Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Making Predictions

"Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future"- Yogi Berra (but maybe Nils Bohr)

Let us think about the great unknown: the future, after all we can not be too sure about anything beyond now.

Nassim Nicolas Taleb has written at length about the scale of the problem that human brains encounter- our brains are hard wired to see patterns, even where none exist: he calls this epistemological arrogance, because humans very rarely say "I don't know".

The "profession" of politics sometimes seems to particularly attract humans who are less likely to admit uncertainty, still less ignorance. Yet the rest of us still invest our hope into such imperfect figures. Although much of politics is merely a matter of orderly administration: getting the drains emptied or the roads filled in, yet still we look for more from our political leaders we invest something of the best in ourselves into our leaders- whether or not they deserve it.

I don't know whether it is possible to ever fulfill such hopes- the politician is almost bound to disappoint those who elect them. Maybe this is because many hopes are simply unrealistic- but also maybe because many politicians promise too much. Unlike Jeremy Paxman, I do not believe that the political class is eternally divided from the rest of us by some vast psychological chasm. In fact I see them as all too much like the rest of us- limited and ignorant- though some are perhaps less willing to confess their inherent human weaknesses than the average.

Although I do not know what will happen in the future, let me state what I hope to see. One would certainly be change of attitude. P.J. O'Rourke- the worlds most serious humorist- once wrote that "People with a mission to save the earth want the earth to seem worse than it is so their mission will look more important". I would love any politician to have a sense of proportion when looking at the questions of government. Problems of crime become "a state of anarchy", problems of pollution become "global catastrophe". In my opinion we should approach things with more optimism- if we think of all problems as solvable, then even if we are wrong and they are mostly insoluble, then we might still hope for near miss!

However, attitude apart, I would still hope that we can set certain priorities. The idea of freedom, for me, is the touchstone. If we set the benchmark as being a society that maximises freedom: respects diversity and nonconformism and permits the maximum amount of dissent; then we are likely to create an environment where the next Google or the next Feynman or the next Larkin can flourish.

In that sense I am something of a disillusioned idealist. I have had the privilege of being close to societies where radical positive change became the norm, rather than the exception. When I return to my own country I am astonished that anyone could actually believe the trite banalities trotted out as the latest political wisdom. Yet each generation here seems determined to reinforce and not escape, the lying dialectic.

I am asking a lot: the idea of a political discourse rooted in tolerance and openness;
That we should promote the best in ourselves, whilst still accepting that even the best of us are hypocritical and imperfect.

I may well be a fool.

However I would far rather be my kind of fool than David Cameron or Gordon Brown- intelligent men, albeit in my view men utterly blinkered by their own personal background. They seem already trapped in the mechanics of political deception, while all the time losing their overarching political vision.

Recently my theoretical commentary on politics has been a little challenged: a large number of people have asked me to fight a seat which is winnable for my party. A place that I would be proud to serve as a member of Parliament, indeed ultimately, much though I have lived elsewhere, I am from no other place.

I hesitated.

Since my uncle- who I remain close too- was elected in 1983, I hope that I am aware of the up and downs of Parliament. I know- I think- the burdens of being a backbench MP. I also know that for me, it is a major financial sacrifice- not to mention the personal burden of the candidature and of course the very real risk of defeat -the first time- that would make my commitment one of parliaments, not necessarily one of months or years.

I don't know what the future will bring, but I do know that the best way to face it is to be resolved to do the right thing according to your conscience. Thomas More in Utopia once argued that anyone seeking political office should be automatically disbarred. I may earn the Saint's disapproval, but at the end of the day it would be my putative employer- the electorate- who will make their judgement as to my fitness to serve.

I must make a gigantic financial sacrifice- but this was never about money:

"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

If it falls to me, then OK, and let those be my watchwords.


Anonymous said...

If not a Labour held seat please say its Montgomeryshire! Wales needs a good MP. Good luck Cicero (only against Labour of course!)


Tristan said...

All the best with this.

It would be great to have someone so articulate and passionate about the cause of freedom in Parliament.

Jon said...

I have only met you the once and you then mentioned you wrote a blog which I subsequently managed to track down. I find your writings some of the most insightful and thought provoking I read and you have pride of place in my rss reader.

Good luck and don't stop writing.


Ian Stewart said...

be brave; do that which is right; make your contribution; be at peace with yourself in your service.
..........but please don't find that new time-constraining activities prevent your contribution to the blog.

Devil's Kitchen said...

If you go for it, well, good luck. I still think that you, as a lover of freedom, are in entirely the wrong party (although I am unsure that there is any party that promotes freedom anymore), but still...


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