Saturday, 24 August 2013

UKIP, Nigel Farage, populist politics

This interview with Nigel Farage was a slightly peculiar read.  It's hardly that surprising that a populist politician is, in person, affable and good company - that's really his purpose in life.

He's often praised for his 'refreshing honesty' but I think 'honesty' is the wrong word entirely.  He's refreshingly candid, sure.  He certainly provides a stark contrast to other politician's default mode of robotic soundbite-spewing.  As an outsider who shows just how homogeneous and monotonous the rest of our politicians have become he has value.

However, no amount of blokey affability should distract from the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of his politics.  He's a Little Englander through and through and the fact that there are a lot of those about doesn't make it any better.

Nature as 'beyond the human'

The concept of nature as 'what is non-human' or 'beyond human influence' no longer makes any sense. It's a remnant of theology. If you believe humans to have perishable bodies but immortal souls then we are part natural, part supernatural. If you believe that our consciousness, our thought, our reason, our morality, etc. are part of our souls then it makes sense to separate them from 'nature.' If we're made in god's image then it makes perfect sense to see the rest of existence as apart from (and perhaps subservient to) us.

Of course, few actually believe in such nonsense these days (or few would admit to doing so) but our concept of nature still derives from just such a separation.

We can't 'intervene' in nature - we're already part of it. Our influence on the climate is not any more existentially profound than an abnormally large bloom of algae or something. Of course, unlike algae, we have an understanding and awareness of what we are doing but that capacity for consciousness is itself internal to nature - one of its more remarkable products.

Human beings are fully natural beings, just like any other. Given modern understandings of existence 'nature' can only be a synonym for 'reality' or 'the universe.' In other words, it covers everything and as such has no real meaning. As something 'other than the human' it is nonsensical.

Some comments on scientific consensus, climate cynics, peer review

Science is majoritarian. There is no 'vote' as such but how else can controversies be decided? By magic? They're decided, temporarily, when most scientists agree on them - until something else happens to change the consensus.

The trick is that minority views, if they are true, must find a way to become the majority view by providing convincing evidence and argument. This never happens all at once or without struggle but a strong enough case will win out in the end.

The fact that climate sceptics/cynics are a minority doesn't mean that they're wrong. The fact that they continue to be a minority and have no actually convincing evidence or arguments - that means that they're wrong.

It's most frustrating people say 'peer reviewed' as if it meant 'scientifically certified.'  'Peer review' in a general sense doesn't end at publication. Scientists continually review, reproduce,reinforce and criticise other scientist's work. That's where scientific objectivity comes from.

The Peer Review stage of publication is only the first step. It only guarantees that a paper is worthy of wider attention, debate and scrutiny, not that it's flawless and unassailable.

'Peer review' in a general sense can go on for years, decades, centuries even. When a previously accepted idea is overturned that is because peers have reviewed it and convinced themselves through experimentation and argument that another set of observations or another interpretation of the facts is superior.

David Miranda, apologism, double standards

Cases like the David Miranda detention really bring the political worms out of the woodwork.  There's always a reserve army of right-wingers ready and willing to defend the indefensible.

It's annoying that Louise Mensch is still considered a legitimate voice in British politics but she's an excellent weathervane for the younger, more PR savvy right-wingers in the world.   Like their elders, their capacity for entirely unabashed hypocrisy is amazing.

They're the kind of people who think that the government can't be trusted to run schools and hospitals but can be trusted to have unlimited powers of detention, powers to gag the press, to wage illegal wars and to abduct, torture and assassinate people willy-nilly. That stuff's all fine but trust them to collect and spend taxes on public services - hang on now!!! That's tyranny!!!!

Ed Miliband and 'weakness'; David Cameron and reptilian smarminess

All corners of the media have been beating the 'Ed Miliband is a weak leader' drum for the past few weeks, the Guardian in particular.  Just a lazy, late summer copy filling exercise or evidence of a deeper ideological agenda?  Maybe a bit of both.

What does Ed Miliband have to do to prove that he's a 'strong leader'? Unleash a guttural roar during PMQs, tearing his suit in half, beating his chest while he chants out all those who have crossed him and shall be torn to shreds by army of genetically modified party whips?  Much of the media acts like even this wouldn't be enough.

When Cameron is incapable of controlling his Eurosceptic backbenchers does he get called a 'weak leader'? Well, sometimes, by the Telegraph, but not like Miliband does. A little bit of dissent within the Labour party and everyone says that Miliband is a simpering little weakling without the spine for politics. Massive, constant dissent within the Tory party and - what? - what do we hear? Not a peep. Why the double standard?

It's all because Cameron is precisely the kind of smarmy, reptilian leader that we expect from our political class. It's not that he's 'strong' as such; it's that he embodies the political stereotype and anyone who doesn't fit into that narrow little box isn't seen as being leader material.

I'm not a huge Ed Miliband fan but the way he gets treated is infuriating.  It's as though all the media just wants Blair back - although I suppose that'd give tired hacks something to write about.

Conspiracy theories are satanic

The recent network crashes of the Nasdaq stock exchange systems have prompted some to see conspiracies at work; shadowy cabals causing the breakdowns to further their malevolent agendas, and so on.

Scary stuff.  But isn't it scarier to think that nobody is actually in control and everyone is flying blind?  That these crashes really are the result of technical apparatuses that are too complex to be controlled or maintained?

Conspiracy theories are actually reassuring because they suggest that there is some uber-intelligence orchestrating everything - it might be easier to believe in an evil Plan than to face up to telos-less nothingness.

Conspiracy theorists are satanists in the sense that they believe that God exists and that He's evil.

A theo-political atheist must acknowledge that there are conspiracies, cabals and so on in this world but realise, furthermore, that they too are struggling against randomness, contingency and surprise - they just happen to be rather good at it.

Reading Group on Latour's Modes

This blog has been pretty quiet lately.  I've not felt like I've had much to say.  However, I've gotten involved with the reading group for Latour's An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence and just had two pieces I've written posted up there - a summary of the introduction and first chapter and a rather biting critique of Latour's definition of 'the Moderns.'

I won't reproduce the posts here for now but please feel free to take a look at the group and join in if you so wish.  It's being very ably organised by Adam Robbert of the Knowledge Ecology blog.  Adam's contact details are here if you want to join in, or if you just want to read and comment that's fine too.