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September 4, 2019

Hot times in the British Parliament
Posted by Teresa at 05:37 AM * 92 comments

I should be explaining what’s been going on in the British Parliament, with links and explanations. Unfortunately I can’t, because Patrick and I spent the evening talking about it, finding bits of good stuff to read aloud to each other, and cooking and eating dinner. This was irresponsible of us, because how often does one get to use the word “prorogue”?

What’s going on: Boris Johnson is trying to drag the UK through a (“catastrophic”, says anyone sensible) hard Brexit departure, the kind where there are no arrangements between the UK and the EU about how to handle this change. He also thought that in the meantime, it would be a good idea to prorogue Parliament — that is, get Parliament to shut down and do no business — until after the hard exit was a done deal.

I wasn’t the first person to observe that the last guy who went to that much trouble to keep Parliament from doing business lost his head.

Then Parliament rebelled. Ancient much-respected Tory stalwarts voted against the government, despite the threat to (less exciting than it sounds) “withdraw the whip.” In a dramatic gesture, while Johnson was speaking and waving his arms around, Tory MP Phillip Lee silently walked across the room to sit with the Liberal Democrats, thus costing the Tories their one-vote majority. Johnson was reduced to calling for a snap national election in mid-October, but that actually requires approval by a two-thirds majority, and the leaders of both Labour and the LibDems — who rarely act in such coordination — agreed that they weren’t going to give Johnson his election before Parliament passes a bill ruling out a no-deal exit. It was Boris Johnson’s first serious fight in Parliament, and he lost big. Theresa May was photographed this evening leaving Parliament with a big grin on her face.

I abjectly apologize for being so tired, but Patrick kept finding one irresistible story, after another. Feel free to post links to anything good that you find. I’ll see you first thing in the morning.

[Update from pnh: Teresa was in fact so tired that she didn’t actually publish this last night. Posting it for her now.]

Comments on Hot times in the British Parliament:
#1 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 07:39 AM:

If we're naming important parties who agreed not to have a General Election before No Deal is off the table, please don't skip over the third-largest party in Parliament: the Scottish National Party.

The Lib Dems get spotlights, but even after last night's defections, it only has 15 members. The SNP has 35, and announced their opposition before the Lib Dems (1 minute before the Lib Dems, but still).

And I explained to at least one person last night that the result of the vote, particularly the Tory defections, can be summed up as "Conservative politicians put country before party," a statement we hear all to seldom these days.

#2 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 07:47 AM:

There's a second elephant trap, which is agreeing to a GE before Johnson has been forced to request a Brexit extension. He will argue that if they don't go to the polls immediately they are havering, and they will argue that an extension is required. All very interesting.

Meanwhile, this is the funniest infographic of the day, presumably not actually *by* Andrew Adonis:

Jacob Rees-Mogg's reclension expained

#3 ::: fromankyra ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 08:15 AM:

how often does one get to use the word "prorogue"?
I was wondering, is there a non-parliamentary definition of that word? Google claimed not the other day, but I figure here there be wordsmiths, so worth asking.
Alison Scott: this tweet claims it's from a reddit user called SuperCorbynite...

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 08:23 AM:

Well, you see, a prorogue is a rogue who's getting paid to do it. Mr Johnson draws a salary.

The opposite of prorogue is technically layrogue, but yob and bro are more frequently used.

#5 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 08:45 AM:

As fun as prorogue is to say and write (I for one am tempted to add many more iterations of "ro" in the middle), I find the actual practice (or rather, potential practice) puzzling. Parliament is sovereign. Says so more or less on the label. If a majority of Parliament wants to sit, then sit it shall.

Now, whether a majority of Parliament does in fact want to sit in defiance of the government of the day is a different matter. But with 21 defections last night, it's not at all out of the question that an anti-prororororogation majority of the Commons could continue in session past this coming Friday.

Also, as something of a connoisseur of EU fudges, I think it's possible that the Union will find a way to overlook the October 31 deadline if the UK is in the middle of an election campaign or if it has just emerged with a hung parliament.

#6 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 08:50 AM:

Thank you Doug! This is the original post, exceptionally allowed as a top level meme in r/ukpolitics and including a couple of excellent follow-ups such as "Leaner of the House" and "Here we see the classic bell-end curve".

Timeline of the Government's Majority

#7 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 08:51 AM:

Honestly I have lost the plot at this point: I do of course mean 'Thank you Fromankyra'.

#8 ::: Harry Payne ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 09:01 AM:

The biggest trap to avoid is that just because Parliament says "we don't want a No Deal Brexit", or votes against it, doesn't automatically make it so.

The leaving date is currently set for 31 October. The Withdrawal Agreement agreed by the government has also been rejected by Parliament. That doesn't stop them changing their minds before then so that we leave on that basis, but if they don't, No Deal is the legal, default option.

The other legal option is for Parliament to tell the Government to withdraw the notification to leave. Provided the rest of the EU accept that it's made in good faith, i.e. that we're not going to kick the whole leaving process off the next week, the rest of the EU will probably accept that. This is however the outside option as there are too many people and organisations with financial and/or reputational interests to uphold for that to be easy. Pride and Vulture Capitalism: a match made in Hell...

The other other option, which is a side-show compared to the other two, is for Parliament to tell the Government to ask the EU for another extension to the leaving period. They're going to have to convince the rest of the EU it's for a damn good reason. Anything other than time for getting either the existing Withdrawal Agreement or withdrawing the notification to leave through Parliament will not be kindly received.

Right now, there is very little that hoi polloi like me can do other than hope that Parliament doesn't completely mess things up so we leave with No Deal. Some MPs are beginning to realise that saying "make it so" won't cut it. Maybe there's still time for a better result.

Maybe.

#9 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 09:57 AM:

A General Election campaign may be the only reason for further delay the EU will accept. British governments (and Parliament) have wrecked our international reputation. Who will be willing to make a deal with us after this?

At least the law is clear on revoking the Article 50 notice, British and European courts have ruled so.

Nigel Farage with his Brexit Party has been mocking the European Parliament, and he probably only got there because of the electoral system used. Can you really make a deal with him, or will he split the right-wing vote?

I've seen this situation described as the "Fix bayonets" moment for tactical voting.

One big date to remember is 1st January 2020 when new EU law on tax havens and the like comes into effect. Suddenly, a lot of pro-Brexit types will find their financial secrecy at risk, and we know of one MP who has moved a substantial part of his business out of the UK and into the EU, where he has been selling Sterling short.

And one event has been a crash in the value of Sterling, which reversed as soon as Boris threatened a general election.


Seen from the inside, none of this is looking like fun.

#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 10:12 AM:

Having chosen a buffoon as leader, I was expecting to see the Tories close ranks in order to justify having chosen Boris. The fact that a bloc of Tories decided to vote country before party, as Abi put it, is something of a surprise.

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 10:12 AM:

Having chosen a buffoon as leader, I was expecting to see the Tories close ranks in order to justify having chosen Boris. The fact that a bloc of Tories decided to vote country before party, as Abi put it, is something of a surprise.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 10:47 AM:

Thanks for the explainer, Teresa & Patrick!

Oye Gevault.

