Expertease II: governing principles

Towards the end of last week I made a post about ancient history: the .com bust, and thus shed some of the bile that’s been corrupting my conscience since it happened. I’m still in debt as a direct result of being fucked over not once, but twice, by companies which were mis-managed during the .com boom. The MDs of the companies in question, by the way, cleared not less than $20million each. But that post was merely an example of a type of thinking which is particularly obvious in boom-and-bust economics of the modern, oligarchic variety. My primary concern here is that public servants are beginning to imitate the flaws, as well as the benefits, of private enterprise. Governments are starting to publicly ignore their experts. This is concerning both because it means our nations are being mismanaged but also because of the message it sends to the electorate. Every time Bush, Brown or Sarkozy perpetrates one of these fiascos, another swathe of the population will buy into the lie that opinions are more important than facts, and that politics are more important than policy.

A classic example from modern history is the current war in Iraq. Every expert in the system told W. that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. They all said that destabilising one of the few Islamic regimes where women could wear jeans and go to University was a bad idea. They all said that it could be this generation’s Vietnam. And he said “Change the data till it says what I want it to say.” He did the same thing with stem cell research. He did the same thing with climate change…

Why hire experts and then not listen to them?

And now Gordon Brown has started doing it too, most noticeably in the realms of civil liberties and prohibition. Every expert consulted, geek, civil servant or law enforcement officer, told the government that the National ID Database would be hideous, expensive, marginally useful if at all and subject to such heinous levels of abuse that it was a terminally bad idea. [1] They’re still trying to push it through. Every independent expert consulted, on either side of the Atlantic, in the last thirty years has said that both the personal and the social harm caused by marijuana is measurably, quantifiably, and hugely smaller than the damage caused by either alcohol or tobacco, let alone both. And yet, the government has just re-classified marijuana as a Class B substance. The policeman who searched me at the train station yesterday pointed this out in an apologetic manner, as an excuse for having to fine me or jail me should he find anything: as opposed to having the discretion to issue a formal warning, which he would have preferred to do. (He didn’t find anything). And even though their own expert has clearly said, based on scientific data and analysis, that Ecstasy should be downgraded, the government’s only response is to tell him he’s exceeded his authority, and that they will certainly ignore him.

What!? So, even in the British scientific establishment, being right isn’t enough if you don’t conform to the government’s expectations? The facts don’t matter if the government don’t like them? I thought we were better than that, goddamit!

That got me wondering why things have changed, and I started seeing some patterns. To start with, New Labour have consistently been more inclined to the one man, one idea, one religion view than any British political party since Palmerston. The fact that Blair had to deal with Bush has reinforced that: Blair was handed a shitty stick and told to stir the world up or he’d lose his favoured trading partner status. But I think he kinda liked it, too. I think he was all in favour of the governing principle that the facts should say what we want them too.

Secondly, it seems clear to me that Labour’s recent, and vigorous, swing to the right is simply electioneering. There’s going to be an election. The Conservatives have a good chance of winning it, because the country have gotten pretty pissed off with Labour: if not because they ignored us, or because they failed us, then because they deliberately screwed us. Labour are scared, and Brown, personally, is scared because if he loses this election his life in politics is over, and he’ll have spent most of it in another man’s shadow. So Labour are trying to take away Conservative election issues by implementing them before the election.

Think about it. National ID will help us prevent terror (except that it won’t): that’s a campaign aimed squarely at Daily Mail readers. The Conservatives can’t win votes among the elderly middle class by saying they’ll reclassify cannabis to Class B if Labour have already done it. Labour certainly can’t lower the classification of Ecstasy this close to an election. “Soft on crime, Soft on drugs!” sound familiar to anyone?

Now, surely, surely, there’s something wrong with this picture? Isn’t the point of having multiple parties that each one will fight for the principles they believe in, and to implement the policies the believe in? Surely, it shouldn’t be possible to cause a left-wing party to deliberately implement draconian right-wing policies just because it’s useful for staying in power? … Ah, I think I see the flaw in my analysis.

Western politics for the last two generations has been dominated by the siege mentality of the Cold War. America has finally, with the election of Barack Obama, shed a little of the influence of that Us’n’Them world view. He’s a post-Cold-War president, and he was elected on the back of the largest turn-out of the under-30 voting demographic in recent US election history. America finally has a chance to start moving forward, rather than being tied to the ideals of the 1950s by the chains of habit, hatred, and hide-bound thinking. Britain is not, in fact, overwhelmingly conservative. We’re just pissed off with New Labour. A lot of us want an actual labour party, a party that represents the largest part of the work force (ie. those who do not sit on boards and are under 40). The Conservatives are at risk of winning because it’s almost impossible to govern well for more than 10 years (and Labour haven’t): and because there is simply no viable alternative. And therefore, the politics of the country are being pushed much further to the right than they need to be, because Labour are trying to undermine conservative platform issues in an attempt to hold power just a little longer.

So we’re unlikely to fix things this election. The country will be swung to the right whether we like it or not, because the Conservatives can’t hold their ground when Labour are eating it, and the only place left for them to go is further to the right. The generation who are currently 20-something, the Internet and mobile-phone generation, are overwhelmingly socially liberal in my experience of them: even if a very healthy chunk of them are also xenophobes, and financially conservative. The people who are going to win the battles of that political generation over the next twenty years are the people from within that generation who start getting organised now. Infiltrate the major parties, like Blair and Brown in the 80s. Start your own party. Turn one of the minor parties into a major party. But start doing something, because if we don’t start now then by 2024 we will be like America: a political spectrum from far right to moderate right with no actual voice on the left at all.

And start listening to your experts, as well.

[1] For a more comprehensive treatment of the issue, I can but recommend NO2ID.


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