history, Politics

History, according to the British

If you’ve ever wondered why the UK acts the way it does, consider that my formal history lessons at school went like this:

  • Boudica had a perfectly justified but ultimately futile fight with the Romans
  • Saxons exist
  • “William the Conqueror” came, saw, and conquered liberated and/or unified the country
  • “The” Manga Carta
  • Civil war War of the Roses
  • Henry VIII
  • Civil war Catholics or Protestants argue about which one is sent from God and which is the unholy spawn of Satan’s armpit hair
  • Witch hunts
  • “The civil war”
  • The Spanish Armada is defeated by Britain being awesome in a totally unspecified way
  • Britain decided to end the slave trade but only after profiting from it greatly and at around the same time as everyone else in Europe, probably because the industrial revolution had started and manual labour was becoming less important
  • The Industrial Revolution, which according to this version of events consists entirely of “Steam Engine → power loom (that it exists, no description given) → one specific picture of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
  • Queen Victoria, who never smiled, perfectly embodied the essence of what it means to be British by calling herself “Empress of India”, marrying her first cousin (Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) and being the head of state when the Great Famine hit Ireland and a million people starved to death
  • World War 1
  • World War 2, where the UK stood alone against the Nazis with only the help of USA, the USSR, the British Empire, the French resistance, the Danish resistance…

In addition to my sarcastic strike-through comments, notice what is missing:

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Humour, Politics

Brexit RPG

You are in a maze of twisty-turny tweets, all alike. You are likely to be eaten by a GRU.

Encounter!

You meet a Tarot reader. Roll a d6:

1. The fortune teller predicts the UK will cancel Article 50 and remain in the EU.

2. The fortune teller predicts Westminster will reject May's Deal, but instead call for the UK to join the EEA.

3. The fortune teller predicts Westminster will agree May's Deal.

4. The fortune teller predicts Westminster rejects May's Deal. Project Fear turns out to have been an understatement, as 10% of the UK's electricity is supplied by France under EU-specific rules, and the UK requires a reliable electricity supply to keep water mains running because it doesn't use water towers to pressurise the system.

While Westminster isn't paying attention, NI has a referendum under the Good Friday agreement and decides to reunify with the Republic of Ireland; Scotland unilaterally becomes independent and takes the nuclear submarines with it; and Wales, Yorkshire and Cornwall give it a go too.

5. The fortune teller predicts Westminster considers repeating the trade strategy that was highly successful in China in 1839–1842 and 1856–1860.

The UK accidentally becomes a military dictatorship after the British armed forces say "no" to this plan on the grounds that the Opium Wars were in fact wars, and as most of the EU is in NATO and the UK is also in NATO, the UK would have to declare war on itself.

6. Like 5, but instead of the second paragraph, the fortune teller predicts the UK is forced to declare war on itself under NATO article 5.

America takes over and the UK is forced to have a written constitution. Lots of people very unhappy because it's a copy of the American one and the UK population hates guns so much even the police aren't routinely armed.

=-=-=

If you have ITEM:NEWS that COUNTRY:NORWAY has rejected UK membership of the EEA, then if the Tarot reader rolls a 2 you may instead collect ONE BOWL OF POPCORN as compensation.

 

No, it’s not a prediction. It’s just a text adventure…

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Politics, Psychology

Brexit as an example of failure to comprehend conditional probabilities

It’s been 2 years 5 months 12 days 12 hours 25 minutes since my first post about Brexit, and I still don’t really know what will happen.

Almost everything is conditional probability: “If there’s a hard (no-deal) Brexit, then the traffic jams from Dover, Harwich/Felixstowe, etc. will be about as long as is physically possible given the number of trucks in the UK.”

Conditional probabilities suck for human-human interactions.

Any pro-Brexit person who reads that will tend, I think, to remember that prediction without the “if” clause; and if there is a deal, they will be much more likely to crow about it as “yet another Remoaner failure”. (Also often missed: “much more likely” doesn’t mean “will”, but I keep seeing people read it that way).

This sort of prediction tends to be used by propagandists as a modern-day Cassandra: the worst case scenario is so bad that everyone strives to prevent it — in this case by not countenancing a no-deal scenario — and so it becomes just another reason to distrust experts who fought against a no-deal scenario. In turn, this increases the chances of something as bad as a no-deal scenario next time. I see the same thing with the Millennium Bug, and as a kid with global warming (no, it wasn’t scientists who told you we were heading straight into an ice age, it was newspapers; any scientists actually talking about an actual ice age were talking about the end of an interglacial warm period and were even then outnumbered 6-to-1 by those concerned about things getting warmer).

