Friday, December 29, 2006

Aaroscepticism

Aaro asserts that in general the Blair government's statements have more credibility than the claims of moon landing conspiracy theorists and tarot readers. Well I suppose it can be argued either way, but it would have been nice to see some evidence. He also lays into the Independent and man does he beat them up good - to be honest, in my view this stuff would be better kept on the blog, because it really is just the journalistic equivalent of shouting at the television (tangentially to which subject, the Nick Cohen column in the Evening Standard on Wednesday had him saying that "in a state of confusion, I found myself wandering down Oxford Street on Christmas day rather than Boxing Day, looking for the sales" Hell of a party, I presume).

On the other hand, maybe the blog stuff is all right, because Aaro has quite a few of his own stock in trade, the slippery, half-attached fact. The proposition that "whipping and discipline is more severe than ever" is not refuted by the fact that "there have been more rebellions by MPs over the last five years than at any time in parliamentary history". A moment's thought out to be enough to realise that it is possible for party discipline to be both severe and ineffective, and a further moment to recall that Hazel Blears was Chief Whip for quite a bit of the last five years would probably suggest that this is a fertile line of inquiry.

Pedantry watch: "Conventional wisdom" is not just a handy way of saying "stuff that everyone thinks without checking". It is a phrase brought into the language by JK Galbraith. In context (chapter 2 of "The Affluent Society"), conventional wisdom specifically means the set of beliefs that one has to profess in order to be considered respectable ("the ideas that are esteemed at any time for their acceptability"). It is a concept that is tied up with the question of who has the power in society (an alternative definition would be that the conventional wisdom is those propositions which depend for their acceptance on their convenience to rich men). The orthodoxies of marginal people, conspiracy theorists and so on might be just as limiting and fallacious as the pronouncements of Tony Blair, but they can't be conventional wisdom. Nor can a popular sentiment about being angry about parking meters really be considered "conventional wisdom", although the idea that state involvement in the second homes market is inconceivable (which ends up being Aaro's punchline) certainly is a paradigm example of conventional wisdom.

This matters, because the discussion of the distinction between scepticism and cynicism is a set up really, for the classic Aaro tactic (which may end up being his central contribution to Decentism) of defending the actual policy of the government of the day, while pretending to be an embattled minority. For truly, the true sceptic is the man who can be sceptical of scepticism itself, and believe what he's told. This point of view might have been in Socrates or one of the other Greeks, but I doubt it got much play then either.

And so bouquets to Aaro's fellow in "grown up liberalism", Mr Martin Kettle. I notice that Aaro tries to pretend that Kettle was only threatening us that our constant bickering at Mr Tony might "give an advantage to the BNP"; presumably Kettle's actual conclusion (that we were paving the way for Pinochet "or worse") was too ridiculous to repeat, although it is rather dirty pool to mention the amount of abuse that Kettle got in the comments section without quoting the manner in which he provoked it.

sidebar: One little oddity, by the way, which I only mention because it brings a smile to my face. Aaro claims that the comments section at the Guardian blog accused Martin Kettle of "angling for a peerage". They didn't (I just checked, and all the mentions of peerages, Lordships, etc are in the context of the Labour Party allegedly selling them). I only mention this, because there is only one occasion on that blog in which a columnist was accused of angling for a peerage. The columnist was Michael White, the accuser was me, and I think it is pretty clear from context that I was joking (White had accused Lord Steyn of angling for a column and I thought a bit of tu quoque was in order). However my gosh did it strike a nerve. Quite a few others at the Guardian have been falling over themselves to say that they're not chasing a peerage either and now Aaro too. Protest too much? I think I will circulate a Pledgebank pledge ("I pledge not to sell out and accept a peerage, but only if the following list of my journalistic rivals do too").

Here's a challenge for you - find something bad written in the British press about Hilary Benn. You won't. Why not? Because he's done a very good job as International Development Secretary and has been in general an honest and principled politician. Milliband and Alan Johnson (the minister, not the editor of Democratiya, etc) have also done a reasonably competent administrative job and got a good press as a result. Aaro, Kettle, John Lloyd etc are talking about a generalised cycnicism about politics, when what we're actually seeing is the normal correlation between doing a bad job and getting a bollocking.

PS: I fear for Aaro's productivity, given that he reads his blog occasionally and I am about to tell him that the online multiplayer versions of his favourite wargames are much more fun than playing against the computer. Is anyone interested in getting together a team to challenge the Decents to a few rounds of "Full Spectrum Warrior"?

8 Comments:

Blogger Matthew said...

The rebellion thing, presumably between 2001 and 2005, was linked to MPs growing disillusionment with the government at the same time as it had a huge majority (unless rebellions are defined as a defeat, which I don't think they are?).

"Here's a challenge for you - find something bad written in the British press about Hilary Benn."

Nick came close, if you remember.

http://www.nickcohen.net/?p=163

12/29/2006 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Rebellions are defined for the revolts.co.uk site (which is jolly interesting btw) as votes against the government as % of votes case, so I think yes you are right.

John Hutton is another one that I could mention; despite the fact that he's putting through some incredibly controversial and in many cases quite monstrous pensions legislation, he gets a very easy ride, simply because he hasn't lied about what he's doing.

12/29/2006 02:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Callan said...

This was posted by Shlick on 16-Dec in response to Kettle's piece of the same day.

"Are you angling for some kind of honour in Blair's retirement list, or what? One can only guess what your ill-conceived motives are."

I don't think that invalidates your point about dirty pool, though.

12/29/2006 02:22:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

ahhh good spot; I didn't search for "honour". And obviously, I am such a screaming narcissist that I immediately assumed that it was about me. That Carly Simon song plays whenever I walk into a room.

12/29/2006 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger splinteredsunrise said...

Could we describe Aaro as the Dio Chrysostom of the Decent Left? Or does he qualify as having his own all-new theory of knowledge?

1/02/2007 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger Sonic said...

Interesting that Aaro likes "God" games where he sets his little creatures off to conquer foreign lands without himself ever having to deal with the consequences....

So unlike his day job.

1/08/2007 02:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Fallhammer said...

A couple of spots to relieve the tedium. DA popped up in a strange little thing on Radio 4 called "My Daddy Told Me", talking about paternal influence. (Jenni Trent Hughes was seriously brown-nosing him. Is she a known Decent?) A lot of self-regarding blab, but I did notice the bit where he says his father taught him never to be satisfied with 'the explanation'. Hmmm.

Incidentally, they also had the games designer who supposedly invented god games (and he was more interesting than DA).

Meanwhile NC pops up in Private Eye, in a 'Hackwatch' about Jasper Gerard. The piece claims that the Observer editor asked NC to start writing about showbiz stuff as well as society and politics but he refused and that's why his space was so severely cut and given to Gerard instead.

1/08/2007 03:18:00 AM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

Talking of 'grown-up liberalism', this piece by Martin Kettle ought to indicate: (a) further evidence of blaming everyone else except the Decents/New Labour; (b) the line to take on The Trial of Tony Blair before anyone gets to watch it; (c) another chance for NC to play at being an arts critic again

1/10/2007 12:30:00 PM  

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