An ancient fable to explain the 2016 election

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC; the alabaster mantle is a modern addition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A horse was in sole occupation of a meadow. A stag having come and done much damage to the pasture, the horse, wishing to avenge himself on the stag, asked a man whether he could help him to punish the stag.

The man consented, on condition that the horse submitted to the bit and allowed him to mount him javelins in hand.

The horse agreed to the terms and the man mounted him, but instead of obtaining vengeance on the stag, the horse from that time became the man’s slave.

So then,” said he, “do you take care lest, in your desire to avenge yourselves on the enemy, you be treated like the horse.

You already have the bit, since you have chosen a dictator; if you give him a body-guard and allow him to mount you, you will at once be the slaves of Phalaris.”[1]

[1] Aristotle. Rhetoric Book 2 Chapter 20 section 5 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0060:book=2:chapter=20&highlight=body%2Cguard

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Obama, Christie and Trump: a study in statesmanship (revised)**

English: , U.S. Attorney, Governor-elect of Ne...

English: , U.S. Attorney, Governor-elect of New Jersey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This is a revised version of the post. For the reasons see the bottom of the post)

In ancient Greece, the statesman was often contrasted with the tyrant. A statesman ruled for the common good; the tyrant ruled for a private good.[1] The statesman has a valid title to rule; the tyrant lacks such a title or legitimacy.[2] The statesman is a friend to those he governs; the tyrant rules more by coercion than persuasion and is content to view those he dominates as enemies.[3] The statesman seeks justice; the tyrant embodies injustice. The statesman acts moderately as he controls his appetites; the tyrant is marked by extremism with an inability to control his appetites. Beyond these broad themes, there is a specific difference with how these two types of rulers act in a particular situation–who they befriend while in office.

Plato’s Gorgias offers an insight into friendship and justice.

In the Gorgias, Plato describes the way rulers seek to avoid injustice by seeking justice whereby the moderate seek to befriend the moderate and avoid the immoderate. Moreover, they seek to encourage the immoderate to be moderate and treat each other, with equality. For democratic politicians, like the president, this is an almost daily task. They meet with their constituents, fellow politicians, or those they want to become their followers. Their constituents are not necessarily their supporters nor are they their opponents. Often, they are people who meet the president on some special occasion or through his official duties. In these small moments, often out of the view of the press but sometimes captured by them, we see how presidents treat those who are not like them. The president often makes friends most easily with those he understands or sees as his equals and treats as his equals. Sometimes, but not always, they may not share his vision, or they simply seek to benefit from him. A president who is comfortable with the public can make friends equally with the powerful as well as the weakest or most vulnerable for he sees no difference between them. For others, though, the strong are to be courted and the weak to be avoided since the former can hurt them and the latter cannot help them. How a president approaches the strong, the weak, and their equals reflects their character and indicates whether they are closer to being statesman or a tyrant.

Plato’s Gorgias tells us more about Trump than we may want to know.

A particular passage in the Gorgias (510c-d)[4] illustrates this point. Plato describes, through an exchange between Socrates and Callicles, how, in contrast to a statesman, the tyrant behaves. In this exchange, we learn some lessons about how Obama ruled and see the potential for how Trump is likely to rule.

Socrates: Then wherever a brutal and uneducated tyrant is the rule, won’t he surely be afraid of anyone in the city who is far better than him, and wont he be quite unable to become a friend to him with all his mind?

Callicles: That’s so.

Socrates: And if someone is far worse than himself, he won’t be a friend either; for the tyrant, will despise him, and never treat him seriously as he would treat a friend.

Callicles: That’s true too.

Socrates: Then the only friend to such a man worth consideration who’s left is whoever has a similar character, blames and praises the same things, and is willing to be ruled by the ruler and to be subject to him. This man will have great power in this city; no one will do injustice against him without being sorry for it. Isn’t it so?

Callicles: Yes.

Socrates: then suppose some young man in this city thought “how might I win great power so that no one does injustice to me?” Apparently, this is the road for him; he must accustom himself from you to enjoy and hate the same things as the tyrant, and manage to be as like the tyrant as possible. Is that the way?

Callicles: Yes

If we consider this exchange and compare it with how Obama, Chris Christie, and Trump interacted, we see a lesson in the difference between statesmanship and tyranny. In the differences, we get an insight into their character and how they rule. Moreover, we see a lesson for Trump’s son Barron.

Obama is Trump’s superior.

The first exchange describes Obama and Trump’s meeting after Trump’s victory. In the videos of the meeting, Trump looked ill at ease. As many commentators noted, Trump had a lot to learn about the presidency.[5] Trump recognized that Obama was his superior[6] and Trump didn’t want to be Obama’s friend. Trump’s failure to intimidate him with his Roy Cohn’s methods, showed Obama’s character.[7] Obama showed what Trump lacks–grace under pressure.[8]

Christie is Trump’s inferior and Trump humiliates him for it.

The second exchange captures how Trump treated Chris Christie. Trump humiliated him on several occasions.[9] Trump did not see him as an equal. [10] Christie was rival who had lost. Moreover, other Republicans disdained him. As Mike Kelly explained, many Republicans believed that Christie had betrayed his party and his country when he appeared to support Obama. Christie needed Obama’s help after Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey.[11] When Obama’s visited, he treated Christie as an equal. He treated him as a friend in need. In response, Christie’s relief was plain to see.[12] The photos appeared to capture an embrace between the men, for which Christie was seen as a traitor.[13] Republican critics argued he should have put party loyalty and loyalty to Mitt Romney before his people or his country.

Birds of a feather flock together especially when they can settle scores.

The third exchange we see the way that Bannon, Kushner, and Flynn have joined with Trump for they see this as a way to gain power. They are men of a similar character who praise what he praises and blame what he blames. Above all, this role, allows them to indulge the most tyrannical desire—to dominate others. They want to have the power to harm their enemies and help their friends. In their respective roles, they can wield great power for they become an extension of the President. They can use, or usurp, the office’s power and prestige, and the ingrained institutional legitimacy, to pursue their feuds, deals, and schemes. Trump learned these lessons from Roy Cohn who taught him how to be an unjust man and do it legally. Trump remains proud of the way that Cohn would brutalize people on his behalf[14]. If we look closely, we can see a similar approach by Trump’s inner circle although they seek less publicity. Take, for example, Jared Kushner and his relationship with Chris Christie. Once we understand the background, we can see that the Christie humiliations come into sharp relief. Chris Christie was a U. S. Attorney who helped to prosecute Charles Kushner, Jared Kushner’s father.[15] Trump will have humiliated Christie to settle the score for Kushner. The same can be seen with Lt. General, Michael Flynn who is the president’s National Security Advisor. He has scores to settle in Washington.[16] To be sure, politics has always been a way to settle scores without recourse to violence.[17] However, what is different here is that it appears an overriding aim of Trump and his inner circle. Their first concern is with revenge and only secondarily, if at all, to understand the common good or to see justice.

Barron has a chance to save his democratic soul.

In the final section, we see the lesson for Barron. For Trump’s other children, the lesson is impractical as they are already initiated into his life. Their characters are already formed. For Eric and Don Jr, they already believe they have great power so they are less worried someone will try to inflict an injustice on them. In New York, they have grown up within their father’s domain so they already know privilege, power, and the ability to hurt their enemies. They are Roy Cohn’s stepsons for they already know how to wield a certain type of power.[18] The lesson here is for Barron. In this case, it refers to any child of America’s powerful.

As Plato wrote in book 9 of the Republic, the tyrannical man is born of a democratic father. In this case, America’s democratic sons as symbolized by Barron, have been indulged with democratic freedom, which has nourished their belief that nothing is outside of their erotic longing. We see financial, sexual, and political excesses indulged through the global economic system based on the world wide digital systems. Even though his father (the generation that still displays an oligarchic thrift) tries to restrain such indulgences, it’s not good for business, the wider society indulges the desire for lawlessness. In many ways, Trump’s advisors, such as Bannon and Conway, encourage that lawlessness for they plant in the democratic son’s (not Barron personally, Barron as America’s sons) the longing that long denied pleasures can and will be enjoyed. You can be a supremacist. Your natural and political superiority has been denied too long. Liberal laws have kept you from being a man. You no longer have to be constrained by “politically correct” manners. You have been denied your place by foreigners who threaten the global economic and digital system that feeds your luxurious consumption.

If America’s democratic sons learn the wrong lessons from Trump’s time in the White House, they will want to become politically like his father and his drones. For the Barrons (not the actual Barron Trump) the challenge will be to separate his father, as father, from his father as a political man. If they can, then they can resist the drones siren songs and develop a democratic soul.[19] To do this, though, they needs to see America as a democratic nation. They needs to see that in America equality creates justice. They need to escape the political ethos where dominance and subservience define justice.[20] Unlike the other children, they can escape Roy Cohn’s influence.[21] As Thucydides wrote over 2600 years ago, the strong rule the weak and only between political equals is there justice.[22] In 1776, America was founded on the belief, hope, experiment, that a people govern themselves as equals. America is founded on the hope that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, would ensure justice derived from political equality. America would be a nation where the strong do not rule the weak for all citizens are equal before the law. America’s democratic sons still have time to learn this lesson.[23]

**(Following criticism that the post focused on Barron Trump unfairly, I have revised the last section to clarify its meaning.)

[1] For a good discussion of the idea of statesmanship see Wendell John Coats, Statesmanship: Six Modern Illustrations of a Modified Ancient Ideal Susquehanna University Press,1995.

See also Plato Statesman translated by C. J. Rowe in Plato: Complete works edited by John M. Cooper p.294

“The ‘statesman’—in Greek the politikos, whence the Latinized title Politicus by which the dialogue is alternatively known—is understood from the outset as the possessor of the specialist, expert knowledge of how to rule justly and well—to the citizens’ best interests—in a ‘city’ or polis, directing all its public institutions and affairs.”

[2] See for example, Leo Strauss On Tyranny: Corrected and Expanded Edition, Including the Strauss-Kojève edited by Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth, p.75 fn51.

