We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“Bringing that choice into the equation”

“Ban smoking at home, say Scots campaigners”, reports the Sunday Times. This headline is followed by the breezy standfirst,

Move to save kids from second-hand exposure

That’s “kids” like wot the Times is down wiv.

Anti-smoking campaigners in Scotland are seeking to stop people lighting up at home as part of a drive to reduce the harmful health effects of inhaling secondhand tobacco smoke.

Last week, Dr Sean Semple, an academic from Aberdeen University, said restrictions on smoking at home may have to be imposed to protect children.

Odd how campaigners against passive smoking so often seem fond of the passive voice. Dangerous things, these restrictions imposed by nobody in particular, you can breathe them in without realising it and then you get cancer.

Meanwhile, Ash Scotland, the charity that helped to bring about a ban on smoking in public places in 2006, believes more could be done to protect residents in social housing.

There is concern that despite existing laws, hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland are still at risk from exposure to secondhand smoke in their homes.

Each week, dozens of children across Britain are taken to hospital through inhaling secondhand smoke, which is known to increase the risk of asthma, as well as ear and chest infections.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Failing that, as the Times does, any evidence at all for the claim that “dozens of children a week” are taken to hospital through inhaling second hand smoke would be nice.

Sheila Duffy, the chief executive of Ash Scotland, said the charity was seeking a meeting with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to discuss the possibility of a smoking ban.

A smoking ban in social housing has proved immensely popular in the US, in California and cities such as New York and Philadelphia.

So a ban on Group X getting the limited supply of rent-controlled social housing proves immensely popular with social housing tenants not in Group X, not to mention potential social housing tenants for whom the chances of getting it have just increased. Colour, or as they say in the US, “color”, me surprised.

“Tobacco companies often talk about choice in smoking. However, for many people the choice to live free from breathing in tobacco smoke is just not there,” said Duffy.

“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation.” One day soon we will have a Ministry of Choice so Sheila Duffy can concern herself with giving everyone the choice to live in a world free from choice.

“We are keen to explore ways of bringing that choice into the equation for new social-housing tenants and increasing protection for those living in buildings with shared common spaces.”

Thanks for letting us in on the joke, but why now?

This story has been quite widely reported in the British press:

‘Special relationship’ was seen as a joke by US diplomats, claims former Presidential adviser: Aide also admits slipping Malvinas references into press conferences in bid to ‘spoil it’

Barack Obama and his aides regarded the idea of a special relationship between Britain and the US as a joke, it was claimed last night.

Jeremy Shapiro, a former presidential adviser, said the special relationship was ‘unrequited’ and he revealed he would insert references to ‘the Malvinas’ – Argentina’s name for the Falklands – into Press conferences.

He must have been cross when Obama couldn’t even get that right.

This story is not so much news as confirmation of what everybody had guessed anyway. The interesting question for me is why admit it now? Shapiro was speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. That’s nice and all, but is impressing that audience enough to make it worth losing your reputation for discretion, which ought to still matter to someone who now works at the European Council on Foreign Relations?

Mr Shapiro is following in the footsteps of Obama’s former political strategist David Axelrod, who admitted in 2015 that Obama’s 2008 change from supporting to opposing gay marriage was completely cynical:

Axelrod: Obama Misled Nation When He Opposed Gay Marriage In 2008

Axelrod writes that he knew Obama was in favor of same-sex marriages during the first presidential campaign, even as Obama publicly said he only supported civil unions, not full marriages. Axelrod also admits to counseling Obama to conceal that position for political reasons. “Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union,'” Axelrod writes.

Safely in power, and needing to appeal to rich white donors rather than poor black voters, Obama modified his position right back again two years later. Anyone who had observed the timing of Obama’s switches as related to the US electoral cycle will scarcely be bowled over by Axelrod’s revelation. What is still unrevealed is was the benefit to Axelrod in finally saying this?

The modern idea of a university

Anger as Oxford college bans Christian group from freshers’ fair

A University of Oxford college banned Christian Union representatives from attending its freshers’ fair over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers”.

Balliol Christian Union (CU) was told the college’s student body, the JCR, wanted the freshers’ fair to be a “secular space”, according to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell.

Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it, according to leaked emails seen by the paper. Balliol CU boycotted this option.

