Boris Johnson, proud of his subtle grasp of history, and of the Second World War in particular, has contributed to the Brexit debate by comparing the EU to the Third Reich:
“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” he says. “The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.”
I appreciate that goals and intentions are important, but one would tend to think that at some point, if the “methods” are sufficiently different, it does make a qualitative difference. Otherwise, one could attack the government’s attempts to calm ethnic tensions, and the grounds that Hitler also tried to resolve ethnic tensions through “different methods” (genocide rather than dialogue). Policies to ensure that businesses can find qualified workers? Sure, if you look at the details, improved education opportunities sound better than enslavement, but it’s really just quibbling over different methods.
Or plans to build motorways… well, I guess the methods weren’t particularly different, so that’s just fascist through and through.
One of my favourite Monty Python sketches is “How to do it“. It parodies a children’s show, teaching children how to do interesting and cool new things — in this case, “How to be a gynecologist… how to construct a box-girder bridge, … how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, and… how to rid the world of all known diseases.” The method described for the last is
First of all, become a doctor, and discover a marvelous cure for something. And then, when the medical profession starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right, so there will never be any diseases ever again.
I think of this sketch often, when I hear a certain kind of blustering politician, most commonly (but not exclusively) of the US Republican variety. The classic sort of “How to do it” (HTDI) solution is the completely generic “I’d get the both sides into the room and tell them, c’mon guys, let’s roll up our sleeves and just get it done. We’re not leaving here until we’ve come up with a solution.” (That’s for a conflict; if it’s a technical challenge, like cancer, or drought, replace “both sides” with “all the experts”. Depending on the politician’s demeanor and gender this may also include “knocking heads together”.) The point is, they see solving complicated problems the way they might appear in a montage in a Hollywood film: Lots of furrowed brows, sleeves being rolled up, maybe a fist pounds on a table. It’s a manager’s perspective. Not a very intelligent manager. Of course, it sounds ridiculous to anyone who has ever been involved in the details solving real problems, whether political, technical, or scientific, but it sounds good to other people who have only seen the same films that the politician has seen. (more…)