[3] See Robert W. Hall Plato Vol IX Political Thinkers edited by Geraint Perry p. 81  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gEEio0_s2V0C&pg=PA81&lpg=PA81&dq=statesman+persuades+tyrants+coerce&source=bl&ots=ORbZehzSvP&sig=pCaogPnIqwtiDFO4qGpWnbC0IX8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj35dK42NTRAhXHvBoKHWCsCygQ6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q=statesman%20persuades%20tyrants%20coerce&f=false

[4] Plato, Gorgias, Translated with Notes by Terence Irwin, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1979.

[5] https://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/obama-trump-help-transition

[6] Their body language tells a story. http://metro.co.uk/2016/11/11/body-language-expert-tells-us-what-trump-and-obama-were-really-thinking-6250603/ See also https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2016/nov/10/donald-trump-barack-obama-white-house-us-election-live-updates

[7] Trump’s insistence, despite all verifiable evidence to the contrary, that Obama lacked a valid US birth certificate is but one of the milder techniques that Roy Cohn taught Trump.

[8] In an interesting parallel, Lyndon Johnson who became president after John F Kennedy was assassinated, was often criticized for the same reasons. Johnson was criticized and felt slighted about his standing as president until he won a clear mandate at the next election.

[9] See for example, Trump’s comments here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVSmz1VxYlk

[10] http://dailycaller.com/2016/07/18/trump-campaign-appears-to-humiliate-chris-christie-again-with-convention-schedule/

[11] http://archive.northjersey.com/columnists/gop-won-t-forgive-christie-s-obama-hug-1.1389401

[12]Here Christie explains that he was doing his job to help his constituents. http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/christie_on_embracing_obama_after_hurricane_sandy_i_was_doing_my_job.html

[13] http://www.nationalreview.com/article/430792/chris-christie-obama-after-hurricane-sandy-mitt-romney-forgives-gop-doesnt-forget

[14] “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy,” he told Newsweek in 1979.

A year later, pressed by a reporter from New York magazine to justify his association with Cohn, he was characteristically blunt: “All I can tell you is he’s been vicious to others in his protection of me.”

He elaborated in an interview in 2005. “Roy was brutal, but he was a very loyal guy,” Trump told author Tim O’Brien. “He brutalized for you.”

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/04/donald-trump-roy-cohn-mentor-joseph-mccarthy-213799

[15] “The motive: Christie as U.S. attorney was involved in the prosecution of Charles Kushner, who was sentenced to prison in 2005 on 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/11/16/trump-kushner-christie-transition/93992468/

[16] See for example https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/01/13/flynn-was-dealt-blow-after-blow-by-trumps-other-nominees/ and also http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2017/01/trump_s_disparagement_of_the_intel_community_is_at_his_own_peril.html

[17] http://www.providencejournal.com/news/20170105/kaine-questions-judgment-of-trumps-pick-for-national-security-adviser

[18] https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/former-mccarthy-aide-showed-trump-how-to-exploit-power-and-draw-attention/2016/06/16/e9f44f20-2bf3-11e6-9b37-42985f6a265c_story.html

[19] See Republic 572c-573c

[20] On the issue of dominance and submission see https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/dominance-and-humiliation-no-middle-ground This approach also fits the view presented by Callicles throughout Gorgias as well as Alcibiades in the Republic.

[21] http://www.npr.org/2016/08/04/488722392/village-voice-reporter-recalls-roy-cohns-early-influence-on-trump

[22] See Thucydides The History of the Peloponnesian War 5.89.1.

[23] 1 Corinthians 15:33

Posted in corruption, education, philosophy, public opinion, statesmanship | Tagged , , ,

Las Vegas as the UK’s post Brexit business model is a bad idea, here is why.

English: Las Vegas Strip

English: Las Vegas Strip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs[1] (IEA), argues in a Financial Times article that a post Brexit UK should emulate Las Vegas.[2] Like many tourists, Mr Littlewood appears to have been seduced by the city’s bright lights, good customer service, and overall “buzz”. The Strip is seductive. To those who live in Las Vegas, the reality is less glamourous, exciting, or promising. At times, his article reads like a tourism advertisement even as it contains an insight into what the IEA value and seek to promote. It is the latter that should give us cause for concern.

The following commentary is designed to help the reader decide if the gap between what Mr Littlewood proposes and what Las Vegas understands about itself can be bridged. There is a large gap between the vision and the reality.

If you want to get an idea of what Brexit Britain could — and probably should — look like in years to come, then you should pay a visit to Las Vegas. Sin City is an amazing tale of human endeavour and imagination overcoming apparently insuperable odds and confounding the experts at every turn.

What is strange is why Mr Littlewood chooses Las Vegas. It may be that he was inspired by his visit. People often get caught up in the euphoria of a holiday. Perhaps he was feeling rather indulgent after a good time at blackjack. In any case, he appears selective about his example since it is the one place in the United States that has made gambling and vice work. Las Vegas is the exception that proves the rule. We could hope that the UK could succeed as much as Las Vegas, but the reality is that if it seeks to be Las Vegas, it will become Atlantic City.

Atlantic City, another gambling city, has fallen onto hard times. Casinos are closed, jobs are leaving, and the growth is a memory. The city’s bet on gambling revenue was a bust. Facing bankruptcy, it was bailed out by the New Jersey state legislature.[3] Perhaps this is why Mr Littlewood avoided it.[4] It shows us everything that can go wrong with such a vision, the US version of Blackpool.

Mr Littlewood wants to praise Las Vegas for its success, yet he overlooks that it too suffered dramatically in the Great Recession and that its success is always precarious. To avoid this inconvenience, he harkens back to the city’s halcyon days to suggest that like early Las Vegas a post Brexit UK will have its best days ahead as if its mere existence guarantees good fortune.

Its mere existence, let alone its stunning growth, would have been considered a near-impossibility a century ago. Slap in the middle of a desert, the city faces unbearable heat for much of the year and has an annual rainfall barely 1 per cent of the UK’s. Organised crime, the very backbone of the creation of the city, has been eviscerated by enlightened corporate interest.

Las Vegas has a unique position within the Nevada economy, which is something that the UK cannot emulate. As such, the city has a state and regional status that gives it financial and political clout disproportionate to other cities in the area and region, which is not the UK’s comparative advantage. The UK is not comparable to this context as the UK does not have a larger state economy or a federal economy to cushion the blow or mitigate the global economy’s worst excesses.

The article betrays a certain concerning amount of hyperbole. Consider the following claim.

The disadvantages faced by Las Vegas over the years make the challenges posed by Brexit look like a tiny rounding error.

If he wasn’t so serious and earnest in his advice, it would be funny. Brexit has encouraged; a financial crisis, a social crisis, and a constitutional crisis. The UK faces an uncertain economic, political, and financial future. Even without Brexit, the UK faces serious problems. It has deepening economic inequality. A declining health infrastructure that needs reform. An equally shaky educational system that still needs direction. The environmental threats have increased. Even without these, the UK faces terrorist attacks. What are the challenges that Las Vegas faces?

Let’s look at the worst problems facing Las Vegas *as identified by Las Vegas residents*.

  • Traffic
  • Water Shortages
  • Unemployment
  • Yucca Mountain (transport of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain for disposal)
  • Growth and over population.[5]

I believe that Mr Littlewood has inverted the comparison. Las Vegas appears more of a rounding error in comparison to Brexit.

The population of Vegas has more than quadrupled since 1980 to more than two million residents, making it the fastest-growing city in the United States for much of my lifetime. It has attracted a good number of people departing the high-taxing, high-spending state of California.

The reality is that Las Vegas’s population growth while remarkable has slowed in recent years compared to its boom years.[6]

You can buy a decent three-bedroom house here for under £200,000, despite restrictive planning laws based on concerns about water usage.

The Las Vegas property is still recovering. It is only exiting a period when foreclosures were surging.[7] The same problem has beset the Strip.

The world-famous Las Vegas Strip has been completely reinvented since the late 1980s. More than a dozen super-resorts have been built from scratch since then. Commercial build completions last year alone amounted to nearly four million sq ft, creating about 7,000 jobs in the construction sector. A further three million sq ft is being built.

The glory years for Las Vegas began in the late 1980s and they stalled dramatically in in the Great Recession (2008-9). They have yet to recover with no resorts opened for over 6 years.[8] Even the recent promised “boom” has been more of a promise than a delivery.[9]

Hotels no longer seen as fit for purpose are literally blown up. The 23-storey Riviera, a famous part of the city since the mid-1950s, was destroyed in the midst of a firework display a few months ago.

The Riviera will be replaced by a large convention centre. Perhaps this is the IEA’s vision for the UK. Destroy the old institutions and turn it into Europe’s convention and tourist centre. Will the Monarchy will become a tawdry tourist attraction? Is this the future  for the UK’s most recognizable institution? Out with the old and in with the vulgar, crass, casino culture, as long as it makes money, who cares?

Yet, this is not the real issue. The focus on Las Vegas and jobs is only a prelude to the real issue. Instead, the real issue is attitude. He likes that the customer is king in Las Vegas.  If only the UK could change its “attitude”. Brexit with a smile and all will be right. We can almost hear Mr Littlewood singing “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”.

The true success story of Las Vegas is based on attitude. The customer is seen as king and there are few sacred cows. Unsurprisingly for a gambling paradise, risk is positively embraced rather than reviled.

This is surely an appropriate meme for post-Brexit Britain — and, indeed, is pretty good shorthand for the key difference in attitudes between Leave and Remain voters.

If only Las Vegas success was due to attitude. If only the key difference between Leave and Remain voters was attitude. If only the world were this simple. The right attitude, good spirit, and some good old fashion positivity and anything is possible even the impossible. Perhaps this works for selling fads, dreams, and snake oil. Nature is not to be fooled. Success comes through hard work and a bit of luck.

Las Vegans seem so enthused by the joys of life and the taking of risk that they stretch it to extreme levels. If there is a squad of public health lobbyists here, popular culture seems blind to them.

