering the living bejesus out of the unfortunate children in their care...

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Hell's kitchen, UK

After Pete North's autarky-based dystopia, here's another Pol Potty scheme to seize Brexit Year Zero as an opportunity to forcibly re-educate the UK's unworthy citizens. This time it's Gordon sodding Ramsay. The obnoxious, potty-mouthed reality star would like to see our idle, uppity UK workers redeemed by low-paid scullion labour after the Brexit revolution:*
“That level of influx of multinational workers in this country has sort of confirmed how lazy as a nation we are - when individuals from across the seas are prepared to come and work twice as hard for less money,” he said.

“If anything, it’s a big kick up the a--- for the industry, and it’s going to get back to the modern-day apprenticeship. So not only do I welcome that kind of change, but I think it’s going to put a lot more emphasis on homegrown talent, which I think we need to do.”
Two things:
  1. What a joy to hear lofty Brexiteers talking down to us lazy Brits and pontificating about industries that just need a kick up the bum. Almost as good as Pete North sneering about "the left bleating about austerity", a generation of "spoiled and self-indulgent" people and "tedious hipsters drinking energy drinks in pop-up cereal bar book shops or whatever it is they do these days." Sarcasm aside, here's the thing, guys. You lot have spent so long blubbering like spoiled kids about how anybody who says mean things about your pet project is a horrid, condescending metropolitan elitist that you've become a national joke. So - and I can't emphasise this strongly enough -  you don't get to talk down to anybody else until you've learned to stop wallowing in your self-pitying victim narrative and start taking argument and criticism on the chin like grown-ups.
  2. To be fair, there is the germ of a reasonable idea buried in Ramsay's recipe for Brexit baloney. It would help the UK to have more, and better, apprenticeships. But well-designed, effective schemes take planning and funding, two things in almost non-exisitent supply now that the nation's government has been paralysed by the logistical and financial challenges of trying to dismantle the UK's existing access to frictionless trade and free movement across the borders of its largest and closest trading partners, for no good reason. Yes, apprenticeships are good. And there really is no reason why you need to leave the European Union to have more, and better, apprenticeships. Is there, Germany?

*And it would be low-paid, by UK standards. Migrants don't "work twice as hard for less money." They work twice as hard because what they earn here is the equivalent of a good wage back home. Or at least it was, until the UK voted to push its currency off a cliff.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Flagellation for the nation

If you are of a nervous disposition, look away now. If you're still with me, prepare to stare into the abyss.

I used to think that most of the probable outcomes of Brexit ranged from bad to very bad, but I was holding on to one consoling thought. I thought that at least most of the people behind Brexit shared some political values that I could recognise.

I might disagree with Leave voters about means, but I kind of assumed that we were all working towards the same ends. I thought that the general goal of political change was to let as many people as possible thrive, prosper and enjoy more opportunities than they had under the status quo. Proponents of any change should at least believe that the change will make things better than they were before. That, I thought, was a bare minimum requirement.

I didn't believe that leaving the EU would make things better, which is why I voted Remain. Other people voted Leave. I disagreed with them, but I thought that at least that they sincerely believed that leaving would make things better and that nobody would stick with the idea if they started to think that leaving would actually make things worse.

How wrong I was. There are people who apparently believe that the effects of leaving will be catastrophic,  but that we still need to go ahead, because prosperity has made us spoiled and weak. Leavers who are actually looking forward to a ten year recession because it will make the UK population less "frivolous. "

I'm not sure what you'd call a philosophy of disciplining the population by deliberately engineering hardship and struggle - no merely political label covers it half so well as the word "horrific. " This long excerpt is probably as much as most people can stomach, but the brave, or masochistic, can read the whole thing here:
In the first year or so we are going to lose a lot of manufacturing. Virtually all JIT export manufacturing will fold inside a year. Initially we will see food prices plummet but this won't last. Domestic agriculture won't be able to compete and we'll see a gradual decline of UK production. UK meats will be premium produce and no longer affordable to most.