[…]

In an email exchange, JCR vice-president Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR committee, reportedly told a CU representative: “We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

Harm? Think of it as toughening ’em up for their first tutorial. It used to be said that the fierce, personal engagement with ideas engendered by the tutorial system was what set Oxbridge apart. I had to check, but apparently they do still hold tutorials despite the risks. The University website tells potential students that at tutorials they will need to be ready to present and defend [their] opinions, accept constructive criticism and listen to others. And Freddy Potts ain’t gonna be there to hold your hand.

The solicitous Mr Potts continues:

According to the paper, he added: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

At one time the idea of a university was a little less protective:

As universities face an estimated £4.2bn in spending cuts and increasing pressure to become more “market driven”, the recently beatified John Henry Newman would have had something to say about the possible impact on higher education. The clergyman, Oxford academic and famed convert to Catholicism gave a series of lectures in 1852 reflecting on the university’s purpose that were published as The Idea of a University in the same year.

The author of this article, Sophia Deboick, was naive to think that pressure to become more market-driven was the main threat to the concept of the university as a place of broad learning, but she writes well on Newman’s contribution to that idea:

For Newman, the ideal university is a community of thinkers, engaging in intellectual pursuits not for any external purpose, but as an end in itself. Envisaging a broad, liberal education, which teaches students “to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyse”, Newman held that narrow minds were born of narrow specialisation and stipulated that students should be given a solid grounding in all areas of study. A restricted, vocational education was out of the question for him. Somewhat surprisingly, he also espoused the view that universities should be entirely free of religious interference, putting forward a secular, pluralist and inclusive ideal.

Two years after the publication of The Idea of a University the Oxford University Act 1854 “opened the university to students outside the Church of England, as there was no longer a requirement to undergo a theological test or take the Oath of Supremacy.” That is what Newman meant by “religious interference”: the power to compel those attending the university to conform, or pretend to conform, to a particular religion and to exclude those of different beliefs.

We have not quite come full circle yet, but give it time.

The bleeding obvious

Frances Ryan’s Guardian article, “Period poverty is leaving women such as Kerry isolated and ashamed” started off with a call for sympathy which I can answer. It described how a woman called Kerry, bringing up three children (two of them autistic) alone and unwaged, sometimes found herself without even £2 for a box of tampons, and could not bring herself to ask the people at the food bank for them. That is sad. Let us be aware that women can find themselves in this position, and help them in a sensitive way.

Then it got stupid.

It isn’t hard to see why sanitary products are often out of reach. Research shows pads and tampons cost women around £13 every month. Add another £8 for new underwear, and then almost a fiver for pain relief. That means women need to find more than £300 each year for periods – or the equivalent of a fortnight’s rent.

The “pads and tampons” link takes you to that well known scientific journal, the Huffington Post. It claimed that respondents to a survey (I saw no mention of who carried it out or how the sample was selected) on average spent the following “on different areas relating to their period”:

· Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups – £13

· New underwear (due to spillages) -£8

· Pain relief – £4.50

· Chocolate/sweets/crisps – £8.50

· Other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.) – £7

Honestly, I could have filled up the remainder of this post without moving my finger from the ? key. “Research shows”?? Chocolates?????? Yeah, I do kinda see that a new DVD, a glossy magazine and a box of choccies can be a comfort when suffering from period pain, but really, we are not talking about desperately needed sanitary essentials here. I also fail to see exactly why one needs new underwear every time there is a spillage. Every time and every month? I mean, sorry to be icky, but things can be washed. Even if there is a substantial group of women who find it unbearable to do anything other than bin bloodstained underwear (heaven knows how they toilet train their kids) they don’t have to spend £8. Tesco sells four pairs of knickers for £4.50. That’s just over a quid a pair.

While we are at Tesco’s, let us look at some of those other prices.

Pain relief £4? Pain relief thirty pence, actually.

Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups £13? A “Feminesse” menstrual cup was fairly pricy at £17.10, but the whole point is that it is reusable and lasts for years. When it came to the tampons and pads or towels most women use, and for which Tesco sell their own-brand products, the prices were as follows: Tesco regular tampons 20-pack: 95p. (A pack of twenty is usually enough for one period.) Tesco super tampons 20-pack: also 95p. Maxi regular sanitary towels 10-pack: 23p. Twenty-three pence. Cheap as chips, as the saying goes. Cheaper.

Tesco is not uniquely benevolent. The other major supermarkets and chains like Superdrug are much the same, or even cheaper.

