Which side are you on?

Or, put another way, do you need – do we need – to be taking sides at all?

We muddle along in democracies, more or less getting along with each other, tolerant in the sense that we don’t enquire too deeply about each other’s opinions, and preferences and prejudices. We give each other space. Some of my best friends are Tories, or Marxists, Corbynites, or liberals, or whatever…. Then some event comes long which polarises, an event with an emotional charge which takes us by surprise. And if we hadn’t realised before, we know then which side we’re on. We don’t have Civil Wars, inspired by tribe or religion or ideology, or simply survival…. But we do have Brexit.

Brexit is about many things, but maybe the most fundamental is identity. An exchange of letters to The Times involving Roger Scruton and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill puts this neatly into focus. Scruton hopes that Brexit will restore a sense of patriotic identity ‘in a place of belonging which we can identify as our home, where the inhabitants can be trusted, and which is protected by a single sovereign power’.

What’s remarkable about this hinges on one word, ‘restore’. This assumes a loss of identity, and if that’s what in Scruton’s mind, then that’s where it is – in his mind. There’s been an extraordinary amount of press focused on a divide between the UK and Europe, and when it comes to refugees and foreign aid, between the UK and the world. But I don’t for a moment believe that at a deeper level, certainly on the Remain side, we have lost our sense of patriotism.

Scruton is well-known as a philosopher and specifically as a writer on conservatism, the person I’d turn to first for a deeper understanding of the conservative mind. I can connect even if I don’t agree. Hearing him speak at the Cheltenham Literary Festival recently I found him affable, gently humorous and lucid in the spoken word in a way he isn’t always in the written. In other words, I want to be on his side.

But I, and countless others, millions I assume, need to explain to him, to insist, that patriotism doesn’t equate with insularity. We patriots are happy in our skin, in our own land, but we’re happy also sharing it with others, and their lands with us.

There is of course another phrase in in Scruton’s letter, quoted above: ‘[a sense of patriotic identity] … which is protected by a single sovereign power’. Maybe there’s the rub – how best to share sovereignty, widen our sovereignty if you will, in an ever more globalised world. But let’s not for a moment elide sovereignty and patriotism, which is what Scruton is doing. It takes us on to dangerous ground.

Wallace-Hadrill quotes a 5th century Roman Orosius, proud of his ability to travel: ‘Among Romans I am a Roman; among Christians a Christian; among humans, a human.’

He continues: ‘Like Orosius I feel proud of my country, but I also enjoy the fact that I can travel freely in Europe as a fellow citizen, and feel a European among Europeans.’

For Orosius the freedom he enjoy was soon to disappear, with barbarian invasion threatening. We will be also be losers, if we exclude ourselves from the EU, and this would be of our own making. The barbarians (and who might they be?) are within the walls.

Yanis Varoufakis: Adults in the Room

A review of Adults in the Room, My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment, by Yanis Varoufakis, formerly Greek finance minister, which I’ve written for the blog, Brave New Europe – a blog by the way which I’d highly recommend.

Cross-posted from https://braveneweurope.com/

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How far should economists engage in day-to-day politics?

“Researchers have an obligation to society to take positions on questions on which they have acquired professional competence,” says French economist Jean Tirole[1]. But how does an academic do this when media are not, in Tirole’s words, his ‘natural habitat’?

Yanis Varoufakis, in his recent incarnation as visiting professor at the University of Texas, Austin’s School of Public Affairs, took more than a position. He became a politician. He doesn’t share Tirole’s constraints: “…my resignation of 6 June 2015 [as Greek finance minister] was due precisely to my peculiar commitment not to sign any agreement I could not defend as an economist, politician, an intellectual and as a Greek.”

The step into politics was a big one. But Greece, after 2008, was, and remains, in crisis. No country has a more acute sense of its own sovereignty and identity, as the troika of the Eurogroup (of finance ministers), the European Central Bank and the IMF were reminded in January 2015, when Syriza, the radical left party, took power, and the Greek public once again took to demonstrating in Syntagma Square.

“Adults in the Room” (a phrase coined by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF) is Varoufakis’s highly personal account of his brief tenure as Greek finance minister: six months of negotiations between January and June 2015, during which time he initially had the backing of his prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, for a radical stance which held out the threat of leaving the euro, and a full Grexit, if the EU and the IMF didn’t agree to renegotiate the debt.

