Author: Hubert Huzzah

The Peterloo Massacre

The Manchester Observer was a short-lived non-conformist Radical newspaper based in Manchester, England. Its radical agenda led to an invitation to Henry “Orator” Hunt to speak at a public meeting in Manchester. The Peterloo massacre and the shutdown of the newspaper resulted from that Public Meeting.

By 1819, the allocation of Parliamentary constituencies did not reflect population distribution. The major urban centres of Manchester, Salford, Bolton, Blackburn, Rochdale, Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham and Stockport, had a combined population of almost one million. They were represented only by their county MPs. Lancashire was represented by two members of parliament: John Blackburne of Hale Hall and Edward Smith Stanley, (Lord Stanley). Lord Stanley was a Conservative Whig and member of the “Derby Dilly” – a breakaway group of Conservative Whigs. The name derives from the family title “Earl of Derby” and the name of a stagecoach: the “Diligence” or “Dilly”; The title was bestowed on the Group by Irish Nationalist Leader Daniel O’Connell in a scathing reference to an erratic coach, with Stanley driving the horses.

It was quickly picked up by others, and the name stuck. Stanley’s reputation was as the “Prince Rupert of Debate”: leading his followers to attack but unable to rally them afterwards. As a result, it was difficult to estimate the number of MPs who were actually part of the ‘Dilly’. But the name did highlight the turmoil of the Ruling Classes. Change was very much in the air. 

Both Blackburne and Stanley were Oxford educated Landowners whose families had “been in politics” for some time and were not liking the change. Not the Cooperativism and Utopian Socialism of one time Manchester resident Robert Owen – Pioneer of the Cooperative Movement and member of the Manchester Board of Health. As Whigs they were aware of the rising demands of the emerging Working Class. There was something in the air.

Indeed, in 1820, The Radical War burst out in Scotland when A Committee of Organisation for Forming a Provisional Government put placards around the streets of Glasgow late on Saturday the first of April, calling for an immediate national strike. By the third of April there was a strike.

Work stopped over a wide area of central Scotland including Stirlingshire, Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire, with an estimated total of around 60,000 stopping work, particularly in weaving communities. Eighty eight men were charged with treason. The leaders – Andrew Hardie and John Baird – were hanged and beheaded. The last beheadings in the British Isles. 

The 1819 Peterloo Massacre was normal, not exceptional.

Voting, in 1819, was restricted to the adult male owners of freehold land with a rateable value greater than forty shillings. The equivalent of a rateable value of about £172 as of 2018, which equates, approximately, to owning a Freehold property worth £172,000. The amounts are approximations as the Rateable Value was largely abolished with the introduction of the Poll Tax of 1990. This property qualification resulted in very few people having the Vote. Those who did have the vote numbered around two percent of the population, and, in Lancashire the number was even lower. When 60,000 people turned out to hear Orator Hunt talk, they outnumbered the voting population for the whole of Lancashire. 

The imbalance of power was not simply between Men and Women but between Rich and Poor. Indeed, Radicals were demanding that Women get the Vote. Which “moderates” saw as a step too far. Indeed Women – over thirty, of a certain class – only got the Vote after violent confrontation with the Liberals – under Asquith – and Moderates in 1918: almost a century after Orator Hunt stated that Women, who were single, tax paying and of sufficient property should be permitted to vote.

Equality of voting rights only really came about with the 1928 Representation of the People Act. The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 only allowed propertied women to vote and almost all men. The Franchise for all Working Class Adults has only really existed for about ninety years. The Electoral Register for Local and National Elections only became the same register in 1949 and the voting age fixed at 18 in 1969. Every step of the way was fought for. 

In 1819 votes in Lancashire could only be cast at the county town of Lancaster, by a public spoken declaration at the hustings. There was no Secret Ballot. Britain’s first secret ballot box, which was used in Pontefract in 1872, was mandated by the Ballot Act of 1872. The Liberal candidate, H.C. Childers was elected MP for the town and the Returning Officer announced the result of the secret ballot in the Town Hall after the votes had been counted.

In 1819, the vote was cast by standing up in public and announcing for whom you cast your vote. The Returning Officer would then record the cast vote. This was of much concern to Chartists who saw the affront to democracy in people being influenced – by drunkenness or threats – at the hustings. Indeed, the specific Electoral Offence of “treating” derives from the practice of candidates providing food and drink at the hustings to induce a favourable vote.

The first automatic secret ballot box was built and patented in Merthyr Tydfil by a former iron puddler, turned grocer, William Gould. Gould was disparaged as a “Chartist Lip” – who served as a Poor Law Guardian – but understood secret ballots prevented industrialists and landowners having influence at the ballot box. The principle behind his ballot box was that each voter had a token and each candidate a ballot box. The voter inserted the token into the box of their choice and the vote was registered onto a clock face on the box. This would reduce the potential for intimidation. Despite campaigning, his idea was not adopted. In terms of secrecy of the vote, it was a huge step up from the spoken declaration at the hustings. 

The problem of getting to Lancaster is that most working people would need to walk. Using modern roads, the hike would be about seventeen hours each way at a brisk pace. In addition, time would be needed to be taken away from working; food would need to be carried and accommodation organised. The large scale movement of people was a terrifying prospect for Justices and Politicians and Landowners. An election in which there was Universal Adult Suffrage would have been revolutionary with hundreds of thousands of people moving to Lancaster to cast a vote.

The logistics of voting, alone, would have extended the ballot to weeks if not months. Which would increase the time away from work and the food required and, in no uncertain terms, disrupt the entire economy. The Rotten Boroughs were not simply a symptom of corruption but of the collapse of the practical political and economic life of the Country. 

Stockport fell within the county constituency of Cheshire, with the same franchise, but with the hustings held at Chester. This would have complicated the matter further. Both Chester and Lancaster Returning Officers would be obliged to confer and coordinate. Many MPs were returned by Rotten Boroughs such as Old Sarum in Wiltshire, with one voter who elected two MPs. Dunwich in Suffolk had almost completely disappeared into the sea yet returned Members of Parliament. Closed Boroughs with more voters, dependent on a local magnate meant that more than half of all MPs were elected by boroughs under the control of a total of just 154 proprietors. This hugely disproportionate influence on Parliament of the United Kingdom drove calls for reform.

The Manchester Observer was formed by a group of radicals that included John Knight. John Saxton and James Wroe. The popularist form of articles aimed at the growing literate working-class meant that, within twelve months, it was selling 4,000 copies per week to its local audience and more further afield. By late 1819 it was being sold in most of the booming industrialised cities – Birmingham, Leeds, London, Salford – all calling for non-conformist reform of the Houses of Parliament. It was a powerful demand for Democracy to be part of life for everyone and not just the few. 

Orator Hunt stated: 

“The Manchester Observer is the only newspaper in England that I know, fairly and honestly devoted to such reform as would give the people their whole rights.”

