Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The triumph of fiction

Logical thought as a handicap

Why Fiction Trumps Truth
Many people believe that truth conveys power. If some leaders, religions or ideologies misrepresent reality, they will eventually lose to more clearsighted rivals. Hence sticking with the truth is the best strategy for gaining power. Unfortunately, this is just a comforting myth. In fact, truth and power have a far more complicated relationship, because in human society, power means two very different things…

The dual nature of power and truth results in the curious fact that we humans know many more truths than any other animal, but we also believe in much more nonsense…

When it comes to uniting people around a common story, fiction actually enjoys three inherent advantages over the truth. First, whereas the truth is universal, fictions tend to be local…

The second huge advantage of fiction over truth has to do with the handicap principle, which says that reliable signals must be costly to the signaler. Otherwise, they can easily be faked by cheaters…

Third, and most important, the truth is often painful and disturbing. Hence if you stick to unalloyed reality, few people will follow you…

Some might argue that the long-term costs of believing fictional stories outweigh any short-term advantages in social cohesion. Once people get in the habit of believing absurd fictions and convenient falsehoods, this habit would spill into more and more areas, and they would consequently make bad economic decisions, adopt counterproductive military strategies and fail to develop effective technologies. While this occasionally happens, it is far from being a universal rule…

If you had traveled to Cairo or Istanbul around 400 years ago, you would have found a multicultural and tolerant metropolis where Sunnis, Shiites, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Armenians, Copts, Jews and even the occasional Hindu lived side by side in relative harmony. Though they had their share of disagreements and riots — and though the Ottoman Empire routinely discriminated against people on religious grounds — it was a liberal paradise compared with Western Europe… And yet the Scientific Revolution began in London and Paris rather than in Cairo or Istanbul…

Even if we need to pay some price for deactivating our rational faculties, the advantages of increased social cohesion are often so big that fictional stories routinely triumph over the truth in human history. Scholars have known this for thousands of years, which is why scholars often had to decide whether they served the truth or social harmony. Should they aim to unite people by making sure everyone believes in the same fiction, or should they let people know the truth even at the price of disunity? Socrates chose the truth and was executed. The most powerful scholarly establishments in history — whether of Christian priests, Confucian mandarins or Communist ideologues — placed unity above truth. That’s why they were so powerful.

Yuval Noah Harari (@harari_yuval) is an Israeli historian and the author of “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Iran: No Yoga

The morality police are again active. This one sounds like an act of private revenge.

Iran police arrest 30 at private yoga class
Thirty people taking part in a yoga session have been arrested during a private class in Iran, reports suggest, causing a buzz across the country's social media.

They were detained at a private residence in the northern city of Gorgan, where they were apparently taking part in a mixed class.

Local justice department official Massoud Soleimani said the instructor, who was also arrested, had no licence to run the class and had advertised the event on Instagram.

He also said that those taking part were wearing "inappropriate outfits" and had "behaved inappropriately", the Tasnim news agency reports.

The Islamic establishment in Iran does not allow any mixed-gender sports activities.

Professional-level yoga teaching is also banned in the country.

Mr Soleimani, the deputy chief of the Islamic Revolution Court in Gorgan which is the capital of Golestan Province, did not give any more details about the attire or behaviour of the detained group.

He did say that security forces had been monitoring the residence for some time before making the arrests…

In 2017, Iranian sports authorities issued a ban on Colombian dance aerobics exercise zumba and "any harmonious movement or body-shaking instruction".

Back then Iran's Sport for All Federation penned a letter to Iran's Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to ban activities, including zumba, for contravening "Islamic ideology".

While there have have been public gatherings of yoga fans in the country over the past few years, "underground" and "unIslamic" classes, which are promoted across social media, are frowned upon…

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

More confusion in Commons

This makes Brexit seem even more insolvable.

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom quits government over Brexit
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom has quit the cabinet, saying she no longer believes the government's approach will deliver Brexit.

Her resignation comes amid a backlash against Theresa May's Brexit plan from Conservative MPs…

[As Commons leader, she was in charge of organising government business and had been due to announce when the prime minister's Withdrawal Agreement Bill would be introduced to Parliament.]

