Russia’s little green men

So – I quite like playing Civilisation. Probably a bit too much. But one of the things that happens in the game, even when I want to play peacefully (win through culture or science or religion… normally the latter πŸ™‚ is that I get attacked by another player. Which is fine, it is a fun part of the game.

But – assuming I win that fight, and as I get better at the game, that’s what happens more often – at the end of that conflict I have an army. Moreover, that army was expensively accrued, has accumulated lots of XP points, and is cheap to run, especially if they raid or pillage, in which case they become net positives on that asset score.

Of course, I could hold to my original intention and disband the army, but that would be quite a waste of resources.

I ponder this because the risk of Putin winning in the Ukraine is non-trivial (by winning I mean being allowed to continue in possession of some area of Ukrainian land). I think it’s non-trivial because the Western governing classes are generally crap, and because Putin can hold on until Trump comes in, and Trump… well, Trump is Trump. Europe needs to think about it’s own defence.

If Putin wins, he will have a large army. How will he play it?

I think Poland has already worked this out, and at least part of the UK defence establishment is fully on board. It feels like 1938 all over again πŸ™

This is not a conflict in a far away land of which we know nothing. Putin has to lose, and be seen to lose. The sooner the better.

Strengthening the centre

I’m more and more convinced that the most urgent political task of our time is to strengthen the centre against extremes. Which means people of good will coming together, not just affirming where they agree but also clarifying where they disagree, and the nature of that disagreement, and the bounds within which that disagreement functions.

In other words, a process to ‘de-demonise the Other’.

An example – I sometimes refer to myself as a ‘deep green climate sceptic’. The latter two words tend to trigger extreme responses, that eclipse the weight of the first two – which is why I’m persuaded that the argument is basically a religious one (recently bought this, but haven’t read it yet). Yet there is so much that might be agreed upon, and worked towards (eg around transport). Same applies to Brexit of course.

It’s as if we need to re-establish good disagreement (a nod towards Psybertron here, who has been saying this for quite some time) and the rules of civilised discourse. It’s OK to disagree. Of course I could be wrong. And so on.

Just today’s thoughts. I’ll do my best to work towards it.

Inner turmoil

I am in a weird place at the moment.

I haven’t been well – and am still not right – I suspect that after three years of avoiding it I have finally had a dose of Covid. My immune system seems to be ‘cycling’ several times a day, which is why at first I thought it was allergic (gluten or dust or feathers or what-have-you) but it has been nearly three weeks now. I seem to only have about half of my normal energy.

Also, though, and what is taking up much of my attention at the moment, is the situation in Israel and, even more, the protests in London celebrating Hamas (and I think that is a fair description). I’ve thought a lot about Islam in the last couple of decades. I did some academic study of it in Cambridge, and then in my curacy I was in a Muslim majority area at the time of 9/11, and that was rather formative for me. There is a heart of darkness there, and when I ponder it I start to worry that I’m Islamophobic. “What can men do against such reckless hate?”

We are facing a fundamentally spiritual crisis and – channelling MacIntyre – it is our unawareness of the nature of the problem that is the most important part of the problem. Secular thinking has run aground, the only question is what will take its place.

Such horror.

When the bubble becomes a boulder

I’m pretty sure the image wasn’t original to me but it was nearly 12 years ago that I started to think in terms of there being a ‘bubble’ of mainstream opinion, and that I was outside of the bubble. The dimensions of the bubble became obvious to most observers in the UK when the bubble lost the Brexit referendum, and then spent several years trying to overturn the result.

The disconnect between those within the bubble and those outside has only increased over time; that is, the polarisation of views, the increase in the extremity of opinions voiced, the active embrace of previously unthinkable political positions, all of these developments have damaged our body politic, and I see them as unsustainable.

Most especially, the bubble has coalesced around the righteousness of the vaccines and – more in other countries than in England – an embrace of mandates. Before the developments around Covid-19 lockdowns were considered a very poor response to an epidemic virus, now they seem to be a default. A default that the bubble has embraced.