Frances Ryan is supposed to be the Guardian‘s expert on the deprived, the disabled, those failed by the system. I am not one to demand that politicians or journalists know the price of everything in a shopping basket, but you would think she of all people would have looked at that claim of £13 per month as an average for sanitary products and £4.50 for pain relief, and thought, that’s obviously wrong.

Never mind. The average prices claimed for period products in some silly survey and silly Guardian writers believing them are not my point; the actual prices in the most widely used supermarkets are. Period poverty is not worth bothering about. Capitalism has already solved it. When forty sanitary pads can already be purchased for a pound the money the government would have to spend to make them widely available for free is wasted. Worse than wasted; the salaries of umpteen Period Poverty Support Workers will come out of budgets that could – conceivably – have been used to help the poor. Let me put it another way: someone who cannot afford to pay for sanitary towels also cannot afford food. They do need help, urgently. However passing laws and setting up programmes to supply only that small fraction of the help they need that relates to a couple of packs of tampons is incredibly inefficient. If women in crisis need to be given sanitary products, don’t campaign for the government to launch an initiative, take the initiative yourself. There are charities who specialise in exactly that form of aid and will accept donations in kind or in cash.

As a matter of fact although most of the stories I have read on this subject, including the BBC link from Ryan’s article, have headlines that talk as if the problem is period poverty, when I read the stories below the headlines, the real problem far more often seems to be period ignorance or period embarrassment. But the steps needed to help women and girls with these issues do not generate column inches for journalists, photo opportunities for politicians, or outrage for activists.

The mask slips

The Guardian‘s Owen Jones asked the following question on Twitter:

How quickly should anti-LGBTQ rail tycoon and SNP donor Brian Souter’s assets be nationalised by a Labour Government?

Wanna see some hot models?

As ever, Paris was the place to see really hot models, but you have missed your chance. A couple of years ago they were basking in the admiration of the world. Now, they are looking a little old. However you can still read about them in today’s Times:

We were wrong — worst effects of climate change can be avoided, say scientists

Catastrophic impacts of climate change can still be avoided, according to scientists who have admitted they were too pessimistic about the chances of limiting global warming.

The world has warmed more slowly than had been predicted by computer models, which were “on the hot side” and overstated the impact of emissions on average temperature, research has found.

New forecasts suggest that the world has a better chance than claimed of meeting the goal set by the Paris Agreement on climate change of limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The study, published in the prestigious journal Nature Geoscience, makes clear that rapid reductions in emissions will still be required but suggests that the world has more time to make the necessary changes.

Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change at University College London and one of the study’s authors, admitted that his previous prediction had been wrong.

He stated during the climate summit in Paris in December 2015: “All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5C is simply incompatible with democracy.”

Emphasis added. Professor Grubb was not alone. An article in New Scientist from December 2015 that included that quote from Professor Grubb also said,

And time has nearly run out for limiting warming to 2 °C. “If we wait until 2020, it will be too late,” climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre in the UK told New Scientist on Friday. “It’s a very small window.”

As for 1.5 °C, it would take nothing less than “a true world revolution”, according to Piers Forster of the University of Leeds. “We need renewable energy, nuclear power, fracking, zero-carbon transport, energy efficiency, housing changes,” he said. “Even international aviation and shipping that were excluded from this report will need to be tackled within the next few years.”

I remain more of a believer in anthropogenic climate change than many here, but after three or four cycles of this, cynicism does creep in. There is the cycle of direct prediction: DOOM BY YEAR X > two years before year X doom has failed to show any sign of arrival > DOOM BY X+10 AND WE TOTALLY HAVE GOT IT RIGHT THIS TIME. As with the lifecycle of the periodical cicada, whole theses could be written about how the the swarming and dying off of predictions of climate doom is correlated with the emergence and retreat of predictions that the only way to avoid climate doom is a globally imposed command economy. There is a long, slow rising line in which something like Professor Forster’s “true world revolution” is more and more incontrovertibly the only chance, until the date it is going to be needed to be done by becomes so close that (a) it obviously ain’t gonna happen, and (b) people start saying that if “our only chance” is something that obviously ain’t gonna happen, we might as well take our tune from the besieged citizens of Jerusalem in Isiah 22:13 and have joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine, for tomorrow we die. At this point the trendline for true world revolution being the only solution falls off a scarp slope and the one for mere socialist austerity just possibly being enough (if we start now) starts to rise.