In reality, Las Vegas and gambling houses are extremely risk averse. They want the punter to take the risks. The House never loses for the simple reason that it is amazingly risk averse and looks to mitigate if not control all risks associated with gambling. The House has one goal, take your money, and if that means giving you a smile or a “good time”, then that is a small price to pay to get your money. I doubt it is a sustainable business model as it does not encourage thrift, hard work, savings, and a measured approach to invest in the future. Instead, it encourages a “live for the moment” attitude, that does not encourage growth or long term vision by the average person. As for the joys of life, nature has a nasty way of intruding. Mr Littlewood  seems to think that public health ok as long as people can do what they want. So long as they consent to the risks as if what the individual wants to do is without consequence for everyone else. The Las Vegas reality is one of addiction, crime, poverty, and hopelessness. Mr Littlewood appears to celebrate a morally questionable “success story” –The Heart Attack Grill.

The Heart Attack Grill has recently relocated to the Strip. You can eat there for free if you can prove on the machine by the front door that you’re over 25 stone in weight. Among the items on the menu is a “quadruple bypass burger”. The restaurant’s advertising slogan is that it has been combating anorexia since 2005.

Mr Littlewood glosses over some important caveats. Several people have died at the store. The first Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona closed after the first death.[10] The next one that opened in Dallas, Texas closed shortly after a customer died.[11] The Las Vegas location has had several patrons die in the restaurant. The owner has gone so far as to make their deaths part of his marketing strategy.[12] I wonder why this is something to laud as a benefit or a good thing especially as obesity among UK population increases with each year.[13] As the UK population becomes obese; the medical costs increase. I suppose when you want to harvest the financial rewards from human misery you are being faithful to Margaret Thatcher’s vision that you can make money without regard for how it affects society or the common good. As she argued, these do not exist.

The ranks of chief medical officers probably feel that such an enterprise should be banned outright, but to most people here it seems like a witty celebration of abundance rather than a crass display of gluttony.

For from being a witty celebration of abundance, it is a sad commentary on our inability to control our appetites even to save our lives. Even the owner of the restaurant says as much.

“I’m probably the only restaurateur in the entire world who is unapologetically telling you that my food is bad for you, that it will kill you, and you should stay away from it,” said Basso.

What is not surprising, though, is that Mr Littlewood fails to realize Las Vegas is designed to be crass, vulgar, and morally vicious. Being crass and vulgar are its unique selling points.[14] Las Vegas is not intended to be subtle or refined. The city’s amorality is such that solicitors for Sodom and Gomorrah have filed a legal brief asking God for an apology. Mr Littlewood wants Blackpool to become the UK’s Las Vegas.

The areas of Britain that would benefit from an injection of Las Vegas spirit aren’t the rich parts of London, but the left-behind areas that voted so substantially for Leave last June. It is fair to say that Blackpool, for all its charm, has not experienced Vegas levels of growth in recent times. In fact, its economy has shrunk by 8 per cent since the turn of the decade and it is now considered one of the ten most deprived towns in Britain. More than two thirds of Blackpool residents voted for Brexit, the highest percentage in the northwest.

Blackpool has tried to improve and it has tried to develop its own approach to Las Vegas, yet it faltered because people could travel abroad inexpensively. “Cheap flights” made sunnier locations available and drew customers away from Blackpool.[15] A super casino is not going to change that reality. Moreover, the deeper problem is that Blackpool lacks the resources, infrastructure, and most importantly the political culture to even approach such an effort. With Westminster, the UK has one of the most centralized governments in the world which the IEA should know.[16]  By contrast, Las Vegas grew in large part because power was local and decentralized as in a federal system.

To help to regenerate this city, along with the Clactons, Margates and Southends, we should equip them with the tools to become mini-versions of Vegas. This would involve a huge programme of deregulation around leisure and lifestyle activities.

The issue is not deregulation, it is about political reform to help localism thrive. Yet, Mr Littlewood wants to focus on “regulation”. All we need are less regulations and all will be well. If we just indulge, encourage, and promote more private vices, then we will have great public virtues and benefits. If only we could legalize, drugs, gambling, and prostitution, all would be well in Blackpool and the UK. One wonders if Mr Littlewood has read Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Public Benefits.[17]

In 2008, the last Labour government ditched its plans for super-casinos across Britain. Initially, 40 were suggested, but this was swiftly cut to only eight casinos, then one and then none at all. In any event, British casinos were to be prohibited from opening 24/7 or from serving free alcoholic drinks to customers, both key ingredients of the Las Vegas success story.

What Mr Littlewood overlooks is that the UK has many large casinos and those areas have not seen Las Vegas style growth or success.[18] The UK has a several large casinos and the effects are not as dramatic nor does their effect suggest if they were larger, open longer, and less regulated that they would lead to greater regeneration.[19] Leaving aside the idea that UK seems bereft of large casinos, Mr Littlewood misinforms the reader by suggesting that Las Vegas succeeded because of free drinks. Nothing is free in Las Vegas. Everything has to be paid for either directly or indirectly. The “free” alcohol only occurs when you are losing gambling. Does Mr Littlewood want to encourage us to gamble our lives away, indulge our excesses, and live with copious, costly addictions?[20]

In a report at the time, showing all the detachment from reality of what we now label the “liberal metropolitan elite”, it was suggested that a better plan for regeneration might be to build museums or theatres. Opera, ballet and exhibitions of natural history all have their role, but they are not a replacement for the mass market, relatively low-brow entertainment that so many millions of us crave.

Why Mr Littlewood sees Las Vegas gambling as “entertainment” is beyond me. The House is not providing entertainment, it is designed to take money. If it is entertainment, surely there is less damaging and still profitable “low brow” entertainment. He seems to think that he must face down the “Puritans” who deny everyone fun.[21]

The government should dust off Tony Blair’s casino proposals, give them an enhanced liberal polish and reintroduce them to help to supercharge our struggling seaside resorts. The vast army of interventionist campaigners demanding stricter caps on gambling stakes, restrictions on happy-hour promotions and a wide range of other bans need to be firmly faced down. If you continue to prosecute a “war on fun”, don’t be surprised when towns that rely on producing fun experience hardship and fall into disrepair.

After all of this enthusiasm, Mr Littlewood offers a sober warning.

Of course, some people face genuine problems of addiction and need to be helped.

He offers us one sentence to limit or qualify his enthusiastic support for Las Vegas as a business model. Had he asked anyone who worked in Las Vegas, the people who live in the Strip’s shadow, he would have seen a brutal world with limited opportunity or long term growth.[22] With that briefest of caveats, he resumes his exhortations to unleash the gambling machine. How does he do it? Experts (unspecified naturally) tell us gambling is good for us.

But gambling has some measurable upside — not merely downside — risks, with academic studies showing that it can improve concentration, short-term memory and health.

If it is good for us, why not encourage children to do it? I am certain there are other activities that improve concentration, short-term memory and health, without damaging society, but these are to be avoided apparently. We need an economy that encourages excessive behaviours and bring associated crimes.[23] Unless of course Mr Littlewood believe that people only gamble in moderation or enough to improve their health.[24] In the end, it comes down to attitude and optimism as the cure to what ails the UK.

We are told that our government wants an open, confident, outward-looking Britain. So, rather than sneering at the vulgar, over-the-top nature of a city like Las Vegas, let’s see if we can capture some of its success and import its optimism to our own shores.

I am only surprised he has not yet suggested the UK import Las Vegas’s 300+ days of sunshine. What makes Las Vegas work is that it plays to its advantages and avoids its weaknesses. The UK’s strengths are not those of Las Vegas and a better attitude or optimism will not change that reality.[25] Instead of trying to capture its successes or learn from them, we should learn from its mistakes, its unique context inside a state, a region, and a federal system that allow it to thrive and chart a course for the UK that is true to its strengths. Las Vegas is the exception that proves Mandeville correct. On a small scale, private vices can create public benefits within a managed context. However, as a recipe for a whole nation, it is a recipe for disaster, a brutal, vicious disaster.[26] Curiously, Mr Littlewood did not consider this possibility. I wonder why.

 

[1] https://iea.org.uk/

[2] http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/business/viva-las-vegas-gamblings-mecca-shows-how-brexit-can-beat-the-odds-p2wj6jn0q

[3] http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-atlantic-city-bailout-signed-20160527-story.html

[4] http://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/articles/2016-04-21/atlantic-city-crisis-shows-casino-gambling-is-a-bad-bet

http://www.npr.org/2016/03/23/471618590/atlantic-city-faces-financial-collapse-cringes-at-state-takeover

[5] http://www.reviewjournal.com/trending/silver-state/5-worst-problems-faced-las-vegas

[6] http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/las-vegas-henderson-climb-national-us-census-bureau-population-rankings

[7] http://www.zillow.com/las-vegas-nv/home-values/

[8] http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/neon-rebirth/strip-left-reeling-picking-the-pieces-after-the-great-recession

[9] “Las Vegas may need some revitalization

It’s been six years since a new resort opened on the Las Vegas Strip, and that’s an eternity in a city that’s used to opening new mega-resorts on a regular basis. Maybe it’s good news that new competitors aren’t coming to town, or maybe the city needs some new blood to revitalize the region. Whatever you think of the impact new casinos can have, it looks like it’ll be at least two, if not three, years before another resort opens on the Las Vegas Strip. A boom in construction that seemed imminent a few years ago has come to a grinding halt.” http://www.fool.com/investing/2016/12/22/las-vegas-building-boom-of-to-a-disappointing-star.aspx

[10] http://archive.azcentral.com/community/chandler/articles/2011/06/01/20110601chandler-heart-attack-grill-closes0603.html

[11] http://www.dallasobserver.com/restaurants/heart-attack-grill-continues-death-spasms-7021377

[12] http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/10/05/heart-attack-grill-owner-proudly-displays-dead-customers-remains-on-tv/

[13] https://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/adult_obesity/UK_prevalence_and_trends Nevada has one of the lowest levels of obesity in the US http://www.reviewjournal.com/life/nevada-top-3-low-obesity-rates-poll-says while Las Vegas has one of the highest. http://www.mensfitness.com/life/entertainment/2009-fattest-cities-4-las-vegas-nv

[14] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MkecFi08Yg and https://www.thrillist.com/lifestyle/las-vegas/stereotypes-visiting-las-vegas-nevada

[15] http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2015/12/inside-blackpools-attempts-regenerate-itself

