In the mind of the body politic

Four articles that have helped me understand

These have been very trying times. When the UK voted to leave the European Union I was having a good time in two of Britain's former dominions. I was utterly shocked, surprised and depressed. I still am, in a way. I refused to discuss it with anyone over there unless they also allowed me to bring the US presidential campaign into the discussion, and mostly they saw my point.

Which was: if the Brits could vote to the leave the EU -- which all the experts, as opposed to talking heads, believe could be bad economically, culturally, everything -- it is entirely possible that come November, the Americans could vote for the presumptive Republican nominee, as he was at the time.

Only one thing was clear, although I could not articulate it: these voters and the people they followed were not simply stupid.

Actually understanding what was going on, however, was much more difficult. Nobody seemed to know anything. In the past week, however, I have read four long, cogent, persuasive and very informative pieces that have helped me to understand a bit better what seems to be happening. There's no way I could précis their arguments, and in any case to do so would be to do the authors a disservice. So here they are, with one representative quote.

I hope someone finds them useful.

1 Expertise

The death of expertise by Tom Nichols, is not new, but it is new to me.

The death of expertise is a rejection not only of knowledge, but of the ways in which we gain knowledge and learn about things. Fundamentally, it’s a rejection of science and rationality, which are the foundations of Western civilization itself. Yes, I said “Western civilization”: that paternalistic, racist, ethnocentric approach to knowledge that created the nuclear bomb, the Edsel, and New Coke, but which also keeps diabetics alive, lands mammoth airliners in the dark, and writes documents like the Charter of the United Nations.

2 Brexit

Having re-established the value of expertise, I found some solace in Ian Dunt's explainer Everything you need to know about Theresa May’s Brexit nightmare in five minutes. It took a lot longer than five minutes, but I found it well worthwhile. I'm still not happy, or even optimistic, but ...

Leaving the EU is one thing, the actual deal you get is quite another. And Theresa May is about to try and solve arguably the most dangerous puzzle in international relations.

3 History

History tells us what may happen next with Brexit & Trump by Tobias Stone reminds us that we have seen this sort of thing before, and it doesn't often end well.

Ignoring and mocking the experts , as people are doing around Brexit and Trump’s campaign, is no different to ignoring a doctor who tells you to stop smoking, and then finding later you’ve developed incurable cancer. A little thing leads to an unstoppable destruction that could have been prevented if you’d listen ed and thought a bit. But people smoke, and people die from it. That is the way of the human.

There is a newer piece responding to some comments, but I haven't read it yet.

All of which brings me to the final piece, by Jonathan Haidt

4 What to do?

I've had a lot of time for Jonathan Haidt ever since I came across The Happiness Hypothesis back when I had real need of happiness. He's come in for a bit of flack for trying to understand the right wing instead of just mocking them, so who better to help make sense of what is going on as so many countries apparently righteously lurch behind demagogues. When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism is a fascinating, informative, slightly terrifying read.

No quote; it is too hard to choose one. But here's the subtitle:

And how moral psychology can help explain and reduce tensions between the two.


Most likely I would never have seen these articles for myself. Each one is published in a place I would not normally look. So I am really thankful to the people who shared them, on ADN, on Pinboard and on Twitter. Collecting them here is my contribution.

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