And that is where we find ourselves with this most recent paper in Nature Geoscience,

Speaking to The Times, he [Professor Grubb] said: “When the facts change, I change my mind, as Keynes said.

That line from Keynes has long bugged me. For every one occasion when the facts truly change there are ten where the facts are the same as ever and all that has changed is that the speaker finally had to stop running away from them. It is a phrase that sounds like open-mindedness, but in fact avoids the need to admit error. Having said that, it is better to make like slippery Keynes than to make your opinions completely impervious to reality, and Professor Grubb has done better than Keynes in that he has said he was wrong.

“It’s still likely to be very difficult to achieve these kind of changes quickly enough but we are in a better place than I thought.”

Professor Grubb said that the new assessment was good news for small island states in the Pacific, such as the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, which could be inundated by rising seas if the average temperature rose by more than 1.5C.

“Pacific islands are less doomed than we thought,” he said.

Tuvalu’s doom level has been fluctuating since at least 2004.

Professor Grubb added that other factors also pointed to more optimism on climate change, including China reducing its growth in emissions much faster than predicted and the cost of offshore wind farms falling steeply in the UK.

He said: “We’re in the midst of an energy revolution and it’s happening faster than we thought, which makes it much more credible for governments to tighten the offer they put on the table at Paris.”

The study found that a group of computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had predicted a more rapid temperature increase than had actually occurred.

The global average temperature has risen by about 0.9C since pre-industrial times but there was a slowdown in the rate of warming for 15 years before 2014.

Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford and another author of the paper, said: “We haven’t seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven’t seen that in the observations.”

He said that the group of about a dozen computer models, produced by government research institutes and universities around the world, had been assembled a decade ago “so it’s not that surprising that it’s starting to divert a little bit from observations”.

Here the cynic in me says that it is not that surprising in a different way that a dozen models were all wrong in the same direction. But, again, let us not be too down on Professor Grubb – at least he is partly acknowledging that scientific models are often uncertain, as Michael Jennings drew on his own experience as a research scientist to say on this blog in 2009.

He [Professor Grubb] said that too many of the models used “were on the hot side”, meaning they forecast too much warming.

See, I promised you hot models and here are so many hot models, you may even get tired of hot models.

Why on earth aren’t the Tories trying to reduce the number of university students?

“Younger voters will never forgive the Tories”, according to Rachel Sylvester in the Times.

If the political battle is turning into a war of the generations then so far the Tories are losing the fight. Mr Corbyn scooped up young voters in June by promising to scrap tuition fees and last week Mr Cable described inter-generational unfairness as “the greatest social injustice” of the 21st century.

and

Theresa May is scrambling to find some policies designed to win back young voters that she can announce in her party conference speech next month. Downing Street is considering a review of the 6.1 per cent interest rate on student loans paid while people are at university. There could also be a return of maintenance grants for the poorest students, although ministers are determined not to abandon the principle of the tuition fees system, which has in fact led to a rise in the number of underprivileged young people going to university.

On current form it does not seem likely that they will be grateful. “I will deal with those already burdened with student debt” , said Jeremy Corbyn, and hoovered up the student votes – despite a certain lack of clarity about what “deal with” actually meant.

Should they be grateful?

In 2013 an article in the Times Educational Supplement purred,

Fourteen years after Tony Blair first set out the aim, Labour’s goal for 50 per cent of young Britons to enter higher education has been all but reached.

According to the latest data, participation rates among people aged 17 to 30 rose from 46 per cent in 2010-11 to 49 per cent in 2011-12, and might even have exceeded 50 per cent had the figures included those attending private institutions.

So what does this mean? In 1950, just 3.4 per cent of young people went to university, so today’s participation rate vividly illustrates how higher education has moved from the margins to centre stage in British public life.

When I went to university in the early 1980s, just ahead of the earlier Conservative-inspired expansion of higher education when Kenneth Baker was Education Secretary, the percentage of British young people doing the same was a little higher but not much. I got a grant. (Nobody who has seriously considered the matter believes that the country nowadays could afford to provide grants for fifty per cent of each cohort of British youth. In other words, half the British electorate follow Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in believing exactly that.) I was guiltily aware that there were many young people of my age who would have been capable of benefiting from a university education but could not afford one.