I'm guessing that a chance at a new referendum is pretty slim right now?

#13 ::: Claire ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 11:40 AM:

Being Canadian, and seeing reference to prorogue-ing Parliament, I can only think of the joke that was going around during our last government - when Stephen Harper (PM) was quite fond of using that power to get his way in the face of united opposition.

What is Stephen Harper's favourite side dish?
pro-roguies
(perogies in case it's an obscure reference...)

#14 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 11:53 AM:

"The year is 2387. Earth is a member of the Federation of Planets - but without Great Britain, which is still trying to leave the EU."

#15 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 11:54 AM:

For those who, like me, know very little about the inner workings of the British Parliament, I found this explanatory Twitter thread very helpful indeed:

https://twitter.com/BeijingPalmer/status/1168948557304520704

#16 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 12:05 PM:

According to the OED, prorogue ultimately derives from the Latin prōrogāre, to prolong or extend (especially a term of office), so it’s been a political word for a long time. At some point (around the 15th century, I think) it started to mean postpone, but that use is now rare, though it clearly informs the current meaning.

BTW, if you’ve got a NYC public library card, you can get free online access to the OED. Just sign into the site with the number on the back of your card. (Works for Brooklyn Public Library cards too; I don’t know about Queens.)

#17 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 02:23 PM:

Certainly under the May government the roguery was somewhat amateur. Fortunately Mr Johnson has plenty of experience of being a rogue in both his personal life and his career, so I hope to see the standard becoming more professional, assuming he remains in office long enough.

#18 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 03:18 PM:

Possibly behind the curve here, but I found Charlie Stross's blog post from last week, and subsequent comment thread, really interesting.

#19 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 05:41 PM:

I, for one, am anti-rogue.

#20 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 09:36 PM:

Since I haven't seen it mentioned here yet:

Something called the Kinnock amendment got attached to the resolution on no "No Deal" at the last minute by a Labour MP and passed despite practically nobody wanting it, through what seems to be the result of either an extraordinary procedural error or some major skullduggery. I don't think I'm qualified to tell which, though it certainly sounds like shenanigans.

If I understand it correctly (which is doubtful) the amendment passed automatically because nobody was officially assigned to tally/report the 'No' votes.

What this amendment purports to do is to make the purpose of any further extension that the UK manages to get from the EU to vote *again* on Teresa May's repeatedly rejected hated-by-essentially-everyone withdrawal proposal.

You can read some near-real-time commentary on it here, starting a few tweets before the "What. The fuck." moment.

https://twitter.com/IanDunt/status/1169315285540777984

#21 ::: errolwi ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2019, 11:40 PM:

@11 Fragano
I think the MPs not having technically elected him (it was the party members) helped with the defections.

#22 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 03:19 AM:

Thanks for this post Teresa. I’ll probably pop in and comment more substantively later, but this seemed helpful on the Kinnock amendment.

#23 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 03:21 AM:

Also, those of you who have not seen @garius’ Brexit tapes on Twitter might find them amusing. (Also worth a look, though perhaps not much use except as a kind of conceptual art, are Jon Worth’s Brexit flowcharts.)

#24 ::: AndrDrew ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 11:15 AM:

Had to comment: I'm also up here in here in Canada, remembering the Harper government shutting down government, rather than lose votes of non confidence.

I doubt there's a connection, but it is entertaining to note: what prominent Canadian signed on to "help the UK government navigate Brexit"? Stephen Harper.

#25 ::: David M B ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 12:46 PM:

This comment by "wjts" at Lawyers, Guns, and Money sums up the situation:


It's all perfectly simple. Boris Johnson, as Chamberlain of Wales and the Marches, an office that was subsumed into the Prime Ministership by the Undeclared Acts of 1822, has the authority, on alternate Wednesdays, exclusive of the Feast Day of St. Edmund, to request and require that Her Majesty's Executive Authority for Trade, Agriculture, Pasturage, and Munitions review any and all pending legislation or treaty obligations that may impact sheep grazing in Shropshire, which Brexit certainly might, and make a formal report to the Tutelary Seneschal of the House of Commons, His Excellency the Archbishop of Bledthorpe-Under-Wall, as to whether or not the legislation or treaty obligation has been hit for six to silly mid on or is out leg before wicket. If it's the former, the result is fairly straightforward; if it's the latter, things are a little more complicated...

#26 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 01:02 PM:

Boris Johnson's brother Jo has just quit his brother's party, as MP and Minister, putting country ahead of family and party.

#27 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 02:57 PM:

I'm getting the sense that an increasing number of the Parlimentarians have "had it up to here" with the shenanigans. Let's hope that attitude spreads.

#28 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 04:46 PM:

The graph is far from the only play on the sleeping Moggie; the BBC collected a sampling. I found the first especially striking, if a bit wishful.

Fragano Ledgister @ 11: the issue with your expectation is that "the Tories" are about as clearly defined as "the Democrats" (per Will Rogers). Reports at the time were that some tiny committee presented ~160,000 Party stalwarts (however those were defined) with two unappetizing choices; possibly they choose the more fervent because they themselves are more fervent, rather than representative. (I see errolwi@21 noticed this.) But the failure of the Tory MPs to close ranks does seem more principled than expected, because (IIUC) MPs are more closely tied to the PM than Congresscritters are tied to a President. (It may have been here some years ago that I was told ~"We're voting for the PM as much as the MP." Possibly they don't see Boris's Donaldian behavior as quite so winning-of-votes as do all the critters who denounced Occupant before but are slinking along with the program now.

The Stross post starts to lose me when he says "British constitutional governance"; the UK is in this mess at least partly because it has no constitution.

I can no longer find the link (did I remember to post it in the open thread) in which one of BoJo's schoolmasters commented on his remarkable disdain for the idea that he should be bound by the same rules as anyone else. I've heard a lot against the Public School system, but I thought it was more focused on good conduct than that.

Today's BBC also observed that one reason to vote against snap elections is that the rule allowing them would let Bozo postpone them, allowing Brexit to happen during the campaign rather than after.

Meanwhile, President Chee-toh was stupid even by his low standards, attempting to pass off his blatantly hand-altered weather map as the real thing. The net has already responded with a picture of a throw-first-then-draw-the-target dartboard, with borders in the same black Sharpie that marked the alteration.

#29 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 05:27 PM:

28
The UK doesn't have a written constitution, as the US does (and let's not get into how it's being treated) but it does have laws and traditions going back a long, long time, and those are being flouted.

#30 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 06:04 PM:

Meanwhile, today's headline in the Scottish Sun ("The People's Paper for 50 Years"): Floppy Johnson can't get an election

As Teresa observed, the Irish can talk rings around most other English-speakers. But for true invective, it's Scottish people you want.

#31 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 06:07 PM:

(Mind you, due credit to the London Evening Standard, usually a tribune of boring received opinion, which began today with the headline DISASTER FOR BORIS AS BROTHER QUITS and then woke from their slumber to realize that the headline should actually be BLOW FOR BOJO AS BRO JO GO GOES.)

#32 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 06:14 PM:

As I understand it, one of the bigger problems is what to do with the open border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland (which will remain a EU member).

