Parallel Universes

Shoreditch
Friday, 2nd February 2018

When emotions trump logic

Do you ever get the feeling that your political adversaries do not respond to the logic of your arguments, but merely to their cultural acceptability from their narrow ideological worldview? Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News believed she could rely on good old emotionalism to defeat the purportedly reactionary arguments of Canadian professor of psychology, Jordan Peterson. They inhabited different moral universes. Ms Newman stubbornly refused to accept any scientific evidence of fundamental neurological differences between male and female brains. Over 15 years ago Simon Baron Cohen popularised the distinction between more feminine empathisers and more masculine systemisers or in other words women are more people-oriented while men tend to be more thing-oriented. In practice we all need a bit of both to navigate our social and physical worlds. A technically illiterate but sociable project manager is as useless as a socially inept and uncommunicative engineer oblivious to the needs of other human beings. The differences may be minor, but the weight of hard evidence points to neurological dimorphism among male and female humans. The irony is that young women in the wealthy world are now outperforming men in most lucrative people-oriented professions that the growing persuasion and social management sectors have created. The robotics and artificial intelligence revolution is likely to affect men, traditionally employed in practical trades, more than women whose superior emotional intelligence is much harder for machines to replicate.

 

Nowadays debate has succumbed to infantilisation measuring policies not by their practical feasibility, but their perceived virtuosity. How do you explain to a two-year old boy that he cannot have another ice-cream because you want him to acquire healthy eating habits and save him from all sorts of nasty medical conditions such as obesity and diabetes? Believe me when expectations run high it’s hard to convince youngsters they are not entitled to something they desire. The political discourse has ceased to be a battle between left and right factions, for we have learned to associate the former with openness, compassion and generosity and the latter with narrow-mindedness, discipline and greed. The real intellectual divide is now between romanticism and objective reality, i.e. a dichotomy between how our world should be and how it really works.

It hardly matters where you stand on any of the key issues of our era. If you let emotions alone drive your analysis, you will inevitably dismiss any countervailing evidence and find with great ease a virtual echo chamber to reinforce your preconceived conclusions. It would be nice to believe Israel were a peace-loving liberal democracy threatened only by intolerant Iran-funded Islamic terrorists, but to believe the opposite would be equally blinkered. Life is seldom that simple.

However, it’s much easier to ignore inconvenient facts on the ground if the mainstream media and influential institutions provide alternative facts consistent with their ideological bias with the full support of the information verification industry. Sorting the wheat from the chaff can be even harder when such news outlets and NGOs pose on the radical left to widen their appeal among trendy youngsters. Their version of reality thus becomes an article of faith. To countenance alternative explanations for our social and economic woes is to invite ridicule with a litany of aspersions ranging from Islamophobe to transphobe or from conspiracy theorist to fascist. In short if you fail to toe the party line, you are anachronistically uncool.

Take for example the rather transparent issue of the housing crisis in the South East of England. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the population rises by several million in just a 15 years and the housing market is dominated by buy-to-rent landlords and property speculators, ordinary people on average wages will struggle to pay their exorbitant rents and fail to get on the property ladder. The most affected are not welfare dependents entitled to housing benefit, but young professionals whose incomes may seem deceptively high until you subtract £1500 to £2000 a month for rent. In the early 1990s London property prices, whilehigher than other regions of the UK, were still affordable by international standards. A couple with a joint income of £30,000 could get a mortgage on a modest three bedroom house in the outer boroughs. Now such properties sell for at least half a million in the worst areas of the city’s outskirts. To get mortgage a couple would need to earn at least £125,000 a year with the threat of repossession if their employment circumstances change. Yet the regressive left refuses to acknowledge how the city’s over-dependence on migrant labour and international property speculation, effectively two sides of the same coin, have pushed up prices and transformed neighbourhoods. Their only response is to blame the evil Tories, the personification of the aristocratic old guard, for not building enough new houses. The same universalists also support laxer migration controls and usually argue that a greater population boosts the economy. It certainly boosts retail sales and provides employers with a larger and more malleable supply of cheap labour, whether it benefits the existing inhabitants, other than landlords and property speculators, is another matter. However, once we factor in the additional costs of providing all the extra infrastructure required for a growing population such as new housing, roads, hospitals, schools, sewage treatment plants etc., the economic case for mass migration to a small island that already imports half of its food collapses. Indeed if the Tory government were to blame, why did the previous Labour government fail to subsidise council house building as it knowingly let migratory flows reach unsustainable levels ? Other countries that have allowed large scale immigration over the last decade such as Sweden and Germany also have housing crises, despite having had until recently many empty properties and holiday homes that could be repurposed. Both the Swedish and German governments have dispersed new immigrants to outlying regions to avoid the proliferation of ethnically diverse ghettos.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t oppose migration and cultural exchanges, which, if managed sensibly, can enrich society. However, it is intellectually dishonest to deny the rather obvious strains that mass movements of people impose on the existing population. London has seen a massive rise in acid attacks and stabbings. Working class Londoners of English, Scottish or Welsh descent are now very thin on the ground.  We may soon see pitch battles between rival gangs as wealthy hipsters migrate to Devon, Sardinia, Bulgaria or further afield after selling their tiny 2 bedroom flats for a fortune to greedy Chinese investors.

A sign of things to come in Mayor Khan's London.

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