The non-conformist articles, combined with a popularist style, often resulted in the main journalists of T. J. Evans, John Saxton and James Wroe constantly being sued for libel. Being found guilty, particularly for articles critical of Parliament’s structure, resulted in jail which then raised circulation. Despite its popularity, the radical agenda was seen as bad for sales by traditionalist conformist-Whig businesses. Advertising revenue remained low with only one of its 24 columns being filled by adverts. The lack of advertising meant the Observer was always in financial difficulties.

In Early 1819, Johnson, Knight and Wroe of the Manchester Observer formed the Patriotic Union Society. Leading radicals and reformists in Manchester joined the organisation, including members of the First Little Circle. The First Little Circle had formed in 1815, influenced by the ideas of Jeremy Bentham and Joseph Priestley. While the members were Unitarians, the political ideas were practical, utilitarian and resolutely reforming. Members went on to become Editors and Members of Parliament and to be involved in the Businesses of Manchester whose emerging Municipal Socialist, Cooperativist and Feminist movements would have a lasting impact on Britain.

The objective of the Patriotic Union Society was parliamentary reform both locally and, in the longer term, nationally. The Patriotic Union Society invited Henry “Orator” Hunt and Major John Cartwright to speak at a public meeting in Manchester. The national agenda of Parliamentary reform, and the local agenda to gain two Parliamentary Members for Manchester and one for Salford, were to be the subject of the speech but, to avoid the police or courts banning the meeting, the Patriotic Union Society and the Observer advertised only, “a meeting of the county of Lancashire, than of Manchester alone.” 

On August 19th 1819, at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000-80,000 Men, Women and Children. As the meeting began, local magistrates called on the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry to arrest Orator Hunt and those on the hustings with him. A Yeomanry charge into the crowd, knocked down a woman and killed a child before detaining Hunt. The 15th Hussars were then summoned by the Chairman of the Lancashire and Cheshire Magistrates, William Hulton. They charged with sabres drawn, killing 18 people and injuring 700 more. The Hussars had been ordered to Manchester by a panicked government who believed an insurrection was being planned on the basis of an intercepted message between the Manchester Observer’s founder – Joseph Johnson – and Orator Hunt: 

“Nothing but ruin and starvation stare one in the face in the streets of Manchester and the surrounding towns, the state of this district is truly dreadful, and I believe nothing but the greatest exertions can prevent an insurrection. Oh, that you in London were prepared for it.” 

The Local Magistrate, William Hulton, had the meeting declared illegal as the intention of choosing representatives without the Monarch’s Permission was seditious and a serious misdemeanour. This began a series of planned meetings and cancellations with the terms of the meeting being constantly changed to conform to the desire for Members Of Parliament and the repeated escalation of the State against the Radicals. Eventually, the Meeting was policed by six hundred of the 15th Hussars; the 88th Regiment of Foot Cavalry; two six-pounder guns from the Royal Horse Artillery unit; four hundred men of the Cheshire Yeomanry; four hundred special constables; and one hundred and twenty cavalry of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry.

The Yeomanry were described by the Manchester Observer as being, “generally speaking, the fawning dependents of the great, with a few fools and a greater proportion of coxcombs, who imagine they acquire considerable importance by wearing regimentals”.

Subsequent descriptions include, “younger members of the Tory party in arms”, and, by later historians, “the local business mafia on horseback”.

Field Marshal John Byng, 1st Earl of Strafford, rather than supervising events as he had indicated he would, spent the day at York Races – where he had two entries – and left the matter of Manchester in the hands of Guy L’Estrange.

HC Deb 24 November 1819 vol 41 cc228-301

No. 36. REPORT from Lieutenant Colonel l’Estrange, inclosed in the foregoing.

Dated Manchester, August 16, 1819, eight o’clock, P. M. 

...I have, however, great regret in stating, that some of the unfortunate people who attended this meeting have suffered from sabre wounds, and many from the pressure of the crowd…

Geo. L’Estrange,
Lieut. Col. 31st regiment.

The Military rioted and massacred the Civilians; many, of whom, were wearing their Sunday Best Clothes and had marched from all around Manchester. Carrying banners and organised for a picnic. The imbalance of power was not simply political but of brute force. There were banners for Manchester Female Reform Society – Votes for Women! – “No Corn Laws”, “Annual Parliaments”, “Universal suffrage” and “Vote By Ballot”. Nothing really radical. Mary Fildes (born Pritchard) a political activist and an early suffragette was on the platform with Orator Hunt.

Mary remained a radical and was later arrested, in 1833, as a member of The Female Political Union of the Working Classes. She was arrested for distributing “pornography” – in fact contraceptive advice. The only banner to survive has the words “Liberty and and Fraternity” and “Unity and Strength” carried by Thomas Redford – who was cut down by cavalry. The crowd was dispersed in about ten minutes; but rioting was sparked as far away as Macclesfield and Oldham.

Field Marshal Byng was promoted to lieutenant general in 1825; then advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in 1828; advancing, again, to Commander-in-Chief of Ireland and then to the Privy Council of Ireland. He was elected as a Whig Member of Parliament for Poole in Dorset in October 1831. One of the few military men to supported the 1832 Reform Bill. His role in Peterloo never once prevented him from enjoying political power. 

Wroe, as then editor of the Observer, described the incident at the Peterloo massacre. He took his headline from the Battle of Waterloo four years previously. Subsequently, Wroe wrote pamphlets entitled, “The Peterloo Massacre: A Faithful Narrative of the Events”. They sold out each print run for 14 weeks with national circulation. Saxton, having been on the hustings with Hunt, was arrested and imprisoned. He stood trial with Hunt at York Assizes.

His defence that he was present as a reporter, not participant in the hustings party, was successful. The success of his defence did not sit well with the Government. Hunt was sentenced to five years at Ilchester Jail, fined one thousand pounds and made to find two sureties of five hundred pounds having escaped the charge of High Treason.

The Observer printed an article claiming that, “something was previously arranged”, as Manchester Royal Infirmary had been emptied of patients, on the 15th of August, anticipating the massacre. That all the surgeons had been summoned to attend on 16th. The Board of the infirmary vigorously denied this. The Liverpool Government then instigated repeated prosecutions of the Manchester Observer and those associated with it. Vendors were prosecuted for seditious libel. Fifteen charges of seditious libel were brought against Wroe, his wife and his two brothers resulting in the temporarily suspension of publication. Wroe relinquished ownership of the copyright and resumed under the last proprietor of the Manchester Observer (Thomas John Evans). At trial Wroe was found guilty on two specimen charges.

The other charges against him, his wife and his brothers being given “to lie”. The charges would only lie provided the publication of “libels” ceased. Wroe was sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined £100 with a further six months, and being bound over to keep the peace for two years, to give a surety of £200 and to find two other sureties of £50 each.

