The Bondage of Thine Own Desire

by reestheskin on 23/02/2021

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Perry Anderson · Ever Closer Union? · LRB 7 January 2021

Perry Anderson wrote three articles recently in the LRB on the EU. The first I found hard to get into, but the second and third are terrific. Whether he is right about everything or makes the right calls, I cannot say. But strongly recommended. I will be interested to check out any letters.

The quote below is, about, and in part, from Chris Bickerton who is a regular on Talking Politics podcast. He wields a scalpel more sharply through your eyes than your ears.

Christopher Bickerton’s European Integration, whose anodyne title, shared by dozens of other books, conceals its distinction, which comes in the subtitle that delivers its argument: ‘From Nation-States to Member States’. Everyone has an idea what a nation-state is, and many know that 27 countries (with the UK’s departure) are member states of the European Union. What is the conceptual difference between the two? Bickerton’s definition is succinct. ‘The concept of member state expresses a fundamental change in the political structure of the state, with horizontal ties between national executives taking precedence over vertical ties between governments and their own societies.’ This development first struck him, he explains, at the time of the Irish referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. ‘When the No result was announced, members of the Irish government expressed a mixture of surprise and embarrassment: surprise as they were unfamiliar with the sentiments prevailing within their own population, and embarrassment because this compromised many of the promises they had made to their peers at previous meetings in Brussels.’ (The description is something of an understatement. Spotted outside a pub in Dublin that evening, Brian Lenihan, minister of finance at the time, was white around the gills.)

Bickerton again.

With the advent of the European Community, once the Court of Justice had succeeded in effectively, if not formally, constitutionalising it, member states accepted a set of external constraints whose form was radically different. ‘The active subject, namely the people, is not doing the binding…

Now I get this! This is a device used by just so many organisations. They choose the bondage of their own desire (literally, it seems, for some politicians).

Anderson:

Rather, national governments commit to limit their own powers in order to contain the political power of domestic populations. Instead of the people expressing themselves qua constituent power through this constitutional architecture, national governments seek to limit popular power by binding themselves through an external set of rules, procedures and norms.

Perry Anderson · The Breakaway: Goodbye Europe · LRB 21 January 2021

Anderson in the third essay:

Much of​ the anger aroused by Brexit in once Tory circles comes from an acute sense of the anachronism of leading advocates of departure, the ostentatious fogeyism of Rees-Mogg, Bone, Baker and others, defenders of the indefensible in the age of climate change, crowd-sourcing and correct speech. What is the order they uphold? A first-past-the-post electoral system dating back to the 16th century, before most constituencies were even contested, which regularly produces results that bear no resemblance to the divisions of opinion in the country; an unelected upper chamber crammed with flunkies and friends of the two dominant parties; an honours system devised to reward bagmen and sycophants; a Parliament that can be bundled into a poll at a day’s notice; a judiciary capable of covering any administrative enormity. Little wonder its admirers quote Latin statutes from the time of Richard II or Henry VIII in praise of its workings.


The Great Dick Faker

To predict government policy, listen to Boris and wait for the opposite

John Crace writing in the Guardian:

During the biggest national health crisis in 100 years, it’s just our luck to have Johnson in charge. A man pathologically unable to make the right calls at the right time. The prime minister is a narcissistic charlatan. The Great Dick Faker. Someone who can’t bear to be the bearer of bad news or to be proved wrong by people who disagree with him. So he stubbornly ignores the evidence until he becomes overwhelmed by it and public opinion has turned against him. He isn’t just a liability as a leader, his indecision has cost lives. His hubris will only cost him his job.


Incoherence

Frontline UK teams query ability to vaccinate most vulnerable | Financial Times

A comment from Risk Man:

This Government is not capable of coherence.


A necessary and immodest proposal

These dark materials | Books | The Guardian

The great physicist Richard Feynman expressed the methodology of science beautifully: “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If [your idea] disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Note the world experience.

But here, another great physicist and thinker says something even more profound for how we think about science.

Physical science has historically progressed not only by finding precise explanations of natural phenomena, but also by discovering what sorts of things can be precisely explained. These may be fewer than we had thought.

Steven Weinberg

Depending on your point of view you can either find this sentiment reassuring or — as in my case — terrifying.


The quality of the stool is not strained…

NIH’s ‘precision nutrition’ bet aims for individualized diets | Science

Well, lets leave the likes of real science and Feynman and Weinberg to one side.

A few posts ago, I talked about the hype that is the claimed discovery of, or facility for, precision medicine. Life is getting more and more messy as the story runs down and out…

The study “has the potential to truly transform the field of nutrition science,” generating new tools, methods, and “a wealth of data to fuel discovery science for years to come,” Griffin Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), said last year at an NIH board meeting where he introduced the project. Ultimately, it might enable nutritionists to tailor diets to an individual’s genes and microbiome.

With a few notable exceptions — usually from long ago — the words nutrition and science should rarely appear in the same sentence. When they do, they are best flushed down the pan.