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 07:02 PM:

32
The Republic (Eire) isn't part of the UK, which is why it's not leaving. But their economy is going to take a big hit if the UK leaves.

#34 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2019, 08:29 PM:

And Eire's economy will take an even bigger hit if they have to go back to enforcing a border with the UK, possibly leading to a return of The Troubles. Which, seriously, nobody wants.

#35 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2019, 02:45 AM:

Apparently the matter with the Kinnock amendment not getting any "No" votes recorded was quite a deliberate move on the part of the government, because that way it got attached but no MPs had to be officially recorded as being either for or against it, which is good both for Tory MPs who are either in Remain constituencies or feeling there had better be some kind of fallback plan and for Labour MPs with a Leave constituency. So... I don't even know.

As I've reflected on it further, I realize that it's probably a good thing to have the May proposal still on the agenda. The only real way out is if the government is rapidly replaced with a new coalition that actually rejects Brexit and requests to withdraw their Article 50 withdrawal. Without that, there's no way any PM or Parliament representative will be able to negotiate any deal that's more acceptable to the Tories than May's proposal and acceptable to the EU; however unpopular it is, the UK would be almost infinitely better off with Teresa May's proposal than with a "no deal" exit.

While this new bill is I guess indicative of improved spirits and some resistance to BoJo, it's still on the level of a small child yelling "WON'T EAT SPINACH FOR DINNER!" "Well what will you eat?" "NOT SPINACH." Everyone but the currency speculator vultures are agreed that "No deal" is unacceptable, but every possible deal is also unacceptable to some group or else factually impossible.

I suppose one theoretical possibility is that 100 years from now, the UK will still be in the EU, still trying to save face, and the annual or quarterly petition to the EU for another year's extension "to negotiate" will be just one of those governmental rituals, the reason long forgotten.

#36 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2019, 09:05 AM:

PNH@31, the Evening Standard hasn't been a tribune of boring received opinion since 2017, when George Osborne parachuted in as editor. Since then, it's been an attack-Theresa-May and now stick-it-to-Boris-Johnson paper, at least in its editorial line, because George didn't appreciate being fired and doesn't like BoJo much (on account of he's met him more than once, no doubt).

#37 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2019, 02:08 PM:

P J Evans @ 29: Was it Goldwyn who said that an oral contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on? The problem here is that so much is tradition and so little is law, leaving no protection against someone like BoZho. (There is very recent relevant law, requiring a two-thirds majority for snap elections, but at last count the mini-Trump didn't have even a simple majority.)

Steve C. @ 32: specifically, the demand by hard Brexiteers that the painfully--worked-out protections for trade across this border be scrapped.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2019, 02:28 PM:

CHip @37:

How's that written-down Constitution doing in protecting the US from damage so far? (I say this in all weariness).

#39 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2019, 06:15 PM:

The opposition parties are expected on Monday to vote down the call for a general election, mostly so that someone is in charge at the deadline to ask for an extension and so they're not forced to be in the middle of an election campaign on October 31 when the current Brexit deadline hits.

More discussion: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-49609677

There is apparently speculation that in that case BoJo may call for a vote of 'No Confidence' in his own goverment and order the remaining Conservatives to vote 'No Confidence' to try to force an election, and failing that, to prevent another party or coalition taking over at a time more strategic for them. (I think if they pass a vote of No Confidence, there's a time limit on how soon one can be called again.)

The BBC has some flow-charts here for what could happen now, including that: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-46393399

Also this Twitter thread talking about how that could go wrong for him: https://twitter.com/sundersays/status/1169724756213547008

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2019, 06:33 PM:

Adding:
Jon Worth's latest flowchart is here:
https://jonworth.eu/downloads/brexitwhatnext/Brexit-What-Next-16.pdf

#42 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 04:33 AM:

As an American, I would like to say that the smugness of some of my fellow-countrymen about the wonders of a written constitution is embarrassing and infuriating. To say that the UK does not have a constitution is to misunderstand what a constitution is, and is a bit of American exceptionalism which should jump off a goddamn cliff.

I tend to call myself a failed anarchist, because I dislike government, but love institutions. I think that bureaucracy is one of the great technologies of the human race. I am not being even a little sarcastic, here. For a great many years, I have tried to tell people that government, per se, is really just a consensual delusion. It is no more nor less real than love. It exists because we say it does. For years and years, now, people have made fun of me when I say this. But both Trump and Brexit prove my point, I think. What we are seeing, right now, is what happens when the consensus about what government is, what it is for, and how it is to go about itself breaks down. In the end, government is always more solidly based in norms and tradition than in any other thing.

Government is nothing more, but also nothing less, than individual people making choices and acting upon those choices. We tend to hold harmless people acting in terrible ways if they do so under the color of law. And that is my biggest issue with government; the way we use it to erode personal responsibility. As capital has captured government, it has gotten worse and worse at holding either the institution or the people acting withing the institution responsible.

I don't have any good answers or ideas, here. But I do want people to start thinking about how important norms and traditions are, and how institutions are built out of expectations and perceptions, but are not real in and of themselves.

Governments are real in the same way that languages are real. They influence how we think, they matter, they communicate. But the exact mouth-noise that corresponds to any exact thing is, in a fundamental sense, arbitrary. Language is deeply powerful, but it is only so because it is a shared construct.

Sorry. It's late. I'll climb off my hobby horse.

#43 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 04:55 AM:

It's a good hobbyhorse.

Nix (#36), I didn't know that. Thanks.

#44 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 06:31 AM:

Graham Norton on Stephen Colbert explaining Brexit.

...nah, not really.

#45 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 06:45 AM:

Lydy: It'll be fascinating to see, if we survive this, the impact it has on the cultural consensus (and the strength thereof) (and the awareness thereof) going forward.

The old "This fence is useless and in the way! Let's tear it down! Oh...that's why there was a fence there...." O.O

#46 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 11:36 AM:

45
"That's why there are regulations".
I've seen the comment that every word of regulations is in blood. (And I've read one section of the Code of Federal Regulations. 49 CFR 192.)

#47 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 03:20 PM:

Lydy Nickerson #42: I have tried to tell people that government, per se, is really just a consensual delusion. It is no more nor less real than love. It exists because we say it does.

If that's how you're phrasing it, then I'm not at all surprised you're not getting too far with that line of argument. As phrased, it strongly suggests that you're going for confrontation ("making them wrong"), at the direct expense of actual explanation, or trying to actually convince people of your position.

In the first sentence, you call government a delusion, in the second you extend that claim to call love a delusion. Bluntly, that word "delusion" is not neutral terminology. Yes, there are certain specialists for which it may be a term of art, but for normal people, it is heavily loaded with explicit dismissal and implicit condemnation. It also implies an unwarranted position that You Have The Real Truth, while those you speak to are sadly ignorant, confused, and/or misled.

And having started in that vein, trying to rope "love" into your argument is not likely to rescue you -- if anything it might dig you deeper with a response of "how dare you call love a delusion".

Now, if you started off by calling it a shared agreement, or "a common dream", maybe even tried out the word "epiphenomenon", then I'm pretty sure you'd be getting a lot fewer people making fun of you, and more folks listening to whatever you say next.

