A New Western Theocracy?


Andrew Norton.

If there was one stand out recommendation on the Hargreaves report on copyright in the UK, it’s that legislation should be made based on evidence, not belief. It sounds obvious, but with an ever-increasing swathe of issues, laws are written based on feelings, beliefs and opinions, rather than actual facts. So, the question is, when you start making laws based on beliefs, at what point are you a theocracy?

There seems to be little place for facts in western democracies these days. Sample some news from a major mainstream news source (in the format of your choice), and you’ll doubtless hear of some new law, or a lawmaker making a ‘statement’ of a position that needs to be taken. If you poke a bit deeper, you’ll tend to find that there are usually few facts supporting the position or law – in many cases the facts flat-out oppose the law.

It’s happening all over the world. In March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked of getting rid of nuclear power in Germany in the aftermath of the Fukushima incident. A month ago, she shut down 7 power plants, for a ‘safety review’. The incident she was reacting to, listed as one of the worst nuclear accidents ever, had one death (heart attack), 37 physical injuries, and two taken to hospital for radiation exposure and quickly released. This is a power plant hit by a Magnitude 9 earthquake, and a tsunami, and it was still kept safe. An oil refinery in a heavily populated area outside Tokyo burned for TEN DAYS, but there was little mention of that. Nuclear energy is the safest, cleanest and most ecologically sound reliable power source we have right now, according to the facts. However, belief says it’s dangerous, uncontrolled, and about to kill everyone on the planet within 6 months. Guess which one won out? It’s the same story in Italy, where nuclear power was abandoned by public referendum in 1987, shortly after Chernobyl. A position that was reaffirmed earlier this week, in the wake of Fukushima, and turned into a protest action against Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. No fact-based decision-making there, either.

The “War on Terror” has been another source of belief-based legislation. In the US, there’s the USA PATRIOT Act, which gives huge sweeping powers to law enforcement and government agencies. A huge boost in spending on scanners and toys, and a vast erosion of rights. None of it fact based. The body scanners are pretty ineffective, the TSA regularly fails its ‘red tests’ while groping everyone it can (unless you’re a celebrity, where they’ll make exceptions), including children. The liquids ban was based on a hypothetical threat, later discounted, but it’s still in force. Even the ugly shadow of terrorism is more about belief, than reality. You are more than 70x more likely to be murdered in the US, than be caught up in a terrorist incident, and twice as likely to be killed by the weather. Yet police funding is being cut, and police are working on more ‘anti-terrorism’ things.

Of course, the best example of this came during the recent USA Patriot Act provision extension, where it was rushed through with no debate and reauthorized for another few years, because ‘without it our safety would be jeopardized, and active investigations would have to be dropped.’ That’s the belief. The facts are, the provisions have been collectively used less than a handful of times in the past 10 years (so they’re hardly essential tools) and any investigations into actions that occurred before the provisions expired were free to use them still. The facts, plainly available to anyone that could read the bill in question, flat out contradicted the beliefs of those supporting the extension.

There’s a very good reason for this. Politics is all about perceptions. It’s not about being right, or honest any more. Exposed in a lie? Say you were mistaken, misquoted, you misspoke, you didn’t have all the facts, or simplest of all, blame it on a political opponent.

Western politics these days has managed to make lying stigma-free. Politicians are so distrusted and disliked by their electorate, that this sort of behaviour is expected. A honest politician doesn’t stand a chance in the governments of the world these days. And that’s a real problem, because when you’re ignoring facts and embracing beliefs, then issues will only get worse.

This is also why whistle-blowers are becoming so persecuted. Wikileaks is hated, because it exposes the claims of politicians as being beliefs, rather than facts, often by showing they knew that the facts showed something different to the belief.

Facts can be challenged, their basis questions, the values disputed. There’s no challenging beliefs, because they are a belief, and their only basis is that someone feels that way. Any fantasy-land belief can be turned into a real-world law, through the application of spin-doctors and lies. When the beliefs lack of realistic basis shows up in its consequences, do we get some humility, a ‘hey I was wrong, let’s fix this’? No. It’s more beliefs.

