History as a Secular Diety

Owen Jones posed a good rhetorical question last week. ‘How,’ he asked ‘ will history judge a media which obsesses far more over what the leader of the opposition said under his breath than the fact hundreds die on the streets of one of the wealthiest societies on earth?’. The literal answer to this question, surely, is ‘it depends who the historians are.’ And I imagine this is not the one he had in mind. The trope is quite a common one. Whatever we think now, History, or historians, sooner or later, will know better.

This is of course not necessarily so. Aside from the diversity of the profession, which will always include bad historians, even the general trends or attitudes might well turn out to be ones we won’t like. Perhaps the profession will be dominated, as it at times it has been, by arch Conservatives. Perhaps historians will be the kind Nietzsche complained about, who wrote national histories which glorify the existing order. Perhaps the story of our time will be written by the David Starkeys of tomorrow, who probably won’t write the kind of stories we’d hope they would. That will depend a lot on how the profession is funded and what kind of a society we live in, as well as essentially random and unpredictable endogenous developments and trends within academia.

Why, then, is this idea so often invoked? On some level we want to imagine that future historians will validate our current judgements. Perhaps this is similar to the way others have invoked the final judgement of God: whatever happens now, however hopeless things seem God will judge you. The idea of the future historian now fulfils that role. It is a kind of secular diety, which gives hope of an eventual vindication. It goes hand in hand with a lingering belief in absolute truth that people who see themselves as fighting ‘post-truth’ political forces.

Unfortunately, the reality of both our political predicament and the way future generations might see it is far less straight forward. The relationship between truth, propaganda and a political reality which is in part subjectively constructed has an extensive and growing literature, for the time being dominated by those who would cast similar judgements to those Owen Jones hints at. What the future holds, on the other hand, is unclear.

Is a second Brexit referendum democratically legitimate?

If public opinion had shifted as much as many proponents of a second referendum claim, or certainly would like, there would be little question about the legitimacy of a second Brexit referendum. Faced with an overwhelming change of heart, few would claim that a previous vote should be considered forever binding on ourselves and future generations. Unfortunately, we probably do not find ourselves in such a situation. Rather, we find ourselves in one where demographic shifts and subtle but significant changes in particular voting blocks make a second referendum increasingly politically feasible and winnable, albeit likely by a narrow margin. This understandably leaves many remainers feeling uneasy: increasingly tempted by the idea, but still with some residual feeling that a second vote may be undemoractic. This piece aims to allay such fears. It will not claim that a second vote is politically possible (though this does seem increasingly likely); it will, however, claim that such a vote is both legitimate and consistent with the underlying principles of a pluralist liberal democracy.
The first question we might ask is where the legitimacy, validity or usefulness of an election or referendum comes from. Possible answers would be some combination of the following: representation of individual and collective interests, government accountability, legitimate exertion of political power coming through consent and facilitation of popular political participation or empowerment. Let’s leave aside the question of how convincing these ideas are individually, how they combine or should be prioritised. The point is that none of them arise from a single voting process, and all of these can be hindered, rather than served by any particular vote, depending on how the electorate is constituted, the legal and constitutional framework of the vote, and the question or policies on offer.
Why is this? Imagine a vote on explicitly whether to disenfranchise some portion of the electorate, which happens to be in a minority. This is not hard to imagine, as it is has happened historically. Clearly we would see such a vote as (at least potentially) illegitimate, regardless of the size of the majority. It is for this reason that whether or not we believe in an explicit and written constitution, most people have some idea of the legitimate realm of political power and the realm of personal choice and freedom. At the very least we see certain decisions as better taken individually rather than collectively, and certain actions of a majority as oppressive rather than emancipatory. In a less dramatic way, we see this when thinking about the location of political decisions; it seems perfectly reasonable that some decisions are taken by the Scottish government rather than in Westminster, some by local councils rather than a national government, some by trade unions or school boards rather than distant parties who may happen to cast a vote in a putative election and indeed some not taken collectively at all. If we did want a more extreme example of the location and constitution of the electorate mattering, we might imagine the following: what if the government of the People’s Republic of China decided to hold a referendum on the annexation of Taiwan? One would scarcely argue that a billion votes in favour made it a fair or good course of action, even if Taiwan’s 23 million inhabitants were in fact given a vote.
Does this mean that election results can just be disregarded if they are deemed to be illegitimate? No, not at all. It means the meaningful question about what a democracy should look like is a systemic question, not one concerning an individual vote or some mystical notion of a popular will. It means that the real questions (and they are real, and difficult) are about the location of decisions, the constitution of the electorate, the realm of legitimate political action (should, as some left wingers argue, there be a ‘democratisation’ of the economy?).
Crucially, any functioning system will require in all or almost all cases that results are implemented. The point, however, is the reason for this is systemic rather than moral or specific: it is about having a system based upon rules which are respected, predictable and viewed as (at least partially) legitimate. The 2016 referendum had no such systemic status. There was no meaningful legal status of the referendum, what it meant for it to be implemented, or how this was to be done. This has a number of implications.
Firstly, it means that the usual reason to respect the result is simply not there. Not implementing the result would have no obvious systemic implications, would interfere with no future parliamentary elections, would set no legal precedent and would set little political precedent other than the one that legally undefined referenda do not have to be implemented. Unless we want to make the case that referenda are a good idea in general, the negative implications are not clear.
Secondly, it means that the significant democratic implications of the referendum flow from its practical consequences. These are anything but positive. Because of parliamentary arithmetic and the absence of a legally defined implementation process, Brexit has understandably led to an executive power grab, albeit one partially checked through legal challenged such as Gina Miller’s. Moreover, this absence of a clearly defined legal implication of the referendum means that the typical separation of opinion about a result and opinion about legitimacy of a result is not there. Brexiteers are not entirely wrong when they argue that criticism of Brexit may result in it not being implemented, in a way which would not be true of a normal parliamentary election result. It is in light of this that demogogues can envoke “the Will of the People”, and opponents as treasonous saboteurs. This is extraordinarily corrosive and damaging to the countries political culture and ultimately to any form of democratic pluralism.
Finally, we might consider the process itself. This was one where many of the most affected stakeholders were precisely those who were disenfranchised (EU citizens in the UK, UK citizens abroad), and where we might well even question whether their acquired rights could legitimately be up for question anyway. There is of course then the nature of the campaigns, dominated by flagrant lies, demonization of outsider groups, at times reveling in the thought of harm that might be brought to them (albeit with enough assurances to allow for the kind of cognitive dissonance we all face when wanting something somewhat morally transgressive), not to mention outright campaign finance violation etc.
These would not normally be sufficiently convincing arguments to do something which upended a system of repeated elections, but given that here this is not in question, a different question arises. Do we want these strategies to be rewarded politically, not just as effective, but as things we treat with deference? Do we wish that so much as to bind ourselves in future, in a way we would never normally do with a parliamentary election held every few years? Practicalities may well mean that in reality many decisions are irreversible. But this should not mean that we artificially impose additional moral restraints where practicalities imply no such necessity. Whether in reality a second referendum is achievable or desirable is a difficult question. But it should not be regarded as illegitimate; indeed, to fail to have one may well be uniquely corrosive to the political norms which make democracy worthwhile.

No Deal as a threat

Jonathan Portes rightly remarked in response to my last post that he had had similar thoughts on the ECJ ruling now improving the UK government's bargaining position. This is as Theresa May could now threaten to rescind Article 50 in the event she does not gain concessions, and restart the process. Thinking about this a little more, I am no longer sure this is correct.

Firstly, as a number of commentators have pointed out, the withdrawal of Article 50 may not allow for gaming in this way.

Secondly, it it is not clear why the rest of the EU would see this as a threat at all. Wouldn't most EU member states be quite happy for the UK to withdraw Article 50, particularly in this embarrassing way?

Thirdly, and most crucially, it undermines the greatest threat in her arsenal, the so called "No Deal" threat. This is an option so insanely damaging (and so much more so to the UK than the rEU) that no sane government would opt for it. The threat is not so much achieved by saying "we are mad enough to do this" (even the current British government probably couldn't make this believable) but by Theresa May saying or implying that if she does not get what she wants she has insufficient power to prevent such an outcome, precisely because her parliamentary support is extremely shaky. The only plausible mechanism by which it could happen is by default: through parliamentary gridlock where Commons neither passes he deal nor agrees on anything else. That possibility has now become significantly less likely, as in the event that the March deadline approaches, Parliament now has a mechanism to avert no deal without agreeing to any specific deal (though not without any political consequences). MPs could even claim doing so allowed for a 'better Brexit' at some later, likely unspecified point in time. This means that May's bargaining position by threat, whether it ever had any leverage or not in reality, is now significantly less real. We still have political gridlock, but it no longer provides a mechanism necessarily sufficient for No Deal.

In other words, we now have a Doomsday gap:

Initial Thoughts on the Implications of the ECJ Ruling (short)

So it's official. The UK can unilaterally withdraw Article 50. What does this mean?

It somewhat increases the odds of a second referendum with a remain option on the ballot, as this is now a clear legal possibility. However, the political barriers to this are still sufficiently robust that this still seems unlikely. The timeframe of the Article 50 process also may not allow for a referendum to be held in time anyway.

However, it does have other, perhaps more significant implications. Firstly, it means that in the event that May's deal does not pass, and no deal is on the horizon, as the March deadline approaches, there will be significant pressure to simply revoke Article 50. This could plausibly be supported by MPs still advocating Brexit eventually, if they use it to argue that a better deal could be negotiated by a completely new process (the fact that this may be a political non-starter with the rEU won't matter, as few current MPs have ever taken such considerations seriously). It could also, at least hypothetically, increase the UK's bargaining position in the event that it sought to renegotiate with an Article 50 extension. If this were not granted, the government could threaten to rescind Article 50 altogether. It seems unlikely, however, that a May government would want to do this, due to the political damage of admitting its own previous failure, but it is not impossible, and we may of course have a new government rather soon. 

Potentially, and perversely, this could also somewhat increase the chances that May's deal passes. This is as some members of the ERG actively want there to be no deal, and have previously seen this as a likely consequence of May's deal failing. Now that this may no longer be perceived to be the case, they may feel they have to cut their losses and back the form of Brexit which is on the table. That said, game theory, or just thinking through the logic of outcomes has never been their strong point. 

Most importantly, as we are only talking about likelihoods and possibilities, there is a significant chance that in retrospect we will see this decision as having made no difference whatsoever, as the only outcome which could not have happened before anyway is one which may well not happen. But perhaps we will not. 

Socialism in the 21st Century

The meaning of Socialism in modern Britain

What is socialism in the 21st century? A few years ago the question would have seemed an uninteresting one, but now it is the talk about town. Whatever your associations with that word, there seems to be agreement that following decades of decline, on both sides of the Atlantic it is making a comeback. What is odd, this time round, is the meaning of the term is far from clear. 

In the mid 20th Century, the definition was fairly straight forward. Socialism was the commitment to the nationalisation of the means of production and distribution, with the aim of widespread improvements in living standards and conditions in the workplace, as well as a reorientation of economic activity towards the some notion of human needs. There were all sorts of disputes about the details of what this would mean. Would socialism entail a centrally planned economy on a national level, or could there be some measure of decentralisation and local autonomy? What role would trade unions or workers play in administration? Could there be such a thing as ‘market socialism’, where administrators of nationalised industries responded to price mechanisms, rather than targets, essentially operating as in a capitalist economy but with profits nationalised? These debates plagued both socialist parties in the democratic world and the communist parties of the Eastern block in times of relative liberalisation.

But no longer. Almost nobody is seriously proposing any form of wholesale nationalisation of the economy, or any form of bringing the economy into ‘collective ownership’ (e.g syndicalism) for that matter. Questions of the meaning of socialism are not primarily about the question of the broad picture of economic organisation. To the extent they are, in the mass media that is limited to people like Paul Mason or Arron Bastani talking about a future without scarcity due to automation. There is a long history of this idea. Marx talked of a future where we could fish in the morning and write poetry in the evening, Oscar Wilde suggested much the same in The Spirit of Man Under Socialism, and even Keynes made similar remarks in his Economic Prospects for Our Grandchildren. Whether or not something like that will eventually come to pass, the point is that what we are really talking about is not the question of how to organize a society economically, but a (hopefully) possible future in which such organization is more or less superfluous anyway, as we have everything we need without really needing to work (in the 21st Century we imagine this would involve robots and AI; in 19th Century it was mechanical machines).

This is not to say that left wingers aren’t proposing the nationalisation of certain industries. In Britain, renationalisation of the rail network is something of a rallying call of the left; a move which is politically astute as it is quite popular. Rather, unless a very long game is being played, nobody seems to be that interested in the old question of economic organisation. Not that there is anything wrong this. Planned economies probably aren’t a great idea, for reasons fairly well understood and broadly accepted. Tinkering around the edges, through redistributive tax systems, nationalisation of certain natural monopolies or things deemed to be public utilities has a lot going for it. But at least ostensibly, this isn’t all that different to what mainstream social democratic, or even left liberal parties subscribed to for most of the 20th Century. This would represent a major organizational change in the economy if it weren’t for the fact that that is already how the economy works, what is in discussion is largely one of extent and degree. This does matter, of course, but it is not the same kind of debate as the one which was played out the last time round. 

The strange death of Liberal Keynesianism

Why does this now come under the rubric of “socialism”, rather than anything else? Partly it’s about who is leading the charge. In the UK this means former backbench MPs who once upon a time really did stand for socialism as it used to be defined, at least some of the time. Partly it’s a to draw a distinction between themselves and is perceived to have come before, be it neoliberalism , Blairism, the Third Way, or even simply the Labour Party before Corbyn. To some extent, therefore, the term ‘socialist’ in the UK may be seen as an identity marker- it is about who you identify with and which side you come down on in internal disputes within the labour party. That the term also seems like a plausible description of political beliefs owes more than anything else to the strange death of liberal Keynesianism in the UK.

In the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, a debate raged on both sides of the atlantic over the proper response of fiscal policy to the recession. This played out not just in the academic field, but in politics as well. On both sides of the Atlantic there was a broad (albeit likely inadequate) move towards fiscal stimulus as the appropriate response, with the Obama stimulus package in United States, VAT cuts in the UK and state funded employment subsidies in Germany. In the British context, this meant that Gordon Brown’s Labour party went into the 2010 election taking the Keynesian line on deficits.

Following Labour’s defeat, it became received wisdom within the Labour party that Keynesianism was an electoral nonstarter. While there was some resistance to this from Ed Balls, ultimately Labour would go into the 2015 general election accepting the basic premises of the Conservative line on government spending (Labour profligacy pre-crash caused the deficits, austerity was necessary and growth neutral to positive). This lead to the rather curious situation. The only people of political clout actually making the mainstream Keynesian arguments about the need for stimulus and folly of austerity were old leftists, many of whom actually had little interest in such arguments previously (John McDonnell had at the time of the crisis welcomed the destruction of the crisis as a means of destroying the existing economic order, a number of other left wingers were initially suspicious of Keynesianism as too much in league with business interests).

This meant that, for better or worse, the argument about austerity became essentially an argument about the size of the state, rather than deficits. Anti-austerity advocates are quite rightly concerned primarily with the effect of austerity on the public sphere, and austerity proponents are essentially interested reducing the size of the state in the economy. In a different world the anti-austerity position might well have found representation by centre-left social democrats, who were concerned both by the erosion of public services and of growth, and saw these as interrelated, but distinct. But that is not the world we live in.

It is in this context that Corbynism offered the appearance of something radical and distinct, without actually having to commit to anything more than bog-standard, textbook social democracy. It could claim what social democracy for its own and call it socialism, largely because the social democrats weren’t offering social democracy anymore. And the historical connotations of the word, to its supporters, offers a kind of gravitas, a sense of association with something bigger and different.

Does this matter? Doesn’t the meaning of words change? This is certainly true, but the old connotations die slowly, and for many, they aren’t positive. This certainly isn’t helped by the fact that part of the appeal of the word socialism is precisely its associations with historical developments that can rightly be criticised. It goes hand in hand with claims of radical critiques of capitalism, with often only a vague notion of what, precisely, is being critiqued (Finance? Private ownership of the means of production? Markets? Neoliberal overreach?) And in the British context, it also goes hand in hand with quite questionable measures to buy off sections of the comparatively affluent middle classes (tuition fees). Perhaps over time the connotations and meanings will change. Or perhaps if Labour does form a government, those in the front bench who have more traditional, 20th Century ideas of socialism, like John McDonnell, will become more dominant. Until then, we will have to wonder.

A thought about balance in debate

A huge amount has been written on the problems associated with news reporting in terms of what the ‘sides’ of a debate say. It can present false equivalence between know truths and known falsehoods, between strongly substantiated opinions and those made up on the spot, between sincere analysis and political propaganda. It allows dishonest participants to game the way in which news in reported and has inbuilt adverse selection mechanisms . A tweet last night by Nigel Farage drew my attention to another consequence: it allows participants to frame their own motives and beliefs, and allows them to avoid analysis and scrutiny of these. 

In this tweet, Farage bemoaned yesterday’s migration statistics, specifically that they still showed net migration from outside the EU. A number of replies spotted the hypocrisy: wasn’t a large part of the case to leave the EU that membership implied preferential treatment for EU citizens over non EU citizens? Hadn’t Farage made this argument a number of times himself?

Ofcourse, on one level this event is entirely uninteresting and unsurprising. We all knew that that argument against EU membership was entirely disingenuous, not the least because Farage, and indeed many prominent Brexiteers, have spent most of their political careers stirring up hostility against migrants of any origin, and indeed have focused their hostility on non EU migrants for ethno nationalist reasons (think of Leave.eu’s ‘breaking point’ poster, or the real message behind Vote Leave’s claims about Turkey).

What is interesting is that on countless occasions, figures like Farage have been able to present the argument that free movement is unfair on non EU nationals as a sincere one. It is frequently reported as the ‘other side’ of a migration ‘debate’ on neutral outlets like the BBC.

This is more pernicious than it seems. Surely, what is most relevant about this argument is in fact not that it is a bad one that can be evaluated as such, but that it is made insincerely.  This is while it is a pretty bad argument, it is not quite as bad an argument, at least a priori, as its critics often suggest, or at least not for the reasons typically given. One could indeed hypothetically envisage a situation in which practicalities imposed an upper limit, at least politically, on migration, and where free movement within the EU implied stricter controls on non EU nationals.

Of course, this limit is nowhere near the current reality, where increased migration is hugely economically beneficial. But the difference between hypothetical and actual often gets lost in debates. What’s more, the cruel aspect of the argument- its implication for EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU-  can be glossed over as something that can be dealt with humanely and seamlessly. Let’s forget that this may not be true, or that free movement is not just a migration policy but a right: what is really pernicious about this argument is that the people who will ultimately be deciding what a future regime looks like do not have the faux humanitarian concerns that the argument implies, and are instead interested in imposing gratuitously cruel and restrictive regimes, again for ethno nationalist reasons. And their ability to do so, and their political power, is determined at least in part buy how these debates play out. To some extent, then, the veracity of the argument is itself determined by the sincerity of those who are making it. Arguments about the political consequences of a policy depend in part on a view of what some aspect of fixed political reality is, when this is itself part of what is affected by the discussion. The style of reporting that simply reports the headlines of the ‘two sides’ as the arguments for and against allows dishonest political participants to misrepresent their motives, and in doing so, the ultimate effects, and indeed often truth, of their statements.

Edgar’s Algorithm

                                                Edgar’s Algorithm

Ever since Edgar’s Algorithm the chess tournament has been something of a totalitarian affair. Players are asked to supply records of all their browser history, previous whereabouts, sworn statements from friends and loved ones: the list of intrusive measures in quite an extensive one. Fortunately, the International Confederation of Traditional Chess Players (ICTCP) has begun to simplify the initial system of checks in major tournaments, making use of latest technological innovations in neural mapping. The new procedure is really quite simple: participants are shown a range of chess positions on a screen, which, to the traditional player, would mark the start of a long and drawn out thought process, but to those savants who have fully committed the algorithm to memory would immediately suggest a series of follow up moves. The differences in response to these stimuli are quite involuntary, and can easily weed out a player whose mind, in the view of the anti-algorithm traditionalist, was polluted by a crude mechanical procedure. To some this may seem quite excessive, but the algorithm’s absolute success in providing an slow, but inevitable victory for a given player first to initiate the process (assuming their opponent has not already achieved a significant material advantage by the early mid-game) it is quite unsurprising that those, dedicated to the game’s survival, would need to find means to eradicate it absolutely from practice. And, given their level of dedication, it is quite unsurprising that they would not balk at extreme measures.

At first, it was suggested that this result might be achieved by means of setting new parameters for legal moves. But, alas, any variant devised (the most plausible being Kautsky’s) proved far too complex for the game in any meaningful sense to be preserved. Kautsky-Chess does have a few players here and there, most of whom convene at the headquarters of the international society of Esparantists. Kautsky’s reforms abandoned largely abandoned, the rump of the former world of chess players who were not fluent in Edgar’s algorithm resorted to cruder measures. This group turned out to be quite large in number: in those early years after Edgar’s discovery, it became fashionable to ridicule the very idea of solving chess, and a question of pride not to seriously engage with his work. Lists were drawn up, those known or believed to be adherents of the great Edgar publicly humiliated and banned from tournaments, and for those spared of this fate, both when entering and once within the walls of the tournament an existence of continuous observation was to be expected.

The events of last week’s gathering of the ICTCP in New York , however, surprised even those well versed on the absurdities of contemporary chess. The tournament itself was quite uninteresting. A tense moment here, a dull one there, but the result was quite predictable: Peron reaffirmed her title as world champion without much difficulty. What was most interesting was the dinner that followed. The Council of the ICTCP was about to presented awards, as ever, before guests were invited to begin their starter. The hall will filled with that dim murmuring of impatient chess players that inevitably accompanied this stage of the evening. The dull grey and brown of the jumpered crowd sat awkwardly with the grand chandeliers of the art-deco hall.

I sat at a small table of journalists who had recently been permitted to attend these gatherings. Eying up the white plate of grilled asparagus, delicately arranged on salmorejo  just viscous enough to prevent its garnishes sinking into it, I began to wonder when we would begin to get the tedious ceremony over with . I was already dreading the clichés that would fill my piece for the New Yorker, rolling off all the well known anecdotes about full body searches, inquisitions, threats of ritual humiliation etc which accompanied these events. But those articles sold well, and with the collapse of the Kim Dynasty in North Korea, something had to take its place in the beloved genre of Oppression Safari.

At this point my neighbour turned to me. “Hey, you work for the New Yorker, right?”
“Yeh, that’s me.”
“I loved your last piece on the one in LA. That was what got me going to this thing in the first place.”
“Thanks. Well, you know, it was just the usual stuff.”
“Sure, but the writing was great. I’d always kinda wanted to check this place out. I was pretty good at chess in college. Still play now and then.”
“Still? But presumably you don’t… well, I guess you’re here so…” He knew what I was trying to say. Of course he hadn’t.
“Oh God, no. That thing is a goddamn nightmare…” He started to whisper. “I took a look at the original tract, Dr E’s you know what. ‘Chapter 1: use of recursive methods to reduce 1096 games to 28 ideal types. Chapter 2: The ideal types and brute force solutions. Chapter 3: Oh God. I barely understood a word of the thing in the original.”
“So how come you still play?”
“Well,” he said “put it this way. Uhm. I mean, the kids at my daughter’s elementary school. They still play checkers. The slower ones still play tic-tac-toe. Naughts and crosses? Is that what you guys call it?”
Fair point. He started to bob on his chair slightly, pushing himself back and forth with his hands. He was quite a charismatic figure. Or at least, in this dreary crowd, he was. His mannerism and confidence in speech seemed quite suited to the setting.
“See” he continued “these guys actually have it all wrong. The so called ‘algorithm’ is much more interesting than they make out. The idea of it, if not the way it’s written up. It’s actually not purely algorithmic, or at least not in the sense they mean. Knowing how to reduce any position to an ideal type, there’s an intuitive element to that. It’s based on positional analysis. Fianchettoed bishops, weak pawns, you know. None of that can be derived from a tree diagram, or at least not as far as anyone has worked out. The ontologies don’t mesh. But, once you’ve carried out the reduction, which I’m told top players could do more or less instantly, with practice, the rest is pretty mechanical. That is, until the endgame, at which point you just apply the old techniques. But by that stage your absolute material advantage is so great there’s not much left to play for.”
“I see.” His description roughly chimed with my own impressions of the subject, but I was a little taken aback by his certainty, given his own admissions. Perhaps later he’d tell me about the implications of quantum mechanics for epistemology.
“So,” he continued “it’s actually really interesting. And originally, originally, this was thought to represent a return to traditional play. Because the computers couldn’t do it. They couldn’t carry out the initial reduction. At least, not until they finally ditched the tree diagrams and applied statistical methods. Machine learning and all that. But by that point everyone but these guys here had lost interest in the game. “

All around us, people were starting to turn their attention to the stage. Members of the council, garbed in checkered robes, were making gentle swings of their arms. Each swing the arc made an arm got longer and longer, like a pendulum in reverse. At first disjointed, now in unison, the council swinging to a steady rhythm. I had seen this before, but had no knowledge of the symbolism.

At last, the head of the ICTCP got up to speak.
“You are all aware,” he began “of the extraordinary progress we have made in a short space of time. The journey towards a post-algorithmic community has not always been an easy one. At times, brute force has been necessary [a light laughter from the audience]. But it is with great pleasure that I able to introduce this year’s winner, the reigning World Champion, Augustine Peron. Peron’s play has always been exceptional, and deeply idiosyncratic. She is a shining beacon of extraordinary play, sportsmanship, and is a charismatic representative of our community. She has proven herself time and time again, and is the unbeatable champion… well, not unbeatable but..”
The hall started to murmur. Had he meant unbeaten? Almost certainly, but that it not what he had said. Why did he not simply move on with his speech? Surely his stature would prevent him from scrutiny.
“I mean, of course she isn’t unbeatable. No-one is. Uhhm.” He started to look around nervously. Members of the council, sitting at the high table, looked at one another for cues. They could sense the sudden terror in his eyes. It was at this stage, that a member of the council stood up from their seats.
“She’s a traitor. That’s what he’s trying to say. She appears unbeatable because she has polluted her mind.”
“That bitch!”
Within a few moments, the entire hall was alive. Their time had finally come. Every last humiliated player was going to have their turn, realising, one by one, that perhaps they had not lost their games after all.

It was at this moment that Peron leapt from the stage, and ran towards our table. In those precious few moments, as participants looked to one another, asking themselves what special protections were to be granted to outsiders, we moved swiftly as a group out of the hall and worked our way through the dozen or so checkpoints that guarded the building. What went on in the hall after that no one knows. We have not received another invitation to ICTCP meetings. Neither did Peron, though I doubt she much wanted one.