Follow the reluctant adventures in the life of a Welsh astrophysicist sent around the world for some reason, wherein I photograph potatoes and destroy galaxies in the name of science. And don't forget about my website, www.rhysy.net



Thursday, 24 November 2016

Five Reasons Why It's Not About Things I Don't Like, So Stop Telling Me That It Is

There's this common accusation being thrown around the place a bit like a happy little monkey playing with a pile of faeces : that people are protesting the results of elections just because they don't like them. As though we are no better than naughty children hurlding toys from a pram. I've almost given up, since such people seem hell-bent on ignoring reality, but let me try and explain one last time why this is really, utterly, wrong.



1) Protests Are Inherently Democratic Even When You Lose The Vote, You Twerps

If you really value democracy as you oh-so-conveniently insist that you do, you ought to welcome dissenting opinions. Oh, sorry, did you actually just want a tyranny by majority, not a society which values freedom of thought ? My mistake. Obviously I must have been crazy to assume that I still had the right to protest and disagree when a vote went against my preference. I guess I'm just supposed to swap my moral principles after every vote. Because you lot totally would have accepted any result and not contested it, right ? Oh, wait, you wouldn't. And no-one would have told you that you couldn't, because that's how a democracy is supposed to work. I happen to think that calls for a second Scottish independence referendum are a dreadful idea, but you don't hear me telling Nicola Sturgeon to put up or shut up. And yes, you have the right to tell me I'm just a whiner, but seriously, would it kill you to actually listen to my arguments first ?

I'm not making any claims to respectful discourse with this post. It's more of case of total exasperation because respectful discourse doesn't seem to be having any effect.

2) General Elections Are Not The Same As Referenda So For The Love of God Please Stop Pretending That They Are, And "The Love Of God" Is Just An Expression So Don't Anyone Dare Tell Me I'm A Religious Nutter Or It Shall Go The Worse For You

You don't hear me protesting the results of general elections. I don't go around saying, "PUT THE LABOUR PARTY IN CHARGE EVEN THOUGH THEY LOST THE VOTE !" Why ? Because that would be stupid in a way that protesting the non-binding Brexit referendum isn't. A general election is binding; the only way to overturn the result is through a new election if no party or coalition succeeds in forming a government. The results of a general election can (mostly) be counteracted at the next one anyway, and the complex series of checks and balances limit how much the government can do and largely prevents tyranny by majority. So for the next few years, I continue to have my say as does everyone else, and the results aren't set in stone. There's no need for me to question the validity of the vote itself*, but when the government makes an unpopular choice you most certainly do hear people protesting. And if there's a suspicion of electoral fraud, you get to hear about that too. In both cases you don't hear people saying, "shut up, it's the will of the people".

* Though we do also get plenty of discussion about whether the "first past the post" system makes sense given that it's producing results which are now very different to the popular vote. And that's fine, because reasoned discourse is not the same as saying, "quit your jibber-jabber".

Let me expand on that in the vain hope that it might make a bit of difference. Whereas with a general election my views usually get some level of representation and influence even if my party doesn't win, this doesn't work with the crude nature of a binary referendum choice. So if I don't like the result I've really no option but to protest. It's true that we usually elect governments with less than 50% of the total electorate supporting them - but it's also the case that the opposing views are still represented in Parliament, and such decisions can be reversed a few years later. When, however, I see a legally non-binding decision made by around 37% of the electorate being treated as irrevocably decisive which will do massive economic damage to our country, then why in the world shouldn't I protest ? All I ever hear in response is, "will of the people".

It's an absurdity to take the virtues of democracy to such an extreme. You wouldn't let drunk people vote to jump into a volcano and you wouldn't cry out "will of the people" for a suicide cult. Sorry, but 1.7 million (4%) is not a decisive number considering the level of regret expressed afterwards and the numbers who didn't vote - and no, it's not sensible to pretend that the non-voters are happy with the result either way, because that's putting words in people's mouths and nothing could be less democratic than that. When we have to make a decision as complex as this one, we need much stronger safeguards than in a normal election  - but we've opted for the opposite, choosing to rip out all the seatbelts, neck a bottle of whiskey and floor it in the hopes that a magical wizard will save us, or something.


The depressing thing is that no-one listens to these arguments. They just say "you're being a whiner". Well you're damn right I'm whining. The problem is you're not listening to the reasons why I'm whining.


3) For The Last Bloody Time, Freedom Of Speech Does Not Mean Absolute Freedom From Consequences, You Muppets

There's freedom of speech and then there's being idiotic. Neither democracy nor freedom of speech are virtuous when they're taken to extremes - which in no way whatsoever invalidates their tremendous value in normal circumstances. Just as you wouldn't let drunk people vote to jump in a volcano, you also wouldn't let someone knock down your door and start insisting that you join the Church of Enlightened Dentists. You wouldn't deny the Church of Enlightened Dentists the right to exist (well some of you would) but you'd damn well object if they had rights to come and go wherever they wished. So does a newspaper really have the right to repeatedly print provable lies, or a political campaign the right to print lies on the side of a bus and drive it up and down the country for months on end ? When did freedom of speech become freedom of fraud ? Is that no longer a criminal act ?