The image that comes to my mind now is that the bubble has become a boulder; those within the bubble are determined to impose their will upon society, and resistance will be crushed – more or less gently according to taste.

The boulder will itself end up smashed to smithereens as it is detached from reality – from the human and political realities most of all, but also – imho – the scientific reality around the vaccines. Time will tell on the latter front.

My concern is about how much damage will be done through that process, and how to mitigate that damage, how to increase the permeability of the bubble and enable communication between those who disagree, most especially with those who cannot see that they are within the bubble. (Yes, we are all within bubbles of some sort or another, that doesn’t negate this point. As has repeatedly been shown, conservatives understand the progressive point of view much more clearly than progressives understand the conservative point of view.) This is something that Psybertron has been writing about for a long time – how to have intelligent dialogue across the divides. A work in progress.

The great green herring of the IPCC

So those who know me know that I’m a dissident, old-fashioned and curmudgeonly sort, β€œafflicted with the malady of thought” – and that applies especially to Green things, where I find myself repeatedly annoyed by what I think of as ‘the great green herring’ of climate change.

I see the IPCC process as simply yet another form of the technological imperialism, the death-complex, that drives out our common humanity in favour of unacknowledged puritanical theologies and self-hatreds (I don’t doubt warming, nor human contributions to that, but all the coverage is about the most unlikely outcome). Fear is the mind-killer.

I like Schumacher’s idea of appropriate level technology, and the importance of the human scale, emphasising our biological and social nature and the importance of what we have in common. That is where we need to concentrate our attention – not with pandering to the fear-factories of modern media because we think that being seen is sufficient.

To put that in concrete terms – our future is not going to be electric cars, nor will it be people riding around on horseback, it will be everyone using a bicycle, and our communities will be geared around that, not the interests of the motorists.

The truth is that no matter what measures are taken to respond to climate change we are not going to be able to carry on in the way that we have been. We are still tracking the ‘world model’ outlined in the Limits to Growth, which means that in ten to fifteen years – AT BEST – we are going to go through a breakdown and collapse.

Personally I think it has already started – and it will solve the climate change problem fully no matter what we do. I first started studying climate change in 1989 – I still have my Greenpeace report on Global Warming on my bookshelf! – but what made me start questioning the orthodoxy was discovering LTG. You can’t be worried about both LTG and climate change – the one cancels the other.

Human life will carry on. Human civilisations will carry on. I think that the UK is well placed (in many senses) for a good future. The only question is how much damage the death-complex will make as it struggles with its own demise. When something is unsustainable that means that it will not be sustained, it will come to an end. Our machine civilisation, this asophic industrial fascism, will come to an end.

I am interested in what comes afterwards. What comes afterwards will be determined by the stories that we tell each other (which is why the Dark Mountain group is so important). I think a healthy story has to be rooted in the greatest story ever told – the only story that leads to long-term, healthy and sustainable communities. It’s also why we need a much better national narrative – more on that another time.

For a sense – a much more effectively-written sense – of what I am on about, have a read of this by Wendell Berry. Our human future begins with a hug.

Click to access Berry-Health-is-Membership.pdf

IDWTSLACP My motte-and-bailey mind

There is a bad form of argument known as the ‘motte-and-bailey’ fallacy. This is derived from the medieval castle system, where there is a motte (mound/castle) that can be defended easily, and a separate area (the bailey) which can’t be defended. In peaceful times the bailey can be used for lots of human activity; in times of conflict the people can retreat to the motte. So in an argument, a position can be advanced which is outlandish (can’t be defended) and the fallacy comes when the person advancing the argument shifts their position to say that they were only advancing a reasonable position (the motte). So it is an example of bad faith, what might be called ‘trolling’ these days.

