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Friday 6 December 2019
The first writers to treat the matter seriously were Rousseau and Condorcet, the latter - among other talents - a mathematician specialising in the theory of probabilities.
Condorcet showed that majority voting is a good guide to truth:
(1) the more enlightened (knowledgeable) is each individual voter, with a minimum requirement that they be more likely to be right than wrong on any one occasion (p = greater than 0.5)
(2) provided that when voting, voters are trying to give the right answer
(3) and provided that they vote independently of each other - if one voter follows the lead of another, that simply reduces the effective number of voters
If these conditions are met, then in a majority vote the probability of the majority being right increases (and quite dramatically, heading towards p = 1 [certainty])the larger the vote gap between majority and minority.
Since I did the work in the 1970s, the TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? has come along and it demonstrates Condorcet's theorem perfectly. When a contestant Asks The Audience to select the right answer from four possible answers, he or she can safely assume:
(1) that the Audience is quite knowledgeable- Quiz show live audiences are likely to contain a high proportion of people good at quizzes
(2) members of the audience have no motive to give answers they believe to be untrue (they enjoy giving right answers!)
(3) they vote independently of each other using push-button consoles with little or no time to consult the person sitting next to them
Hey Presto, the audience's choice of right answer will, almost certainly, BE the right answer. If some researcher checked back over Ask the Audience choices, I think they would rarely find that the Audience got it wrong. Ask the Audience is a No Brainer if you don't know the answer yourself.
There is more serious stuff in my essay "Majoritarianism" on my website www.selectedworks.co.uk
Originally published on this site on 25 August 2011
Wednesday 25 September 2019
Wednesday 14 August 2019
Monday 5 August 2019
Sunday 28 July 2019
Tuesday 23 July 2019
Saturday 20 July 2019
Erith is in Kent - the "Garden of England" - I can only assume Erith is the outside toilet because it is a shit house.
Would it make sense to say in some selected context that people from Slade Green are underepresented in that context? If you enlarged it a bit, would Erith or Crayford or even north-west Kent make sense as things which could be underepresented? I suspect not, because there are thousands of Slade Greens in the United Kingdom, thousands of places with nothing going for them and no special claim to be represented somewhere else. If someone from Slade Green became a Hollywood film actor ( Jade Anouka might) the fortuitous fact of coming from Slade Green would be of no relevance. If Jade Anouka got a part, no one would be asking the question, Are Slade Green actors under-represented (or over-represented) in Hollywood movies?
Tuesday 16 July 2019
Will the young people in the street now permanently attached to smartphones eventually turn to books and catch up with my kind of score, a score which must surely be common among older people?
Friday 12 July 2019
I don't know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot.
In summer 2019 I spent a week in Wiesbaden, working. I was helping to describe for auction a collection of nineteenth century documents and correspondence originally sold off in the 1970s to pay the bills of declining and defunct Russian monasteries on Mont Athos. In lunch breaks and evenings I did my usual thing, strolling the city and taking in people and surroundings.
In a busy midday pedestrianised shopping area a woman appears out of the crowd coming towards me: tall, slender, dressed in an immaculately well-cut, dark blue and seemingly brand new niqab. The man walking beside her is considerably shorter, hunched over his smartphone, dressed according to regulations: a bit of stubble, tee-shirt, jeans, and trainers. My rapid visual profiling doesn’t take in the logo on the trainers so I don’t know if there is a brand he might favour.
The rules are sensible which permit young men to dress in ways which are practical for life in any European city. It means they can run after a bus, vault a barrier to cross a road. They can pick up children with ease, put them on their shoulders and, perhaps most importantly, kick a ball around.
I just wish the rules were a bit more considerate about female dress. The niqab can look very stylish; so too can high heels. But both are impractical. I guess the niqab can be very hot inside on a climate warming summer day and that reminds me of how on hot days in school, decades ago, we were always agitating for permission to take off jackets and ties. More importantly, the niqab is isolating. I will come to that.
I glance back at the woman. She is staring at me, intensely, her eyes a perfect study in black and white because those eyes are beautifully picked out with kohl. But I can’t place the look as angry or friendly or just inquisitive - there is no facial gesture to help out. I’m stumped to understand why I should be worth a very frank stare. She has only her gaze to work with and I can’t interpret it. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m wearing sunglasses that encourages a stare, since from her point of view there is no eye contact and so she can’t figure out my gaze either.
Then as we pass each other, a penny drops and I laugh. I’m old and male and pale and I’m wearing a Panama hat, a proper one with a broad black band. Hitherto I have understood the Panama as standard issue for bald-headed elderly gentlemen on sunny days. But I realise that on my stroll today I haven’t actually seen one. Maybe a Panama is not a German thing, even for elderly bald-heads. Perhaps it’s like this: she is my first niqab of the day and I am her first Panama. It’s the hat which causes the stare.
People do sometimes call out to me when I’m wearing a hat; there seems to be something about hats (or at least, my hats) which frees people to address you. In the central park, later the same day, a young woman sitting on a bench and making out with a boyfriend calls after me, Bonjour, though I am too slow to turn, lift my hat, incline my head, and reply - as one ought - Bonjour, Mam’selle. Anyway, it shows that there’s at least one other person in this city who reckons a Panama notable and, interestingly, French.