Friends who discussed the book in a reading group were divided: some were exasperated by the repetition as negotiations inched forward. Others saw it as an epic tale. Varoufakis is a skilled storyteller who allows the events to speak for themselves.

Meeting Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup and finance minister of the Netherlands, on 30th January, Varoufakis told him that there were only three options available (he recorded meetings on his phone):

“One was a third bailout to cover up the failure of the second [in March 2012], whose purpose was to cover up the failure of the first [(May 2010]. Another was the new deal for Greece I was proposing: a new type of agreement between the EU, the IMF and Greece, based on debt restructuring, that diminished our reliance on new debt and replaced an ineffective reform agenda with one that the people of Greece could own. The third option was mutually disadvantageous impasse.

You do not understand, Jeroen told me, his voice dripping with condescension. ‘The current programme must be completed or there is nothing else.’”

There is also Thomas Wieser, Dijsselbloem’s deputy, to take into account. As president of the working group of officials behind the Eurogroup meetings he was, in Varoufakis’s words, ‘the most powerful man in Brussels’. Wieser circulated an unsigned ‘non-paper’ (a nice Orwellian touch) which made it clear that Greece should expect to receive no money owed to it by the European Central Bank, nor any loans agreed under the previous government… but it was still expected to meet its debt obligations in full. There might be an extension of the existing bailout agreement, a temporary appeasement, “but this would be conditional upon Greece taking a ‘cooperative approach’”.

The hidden agenda, the obstacle that ultimately overpowered all Varoufakis’s proposals, however clever, was that the French and German banks, which had invested so heavily in Greece, would always be given priority. Their governments had invested too much political capital to allow otherwise.

No bailouts, no haircuts, no debt renegotiation.

We’re down to the roots of the ‘deep establishment’, beyond prime ministers or presidents, finance ministers, EU commissioners, the Eurogroup of ministers (Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker doesn’t even have a walk-on part), down to the level of a working group which, taking its lead from the two most powerful EU governments, sets the mood and calls the tune.

Varoufakis in his account of the 30th January meeting with Dijsselbloem uses the phrase, ‘an agenda which the Greek people must own’. Sovereignty is not an issue he addresses directly in ‘Adults in the Room’, but in his 2016 book, ‘And the Weak Suffer What They Must’ he argues that the dismantling of sovereignty could ultimately lead to the dismantling of Europe. Varoufakis is a passionate European: his Democracy in Europe Movement, launched in autumn 2015, focuses on a much more open exercise of power within the EU.

But even the closed structures of the EU can be overridden. When Prime Minister Tsipras loses faith in the Brussels negotiating process he begins direct discussions with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and is quickly impressed ‘by her diligence and mastery of the Greek programme’. They should, she suggests, sideline their finance ministers Wolfgang Schäuble (a supporter of Grexit) and Varoufakis. Their discussions led in July 2015 to a third bailout agreement.

As for other participants in the skirmishes, Christine Lagarde is let off lightly on a personal level, with her integrity and goodwill just about intact. But not the IMF itself, which backed the third bailout against its own better judgment. Emmanuel Macron as French economy minister is peripheral to the negotiations, but always supportive of Varoufakis.

There are many who argue that Varoufakis’s confrontational approach made the ultimate settlement between the Syriza government and the EU worse. And, had debt renegotiation been taken seriously by the EU, another issue would have come to the fore: how far Varoufakis and the Syriza government would have voluntarily accepted privatisations, cuts in pensions, labour reforms etc.

Varoufakis not only had to contend with practised stone-wallers and the deep establishment, he also had to deal with a press that portrayed him as a dilettante. To quote The Economist (25 March 2015):

‘Mr Varoufakis’ lifestyle … is embarrassingly close to that of the rich Greeks he castigates for avoiding taxes by stashing cash abroad …he lectures his euro-zone colleagues and shows little interest in the detail of reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors…. as a fellow professor puts it: “Unlike his predecessors Yanis isn’t interested in managing the economy. What he really enjoys is brinkmanship.”’

Varoufakis had a conversation in 2012 with Larry Summers (former US Treasury Secretary), who argued that there were “two kinds of politicians, insiders and outsiders. The outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price of their freedom is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions.” And the insiders? – they “never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what the insiders say and do.” Varoufakis replied to Summers that he would behave “like a natural insider for as long as it takes to get a viable agreement on the table.”