So what do I mean when I say that I have a ‘motte-and-bailey’ mind? I mean that I will often consider things, and talk about things, without being committed to defending them – they are in the bailey. Whereas some things that I argue for I really AM committed to. I appreciate that this causes problems for other people; it has certainly caused me problems in my own life, when people have thought I was committed to a perspective (my motte) when in fact I was only exploring it (in my bailey).

In considering matters of faith, I have sometimes used the language of a doctrine being ‘weight-bearing’. That is, the Christian faith has many elements within it, and I have grown in my understanding of the faith over time. For many years I took the doctrine of the resurrection on trust – it resided in my bailey, I was still working through it. Eventually it became a part of my core understandings, it ‘took the weight’ in terms of how I live my life, and so it became a part of my motte, my most fundamental commitments. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth, by contrast, is still in the bailey, although it has moved closer to the motte over time.

This sequence of ‘I don’t want to sound like a crazy person’ is me making public those things which I am pondering which are in the bailey. I find them alarming. I don’t want them to be true. I am therefore opening them up to public scrutiny in order to bring them in to the light, to be exposed to criticism, to be tested and examined. I am grateful when people engage with what is in my bailey and say ‘Sam, that’s crap, because X, Y, Z’. I am saddened when people look at what is in the bailey and say variations of ‘you’re a moron’. It may well be true that I’m a moron, but calling me a moron doesn’t help me – and it doesn’t help those who are also considering the same questions.

I think I need to find a way of signalling the level of commitment that I hold to any viewpoints that I choose to discuss. The Less Wrong community have a useful marker – ‘epistemic status’ – which I quite like, but it’s a bit philosophically exact for this blog. Perhaps I can simply continue to use this language, putting ‘this is in my bailey’ or ‘this is part of my motte’ when putting forward an argument. Hopefully that will help to clarify things.

So, for the record – this entire sequence of IDWTSLACP is operating with my bailey. Everything I outline in it could be wrong, and my fundamental convictions would not be affected.

Whereas, when I start talking about the resurrection, and what it means for spiritual warfare and our present political crisis – that will involve a lot of ‘motte-stuff’!

IDWTSLACP – why the crazy conversation is important (OR: why the UK has a more hopeful prospect than the US in the coming years)

One of the dire consequences of our present cultural breakdown is the collapse of a shared space of discourse – a common frame of reference, a mutual framework of values – against which, within which, we can hammer out our differences without threatening the stability, and therefore the safety, of the community as a whole.

One of those shared values is democracy, which has as a necessary component the notion of ‘loser’s consent’. In other words, democracy is the means by which we have agreed to resolve our differences. We make our arguments and then there is an election (or a referendum!) which produces a decision for one path or another, and then there is a gathering around that decision with a common resolve to make the decision work, or apply.

The two shocks in the English-speaking world, of 2016, did not receive that expected loser’s consent. However, the working out of that refusal of consent took a different path in the UK and in the US.

In the UK there was a concerted effort on the part of the governing class to overthrow the verdict of the referendum. However, in contrast to what happened in other EU member states, the governing class was not able to succeed. Through a sequence of further democratic votes, most notably the impact of the Brexit party in the EU elections of 2019, and culminating in the General Election of December 2019, the democratic decision was re-affirmed, Mr Johnson received a mandate for Brexit and – slightly to my surprise – he has actually implemented it.

Please note that this is not an argument saying that Brexit was the ‘right’ decision. This is simply saying that in the UK a democratic verdict was implemented – there was a time of strife but in the end the institutions of the state, the limbs of the body politic, did actually reflect the choice that was made.

(A personal aside: whilst I am – obviously – a committed Brexiteer, it was actually a sense that this needed to happen, that there was a risk of something profoundly wrong and damaging about to take place, that moved me to stick my head up above the parapet with the Brexit Party. That was a terrifying experience on all sorts of levels; but it was the right decision, and, I believe, it was of God. A small but healing (for me) act of prophetic drama.)