Once food importers have crushed all UK competition they will gradually raise their prices, simply because they can. Meanwhile wages will stay depressed and because of the collapse of disposable income and availability of staff, we can probably expect the service sector to take a big hit thus eliminating all the jobs that might provide a supplementary income.

Across the board we will see prices rising. There will be some serendipitous benefits but nothing that offsets the mass job losses. We will see a lot of foreign investment dry up and banking services will move to the EU. Dublin and Frankfurt. I expect that house prices will start to fall, but that's not going to do anyone any favours in the short to mid term.

Since a lot of freight will no longer be able to go through Calais we can expect a lot more use of the port at Hull so we may see an expansion in distribution centres in the North.

All in all we are looking at serious austerity as it will take a few years at least to rebuild our trade relations with third countries. If we go down the path of unilateral trade liberalisation then we will probably find it hard to strike new deals.

Meanwhile, since tax receipts will be way down we can expect major cuts to the forces and a number of Army redundancies. I expect to see RAF capability cut by a third. Soon enough it will become apparent that cuts to defence cannot go further so we can expect another round of cuts to council services. They will probably raise council tax to cope with it.

After years of the left bleating about austerity they are about to find out what it actually means. Britain is about to become a much more expensive pace to live. It will cause a spike in crime...

...Eventually things will settle down and we will get used to the new order of things. My gut instinct tells me that culturally it will be a vast improvement on the status quo. There will be more reasons to cooperate and more need to congregate. I expect to see a cultural revolution where young people actually start doing surprising and reckless things again rather than becoming tedious hipsters drinking energy drinks in pop-up cereal bar book shops or whatever it is they do these days. We'll be back to the days when students had to be frugal and from their resourcefulness manage to produce interesting things and events...

...Effectively we are looking at a ten year recession. Nothing ever experienced by those under 50. Admittedly this is not the Brexit I was gunning for. I wanted a negotiated settlement to maintain the single market so that we did not have to be substantially poorer, but, in a lot of ways I actually prefer this to the prospect of maintaining the 2015 status quo with ever degraded politics with increasingly less connection to each other.

I'm of the view that in recent years people have become increasingly spoiled and self-indulgent, inventing psychological problems for themselves in the absence of any real challenges or imperatives to grow as people. I have always primarily thought Brexit would be a reboot on British politics and culture. In a lot of ways it will bring back much of what is missing. A little austerity might very well make us less frivolous.
My emphasis.  I'm pretty sure that a lot of people in the UK didn’t have a very clear idea what they were voting for last June. But I'm damn sure it wasn't for this.

Oh, and by the way, screw you, Pete North and screw your "cultural revolution" and screw your "new order of things", you ideologically-addled maniac.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Statesman, neologist, towel cannon

I think that the style of appearing "presidential" is probably overrated, in relation to the substance of actually getting stuff done. Which is just as well, now that the bar for "presidential" has been set so low that only an earthworm could get under it:
President Trump thinks he came up with the word “fake"...
...“I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with is ‘fake,’” he told Huckabee.

“I guess other people have used it, perhaps, over the years, but I’ve never noticed it...”

...In his Huckabee interview, Trump once again reignited his feud with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz while talking up his much-mocked appearance in Puerto Rico last week.

While saying Cruz did “a very poor job” responding to Hurricane Maria, he spoke lovingly of the paper towel rolls he tossed to a crowd in a San Juan church in one of the most notorious moments from his day trip.

“They had these beautiful, soft towels. Very good towels,” Trump said.

“I came in and there was a crowd of a lot of people. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having fun, they were having fun. They said, ‘Throw ‘em to me! Throw ‘em to me, Mr. President!
I, for one, welcome our annelid overlord.

Sarcasm aside, I sometimes wonder who's stupider - Wormy McWormface, or the rest of us for letting him dominate our attention economy with his endless supply of freakish idiocy.