In the end Varoufakis never stood a chance. To be a fully accredited insider he would have had to accede to the insiders’ working methods and conclusions. The Syriza party were self-designated outsiders until their leader and prime minister brought them in. Tsipras to the surprise of many ultimately had the insider mentality. Varoufakis did not.

[1] Economics for the Common Good, Princeton UP, 2017

Have we had enough of experts?

Experts have taken a beating recently, in both the academic (focusing on peer review) and political spheres. Focusing on politics, the issue of trust has been brought to a head by the Brexit debate, and Michael Gove’s infamous comment that ‘people have had enough of experts’.

The economy, immigration, sovereignty are central to the Brexit debate. But informing all three is the issue of how expert knowledge is conveyed. Brexit is of course only one focus, though it has become obsessive. What of climate change, migration, overseas aid, crime and punishment? All central to the public discourse, all areas where views tend be to be personal and strongly held, and resistant to argument.

Wider issues relating to post-truth (wilful miscommunication), a malign press, and the use and abuse, and multiplicity of opinion, on the internet, are also relevant – but my focus here is on how expert knowledge,  and how political the subject has become.

I found an article in Prospect (August 2017) by Helen Jackson and Paul Ormerod helpful. (All quotes below are from the Prospect article.)

Last year, in the referendum debate, ‘many members of the public formed an impression, whether fairly or not, of experts attempting to settle an important and emotive matter over the heads.’  There’s a fault line between the ‘people’ and ‘those who think they know what’s good for them’.

Why has this divide developed? The independence enjoyed by central banks has been, Jackson and Ormerod argue, a contributing factor. Huge faith was vested in their predictions, until the crash came.  Likewise, the end of the Cold War led to a ‘a narrowing of disagreement’ in politics, the sense that we were managing the economy, rather than debating bigger issues.

I’d add austerity to the mix, which as a post-Crash remedy has had the status for many as holy writ, whatever the social cost, and one of the reasons for the Tory debacle last June was a widening of the anti-austerity base to include many Brexit supporters. Above all, in a Brexit context, we have immigration, where public sentiment is impervious to counter-argument.

On the left we have Corbynite populism, picking up on austerity, and swinging to a far extreme of public spending based on unrealisable funding projections. Critical commentary from economists is disdained. (There is of course a far left, neo-Marxist resurgence here as well, a coming-together of the Cold War-era faithful. But that’s another story.)

But, Jackson and Ormerod argue, the backlash against experts is still principally associated with the right. ‘The more educated, liberal-leaning section of society needs to understand why this is. It is not because, as is commonly assumed, the right is simply the political wing of the dark side.’

(‘The more educated, liberal leaning’ … these days even language like this can raise hackles – education can be held against you.)

The right argues that political choice, however well-motivated, is ultimately based on economic self-interest.  Noble theoretical aims – or simple good intentions – go awry in practice. Jackson and Ormerod cite ‘public choice theory’ as developed by Nobel-Prize-winner James Buchanan in this regard, arguing that ‘the Buchanan analysis can easily morph into the intransigent view that pursuing any collective goal will lead to empire-building bureaucrats, who also fall prey to “capture” by self-serving lobbyists’.

(So opposition to expertise morphs into opposition to the big state – and we have the phenomenon of the attempted post-Brexit takeover of the Tory party by the libertarian right. Also, the American right’s position on climate change and healthcare.)

Whatever their political persuasion, ‘expert elites’ (‘elites’ is also a contentious word these days!) are happiest operating at arms-length from the electorate. They see themselves too readily as a class apart.

To combat this, ‘evidence-based thinking …must (be) subject(ed) to more “sense-checking”, (we) must give thought to what a wider public would make of it’. This can be easier said than done when both public and the popular press demand easily-understood arguments and, wherever possible, certainties.

Paul Johnson (of the Institute of Fiscal Studies) touched on this point in his talk (‘Making Choices’) at the Cheltenham literary festival last night. The public don’t want a range of possibilities, they want a straightforward yes-no answer to a question, and that’s what our media interviewers and commentators try to cajole out of them. Nor are they allowed changes of mind, however justified or well-argued.

It’s a black-or-white world and experts hoping to contribute subtle or balanced argument to public debate can have a mighty task on their hands.

 

 

The story so far – fifteen months on the disaster trail

The shadow over politics, the Brexit shadow, is one vast distraction. I feel I have to escape the shadow before I address other political subjects. But those other subjects – they’re all impacted in some way by Brexit, not least by the uncertainty associated with Brexit.