#48 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 04:56 PM:

Clifton @ 41: in hindsight that article is rather funny; it seems devoted to a binary premise (exit now with a deal, or exit now without a deal) ignoring the possibility of asking for an extension -- which AFAICT was done and granted. (I'm sure there's some special terminology here that I'm missing, but ISTM that extension is what it amounts to.)

Lydy @ 42: if it's strictly American exceptionalism to point to the UK's lack of a written constitution, why do other countries have one? ISTR considerable UK smugness in the past about not needing a written constitution.

abi @ 38: Occupant can't dismiss a hostile House and call an election. BloJo could have until recently, when a law was passed. (Possibly the UK will find that building a constitution piecemeal works better; it might deal with grammatical ambiguities like the 2nd Amendment.) If you wish to believe that the Constitution has not prevented (or at least slowed down) other damage, feel free. (Consider the fact that Presidential appointments must be verified by the Senate; just recently we had the Nth case of their blocking a Trump attempt to foist an especially unqualified industry shill on the country.)

#49 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 06:25 PM:

CHip #48: Consider the fact that Presidential appointments must be verified by the Senate; just recently we had the Nth case of their blocking a Trump attempt to foist an especially unqualified industry shill on the country.

On the flip side, in the previous administration, we had cases of the Senate blocking qualified appointees to the Supreme Court and perhaps other positions.

The upshot is that even if government isn't always by consent of the governed, it kinda has to be by consensus of the governers. If an insurgent group can take control of enough pieces of the government, they can take it over regardless of what's written down.

And as my father (a lawyer) used to point out, with suitable acts of 3/4 of the states and both houses of Congress, the entire government of the US could be replaced with a theocratic dictatorship.

#50 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 06:33 PM:

Dave Harmon @47: I guess I am continuing my long string of completely failing to communicate. Yay? If you took from my rant that I don't believe in love, um, huh. I'll take that under advisement. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that the word epiphenomenon will not actually communicate to anyone. And the reason to use the weighted word delusion is because I am trying to shake people out of their complacency. It is not working, but I don't think that less emotional language will do the trick.


I do think my second simile is probably better and stronger. Government is like language. At its core, it is arbitrary, and gains power only because people agree that it means something in the first place. What I find so frustrating that I tend to run out of patience well before I run out of words (always a recipe for poor communication) is that government is not a thing in the way that baseballs and atoms are things Government does not really have an existence outside of our perception. If a government falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, it really doesn't make a noise. Government is always at the consent of the governed, because it doesn't exist outside of our consent. And yet, we constantly insist that it is some outside force, unmoored from human action and human behavior. And I'm ranting, and probably not communicating Sorry.


Chip @48: Some countries have written constitutions, some don't. We are not unique, and neither is Great Britain. As far as I'm aware, it's largely a function of history. Countries founded more recently have written constitutions, older ones don't, more or less. But the idea that writing a law down makes all the difference is errant nonsense, and doesn't even apply in our country. The law is heavily dependent upon precedent, and always has been. Our own system of laws frequently turns on matters of British Common Law, which is a whole bunch of precedent that got written down a couple hundred years ago. The simple truth is that custom and practice are always as important as the law, and often more so, as custom and practice will decide how the law is interpreted. Which isn't to say that there is no such thing as the law. There very much is. Lawyers study both the written law and the vast body of commentary upon it. But you may have noticed that our constitution has not protected us from the lawlessness of the Trump administration, even though there is a chunk of black-letter law that should allow us to rein him in. I genuinely don't understand what's happening with BoJo and the parliament at this point in time, but near as I can tell, tradition has as better chance of reining him in than black-letter law.

If Brits have been going about puffing up their chests and opining that the reason the US is incompetent and gauche is because we depend too greatly upon our written constitution and not enough on norms, I haven't heard it Should I hear it, I will smile and say "Boaty McBoatface." ON the gripping hand, I assume that American Exceptionalism has a direct cultural antecedent to the British Manifest Destiny, or some such rot. In neither country is it attractive or a logically sustainable line of reasoning.

#51 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 10:08 PM:

Lydy Nickerson #50

Dave Harmon @47: I guess I am continuing my long string of completely failing to communicate. Yay?

No, not yay. Not yay at all. Communicating complex ideas is a skill, one that can be learned -- and usually has to be learned. If you are failing at it, the remedy is not to keep trying the same thing over and over. If you actually want to convince people of your ideas, it's on you to learn how to get those ideas across the airspace between your brain and somebody else's brain.

If you took from my rant that I don't believe in love, um, huh.

No, and I didn't even imply anything of the sort. But as with "delusion", you were trying to exploit the emotional freight of "love", and fumbling the attempt.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that the word epiphenomenon will not actually communicate to anyone.

I said to "try out the word" for a reason. If you ask someone "do you know what an epiphenomenon is?", the response will tell you a great deal about how to approach your task at hand, which is in fact explaining a particular epiphenomenon. People who already know what it is, are already halfway to understanding what you have to say. People who don't know it yet, but are immediately interested in finding out, are at least a friendly audience, and an appropriately brief explanation can make it a lot easier to then discuss your main idea. Someone whose response amounts to "it's a scary big word" is going to take a lot more effort on your part -- it doesn't mean they can't understand it, but you will need to lead them to it by a path that they can manage to follow.

And the reason to use the weighted word delusion is because I am trying to shake people out of their complacency. It is not working, but I don't think that less emotional language will do the trick.

"Shake people out of their complacency" is, exactly, a confrontational approach. Bluntly: No, that's not necessary. I can and have explained the concept to people without reaching for their emotional buttons.

I'm not going to try and give a "sample explanation" here, because in batch-mode text, the general case becomes equivalent to a blind approach... which is to say that I'd need to write it up as an essay crafted to cover the multiple approaches needed for a variety of audience members. Others have written such essays, probably including a few here on Making Light. I feel no need to duplicate their efforts, especially because I'm talking about a much more particular task.

If I'm talking in real-time to a particular person, I can do it in a fraction of the verbiage that "the essay" would take, by interacting with them. I'd ask questions to find out what related concepts they do understand, then shape my examples to both their current understanding, and to their individual interests and knowledge stock.

In this case, with varying degrees of effort I might find examples involving anthills or beehives, street traffic patterns, water waves/currents, whichever sports they're interested in, family dynamics, or any of a dozen other topics... let alone their own experiences with government actions and public officials. The basic concept is just that general, that it can be analogized to almost anything -- but the key is to seek out the particular analogies and metaphors that will make sense to the person I'm talking to.

The point is not to tell them that you understand and they don't, nor to make them submit to your superior understanding. The point is to help them understand. But yes, that takes a lot more effort than jumping straight to confrontation, as if their failure to know what you find obvious, was a matter of mere obstinacy on their part.

#52 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2019, 10:33 PM:

Lydy Nickerson #50, addressing your second paragraph:

Yes, that paragraph, with the deeper explication is indeed much stronger and more comprehensible than the original thing you led off with in #42.

I will comment that "the consent of the governed" can seriously stretch the commonplace definition of consent, because part of what government-as-a-system does, is to punish people who try to refuse consent -- and that punishment can range from loss of benefits, all the way up to a bullet in the head.