Her resignation is the 36th by a minister under Theresa May - 21 of them over Brexit…

The move came after a day of drama at Westminster in which anger grew at the prime minister's attempt to win backing for the bill - the legislation needed to implement the agreement between the UK and EU on the terms of Brexit.

As part of it, Mrs May has offered a number of changes, including a chance for MPs to hold a vote on another referendum if they back the bill…

BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake said… "It is an extraordinary sequence of events for a key member of the Cabinet to resign on the eve of elections.

"It is unlikely that we will see others follow her immediately, but getting into Friday and the weekend, things could move swiftly."…

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019


I've started teaching AP Comparative Government and Politics in 1986.

I'm retiring.

The books are out of print.

I'll do very few blog entries (although over 4500 entries online will still be around and indexed) (some are out of date).

I'm on to new adventures.

Hope things went well for you too.


Faith in the future

Is this optimism a good sign for China's future?

Young Chinese confident in national development goal: survey
A recent survey conducted by the China Youth Daily found that young Chinese have high confidence in building China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful by the middle of the century.

The survey had 10,393 participants from 31 provincial regions in China, among whom 67.4 percent were born in or after 1990…

The survey showed that those interviewed gave a ranking of 8.92 out of 10 on how confident they are in this national development goal, 50.8 percent even gave full marks of 10.

Respondents born in or after 2000 rated their confidence at 9.16 on average, the highest among all age groups. The young people living in rural areas rated their confidence at 9.04, higher than those in urban areas.

"Chinese people's confidence in the national development goal comes from their faith in the governing party, the development path we have taken, the guidance of Marxism and the fact that the Chinese people are always the masters of the nation and society," said Gong Yun, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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AP Exam advice II

Voted the second best piece of advice I gave my students

Don't Panic!

(Thanks to Douglas Adams.)


Monday, May 13, 2019

AP Exam advice

Voted the best advice I gave my students:

Read the Verbs 

(and then do what you're asked to do)


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Would it work?

Would proportional voting in Scotland work to promote more efficient legislation as this former SMP suggests? Has it worked in Mexico?

Henry McLeish wants Holyrood's current voting system scrapped
A former first minister is calling for first past the post voting system used to elect most MSPs to be replaced with proportional representation (PR).

Henry McLeish, who was first minister between 2000 and 2001, told Good Morning Scotland he believes PR would force parties to work together…

He said said the first past the post element of the election should be scrapped and replaced, adding: "You could have a PR system that could retain the constituencies, but possibly have two members but elected on a different basis what that would do in my view is give you a parliament that would never have an overall majority…

Mr McLeish, who led a Labour-Lib Dem executive in the parliament's first session, said that Holyrood has barely come of age.

He added: "It's in its infancy... In the stock of things, Westminster has been on that site in some form for nearly 1,000 years - we're just on the foothills of building a new Scotland, a new parliament, so in that sense I think there is a great opportunity to reflect seriously and then look forward."

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Renovations for the House

The House of Commons is due for a major renovation. I'll bet that a new sprinkler system will be on the list of changes. But what to do with Parliament while the old place is updated?

Parliament refit: First images released of temporary Commons chamber
The first images have been released of the proposed temporary home for MPs during restoration work in Parliament.

Architects plan to recreate the current chamber of the House of Commons, including the green benches on which MPs sit, at a new venue in Westminster.
Proposed Commons recreation

The move to Richmond House, the former home of the Department of Health, will not happen until 2025 at the earliest.

The refurbishment of the current Palace of Westminster, due to cost £4bn, will not now be completed until the 2030s.

The repair work is likely to take between five and eight years longer than previously anticipated…

The proposed temporary chamber will be similar to the current one, complete with leather benches and an adversarial layout, but will be more accessible…

The work is expected to include replacing old cabling, installing a new sewage system and improving disabled access to the estate.

Both the Commons and Lords agreed in early 2018 that the most cost-effective way to carry out the upgrades would be for them to move out whilst the works are being done…

A committee of MPs and peers will also be set up to scrutinise the spending plans alongside the Treasury.

Former Clerk of the Commons Lord Lisvane said work was needed urgently as it was "a matter of time" before something happened to the parliamentary estate.

"I'm afraid there has been a certain amount of foot-dragging and my message now would be emphatically, crack on with it," he told the BBC…

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