[16] http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n24/tom-crewe/the-strange-death-of-municipal-england

[17] http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/mandeville-the-fable-of-the-bees-or-private-vices-publick-benefits-vol-1

[18] http://www.standard.co.uk/news/new-supercasino-attracts-30000-in-first-three-days-6375127.html see also http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7264143.stm

[19] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-34678230 See also the research on the regeneration effect of casinos. http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/library/casinos-degeneration-not-regeneration-gambling-interim-report see also http://www.ippr.org/files/images/media/files/publication/2011/05/Casinos_and_Regeneration_briefing_note_1564.pdf?noredirect=1 The research at the time suggested that it had a negative effect. http://www.sheffieldeastend.org.uk/GamblingHealthEconomicRegeneration.pdf

[20] http://lasvegassun.com/gambling-addiction/ Vegas has some of the highest addiction rates in the US, which leads to large numbers of drug overdoses. http://www.lasvegasnow.com/news/report-nevada-fourth-highest-for-drug-overdose-deaths/185717145

[21] In the past philistinism was embarrassed or even apologetic. Today, it is proud, bold and brash. All that matters is money; Culture is for the snobs. Perhaps this is really the IEA’s USP, they promote an ethos of philistinism and defend it behind economic theories.  Today, it appears common decency is elitist and puritanical. All that matters, is that  there is a market where you can make money no matter the consequences. In that sense, Las Vegas is the IEA’s poster child. Yet Las Vegas is not designed to encourage economically sound behaviour either from the Casinos nor from the punters.

[22] Las Vegas has three cities. There is the Strip which most people know. There is the city that supports the Strip. Finally, there is the city of Las Vegas that exists as the alternative to the Strip which is like any other city. The three cities co-exist with some difficulty but unless the reader understands that the city that feeds the Strip, the low paid, seasonal or temporary workers, they will confuse the other city, the professionals, 9-5 businesses, as the other side of the Strip. What is clear from people who live and work in the gaming industry that it is a tough place to live as addictions are high, unemployment is high, and opportunities for long term growth are limited. Instead, the city thrives on the constant churn from the young attracted to the bright lights and lifestyle who are chewed up and spit out after a few years to move on to a stable career or move out to another opportunity, if they can. https://www.quora.com/Is-Las-Vegas-a-good-place-to-live

Consider this view of life in Vegas. http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a39052/what-its-really-like-to-live-in-vegas/ see also https://www.quora.com/Is-Las-Vegas-a-good-place-to-live All of these paint a picture that life in Vegas is closer to Hobbes’s description of the state of nature.

[23] http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/drugs-inc/articles/facts-las-vegas/

[24] As mentioned elsewhere Mr Littlewood criticizes the public health lobbyists except when they support his views. As long as they agree with them, he will cite them. Is this how IEA conducts all of its research and analysis?

[25] Here are the UK’s top growth sectors. https://resources.lloydsbank.com/insight/gameplan/the-uks-fastest-growing-sectors/  Las Vegas has different ones.

http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/industries-nevada-economy/2015/04/14/id/638269/

[26] “Ironically, Mandeville’s own honesty led him into trouble: he boldly claimed vice was inevitably the foundation of a thriving society, insofar as all human beings had to act viciously because their status as selfish fallen men ensured that whatever displays they affected, at bottom selfishness always dictated their actions. All social virtues are evolved from self-love, which is at the core irredeemably vicious. Mandeville also challenged conventional moral terminology by taking a term like “vice” and showing that, despite its negative connotations, it was beneficial to society at large.” http://www.iep.utm.edu/mandevil/

Posted in Government, justice, local government, localism, public sector | Tagged , , , , ,

Five Presidents: A picture tells a story

 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In the photographs (the one above and the one below) the various presidents provide signals of their status. Although no analysis is definitive since the context and dynamic need to be consider, this photograph captures a unique event that is worthy of detailed analysis. As the photograph is static, we need a cluster of signals, not the single or individual signals that each president reveals to understand what individual elements mean as a whole.

The signals that reveal the most about the subjects are those that are ones they control with intent, which in turn reflects what they think. The main sources of signals within the picture are Hands, Head, Position, and Clothing. Clothing is included since it represents a conscious choice, the president has to dress for a special occasion and that reflects thought and intent. If the picture contained their feet, we could consider that signal as well since how they place their feet will reveal something about their mental and emotional state. If we had a video showing the presidents shaking their feet or crossing their legs, it would provide us further insights into their emotional state and their thinking.  We start with the hands.

Hands

Which man is not yet president? Barack Obama’s crossed hands show a defensive posture that suggests he is ill at ease as he is in the presence of 4 former presidents and the current president. One explanation is that he is the only one not to occupy the Oval Office and experienced its status and cost. By contrast, George W. Bush has his hands at his sides and his stance, at the centre of the group, shows he is confident and in charge. This is his office. By contrast, Bill Clinton’s hands are hidden behind his back which suggests control and a false sense of openness. He is holding something back, which may be the fact that his wife is still in government and he has to watch his step. George H. Bush shows his relaxed and confident pose with his hands in his pockets. After all, he was president and his son is president, which would be reason enough to provide him with confidence since it is a rare feat. Jimmy Carter looks relaxed as well with his hands at his side. His pose seems similar to George W Bush’s as it reflects someone comfortable in his position. Of the presidents, he is the most outspoken and distant from the main group, which is perhaps reflected in his pose apart from the main group. He may indicate that he is comfortable with his status and is not connected to the presidents who are active political operates. His hands show he is relaxed in this mode. We have to consider that another explanation for Obama’s defensive posture may be that he is uncomfortable being positioned next to George H and George W Bush and he does not yet have the status to dictate where he wants to stand.

Heads

Presidents are professional politicians who know that when they are in the spotlight they have to control their physical and emotional behaviour. Their heads reveal much more because they are controlling how the rest of their body moves. All the men are looking forward to the camera(s) even though George W Bush has a different focus point in that moment. George H. Bush, who is on the end, has his head slightly tilted towards Barack Obama who is on his left and Jimmy Carter, on the other end, has his head slightly tilted towards Bill Clinton who is on his right. The ends are tilting to the middle which suggests a basic consensus of the group towards the incumbent President. Three head positions that are noticeable in the photo. Two are minor and one that is a major significance. The first is that Bill Clinton’s head does not tilt either towards Bush or Carter as if he is separate from either man. George H. Bush’s head tilts slightly towards Barack Obama. The major issue is how far Barack Obama’s head tilts towards George H. Bush. The difference is significant since it is whether it is away from George W or if it is towards George H. The tilt towards George H may reflects perhaps an unconscious identification Obama may have with George H. Bush as the oldest male. One could go further to suggest an unconscious father figure association. What this may reveal is that Obama, who was raised by his grandparents, may link George W to that memory or experience.

Position

The presidents appear to be ordered from left to right, with George W Bush, the incumbent president, at the centre according to their political position. Carter on the left, with Clinton to his right, George W Bush in the centre and George H. Bush is farthest to right. What is of interest is that Obama is situated between George H. Bush and George W. Bush. Does this reflect his political inclinations or the need to fit within the hierarchy of Bush father and Bush son. It may also indicate that as George W’s successor he is literally his right hand since he takes over from him.

There are three noticeable stances to analyse when we consider their position. The first is the gap between Carter and Clinton and the rest of the Presidents. The only stance where there is a gap is between Clinton and Carter. The gap is made noticeable because Clinton has his hands behind his back and is closer to Bush and standing slightly behind him. Clinton is not trying to reach out to Carter and by placing his hands behind his back he shows his distance from him. The second noticeable stance is that Carter is the only President not to have positioned himself with his shoulders behind George W. Bush’s shoulders. Carter was and remains an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and its aftermath. By contrast, Clinton, George H. Bush, and Obama are all behind George W. Bush’s shoulders while Carter’s shoulders are level to them. The third stance that is noticeable is Barack Obama’s.  He is behind George W. Bush and in front of George H. Bush.  What is striking is that Obama’s left shoulder appears raised as if George W Bush is crowding him and Obama is trying to avoid touching him. Obama’s whole stance appears as if he is trying to move away from George W. Bush and towards George H. Bush. At the same time, it may also signify that both Bush’s want to be close to Obama to bask in his current popularity and status. They may have position themselves to exclude Clinton and Carter from that opportunity so that the public see Obama close to them in any photos that would focus on Obama.

Clothing

Three men are wearing blue ties and two are wearing red. What is of interest is the following.  Carter is the most distinctive. He is wearing a gray suit and a red tie.  No one else is where a gray suit. His suit is the lightest of the group, again, perhaps to show his distance from the main group. Two presidents, Clinton and Carter, are wearing red ties. Three presidents are wearing blue ties but they are not from the same party.  George W. Bush and George H. Bush are Republicans and Barack Obama is a Democrat.  Obama appears to be trying to fit in by having the same tie and the same dark suits as George W and George H Bush. The suit colours are all dark except for Jimmy Carter has a relatively lower public profile and rarely seeks publicity.

Feet

In the photo below, we see the same situation from a slightly different angle which allows us to see each president’s feet and their full posture. What is noticeable is how relaxed George H. Bush is in his posture with his hands in his pockets and his feet comfortably apart, right foot forward. By contrast, Bill Clinton looks as if he standing at attention with his heels together, his hands behind his back, and his posture appearing almost ramrod straight. Jimmy Carter is also relaxed with his feet apart and his hands on his side. However, he doe snot appear as comfortable as George H. Bush. In a similar way Barack Obama, as the president elect, has a posture similar to Clinton’s although his heels are not touching and his hands are crossed in front. We can notice how uncomfortable, for a President in his own office, George W. Bush looks. His feet are separated but with one foot slightly raised as if resting on the side of his foot, his feet betray a sense of unease. At the same time, his posture pushes him in front of Barack Obama as if he is trying to crowd him out. The dynamic and implicit tension between the President and the President Elect is clear. One could also suggest that Bush is trying to align himself with Obama, who is the next president and clearly more charismatic, to share the spotlight and attention. In a sense, we can see one President holding on to the spotlight even as the other President emerges from their shadow as their successor.

