Friday, 22 March 2019

Reality and delusion

Philosophers have spent centuries debating the nature of reality without ever coming to a single clear definition of what it is.  All we do know is that, whatever it is, our understanding of it is mediated by our five senses and then reconstructed in our own individual brains.  That means that we all have our own personal understanding of what reality is; and in common parlance, ‘delusional’ is simply a short-hand way of describing someone whose understanding of the objective reality around him or her is at some distance from the understanding of the rest of us.  There is another, much simpler, explanation of reality which I once saw written on the wall of the gents in a public house – ‘reality is an illusion caused by lack of alcohol’.
Whatever the cause, it is increasingly clear that the Prime Minister’s understanding of the reality surrounding her is significantly at odds with the understanding of most other people.  In her case, I’m not at all certain that plying her with a few glasses of her favourite tipple – even if distilled here in Wales – would do anything to resolve the problem.  Alcohol is generally more likely to render the coherent incoherent than to correct any pre-existing incoherence, although I’d have to accept that it doesn’t always seem that way to the individual partaking.  The possibility that she is, in fact, more or less permanently inebriated cannot be entirely discounted – it’s not without precedent – but it seems unlikely to me.
Her sensory malfunctions appear to be at the extreme end of the range.  When anyone says ‘no’, her brain processes that as a ‘yes’, and if they say ‘maybe’ she hears ‘definitely’.  Throwing away a narrow parliamentary majority was a massive success which gave her unrestricted power to govern as she sees fit, and a lost vote in parliament is merely an illusion which can be ignored.  And the UK is absolutely full of electors who genuinely believe that she is on their side, supporting their unanimous wishes against the evil intentions of the parliament that those same citizens so foolishly elected.  Part of the Brexit legislation is about giving the government so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’, but her comments about parliament on Wednesday sounded rather more like the words of an earlier predecessor, Henry II.  ‘Turbulent’ parliamentarians have some historical justification for being wary of any ruler who sees his or her power as absolute, as do ‘turbulent’ Speakers of the House of Commons.
Another aspect of her serious problems in interpreting events in the world around her is an inability to comprehend or process the words of those calling for her to go.  It’s impossible to know how these messages are being processed, but it would be no surprise if they were being interpreted as a vote of confidence.  And she seriously believed that walking into a meeting with 27 other European leaders with nothing new to say, no guarantee that the House of Commons could be persuaded to back her deal, and no plan for what happens if they didn’t was going to win her the support she requested.  There is no hope of any progress whilst she remains in charge; the only real question now is how long that will be.


Anonymous said...

I wonder what the implications of all this BREXIT messing about will be for any future 'independence' referendums?

For sure a 48% - 52% result either way could never be accepted as a true indication for any real preference. Maybe the bar needs to be set as high as 75% from now on.

Sure won't please the Scottish or Welsh nationalists.

John Dixon said...

I think this comment and discussion of it would have been more appropriate under Wednesday's post, so I'll be very brief here. I agree with you that there's a problem in using a simple majority to decide such an important question (and will come back to that in a future post), but simply increasing the size of the majority required doesn't resolve the issue. Let me just reframe your question a little bit to illustrate - faced with a choice of 'status quo' or 'independence', what if neither get the sort of majority you talk about? It's no more satisfactory in terms of 'democracy' for the status quo to receive only a 52-48 endorsement than it is for the proposed alternative to receive only a 52-48 endorsement. Why should the status quo have any more legitimacy than the proposed alternative if neither enjoy clear consent of the people as a whole? The 'will of the people' and the rights of the minority are far more complex issues than many seem to assume.