The prosecuted charges related not to anything in the Manchester Observer, but to articles in Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register, which Wroe had previously sold. It was clear that the Liverpool Government wished to silence Wroe and took the most certain way of doing so. Prosecuting Richard Carlile, who had been present at Peterloo enabled prosecution on the coat tails of conviction. Carlile wrote an article on the “Horrid Massacres At Manchester”. The Government responded by closing Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register. Carlile responded by changing the name to The Republican and writing: 

“The massacre… should be the daily theme of the Press until the murderers are brought to justice…. Every man in Manchester who avows his opinions on the necessity of reform, should never go unarmed – retaliation has become a duty, and revenge an act of justice.”

Carlile was then prosecuted for blasphemy, blasphemous libel and sedition and publishing material that might encourage people to hate the government; for publishing Tom Paine’s Common Sense, The Rights of Man and the Age of Reason. In October 1819 he was found guilty of the blasphemy and seditious libel and sentenced to three years which enabled Wroe to be caught up in the moral panic of atheist Republicanism and prosecuted with impunity.

The sentences were said to have been reduced because of the distressed state of the Wroes. A distress brought about by the Government but which cast the Government in a poor light. It was a delicate balance to secure an effective remedy to the power of Wroes publications. Wroes successor, Evans, was subsequently (June 1821) convicted on one charge of a seditious libel another of libelling a private individual and imprisoned for eighteen months and bound over for three years in the sum of £400 with two other sureties of £200. By then the 11 members of the first Little Circle excluding William Cowdroy Jnr. of the Manchester Gazette had helped cotton merchant John Edward Taylor found The Manchester Guardian.

The Manchester Observer had ceased publication. The Government had driven it into silence by repeated prosecution. The final editorial recommending:

“I would respectfully suggest that the Manchester Guardian, combining principles of complete independence, and zealous attachment to the cause of reform, with active and spirited management, is a journal in every way worthy of your confidence and support.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley was in Italy at the time of Peterloo. In response, Shelley wrote “The Masque of Anarchy: written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester“. Because of radical press restrictions, it was not published until 1832 – the same year as The Representation of the People Act (1832).

The Act introduced a system of voter registration, to be administered by the Overseers of the Poor; and instituted a system of courts to review disputes relating to “voter qualification”. The Act limited the duration of polling to two days – formerly forty days. The reform act increased the number of people able to vote, across the country, to about 650,000 – about ten times the largest estimate of the number of people attending Peterloo.

When Shelley wrote:

“Men of England, heirs of Glory,
Heroes of unwritten story,
Nurslings of one mighty Mother,
Hopes of her, and one another;
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.”

He was writing lyrics for punk bands like The Mekons, Scritti Politti and Strike Anywhere. The radical sentiments of Peterloo never vanished regardless of how submerged they were. Indeed Shelley is claimed to be part of the inspiration for the Arab Spring, Ghandi and numerous other radical causes. The truth is closer: “A spectre is haunting Manchester – the spectre of Peterloo. All the powers of old England have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Liberal and Tory, Johnson and Swinson, European Research Group and Big Data-spies.” To paraphrase those later journalists of the Manchester Guardian: Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.

For a few months following Peterloo it seemed England shook, towards an armed rebellion. Abortive uprisings took place in Huddersfield and Burnley, the Yorkshire West Riding Revolt, the Cato Street conspiracy, the Cinderloo Uprising in the Coalbrookdale Coalfield, the Pentrich rising, the March of the Blanketeers, the Spa Fields, and the Radical War ll made the end of Regency Civilisation more and more vivid. The Government introduced the Six Acts, to suppress radical meetings and publications. By the end of 1820 every significant working-class radical reformer was in jail. Civil liberties were largely gone.

Two hundred years later, the Tories are again splitting and civil liberties are again being rolled back.


Picture: The Skelmanthorpe Flag. Anonymous.

Image © Kirklees Museums & Galleries

Hello: Which Service, Please?


Joseph Cornell was an American Surrealist. Possibly less known than Salvador Dalí or Max Ernst but a significant, if invisible, contributor. Cornell worked with assemblage and collage to build tiny Wunderkammer of places he had never visited or people he had never met. Much of his life was defined by caring for his mother and disabled brother. Yet, he managed to keep in contact with international artists and produce a body of work that recycled once beautiful objects into things of beauty and wonder. Cornell worked in a cultural parallel to the creation and production of computer systems: he reused and recycled in innovative ways. He transformed the discarded into desirable objects which tell stories appealing to Art Collectors – works have been sold for $5.3m despite Cornell living in relative poverty for much of his life. Caring has always been costly. 

The Government Digital by Default Strategy seeks to emulate the kind of amplification of effort that Cornell achieved. Published in November 2012, the Strategy has fourteen illuminating action points that define what it is the Government seeks to achieve. In general, the strategic direction being taken is one of transforming government into a flat, lean, low cost, machine; of eliminating anything superfluous to the delivery of the task; of reducing spending by up to £1.8Bn a year; moving all Government Services to a single website. The entire strategy seems utterly marvellous, aspirationally wonderful and easy to achieve in 2012. By 2013 the shiny glint was gone.

Investigation had found that 18% of the population were not willing to go online at all although 6% might be persuaded. This was not deemed to be a death knell for the Strategy because Action Point Nine of the Strategy specifically states, “This means that people who have rarely or never been online will be able to access services offline, and we will provide additional ways for them to use the digital services.”

A commitment that was rolled out to the seven key Departments who handle the majority of Central Government transactions: HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Department for Transport (DFT), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and the Home Office. 

HMRC, being the Department that does most online transactions – and has done even before the Digital By Default Strategy – had a perfectly functional identity checking system. This system had been working and refined since before the debacle of Labour’s Identity Card. Indeed, the HMRC identity check was an aspirational blueprint for the Identity Card. When the Cameron Government came to power, the Identity Card was dumped and, immediately, private companies such as Experian, Equifax, Barclays and others were invited to become “Identity Services Providers”.

Identity Services Providers use the Electoral Register, your credit history, your outstanding debts and your payment history to determine a credit score. For people who use cash – through necessity or decision – this Credit Score is useless. For example, a person who has never had a credit card will fail to have an accurate credit score and a person who buys a house in cash will never have a good credit score. The entire industry of credit scoring is based on the idea that a company can collect all the relevant financial information about someone and be certain the information is correct. Indeed, the early Credit Scoring Industries gained exemptions from the Data Protection Act 1984 to ensure they could collect private information without penalty.

Over the decades the number of people for whom Credit Scoring Industries have accurate information has stabilised at about 30% of the population. Which means, in the shiny world of Digital By Default the Government’s privatised Identity Service Providers cannot identify 30% of the people who need to be identified in order to use Government Digital Services. This is a stark contrast to the HMRC identity checking which identified everybody who participates in the Economy with a success rate of over 97%. 

