Citizens’ Assembly

This topic is doomed to forever remain a stub for a more complete piece as it is continually added to by events.

Whatever we call it the Citizens’ / People’s Assembly (aka Standing Constitutional Convention) is an old idea whose time seems to have come.

Citizens’ Assembly is the term Rory Stewart is using in his latest high profile moves to highlight his credentials in bringing the country together as party leader (Tories that is, but it hardly matters.) He’s used it for both getting agreement on breaking the Brexit deadlock and to resolve resource priorities in Adult Social Care.

Previously any number of other topics have suggested the same idea: Lords Reform, Voting / PR reform, National & local devolution, Inter / Super-national federation, Lobbying rules, any number of constitutional changes. The point being with subjects that underlie our political processes, as opposed to the content of parliamentary business, it is easy to agree that something’s wrong and needs reform but almost always impossible to agree which solutions we should adopt. When the process is simply one of competing ideas criticising each other in a debating chamber until no single idea can “win” outright …. the status quo remains unchanged, and often the level of division, confusion and frustration has simply been increased.

We need a standing convention – and assembly that convenes on topics like these, but whose own constitution and make-up has been predefined independent of the particular topic. And it needs to be an assembly whose make-up is representative in ways different from partisan politics of Westminster and more importantly it delivers not legislation – that still the job of the legislature – but proposals framed as tractable motions to be put to the legislature. And whilst it would be a “parliament” – a talking shop – in a literal sense, it would not be a debating chamber. Debate is the too-limiting model that gives rise to deadlock in the meta-business underlying existing processes. It would be more like “committee” room business on a larger, publicly engaged scale. (Some have pointed out that set up this way the assembly itself would fulfill the original intended role of the second chamber and its own reform would be a natural outcome.)

The big risk in setting up the assembly is in getting its own constitution wrong too quickly and living to regret another broken piece of democracy. It must have limited immediate power and it must have values-based rules that permit their own evolution in specific mechanisms and procedures. Less is more when it comes to its constitutional definition.

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[And within minutes, …

The partisan debating gets further polarised by social media sound-bites and memes reducing arguments to slogans and …. nothing gets done. We need the combined “committee” approach whose job is to produce a balanced proposal BEFORE it gets to the legislature.]

 

Ain’t That Queer?

Queer Theory – A new one on me, something I know literally nothing about, but I’ve been following an interesting series of social media threads from @Glinner (Graham Linehan) doing battle with the more PC extremes of gender and sexuality “terminology” – particularly the “self-identifying trans” debate – and getting inundated in trolling and flak attacks for his efforts. He’s on the right side of this, but …

Things we need to recognise as binary-distinct for good reasons and the terminology or taboo / lack thereof that limits our ability to talk about them is pretty central to my epistemological – “how do we know?” – thesis. However, I do defend PC considerations in their place, using PoMo philosophers to support my arguments where appropriate. It’s the extremes that kill us, especially when bureaucratically (autistically) enforced. Rules are for guidance of the wise and the enslavement of fools – especially when it comes to language and terminology. (I call myself PoPoMo.) Language is useless without wisdom.

My ears pricked-up when @Glinner shared this short video of Derek Jensen with a class of students talking about “queer theory” and Foucault gets a mention (along with other founding proponents of its ideas) – basically using the theory to justify paedophilia (!)

[The clip is actually fascinating from the whole safe-spaces / trigger-warning perspective – on who’s allowed to say what in an educational environment – and how Jensen handles his jeering students. A exemplary lesson in teaching practice I’d say – but that would be to digress for now.]

Foucault is well known as one of the “foggy froggie” PoMo’s and controversially extreme on his rights, freedoms and equalities agenda in sex & gender and on society & crime – about which I know little beyond “controversial”.

He is however an interesting philosopher from a fundamental metaphysical perspective. Foucault is someone I’ve used explicitly.