That brings me to the point I skipped over. We are often led to believe that in modern urban environments people walk around as if no one else exists, isolated monads who don’t interact. That is not quite right. A lot goes on, an awful lot. I give an example relevant to what I want to say.
If in the street a child is behaving in a way which is charming, delightful or just funny, I will almost certainly smile at whoever is doing the parenting. That is surely very common, not an eccentricity. It is also the case that the parent will acknowledge the compliment about the child which the smile implies - they will smile back. Some who are more bold will end up exchanging a few words, not quite “passing the time of day” but about things specific to the child, like age or name. If I smile at a parent who happens to be wearing hijab, she will smile back.
When women wearing hijab began to appear at shop tills in London and then where I live, I behaved at first in a correct but very restrained manner, as if attending a vicarage tea-party. I didn’t engage, thinking it might be unwelcome. Now I will pass the time of day, sometimes crack a joke, encouraged by the fact that there is usually a smile on offer and even a riposte. It’s quite a good idea for old white males in Panama hats to behave as if they might be ordinary human beings. We can at least try to Pass.
The woman in the niqab is pretty much excluded from the small change of everyday life. It really makes a very big difference that you can’t see a face and from the face gauge whether a compliment or a joke would be appreciated or has gone down well. Leave aside that the man in tee-shirt, jeans, and trainers might not approve. Leave aside that she is not going to initiate any exchange anyway. The face covering inhibits any exchange. I suppose that is its purpose.
The exclusion is not total: if there are women wearing hijab on the streets they do engage with women wearing the niqab and vice versa (I’ve seen this on strolls elsewhere). Perhaps the best hope for the future is that women who wear headscarves enable women fully covered to change their style, at least for everyday street life. Maybe the niqab would then become something reserved for special days, a reminder of the past, like the traditional dress that jeans-and-trainers males put on for formal occasions. It would cease to be a burdensome obligation of everyday life. In the same way, though I can't understand why anyone would want to wear impractical high heels for shopping or work - and most certainly should not be obliged - it’s understandable that someone might want to wear them for special occasions, even if they end up being kicked off and abandoned.
But there are more ways of bringing on cultural change than imagined in my philosophy. In that same lunch break stroll a five-abreast group of teenagers are coming towards me; in the middle a tall, smiling, noisy girl has combined hijab with bright yellow stiletto heels - or perhaps, vice versa.
This re-written version pasted in on 27 January 2023 replaces the original post. The substance is unchanged but the prose has been restyled.
Wednesday 12 June 2019
A revised version of this essay appears in my book Between Remembering and Forgetting (degree zero 2020; hardback only £15) and the painting is reproduced on the cover.
Thursday 6 June 2019
This post from 6 January 2013 had a large number of readers; I'm not sure why. Maybe visitors who were looking for information on Brighton's club scene.
This week, The Economist has a very good piece about UK motorway service stations (5th January 2013, "Serviceable", page 21). If you want to open one, government regulations require you to keep it open 24/7/365 (and 366 in Leap Years). This seems like commonsense: people are on the move 24/7/365 and if they are on a motorway journey, they will need to stop for petrol, food, drink and the loo - and the loos (says the government) must also be open 24/7/365 and free of charge.
Of course, motorway service station workers don't work 24/7/365. Staff work rotas.
The other day, someone reminded me of a truth I used to know very well: at weekends, my local university campuses (there are two: Brighton, Sussex) are deserted and most of their services closed down. This ought to strike us as strange. Reading, writing, thinking, experimenting are 24/7/365 things. People's brains are on the move all the time. And since universities are supposed to be connected with - and supportive of - brains on the move you would expect this to be reflected in their opening hours. Universities are places where the lights should burn long into the night and all through the weekend.
Instead, the lights are burning in Brighton & Hove, the large town (or small city) which neighbours the university campuses. The pubs, the clubs, the cafes, the restaurants, the shops - some are open almost 24/7/365 but especially at weekends when Brighton fills up with students and other visitors arriving (often in tens of thousands) to sample its weekend delights (basically music, alcohol, drugs and maybe some sex though probably the alcohol and drugs are incompatible with much of that).
The only people missing from the Brighton late night and weekend scene are the majority of University staff, teachers and administrators who are busy doing Middling England kind of things: decorating the house, going for walks, giving dinner parties.
Innocent enough but the overall effect is to routinise intellectual life into some nine to five Monday to Friday office schedule.
Students - whatever they may think they are doing - are already living the kind of On / Off life their Middling England parents live - there's just more Off to it.
Academics have settled for attending their committees and meeting their Research Output quotas rather than pursuing the life of the mind which was once (perhaps) the vocation associated with their salary.
The life of the mind can of course be a troubling thing. Even what's left of my mind can have me sitting here banging away at the keyboard from 8 34 to 9 05 on a Sunday morning - almost a definition of Off time. But then I was always a bit defiant.
But I have learnt to compromise; the computer will go to Off and I will take a walk along the seafront.