Brexit: What is going on?

On the eve of the commons vote that Theresa May has now tried to defer, we gathered to work what is going on, what we want and what is happening next.

The panel included:

Christian Michel – Philosophy and Economics Meetup Organiser
Lucy Harris – Leavers of Britain
Catherine McBride – Senior Economist, IEA Trade and Competition Unit

In their opening statements the panellists gave their point of view. I started by asking Christian why “people” wanted to be part of the EU in the first place?

Christian does not know why “people” want to Remain, but knows why he wants to Remain. This is because he feels that the EU destroys respect for the concept of a state. There is no love for the EU in the same way that there is love for nation states. States that are remote and undemocratic lack moral authority and the end result, he says, will be that the EU exerts less authority than would be wielded nationally.

Catherine, was working in Australia as the EU developed from the EEC into the EU. For her, the institution was an “OPEC for developed nations”. In particular this is what it was presented as in Australia, making its evolution into a sovereign entity with broad and deep powers a bit of a surprise. Such was also the experience of people here, she felt. Catherine also feels that had the EU stuck to the 9 first countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, West Germany, Denmark, Ireland and the UK) it might have worked out better. However the UK in particular was the “oddball” and had different economic needs and alignments, tending to develop ahead of the EU nations thanks to US influence. This meant the UK was incompatible from the the beginning.

Lucy, laments the rapid “twitter feed” progression of events in the current climate. Lucy felt that what the country needed now was a new leader from the Leave side who would be able to be braver and more bold than Theresa May and deliver the result of the vote. This deal, she says, is not Brexit and not the will of the people because it leaves us in the Customs Union. She says the Brexit we need must include “no connection” with the ECJ, freedom of movement, the customs union or single market. The reasons for Brexit are not especially tied to immigration and is not a racist phenomenon.

The panel went on to discuss, in some depth, the nature of democracy and the attitude of the Remain camp toward Brexit voters, and the likely direction of events.


Democracy Will Win, The People Will Lose

In our society “democracy” is a universally positive concept. Many people use it synonymously with freedom. Tyranny and democracy do not go together. It is remarkable that this positive image can continue to prevail, despite the fact that most people are ready to admit that there is a lot that is going wrong in politics.

The main reason that people seem to continue to promote democracy is that they cannot possibly imagine a better alternative to the system. But why are we so willing to accept the popular claim that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others? After all it has brought about some truly bad results. The Nazis, one of the most criminal regimes in human history, came to power in a democratic system. Right now, we have a number of truly ugly governments in power, who have the blessing of the voters, from Erdogan in Turkey to Putin in Russia, Orbán in Hungary and Duda in Poland, to name just the most obvious. All these governments won in fair elections.

And then of course there is the current election in the US. As I am writing this, it is not clear who is going to win this election circus, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Whoever it may be, democracy will have won in the end. Whoever it may be will have come to power with the blessings of the voters.

And that is saying a lot. As before every election, we get the usual ‘this time is the most important election ever’ mantra. I have never bought into that, but I have to say, even to me this time seems a bit different. The wisdom of the crowds has narrowed the realistic choices for the oval office down to two candidates who are so awful that even their supporters often cannot praise them with a straight face. In fact, this election, the vast majority of people seem to vote mainly against the other candidate rather than for someone.

I was surprised to see that even a libertarian like Penn Jillette came out openly saying that he is going to vote for Hillary Clinton, a candidate that he admits he has no agreements with. His vote for Clinton is purely a desperate attempt to keep Trump out of the White House. I cannot even blame him.

This absurd situation is fundamentally the result of a democratic system at work. No one can seriously say that there is something undemocratic about the awful and dangerous situation that the American people find themselves in. And yet, I hardly hear anyone seriously questioning the legitimacy of this evil charade.

That is remarkable, since it does not seem difficult to imagine a better alternative. What about liberty? What about just accepting the idea that people have unalienable rights to their life, liberty and property? What more do we need than that to organise a very attractive society for everyone? There is no need for a government to constantly change the law. All we need is a legal system that enforces these rights. All the details of life that need sorting out can be better arranged by free contracts between the people involved in the decisions, rather than a one size fits all top down government.