Over in Hong Kong, we are currently seeing what happens when that consent under duress gets pushed too far -- but notice that even in China, such incidents are suprisingly rare. Here in the US, public protests are largely permitted, but they are also exploited to "release the pressure" on public outcry. That's a design choice in our government, which has its disadvantages (remember, I live in Charlottesville VA), but also has advantages. In particular, it adds greatly to the resilience of the system as a whole, and exposes a lot of useful information about public opinion.

#53 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 12:04 AM:

Lydy Nickerson & Dave Harmon: First up, full disclosure, I really like Lydy's formulation @42. I wonder if the sticking point could be released by substituting the word "fantasy" for "delusion." Fantasies being ideas we make up because they're cool, and often useful. But totally made, and don't actually exist in any meaningful way other than what we agree on.

Lydy @50: government is not a thing in the way that baseballs and atoms are things

A really neat idea I came out of NLP with: the concept of a "nominalization." That is: basically, a verb that has been nouned.* If the word you're using represents a thing you can't put in a wheelbarrow, that thing is a process. That's a distinction that too often gets lost, especially in conflicts. A thing is, and it's thingness can't be changed. A process, on the other hand, is nothing but change and relationship.

we constantly insist that it is some outside force, unmoored from human action and human behavior.

Action can't happen without an actor, is maybe what you're getting at? And where there are actors, there are choices. When "government" "does" something, it's because somebody chose to do that—even if it was choice by not choosing.

...and not for nothing, but I'm really missing the VAB right now....

* Ya see what I did there?

Dave Harmon @51: The point is not to tell them that you understand and they don't, nor to make them submit to your superior understanding.

Um...?

#54 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 12:46 AM:

Tying two subthreads together:

British—or rather, English, to be specific— exceptionalism is so baked-in and pervasive that it does not have a term.

#55 ::: fromankyra ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 03:17 AM:

A point on constitutions: being french, I think I've earned the right to say no constitution is foolproof, and can be exploited or collapse in times of crisis.
On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that there aren't any governments that can't be exploited by those who want to, because (I think this ties into what Lydy Nickerson was saying?) they only work because we all agree on it. You can't play a game with someone who'll just up-end the board, whether it's chess or catan, right?
A government is gonna have weaknesses that people usually ignore for the sake of everyone getting along, and I don't think we can avoid them, at least until we've addressed the biases that put them in place, like racism, sexism, etc.

#56 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 03:59 AM:

Well, and the thing about law (which is also a thing about language) is that it can never be absolutely unambiguous. You always always ALWAYS have to leave stuff out because, to be even remotely manageable, there's stuff you have to imply, just to get to the effing point.

And in those implications are the loopholes. That's where the rules-lawyers go to play.

(I've heard it said that the only unambiguous language is math, and I'd be willing to bet there's ambiguity and implication there, too.)

Heh. Tangentially, try these soundbites out:
• Governments exist to get stuff done.
• Law exist to protect us from each other.

(It's late, and I fully expect to come back tomorrow to find the above to be complete gibberish.)

#57 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 06:58 AM:

Jacque #53: First up, full disclosure, I really like Lydy's formulation @42. I wonder if the sticking point could be released by substituting the word "fantasy" for "delusion." ...

Yes it could -- note that I also suggested "dream" above. The thing is, her original quip was something that appeals to word-geeks like most of us, and especially to folks who already more-or-less agree with it... including myself.

But then she went on to say For years and years, now, people have made fun of me when I say this.

... And I got a very uneasy feeling, because that tells me she's not saving it for friendly audiences. Now, we here have all seen discussions of echo chambers and bubble effects. In our own geeky crowd, it's all too easy to toss around derisive quips, and to accept philosophical and psychological jargon as a working language. But that doesn't convince anyone who wasn't with us already -- and in fact, it raises the walls higher around Us, and discourage Them from even trying to understand what we're on about.

And in a time when these concepts matter, when they affect the stuff that goes in the headlines, well, we need to pay real attention to how we can convince new people, people who aren't already part of our in-groups.

#58 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 07:50 AM:

Jacque #56: I've heard it said that the only unambiguous language is math...

<cough>Godel's Theorem.<cough> Also the Halting Problem, and probably other fundamental limits to proof and calculation that don't occur to me halfway through my morning coffee.

fromankyra #55: A government is gonna have weaknesses that people usually ignore for the sake of everyone getting along, and I don't think we can avoid them, at least until we've addressed the biases that put them in place, like racism, sexism, etc.

Very true, but I think you're missing the worst part here.

A digression of sorts: A government represents a group banded together for the common welfare. Quoting from one of the American core texts:

... institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

Right there, that's balance of power. Swapping the order: People will put up with all kinds of crap as long as they're at least halfway getting along with their lives. But when they're not... then they start kicking back, and reconsidering the basis of their society.

But let's return from that digression... and reconsider the foundation of our society. Namely, a bunch of white men gathering to preserve both the profits of their labors... and the privileges to which they were accustomed.

Racism (and class dominance) didn't start out as "a flaw in the system". It started out as a goal in the system, championed by the Southern plantation owners. Including my town's patron saint Thomas Jefferson -- certainly with some ambivalence, but in the end he came down on the side of preserving his own privileges, status, and wealth.

That's how America was founded, with its original sin of slavery baked in. And even as the economic basis for slavery crumbled beneath it, the slave-owners and overseers, and their descendants after them, have fought to maintain "the privileges to which they were accustomed", especially that fundamental privilege of dominance over others.

Sexism likewise, except that the subordination of women was so taken for granted, that its few challengers didn't even get a mention in the core texts. Which is why women didn't even get the right to vote until within my grandmother's lifetime, and the ERA has been dead in the water every damn time it's been floated.

What's changed isn't a matter of "finding the flaws in the system". What's changed is the popular sentiment, the basic attitudes of society. Those changes have been uneven and piecemeal across various social groups, but it's maintained a steady progress across the whole population, with laggards coming under increasing pressure to get with the program.

And every so often, we get a tipping point, where the underdogs manage to kick back and claim some actual power for themselves. And at each tipping point, blacks and women have each successively claimed first the bare trappings of citizenship, and then, step by step, more of the rights allowed to full members of our society.

#59 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 09:21 AM:

Dave Harmon @ 58:
probably other fundamental limits to proof and calculation

If I recall correctly from when I was learning about proofs*, mathematical proofs can be based on both theorems, which can be proven, and postulates, which are observably true, but can’t be proven. And a couple of really fundamental things were postulates.

And I'm pretty sure there’s an analogy to governments in there too, but I’ve only had one cup of tea so far this morning.

* Which I didn’t pay that much attention to, as I was far more interested in what you could do with math than how math worked.

#60 ::: Tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 09:24 AM:

David M B @ 25:

I'd like to copy your comment and post it elseweb. May I?

#61 ::: Tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 09:49 AM:

The unwritten British Constitution largely relies on politicians being jolly good chaps and chapesses and Doing The Right Thing. We currently have a sitting MP who, having found himself unable to fulfil his duties, should have tendered his resignation*. He did, but withdrew it again, possibly having realised that it would be to his financial advantage to fight and lose the next election.