Again it’s about the need to make distinctions – choose distinct words – whilst nevertheless understanding their proper dynamic relations. If we set the distinct items up as “objects” in their own right, we end up fighting battles over how definitive they are. This is necessarily polarising between extremes unless we apply PC rules that “ban” certain distinctions, limit meaning and flatten the dialogue. A choice between polarisation and meaninglessness. It’s “Identity Politics”, but we need distinctions to function. However distinctions need to have “good fences” because good fences make good neighbours and meaning is allowed to flow across them whilst we nevertheless respect their distinction.

For me this is another whole example of the populism problem when it comes to accentuating extremes. Explicitly here the idea that Foucault was controversial therefore to be condemned as entirely bad unless you’re agenda is to defend some specific political aim. Whereas like most human thinkers, good in parts but whacky, speculative, mischievous or plain wrong in others. Take care not to selectively misappropriate sound-bite quotes that can only ever make sense in some more nuanced context, and may not have been that good in the first place. The immediate preceding post was another example – whereby “pop-psychology” turned left-right brain considerations into caricatures too toxic for serious scientists to risk talking about.

The Divided Brain – a Director’s Cut

Iain McGilchrist’s film “The Divided Brain” was released last week.

The film one half of your brain doesn’t want you to see.

An hour and a quarter of anyone’s time well spent.

[Full disclosure: I have written positively about McGilchrist’s work before, and contributed to crowdfunding of the film project.]

The story itself is in two parts.

Firstly, the uncontroversial clinical-psychiatric and neurological-scientific fact that our brains have evolved in two distinct hemispheres to give us the ability to manipulate and integrate two distinct views of the world at any one time.

And, secondly, the more speculative but nevertheless convincing aspect that co-evolution of brain and culture has become skewed towards left-brain behaviour dominating to the detriment of our “western” society.

Given the plasticity of our brains, our minds and our culture, the hope and motive is that by better appreciating the latter we can learn to correct the problem. The film starts with some background on McGilchrist’s career in English Literature academia before retraining and practicing in medicine and clinical psychiatry.

Considering the second main theme first, there has been a wealth of literature on differences between western and eastern thought and how the west is in danger of missing a trick. Charles Freeman’s “Closing of the Western Mind” would be the 21st Century archetype (if not the best) and many will know the anti-western-technology beats and spiritual boom of the 2nd half of the 20th Century exemplified by Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Lila”. But Pirsig himself was reading Northrop, James and Kant and there is a long tradition in analysing the differences since the enlightenment and the rediscovery of eastern philosophies. The blurring of where differences experienced are psychologically subjective and/or objectively real has also infected much woolly thinking into popular understanding of post relativity and quantum theory in the new physics.

Linking the east-west thinking aspect to the left-right brain aspect is of course speculative and based on strong intuitions and much subjective evidence. But after pop-psychology and pop-science led to both halves of the story languishing as toxic topics for serious scientific study, the film pulls together proper research work on both. Early portions of the film address unpicking reality from popular culture.

The comparative Eastern and Western thinking scientific studies of Dr Li Jun Ji in Canada are very striking even though presented very briefly. Like Pirsig, McGilchrist also presents aboriginal-American / first-nation perspectives, in this case in dialogue with Dr Leroy Little Bear of the Blackfoot nation. And of course once we get into spiritual, holistic takes on the greater relational unity of humans in the environment, more science-minded viewers will feel uncomfortable. This is of course part of the point. Many of us have lost the ability to appreciate or find the language to incorporate such thinking into our everyday rationality.

The first premise – understanding the fact, and the reason why, brains have evolved hemispherically in animals and humans – will be much clearer to most of the sceptical scientific viewing audience. As I said, this aspect is scientifically uncontroversial.