4) These Are Not Normal Times

The unusually extreme nature of the stakes in the current crop of political disasters demands an unusual response. We aren't talking about cuts to local libraries or increasing class sizes by 3% here. In the UK, we're talking about breaking up economic and political relations with a massive financial bloc established over decades. You cannot pretend that simply accepting this as, "oh look, the government made another lousy decision but never mind we'll vote 'em out next time" makes any kind of sense. This is a generational decision with profound effects for everyone. It is not the same as a regular parliamentary decision, so please stop pretending that it is.

In America, things are even worse. It's true that reason two does not apply here, so ordinarily I wouldn't be advocating things like the petition to have the electoral college make Hillary Clinton president. In a nutshell, they've chosen a near-insane populist whose campaign was replete with misogyny and racism so blatant that it's energised neo-Nazis. It's absurd to think that this demands the populace simply bow down to the usual disappointment that every losing side experiences at every election, because the possible consequences are just too high. Democracy is complicated - so yes, in some extreme circumstances it does make sense to protest the result of a vote (TLDR version : Hillary won the popular vote !).

Not that I'm suggesting the system is rigged. I'm suggesting that even if the votes are fairly cast and counted, there are some results so extreme they should not be accepted without question.

5) It's Not About Things I Don't Like, It's About Objective Reality

I don't like the new Star Wars movie very much. I also don't like the colour pink or wasps or tomato-flavoured anything, and I'm not overly-fond of peanuts either. Please try and get it through your thick, silly heads that these things are subjective. While I am actually certain that I don't like these things, I can't ever be certain that they are inherently bad. You can't say that tomatoes have an inherently bad flavour, because this is an opinion, not a fact. Sometimes, what starts out as an opinion ("I think that X will happen based on observations of Y") can be transmuted into a fact ("we saw X actually happen and proved that it was due to Y") based on evidence. Other things, like opinions on the virtues of tortoises and daffodils, will remain forever opinions - they are based only on feelings, not evidence.

Some things in politics are very much of the latter category. Others, however, are very much in the realm of evidence-based opinions. For example, the claim that we could leave the E.U. and spend £350 million per week to fund the NHS instead of paying membership fees. This was a particularly well-crafted piece of bullshit, a.k.a. "post-truthism". First, we're not spending that much on E.U. membership anyway. Second, it completely ignores the enormous economic benefits that being an E.U. member brings - the drop in the value of the pound even at the mere prospect of our leaving cost us more than our total membership fees ever had. Third, it mixed evidence-based (though wrong) arguments with a purely subjective opinion : who says we'd spend the membership fees on the NHS ? The Leave campaigners weren't going to be in a position of authority after the vote. This mixture of evidence and opinions creates something that's extremely difficult to refute. Fourth, the reaction of Nigel Farage afterwards is pure, utter bullshit. Not a day had passed before this overblown claim, along with the other major factor of promised immigration controls, were openly admitted by the Brexiteers to be wrong before they were simultaneously trying to blame someone else. The logic here equates simply to aaaaarrrrghhh. You had the whole campaign to distance yourself from these incredibly blatant lies, but you waited until after you won and you market yourself as more credible than the phoney Westminster establishment ????!?!?


Then there's Trumpy McTrumpface. Oh, where to start ? At least Nigel has some principles - i.e. xenophobia - but Trumpy has truly none. As a pure populist, he says whatever it takes to win popularity in his immediate environment. He flip-flops to an unprecedented extreme*. You can't argue with someone who doesn't care what the truth is. You certainly shouldn't vote for them, because you have absolutely no friggin' clue what you're voting for. And again, OK yes, normal elections do feature lies and bullshitting, but to this extent ? To this level of blatant, open admission that both Trumpy and Nigel said they only told little tiny fibs to help them win ? I think not. At least some Trumpy voters have been upset by some of this, whereas some Brexiteers just don't seem to give a damn.

* And somehow it's Clinton who's seen as corrupt and untrustworthy ! Don't get me started... 

So OK, fair enough, there are some aspects of the current situation I don't like because of purely subjective feelings. But there are also a good many reasons I'm complaining which are objective facts. I'm sorry that you don't like them, but facts are facts. Rejecting reality and substituting your own is great on a T-shirt but it's a lousy lifestyle choice. Constantly appealing to racists and assorted other bigots throughout your campaign and then denying you're a racist - oh yes, good job. Well done, you've mastered the art of post-truthism. Yippdee-frickin'-doo.


Conclusion :Aaaaaaarrrrggggghhh.

It's one thing to say I'm whining about the results because I don't like them. That is true, but like all bullshit, completely misses the point. To say I'm only whining because I don't like the results is just plain wrong. In that context, when you tell me to shut up and accept the result, I hear, "I don't want a debate, I want a tyranny by majority". When you tell me that you don't see this behaviour after a normal general election, I hear, "I don't understand that democracy is actually quite complicated and I probably shouldn't be allowed near sharp objects." When you ignore the blatant lies told throughout the campaigns or defend them in the name of freedom of speech, I hear, "It's OK to tell lies to get the result I want". And when you completely ignore objective reality and scream "will of the people !!!" without even listening to the counter-arguments, all I hear is, "I want mob rule !". Oh yay, what a bright and rosy post-truth future we can all look forward to.

No comments:

Post a Comment