The sleep of Reason is producing monsters in the UK

We recently received the postal ballot papers in the UK, and I was reminded of this classic drawing by Goya in 17th century Spain

Goya's darwing from 1799

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

We humans tread a thin line between rationality and unreason, and it feels like the trendline is pointing away from the direction of Reason and has been for the last three decades. I recently discovered that the proportion of GDP Britain spends on R&D has really fallen over the years I have been in work, which might explain why my experience of the world of work moved towards a tedious paint-by-numbers and away from the interesting stuff as time went on. But that’s all for another day, because this ballot paper showed me, at a glance, what is wrong. And it is frightening

This ballot paper is either a triumph of the democratic process in giving an insight into the true feelings of my fellow countrymen. And giving them a way to vent their spleen in a way that really doesn’t matter one whit, because the European Parliament has no executive power. Don’t take my word for it, get it from the horse’s mouth

To wit

Under Article 289 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), consultation is a special legislative procedure, whereby Parliament is asked for its opinion on proposed legislation before the Council adopts it.

The European Parliament may approve or reject a legislative proposal, or propose amendments to it. The Council is not legally obliged to take account of Parliament’s opinion but in line with the case-law of the Court of Justice, it must not take a decision without having received it.

In the beginning, the 1957 Treaty of Rome gave Parliament an advisory role in the legislative process; the Commission proposed and the Council adopted legislation.

So it doesn’t really matter who becomes an MEP – I personally would be in favour of abolishing the whole shooting match and making the Council of Europe representative to the electorate in some population-related way. I don’t think the European Parliament performs any useful function and costs us shitloads of money, and gives a platform for some very strange people of which Nigel Farage is by no means an outlier – he’s positively square compared to some. It’s not gonna be changed in my lifetime. These European elections therefore give the opportunity it seems for a primal scream.

Psychology tells us that the human mind has to deal with a lot of complexity, and the self-aware I is only partially self-aware/conscious. There is an unknown part of the mind that runs in the background, collecting and sifting data, forming opinions, holding grudges, simplifying the world around to make it digestible by the limited lens of consciousness, at it scans across the too big to read newspaper of our experiences.

This unknown part of the mind is the back-seat driver to the conscious mind, and it guards the boundary well. It has to, because if the thin line fails under the load then you have a range of rotten experiences from bad dreams through a nervous breakdown to the a full blown breakdown of everything like the effects of LSD gone wrong. Huxley got away with it, Syd Barrett didn’t… That line is there for a purpose, mess with it at your peril. But you can see it indirectly. If you want to know what your worst character fault is, think of what all the people you instantly dislike have in common. The unconscious mind projects some of this upon the world it sees outside, and that gets read back through the lens of the conscious mind.

Despite that fact that Britain is immensely richer than it was in 1973/5, this primal scream is taking the form of ‘There’s lots of stuff that I can’t have and it’s not fair. It’s all somebody else’s fault’. And this scream is getting voiced in this ballot paper.


the sleep of reason
the sleep of reason




3 thoughts on “The sleep of Reason is producing monsters in the UK”

  1. I got mine in the post too – a long list of not very many real choices.

    A lot of “bash the foreigners” [UK and EU], same old parties [generic much about ‘recovery’ and ‘jobs’] and a disappointing lack of any real policies.

    I don’t like the fellow, but I can sort of see where Russell Brand was coming from on his Paxman rant… but hey, plus ca change eh?


  2. @Ermine

    “a way to vent their spleen in a way that really doesn’t matter one whit, because the European Parliament has no executive power”

    Alas, Ermine, you have got this very wrong (and evidently didn’t read the piece you linked to slowly and carefully enough). There are several legislative procedures used in the EU; different areas of decision-making fall under different legislative procedures, depending on their Treaty base. ‘Consultation’ is merely one procedure, and it is now getting on for decades since the days when the European Parliament was merely ‘consulted’ in most decision-making by the Council, which could then do what it wanted anyway. Nowadays very little EU-related business falls under ‘consultation’. Most of it falls under ‘co-decision’ (which has been re-named the ‘ordinary legislative procedure’, unhelpfully) and that means just what it says on the tin – the European Parliament has a more or less equal role with the Council, and there are various rules and mechanisms built in to ensure the Council can’t sideline or overrule it. So the European Parliament does have real power. Indeed, there are leading US scholars of the EU who believe the European Parliament has more power than many national parliaments (including our own ….). Their views haven’t been distorted by decades of reading UK newspapers owned by non-UK non-EU citizens who don’t like the prospect of their powers being reigned in by political institutions that aren’t in their pockets.


  3. A prophetic post, given the disturbing results that have seen the far-right resurgent, not just in Britain but across much of Europe. In most cases these demagogues use the same deceitful arguments as Farage and UKIP, blaming others (i.e. migrants and the EU) for all their troubles.

    What will be interesting now is to see how the mainstream parties react – whether they will choose the path of speaking of truth to ignorance, or the reactionary route of aping such bigotry. Given the paucity of political leadership it is easy to form the pessimistic conclusion that the sleep of reason will continue.

    Curiously, from an economic and investing perspective, the far-right did less well than expected in some of the worst affected countries by the financial crisis, such as Italy and Greece, which perhaps explains why international markets today have taken the results in their stride.


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