Even M@ggie Th@tcher went when she was told to go.

*Actually MPs can't resign. They have to apply for the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds or the Manor of Northstead, thus disqualifying themselves from sitting in Parliament. But you knew that.

#62 ::: fromankyra ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 11:52 AM:

Dave Harmon @58: I very much agree that the baking in of racism and sexism into the system was intentional, though I did fail to convey it.
I'm reminded of a thread I saw a while back pointing out just how much the rise of capitalism relied on slavery, and how because of that it cannot be a just system.
I'm trying to figure out how the gap in my judgement between "the foundations are rotten" and "it's easy to push the walls down" happened, but you're right, there's a clear connection there.

#63 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 12:12 PM:

Lydy Nickerson said to Dave Harmon: "I guess I am continuing my long string of completely failing to communicate. Yay?"

Dave's response (#51):

No, not yay. Not yay at all. Communicating complex ideas is a skill, one that can be learned -- and usually has to be learned. If you are failing at it, the remedy is not to keep trying the same thing over and over. If you actually want to convince people of your ideas, it's on you to learn how to get those ideas across the airspace between your brain and somebody else's brain.

It's true that communicating complex ideas is a skill. For instance, I'm pretty sure you don't mean to sound even a fraction as condescending as you do here.

Particularly since you'd already lectured Lydy, rather loftily, about how bad her arguments supposedly were.

Personally, I thought Lydy made her points just fine. But for whatever reasons, after your first rebuke, she saw fit to acknowledge that her communication might not have been perfect. And she made a small joke about it. Which you're now using as an opportunity to once again put the boot in.

You're making some valuable points in this conversation, but there are better ways to address other people's mild rhetorical flaws.

#64 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 12:38 PM:

Who benefits financially from a no-deal Brexit? Certain UK based corporations/industries? Currency traders?

#65 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 01:10 PM:

Dave Harmon @58: I really have tried multiple modalities when attempting to communicate this concept. I chose "delusion" in this instance because I knew I was writing for the audience of ML. I do try to communicate this concept to a variety of audiences, some hostile, some not. I do try to adjust my vocabulary based on my audience. I will say that I don't think that epiphenomena is useful for any of the audiences I have tried to communicate with, but who knows? For audieces familiar with the concept, it tends to be too bloodless to communicate the sense of urgency that I feel the concept requires, and for audiences that don't know it, it tends to sound too high-brow and distancing. Still, I'll put it into the toolbox for further consideration. In the context of ML, I was assuming that there was a generally broad understanding of the difference between physical nouns and nouns describing abstracts, and went for a more provocative description. It worked for some people (Hey, Jacque, Patrick) but not for you. Such are the perils of language, ne?

I do want to back up, since I think I did make a very significant error which your comments about Hong Kong make clear. When I casually toss of the phrase "consent of the governed" it completely sounds like victim-blaming. I apologize. I do not think that people beaten by police in any way consented to it. I also think that the blame for such brutality is complex, but should be rooted in noticing the human agency involved. The cop who does the beating should not be exonerated because he is a cop. He did that thing. However, the social matrix in which he committed the act is also important, and the result of the concatenation of many people's individual and collective choices. I think we need to radically rethink how we authorize state power. I think that we need to understand that state violence happens because, collectively, we have decided that a certain amount of it is necessary to create a peace. Worse, because of the way we allocate wealth and the way class and race structures work, we as a society much more easily tolerate poor brown people being abused, but do not tolerate rich white people being held to even minimum standards.

Another thing I bang on about, often in ways that confuse my audience, is the ways in which choice is neither absolute nor completely constrained. We make choices in part informed by our understanding of the possible, and in part based on aspirations. And we need to hold people responsible for bad choices, while at the same time understanding the pressures that created those choices. And that can end up sounding like I want to hold everyone or no one responsible. What I want to do is talk about the way responsiblity is braided and interactive.

Is any of this making sense to you? I actually do care about communicating, even when I don't always make the best choices for a particular audience about vocabulary.

#66 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 01:15 PM:

Steve C. @64: I have seen several people comment that people like Rees-Morgan and BoJo actually stand to gain quite substantially from Brexit.

I also suspect that Russian oligarchs would really like to turn Britain into a haven for wealth and money laundering, and that EU regulations interfere with that. They have certainly bought up a fair amount of London real estate, and have strong relationships with numerous banks in the City. So Brexit, plus some additional campaigning to change various financial laws (and who's going to be paying attention to weird financial regulations when they're short on toilet paper and medication) would definitly be to their advantage. I think it goes under-noticed that the Leave campaign had many similar types of Russian interference in its favor, much like the Trump campaign

#67 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 01:17 PM:

Jacque @56: (I've heard it said that the only unambiguous language is math, and I'd be willing to bet there's ambiguity and implication there, too.)

Certainly there are assumptions that are baked in. Major advances come when somebody points them out, so people can start asking "what happens if we consider the alternatives?" Non-Euclidean geometry would be an example.

In science, many "laws" are predicated upon certain basic assumptions that are declared when possible. For example, the second law of thermodynamics (the one about entropy always increasing) is applicable only to closed systems. Nonsense Occurs when people restate it in colloquial language, or use technical terms in non-technical ways, and omit that crucial restriction of applicability to closed systems... e.g. "proofs" of the existence of God. (Note that a fallacious proof is not a disproof.)

#68 ::: SunflowerP ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 01:43 PM:

Lydy, Jacque, Dave Harmon, and fromankyra, @various: The word I'd usually venture is 'social construct'. This is not without its own pitfalls; it is a term of art, albeit a fairly common one, and self-explanatory (and people will take it to imply superficiality).

I'm largely in agreement with all of you, but...

Lydy @50 'Government is always at the consent of the governed, because it doesn't exist outside of our consent.'

Dave @52 notes that this stretches the definition of 'consent'; I note that it also constrains the definition of 'government' to exclude many historical and current forms of insert-alternate-term-here (or stretches 'consent' even farther than Dave discusses); or, alternately, doesn't adequately distinguish between 'consensus about what government refers to (in $culture)' and 'consent to being governed in that way.'

I wish I had the brain, today, to participate more actively in the subconvo; it's an excellent one and of great interest to me.

#69 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 01:59 PM:

SunFlowerP @68: I wish there were better ways to talk about consent. If I support the concept of police, do I then consent to the murder of Eric Garner? If I am fine with the murder of Eric Garner, and argue that it is within the normal realm of police behavior, do I then consent to being physically assaulted by police when I jaywalk? I think the answer is both yes and no. I think we consent to things all the time that have huge implications for other people, which we either do nor don't know. And consent is maybe not the right word, but I am unsure that better ones exist. I want a word that includes a ssense of agency and responsibility, but which still acknowledges the limits of knowledge and the constraints of power. So, yeah, dunno. But I do think we need to talk about it. In a very real sense, we consent to be governed because we do not revolt. But in another very real sense, we do not necessarily consent to everything that the government does, even though we don't revolt. I am kind of an anarchist, but opposed to revolution, because the results of revolution are so likely to be both unintended and catastrophic. Which means I consent to be governed? Maybe? A little bit?