Belief is fine, in its place. That place is not in government. When you try to govern the real world, leave your fantasy world at home, and stick to the facts, and we can start dealing with problems, rather than creating more, which is all a theocracy tends to do.


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  1. Falkvinge on Infopolicy: A New Western Theocracy?:

    Andrew Norton.
    If there was one stand out recommendat… http://tinyurl.com/3rh9uzm

  2. A New Western Theocracy? – http://t.co/sVsstYg "Wikileaks is hated, ‘cos it exposes claims of politicians as beliefs, rather than facts"

  3. Falkvinge on Infopolicy: A New Western Theocracy?:

    Andrew Norton.
    If there was one stand out recommendat… http://tinyurl.com/3rh9uzm

  4. RT @falkvinge A New Western Theocracy? http://is.gd/5zjS7V #infopolicy

  5. Falkvinge on belief-based law-making http://ur1.ca/4fvtb

  6. Mats Henricson

    My unwillingness to leave behind extremely toxic and lethally radioactive containers dug into our soils in the hope that noting bad will happen with it for, say, 10.000 years is, theocratic beliefs? Please!

    1. Andrew Norton

      You say ‘extremely toxic and lethally radioactive containers’, I say ‘it’s a technological issue that needs dealing with. And it’s based on beliefs that aren’t quite in accord with the facts.

      In the US, reprocessing is outlawed. That’s taking waste, and making new fuel from it. France and the UK do it just fine (I grew up near Windscale/Sellafield, and it’s THORP reprocessing plant)

      There are other technologies to deal with waste, but they’ve had their funding cut, because of ‘beliefs’, like yours, that ‘nuclear is bad’, or ‘dangerous’ etc.

      Here’s a fun fact. Every bit of nuclear fuel, comes from the ground. In a reactor, what are often NATURAL processes are spend up into a concentrated timeframe..

      But the funniest thing is that radioactive material is EVERYWHERE. A typical wooden pencil has about 6 MILLION radioactive atoms in it. You don’t think about it, but it’s true. It’s Carbon-14 (which is used for Carbon-dating) and yet you have no problem holding it for hours, sticking it in your mouth etc.. It’s because it’s halflife is measured in thousands of years. Which brings me on to my final point.

      The longer the halflife, the less lethal it is. You can’t say ‘it lasts for ever, and thus it’s lethal’. The material isn’t lethal in itself, perpetually giving off death rays as it sits., it only radiates as it breaks down. There’s only a finite number of atoms to break down, and the half-life tells how long (statistically) until half of them have broken down (and emitted radiation). So, if you have a 6million atoms of carbon-14 (hl = 5700 years) and 6million atoms of lithium-8 (hl = 0.8seconds) – both beta emitters – then after a week, you’ll have got much more radioactive exposure from the lithium, than the carbon. In a year though, there will be virtually no radiation from the iodine (since 99.99999…% has decayed already) . Meanwhile, Potassium-40, with a halflife of around a Billion years, maybe have emitted maybe 2 beta particles in that time.

      These are facts, well known facts. But thank you for exemplifying my whole point about belief-based policy. Oh, and I also live near a coal plant (actually, the biggest CO2 producing plant in the US – Plant Scherer) My radioactive exposure from that plant is 25x my radioactive exposure from Sellafield AND Thorp (and I live about the same distance)

      1. Anonymous

        ISTR a neat little factoid that your radiation exposure is higher in an old house in Edinburgh (built of granite and sitting on top of more granite) than at the fence around Sellafield.

    2. NingúnOtro

      I’m sorry, Andrew, but I am not buying your defense of atomic energy. Natural atomic radiation IS everywhere… at NATURAL levels, and has its NATURAL influence, once in a while disturbing DNA replication on a scale that is negligible.

      Human “controlled” atomic energy is concentrated on single spots millions of times more than at natural levels, and when things go wrong the awful way… like Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, Tschernobil, Fukushima… the influence of the liberated radiation is enormous, disturbing DNA replication in organic beings in ways you would not want to know about.