Two of the neuro-scientists, Michael Gazzaniga and Onur Güntürkün and  neuro-clinician Jürg Kesselring provide a good deal of the evidence supporting the first premise and the fact that it really is uncontroversial even if new to the audience. Again there is an even greater body of work out there on split-brain and asymmetrically damaged brains in humans and animals in formal science and popular science writing. Full marks to McGilchrist and to the writing and editorial team for not including the ubiquitous Phineas Gage case, which has become a meme in its own right, but the likes of Ramchandran and Sacks are recommended reads for the curious who are not yet sure how non-contentious this material is. The former is in fact among the credits. There’s also a large section on the experience of Jill Bolte-Taylor whose TED Talk fame precedes the re-telling within  McGilchrist’s story.

An excellent editorial decision, given their scientific day-jobs, that Gazzaniga and Güntürkün are both given space to voice their doubts about the speculative relation between the uncontroversial science and wider human cultural ills. That heavy lifting is left to McGilchrist and his other witnesses. Great contributions on this from John Cleese, Rowan Williams and Jonathan Rowson to keep us connected to wider relevance beyond the drier science. Fascinating that economics is again the field where scientific modelling bumps into its awkward relationship with psychological reality.

A well conceived and executed film, cinematically as well as editorially. The pace works well and it is watchable as a standalone piece of work – even if, as I say, the more orthodox scientific types find themselves increasingly uncomfortable towards the end. Mission accomplished in that case.

And it seems hardly necessary to add that the subject matter content is very important. It may be uncontroversial that there really are left-right brain behaviour differences, but to appreciate that misunderstanding of our response to this could be leading humanity to extinction is as big as it gets.

An hour and a quarter of anyone’s time well spent.

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For more:

The Divided Brain film on-demand rental at Vimeo.

The Divided Brain film purchase at MatterOfFact Media.

The Divided Brain film project web-site.

The Divided Brain Twitter feed: @divided_brain.

McGilchrist’s “Master & Emissary” on Psybertron.

Species Extinction

A pet peeve of mine is “science” stories hand-wringing some new study statistics on how many species are going extinct in some time-frame.

Assuming 10-Gazillion species exist, I’d expect 2-Gazillion species to be recently evolved and looking for a foothold, 6-Gazillion species to be relatively stable populations going through normal eco-balancing cycles, and 2-Gazillion species to be on their way out.

(And you can compound up the Pareto analyses from 80/20 to 84/16, 95/5 98/2 and so on … as well as back to 68/32, 64/36 and 50/50, etc, etc, etc.)

And any one time half would always be the wrong side of normal / average.

How hard can it be? Numbers (size / scale) are irrelevant, it’s dependencies in the distribution tails that matter to us and the cosmos.

Sub specie aeternitatus.

“Cosmicity”

I’m coining a new word for the abstract noun “humanity” but with a definition simply broadened to the whole environment with humans as a part. Cosmicity – concern for and on behalf of the whole and every part of the whole.

Places humans in it in our rightful place but without any artificial privilege in the term. Satisfies the latest fashion in green politics for eco-sustainability (even though it has always been the point of human activity).

Could call it “god” in the sense of being that most sacred to us along with the humility that despite being natural, we have our necessarily limited perspective in understanding the whole. And could call it “religion” in the original sense that it can be the thing which binds us culturally. That doesn’t suggest anything supernatural. It needn’t suggest anything ideological according to any existing rules written in tablets of stone or non-secular in how we organise ourselves naturally. “Our” rules and arrangements evolve as does our understanding of natural laws beyond humans.

How hard can it be? I believe in cosmicity.

Thoughts prompted by Liz Oldfield thread re Martin Buber, itself as a response to thoughts prompted by Julian Baggini: [Thread]

“if you hallow this life you meet the living God”

If you hold the living cosmos sacred you’ve done all you can and in doing so you experience (meet) the subjective knowledge that you can never objectively know the whole – maybe.

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[Post Note: Having coined the term, I realise it may just be a restatement of Spinoza’s sub specie aeternitatus ?]

Standing Constitutional Convention aka “People’s Assembly”

This is just a stub, a holding post, for something I promised to write.