Digital By Default has a grand set of objectives. Many of them are aimed at reuse and recycling of information in order to flatten Government hierarchies – to shrink the State. Many of them are twaddle that looks good on a Management Consultant’s report but fail when exposed to reality. For example: Action 03 All departments will ensure that they have appropriate digital capability in-house, including specialist skills immediately fails when the development is outsourced. Specialist skills take time to nurture and develop.

Exactly like Commercial Companies, the Government has no desire to pay to train or pay to develop those skills. Which means a rash of Contract Workers and increasingly unfair and unreasonable contract terms. Such as defining Contract Workers as being Workers and therefore to be taxed as Workers but without having any of the Rights associated with Workers because they are contractors. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor niggle. It is, however, a minor niggle that is amplified by technology. Contractors move on seeking the highest payer and leave without completing work and only complete work defined.

The debacle of the Universal Credit Computer Systems demonstrates that poor Management and unreasonable treatment of Skilled Workers ends badly. The Universal Credit System works as defined and has no flexibility to work otherwise because the desire to shrink the State and do everything cheaper overrides any design skills that exist in appropriating, reusing and recycling existing systems. 

The single biggest failing of Digital By Default is that it has been colonised by Nudge Theory. The default of digital is a policy lever that the Government can pull and magically people will be nudged to use the service and so the non-digital alternative will never be required. Which has then informed the reduction of the number of Civil Servants – regardless of practical necessity – in a masterly exemplification of the lump of labour fallacy.

The truth is that the Government has failed to genuinely engage with the Digital By Default Strategy for a wide range of ideologically driven reasons which fetishise Business Best Practice but fails to engage by following one of the stated aims of the Strategy: Departmental and transactional agency boards will include an active digital leader. 

When it came to the Northern Irish Border, the Government simply stated that there would be a technological solution in place. When the European Union asked the most basic of design questions the entire claim fell apart. Not because the European Union was seeking to frustrate anything but because the Government is profoundly ignorant of what Digital actually means. By insisting that Leadership is needed they have circumvented the precise thing that is essential to every digital strategy, public or private: delivery.

The aim of the Strategy: Departmental and transactional agency boards will include an active digital leader only works if All departments [will] ensure that they have appropriate digital capability in-house, including specialist skills. Leadership without delivery is like a Shipping Line without Ships. 

Fundamentally the Digital By Default Strategy is a sales document which short changes the Civil Service and lays out a prospectus of outsourcing. The failure to build any kind of Management structure to ensure that outsourcing delivered the same services, but digitally, is nowhere more obvious than in Universal Credit. A project that has more than 100,000 transactions, according to Digital By Default, fall under Action Two: Services handling over 100,000 transactions each year will be re-designed, operated and improved by a skilled, experienced and empowered Service Manager” and need to be consistent with Action Nine: “This means that people who have rarely or never been online will be able to access services offline, and we will provide additional ways for them to use the digital services.”

The evidence is that Universal Credit achieves none of this. Universal Credit is digital only – which means Action Nine can never be achieved. However, Universal Credit can be outsourced as it becomes a “simple endpoint service”. People turn up, log on and claim. 

The “turn up, log on and claim” approach does not work. The approach automatically excludes that 18% of the population who are not on line and conflates the 6% who can be persuaded to go on line with the 12% who have no means or interest. The failure of the commercial Identity Service Providers to know who 30% of the adult population are raises the exclusion to somewhere between 18% and 48%.

The kind of fetish of Big Data that accompanies the “turn up, log on and claim” approach is quite particular. It is the fetish of demanding more information than is needed because the process fails with insufficient information and can filter out information.

It is normal behaviour in systems development: see what data can be gathered and then move backwards towards what is required; but in Big Data the approach is to overcollect and then see how to monetise the non-essential data. Which has been the essential business model of Credit Checking Agencies who grew out of Catalogues such as Great Universal Stores deciding to monetise their record of debts. 

The “turn up, log on and claim” approach needs a complete and accurate record of transactions to exist in order to work. That means an accurate record for every person of working age – for working age benefits – in order to function effectively. It is not some end point service like a credit check which simply says yes or no to a question such as does this person have a credit score greater than X? The Digital By Default approach assumes that the complexity of Universal Credit can be a simple endpoint service.

Which is exactly what technical developers sell to their managers when Big Data applications are developed. It can all be simple because a computer can do that. What is rarely discussed is the question: what happens when it goes wrong? 

Action Fourteen: Policy teams will use digital tools and techniques to engage with and consult the public is a statement that every development project – regardless of the development methodology – proposes they will do: consult the end users. The consultation for Universal Credit has not included the Public. It has included the Think Tanks The Institute for Government – whose board of directors include Morgan Stanley Bankers, Former Bank of England Directors, Conservative Politicians and members of the House of Lords – Centre for Social Justice – whose directors include Conservative Politicians, links to American Right Wing pressure groups, a smattering of the Lords and various Right Wing Politicians.

The Consultation with Think Tanks is, in development terms, consulting with the public. But it is not consultation with the End User Community. Morgan Stanley Bankers are unlikely to need to budget to put a fiver’s credit onto the electricity meter in order to make the benefit work. It is, as Developers might say, a low probability use case scenario. 

Which leaves the entire development of Digital By Default firmly outside of the realm of the End Users and with the System Owners. In other words: Universal Credit is not broken. It does what it is designed to do because it does what the consultation discovered was a requirement. Reflect on those who were actually consulted: Right Wing Politicians and Bankers. The same people who created and sustained the 2007 Financial Collapse. Universal Credit does what it is designed to do: eliminate Government Employees, lower the cost of benefits – most frequently by delaying or refusing them – and shrink the use of Government Services in order to have “small government”.

The Digital By Default strategy documents outline the way in which the technical aspirations of the technically illiterate Government can be nudged into amplified effect so that small decisions cascade rapidly, significantly and with increased impact.

The most significant problem with the Digital By Default strategy has been appallingly naive management. From the pathological good news culture at the Department for Work and Pensions that resulted in the delay, cancellation and restarting of the Universal Credit development project to the ending of the existence of the Vehicle Levy Disc. The good news culture of the Universal Credit development project is well documented; but, the more telling is the Vehicle Levy Disc. Coincident with the abolition of the Disc, the revenue from Vehicle Excise Duty began to fall. The loss of the Disc acting as a nudge for people to not commit to payment.

The badge of good citizenship that was embodied in the historic tax disc was simply dumped because the digital service neither needed the disc nor wanted the additional cost of posting out discs. It was a money saving measure that resulted in the loss of the daily nudge: you will need to pay the car tax in three months… …two months… …the end of this month… 

The truth is that the Digital by Default strategy has resulted in services which are Dysfunctional by Default. The public that is consulted is not the End User Community but groups with an ideological, financial and career limiting interest in the outcome. When Cornell built his assemblages he did so in the kitchen, at night, after his brother and mother were safely resting. His biography tells how he would use an open oven for heat and would clear all of his work away before his family awoke. What he understood was the weaving of mythology, the evocation of symbolic exchanges from deep within his audience.