      Only military priorities and economic gains that become tremendously desirable in a competitive and suicidal civilization as ours can make us ignore what atrocities we are willing to inflict on ourselves to secure our ironic final aim… assure survival.

      A survival that is only threathened by our own sick minds.

  7. Uno Hansson

    Andrew, ditt svar till Mats innehåller ju bara små, små förvirrande fragment av ALLA fakta om människors liv på planeten under de nästa 10 000 åren. Dessa fakta bör nog defragmenteras ganska så rejält, om du vill uppfattas som trovärdig när det gäller det totala problemkomplexet.

  8. Martin

    Thanks for bringing up these interesing examples, especially the facts about Fukushima – facts that can easily be downloaded in the firm of WHO reports. Of course, the reality “does not sell” so that is why we don’t hear about it.

    News is about sales and what people want, completely irrational, but it’s okay as long as we know it, even if it’s so easy to forget.

    But like you say, when it comes to politics, it’s not a good idea, especially when it’s AGAINST the facts. Some politics, however, will always be based on feelings rather than facts. For example, is socialism better than other isms? It’s a matter of tasteand what people want and not based on facts.

  9. Putte

    You forgot the example of radical feminism. At least in Sweden the dogmas of the radical feminists are considered untouchable and their conspiracy theories of a male “gender power order” that supresses women in every party of society is a guiding principle for the law-makers.

    1. Dan

      I would imagine he didn’t mention it because it’s a paranoid delusional persecution fantasy among conservatives. In most societies women have fewer rights than us guys, who have certain (unearned) privileges because of what’s between our legs. It’s not a conspiracy, just a by-product of sexist thinking. No feminist thinks there’s a secret cabal of guys sitting in a dark room, plotting their downfall. You’re attacking a straw feminist mate; no such creature exists. Do yourself a favor and go talk to some actual feminists (face to face, none of this online cowardice) and educate yourself.

  10. Anonymous

    “Nuclear energy is the safest, cleanest and most ecologically sound reliable power source we have right now, according to the facts”
    Very funny!

  11. Nick Taylor

    Yea – the nuke cleanup in Japan is looking likely to cost a 1/4 of a trillion dollars.

    Meantime, year on year, more capacity is being added by renewables than nuke…. and given the current 30 yr trend, solar-voltaic is going to cost less than coal in less time than it takes to build a new nuke station.

    So where are your facts? Here:

    Here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/18/fukushima-halts-water-decontamination

    today water cleaning halted hours after it has begun, because of a rapid rise in radiation.

    Funny. You don’t get that with wind do you? Reckon the billion £ a year that the UK (alone) spends on storing waste might have been better invested in renewables?

    Face it – your “opinion” on nukes is just that.

    1. Andrew Norton

      When you say ‘looking liekly to cost 1/4 Trillion, that’s not really the case, is it? The Japanese Center for ECONOMIC research gave the estimate (not scientists, an economist) gave an estimate that ranged from 71-250Billion dollars,
      “the costs of the accident could range from nearly 71 to 250 billion dollars. The figure includes 54 billion to buy up all land within 20 kilometers of the plant, 8 billion for compensation payments to local residents, and 9 to 188 billion to scrap the plant’s reactors.”
      When the upper range is 21x the lower range, it generally indicates a ‘I don’t know’ factor.. And the land purchase (1250+ square kilometers – a bit bigger than Hong Kong – is fairly large. And that cost is, again, to take it to legal standards, a legal standard far stricter than any other power industry faces, because of irrational fears.

      As for the water, It says ‘a rapid rise’, doesn’t say ‘from what’ or ‘to what’. It could be a rapid rise from ‘1/10,000th of the safe limit to 1/1000th of the safe limit’ (which would be over the ‘legal’ limit). Without context, it’s not that factual. No-one was in danger, they’re just now investigating everything so they can plan ahead. This is, after all, the first time in almost 70 years of Nuclear power that anything like this has happened. It’s a whole new area.