I can only think of three post-Brexit-Great-Britain (yes I do mean GB, not UK, I know too little about NI) predictions that are not conditional on the final form that Brexit takes:

  1. The UK population will still be arguing about it
  2. These arguments will involve at least one large march (≥10,000 people)
  3. At least one building will be set on fire (or an attempt will be made: they’re designed to not be on fire)

I put at least 1-in-3 odds that events 2 and 3 will be performed by both angry Leavers and angry Remainers.

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Politics

Falsifiability

The 2-4-6 game is there to teach falsifiability. It’s an important skill, because otherwise you just get confirmation biases.

For the entirety of my life, never mind the Brexit negotiations, I have assumed “the EU is good” — at least, as far as ‘good’ can be attributed to any government. Nothing the EU have done during these negotiations has changed that, as all the things pointed to by Very Angry Leavers are things which I would also do in the EU’s place (that is: it decided what its objectives were, told everyone, and focused its negotiations around them). However, this doesn’t actually prove anything, as it has all the usual problems that come with any other ‘confirmation’.

In order to test the morality of the EU, I have to predict what an Evil Moustache-Twirling Union would do, and see how the EU’s behaviour differs from that. So:

  1. EMTU would seek to punish and harm the Other, meaning that it would not focus on maximising its own strategic interests but rather on causing negative outcomes to the Other. They would disregard any advice from their own economists and business groups if they say the EMTU’s response is not the best (or least-bad) option available, given those strategic interests.
  2. EMTU would not attempt to negotiate with the Other, or if it was forced to negotiate it would have red-lines which the Other cannot ever accept. It would not provide the Other a range of options and ask the Other to choose which it would prefer. It would highball any and all estimates of payments due from the Other, and not consider counterclaims from the Other. It would not be open and blunt about its strategic interests and demands, just in case the Other could figure out a way to meet them. It would move the goalposts and threaten to go back on any deals it had already agreed to.
  3. EMTU would insist that leaving the Other requires leaving all associations connected with EMTU, anything where the EMTU had clout. This does not mean ‘trade deals’ given the explanations I’ve read tend to agree such matters are entirely down to the third parties, but rather things like Euratom, EEA membership, fishing rights, etc.; I don’t know if it would or would not include aircraft safety certificates, mutual recognition of pilot licences etc., as I don’t know how complex those are to agree on, nor if those generally require things like “both parties agree to follow judgements of the other party’s courts” — heck, I don’t even know how to characterise that, given one of the problems with the real-life version of this is that although the EU/Remain position is that EU courts are neutral international courts for sovereign countries to resolve their disputes in, the UK/Leave position seems to be that the EU is the sovereign entity and those very same courts are domestic courts.
  4. EMTU would continuously denigrate the Other, comparing it to dictatorships that half its members remember fighting to overthrow; they would then follow this up with bombastic militaristic references.

So far, the EMTU as I’ve described appears to be closer to the UK than the EU.

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Minds, Politics

Baysean Brexit

I’ve decided to start making written notes every time I catch myself in a cognitive trap or bias. I tried just noticing them, but then I noticed I kept forgetting them, and that’s no use.

If you tell me Brexit will be good for the economy, then I automatically think you know too little about economics to be worth listening to. If you tell a Leaver that Brexit will be bad for the economy, then they automatically think you know too little about economics to be worth listening to.

Both of these are fixed points for Baysean inference, a trap from which it is difficult to escape. The prior is 100% that «insert economic forecast here» is correct, and it must therefore follow that anything contradicting the forecast is wrong.

That said, it is possible for evidence to change my mind (and hopefully the average Leaver’s). Unfortunately, like seeing the pearly gates, the only evidence I can imagine would be too late to be actionable — for both Leavers and Remainers — because that evidence is in the form “wait for Brexit and see what happens”.

Is there any way to solve this? Is it a problem of inferential distance, masquerading as a Baysean prior?

Feels like this also fits my previous post about the dynamic range of Bayesian thought.

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Politics

Voting: do or do not?

The four boxes of liberty is an idea that proposes: “There are four boxes to be used in the defense of liberty: soap, ballot, jury and ammo. Please use in that order.”Wikipedia; ‘Four boxes of liberty’

Voting certainly has an effect on your society, and is certainly a way to keep your leaders in check. On the other hand, it’s also used as a way to bully society, at least in the UK and USA (I’m not sure about, for example, countries like Germany which have more than two main parties).

Consider: Who did you vote for?

The winner? “Then it’s your fault.”

The loser? “Suck it up, you lost.”

A minor party? “You wasted your vote.”

Spoiled your ballot? *blank stare of non-comprehension*

Didn’t vote? “You lost the right to an opinion.”

Not allowed to vote? “Nobody cares what you think.”

I’m not sure what to think about that.

I’m glad of one thing though: to be in a place and time where I have never needed to seriously worry about people reaching for the ammo box. I hope I never have to worry about that.

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