The work of Cornell illustrates that it takes significant efforts to achieve things where there are limits, barriers and powerful, inescapable, constraints in place. There are very few people who can claim the same Artistic Success as Cornell along with the limiting domestic circumstances. Many female artists have been crushed by the existence of the Domestic and there are very, very, very few significant artists with the same constraints as Cornell. 

Which is not to make broad, unsustained, claims about the History of Art but a highlighting of the very real fact that the political policies of the Government are formed and limited by their life experience. The failures of Universal Credit are illustrations that the theory of human nature and existence that underpin the approach are not really applicable to society. The truth is that Computer Systems amplify symbolic, social and political exchanges and can make social existence, literally, unbearable by enforcing political decisions and symbolic exchanges that are utterly alien.

Computer Systems are not just numerical calculation machines but also culture machines. Life is not Digital By Default and where Digital can enrich and enhance Life there is a clear divergence between Government Policy and Life. The underlying drive is to use Digital to remake Society as something that does not really exist. Something that is virtual.

A return to the Thatcherite Mantra: there is no such thing as society. Except, unlike when Thatcher was pandering to the embryonic Credit Reference Agencies, the Government is pandering to organisations who want to monetise all information about everybody. 

The truth is that, Government has ceased to have worldly experiences such as Cornell had. The result is a range of digital services designed to service an ideology which places profit and shareholder value above everything. The system design is already leading to loss of life and to significant patterns of dysfunction in society. Yet, the Digital By Default strategy remains unquestioned. It is leading to wild swings that are, systematically destabilising society and casting us all adrift into the unnatural histories of neoliberalism.

Picture: L’Egypte de Mlle Cleo de Merode, cours élémentaire d’histoire naturelle, Joseph Cornell, 1940.

Article by Hubert Huzzah

Calculus Of Libertarian Paternalism

Max Ernst

German artist Max Ernst (1891 – 1976) incorporated a lot of sophisticated mathematical ideas into his works. Indeed, many Surrealists and Dadaists of the Anti-Tradition had a sophisticated grasp of mathematics and represented mathematics in a variety of astounding ways.

The 1942 picture, “Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidian Fly” shows a Young man observing a fly, through Euclidean triangle eyes. The fly executes a complex flight path leaving a trace behind it. That trace criss-crossing itself creates a large number of Non-Euclidian triangles. Quite literally, the Young Man is looking at a world with eyes that are utterly different to the reality of the World.

In mathematics, there are broadly three kinds of triangles: Hyperbolic, Euclidean, Elliptic. They each have three sides meeting at three corner angles and those features make them into triangles. An elliptic and hyperbolic triangle will not have corner angles adding up to one hundred and eighty degrees. Where anybody supposes that all triangles can only have angles adding up to one hundred and eighty degrees their calculations will be wrong for two types of triangles. Seeing the world through Euclidean Eyes is much the same as seeing the world through an ideological lense. Especially if the World has a different geometry. Looking at the Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidian Fly illustrates all three kinds of triangles and that gives resonance to the idea that the Young Man is intrigued. Anybody would be intrigued at the prospect that the World has hidden depths.

The assumption that all triangles are the same is wrong; but, not something that overly worries people. For enough practical situations, the Euclidean Triangle is acceptable. Good enough for Government Work. It seems obvious and has an intuitive appeal. People see triangles as having straight edges and one hundred and eighty degrees of angles. It makes sense. It is a default pattern of thought. It is what nudge theorists call choice architecture. No matter what you choose your choice will be determined by the assumption that the angles will always add up to one hundred and eighty degrees and that lines are always straight. It is the kind of inflexible thinking that Politicians of all Parties excel at: straight talking, clear thinking, up front. Sadly, the truth is the inability to address the variety in the world makes those politicians inflexible, authoritarian, and even counter-productive.

The inability to accept that, even if you do not know exactly how they work, there are Non-Euclidian triangles is something that prevents living in a world of surprises. Which is not to say that every surprise abolishes all that you know. This is a phenomenon that politicians of a certain sort use repeatedly. Mental gymnastics that present them as being flexible, dynamic, innovative where, in fact, they are inflexible, dull authoritarians. Nowhere is this more useful than in Paternalism.

Paternalism, in essence, tells the world that there is on kind of triangle. For enough practical situations, we can assume that Euclidean Triangles are the only Triangles. These situations do not include the sophisticated situation where there is rapid change and the world enters uncharted territory. Paternalism is not good at uncharted territory.

Paternalism is a political idea of limiting liberty or autonomy in a manner intended to promote the good of a person or group. That limitation of behaviour might be against or regardless of the will of a person. The Paternalist expresses an attitude of superiority: this is the correct way to do things. As a political idea, Paternalism has been unfashionable since the end of the Second World War. There is a small step from table manners to total war.

Telling people, especially people who are increasingly educated, that there is only one kind of triangle is nonsense. Paternalists classify themselves as soft or hard, pure or impure, moral or welfare; and, since the advent of nudge theory these have all been wrapped up into the notion of Libertarian Paternalism. Broadly Libertarian Paternalism is Paternalism where the subject of the Paternalism is influenced in their choices in a way that will make them better off, as judged by themselves. Libertarian Paternalism is about getting the whole world to buy into the notion that there is one, and only one, kind of triangle.

Which makes those who do not accept the nudge, metaphorically, into the wrong kind of triangle. Given there are three general kinds of geometry – Euclidean, Hyperbolic, and Elliptical – there is a two in three probability that a randomly selected triangle is the wrong kind of triangle. Which has a curiously powerful historical resonance for some people. Judging that a nudge is wrong for me places those with judgement in conflict with the Paternalist and the inevitable hardening of whatever powers the Paternalist possesses takes place. Libertarian Paternalism cannot help but become Authoritarian. Paternalism trumping Libertarianism for a very simple reason: Paternalists propose rule escalations and either the Libertarian accepts the escalation or the Paternalist escalates the coercion. There is no real free choice.

The modern paternalism has branded itself as nudge as if there was something harmless about it. In reality nudge relies on cognitive biases. There are around one hundred cognitive biases that have been identified by psychologists. These are systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgement in other words: ways in which we assume we know what kind of triangle we are looking at. These cognitive biases result in fairly predictable outcomes. Nudge Theorists spend a lot of time designing decisions for Citizens to make around these cognitive biases which result in decisions that are not really free choices and may not even be rational. Indeed there is often a payoff for the Paternalist in having an irrational choice: the Citizen has made a choice and has no insight into why. Which ensures the Paternalist can narrate social reality simply by saying, “this is why you chose that”.