Establishing a standing constitutional convention is THE PRIORITY OF OUR TIMES in a UK context if not wider globally. Everywhere from the urgency of anti-establishment, anti-global-capitalist, eco-sustainability SJW agendas, to issues of reform of day-to-day governance, we are led back to this missing piece of the UK jigsaw. With so much constitutional tradition and convention misunderstood and in danger of being thrown out with the anarchic revolutionary bathwater, we don’t so much need a (new) written constitution as a new vehicle for a continuous improvement process.

I first heard of the idea of a standing”Constitutional Convention” from xxxx back in 2015, but it stuck with me because it gave a name to something I had already been wrestling with for a couple of decades, about the direction of social evolution. Since the Brexit / Trump fiascos, every commentator seems to be gravitating to similar “people’s this / people’s that” ideas, including spokespeople for the so-called Extinction Rebellion movement. It’s so important long-term, that it could easily be set up along the wrong lines by those with specific narrower agendas than a better future for all. I fact, almost it’s most important feature is to be a self-bootstrapping process that is not limited by any one party’s values and aims.

I outlined what it should look like most recently in this Brexit-related post, and mentioned it in this series of three posts and related Twitter dialogue – on eco-sustainability – threads which continued beyond those tweets already captured in the blog.

I hesitated to follow-up on the promise immediately because Rupert Read voiced some (IMHO) dubious objectives of his own regarding a People’s Assembly and, wanting to keep the idea politically neutral, I didn’t want to start a  polarising political distraction in the proposal itself.

But – I am drafting the necessary proposal.

Ironically in the last Twitter exchanges with William Peltzer, we noted that the CA (CC / PA) idea was not only not new in recent 21st C times but, as described, it was fulfilling the originally intended role of the 2nd chamber check and balance on the direction of parliament. Ironic because one of the first “reforms” for the CA was to be the Lords itself. That kind of ironic and circular correlation is rarely entirely coincidental, even if causation is almost always infinitely more complex. I’ll be back.

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  • Values it proceeds by. Education of why and how it works. Understanding the bootstrapping.
  • Mechanisms for initial constitution and function. Agenda of currently foreseeable issues. Mechanisms for sustainable evolution.
  • Discussion and reasoning “why” distinct from “what and how” mechanisms and requirements.

Leaky Briefs – Trust In Confidence

The current story about the leak from the UK National Security Council (NSC) is important because it has nothing to do with Huawei (or Brexit, or Trump, or Climate change, or anything other than leaky security).

People are thoroughly used to participants briefing leaks from “internal” meetings – all sides do it to fly their political kites to their ultimate advantage. And journalists accept is as a standards source of staying ahead of the official announcement game. That the very idea of privacy has been trampled.

Transparency is simply another “freedom fetish” that seems to trump all other considerations – a kind of twisted whistle-blowing that no “institution” should be allowed to do business beyond the glare of public and media scrutiny. Ever. At all.

Secrecy – is absolutely essential to good faith dialogue, you need to be able to trust who you are working with as they need to be able to trust you. It’s why it’s called confidentiality. It doesn’t stop the Snowdens the Assanges and assorted SJWs from demanding access to anything and everything by any means.

Conscience driven whistle-blowing is a special case amongst the good-faith participants – but a hacker or a political leaker is not a whistle-blower, even if they turn out to be right in some moral sense. In the long run details are released and the record scrutinised. In the short-term there are very good reasons to maintain confidence. Meta-confidence amongst trusted commentators too, so the media know what is going on in terms of why certain things shouldn’t be “published” just now.

Of course critics and SJWs with decry any cosy closed relationships, but do I really have to spell out why trust and confidence (secrecy for the time-being) matter?

Beyond risk to innocent parties, in a world where everything is treated as objective, fact or not, there is no room for what ifs.

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[Post Note:

It’s become the issue that since the Huawei security concerns were valid public interest the dipstick that released the content from the NSC was justified in doing so. Hell no. The topic was already in public conversation before it became an NSC agenda item in fact and anyone specific (May) said anything specific (minded to go for it despite concerns) about it. NSC confidentiality is separate from public debate. Both can and should happen.]