This outcome – that the UK voted for Brexit, and the UK has now got Brexit, for better or for worse – gives me a degree of confidence in the future of our society. Our institutions eventually worked, and that means that our institutions continue to enjoy the consent of the population. When things go wrong – as they seem to be doing with our COVID response, whatever your view on the underlying science – then people will turn to the existing systems to remedy what has gone wrong. In other words, if Johnson is eventually considered to be an incompetent and bumbling fool then he will be thrown out of office, either by the Conservative MPs as they face the prospect of losing an election, or by the voters in a General election themselves.

The reason why I think that this is so essential is because I think if it hadn’t happened – if Brexit had been somehow denied by overt and covert means – we would find ourselves in the situation that the United States finds itself in today.

When Trump was elected, against the odds, there was a parallel reaction of the establishment to try and overturn that democratic shift. It took various forms, Russiagate was the most blatant, but there were others. Again, this is not a point in favour of Trump, it is a point about the democratic process. When one side of a democratic context refuses to accept the basic legitimacy of a decision that they did not support, then it is the framework itself that breaks down – and when the framework breaks down then there is no longer a possibility of a consensual future.

In my view, what we are seeing in the United States today is the product of both long-term and short-term factors. The long-term factors need not detain us now (see MacIntyre amongst others) but the short-term factors are quite straightforward. The deplorables have been demonised, and they have demonised in turn. Trump was denied legitimacy, and now Biden is denied legitimacy. Consent in the democratic process is being withdrawn, and that withdrawal is escalating. Place this into a context of cultural polarisation and add free access to automatic weapons, then stir.

I am very worried about the short-term (up to five years) future of the United States. I do not see how to get through the crisis that now obtains without things getting significantly worse, up to and including a degree of civil conflict, and possibly the secession or breakdown of the United States itself.

If there is to be a shared future – and this applies to the UK also, even though I hope and pray that we have now avoided the worst outcomes – then I believe there are two linked things that simply must be put in place. The first relates to political leadership, the second relates to how ordinary people conduct themselves with each other.

Political leaders must demonstrate honesty. The normal jostling for advantage, the reliance upon ‘spin’ to present events in a light that is most flattering to the speaker, these belong to a more luxurious and decadent age. We need plain speaking, frank admissions of what has gone wrong, what the true situation is. Leaders need to trust people again – and that cannot happen if the full truth of a situation is not disclosed.

Similarly, if there is to be a renewal of our shared cultural space there needs to be an acceptance of the legitimacy of difference. To denounce different perspectives as malicious – which is what happened in the Brexit debates – and fail to engage in the substance is part of the cultural breakdown that leads to greater conflict.

One might say: if there is to be reconciliation between the warring factions, that reconciliation can only be built upon a shared truth.

Which is why the ‘crazy’ questions simply must be addressed. They must be engaged with, patiently, and the truth must be excavated and brought out into the light. It will not do to repeat talking points shared on the one side or the other. There must be a recognition of the sincerely held beliefs held by those who oppose. There has to be an affirmation of the shared humanity of the other side. Without this there is only perpetual conflict and dissolution.

I am hopeful that the UK has been enabled by grace to find that more creative path. On this day of Epiphany, the light that enlightens the nations, I pray for the US – an amazing nation, a beautiful people – currently in the grip of a devilish crisis. Lord have mercy.

IDWTSLACP – the COVID pandemic in the UK has (probably) run its course

My views updated here; this post left otherwise unchanged for reasons of historical accuracy…. and humility πŸ˜‰

So a little while back, my son sent me a link to a James Delingpole interview with Mike Yeadon. I don’t listen to podcasts much, for the same reason that I don’t watch Youtube videos much – I find them an inefficient use of my intellectual bandwidth, as I can absorb information much more effectively by reading. However, I have something of a resolution to do more physical exercise (especially yoga) and it turns out that listening to a podcast matches up quite nicely with stretching my tired limbs during the day (much study leads to a weariness of the flesh and all that).

