Veteran readers here (if any such still exist) will recall my Basic Theory Of Explaining Almost Everything, namely that for any issue only two questions matter:
Who decides who decides?
See eg this DIPLOMAT article looking at Bosnia, Brexit, migration, UN Security Council reform and other big topics from that angle.
And this one on Measuring Activism:
My core idea was going to be that you need a baseline test as a standard for anything you’re talking about: a test that shows whether what you’re saying makes sense.
And that much of today’s ‘activism’ has no such baseline and so (perhaps) risks being incoherent, misleading or dangerous. Thus when we’re talking about ‘racism’, what is a ‘race’? Or if we’re talking about ‘gender’, what’s the baseline for defining ‘men’ and ‘women’? What baseline makes sense when we’re talking about ‘stopping climate change? If your baselines make no sense or are contradictory or confused, your noisy ‘demands’ will be the same.
Likewise bitter feuding between activists: do ‘men’ and ‘women’ exist, or is that very idea a ‘social construct’? If a ‘man’ can self-identify as a ‘woman’ and demand that under law s/he IS now a ‘woman’, why can’t a ‘white’ person self-identify as a ‘black’ person and demand and available minority rights privileges? Might (say) an African self-identify as a Japanese and demand to be treated as such?
What’s the baseline test in such cases for measuring what categories exist and how our language and practice and laws deal with them? What claims make sense?
The fevered battles now around such issues are, of course, about who decides the rules here. Can explicit ideological bullying ‘cancel’ rival views and so leave the debate-space run by the bullies?
Yes it can, and with dizzying speed:
My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.
There are terms for all of this: unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge. I’m no legal expert. But I know that this is wrong.
Bari Weiss’ biggest point here is this:
Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space.
In other words, it’s no longer the people running the New York Times who are ‘the ultimate editor’. It’s the latest #Woke #Twittermob. They decide who decides “what’s fit to print”. The craven NYT elite lower their eyes and go along with it.
Thus to the EU.
Over the decades the EU moved from taking all decisions by unanimity (every member state had a veto over everything) to taking an ever wider range of decisions by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). But not all. Every member state wanted to keep a veto over some (for everyone) existential issues such as the EU Budget, EU membership and the common foreign policy.
The absolutely fundamental basic foundational point here is that an EU member state has no real decision-making power by belonging to the Qualified Majority. The real power both with QMV and unanimity lies in the power to block a decision.
If you (with other blockers as necessary to form a QMV blocking minority) can stop a decision, then either that decision doesn’t happen or the wannabe QMV side will throw you a fat bribe to win your acquiescence. The debate then boils down to how guileful/determined you are at increasing the size of the bribe, and what other devious ways can be found by the wannabe QMV side to hurt you if you don’t accept it.
It follows from all this that if (say) most member states are unhappy with what one member state is doing, the ability of the EU to impose formal pain on that errant member state rests on whether that member state can block the imposition of pain:
In the EU/Poland case, it made no sense for the Commission to threaten Poland with rule-of-law infringement procedures when there were not going to be the member states votes in the end to launch such action. Faced with such bluster the Law and Justice duly ignored Brussels, haggling with the Polish opposition over the new rules for the Tribunal while counting down the clock through 2016 so that a ‘cooperative’ Tribunal head judge could finally be appointed.
Thus to the latest case, namely EU HQ threatening Hungary with painful consequences over its ‘rule of law’ misbehaviour and Hungary now in turn threatening to block huge EU financial decisions if those Brussels threats are not taken off the table:
“We could veto (a final accord), because it needs to be a unanimous decision, but we would find ourselves facing off with 26 other countries. One should only do that as a last resort,” Orban told Hungarian public radio.
The EU is set to spend 750 billion euros on aiding economic recovery in member states hardest hit by the pandemic – money that Orban said should be distributed “fairly and flexibly”.
“One thing should be carefully avoided: mixing it up with politics. That’s (Hungary’s) gravest condition,” he said.
What’s important here, and what matters?
When a liberal Hungarian EU lawmaker asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel, now holding the EU’s rotating presidency, on Wednesday whether the EU was prepared to condition recovery funding on adherence to democratic standards in Hungary, Merkel told the European Parliament she would engage with Orban.
“Defending the rule of law is important…We are going to say things clearly when it comes to Viktor Orban,” Merkel said Wednesday. “We will keep a watchful eye on what happens there.”
Ah. Very conciliatory. And as Germany is by far the biggest contributor to the EU pot, no doubt the usual messy deal can be done.
Yes! Hungary’s (and Poland’s) deviation from lofty EU standards is important. Some might say vital. Tsk!
But what matters for the EU as a whole is to keep the EU staggering on and get that vast COVID19 financial package agreed, rather than waste time and energy in what is necessarily a doomed effort to bring the block-wielding naughty children to heel.