Social construct is a great phrase. But it participates in creating an illusion that an abstract concept has concrete reality, and I keep on wanting to challenge people to try to understand the differences. Because you can't negotiate with gravity, but you can with society. (Although, one is likely to lose in both cases. Sigh.)

#70 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 03:23 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden #63: For instance, I'm pretty sure you don't mean to sound even a fraction as condescending as you do here.

That's a fair cop. Lydy, I'm sorry for being cranky and condescending at you. I have already been trying to move on to other topics, and I'll lay off the lecture on communication.

Lydy Nickerson #65: When I casually toss of the phrase "consent of the governed" it completely sounds like victim-blaming. I apologize.

FWIW, I didn't take it that way. As you note, this is fundamentally a "hard problem" in morality. And yes, you're making a lot of sense here.

think that we need to understand that state violence happens because, collectively, we have decided that a certain amount of it is necessary to create a peace.

Well, that's looking at it from the individual point of view. Looking at it from the epiphenomenonal level is... even more disheartening. Consider the the government as an organism. More-or-less by definition, one of the things an organism does, is to maintain its own internal state. Which means that it intrinsically needs to resist both internal and external attempts to change that state. (This applies also to the class issues you go on to mention.)

Our own body sends immune cells after not only intruding cells but also our own cells if they're acting too strangely; a "successful" cancer or other tumor, is one that's already gotten past this process and managed to suborn or isolate itself from our immune system. But its fiercest retaliation is "xenoimmunity" -- the response to cells recognized as belonging to another animal. That's why no vertebrate, and damn few insects, can chew their way into our body and make themselves at home. It also complicates the hell out of attempts at medical transplants....

Now, the thing is, not every change in state is actually a threat. E.g., Our bodily homeostasis famously kicks back against attempts to change dietary habits, sharply increase our activity level, or "sell off" a portion of our fat stores. ;-) But sometimes, we really do want to lose weight or build muscle... and that's based on decisions made at a level far above anything that our endocrine system can engage with. Mostly, our bodies do have enough flexibility that we can in fact make such changes, though sometimes it takes inordinate effort. Mostly. Some people's bodies are bound into feedback loops strong enough that they simply cannot lose weight by "working within the rules", and changing that will require external intervention: Artificial diets and medication, or even surgical changes to their body.

Similarly, any government is going to have a homeostatic function -- if it doesn't, it will rapidly cease to exist and/or change into something else. That's something that's reflected in the formal language of constitution and law, but not limited to that... because after so many millennia of living in close quarters, we humans have evolved behavior patterns which function as the unit-level rules for government in general. "Go with the flow" balances against "stand up for your rights". "Make sure you get what's coming to you" is in common tension with everyone else saying the same.

More generally, our personal discomfort with change, that is our desire for a stable environment, acts as a broad support for the upper-level homeostasis. Only when it gets overbalanced by other factors (notably, personal threat) do most folks really start looking for change. At the same time, our own government does include means for internal change. While these are balanced by both the formal and bottom-up homeostatic factors, their inclusion is meant to ensure that we can change without getting to the point of actual insurrection. Mostly they work pretty well, but never forget that they have outright failed once already, that being the Civil War.

All that said, perspective matters, and society is not only based on self-interest. When widespread suffering becomes widely visible, empathy kicks in -- that's why successive administrations have tried so hard to suppress public awareness of conditions in our prisons, migrant-labor camps, "interrogation centers", and (lately) immigration facilities. When enough people who weren't fully under the boot had a friend or family member or friend who'd been chewed on by the So-Called War On Drugs, public support for that started to crumple. And especially when public figures and celebrities -- the heroes and icons of the modern age -- weigh in on an issue, they draw popular opinion in their wake.

But as we've become increasingly aware, it's not just our own social structures we have to be concerned with. There are other nations that are trying to tamper with our society. What I'm hoping is that the growing awareness of Russian and Chinese manipulation will trigger social xenoimmunity, aka outrage, against both the perpetrators and their tools among us. The social networks are starting to try and kick back on that... but their past neglect of security issues has left them woefully behind the curve, and it really is a tough problem that's not limited to technical issues.

And at this point I think I'm rambling, so I'll leave off for the moment.

#71 ::: Dave MB ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2019, 10:50 PM:

Tykewriter @60: I copied it from LGM myself with no permission, so I can have no objection to your doing the same, as long as you credit it to "wjts" rather than to me. Here's a link to the LGM thread, which I should have posted above:

https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2019/09/not-now-boris

#72 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2019, 08:22 AM:

Looking up at my last. Totally rambling, and not really addressing the conversation either. Sorry, I'll come back to this conversation sometime when I can focus on it specifically.

#73 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2019, 11:49 AM:

Dave Harmon @58: <cough>Godel's Theorem.<cough> Also the Halting Problem Also Joel Polowin @67:

Okay, maybe "least ambiguous"? (Math not Zathras skill.)

SunflowerP @68: The word I'd usually venture is 'social construct'.

I've also heard "social contract." Which I like, because it implies a thing that we have agreed to and signed onto (though usually by implication rather than consciously. This is where (what I understand about) Heinlein's "Covenant" becomes an interesting proposition. IIUC, it's an actual literal contract that one signs into in order to be allowed to participate in society. Which implies that one is explicitly schooled in the particulars. The idea being that if one breaks the contract, one is doing so knowingly and deliberately, with a different order of consequences brought to bear.)

Lydy Nickerson @69: I wish there were better ways to talk about consent

FWIW, I think you're doing a marvelous job here.

But it participates in creating an illusion that an abstract concept has concrete reality

I do believe that understanding of the, well, "hypothetical" nature of a lot of our social conventions is thin on the ground, and it gives me great joy to see someone who's got a solid grip on that idea. It can be tricky to convey, because you're challenging how people think about things, and fluency with thinking about how to think is not as common as we might perhaps prefer. But it is important, and so I endorse efforts to hammer that point home.

Dave Harmon @70: Our own body sends immune cells after not only intruding cells but also our own cells if they're acting too strangely

To extend the metaphor, it's probably worth pointing out that autoimmune disease is also a thing, where the immune cells can also go after perfectly normal, healthy tissues. (And is the very bastard to treat effectively, let me tell you.) I think it could be argued that BLM is a direct result of this sort of disease.

& @72: Totally rambling

But interesting rambling, at least!

#74 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2019, 03:51 PM:

Lydy Nickerson @ 64: I'd love to see something firmer than "comments" about BoJo, Moggie, et al. profiting in money from Brexit; it's the sort of slam that is easy to make but harder to prove -- and ISTM that their main currency is their own self-esteem, inflated (at least for a while) by the adulation of the unthinking. (This can be exceedingly fleeting; the BBC repeated recently that a local asked BJ why he was in spouting off Yorkshire rather than touting his alleged no-backstop plan in Brussels.)

The BBC reports that the sleeping populace is beginning to wake: 200,000 people register to vote in 72 hours. Granted, some of the younger interviewees still talk about voting for the Conservatives -- but my guess is that they'll tip a few constituencies out from under the current nutjobs. In my wildest dreams, there's even a movement away from first-past-the-post to preferential voting.