The list of cognitive biases is long and they are effective means to nudging people into taking the right decision. So, for example, the Default Effect is where, given a choice between several options, the tendency to favour the default one. This is frequently seen in computer systems where, for example, the default language is US-EN and needs to be changed. The subtle impact of this, for English Language Speakers, is that not changing the default US-EN to GB-EN, for example, results in software that is understandable but drives language use towards American semantics.

Then there is the Framing Effect: drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how that information is presented. So, for example, using US-EN and GB-EN rather than American English and British English helps to drive the conclusion that these are, somehow, dialects of the same language with equal linguistic value, rather than diverging languages in a struggle for existence. The list of cognitive biases is a list of ways to influence people: framing software use in US-EN has the subtle effect of making software be perceived as American, even though America is not the biggest writer of code in the world.

Cognitive biases are about getting things done: decisions made. They are not about rational decision making but about getting things done. In the word of the Philosopher Harry Frankfurt, they are about bullshit. The use of cognitive biases is not about saying something true or false but about getting things done. It is about Action. The principle of action replacing though has been central to the development of Totalitarianism for at least a century.

The danger of Paternalism is that it ceases being benevolent and becomes Total. In the practices of Nudge there is embodied a subtle yet obvious flaw: those doing the Nudging are not immune to the cognitive biases they use. They see the entire world as Euclidean Triangles – which, in a world with Elliptical and Hyperbolic triangles, amounts to confirmation bias. Confirmation Bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. Being in positions of power, those who Nudge are using Confirmation Bias to inform their creation of a Framing Effect and a Default Effect. The outcome is that policies are not evidence based, rational and democratic but prejudice based, irrational and paternalistic.

When Sunstein and Thaler proposed that Libertarian Paternalism was a good idea, they were doing so from a peculiar position of having access to legal, contract and finance skills. Libertarian Paternalism would, it seem, work in a community that had replaced society with enforceable contracts.

This kind of notion seeps into the way the Department for Work and Pensions treat Claimants. The Unemployed become Job Seekers thus taking advantage of the cognitive bias of focusing; and, the Job Seeker has a Job Seekers Agreement which, it turns out, is an actual contract for which the Claimant must fulfil all conditions, however arbitrary. This is where we begin to see how Nudge is also nudging the Department for Work and Pensions.

Job Seekers are viewed as being lumps of labour that can be switched in and out of the Economy mechanistically. This amounts to the cognitive bias of functional fixedness. Which separates the Claimant from any access to legal, contractual or finance resources implicit in the Sunstein and Thaler presentation of Nudge Theory. Which reduces the interaction between the Department and the Claimant to a Paternalistic relationship. Indeed, the nature of that relationship is reinforced by the elimination of legal aid: there is no recourse to effective contract drafting for the Claimant and the whole relationship is determined by who has the deepest pockets.

The Department of Work and Pensions is the clearest example of how Nudge becomes Authoritarianism. The elements that make Nudge workable have all been eliminated. There is no possibility of each Claimant negotiating a realistic Job Seekers Agreement and so the agreement will be dictated, to save time if nothing else. This highlights one of the cognitive biases of the Department: illicit transference – the notion that what is true of one claimant is true of all Claimants or what is true of Claimants collectively is also true of Claimants individually.

Because the Department of Work and Pensions has abandoned the evidence based work in favour of Observer-expectancy “Randomised Control Trials” – there is a veneer of scientific respectability. Yet, the Randomised Control Trials do not actually stand up to scrutiny. Which is evidenced by the consequent Departmental use of statistics. The Department of Work and Pensions has a poor reputation for statistics – being disciplined by the National Audit Office on several occasions – which highlights the Department’s predilection for cognitive biases such as Zero risk bias, Unit Bias, Stereotyping, and Status Quo Bias.

The clear outcome is that, once the capacity for all parties to a nudge to act in a libertarian fashion is removed, all that is left is Paternalism. It is a choice. A choice made in a choice architecture: the choice is transferred from the Claimant or the Citizen to the Department or the Government. Nudge is little more than the choice architecture of authoritarianism. This is no more evident than in the choice of Austerity.

The outcome of Austerity has been the rise of social murder – the killing of reasonably well defined groups such as Claimants – often at considerable cost, in order to sustain a cognitive bias. The multiple cognitive biases, of the Tories, used to support the claim that Markets solve everything are little more than the denial that there is more than one kind of triangle. Independent observers – such as UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston – have pointed out that Austerity is a choice that could be reversed ‘overnight’ for little cost. It is a choice. Made within a choice architecture created by Authoritarians.

The social murder carried out since 2010 is in the process of transforming society. Obedience is being presented as the default choice. In reality, the cognitive bias of System Justification, is driving the political, economic and social destruction of society and social murder is an acceptable outcome because “society will be reformed”.

It is the same notion that instruction to action – of taking back control – of keeping calm and carrying on – all signify. It is about remaking society in the image of some historical bubble: the cognitive biases of False Memory about some golden age, possibly in the 1940s or 1950s, where the world was somehow, magically, better. It was a world in which there was only one kind of triangle. It was also a world in which Max Ernst was fleeing totalitarians who wanted to kill him for painting the wrong kind of triangle.

Picture: “Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidean Fly”, Max Ernst, 1942.

Article by Hubert Huzzah

The Choice Architecture Of Poverty

Special Rapporteur Philip Alston has presented a United Nations Report on Poverty in the UK. The UK Mainstream Media have not really excelled in analysis or presentation of the findings. After almost a decade of Nudge by Press Release, the Guardian has missed the vital message while the BBC has simply recycled old Government Press Releases. The Mainstream Media seem to be shy about embracing the most damning finding of the report.  

In December 2017, Professor Alston carried out a visit to the USA – California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, West Virginia, and Washington DC – carrying out the same kind of investigation as has just finished in the UK. The most damning finding of the UN-US Report on Poverty was similar to the most damning finding of the UN-UK Report on Poverty. Had the Guardian excelled in Journalism they might have highlighted that the UN was not simply finding something isolated.

The Guardian and the BBC might not have concluded that the “Government is in denial” because following the implications of the most damning finding is that POVERTY IS A CHOICE 

Both in 2017, in the USA, and in 2018 in the UK, the UN has concluded that poverty is a choice and that Government has made the decision that the only choice on offer is compliance or poverty. The Mainstream Media is failing to follow any kind of analysis that follows the implications of the finding that poverty is a choice and there is no adequate explanation as to why? The notion that poverty is a choice is one that has been foisted onto everybody by the Government since 2010. Welfare Changes have been touted as Reforms which will enable people to choose to lift themselves out of poverty. That choice takes place within the Choice Architecture that has been created by policy.   

