Monday 12 January 2015

Becoming intolerant

Alarmingly I've been accused of morphing into a liberal. It ain't so. If anything I've become more misanthropic and more intolerant. Particularly intolerant to tribalists and dogmatists having argued with Ukipists for the last year. These are particularly ugly traits, which are not unique to Ukip, and knowing I am capable reverting to my libertarian type, I make more of an effort these days to question and revisit things I have held to be true for a long time. I do have my own utopian libertarian ideal which inform and guide my thinking, but I also have to acknowledge that, despite what many say, I do live on Planet Earth, and the world is never going to come close to conforming to my ideals.

Debating with dogmatists I've found is wholly pointless. They don't want to engage, they don't want to think. They're not interested in policy, nor are they interested in understanding the problems. Their only wish is assert their world view and impose it upon the issue. It's a dialogue of the deaf. People satisfied that their received wisdom from florid contrarian polemics written by self-important hacks can be applied to any problem come what may.

Each side of these debates has their own orthodoxies and you may as well be conversing with a chatbot. Suggest that we might want to look again at price controls directed at under-age drinking or suggest that a targeted policy of progressive taxes to prevent land banking and all of a sudden I become a nanny statist and a socialist. Suggest that Charlie Hebdo was a quasi-racist shit-rag and totally hypocritical and all of a sudden I become an apologist for terrorists seeking to blame the victim. Suggest that EU regulation on energy efficiency in household appliances might mitigate negative externalities in energy supply and all of a sudden I'm an interventionist europhile. I've even been accused of being far-left this week.

How tedious. I'm actually none of those things. We happen to live in a complex world where things work better with a bit of organisation and standardisation and we accept that global trade, while it may not necessitate global government, it certainly requires governance of a sort - and so does life on a civic level. We didn't drastically reduce housefires and car accident fatalities by accident - and those safety features that make a head on collision survivable these days... that's regulation at work.

From the camber of the roads to the diameter of manholes, everything is regulated. It's invisible government, and it's all around us - and far from being burdensome red tape, it is that which facilitates more freedoms by way of having a safer, cleaner life where things work a bit better. Londoners enjoy cleaner air all the time. That didn't happen by accident. You can buy food absolutely anywhere and in most instances you won't get food poisoning. That didn't happen by accident either.

None of this requires you to surrender any liberty worth going to the barricades over. But unfortunately all this stuff is rather dull and it requires knowing things about stuff, and having arduous debates about minutia that most of us rightly can't be bothered with. But that libertarian streak that routinely says do nothing at all is often the lazy answer, because it's the one ideology that gives an individual a license not to think. It gives them the air of intelligence without actually possessing any. Like Esther Rantzen's dog, it has been trained to sound like it is saying "sausages" but isn't actually consciously asking for sausages.

There are some instances where doing nothing is probably preferable to doing something, but one should only consider that as a solution among many solutions and each should be assessed according to merit. That process of decision making is called "politics". It's not sexy, it's not even interesting at times and it doesn't always revolve around the loftier principles of state vs liberty. It's about whether I order a wheel-nut from Germany and it fitting on the car I ordered from Japan.

But we can't have those debates on singular matters or there would never be any time to do anything else. So we accept in the common good we will surrender some points of detail in the interest of securing agreements. This isn't interventionism or socialism. It's about getting things to work on a common framework so we're free to apply our time to more meaningful and useful pursuits. It's not much different to automating a production line with robots.

But when it comes to social policy, particularly in the wake of terrorism, people really do show their true colours. Some are quick to blame Islam, some are quick to blame the cartoonists, and some would blame Israel for even the weather this afternoon. And in the case of this weeks events, it's one of those times where to some extent everybody is has a piece of the puzzle - but it takes debate to put it all together.

Bizarrely I have been chastised for even suggesting we look into the Algerian civil war aspect, or indeed other matters of context. There is a dogmatic instance from people, who supposedly believe in intellectual enquiry, who are keen to put roadblocks in front of those in the process of learning. They have a vested interest in preventing you from reaching any conclusion but their own preordained opinion. I seldom ever join the chorus of mainstream opinion because it's usually wrong, but even when it isn't I find exploring some of the finer details on a tangent can often muddy the waters in ways that stimulate debate.

I suppose this is why I have so few allies except for the four or so people who have the first idea what I'm getting at. But I do like the idea that people rush to decide I'm wrong before I've even made my own mind up. Speculation is evidently pre-crime.

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