Reading on Monday 23 January

Yet another category mistake about fascism in this article “No, Donald Trump is not a fascist”.  How many times people, Fascism does not equal Nazism!  The attacks on the media and this speech are worrying signs which make this article seem ostrich like in its refusal to see the danger.

More from the musings of Dr Pangloss, this article in the Times by controversial commentator Matt Ridley suggests, in a Randian haze, that if government just gets out the way, the private sector will flourish.  A couple of sections of the article (a FTZ on Teeside or eliminating the precautionary principle in biotech) give an inkling of what kind of country he would like to see.

Ryan Holiday reminds us that fake news is neither a new problem nor one that can be easily fixed.  It is going to require hard work and effort on the part of those responsible, us lot.  This could be fixed tomorrow if consumers of news were more discerning and read with scepticism instead of allowing their unconscious bias and emotion to take over (Ryan makes the point that if you really want to go viral, write something that will make someone angry).  

Of course, our tendency to fall for this stuff is linked to yet another circuit of our mental wiring – the unconscious bias that we tend to ascribe intelligence to those with whom we agree and see as irredeemably dense those with whom we disagree.  Now, we can overcome this bias through system 2 thinking (to quote Kahneman) but at a visceral level this is our reaction.

This article on Singularity Hub poses, and tries to answer, the tricky question of how do we educate children for a labour market that we can’t even visualise yet?  Training for key skills (communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration to take Finland’s example) and continuous education seems to be the answer.  I am inclined to agree as, increasingly, a degree seems more like a market signal about your ability to learn than actual education for a career.

I find much to agree and disagree with in this article about reform of the UN.  This was my job a few years back (ok, a decade.  Who is counting?) and it is somewhat disheartening to see the same old debates in the same old form.

Firstly, security council reform.  The real worry is not that the P5 would veto a change to the security council, it is that they would walk away from the table like they did with the League of Nations.  The UN was and is, in many ways, a compromise and chimera institution, merging the League with a much older body, the Concert of Europe (the Great Powers).  The best we can hope for is wider permanent membership, while accepting that this could mean even more constraints on the security council’s freedom to act.

I disagree that it is lack of member state oversight that has led to the overlap in development activities by the UN agencies.  Back in the mid 2000s the UK and others were arguing strongly for a single approach at country level (one leader in the RC, one plan, one office and one budget) but this was stymied by vested interests in both agencies and member states.

I could write thousands of words on this subject but I will restrain myself.  Suffice to say this – the UN is messy but that is by design rather than accident.  The international order is messy and the UN has to reflect that.  An attempt to create an idealised structure would be tilting at windmills.


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