In the UN-US Report, Alston states that: 

“ …I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers…”  

In the UN-UK Report, Alston similarly finds that:  

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor. Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time. As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years.”  

The Mainstream Media make no connection between the American Experience and the British Experience. As if there was no connection between US Policy and UK Policy. As if all the shuttling back and forth between Republicans and Conservatives has never had any impact. As if the Minor Infraction Notices are, in no way, related to Benefit Sanctions. There is an almost willing blindness: never stray from the press release.  

The UN Rapporteur was never commissioned to analyse Nudge Theory. The outcome of eight years of Libertarian Paternalism has transformed British Society into something that, the UN recognises, punishes the Poverty it also chooses to deliver. The overwhelming Mainstream Media response has been the Punch and Judy caricature and Poverty Porn Prurience instead of analysis.

How did a Government get to the point where Human Rights are optional or contingent upon being an Employee: this is a question central to the current Welfare Policy which is transforming British Society. It also has an answer that the UN Rapporteur gives: POVERTY IS A CHOICE.  

In putting forward an endless series of press releases and promoting the production of daytime television portraying skivers and strivers the Department of Work and Pensions has been nudging the Mainstream Media into only presenting a narrative where strivers can choose to leave poverty and only skivers would want to avoid that choice. The constant nudging – the well written Press Releases that, frequently, substitute for actual Journalism – has worked. The Government has decided to provide the choice of poverty in a range of ways.  

The Government provision of choices of poverty underline that decisions are placed beyond Claimants in a calculated and cruel manner. The Choice Architecture prevents Claimants from making decisions. Decisions would empower Claimants and also permit innovation. Claimants could determine what is the best course of action. Instead the digital by default process has been used to provide a series of choices without any deviation permitted.

A Claimant who fails to fill in any choice – and fill it in correctly, and fill it in digitally – automatically chooses poverty. Similarly, those who fail to know that choices have been proffered are choosing poverty. The complexity of the choice architecture is overwhelming – even for those engaged in administering it. It is a system that has been designed to deliver poverty – and it has.  

The skills to interact with a State that is being made actively oppositional and digital as the UN-UK Report highlights:   

The reality is that digital assistance has been outsourced to public libraries and civil society organizations. Public libraries are on the frontline of helping the digitally excluded and digitally illiterate who wish to claim their right to Universal Credit.” 

Which is not too distant from the UN-US Report:

Much more attention needs to be given to the ways in which new technology impacts the human rights of the poorest Americans. This inquiry is of relevance to a much wider group since experience shows that the poor are often a testing ground for practices and policies that may then be applied to others. These are some relevant concerns.”  

The truth is, the US and the UK have parallel tracks in overarching Policy objectives: eliminate the State and have the Poor fend for themselves. The emphasis on digital systems as a means to distance Policy Makers from Policy Delivery and to “cut costs” is evident across the US and UK Reports. Pretrial detention has been an area calling for systematic reform in the US for decades. The UN-US Report observes:   

Automated risk assessment tools, take “data about the accused, feed it into a computerized algorithm, and generate a prediction of the statistical probability the person will commit some future misconduct, particularly a new crime or missed court appearance.”

The system will generally indicate whether the risk for the particular defendant, compared to observed outcomes among a population of individuals who share certain characteristics, is ‘high’, ‘moderate’, or ‘low’. Judges maintain discretion, in theory, to ignore the risk score.” 

Which reflects the “automated” nature of the Work Capability Assessment for the Disabled in the UK, previously reported by the UN as being either at risk or actually in the process of grave human rights abuse. In the UN-UK Report the Automated Risk Assessment tools are commented upon:   

But it is clear that more public knowledge about the development and operation of automated systems is necessary. The segmentation of claimants into low, medium and high risk in the benefit system is already happening in contexts such as ‘Risk-based verification.’ Those flagged as ‘higher risk’ are the subject of more intense scrutiny and investigation, often without even being aware of this fact. The presumption of innocence is turned on its head when everyone applying for a benefit is screened for potential wrongdoing in a system of total surveillance. And in the absence of transparency about the existence and workings of automated systems, the rights to contest an adverse decision, and to seek a meaningful remedy, are illusory.”   

Which underlines that the Government of the day – regardless of political inclination – are delivering Policy Objectives without transparency, clarity or even sufficient information to determine what the Policy Objectives are. When policy objectives only become clear through outcomes, there is a clear suspicion that Democracy has been subverted. Which is the general direction the UN-US and UN-UK Reports indicate. There are serious Human Rights failings but also a serious democratic deficit arising from the idea that POVERTY IS A CHOICE.   

The use of Computer Systems is not neutral or innocent. The Special Rapporteur notes that:   

it is worrying that the Data Protection Act 2018 creates a quite significant loophole to the GDPR for government data use and sharing in the context of the Framework for Data Processing by Government.”  

Which is not simplistically that UK Government Departments have “rights” to trawl through personal data but that it is increasingly criminalised for Claimants – more than eight million people – to object to that trawl or to object to the sharing of data with Commercial Contractors. Those same Contractors being Employers and the inevitable consequence of data sharing being to put Claimants at a distinct power and negotation disadvantage when contracts of Employment are considered. Because the UK Government Departments have zero obligation to ensure Claimants get the best possible job. Simply that Claimants flow off the Register.   

Which is how POVERTY IS A CHOICE is being delivered from Government to the People. Interaction with the Department of Work and Pensions has become the single most corrosive interaction with Government that People can have. The design of benefits has become an exercise in delivering the ideological convictions of the Government regardless of the practicality of those convictions. For the Conservative Government, that conviction is that people should be in poverty unless they are Employed. Which ensures the disabled, parents, students, pensioners, entrepreneurs in start-up and Carers are locked into a combative process in which the only exit is to choose poverty.  

The UK Mainstream Media is not really exploring this dimension of the UN Rapporteur’s commentary. It leads to uncomfortable terrain for any Journalist. Not least, the intimate connection between the Republicans in the US and the Conservatives in the UK. The ideological convergence of the Conservatives with the Republicans has delivered a wide range of public policy disasters. The Department of Work and Pensions has been allowed carte blanche to redesign the Welfare State based on the Workfare preferred by the Republicans.

The Nudge Unit has crossed, and recrossed, the Atlantic ensuring that the Conservative’s historic prejudice for “the right to manage” has become inflated. Including all aspects of social existence into contractual relationships between the Government and the People. Dating back to Ronald Reagan’s 1985 “Contract with America” speech where everything was reduced to legislation as contract and society became replaceable with a well ordered business.

The UK Mainstream Media is not really capable of exploring these ideas because, quite simply, to do so is to undermine the interests of their owners. Without any need for coercion, the Government is capable of nudging the Media into endlessly propagating the POVERTY IS A CHOICE agenda.  