English: In January 2009, President of the Uni...

English: In January 2009, President of the United States of America, George W. Bush invited then President-Elect Barack Obama and former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter for a Meeting and Lunch at The White House. Photo taken in the Oval Office at The White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Analysis

The photos reveal an Obama that is still not comfortable with his role. What needs to be done is to have a similar photo taken in a year when Obama has been President. One would suspect that the body language will change as the position and posture change. At the same time, Obama’s discomfort may reflect that there is a Bush to either side of him and that keeps him from expressing where he wants to stand. They may be standing close to him so that they share in his current popularity.  What is striking, aside from Obama’s attempts to mask a deeper discomfort, is how far Carter is cut adrift from the rest of the group.  He is either quite comfortable in his outspoken status or the group is trying to distance themselves from him so that they are seen with Obama and not being identified as being with Carter.  One could almost imagine based upon the campaign and Obama’s own rhetoric, that he would be more comfortable standing between Clinton and Carter and not between George H and George W Bush. A last point to consider is that Obama appears the happiest of the presidents. He is uninitiated in its burdens, which may suggest why his smile is broadest and appears genuine. The other presidents, while their expressions are positive and open, do not show an openness or depth of feeling that Obama clearly expresses. The nearest expression to that of Obama is Gorge W Bush who seems almost appears giddy in being the host but also aware that he is soon to shrug off the burdens of the presidency.

As the saying, often attributed to Sigmund Freud, goes “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, so too sometimes a picture is just a picture. We can read into situations and images what we want. Yet, what is clear is that the pictures do capture something important in the positional dynamics of powerful people. Perhaps these are sub-conscious behaviors or simply what the photographer wanted, but they do give us an opportunity to see the presidents in a way that helps us understand how they understand themselves. What will be useful is to compare this photograph with any that Obama has with Donald Trump and whether Trump would feel comfortable to be in the presence of the former presidents.

Posted in Government, statesmanship, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Theresa May, Brexit and the lost imperial past of a Global Britain

Theresa May

Theresa May (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Theresa May has flattered her party and she wants to seduce the public. Despite the harsh economic reality, she has offered a dream that re-imagines the UK’s imperial past as a bright future. Her post Brexit path is towards a Global Britain. In her opening speech to the Conservative Party Conference, she explained that Brexit meant the UK would become an independent, sovereign nation one that will allow the UK to reach its potential to be a Global Britain.[1]

We are going to be a fully-independent, sovereign country, a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts.  And that means we are going, once more, to have the freedom to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters, from how we label our food to the way in which we choose to control immigration.[2]

Think globally, act locally is not what May has promised.

Her comments have evoked a long dead ghost of an imperial past as if by Brexit, the UK will become what it once was. Despite her brave rhetoric, which flatters her audience, she knows that the effort to act globally and independently is beyond the UK’s capacity. The UK’s success is a direct result of EU membership. She must realize that she cannot meet all of the promises, in particular the rights that developed with EU membership, and act globally. The UK cannot have its cake and eat it too. The effort to sustain the EU derived rights was sustained by EU membership with the easier trade, the free movement of people and capital. When she listed the UK’s accomplishments, she forgot to mention these were all within the context of EU membership.

And we attract a fifth of all foreign investment in the EU.  We are the biggest foreign investor in the United States.  We have more Nobel Laureates than any country outside America.  We have the best intelligence services in the world, a military that can project its power around the globe, and friendships, partnerships and alliances in every continent.  We have the greatest soft power in the world, we sit in exactly the right time zone for global trade, and our language is the language of the world.

Systemic inequality remains despite EU membership by intent.

Despite this success, the fundamental, systemic problems remain. The UK has great and growing economic inequality. Despite 40 years of EU membership, the UK’s economic inequality has increased. The brutal, systemic economic inequality between the South of England and the North East refutes her claims to Global Britain. She ignores this inequality, an inequality that has continued for generations, so she can flatter her audience. She will seduce the public with claims that a neo-imperial dream of Global Britain.

It should make us think of Global Britain, a country with the self-confidence and the freedom to look beyond the continent of Europe and to the economic and diplomatic opportunities of the wider world.  Because we know that the referendum was not a vote to turn in ourselves, to cut ourselves off from the world.  It was a vote for Britain to stand tall, to believe in ourselves, to forge an ambitious and optimistic new role in the world.

Her rhetoric would have the audience and the wider public forget that EU membership multiplied the UK’s status and power. Her rhetoric overlooks two brutal truths that she must know as PM. She omits these truths, which reveals her intent.

Two brutal truths that May hid from her audience and the public.

First, the Global Britain overlooks the harsh economic and societal inequality within the UK. If only we look abroad to global free trade, we need not focus on the North East’s brutal, vicious, for it is intentional, economic fate. She did not talk of the North East for that does not fit her narrative. They have suffered for generations. They don’t fit her grandiose Brexit dreams. She wants to be able to claim she speaks for all even though she has no plans to end or even reduce this economic inequality. She has no plans to address the social inequality, which can only worsen as the UK leaves the EU. For all her talk of everyone, as if it is the common good, she talks only to those who will benefit from Brexit for they are her audience.

The UK lacks the capacity to act globally outside the EU.

Second, Global Britain overlooks the strategic reality. EU membership increased the UK’s freedom to act. As part of the EU, the UK could rely on its neutrality if not its support in any international disputes. Outside the EU, the UK must reconsider the EU’s views whenever it acts. In a dispute with Argentina, the UK could find itself subject to EU sanctions. May and her advisers have forgotten the fundamental principle of the UK’s foreign policy that it followed for over 400 years. As Churchill explained, the UK has acted to keep Europe from being dominated by a single power. When the UK joined the EU, it ensured that the EU could not threaten the UK. Moreover, its EU membership helped to keep Europe from being dominated by the Soviet Union. Outside the EU, the UK will have abandoned that principle. It would allow Europe to become a unified threat. It would weaken the EU against Russia. She may claim that NATO has rendered that UK foreign policy principle invalid, yet that simply means that someone else, America and the EU, determine the UK’s freedom.

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true**

Theresa May has sold her party and the public a dream, a dream of a neo-imperial Global Britain. Her dream, like all dreams, is a salve to ward off Britain’s brutal reality of economic inequality and strategic weakness. She may sell the dream but the gap between appearance and reality will define her, Brexit, and Britain.

[1] https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/conservative-party/news/79517/read-full-theresa-mays-conservative

[2] Ibid. One has to ask why food labelling is so important for the UK’s fate. Perhaps it is to show that Parliament’s inability to rule on food labels indicates the extent to which its status has been diminished. Yet, it also raises the question of why the UK did not legislate on food labelling on its own and why it waited too long to accept what the EU offered. One has to wonder if it was the EU that was acting for the best interests of the UK instead of the UK government.

**http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/brucespringsteen/theriver.html

Posted in censorship, corruption, justice, public opinion, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Trump is only a symptom; he is not the problem.

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are outraged at Donald Trump’s private remarks. He spoke of his attempt to seduce a married woman. In his crude language, he said he tried to fornicate with her or at least make clear his intention to do so by grabbing her genitals. They want us to believe he is the problem. What we must avoid is the thought that he is only a symptom.

The public are outraged and people cannot believe that he would talk that way in public. They want to believe that other public figures do not behave that way, or if they did, their private behaviour would be made public. In particular, the public cannot understand how various public figures, such as Lyndon Johnson, John F Kennedy, Roger Ailes, or Rudy Giuliani could make such comments, behave this way, and get away with it for so long.

What Trump talked about previous president did.

The America public want to believe or are encouraged to believe that Trump is a singularity, he is beyond the pale. What they are discouraged from believing or considering is that he is normal in the sense that his behaviour is common and therefore unsurprising. In America, the powerful have long been indulged in their desires legal or otherwise. We only note the many sex scandals within Hollywood or the wider entertainment culture to see how those with status, wealth, or celebrity believe that they can act with near impunity. More widely, American culture now encourages, if not embraces, wider translegal desires that strike at the heart of America’s civil religion.

In the past, one would expect that public leaders would display personal fidelity and behave moderately in the public domain. Where private behaviours did not correspond to such public demands, they would be restrained and kept from public sight to avoid inflaming public disapproval. The public life required a certain private moderation. Alas, that era is gone and has been gone for decades before Trump emerged as a candidate.

What Trump expresses and gets away with is a disordered eros, a tyrannical longing, to indulge his sexual appetites with any women, whether she is married or not. He can indulge his appetites, his translegal desires, because of his powers and that is why others want to be powerful. America’s culture nurtures the belief, especially through entertainment, that if you are successful, and most of all power ful, your desires will be fulfilled because you deserve it, you are worth it. Thus, the public are habituated to pursue power, wealth, and success for the translegal desires that can be indulged.

The powerful have private lives that are well protected by law or threats.

We know that public officials often have private lives that appear to escape scrutiny. We also know that politicians will be protected by loyal aides and staff who have invested much in their patron’s success. They will display a loyalty to their employer or patron at the law’s expense. One can only imagine the level of fear that politically powerful figures, ones connected to the political establishment, could generate such as Johnson or Kennedy or even a governor in a small state.

Even if you raise it, who will believe you?

If you did raise a concern, who would believe you? Would anyone care? In a political campaign, the culture is one where supporters will look the other way to ensure their candidate gets elected. In many cases, we know that such people looked the other way and just dismissed the possibility of abuse. Some did not even investigate. Others simply excused it almost like an entitlement. Powerful men like LBJ and JFK are to be indulged for their status. What would be the attitude in the professions that wield the state’s coercive power? A lowly employee is going to think twice if they think of reporting the incident. The lowly political person will know how vindictive politically powerful figures are. Without exception, the political powerful are also vindictive people who always seek to punish their enemies often seeking revenge for slights from decades earlier. The nature of politics is that you seek to help your friends and hurt your enemies.