On the other hand, there were many more ways for those who did not go to university to rise in the world. When I was a young teacher many of my most admired colleagues had joined the profession with two A-Levels. Nursing was similar. Journalists got their start in the local paper (local papers, remember them?), again with two A-Levels. Many responsible jobs did not even require A-Levels: five O-Levels including Maths and English was standard. These jobs were not done worse than they are now. Social mobility was greater than it is now.

Finally, I have always thought that there was something hurtful about dividing the population academically into a top half and a bottom half and I am surprised that those who went on so much about the cruelty of the Eleven Plus did not see it. When most people did not go to university, not going to university was not a badge of inferiority it was just normal. Now, in contrast, the bottom half must have their below-averageness made explicit, and, to add injury to insult, must pay for people not obviously more deserving than themselves to get the golden ticket of a university degree. (Edit in response to a comment by “Bemused”: “golden ticket” should be read as being golden in the same sense that the “silver” denarius of the later Roman Empire was actually silver. But, debased as it is, a degree is still the entry ticket to many professions which once upon a time were open to those who could not afford not to start work at 18. While making this edit I also realised that I had entirely forgotten to factor in the extent to which so many more students being educated in the modern fashion benefits the entire nation. Ah, well.)

It looks to me as if the Tories would help almost everyone if, instead of putting half the nation’s youth in debt and closing the gates of opportunity on the other half, they started slowing down the whole credentialism merry-go-round. It might even win votes.

I wish I were reading a happier version of this story

Has anyone else been guiltily transfixed by the mystery of Danish inventor Peter Madsen, his now-sunken submarine, and the missing Swedish journalist Kim Wall? I truly do not wish to make light of the fact that a woman is missing, presumed dead, but I was undeniably fascinated by the whole idea of a crowd-sourced, privately built submarine. In any other circumstances I would have been delighted to learn that such a thing existed.

Here are some news reports on the story:

Danish submarine owner arrested over missing journalist

Submarine in missing journalist case sunk on purpose, Danish police say

Kim Wall and Danish submarine: What we know and what we don’t

Police in Two Countries Searching for Woman Missing Since Sub Sank

When commenting, please bear in mind that a criminal investigation is ongoing – and that all should be entitled to the presumption of innocence.

The vindication of Jack Cade

Henry VI Part II, Act 4, Scene 2:

ALL:
God save your majesty!

JACK CADE:
I thank you, good people:— there shall be no money; all shall eat
and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery,
that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK:
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

CADE:
Nay, that I mean to do.

The Guardian, today:

Ken Livingstone: Venezuela crisis due to Chávez’s failure to kill oligarchs

“Women take things more emotionally”: I bet she was happy when she took them for £360k

The Times today:

‘Clumsy’ sexist remark by BAE Systems manager costs £360,000

A manager’s “clumsy” comment to a secretary that “women take things more emotionally than men” will cost Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer more than £360,000.

BAE Systems argued that the law had gone mad and attacked the payout to Marion Konczak for “a single sexist comment” as “an affront to justice”.

Three appeal court judges ruled yesterday, however, that Mrs Konczak, 62, was due every penny after the manager’s comment led to her having a mental breakdown.

BAE was working on a project for the Royal Saudi Air Force when Mrs Konczak complained that she had been bullied and harassed, including sexually. Her line manager later told her that “women take things more emotionally than men, whilst men tend to forget things and move on”.

The judge opined,

“The basic rule is that a wrongdoer must take his victim as he finds him, eggshell personality and all. That is not inherently unjust.”

Emphasis added. And Lord Justice Underhill might like to reconsider his use of “he” as a generic third person singular pronoun. I expect someone from Diversity will be calling him in for a quiet word in due course. On the other hand, perhaps it becomes acceptable if the alternative suggests that a “victim” with an eggshell personality might conceivably be female?

As a commenter called Geraldine said,

Will this encourage companies to employ more women? The cause of feminism is set back years [e]very time something like this happens. I say this as a woman and old-school feminist.

Somewhere Thomas Sowell wrote that manufacturers in the US avoid building factories in black areas, not because they care what skin colour their workers have, but because the more diverse the workforce the greater the risk of being sued for discrimination.

