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Welcome to Normielisation, a semi-regular newsletter looking at British politics, culture and society
Aside from the 100,000 deaths and the political failures that led us to them, one of the most infuriating parts of the coronavirus crisis has been the reaction of “I am very intelligent” political commentator types to new ideas. Time after time when a new suggestion to improve our Covid response is made, these types revert to scrambling for reasons why it just can’t be done.
24 hour vaccinations? “No-one would be interested in an appointment at 2am”
Tightened border restrictions? “Not enough hotels to implement it; would be very hard on travellers”
Review the vaccine approval process to see what could have been sped up? “you fool, you rube, a vaccine has never been approved so quickly before!”
I call this “cheems mindset”. While it’s a condition that can have fatal consequences during a global pandemic, it also has major implications for wider policy making. In many ways it’s the spiritual enemy of the Iron Maiden Britain concept I outlined in my recent piece for CapX- cheems mindset is the reflexive belief that barriers to policy outcomes are natural laws that we should not waste our time considering how to overcome.
To explain the name for those of you less well-versed in internet meme culture, “cheems” is a shiba Inu- a doge- with a deep internet meme history. One of the more recent iterations of cheems is in the “Swole Doge vs. cheems” meme, similar to the “virgin vs chad meme”, a comparison meme in which representatives of the same group from two historical eras are presented as Swole Doge and cheems and are compared to each other. A good, topical example of this meme from my pal Mike Bird is here:
As you can see, in the meme cheems is always pathetic, weak, smallminded, embarrassing- just as cheems mindset is a drag on our ability to make things better.
To be clear, cheems mindset isn’t arguing that a policy is a bad idea because it leads to bad outcomes. A policy like rent control is bad because it leads to lower supply of rental properties and increases prices outside the rent controlled area. On that basis, it would not be cheems mindset to oppose it.
Instead, cheems mindset is automatically dismissing an idea on the basis that it cannot be done, or would be hard to do- it would be cheems mindset to oppose introducing rent control legislation because you were worried about staffing levels in MCHLG, for example.
Cheems mindset isn’t a wholly bad tendency in its steelman form. Knowing and being clear-eyed about the barriers that exist to implementing any policy is important. However, it becomes a deadly cause of sclerosis if it is the reflexive reaction to any new idea or policy proposal.
The problem is that for the vast majority of people innovation does not come naturally. Doing new things is hard and, for lovers of a quiet life at the sharp end of policy delivery, there is often less personal risk in doing nothing. If we can always find reasons not to do things, the world will never improve.
In place of a cheems mindset, we need to develop what my pal Dr Anton Howes calls “the improving mentality”. Instead of reverting automatically to thinking “why can this idea not be done”, we need to cultivate a positive political culture of “how can this idea be implemented”.
It may be that after consideration many seemingly good ideas are non-starters, but unless we consider them in a positive, can do way- rather than reflexively shooting them down- we will never truly know. Unless we vanquish cheems mindset, we will never be as successful as we otherwise could be.
What I’ve been enjoying recently
- My first read of 2021 was Craig Brown’s new book on the Beatles, One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time. It’s an “exploded biography” of the group, recounting stories from their time together as a band in 150 short, often hilarious, anecdotes. Being obsessed with the Beatles is very “Britpopper”, but it’s incredible just how good they were in such a short time together.
- Historical novels have a poor reputation among people more culturally important than me. This is unfair- the best historical novels, like A Place of Greater Safety, I, Claudius and An Instance of the Fingerpost, are unrivalled at channelling the vibe of a historical period. I’ve recently been re-reading Robert Harris’s Cicero trilogy, a fictional depiction of the late Roman Republic statesman’s life, as told by his slave Tiro. A series I strongly recommend.
- If you follow me on twitter, you’ve no doubt already seen that some of my pals have been involved in creating Anti-Virus, a Covid-19 FAQ website. You can read more about it in this great Guardian piece, which features a “rather dashing” photo of my friends Stuart and Sam.
- I’m a moron, but for the last few months I’ve enjoyed putting a small amount of my money into stocks. I share Sam’s view that this *is* gambling, but it’s also fun. If you’ve found yourself transfixed by the $GME saga and want to get involved, I recommend the two platforms I use: Freetrade and 212. Freetrade is a smoother, less buggy platform, but 212 has a greater selection of shares available. If you sign up and fund your accounts through either of those links we both get a free share.