Caught in a shower having sex with a child and still ignored

Even without the fear, are they likely to be believed? We are surprised at Trump’s statements but when Jerry Sandusky was caught in the shower with a child, he escaped punishment for 10 years.[1] Even now people defend Penn State and the failures to bring Sandusky to justice.  Excuses and rationalizes just roll off the tongue. Anyone can and does rationalize any and all behaviour that they see or display. We only need to glance at Fox News, which shapes the public domain, where Roger Ailes engaged in behaviour that humiliated women. Horrific acts can and have been excused or overlooked when it suited the powerful. America is no different.

Trump’s behaviour is common in politics, business, and our entertainment culture

What Trumps comments reveal is what has been implicit in American culture. His behaviour is revealed only when it serves a political purpose not for being intrinsically wrong. If his behaviour was considered intrinsically wrong, it would not have waited for an election to bring it to the surface. However, the problem is deeper than Trump, his comments, or even Fox News. America has indulged its disordered eros in direct proportion to its imperial ethos. America’s foreign policy behaviour is now being expressed domestically. Trump expresses the age old belief that the strong do as they want; the weak do as they must. In the domestic realm, Trump has revealed America’s disordered soul, the tyrant’s life, which Americans are willing to excuse so long as they benefit from it whether it is a politician, a businessman, or an entertainer.

Trump reveals what we want to hide: the translegal desires that drive our culture

America needs to look around and see that Trump’s behaviour is not new and it is not shocking; it is American culture. America has embraced a disordered eros; for it is what drives America. The disordered eros will not stop if Trump loses the election. He is only a symptom; he is not the problem. America will not address this deeper problem and that is the truth that hysterical faux outrage over Trump’s comments hides.

[1] Jerry Sandusky was eventually arrested, tried, and convicted for sexually abusing children. However, the incident in the shower did not immediately trigger his suspension or arrest. (It occurred in 2001, he was not arrested until 2011.) His status within the Penn State football programme and the standing of the Penn State football programme within the University and within the community protected him. Surely, an ex-PM would garner the same, if not more, deference and protection. http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/03/25/jerry-sandusky-i-was-just-fooling-around-when-caught-boy-in-shower/  For an overview of the case consider: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Sandusky

Posted in Government, philosophy, privacy, public opinion, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , ,

When facts don’t matter, democracy dies.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

– Daniel Patrick Moynihan

The reason people think facts are subjective is that facts are not self-evident, they require context to be understood. We could say that Belgium invaded Germany in World War One. Unless someone knew about Belgium, Germany, and how the war started, they could not disprove that claim. To prove the fact is true requires other facts such as evidence of Germany’s invasion plans, Belgium neutrality, or eyewitness accounts. What a fact usually requires is a factual context, either other facts, or eye witnesses or other testimony that can be verified. On the surface, when facts and opinions clash the dispute is usually settled by what the majority agree. What makes facts even more unreliable is that witnesses can be encourage to bear false witness. If you persuade a group of people to bear false witness about a fact or facts, then a majority can create a truth that contradicts the facts.[1]

When facts don’t matter the loudest voice wins.

Hannah Arendt in her famous essay Truth and Politics, described how totalitarian regimes twisted facts to suit their “truth”. She had seen how the Nazi tyranny and the Soviet tyranny had succeeded because facts were replaced with opinions. In those regimes, the loudest voice, the most violent faction, was able to impose itself as facts were seen to be opinions, or relative to what could be imposed with force. When facts got in their way they discredited the facts, the speaker, or both. In a normal democracy, a citizen, armed with facts, can hold power to account. To overcome such citizens, a tyranny has to use force which reveals the regime’s true nature. If they do not want to use force, they will use the next best thing. They will replace the facts with opinions so that the loudest voices or the most voices will decide what is right. When opinions replace facts, then the loudest voice, or the most persuasive voice, or the voice with the most supporters will win. In the contest between opinions and facts, the facts are at a disadvantage for facts can only succeed when they are embedded in the truth or in political knowledge. Yet, opinions about political things is easier to display and is often confused with political knowledge, which is knowledge of political things.

Political knowledge is always hidden by opinions

Citizens will have opinions about the political things such as elections, laws, political parties, public records. These political opinions are their prejudices or guesses about political things. From these opinions, we can create political knowledge through discovery and reasoned debate. When people compare and discuss their opinions about the facts they can create political knowledge. However, political knowledge is confused with opinion so truth based in the nature of political things remains elusive. However, as long as we can discover the nature of political things, by discovering and debating political facts based within the nature of political things, then political truths are possible. As the nature of political things cannot be changed by an act of will in the way an opinion can be changed, we have an agreed foundation within which to build decent politics. In turn, political knowledge is sustained by a web of facts that anchors it in reality. As Arendt explained, facts are embedded in the fabric of history. A fact torn from its context is easily spotted as a falsehood. If someone were to claim that President Abraham Lincoln died in 1965, we could see that as an obvious falsehood. Yet, political knowledge is often hidden by, or confused with, political opinions. It is these opinions about the nature of political things that governments will want to control. Any government knows that it is easier to shape public opinion than to change facts.

To destroy facts one has to destroy the trust needed to sustain a political community.

A regime’s resistance to facts, though, is not limited to totalitarian politics, it occurs in any regime. A regime finds it easier to control the public domain when they can rely on an opinion instead of working to facts that might contradict them. When facts don’t matter, then any “fact” can be shaped to fit the “truth” the speaker wants to claim. When Donald Trump expresses his political opinion that Barack Obama is not an American citizen, he wants his opinion that the President’s birth certificate is fraudulent to replace the fact that it is genuine. He asserts his opinion to create a doubt about the facts. His opinion, is only the problem’s surface. What makes his behaviour insidious and destructive is that he wants to pull apart the historical fabric within which the fact exists and makes the birth certificate valid. To achieve this outcome, Trump and his “truthers” attacked the common good. They tried to unravel the web of trust our democracy requires. They tried to sever the birth registration process within the government bureaucratic process from the system of public records. To do this, they sought to destroy the integrity of all the people in that web of trust. When such a practice of tearing apart the historical fabric is accepted as normal within a democracy, it destroys the common good. In effect, Trump’s claim means that any fact he disagrees with must be false and his opinions are true. His claim of doubt about any topic, be it Obama’s birth certificate or the Clintons’ marriage, is true. When facts don’t matter, democracy dies for there is no political knowledge and no political truths that can hold the society together or hold the majority to account. When facts don’t matter only the loudest voice matters and a community based on that belief soon decays into demagoguery and mob rule.

When you can have your opinions considered the truth, there is no limit to what you can do

Like all demagogues “truthers” wants to discredit political facts as a common standard for behaviour within the public domain so their opinions can take root. Without a common standard of truth, based on political facts, the common good that binds the country together decays. When the common good decays, then factions can rule. The faction which can promote its opinion most strongly wins. Yet, that does not allow for us to judge the opinions since a demagogue like Trump can shape his “facts” to fit what his audience expects since his facts are simply his opinion. We saw this in the UK during the recent EU referendum. Nigel Farage made claims about £350 million a week being sent to the EU which would be returned to the NHS.[2] He was challenged on it and claimed it was true and those who doubted it were trying to scare the public. After the referendum, won in part on claims such as that and other claims, he and others recanted on that statement. They said it would not happen. Yet, their opinions passed as political truths had succeeded.

Farage and Trump succeed because they present their opinions as truths.

Farage and Trump’s facts are not based in a verifiable context. They, like sophists of old, can present whatever the audience wants to hear. As they only need to present what they believe will persuade the audience, they will always sound more persuasive than those who have political knowledge or political facts. When those with political facts and political knowledge try to explain these truths, the sophists, such as Boris Johnson and Dom Cummings, can escape by saying “I don’t do details”. Even though the facts are unalterable, Johnson and Cummings can tout their opinions as truths since what matters to them is that they convince their audience. If they have convinced their audience, and made it funny, then they have succeeded. Through the faux humour or faux arrogance, they sound more persuasive since they can make their opinions match to the audience’s preferred beliefs. They have no desire to engage the truth teller in a search for the truth of the matter. Instead, they can say; “The EU is wasteful; the UK is being ripped off” and the audience will find it easier to believe the seductive, because they are comforting, opinions. The truth tellers, by contrast, will sound dour since they can only point to an arduous path needed to understand the political knowledge about political things. When truth Teller like Andrew Tyrie meets these men he has two disadvantages.[3] In such a domain, a truth teller, someone who has political knowledge and knows political truths will be unpersuasive since their facts will appear unbelievable to someone who understands reality as simply an opinion. As there will be many people who will share that opinion, it becomes exponentially difficult for the truth teller to succeed. Second, he has to remain true to the truth as he seeks to counter someone who is completely unmoored from the facts. He can only repeat the facts even as his opponent creates an opinion without any basis in such facts since his opponent does not share his starting premise—that the truth matters.

When you can discredit the truth tellers, who will stop you?

With truth tellers discredited, the “truthers” can impose their opinions as the “truth” without concern for verifiable political facts. The “truther” will insist that any facts they disagree with are simply opinions. (It is your opinion that Obama’s birth certificate is valid. It is your opinion that I said immigration was good. It is your opinion that I said the NHS would receive 350 million per week that goes to the EU.) The political opinion is defended as a constitutional right. In such a demand, the “truther” wants the right to replace facts with opinions. Moreover, they will insist that facts are subjective and their opinions have to be respected as equal to or superior to any facts. If you disagree, they will insist that they have a constitutional right to free speech to speak their opinion that facts are simply opinions. He will assert that he has a right to be wrong, yet no one has a right to be wrong about facts:

Germany did invade Belgium. Belgium did not invade Germany.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. The Declaration of Independence was not signed in 1976.

Trump did lose in Iowa. Trump did not win in Iowa.

 

Without the insistence on facts and the truth derived from them, decent politics begins to wither. When opinions replace facts, a shared understanding of political things begins to decay. In time, the allegiance to an arbitrary opinion is what holds the community together. In that situation, loyalty to the opinion becomes the standard of truth. The common good is defined by that loyalty. In turn, the faction that rules or is the loudest gets to determine the ruling opinion. We move beyond majority rule to a totalitarian rule since the community lacks a standard, truth based on facts, that holds the majority to account. Those opposed to the dominant opinion have no basis upon which to debate or reason since the opinion, unmoored from facts, or the historical context, determines the “truth”. In that moment, liberal democracy dies for it relies upon self-evident truths that sustain the opinion that facts matter.

