Chaos In London Suggests That Maybe Listening to The Dumb Is A Bad Idea?

Maybe don’t listen to people like this?

Bad political chaos in London today, as the pound continues to plunge, and Leave leaders continue to backpeddle on the bill of goods they sold to the public. It makes one think: maybe fearful race-baiting demagogues who promise great things in exchange for opting out of the modern world maybe shouldn’t be listened to?

Remember, one of the Leave leaders, Michael Gove, said that people in Great Britain “have had enough of experts”, i.e. the people saying that Brexit would be a disaster. Does this sound familiar?

Like Mr Cameron, Mr Gove faced intense scrutiny of his campaign tactics, in particular the claim that the UK sends £350m to the EU every week.

Sky’s political editor Faisal Islam said Mr Gove knew that figure was wrong, and accused him of importing the “post-truth” politics of Donald Trump to the UK. The UK Statistics Authority has said the figure “is misleading and undermines trust in official statistics”, because it is a gross sum and does not account for Britain’s rebate and funding received from the EU. In response to Mr Islam, Mr Gove agreed to have the figure independently audited.

A number of economists do favour Britain’s exit from the EU, among them Andrew Lilico, executive director of Europe Economics, and Patrick Minford of Cardiff University.

Mr Gove opted not to name them, however, preferring to focus on how economists and economic organisations had failed to predict the financial crisis. “I’m not asking the public to trust me. I’m asking them to trust themselves,” he said.

That could easily be Trump, as could Boris Johnson’s and Nigel Farage’s idiot claims that the 350 million pounds per week could go to the NHS, a claim from which they are already saying that they didn’t mean literally. Who could be so preposterous as to hold them to that, now?

The Right in America has long held the same weaponized hatreds of experts who challenge their sacred beliefs, and have been able to turn a reliance on boring stats and figures against opponents who use them. “Experts” are disconnected eggheads who hate real Americans and just want to keep driving around in their Ferraris paid for by your tax dollars. In everything from supply-side economics to climate denial, experts are derided and shunned. The only ones that count are the ones explicitly backing their theories. And even then, they pretend to not be experts, but just walking avatars of common sense.

“Common sense” is the key phrase here, a cousin of Gove’s “I’m asking (the public) to trust themselves.” It’s not that experts can’t be wrong or blinded or biased. They aren’t arguing that. They are arguing that, because they are “experts”, they are inherently biased and wrong, because they are against the people. It’s a way to make people who know what they are talking about as an “other”, an alien, in opposition to common decency. Just like immigrants.

It’s a way to lump together everyone who isn’t in the same fearful corner. It’s an easy tactic used by cruel idiots, from Reagan to Farage, and of course, Trump. They don’t have any facts partly because they don’t care, and partly because there just aren’t any to back them up. Truth doesn’t matter as much as a visceral poke to the reptile brain. If you wonder why Trump did so well when he wasn’t a “conservative”, it’s because he was able to directly appeal to fear. He made a tribal connection by creating a small band of insiders and putting everyone else on the outside, whooping around the encircled wagons. I think that’ll doom him the the general, of course. But the tactic, in a post-national world, is only going to get stronger.


Urbanization Visualized and Captured


Just one city! Screengrab from Go there.

Right around 3700BCE, the Sumerians founded a city called Eridu. With a population of around 6000, it was the first real urban area, and undoubtedly the largest collection of humans in one spot up to that time. If you buy the Toba Bottleneck Theory (which most don’t, but there is evidence of some bottlenecking in the Pleistocene) some 50,000 years before that there were only maybe 10,000 humans total. That is an endless amount of time in the scale of our lifetimes, but it was incredibly rapid. During Toba- or at least that time, no matter what your mileage on the bottleneck- humans had very little impact on the planet. Post-ice age hunting certainly had an effect, particularly in North America. But we hadn’t yet taken over the planet. Urbanization was one of the twin engines that drove the Anthropocene, the other being widespread agriculture.

It’s also the great story of our time. From that weird beginning, in a place that must have seemed like a crushing enormity, but now would be a two-stoplight drive through, urbanization very slowly took over the world. Over the next 4000 years it was largely limited to a narrow latitudinal band, and even by the time the New World was being colonized, and north and south took on new meaning, most of the world was rural. It was only in the last 50 years that mass urbanization started taking place.

This is now beautifully visualized thanks to a landmark study on cities by Meredith Reba, Femke Reitsma, and Karen C. Seto. In it, using several data sets, they have compiled the most thorough history of urbanization that I’ve seen. They aren’t as concerned with strict definitions, but more what constitutes a large city at any given time. Cahokia, the largest city north of Mexico before colonization, makes it, whereas nearby current East St. Louis, with a larger population than Cahokia, does not. I think this is fair.

Just as exciting, at least in a visual stimulation sort of way, is the ability to map it out and watch it. I took a screenshot from Metrocosm, which is an invaluable site. In it, Max Galka shows cities popping up. It’s amazing to watch the pace, as they first center in modern-day Iraq, spread slightly east and west, and start to really roll as India and China develop their eternal cultures. Then Europe and Mesoamerica, then elsewhere, more north and more south, but still spaced out. Then the 20th-century these urban area start to spring up everywhere, and in the last few seconds of the video, it’s a violent epileptic explosion of dots, each one representing the lives of hundreds of thousands and of millions. It’s amazing. (The Guardian has a video as well, shorter and set to a jauntier tune.)

What we see with these maps, and in these datasets, is a dramatic visualization of the choices we have made as a species. I personally am very much in favor of urbanization, and think that it is a great way to reduce our impact on the planet, if done correctly. But there isn’t a way to mistake it: by transforming the land for agriculture, and then transforming the very basics of water drainage, light, sound, and other factors for urbanization, we’ve created the most species-driven environmental change since (arguably) the Great Oxygenation Event, which most scientists will tell you was a bad scene, man.  Remember that the great cities of Mesopotamia were not dry and dusty, but lush and verdant.

But not to be a pessimist entirely. The data and the videos are also thrilling. It’s a stirring wonder, that atavistic gnaw in your stomach, to imagine a citizen of Eridu, gazing in wonder at the crowds. Did they know what they had accomplished? Did they know that a mere generation or two before such a thing was unimaginable? Surely they did; they had the imagination to build. They had the imagination to plan for a future. They had the knowledge to remember the past. They were us.