Sikorski on European integration

2012-10-06

Jon Worth asks why Radek Sikorski's speech about the EU has been ignored. Why wouldn't it be?

Sikorski's latest effusion is not really a contribution to any debate about the EU, but a ritual performance of Europeanism which should be counted alongside the secular hagiography of Spinelli, Charlemagne, etc undertaken by the likes of Chris Patten. It is motivated by an ambition to be thought of as strongly pro-EU by Eurocrats, in the hope of receiving some honour or sinecure from them, not as a practical proposal to effect actual change in our constitutional arrangements.

Is international democracy possible? Or EU democracy?

2012-10-11

Today David Aaronivitch has an article behind the Times paywall titled "But what if Europe follows a different map?". In it he discusses the possibility of the UK's terms of EU membership changing, and the establishment of democratic institutions at EU level.

Quite rightly, he questions whether the rest ot the EU would be prepared to accept the sort of changes in UK terms of membership which (e.g.) the UK Prime Minister wants to achieve. He's probably wrong about this: the EU already accommodates "differential geometry", in that some countries are not in the Eurozone or Schengen system, and that it is in the economic interests of the rest of the EU to maximise British economic involvement.

As a parallel, we should look at another undemocratic international institution, the ITU. Most ITU member states had government postal / telephone monopolies, whereas the United States basically did not, and the US and a few similar countries therefore constituted an awkward minority. However, the ITU accepted US partial membership on the grounds that this was better than non-membership as a means of advancing the ITU's core objectives of rent-seeking, surveillance and preventing technological change and competition in the telecommunications sector.

The EU is not going to turn around and tell Britain to take its appalling trade deficit somewhere else. If the UK government asked for minimal EU membership, the other countries would prefer this to UK withdrawal. Aaronovitch doesn't really want his readers thinking about this.

He also talks about "supra-national democratic institutions" that "can hold this process to account, somehow make it legitimate for the Hanoverian to help out the Thessalonikan, as the Texan pays for the Vermonter". Why does he question whether a European acceptance of UK disengagement can ever happen, but not question whether this suprademocratic democracy can ever exist? It's a big blind spot for the Europhiles.

I don't believe a supra-national democracy can exist. It's a contradiction in terms.

The existence of a demos is a constraint, not a policy. It's a social network of people who generally agree that they're going to govern themselves. The UK shows that separate countries can both come together and form a single country (England, Scotland and Ireland), and that sometimes people want to go off and govern themselves (the Republic of Ireland).

Over the centuries, Greeks and Germans may gradually come to think of themselves as Europeans, as Welsh, English and Scottish people largely came to think of themselves as British; the process can go the other way too, as people come to believe that being Irish meant being not British. Whether a particular group of people generally think they're part of a group is up to the people themselves; you can't make people feel a common bond.

The unchanging "essentialist" conception of what a nation is, favoured by far too many British Eurosceptics and occasionally Germany's judiciary, is wrong. Nations can split and merge. But this is a split or a merger of a collection of social relationships the members choose to make between themselves. It is these relationships which mean that people consent to be governed by other members of the group. I take "consent" broadly, in a way which would encompass mediaeval feudal Europe and include adherence to a long tradition of being governed together, even if not very democratically, which offers some hope for Europhiles who can accept just leaving the people to grow together over centuries.

But to be clear: if the people of two nations consent to be governed as one, then they're already the same nation; the social network is merging. Supranational democracy is as unnecessary as it is impossible.

It is simply untrue to say that the current population of the EU generally want to be governed as a single polity. In the UK there's majority support for reducing the powers already exercised at EU-level. The EU constitution in practice already goes vastly beyond what people anywhere in the EU would consent to, with the exception of a statistically insignificant extremist Europhile minority.

So, if we give the words their conventional acceptation, the only way there'll be a democratic Europe is if the generality of the public want it.

Criticically though, the rational constructivists have, without the consent of the peoples of Europe, created a constitutional system for the EU in which responsibilities are gradually and unilaterally transferred to the EU by the Luxembourg Court, but the democratic institutions to constrain the exercise of those powers can only be established very gradually and require a consent that may take centuries to evolve.

The more that power is exercised by the EU, the more it affects people's lives and the more they'll try to have their say.

The smart Europhile would prioritise measures to prevent this situation getting any worse. The European Court of Justice is a sham and may be beyond reform, but that's where the smart Europhile should focus.

But I'm not a Europhile ...

Wordpress is much more dreadful than I thought

2012-10-24

A few months ago I went to considerable effort to convert my blog, which had run on software I'd written myself, to Wordpress.

It turned that Wordpress is utter rubbish for what I want it to do.

I want to compose blog posts in a text editor, and then publish them. To a first approximation, you can't do this in Wordpress without corrupting the blog post.

Wordpress inherits PHP's inability to process text without messing something up. In this case, the XMLRPC interface declines to cope with embedded HTML in the submitted text. I have therefore been reduced to trying to cut and paste the article into Wordpress's web-based interface. This interface allows you to edit rendered and raw HTML. It overrides the OS's default cut-and-paste method to prevent you pasting text into the rendered editor, and strips the HTML out of the raw editor. You can upload files, but only media files, not text.

I adopted Wordpress to get support for captchas once my homegrown one got beaten by spam bots, and to implement Trackback/Pingback. It looks like it's time to move on again.

Updated: I managed to post a new article by, get this, using Chrome to edit the raw HTML of the editor window in Wordpress's interface, and pasting in the text from Emacs. Justice.

Are Dark Forces redefining trolling?

2012-10-24

Has the word "troll" been redefined deliberately?

Around the end of 2010, I started to notice mainstream news articles using the word "troll", but it did not retain its then-conventional acceptation which was "person who tries to provoke a negative reaction in an online discussion". People started to use the word to mean "stalker", or "critic". My inference was that our folkwardens were readying the law looms to legislate against free speech online, and that this conflation of criticism, playful satire and already criminal intimidation was part of the softening-up exercise to prepare the public for being censored.

The term "troll" was problematic even in the 1990s, as even when it had a commonly-accepted meaning, it was regarded unreflectively by some as an inherently illegitimate activity. The argument ran that deliberately diverting a discussion was against the forum rules and ipso facto wrong. A better approach was to recognise that posting some absurd provocation is sometimes the best way of puncturing pomposity and luring the pretentious into unforced error and exposing their arguments, but that this consumes finite attention bandwidth, so there is a need for a variety of forums which trade off these concerns against each other to different extents.

The redefinition, or "ambiguisation" of the word "troll" allows someone to attack the activities described by the old sense of the word, whilst purporting only to attack those covered by the new sense. This may in fact now be a general problem; if there's something you don't like, start using the word which describes it to refer to something else which no-one likes, and then attack the former by attacking the latter. Your opponents will be left trying to explain semantics.

In the future it may be possible to detect these attempts to redefine and "own" the vocabulary, which could give an early warning of planned repressive legislation.

(The Wikipedia page on trolling primarily documents the old sense of the word, of provocation.)