Despite the comprehensive nature of the UN Rapporteurs investigations and reporting, there is little about the UN-UK Report that is actually surprising. The connection between the UN-UK and UN-US Reports might well be a surprise to the Media. Realistically, there should be no surprise at all. The Extremists of The Atlantic Bridge, The Heritage Foundation and all the myriad of Far Right Think Tanks since Reagan, have all been promoting the same ideas both sides of the Atlantic. They have all been ensuring that the tools exist for Government to make only once choice possible for the People and that choice is Poverty.  

UN-UK Report  

UN-US Report 

 Picture: Mika Rottenberg, Bowls Balls Souls Holes, Video Installation Rose Art Museum Waltham USA (2104). 

This article was written by Hubert Huzzah.



A Naiad Cortege I


Penelope and her suitors

A guest post written by HUBERT HUZZAH·

Sometimes Science reveals something we would prefer not to know. For Medieval Popes, who could control the World by deciding the date of Easter, Natural Science revealing that Aristotlean Wisdom was flawed was one of those things. Giordano Bruno was dressed in yellow and burned at the stake. Galileo Galilei was forced to write a retraction of experimental findings. Natural Science showed that Venus had phases which may seem obscure. However, when the only consistent explanation of those phases is that Venus is orbiting the Sun the Papacy is challenged. The knowledge, that the Earth orbited the Sun, was not something Galileo originated. The big offence of Galileo was that he proved the thesis: that the Earth is not the Centre of Creation.

The date of Easter is an important illustration of Papal Power. The Computus was the process by which Easter was calculated and, once determined, the Computus fixed all of the significant dates of the calendar for the entire year. Fixing the date of Easter was not simply about deciding a single date. The Computus was as the centre of determining the way the World would work. Not only fixing Easter but also significant moveable feasts which were non-working days and even Quarter Days, when rents, tithes and obligations were due. Controlling Easter was a proof of mysterious power and a very worldly power.

Science proved something far more significant than Heliocentricity: it proved no mysterious power was needed to know things. It proved that the Papacy, the Computus and all of the moveable feasts were constructed by society, not ordained, and this could be proven without any need to ask for permission. Natural Science demonstrated that the Aristotlean Method has distinct limitations and that those limitations can be overcome by a Socratic Method.

According to Aristotlean Method, Scientific Knowledge is the Knowledge of Causes. For Aristotle, a demonstration is a deduction in which the premises are true, primary, immediate , better known than the conclusion, prior to the conclusion and causes of the conclusion. In other words, Scientific Knowledge is a sequence of causes back to the mists of existence. Science is not merely a body of knowledge but a body of Authoritative Knowledge. Socrates may have written nothing: an appropriate mystery for someone whose Method consists of asking questions that banish belief but clarify what is known.

The Socratic Method has parallels in Crowdsourcing while the Aristotlean Method tends to be about Expertise. Both have a relevant role to play in Science.

There are infant simulator programmes seeking to prevent teenage pregnancy. These are used in high, middle and low countries. Despite policy popularity published evidence of their long-term effects are rare. The Lancet has recently published a randomised control trial investigating the Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) programme’s effects on sexual health. This study is registered as an international, randomised controlled trial, (ISRCTN24952438). The aims of registration suggest the Socratic approach of discovering knowledge, yet the outcome of the study suggests the Aristotlean approach of dispensing knowledge.

After statistical analysis, the Lancet Authors concludes:

“The infant simulator-based VIP programme did not achieve its aim of reducing teenage pregnancy. Girls in the intervention group were more likely to experience a birth or an induced abortion than those in the control group before they reached 20 years of age.”

which suggests that, just possibly, infant simulator programmes do not prevent pregnancy and, indeed, might even demystify childcare to such an extent that young women can make a more informed choice about getting pregnant. This would be a reasonable hypothesis to investigate. Young women might well, in Socratic fashion engage in critical thinking and determine that having a child younger is a better prospect as Virtual Infant Programme has demonstrated the challenges of childcare. Programme and Policy creators, in Aristotlean fashion, persist in the idea that the Policy is correct but requires adjustment.

Which leaves Science in the same situation as Giordano Bruno: too badly connected to the political, economic and social infrastructure of society to be merely told off. Science, and Scientists, are dressed in metaphoric yellow and burned at the allegorical stake. The Socratic Revolution of 1615 embraced empirical observation along with socratic questioning and began the slow overturn of Aristotlean Science. Four hundred years later, Science policy has, largely, reestablished Aristotlean Science. Science by fiat.

One of the huge gaps in the narrative around the infant simulator approach is that it fails to acknowledge that the programme seeks behavioural change. The infant simulator is a nudge towards “better” life choices. Yet, the life choices being made are exactly the opposite of those intended. In the intervention group – the group being nudged – 8% got pregnant; in the control – un-nudged group – 4% got pregnant. Instead of engaging with the empirical evidence – that the intervention is associated with higher pregnancy rates – Programme Designers lock themselves into an Aristotlean Behavioral Change Stairway Model whereby the intervention will be redesigned.

What Programme Designers rarely do is question if the underlying assumption – reducing pregnancy rates – is actually realistic. Evolution has reinforced the human behaviour of having children. When parents – particularly women – see a child they are rewarded with the hormone Oxytocin. The same hormone is involved in social recognition, orgasm, childbirth and stress. Designing a programme with the potential to promote oxytocin secretion is designing a programme with the potential to promote childbirth. Evolution trumps Policy. Regardless of Policy Objectives.

Which is a fundamental problem with Nudge. Ultimately, as observed by Sue Jones in her excellent Politics and Insights Blog, Nudge is about the exercise of power. As with a lot of Aristotlean Science of the past, the exercise of power requires control of social construction. The Computus must be a mystery controlled by a Papacy. Anything else leaves open the possibility of transformative change through Socratic Method. Critical Thinking as it is known.

Persuading young women to delay childbirth has an awful lot to recommend it in a society where childbirth is a personal Easter that determines a range of future events. Controlling female fertility need not be about improving opportunities in life by nudging young women to delay conception. There is evidence that particular nudge fails in some situations. In those situations, Policy remains resolutely Aristotlean: it does not change.

The huge truth of the Galilean Revolution is not that Galileo did something new and revolutionary but that between the trial of Bruno in 1593 and the trial of Galileo in 1633 the same thing resulted in two different results. The Papacy ceased to be able to define the social construction of reality as Aristotlean Science failed. Yet, here we are, four centuries later, with Aristolean Policy in a Socratic World.


Lancet Article:Efficacy of infant simulator programmes to prevent teenage pregnancy: a school-based cluster randomised controlled trial in Western Australia”, Brinkman, et al.

Oxytocin Review: “The orgasmic history of oxytocin: Love, lust, and labor”, Magon & Kalra Trial Registration: ISTRN Registry Entry ISRCTN24952438

Politics and Insights: The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative Character Divination.

© 2016 Hubert Huzzah