#75 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2019, 07:10 PM:

Jacque #73: autoimmune disease

Well... I think BLM is a situation complex enough that the metaphor breaks down. The police brutality that inspired it is classic enforcement of the prior status quo, but at that point, the social path doesn't seem to have a real analogy within our body, because the problem with autoimmune disease is exactly that the immune system doesn't back down.

Or on second thought, maybe it does have an analogy... but back during the body's early development, when immune-cell lines that attack the body's own tissues can get stamped out, as part of learning self-recognition.

I do believe that understanding of the, well, "hypothetical" nature of a lot of our social conventions is thin on the ground

Well, the thing is, epiphenomena are "real" too! They're certainly real enough to invoke (or be shaped by) evolutionary selection, because evolution doesn't care about causes (or methods), only results.

Going back to one of Lydy's first examples, love is totally a real thing, it's just not a material thing -- a phenomenon, rather than an object. It can drastically affect our lives and our behavior, and by the same token, we can also affect it through our own behavior (e.g., cultivating it or disrupting it).

Our social conventions may not be fixed in stone, but that doesn't mean they aren't real, it just means that they're negotiable. But such negotiations always involve prices and trade-offs....

#76 ::: Raven Onthill ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2019, 10:29 PM:

"British politics today is what results from the collision of an unstoppable force, an immovable object and a clown car." – Editorial, The Globe and Mail, Toronto

#77 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2019, 10:37 AM:

So, John "Orrrdeerrrrr Bercow—did he resign yesterday? I'm so confused....

Dave Harmon @75: "Phenomenon" in your terms are what I would term "process." Not a physical phenomenon per se,* but rather the ways in which physical things interact dynamically. One can treat the process as an object for the purposes of thinking and talking about it (see frex this sentence), but this will lead to some very particular errors in conceptualization. It's those errors and the way they derange our thinking that (I think) Lydy is getting at.

* At the risk of dropping down the symantical black hole, "phenomenon" connotes to me something that is either an object or a process—or, for that matter many (all?) other things which occur...?

#78 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2019, 11:30 AM:

CHip #31

Thanks!

#79 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2019, 12:21 PM:

@Jacque - He announced that he would be stepping down at the next General Election, or when the House of Commons adjourns on 31st October, whichever happens first. For now, he's still there.

#80 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2019, 11:36 AM:

TODAY'S BREXIT SHOCKER:

There are lawsuits proceeding in both England and Scotland over the matter of whether it was lawful to prorogue parliament.

The first Scottish hearing found that it was indeed lawful. The plaintiffs appealed; today, the Appeals Court in Edinburghh ruled that it bloody wasn't lawful, and vacated the prorogation.

This case is now headed to the UK-wide Supreme Court on September 17th, when a 3 day hearing is scheduled.

(Not sure of the status of the appeal over the English lawsuit—England and Scotland have distinctively different legal systems, and the Scottish one has some subtle constitutional differences—but if that one results in prorogation being ruled legal, while under Scottish law it's ruled to be illegal, welp, that's some interesting weed we're collectively smoking.)

#81 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2019, 11:36 AM:

A bit late to the party, but:

Much admiration for Lydy Nickerson's articulation of what really makes a polity operate decently. (Though I rather agree with Dave Harmon about the rhetorical effectiveness of some of the terminology--but that's a whole other discussion about language, argument, and description.) Clearly-defined protocols, whether written down or not, are necessary, but the principles, values, and goals that they embody can be distorted or violated by sufficiently clever, corrupt, and shameless manipulators. Which is why the distortions wrought by Trump and Johnson are so disturbingly similar--both proceed by a combination of rules-lawyering, shit-stirring/demagoguery, and barefaced protocol-breaking, along with the backing of interest groups who stand to gain by the resulting damage.

This kind of organizational corruption operates at every level of human organization--even volunteer organizations can be taken over by opportunists or bullies who know how to count the house and strike when the quorum is dominated by their buddies. The Trumpist/GOP program of appointing administrators who will undermine the functions of their departments, and especially of packing the federal courts with ideologues and cranks (with the express cooperation of Mitch McConnell and those Senators who go along with him) is deeply destructive, since it's the courts that will decide whether and when the principles that the laws are supposed to uphold will be honored.

BTW, reading this thread--this site--is a great relief after the rhetorical/logical/ill-mannered swamp of much of the rest of the internet. And huzzah! for fussing over terminology and general semantic tight-assery.

#82 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2019, 12:21 PM:

Actually, the Appeals Court verdict was even more shocking than just finding the prorogation was unlawful: the judges ruled that the Chief of Privy Council (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and the government had lied to the Queen about the reason for prorogation.

That's quite a thing.

If the Supreme Court upholds this, I have no idea where it goes but it might conceivably end with the monarch sacking the Prime Minister and/or Privy Council for gross misconduct in office. Even if it doesn't go there, it's still likely that it drags the Crown into what was previously a crisis of government and parliament.

#83 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2019, 05:07 PM:

I attempted to subscribe to comments in this thread via RSS (my usual practice) and got an error message. Something to the effect of "This XML file does not have any style sheet associated with it. The document tree is below."

Does anyone know what this means? More importantly, does anyone know who to subscribe to the RSS feed for comments?

#84 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2019, 08:45 PM:

Juli @83
That sounds like your browser is trying to display the XML as a page. Depending on what you're using for RSS, you might need to check what your browser is doing with .xml files, or else pass the URL to the xml directly to your RSS reader, or possibly save the file.

What are you using to handle RSS? That would narrow down the fix a lot.

#85 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2019, 09:22 PM:

Re: "consent of the governed":

I think it's worth taking a closer look at the famous sentence that phrase comes from: "To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed." That adjective is important. It's not that all governmental power comes from the consent of the governed; it's that any governmental power that does not come from the consent of the governed is unjust.

#86 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2019, 10:08 PM:

Charlie Stross #82: Constitutional crisis?

Chris #85: An excellent point! But it doesn't completely cover the issues with consent; considering that a lawbreaker does not necessarily consent to the law they broke. The big example that comes to mind is Prohibition, but that might not be the best example, given how Prohibition so badly damaged the rule of law in America.

#87 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2019, 10:38 AM:

I see Boris Johnson and I keep expecting the Doctor to show up and force him to reveal that, yes, he *is* an alien invader. (That hair of his is rather suspicious.)

#88 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2019, 02:14 PM:

Serge @87

And the problem would be fixed by a woman.

There's so many ways in which the current Doctor Who team goes against the current right-wing loony tone of British politics.

(If that doesn't make you wonder at the motives of the current screaming Doctor Who critics...)

#89 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2019, 02:46 PM:

@87: Oh, ghods if only....

#90 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2019, 09:13 AM:

Dave... Jacque... It was suggested that Boris might be a Slitheen.

#91 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2019, 11:22 AM:

Someone should chuck some vinegar at him, just to check.

#92 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2019, 04:36 AM:

Boris keeps on lying. And he isn't even competent. He was claiming all the fire hydrants in New York were once made of British steel, by a company in Rotherham.

The company was a brass foundry.

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