Take the environment, for example. UK environmental law is tied into European. Projects are EU-financed, standards, ideals, aspirations are shared. I remember at Finistera, at the end of the Camino, last autumn, noting how environment projects there were funded by the EU. I’d shared the Camino with many nations, and I loved that confirmation that many nations shared those standards, lived by a common framework. We know that Brexit free-traders cosy up to climate-change deniers, are casual about man-made changes to the environment – human ingenuity, they argue, has coped, and will always cope. All hinges on that one word ‘cope’.  Does the world we have around us, and that we’re projecting for our futures, mean that we’ve ‘coped’?

Human rights – the European Convention on Human Rights, which followed on from the UN Convention, and unlike the UN Convention is legally enforceable. Before the European courts. So for that reason we should exit it, according to Theresa May. As Philippe Sands (author of the remarkable East-West Street) pointed out when talking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival last Sunday, more than any other country we – the UK – gave Europe the convention. It was a British inspiration. Hersch Lauterpacht, who pioneered so much (beginning life in Lviv, in modern Ukraine: he left in the 1920s, his family were wiped out in the holocaust), was latterly a Cambridge professor.

Farming policy: how will policy change, how will farmers be financed, once we exit the EU, and exit the Common Agricultural Policy? CAP funding is based primarily on the amount of land farmed , so big farmers (mostly Tory supporters) benefit most. On the other hand, to quote a Scottish hill-farmer in a Reuters report: ‘The bloody-mindedness of the French or the Irish in standing up for agriculture was not just standing up for their farmers but brought a good deal for us as well.’ Post-Brexit, where will the money be directed? We are promised ‘a major policy overhaul’. Will the acreage farmed continue to dictate funding?  How might our landscapes change? Will the much-hyped new trade deals bring in cheaper farm imports , with knock-on effects on farm prices – other farming countries have more clout than we do. And what of cheap farm labour from Eastern Europe?  Michael Gove wants to prioritise the environment in any new scheme. But we’ve no idea how that will work out in practice, and legislation will be fast-tracked through parliament – fundamental changes pushed through with minimal public debate.

The Cheltenham Literary Festival has brought to the town an impressive range of politicians, journalists, singers (Peggy Seeger), mountaineers (Chris Bonington), sportsmen (Mike Brearley, Jonny Bairstow), TV stars, performers, poets, novelists….

Among the politicians was Chris Patten. I’ll leave his words to speak for themselves.

Referenda ‘are fundamentally anti-democratic in our system and I wouldn’t have anything to do with them’. (I can’t recall Patten’s exact words in Cheltenham – I’m quoting from another interview he gave.) Leavers in the Brexit campaign peddled a dubious notion of sovereignty (‘dubious’ was his polite word in Cheltenham – I see that elsewhere he’s spoken of ‘all this ideological crap about sovereignty and taking back control’). Brexit itself is ‘the single most calamitous act of self-harm in my lifetime’.

Philippe Sands, also at Cheltenham, put the remarkable achievement that the EU represents in the context of the preceding centuries of war. How casual can we be to turn our backs? He mentioned that Boris Johnson has been a friend for thirty years. How, he wondered, do you sustain such friendships in present times? Brexit has brought the obsessive tendencies of the further reaches of the Right, and Left, to centre stage. The centre ground of rational idea-based, truth-invigilated debate, is out of fashion.

Boris’s dad, Stanley, has written a novel. He and Vince Cable, also a new novelist, were a Cheltenham double-act. Boris’s novel assumes a Russian plot behind Brexit, enough to bring Brexit down. But he himself has changed sides from EU-supporting environmentalist to that contradiction in terms, a Brexit-supporting environmentalist.

Vince Cable outlined how higher education, the number of foreign students in the UK, intra-university cooperation across Europe were being threatened by Brexit. Stanley’s response, ‘Vince may be right, but he may not be.’ That was the limit of his response.

‘He may not be’ – that is standard Brexit-speak. You don’t need to address the detailed argument. It’s enough to suggest these days that’s there’s another point of view, however weak. And that point of view gets equal billing. The climate-change debate over again.

Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, is a one-time Remainer, now a Leaver – the damage, he suggests, to the economy that leaving was supposed to cause hasn’t happened. Is he now a convert to the hard-Brexit free-traders’ prognosis of a free-trade nirvana which will somehow subvert a world where protectionism and self interest are ever more asserting themselves? Or the Hammond soft version?