 

[1] “[F]actual truth is no more self-evident than opinion, and this may be among the reasons that opinion-holders find it relatively easy to discredit factual truth as just another opinion. Factual evidence, moreover, is established through testimony by eyewitnesses – notoriously unreliable – and by records, documents, and monuments, all of which can be suspected as forgeries. In the event of a dispute, only other witnesses but no third and higher instance can be invoked, and settlement is usually arrived at by way of a majority; that is, in the same way as the settlement of opinion disputes – a wholly unsatisfactory procedure, since there is nothing to prevent a majority of witnesses from being false witnesses.”

TRUTH AND POLITICS by Hannah Arendt Originally published in The New Yorker, February 25, 1967, and reprinted with minor changes in Between Past and Future (1968) and The Portable Hannah Arendt edited by Peter Baier (2000) and Truth: Engagements Across Philosophical Traditions edited by Medina and Wood (2005) p. 304

[2] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/boris-johnsons-brexit-campaign-prints-7943300

[3] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/04/watch-vote-leaves-dom-cummings-is-grilled-by-andrew-tyrie-this-sounds-like-aladdins-cave-to-me/ see also http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2016/03/23/boris-johnson-grilled-on-eu-referendum-as-it-happens

Here is an indicative passage.

11.09 – Johnson now being questioned by Wes Streeting, an up-and-coming Labour MP, who predicted that Boris would flounder today (see below). Streeting asks Boris to agree that there would be “an economic shock” to exit. Boris disagrees then Streeting points out this is what Boris’s own economic adviser Gerard Lyons said previously (see below again). “You don’t agree with your own adviser?” Boris (falsely) denies that Lyons said this and insists there will be no economic downsides. “British democracy [and economy] would be galvanised,” he insists.

Posted in corruption, justice, philosophy, public opinion, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Incest and tyranny, Trump fits a pattern

The creepy Dr. Tower (Claude Rains) commits in...

The creepy Dr. Tower (Claude Rains) commits incest with his daughter Cassandra in the novel. Censors forbade that in the film. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Incest is an abuse of power. The incest, though, is more than physical abuse as it can include emotional or psychological elements. From ancient times, incest was shunned for its effect on the family and more widely on society. For the ancient Athenians, incest had political consequences as they saw the polis as an extended family.[1]. In political terms, incest would be a way to describe tyranny. The tyrant, acting as the city’s patriarch, had a disordered eros as the city served his interests and the normal relationship between ruler and ruled was corrupted. In the medieval era, incest by the father was described as a domestic tyrant.[2]. The father corrupted the family by his incestuous relationship with his daughter. The father, unable to control his disordered eros, corrupted the family structure as the daughter replaced his wife as a sexual partner.

From the physical to the psychological, incest takes many forms.

The modern view of incest moves beyond the physical to the psychological. The physical abuse can be replaced by a form of psychological abuse. Judith Warner cites Judith Lewis Herman on that issue.

Incest, she says, is “an abuse of patriarchal power,” a criminal perversion of fatherly control and influence. It is perpetrated, in many cases, by men who present themselves as the guardians of the moral order. And it isn’t always physical; in her 1981 book (with Lisa Hirschman), “Father-Daughter Incest,” she writes that the violation can be emotional, too, as when a “seductive father” oversteps his boundaries and goes places he never should in his daughter’s head.[3] [Emphasis added]

When we consider the emotional or psychological incest, we see how the seductive father oversteps the normal boundaries between a father and a daughter. When a divorced father boasts about his daughter, in her presence, that she has a hot body and that if he was not her father, he would date her, he crosses the boundary.[4] He gets into her head. The comment puts the daughter in an invidious position. The father erases the normal parental role as he indicates that she is now eligible to be a potential sexual partner. He gives her his highest approval. She wants to be approved but not in that way. She cannot correct her father for that risks his displeasure. The father forces the daughter to consider him as a potential sexual partner. She has to consider the idea if only to reject it.  In that moment, the father publicly asserts his psychological power over his daughter. He reminds that her physical and sexual potential meet his approval. He asserts his sexual prowess, by his statement, and he abuses the psychological and emotional relationship. She is no longer his daughter; she is a viable sexual partner.

When the family is the microcosm of the state, incest has political consequences

If a father will inflict that emotional abuse on his daughter, what is he capable on a larger scale? Thankfully, most father-daughter incestuous relationships have no consequences beyond the family. Yet, the ancient Greeks viewed the family as a model for the state.[5] Aristotle argued that the family was the building block of the city/polis.[6] The Ancient Greeks understood that individual abuse, driven by a disordered eros, could scale to the city level if the father was able to gain control of the polis. The problem was the disordered eros that drove the father to the incestuous comments would have political consequences. On a larger scale, the disordered eros would have even greater consequences. What the seductive father does to his daughter within the family, the tyrant can do to a community within a nation. He will abuse it so that it will serve his disordered erotic political vision. He will seduce the state that he is supposed to protect and serve so that it is corrupted to serve his interests.

[1] [1] Wohl, V. 2002. Love Among the Ruins: The Erotics of Democracy in Classical Athens, Princeton and London: Princeton University Press. p 221. Quoted in Larivee, Annie. Eros Tyrannos: Alcibiades as the Model of the Tyrant in Book IX of the Republic. The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 6 (2012) p.9.

[2] Archibald, Elizabeth. Incest and the Medieval Imagination. Oxford, Claredon Press, 2003 p.190    https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=qfqWgZETHdQC&pg=PA190&lpg=PA190&dq=incest+tyranny+father+daughter&source=bl&ots=DLshrTQPei&sig=dTL85ACj75zw8i3gYG0TupLZN6k&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiLlbiagKjPAhWMLsAKHTKIAKwQ6AEIHjAA#v=onepage&q=incest%20tyranny%20father%20daughter&f=false

[3] Warner, Judith. Pure Tyranny ,New York Times, The Opinion Pages, 13 June 2008

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/opinion/13iht-edwarner.1.13693546.html?_r=0  (accessed 24 September 2016)

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DP7yf8-Lk80

Trump repeated his remarks on other occasions and has never retracted his views nor has he apologised publicly to his daughter.

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_as_a_model_for_the_state

[6] Aristotle. Politics. 1.1252a http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0058

Posted in censorship, corruption, justice, philosophy, privacy, public opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mike Cernovich, propaganda and the Truth

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton stopped...

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton stopped by Little Rock to get the endorsement of Governor Mike Beebe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an interesting film, Mike Cernovich (hereafter MC) says that he is tired of mainstream media propaganda.[1] He does not believe that the media covered the conventions correctly. He sets out to the tell the truth about the conventions, the protests, and the media’s failure to cover either appropriately. For MC, the media’s failure indicates they engage in propaganda.[2] To counter this propaganda, he will broadcast the truth, at least the truth as he understands it or can capture with Periscope.[3]

At a technical level, the film shows the relative ease with which one can use the Periscope application to capture live events and broadcast them. Periscope appears to make video as easy to broadcast as social media platforms like WordPress and Blogger make documents easy to publish. The short comings, though, are not from technology but from the content, in particular, the way the issues are framed.

What are the issues with content or intent?

First, MC believes he acts in the spirit of a truth teller, a Parrhesiastes.[4] I admire his desire to act thusly even though he falls short. The truth teller, to succeed, has to hold the Truth, not simply an opinion about how he understands the Truth or even an opinion about the Truth. The truth teller is someone who is compelled to tell the Truth in the face of danger. The truth teller must confront the prevailing opinion. The prevailing opinion may, or may not be, the orthodoxy. In most cases, though, what has to be challenged is the accepted public opinion about something or the opinion that the media has reported. In this case, MC contests the prevailing opinion about the media’s reports on the political party conventions.

The truth is opposed to opinion, therein the film’s major flaw

Second, we have to clear up a common misunderstanding about Truth, lies, and opinions. The prevailing opinion is that a lie is the opposite of the truth. The dichotomy is between truth and lie. Yet, this prevailing opinion limits debate and discussion. Instead, we need to consider that the opposite of the truth is opinion. When we start with this understanding, as informed by Hannah Arendt’s work, we see how MC’s approach will suffer a near fatal flaw.[5] MC approaches the media’s reporting as if he has the truth about the conventions and the coverage based on what he has seen and recorded through Periscope. As he believes he has the truth, he will see the media’s reporting as at worst a lie and at best propaganda. His position is unsurprising since it is what most people believe in the public domain when they engage in politics. Like others, MC thinks he has the truth, not simply an opinion about the truth, or even an understanding of an opinion about the truth. He has the Truth. From this premise, we come to an immediate problem. We cannot see that two people can consider the same event and come away with different opinions. Instead, one must be wrong and the other right. One must be telling the truth and therefore the other must be lying. Yet, once we consider that they both might have an opinion about the convention and the coverage, we then begin to see that we need for a public dialogue to discern the truth.

What is often missed in such reporting, MC acts as a type of reporter in his approach, is the need to discern, through a reasoned discussion, the differences within the opinions as well as how they overlap. When citizens discuss an issue, to diacern its meaning, they begin to exercise public reasoning. Yet, when the public reasoning is reduced to an “either/or” case and not “both and” we cannot reconcile the opinions or begin to consider which opinion comes closer to uncovering the reality of the situation.[6] In that sense, we cannot build a shared understanding, we limit debate and we stay in our echo chamber.  We find what we are looking for, a type of confirmation bias, because we only look for what we want to find. At any given time, the truth, based on reconciled opinions, is a constructed truth, which sustains the common good. It is a truth constructed on the facts of reality as seen, understood, and expressed by the parties. This does not mean that all truth is relative or constructed. Instead, it is to say that when we use public reasoning to discern the political truth as presented by the reality we describe and compare, we are constructing pokitocal truth as we live it.

Superficial, without meaningful content, but that isn’t the point is it?

Third, MC’s approach, while well intentioned, is superficial. The superficiality of the analysis comes from the failure to discuss the levels of analysis problem.[7] The levels of analysis problem refers to what anyone who wants to study a political phenomenon must answer so that their analysis remains consistent. In general, there are three levels to consider

  • the individual, 
  • the organisation
  • the system.