But no, unfortunately, liberty is not an option for most people. Or worse, they are so confused that they think liberty is what democracy is. They rather think that this absurd situation of having the choice between Trump and Hillary, having Erdogan, Putin, Orbán and Duda telling them what to do with their lives is the absolute best they can do. That is sad, but I don’t see this changing soon. That means that unfortunately, as ever in fair elections, democracy will win and the people are fucked.

Jo Cox, RIP

Our thoughts are with the husband and family of MP Jo Cox who died in tragic circumstances today at the hands of a mentally ill man. There is little information known about these complex and important events, however, the possibility that this may be related to her work as an MP, in service of our democracy, is deeply concerning.

Video: Consent with Christian Michel

Christian Michel joined us at the Rose and Crown on August 7th to deal with an important issue. As advertised, the premise of the talk was that consent is considered to be the foundation of proper human interactions, but yet it is not frequenty discussed as a concept in it’s own right. How is consent given? Are there limits to what can be consented to?

The words that follow are Simon’s summary including ‘explanatory  restatements’ in single quotes, except for “direct quotes” from Christian in double quotation marks:

Christian opened the talk with an extreme example in which, for reasons of their own, one man consented to be killed by another. The death was video taped and there was various evidence that the death was not only consented to but planned for in advance (with the deceased putting his affairs in order), and consent was maintained throughout the event itself. The German court eventually ruled that the case was an assisted suicide and therefore was illegal in German law. At one point however, the jury condemned the perpetrator without giving grounds and Christian did not dispute the propriety of that verdict. He accepted that death is not something that can be properly consented to.

Christian discussed a couple of dictionary definitions of Consent:

“a non-coerced agreement to what another proposes”

“to freely concede to or acquiesce in what is being done”

He also gives details of some broadly accepted legal principles, and eludidated various examples from medicine and everyday life:

  1. Must be given prior to the action
  2. Has to be specific
  3. Must be informed
  4. Freely given

Point 4 is a key one. Christian gives the example of a sweatshop where starving people have no good alternative options but to work there, however unpleasant that option is. The applicable test, for Christian is whether the sweatshop “created the circumstances” that caused the starving person to agree to the work.

By contrast a mugger, armed with a weapon, offers his victim only one choice (to restate it:) ‘your money or your life’ which is logically similar to (restated) ‘your labour or your life’ (the choice a sweatshop worker might have) but in this case the robber is clearly the person that created the circumstances that lead to the contrained choices of the victim. In the sweatshop example the proprietor is offering a positive choice, and there may be other alternatives (such as a more uncertain rural lifestyle).

Christian states his assumption that denying the autonomy of a person is an undesireable action, that tends only to harm the person, but went on to deal with the case of persons who a temporarily incapacitated. The usual procedure he says, is that we proceed to do the things that the incapacited person would have wanted. This is prone to error, for example, when people have unusual and uncommon beliefs. In contrast in the special case of children we tend instead to decide something more about means by which the child might acheive a happy life becuase they are the ends in themselves. Another view, he said, is that we view children as – for instance – the future of a country, that is, as the means to the acheivement of the common good, which is highly problematic.

Christian then goes onto to give several examples of where the choice we make, be it for a lack of moral courage, moral decency or will power, is different from the choice we believe we ought to make. This set’s him up nicely to consider an important political question:

It is one thing to understand why a minority rebel’s, but why is it that the majority do not rebel?

Christian speculates that there may be a degree of brainwashing,or some natual perogative that leads us to obey leaders. Christian asserts that schools are the mechanism by which many regimes acheive the continued acceptence of their own rule.

In a representative democracy however, it is not even clear what it is that a voter has consented to, regardless of their reasons. For instance, we do not know the bills a representative will vote on, how he will vote and or what will happen and so there is no valid consent in such a process.

Christian repeats that the 4 legal principles he gave will tell us whether someone has consented, and that due to the various problems with democratic decision making, only a libertarian society based on individual and specific consent is a proper model for a humane social structure.