As the economy,  we haven’t left yet, we’re in a phoney-war period, a state of suspended grace which might just allow us to pull back from the brink – but the brink is too enticing. That itself is another aspect of Brexit – how supposed conservatives, the slow and steady incremental movers of politics, overnight become practitioners of brinkmanship.

Brexit is not only a bizarre course in terms of the economy, it is extraordinarily damaging to the democratic process, not just by giving referenda precedence over parliamentary democracy (so we have the question, can an act of parliament over-ride a referendum result – where does sovereignty lie?) but by polarising debate, taking out the common ground that most of the Right and Left shared until 2015.

Not only is the common ground not shared – it’s now scorned. So the John Majors, Chris Pattens, Nick Cleggs – they are old-school, flag-wavers of a different age. That would apply to me, and to most of my peers …

 

BBC: The World at One

Off to Cornwall and beyond the news, and truth and post-truth, for a few days. But before I go…

BBC news reporting has so often impressed me, but in these post-truth days it worries me – the standards of presentation, debate, argument, balance, integrity have to be so much higher.

Taking a World at One programme from a few days ago as an example.

Martha Kearney: trying to get an answer to her question, why had there been no increase in participation by young people 16-25 in sport as a result of the Olympics. The Sports England director of sport, Phil Smith, answered valiantly, pointed to an overall increase since 2005, made the point that there were increasing pressures – distractions if you will – for young people, against which sport has literally to compete. (Where would we have been without the Olympics? –  declining rates of participation a real likelihood.) She wanted a quote – an admission – a headline. In the best, and worst John Humphreys tradition. Instead of pursuing a wider knowledge, she was seeking a story.

A debate regarding statues in the post-Charlotteville (Alt-Right demonstration, and an anti-racist protestor’s death): the ‘debate’ disguised the story, and ambled round the David Aaronovitch’s argument in the Times that statues should remain but with explanations. The BBC treatment completely missed any shading in the argument – the dark shade, the statues out up in the 1920s as political Jim Crow-era statements – re-asserting the old slaveholding anti-bellum America: for every African-American passing by they are a reminder of a cruel and bitter world. Whereas the Cecil Rhodes statue in Oxford (my college, Oriel) is high on a wall, all but out of sight, a thank you to a benefactor – not a political statement. You can (indeed I can) argue the Rhodes statue shouldn’t be there, but explanation could be, and I think will be, the way forward in this case.

More recently, late night, BBC News, Professor Stephen Hawking has come out strongly arguing that the government has been selective in its use of evidence for the 7-day working week for hospitals. We then had the Secretary of State for Health’s strong denial – all right and proper. But they then quoted just the kind of selective evidence Hawking was referring to – and didn’t quote any of the other studies. The bare facts as portrayed by the government were even given display boards. ‘Labour-supporter Stephen Hawking’ – that was the final way of damning his argument. It was poor stuff. The arguments on both sides were never properly addressed.

Going back to the News at One I remember they ended with a Tory MP being given space to argue for entitlement cards for immigrants, which as Martha Kearney pointed out, implies identity cards for all of us. David Davis has strongly opposed these, I understand, but the Tory MP argued along the lines of ‘special measures for special times’. The vast inconsistencies in this as in most Brexit arguments was hardly touched on.

And there are other stories. I feel like the Mail – on BBC watch all the time. But the Mail belongs in the post-truth era, and has for many a year, long before post-truth. I am of course just the other side of the argument these days. It does make it so much harder to make a case…

Taking time out

Time for taking time out from writing this blog. If I put that down, in writing, then maybe I won’t renege on it.

And why take time out?

Politically we’ve reached another point of stasis. Theresa May is calling for cross-party cooperation which she doesn’t deserve for a nano-second, and won’t get. Corbyn has amazingly a significant lead in the opinion polls. Brexit is anyone’s guess. Which way will the worm (yes, worm) turn?

When I started this blog I’d hoped to bring in a little bit of humour from time to time. Politics could be fun as well. But that seems like another age. That’s another reason for taking a breather.

A third reason, and maybe the best – summer holidays are upon us.

And, as for me – I’m about to move house, to a wild corner of Gloucestershire, where Labour ousted the Tories last month. There’s a canal, and steep hills, streams cut deep, and a hundred years ago Laurie Lee was growing up in the Slad valley maybe two miles away. If I write over the coming months it will be of birds, bees and flowers (we shall see!), and sunrises, or the Cornish coast path, if I escape that way. Any discussion of politics is out.