However, the level that is used (individual, organisational, or system) will determine what one finds. In this case MC wants to say that his individual view, the view on the ground, is the correct or better view than one at the organisational level or the national or system level. He believes that the media either misses the individual level or that it prioritizes the national level to the point is distorts or ignores what happens on the ground. Yet, his view on the ground is limited. What is needed is to recognize the problem so that he can put his individual level view into either an organisational or a national context. Had he looked at the party level, he would have seen the conventions differently. Just as if he had seen it from a national perspective, how the conventions reflect the national trends and audiences, it would have been understood differently.

What did MC miss with his level of analysis?

Here is an example of what he missed. He does not consider the nature of the protests. He equates the protests at the RNC with the DNC. Had he reflected on the protests, their nature, and their intent, he would have seen an important difference. The RNC protestors were external to the party while the DNC protests were from within the party. The difference becomes greater when we look within the conventions as the protests continued in a different form. Even though the RNC had relatively mild external protestors, the RNC itself contained deep divisions, conflicts, and outright animosity.[8] In a word, the RNC was not a unified convention. By contrast, the DNC had unity.[9] Bernie Sanders supported Hillary Clinton. Yet, MC’s focus on the protests on the ground misses this point. In effect, he assumes that the protests outside the convention are more important and should be covered with greater interests than the protests within the convention. Since he does not explain why this should be the case, we are left with what appears to be his personal preference. In much the same way that a baseball fan might like there to be more focus on the right fielder, the focus will always be the pitcher or the batter for that is where the majority of the determinative acts occur.

In the end, a lot about MC and perhaps that is the only point.

Overall, the movie shows us what can be done with Periscope. It also shows us that what passes for political commentary or analysis is more often than not a loud voice, light on reason, with a broadcast platform. Unless his output improves, I’ll give his work a pass. As the movie lacked context and content, it provides no meaningful insight into politics, media, protests or their relationship. Perhaps that superficiality is intended for what the movie does tell us is a lot about MC and it just might be that was the point.

[1] http://www.dangerandplay.com/2016/09/14/mike-cernovich-documentary-unconvention-dnc-rnc/ The film was produced by Loren Feldman who has real talent for this work. His social commentary, unlike his political commentary, is insightful, biting, and funny. A rare combination and worth a watch. http://www.lorenfeldman.com/about/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda What is curious is that he does not define propaganda so much as practice it.

[3] http://smallbiztrends.com/2015/08/what-is-periscope-how-do-i-use-it.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parrhesia

[5] “To the citizens’ ever-changing opinions about human affairs, which themselves were in a state of constant flux, the philosopher opposed the truth about those things which in their very nature were everlasting and from which, therefore, principles could be derived to stabilize human affairs. Hence the opposite to truth was mere opinion, which was equated with illusion, and it was this degrading of opinion that gave the conflict its political poignancy; for opinion, and not truth, belongs among the indispensable prerequisites of all power. “All governments rest on opinion,” James Madison said, and not even the most autocratic ruler or tyrant could ever rise to power, let alone keep it, without the support of those who are like-minded.” (p.4)

TRUTH AND POLITICS by Hannah Arendt Originally published in The New Yorker, February 25, 1967, and reprinted with minor changes in Between Past and Future (1968) and The Portable Hannah Arendt edited by Peter Baier (2000) and Truth: Engagements Across Philosophical Traditions edited by Medina and Wood (2005)

[6]http://www.socialstudies.org/publications/socialeducation/september2012/fault_lines_in_american_culture

[7] The Level-of-Analysis Problem in International Relations, J. David Singer, World Politics , Vol. 14, No. 1, The International System: Theoretical Essays (Oct., 1961), pp. 77-92  A general description is provided here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_analysis

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/18/donald-trump-republican-national-convention-party-unity

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/upshot/democrats-may-not-be-unified-but-their-convention-speakers-are.html?_r=0

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Why QCs like cross examination: they can destroy witnesses.

Caricature of Sir Charles Russell QC MP. Capti...

Caricature of Sir Charles Russell QC MP. Caption read “Cross Examination”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the recent case of Lord Janner, we are told that those who make the allegations must face cross examination. We are told that this is necessary for justice. We are told that this is what the UK legal system requires. Yet, there is a deeper, darker, element to this request-the ability to destroy the witness.

Court is a brutal place of legal combat

When someone is cross-examined in court, they face a brutal environment. They are at the QC’s mercy. The contest is neither fair nor balanced. It is combat. The UK system is based on adversarial justice. The QC is a master of their art. Their goal is to win. If the witness is destroyed, that is of no consequence. Their job is to win by testing the evidence; nothing more, nothing less. As long as they stay in the code of conduct they can do what they want.

Only doing our job, we must “test the evidence”.

As we are reminded, if the QC did not test the evidence then they will have failed their client.

Indeed, not to test the evidence properly would itself be a breach of the Code of Conduct, which requires that barristers, “must at all times promote and protect fearlessly and by all proper and lawful means his lay client’s best interests” (Written Standards for the Conduct of Professional Work, para 5.2).[1]

The victim is there answer questions. The QC is not interested in the truth for this is not a philosophical inquiry. It is a battle, through a test of the evidence, to determine guilt or innocence. Anyone who believes that the legal process is a quest for truth understand neither the law nor philosophy. Even though both rely on cross examination one has a goal to understand, to discover the Truth, the other is focused on persuading the court of someone’s guilt or innocence by “testing the evidence.”

Attack the character as Aristotle recommended.

As Aristotle explained in his treatise Rhetoric, one technique to persuade an audience is to attack the witness’s character.

For if we have no evidence of fact supporting our own case or telling against that of our opponent, at least we can always find evidence to prove our own worth or our opponent’s worthlessness. Other arguments about a witness-that he is a friend or an enemy or neutral, or has a good, bad, or indifferent reputation, and any other such distinctions-we must construct upon the same general lines as we use for the regular rhetorical proofs.[2]

Beyond the character, a QC’s will attack their psychological state. The QC may even do it sympathetically for they cannot have the jury hate them too much. They will be sure to make the witness relive the experiences they have alleged. They will walk them through each humiliating detail. They will repeat back to them what they said. All of this is to test the witness’s psychological endurance under the cover of a test of the evidence. Whether they intend it or not, they punish the witness.

The adversarial system allows this approach.

Immediately, one may protest and say “Surely, this is not so. The judge would intervene.” Yet, this is the case. The judge cannot set the limits to the number of lawyers questioning a vulnerable witness nor can they limit how long the question lasts.

As it stands, judges have no real power to limit the duration of questioning or the number of lawyers who can cross-examine a highly vulnerable witness in court. Practice directions encourage judges to set limits, but despite this judicial practice remains very uneven.[3]

If a witness requests, and the court grants it, they may be treated as a vulnerable witness. They can

“[H]ave had the option of benefitting from a variety of different measures that are enshrined in the (Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999). These measures include giving evidence with screens in order to prevent the victim from seeing the defendant (s 23), or giving evidence via videolink, thus allowing the victim to be in another room altogether whilst giving their evidence (s 24). Section 17(4) automatically classes sexual offence complainants as being intimidated and therefore eligible for special measures. They must still request them, but they are assumed as fulfilling the criteria to be eligible for them.”

Let’s consider how barristers acted with Abby who was questioned aggressively by seven solicitors[4] every day for three weeks.[5] In Abby’s case, the Bar Council was concerned enough to raise it at their meeting.[6] Her case is hardly the exception. It is depressingly common.[7] More to the point, her treatment is after the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Before that Act, vulnerable witnesses had no such protection.

If you think it is bad today, imagine what it was like 50 years ago!

One can only shudder at what it would have been like to testify in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s. For someone to bring a case to court, they will have had to struggle against the institution where they were abused. They would have had to convince a sceptical police. They may have even faced a police force that wanted to favour their accuser so that their claims were dismissed out of hand. If they are able to overcome their institution, the police, they face the final challenge–the court. The court experience, even in the last five years is a brutal experience. As one victim said, they would not go through it again.[8]

Test the evidence or punish the witness?

With this knowledge, we can see why QCs want to “test the evidence”. They know what they can do. The witnesses will be at their mercy. Even if the witnesses are right, the QCs will have done their work. They will give the witness a thorough, if legal, beating. For some defendants, this is enough for they will inflict pain to balance the scales. At the end, the public will be told “they were just doing their job”. The broken witnesses will have been taught a brutal lesson about the law.

The law teaches a brutal truth

We know that Lord Janner will not be cross examined. His alleged victims will.[9] This about sums up UK justice for CSE survivors. The strong rule the weak and the weak suffer what they must.

[1] http://www.halsburyslawexchange.co.uk/frances-andrade-case-the-treatment-of-vulnerable-victims-in-the-court-system/

[2] http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/rhetoric.mb.txt

[3] See http://goo.gl/sFpxos at https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2016-07-06/debates/16070660000001/Cross-ExaminationOfVulnerableWitnesses

[4] One wonders why after the 3rd barrister making the same points did not succeed the remaining four thought they would succeed?

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/law/2013/may/19/lawyers-oxford-abuse-ring

[6] The Bar Council was suitably concerned about the case and others to raise it at one of their meetings. http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/4767.aspx see also http://www.newlawjournal.co.uk/nlj/content/question-time

[7] The case is not isolated it is one of many. It is hard to believe but the UK criminal justice system has improved in recent years with some guidance for treating vulnerable witnesses. One can only imagine how brutal the QCs could have been in the past assuming a victim could convince the police to investigate and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a prosecution.  See for example, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/court-is-just-as-traumatic-girl-who-faced-aggressive-cross-examination-aged-nine-says-she-has-never-8631662.html and http://www.felicitygerry.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/IARS-Vulnerable-witnesses-dignity-and-respect-FRGQC-FINAL.pdf

[8] One victim who suffered such an ordeal when they gave evidence said they would never give evidence again as it was worse than had their abuser gone free. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-27949117

[9] One wonders if, as a QC, Greville Jenner avoided cross examination as he knew what it entailed?

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