So, Yeadon argues – and he’s got a fair bit of authority from which to argue – that COVID is a real and horrible virus, and that it became endemic in the UK in April. However, as a virus, there is no such thing as a ‘second wave’ – they don’t exist. Viruses spread through a population following a Gompertz curve – all of them, without exception. Any rise in infection after that first wave peaking in April comes from where there are pockets of population that were not exposed earlier.

In addition, Yeadon argues that the testing regime that we have put in place isn’t just useless, it is actively counter-productive. He argues that we don’t have an epidemic of the virus, we have an epidemic of testing. We don’t know what the false-positive rate is for the tests, nor do we have assurance that those ministering the tests are competent to do so. Essentially, if the virus is really as widespread as believed – and has the effects that are believed by those advocating a continued lockdown – then there would need to be other evidence in addition to the testing. Which, allegedly, there isn’t. Certainly not much in terms of overall death rate or hospital admissions (see work by Joel Smalley).

I would have thought that if Yeadon is wrong then it would be fairly straightforward to show that he is wrong. His claims about the nature of virus epidemiology, for example, which he states as ‘axioms’ and learned in the first year of a degree – and which undermine most of the press coverage of COVID – are either true or not. So I’m looking out for a refutation of his arguments.

In the meantime I will happily follow the recommended advice; I will wear a mask when out in public; we will not sing in church services; and so on and so forth. Yet all the while I shall also become more and more persuaded that we have, more by cock-up than conspiracy, ended up in the absurd position of sacrificing lives when we thought we were saving them, and I wonder more and more – what will follow ‘following the science’ once it is shown that ‘following the science’ has caused such needless havoc and pain?

IDWTSLACP – The Democrats (probably) fixed that election

So here is the issue that prompted me to start writing this sequence. From what I have read, there is a prima facie case that the Democratic party machine fixed the November 2020 election. In addition, the way in which the Mainstream Media (MSM) have covered the issue has demonstrated that they are not concerned with the truth – and the way in which FB (which I hate) and Twitter (which I love) have engaged with the issue renders them morally compromised at the very least.

Why am I saying this? Where’s the evidence? Well, keep in mind that, as I have said before, Evidence β‰  Proof and if you sincerely want to examine the evidence, then the evidence is here.

What tipped the balance for me was the discovery that almost all the ‘bellwether counties’ called the election wrongly this year. I would love to see a probabilistic assessment of how likely it is for this to happen. It is such an unprecedented event that it would need (absent fraud) to be included in a wider narrative of election success. In other words, if this remarkable result were the consequence of a wide political embrace of Biden (or rejection of Trump) then many other things would also be the case. For example, Biden would need to outperform the results that Clinton achieved. Biden would have needed to have done that consistently across the United States and not just in the swing states. And so on.

So far as I can tell, these things did not happen. The remarkable achievements of Mr Biden seem to be associated most closely with the results obtained in Democrat governed swing states (not exclusively – eg Georgia).

None of this is to say that the people making these arguments are not lunatics. It’s because they seem to be lunatics – and engaging in blunderbuss legal applications riddled with errors – that I came up with the theme for this sequence. Yet, just because they are lunatics doesn’t mean that the election wasn’t fiddled.

There is something very wrong here. I’d love to read a psephological analysis (looking at you Peter Ould) as to how in fact is is perfectly plausible for Biden to have achieved what he achieved, especially with regard to the bellwether counties. Until and unless I do, I shall continue to find myself in the epistemic company of the crazies, nervously looking at my feet.

Update 10/1/21 – I’ve continued to dig, and found some good websites with the information that I was after. This lawsuit (against one of the key crazy people) is especially informative. I would now rewrite the headline as ‘the election almost certainly wasn’t fixed’. I’d want to keep some element of doubt, but that’s a personality quirk of mine, stemming from a theological and philosophical training – the only absolute is God.

I’m keeping the original post – and original post title – in place, to encourage my epistemic humility.