Weekly round-up 17-8-21

Absolutizing ‘democracy’

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has explained why Canada will not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan: “They have taken over and replaced the duly elected, democratic government by force” [1]

This, no doubt meant sincerely enough, is a good example of the kind of thinking which prevails in Western capitals. This reflects a belief in parliamentary democracy as some kind of whitewashing absolute value which trumps all others. No matter that this ‘duly elected, democratic’ govenment was a) only possible due to a massive armed invasion and occupation which saw tens of thousands of civilians killed, many of them directly by Western invasion forces, [2] b) voter turnout in the last Presidential election in 2019 was less than 20% [3] – hardly surprising since the country was in a civil war, c) the 2019 elections were were disputed amid allegations of fraud, d) the entire state and governmental apparatus of the country (that is that part which was actually controlled by the government) was riddled with corruption.

The Taliban subscribe to a version of the Islamic faith. It seems that parilamentary democracy is not a value in this system. Legitimacy is confered by faith and right-living, not by elections.

There is, as far as I can see, no philosophical argument which justifies making parliamentary representative democracy into an absolute value which trumps all others and which is so ‘right’ that one is justified in killing tens of thousands of people to impose an imperfect (almost farcically so) version of it.

The “conspiracy theory” of the lab-leak

I like this in the Guardian:

AFP reports that in the face of China’s reluctance to open up to outside investigators, experts are increasingly open to considering the theory that the virus might have leaked out of a lab, once dismissed as a conspiracy

“once dismissed as a conspiracy”. Ah – where would we be without the passive voice and its handy ability to hide the subject of an action? If we use the active we would have to say “which we, the mainstream liberal press including the Guardian, for a very long time dismissed as a conspiracy”. And we can’t have that can we? That is; it wasn’t dismissed as a conspiracy theory universally but by a specific locus of power and for specific reasons. They’ve changed their tune because in the face of mounting public evidence – especially the impossible to deny lack of cooperation from China – the carefully constructed “conspiracy theory” line was falling apart. (In part the idea that it is a ‘conspiracy theory’ stemmed from an artful article in the Lancet in which a group of scientists condemned the lab-leak theory as a ‘conspiracy’. It turned out later that there was a ‘conspiracy’ – the letter itself. At least one of letter writers had links to the organisation involved in funding the dangerous lab experiments in the first place yet at the bottom of the letter they wrote “We declare no competing interests”). [3] These people are not yet quite at the level of a fully totalitarian regime. A 100% full-on totalitarian regime can say “there is no famine” even when the TV presenter is fainting from malnutrition. These people (Western liberals) still have to maintain their brand and their brand includes a notion that they are objective truth tellers.

A new tactic by these shameless Ministers

UK government Ministers – at least the curent batch – strike me as setting a new bar for being self-serving and devoid of moral principles. One tactic I’ve noticed being used to deflect crticism is the tactic of responding to criticism by including junior staff in the answer. The effect is to neutralise the criticism because the critic is now seen to be criticising junior staff. This is a nice example from a government Minister James Heappey. The wider challenge was that UK government ministers have let down many Afghans who worked for the UK and who are now at risk from the Taliban and the specific point was that the UK Foreign Secretary did not place an important call with his Afghan ‘counterpart’ which might have helped. (This itself is of course a substanceless piece of media froth generated by the PR team in the Labour Party – but still the Minister needs to respond). This is how the Minister handled the criticism:

What I see is that from the prime minister to secretaries of state to my junior ministerial colleagues around government to senior civil servants, all the way down to the brave volunteer civil servants who have gone forward to Kabul … is people across Her Majesty’s government working their backsides off in order to get people out.

The tactic is to connect the Minister with the, in this case, “brave volunteer civil servants”, so that any criticism of the Minister appears to be criticism of the junior individuals – which of course no one would want to do. It is like a general hiding behind his troops rather than taking responsibility. The ex ‘Health’ minister (Matt Hannock) was a past master at this – often responding to criticism of his actions by talking about his “team” who have been working so hard etc. It is a tactic that can only take place in the context of the populist poliitcal culture – where the most imporant concern of Ministers is to be seen to be “connecting” to the public and “in touch”. Here the Minister secures two wins. He can come across as “in touch” – thinking about the junior staff – and at the same time subtly deflect the crticism of his role, or that of his senior colleague. (The leading analysis of the populist political class is the book by Peter Oborne The Triump of the Political Class). [4] (Notice too the ‘populist’ and informal language – “working their backsides off”. You can’t argue with that.)


  1. https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-recognition-taliban-1.6143660
  2. https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/civilians/afghan
  3. https://thebulletin.org/2021/05/the-origin-of-covid-did-people-or-nature-open-pandoras-box-at-wuhan/
  4. Peter Oborne. The Triumph of the Political Class. Pocket Books. 2008. https://amzn.to/3zggERe

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer