As I’ve mentioned before both here and on going cheep, there are any number of skills I don’t possess. I can’t cook (more than the very basics), I can’t bake at all; I’ve a terrible singing voice, and I have no discernible musical talent when it comes to playing instruments; I can’t dance, can’t act, and although I’ve a working knowledge of HTML, I don’t get CSS at all.
Of course I make up for all of that by being the life and soul of every party, have the third highest IQ ever recorded and am an better than excellent lover.
(Anyone who believes any of the preceding paragraph should check their gullibility quotient immediately; it’s letting you down, badly.)
However, I don’t need to be able to play a musical instrument to know when it’s being played very, very badly. Similarly I don’t need to possess a decent singing voice to know when someone’s singing offends me with its awfulness.
Thing is, though, if I taste something and it’s been undercooked, no one suggests that I shouldn’t criticise it unless I can produce something better. If I think someone’s performed an excuciatingly bad bit of acting, I’m not barred from saying so until I’ve dug out my Golden Globe.
And I don’t need to have stood for election to know when an elected politician is fucking it up. Nor when a government has lied. Nor when a government just… hasn’t made a convincing case. (And yes, it’s never the responsibility of anyone to be convinced; the onus is on the person doing the convincing. Always. I used to use a line at work, when someone hadn’t persuaded me to increase their budget or make an accounting adjustment of some sort: I’m not convinced… and the reason I’m not convinced is you haven’t convinced me.
So, returning to the lack of alternatives I can produce before I’m allowed to criticise something, I’d argue – though this is less certain and definitely less widely agreed – I’m not required to have an alternative policy in mind, fully worked out and peer reviewed by experts in the field in order to justifiably suggest that a suggested by others policy seems to me to be bad, won’t work and/or is just… plain… wrong.
And when it comes to foreign policy, the requirement seems ever-present. I remain puzzled as to the ongoing and apparently permanent view that complex is bad and nuance worse. That most wonderful of
documentaries, erm, sitcoms Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister made it plain decades ago: the British public likes to know who are the ‘goodies’ and who are the ‘baddies’. Unfortunately, it’s often a case of who’re the least-bad baddies. And even then, there’s no guarantee that judgement is correct at the time; often, only in hindsight do the true facts come out, and not always even then (cf Hutton, cf Chilcott, cf etc etc)
It’s been very noticeable that both those who support bombing IS in Syria and those who adamantly oppose it have responded to criticism with “well, what’s your alternative?” as if no-one is allowed to criticise a policy proposal unless they have a fully workable alternative ready to go. And despite people protesting that it’s not simple, that it’s compolicated and complex and nuanced and difficult… the moment a side is picked, some idiots reduce your position to simplistic slogan painting. If you’re pro-bombing, then you approve of baby killing; if you’re against the bombing, the idiots say you don’t care if IS blow up half of London.
Me? I’m entirely undecided (which in the eyes of aforementioned idiots merely makes me undecided as to whether I prefer Syrian civilians or London ones to die). I’m far from convinced that Cameron has made a good case for extending military action, but I’m equally unconvinced that there’s no conclusive case to be made; I just don’t think it’s yet been made.
I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I think, though, that unless you’re as sure as you can be that military action is called for, a vote against is mandated. I’m a huge fan of the old tactic of “if you’ve two choices, one of which is irrevocable and one of which isn’t, and you’re undecided… take the latter choice. Always.”
Even if you haven’t got an alternative.