By Matthew Barrett
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Graeme Archer wrote earlier today, here on Comment, about our reliance on systems and how “a culture which prioritises systems over people is almost certainly going to lead at best to acts of unkindness toward humans”. It’s a characteristically great piece.
Some readers may also have noticed Graeme’s work at the Daily Telegraph. He has written a column for the last three Saturdays, this one included.
In case readers haven’t seen Graeme’s Telegraph pieces, I’ve compiled my favourite bits so far (I’d like to say “best bits”, but, as always, the whole thing is required reading!):
1). “My first rule of politics: before making a splash, go for a swim”, 20th May
The problem is that there is too much noise. It drowns out thought. I loathe the way that MPs speak to us on television – but we should ask ourselves, honestly: do they have a choice? Last year, I went on a Conservative HQ training session for wannabe parliamentary candidates. Nearly everything in the training was about reducing the number of words we used to express a political point, to simplify, and simplify, and simplify our message again.
I must admit, it made me despair. The whole point of politics, I had thought, was to be as careful as you can be with words – my fundamental dogma is that words are real things, with real power – to get as close as possible to transmitting the innate meaning that underlies any policy. A philosopher friend of mine once rebuked a challenger at one of his seminars by saying: “Just because my response is complicated, it doesn’t mean that I am wrong and you are right.” I doubt he would flourish in today’s political environment.
Read it in full here.
2). “The East End villains who thrive behind a veil of multiculturalism”, 27th May
So I’ll tell you what I never want to hear again. I never want to listen to a politician, living somewhere far, far removed from Bethnal Green, uttering a sentence like: “On the one hand, the Islamic extremists… On the other, the equally offensive English Defence League”, as though the two have independent but morally equivalent aetiologies. I don’t expect philosophical grandeur from any government. But I do expect its representatives to understand the difference between cause and effect.
The cause of all this is not just Labour’s immigration policy, or the Human Rights Act, or the fawning of Ken Livingstone over Yusuf al-Qaradawi (a preacher who’d like to put me, and other homosexuals, to death). First, Labour enacted legislation that taught minority groups that their grievances had legal recourse (rather than suggesting that in a good society, we all need to be able to get on). This has spiralled into today’s culture of fear – you think I’m not scared to write all this down? And when – as in Tower Hamlets – minorities come into conflict, the response of the rulers is entirely predictable: the group with the most votes wins.
Read it in full here.
3). “I don’t have the stomach for new-fangled, evidence-based politics”, 4th June
I am a statistician, judging scientific hypotheses on the basis of evidence derived from experiments. I thought I would find the political analogue compelling. But the more I’ve pondered the difference between science and politics, the less I’ve grown to like the “what works”, evidence-based, ideology-free approach to the latter. Our views are the prism through which data – evidence – are refracted. Expose a Left-wing stomach and a Right-wing stomach to the same piece of evidence, and both are likely to rumble differently. Neither are wrong.
Last week, the geneticist Steve Jones found himself the centre of attention at the Hay Festival, after making remarks about the increased likelihood for the children of closely related parents (such as first cousins) to exhibit a genetic disorder. The controversy arises not through this statistical point (there is a wealth of epidemiology to support Dr Jones’s assertion), it arises because the practice of first-cousin marriage is associated, in Western Europe, with the probability that the parents come from a Muslim immigrant population. So people who react strongly to Professor Jones’s message are not (I presume) disagreeing with the evidence. They disagree about its consequence: should first-cousin marriage be discouraged? Or should more prenatal screening be carried out? Your view of the world will be modulated by the evidence; but it is the world view that tells you what to do. Evidence alone cannot.
Read it in full here.
Congratulations to Graeme for taking his unique, and must-read, view of current affairs, to a wider audience at the Daily Telegraph.