Added later: In the comments below Umbriel explained why the judge might have used those particular words:

…“eggshell personality” is a legal term, not technically an insult (though, it the shoe fits…). The theory was an extension of earlier doctrine that if, for example, someone smacks another person in the head during an altercation, and the victim happens to have some sort of congenital defect or calcium deficiency, such that their skull shatters and they die, the assailant remains responsible for the damages resulting from their assault even if they couldn’t have anticipated the magnitude of the result. This was dubbed the “Thin Skull Doctrine”. When tort law evolved to apply that principle to the infliction of emotional distress, the corollary was dubbed the “Eggshell Personality Doctrine”.

The problem with said doctrine, of course, is that a thin skull is a thin skull, regardless of the law. “Eggshell Personalities” in contrast, can be expected to proliferate and become ever more brittle the more lucrative they become.

Depressingly true.

True to her principles

I was moved by this story in the Times:

French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle drowns saving children off St Tropez

A leading French philosopher who argued that taking risks is essential to life has drowned while trying to rescue two children off Saint-Tropez.

The government and the intellectual world paid tribute to Anne Dufourmantelle, 53, who was famous for decrying the caution imposed by a risk-averse society.

Ms Dufourmantelle was in the water about 50 yards from two children, one of them the ten-year-old son of a female friend, off Pampelonne beach in Ramatuelle when a strong wind worsened and lifeguards raised the red flag to indicate that swimmers ought to return to shore.

The children were saved by lifeguards but Ms Dufourmantelle was overcome while swimming against a strong swell driven by an east wind, the local newspaper, Var Matin, said. She suffered a cardiac arrest and the rescuers were unable to revive her. Françoise Nyssen, the culture minister, praised “the great philosopher who helped us to live and understand the world of today”. Raphaël Enthoven, the philosopher and former companion of Carla Bruni Sarkozy, tweeted his sorrow and shock over the death of the woman “who spoke so well of dreams”.

Ms Dufourmantelle, whose partner was the writer Frédéric Boyer, devoted much of her career to the relationship between fatality and freedom.

In 2015 she told Libération newspaper, for which she wrote a monthly column, that “zero risk” was a fantasy. “When there really is a danger that must be faced in order to survive . . . there is a strong incentive for action, dedication, and surpassing oneself,” she said. In 2011 Ms Dufourmantelle published Eloge du risque (In Praise of Risk), in which she said that “risking your life is one of the most beautiful expressions in our language”.

Priestcraft

To the priests of ancient Egypt, the complexity of their writing system was an advantage. To be one of the few who understood the mystery of writing made a priest a powerful and valuable man.

This article, “The EU: Authoritarianism Through Complexity”, is by George Friedman who used to be chairman of Stratfor and now is chairman of a body called Geopolitical Futures.

Reading it made me think that the old term “priestcraft” might be due a revival:

The British team consists of well-educated and experienced civil servants. In claiming that this team is not up to the task of understanding the complexities of EU processes and regulations, the EU has made the strongest case possible against itself. If these people can’t readily grasp the principles binding Britain to the EU, then how can mere citizens understand them? And if the principles are beyond the grasp of the public, how can the public trust the institutions? We are not dealing here with the complex rules that allow France to violate rules on deficits but on the fundamental principles of the European Union and the rights and obligations – political, economic and moral – of citizens. If the EU operating system is too complex to be grasped by British negotiators, then who can grasp it?

The EU’s answer to this is that the Maastricht treaty, a long and complex document, can best be grasped by experts, particularly by those experts who make their living by being Maastricht treaty experts. These experts and the complex political entities that manage them don’t think they have done a bad job managing the European Union. In spite of the nearly decadelong economic catastrophe in Southern Europe, they are content with their work. In their minds, the fault generally lies with Southern Europe, not the EU; the upheaval in Europe triggered by EU-imposed immigration rules had to do with racist citizens, not the EU’s ineptness; and Brexit had to do with the inability of the British public to understand the benefits of the EU, not the fact that the benefits were unclear and the rules incomprehensible. The institutionalized self-satisfaction of the EU apparatus creates a mindset in which the member publics must live up to the EU’s expectations rather than the other way around.

The EU has become an authoritarian regime insisting that it is the defender of liberal democracy. There are many ways to strip people and governments of their self-determination. The way the EU has chosen is to create institutions whose mode of operation is opaque and whose authority cannot be easily understood. Under those circumstances, the claim to undefined authority exercised in an opaque manner becomes de facto authoritarianism – an authoritarianism built on complexity. It is a complexity so powerful that the British negotiating team is deemed to be unable to grasp the rules.