There was a R4 discussion (one final comment!) this morning about critical thinking. They referred to the fact that rolling news can be the enemy of critical thought but couldn’t understand why one young person preferred not to listen. Not listening or watching is the answer. Don’t get wrapped up in the big roll.  Find other ways to access news – take it in at your own pace, with time to assimilate.

That’s what I will do over the summer. It’s what I do already.

When I can, when furniture and books are unpacked, I will chill out. Walk the hills, or run, or get myself a small boat and a paddle, or a motor, and row or chug down the canal. That would be a good summer.

 

The sleep of reason (1)

A post originally entitled the getting of wisdom. The sleep of reason is better. For more, specifically based on Goya’s etching, see my next post 

My focus here, two pre-eminent men of reason. Or two men of pre-eminent reason. Amartya Sen and Steven Pinker. (And one villain – one of many out there ! – see later.)

Both have signed books for me, after giving talks, and I remember a few words with Steven Pinker. Sen is simply a hero, a man of surpassing wisdom. Pinker likewise is a passionate supporter of reason. He overplays, to my mind, violence in human history in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, but his compassion toward others in our own time is unwavering.

More on Pinker in a few moments. 

Way back I posted on the subject of Sen’s ideas about capability. Compassion and enterprise, justice and capability – they are the four ideas that drive my view of the world. 

Implicit in all four ideas, as I understand them, and as they balance each other, is reason. Exemplified brilliantly by Sen. ‘(Trump) has managed to unleash a kind of thinking which drew more on prejudice than on cool reasoning. And I would apply this to Brexit, where some of the sentiments of hatred of foreigners come into the story in a big way.’ Sen quotes Jefferson: ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.’ (I’m quoting from an interview in the March edition of Prospect.) 

How could reason, a rational man, be other than in the camp which opposes Brexit head on? I’ve found this a contentious position to hold, but should anyone doubt that it is a reasonable statement, listen to Sen in the subject:

‘Public discussion is extremely important both preceding a referendum and, I believe, following a referendum. I take a view of democracy like that of JS Mill: democracy is government by discussion. I’m really quite shocked that one vote on the basis of a campaign in which many factors were distorted …. (by) a small margin victory should be taken to be the end of all argument, no further argument, the rest is just engineering.’

Government by discussion – not by diktat. These are dangerous times. The recent Supreme Court decision saw the impartiality of judges challenged, by those who would wish to ensure that judges were partial – partial toward the views that they hold. Weighting the scales of justice – a game of fools.

Steven Pinker answers questions put to him in Prospect’s ‘Brief encounter’ feature. If given £1m to spend on other people what would he spend it on? His answer: ‘Giving What We Can, a meta-charity inspired by the Effective Altruism movement, which calculates which charitable donations can deliver the greatest human benefit.’ 

Curiously that chimes with David Edmond’s review of Paul Bloom’s Against Empathy: the Case for Rational Compassion. Empathy is defined by Bloom as putting yourself in another’s shoes, and, yes, this can work against reason. But to my mind that’s too rigid a definition. Empathy and reason need to work together. We can then be moved to tears, as Pinker was, by Malala’s 2013 speech to the UN General Assembly, without allowing sentiment to cloud our judgement. Empathy and compassion work best when they work together. 

Heroes… and villains. An altogether lesser character, and I’m sorry to be harsh… but Dominic Lawson writing in the Sunday Times demonstrates what we’re faced with. He imagines Remain supporters being gratified by data analysis showing that Leave support last June correlated strongly with lower educational achievement. Remain supporters he thinks will be gloating – their superior understanding vindicated. So are we gloating? It won’t get us far. But my anger is with his statement that ‘throughout history, the educated middle classes have fallen for, or concocted ideas, that turned out to be misguided’. He quotes Marxism, Nazism, eugenics. Was Marx middle class, Hitler? As for eugenics – well, that’s for another time. This is emotive nonsense, and Lawson as a rational man must know it. Is opposing Brexit, wishing to build with reason and compassion on the status quo, rather than seeking to reinvent the wheel, this time with a dodgy axle, some kind of novel idea?  

Marxism revisited? Have we a Hitler in our midst?  

God help us all. God I’m assuming is a rational being. Maybe not. But we as reasonable people have to hang in there.