      And Wind in the UK, oh boy. Maybe you didn’t realise that it takes at LEAST twice the resources (concrete+steel) to build 1000MW of wind turbines than it does to build 1000MW of nuke plant. Of course, that’s the ‘headline’ capacity, Like broadband, wind’s is an ‘up-to’ factor. In fact, they only tend to put out 25% of their headline output.. Then we have to build power ‘banks’ to store power from it when it’s generated, to when it’s needed, because it’s useless at dealing with demand. In fact, when power usage in the UK goes UP, the power production from wind tends to go DOWN, because that’s what the weather is like. Even better, by 2020, they reckon they’ll have to shut off wind turbines for about 38 days a year because it’s just too unpredictable for use on the grid (lots of brown-outs or blackouts) – http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/06/14/national_grid_2020/

      And while the fukushima plant cleanup may have to buy 1200 sq km, it’s not alone in large land areas. ONE wind turbine took out 800 sq km of Australian National park. and there are a number of fires a year. In the first 3 months of this year alone, there had been 23 wind power accidents, three of them fatal. In fact, let’s go back 5 years, and we find there’s been at least 575 wind power accidents, at least 31 of them fatal. In total, since the 70s, we’ve had 70 wind-power accidents, with 78 fatalities, 1/3 of them being ‘public’ deaths. Compare that to the 0 for nuclear.

      Wind power – safe? NO Realiable? NO Cost Effective? NO
      Only rising because of a BELIEF that it’s good. Thats why “year on year, more capacity is being added by renewables than nuke” belief, rather than facts, has given nuclear a stigma the far more lethal, and useless Wind power doesn’t have. (Here’s a hint, don’t try and debate power safety with someone that trained at being a Health+Safety accident investigator, and who plays with particle physics – mainly neutrinos and muons, granted – for a hobby)

  12. Roger

    I am all for using knowledge and NOT beliefes, but when it comes to nuclear energy the pro side are just as guilty as the anti side. They say it’s so cheap energy, oh yeah? what’s the cost of storing tons of high radioactive waste for 100 000years and guaranteed to not leak into something vital like the water table. oh no but decomissioning and waste storage that’s on a “different budget” what a load of bullshit. On top of this we gotta expect every 10 years or so to have a major accident costing trillions. All the cancer and cleanup in a huge area …again “different budget”. Not to mention the fact that uranium is a limited resource and costly to mine in a non pollutionary way.
    There should be massive research into new types of reactors to mitigate both safety,fuel and waste problems, but that not happening. The industry just wanna sell the same old cow with the same old problems.
    At the same time there should be tons of research into all kinds of energy production. Clean and cheap Energy production and Genetics/biotech knowledge is what we need. All other problems can be solved with existing tech. Sure it might be inefficient but with enough energy that’s no problem.

    Why are hardly anyone talking about geothermal? it’s cheap, it works the DC cables now reach gigawatts 600km+ long and can be laid on sea bed 500+ meters down. And there is lots of room for improvement withing a short time.
    With some more research even heat bump boosters could net 3x power increase using electricity in and out + lots of spare hot water to be used in industry and home heating etc.

  13. Aelius Blythe

    How funny that I didn’t see this until now — I was blogging about almost the same thing just this morning–specifically, how beliefs eclipse logic in the copyright debate among writers.

    I wouldn’t have made the connection between uninformed arguments and “belief”, and equate it to theocracy. I think politicians offer token facts (e.g. “radiation CAN kill you!”) and they get support based mostly on emotional arguments (e.g. “Think of the children!”) To be honest I don’t know much about nuclear energy, but the same mechanism used to make decisions related to it seem disturbingly familiar.

    The post September 11 legislation and security measures are a great example. I’m sure you know the 9/11 terrorists basically just strolled through security with box cutters.–something that would hardly have needed full body scanners and groping to detect. But instead of using simple, logical approach (“Hey, let’s not allow knives on planes,”) we have been frightened into accepting invasive, ineffective and uneconomical policies.

    And right now in the US, the proposed Caylee’s Law is pretty much a perfect case study in how fear and anger run away with people and eclipse logic.

    I guess if people are making policy on emotional arguments with no basis in logic, what’s really the difference between that and a theocracy?

  14. […] post was written for Falkvinge on Infopolicy, and was first published there. The text above is published under a CC0 […]