Having railed on here repeatedly about my lack of faith in any supposed "wisdom of the masses", or the alleged merits of ever more participatory and responsive political systems, I'd like to provide some actual social science reseach to back me up.
It is now 60 years since Alan Turing - war hero and intellectual father of the theory of computing - was convicted on the charge of "gross indecency", which in 1950s terms simply meant that his sexual orientation was other than what was thought permissible by society at large at the time. As 2012 also marks the centenary of Alan Turing's birth, it seemed a particularly apposite time to make a request for his posthumous pardon, a request the Conservative justice minister has now rejected.
I've argued on here a few years ago that apologetically insisting "I was born this way" (i.e. "I can't help it!") is no basis for arguing for one's right to live as one pleases, regardless of others' religious hangups, but it's taken the recent statements by Cynthia Nixon to bring the issue to the fore where it belongs. As Frank Bruni points out, no such argument from genetics has ever been required to justify freedom to worship as one pleases, and yet this is a principle which is universally* accepted in the Western world today. Why then should a "born this way" argument be necessary for gay rights?
If proof were needed about the veracity of my assertion that there is a lot more to Westminster-style liberal democracy than the mere holding of elections on a regular basis, recent events in Hungary seem to be conspiring to establish my argument for me.
It was only a few months that I expounded on the dangers of assuming that where democracy is concerned, "more" necessarily means "better." What I hadn't foreseen at the time was that events in the Middle East would so thoroughly vindicate my skepticism about the supposedly inerrant wisdom of "the people", especially when all segments of a society are given a voice in equal proportion to their numbers, however ignorant, illiterate and subservient to religious superstition each such voter may be.
Upon returning from my month-long trip to Japan last year, I noted that the state of the country as evidenced by what I saw was very far from matching the impression one gathers reading about the Japanese economy from afar. The public facilities were as immaculate as ever, the streets remained utterly safe, people were as well-dressed as I'd ever seen them (i.e., much better dressed than the average Londoner or Berliner), and all of the young people seemed to be carrying the same sorts of technotoys which are popular in Europe and the United States: in short, in the course of my travels from Tokyo to Kyoto, Kobe, Tokushima and Nara, nothing I saw gelled in the least with the incessant stories of Japanese stagnation I'd encountered in the Western press. Issues of space aside, I could not find any evidence to support a belief that the Japanese standard of living was lagging behind that of the average Western European in the slightest - on the contrary, the very opposite seemed to me to be true.
As you may be aware, the last two days have seen serious bouts of rioting occur in various parts of London. The instigation for the rioting was the shooting to death of a certain Mark Duggan, whose questionable acquaintances in life, and alleged behavior towards the police before being shot, certainly make him seem a less than entirely sympathetic victim. Even if Mark Duggan were the angelic figure that circumstances indicate he was far from being, it is also impossible to accept that the appropriate response to even the most unjustifiable shooting is to engage in large-scale looting, arson, stone-throwing and other acts of mayhem under the guise of expressing one's anger at the police.
The riots of the last two days cannot and should not be excused, and those who participated in them should be held accountable for their actions, but here's the thing: despite the utter wrong-headedness of the rioters' deeds, and the dubious character of the individual in whose name they've gone about their lawlessness, there is in fact a germ of justification for their hostility towards the London Metropolitan Police, a justification which goes well beyond the death in an alleged firefight - and here I stress the word "alleged" - of one man with shady friends. The fact is that the London Metropolitan Police has a history of biased and heavy-handed policing which presumes guilt if you happen to be the wrong skin color, regardless of however much the evidence might be in your favor.
As is obvious to everyone by now, much of the Western world suffered from a real-estate bubble over the last decade, and the consequences of the bursting of said bubble are still with us today in the form of low-growth; it isn't out of the question that the malaise of slow-growth which accompanied the bursting of Japan's bubble at the end of the 1980s might also now plague much of the West for a long-time going forward, especially given the need to reduce public debt. Still, for all of the above, the problems in Europe and America seem readily manageable when compared with the scale of the bubble that has arisen in China, as Nourel Roubini explains.
China's real-estate bubble can seem like an abstract problem of economic theory when put across in polite conversation as in the video above, but the following video should bring home just how massive the misallocation of resources has been.
The Chinese government may hold vast quantities of foreign reserves, but given the scale of bad debt which is building up within the country, and the lack of political legitimacy of the government which has allowed it to happen, even $2.5 trillion will likely prove insufficient to staunch the upsurge of discontent which will occur when this bubble bursts - and burst it will, as they always do.
No one who has read this blog over the years can accuse me of having closed my eyes to the problems which have accompanied large-scale Muslim immigration to Europe, but there's a clear divide between taking sensible measures to contain a problem before it gets out of hand and pandering to the rawest prejudice - a line which Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party have marched right past.
Under current law the third generation children of immigrants in Holland are classified as Dutch, in terms of government statistics and entitlements, as long as both their parents were born there.
But the anti-Muslim Freedom Party is concerned that by treating the grandchildren of immigrants as Dutch, 80 per cent of whom are under 10 years old, it will stop being possible to measure their integration.
One of the axioms of modern political journalism is that anything that encourages greater participation in the political process is a good idea by definition, and any measure which permits marginalized voices to be heard with greater force is by necessity a positive thing. Left unchallenged is the assumption that all voices are indeed worth hearing, however stupid, extreme or uninformed, and that allowing the indifferent, the insane and the ignorant to speak will not simply end up with them drowning out the voices of those with more knowledge and better judgment. The thinking seems to be that since history teaches us that outright dictatorship is bad, more participation is always better, and if only we could properly divine the true "will of the people", all problems in political life would quickly melt away.