Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Thoughts from Setúbal, Portugal: 12.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spain 
  • News of a wonderful discovery. And an equally wonderful dispute.
  • The Local explains here the Spanish equivalent of Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out.
  • And here the same estimable publication tells us (again?) about Spain's 'breathtaking natural parks'.
  • Something to see when next in Madrid
UK Politics/Brexit
  • Anyone watching the contest to become British prime minister has to wonder about the cognitive skills of many Conservative candidates. Put simply: are these people stupid? 
  • Richard North adds his own comments here to a tremendously trenchant take from The Economist here. (If you can't access this, see it below. There are a couple of quotes from it below).
The Way of the World 
  • In the classic essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, the late Italian economic historian Carlo Cipolla warned: “A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.” He explained: “Stupid people cause losses to other people with no counterpart of gains on their own account. Thus society as a whole is impoverished.” 
The USA
  • Some people sound stupid or ignorant because they are stupid or ignorant. 
Spanish
  • Word of the Day: Seta
Finally . . .
  • I'm down in Setúbal in Portugal, where apparently they've never heard of white wine. In fact, in the first bar I went into, they didn't have red wine either, just port. So I made do with a shandy(panaché). After which I had choco frito - the local delicacy, I think - in a nice tapas(petiscos) bar. Where the waiter - once again - gave the lie to the Spanish myth that everyone in Portugal speaks perfect English.
  • Earlier yesterday I decided to have my annual hamburger at a Macdonalds, only to be defeated by the touch screen. So I moved along the food hall to Burger King, where they had real people taking your order. In English, as it happens.
  • Until the 3rd or 4th time of typing, my bloody computer kept changing choco into chocolate. Which would have given Fried Chocolate. Which I think you can only get in Scotland. Or is that fried Mars bars?
THE ARTICLE

Eight reasons Tory MPs keep getting it wrong: Simon Kuper

When it comes to Brexit, poor cognition is the curse of Britain’s governing class

Anyone watching the contest to become British prime minister has to wonder about the cognitive skills of many Conservative candidates. Put simply: are these people stupid? They include several Brexiters who have put Brexit at risk by repeatedly voting against real existing Brexit. Now most of them are promising to renegotiate the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, even though the Europeans insist they won’t renegotiate, having already refused to do so with Britain’s last two prime ministers, Theresa May and David Cameron. Plainly, the EU cannot cave and give Britain a sweetheart deal, or else every member state would want one and the single market would fall apart. Yet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plans to renegotiate, too.

Most Tory candidates also speak cheerily of “no-deal Brexit” as if it were an end state, and Britain could live happily ever after in autarky, sealed off from a continent with which it has traded since the Bronze Age (and where it currently buys insulin and time-sensitive cancer treatments). Meanwhile, Conservative MPs, the people choosing the shortlist of two candidates, keep making basic factual errors about Brexit.

What explains the poor cognition of Britain’s governing class, which, unlike voters, is supposed to grapple with policy detail? Here are some possible explanations:
• Many Tories are cynics faking it. They publicly back no deal, knowing it would be a disaster, but are counting on the rest of parliament to stop it. They just want to sound hard, because they live in fear of deselection by their hard-Brexiter local parties. Tory MPs know that the job market for ex-Tory MPs is currently pretty weak.
• The corollary: there is no political advantage in grasping reality if your voters don’t. Steven Sloman, cognitive scientist at Brown University, points out that most people cannot describe the workings of a toilet. The EU and the international trade system are even trickier. Sloman says the only way to handle complex issues is therefore to listen to experts. Politicians sometimes did that, until populism came along.
• Widmerpoolism. Kenneth Widmerpool, the creation of English novelist Anthony Powell, has become a byword for the blind will to power. Educated at a school modelled on Powell’s Eton, Widmerpool builds a glittering career (including a stint as MP) on tireless manipulative infighting. Powell’s insight applies here: after correcting for birth, power goes to the people most committed to getting it.
• An inability to admit past error. If you have supported Brexit for years, you will look silly if you let new information nuance your views. Recall how Dominic Raab was mocked for confessing he “hadn’t quite understood the full extent” of the UK’s dependence on the Dover-Calais crossing for trade. Karen Bradley received similar treatment for admitting that she only discovered while Northern Ireland secretary that Northern Irish nationalists “don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa”. It’s safer for politicians to be consistently wrong.
• If your genuine beliefs contradict reality, deny reality. Tory MP John Redwood is a fanatical Brexiter. So when he wrote that the UK’s exit bill on leaving the EU was “Zero. Nothing. Zilch”, as if Britain held all the cards, he was probably forcing himself not to see reality. A related Tory trait is what the French call volontarisme: the notion that willpower can change reality.
• Denying reality proves your fanaticism to other fanatics. Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski tweeted in February: “Britain helped to liberate half of Europe . . . No Marshall Plan for us only for Germany.” In fact, as thousands of people swiftly told him, Britain was the Plan’s largest beneficiary. Yet Kawczynski stood by his false claim for two weeks. By holding firm against reality, he signalled his loyalty to the cause.
• Laziness. In the British gentleman-dilettante tradition, many Conservative politicians leave boring detail to civil servants. Added to that is the callowness of today’s Tories, the luckiest members of the luckiest British generation in history. When you know your class will always prosper, you can afford airy gambles. Hence Cameron’s bet that a referendum would put the European issue to bed, reunite the Tory party and see off the threat from Nigel Farage.
• Stupidity and ignorance. Some people sound stupid or ignorant because they are stupid or ignorant. That could explain the Tory MP Nadine Dorries’s complaint that May’s deal would leave the UK without MEPs after Brexit; or MP Andrew Bridgen’s belief that “English” people are entitled to ask for an Irish passport (that Ireland is a forgotten British possession probably played a role too).

Ignorant people can succeed if success depends on other, unrelated qualities. Many companies promote good-looking people. The Tory party promotes articulate public schoolboys.

In the classic essay “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity”, the late Italian economic historian Carlo Cipolla warned: “A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.” He explained: “Stupid people cause losses to other people with no counterpart of gains on their own account. Thus society as a whole is impoverished.” Let’s hope the next prime minister is merely a bandit.

No comments: