I’ve got a logical mind, perhaps excessively so; people sometimes call me a pedant, but I always point out that pedantry is characterised by excessive reliance on canonical sources and works of reference rather than by mere consistency in the exercise of rational thinking. That shuts them up, I can tell you.
Anyway, having a clear and intuitive sense of propositions such as “if A is true, not-A must be false” is surprisingly useful in some lines of work, but it can make the fuzzier areas of human interaction a bit problematic. In my last job but one I had the misfortune to be part of a group that was selected for an Outward Bound-style ‘team-building’ exercise, which would take place over a weekend and include lots of the kind of jolly fun activities which I’d managed to avoid for the whole of my adult life and most of my childhood. Correction: a voluntary Outward Bound-style ‘team-building’ exercise. Cue a conversation with my manager:
“I don’t think I’ll go on this thing.”
“Are you sure? You know, I think you should.”
“Well, maybe. But, I mean, it’s not compulsory, is it?”
“No, no, it’s not compulsory. Think about it, OK?”
“I really don’t think I’ll go on this thing.”
“I don’t know, I really think you ought to. The idea is that the whole group goes.”
“Sorry, you mean it’s compulsory?”
“No, no, of course not. It’s just that it’s better if the whole group goes.”
“I appreciate that, but it’s just not my thing.”
“OK, well. It’s not compulsory, of course. But just think about it, OK?”
“Look, I’ve thought about it some more, and…”
“OK, I know you don’t want to go, but I really think you should.”
“But… what can I say? I really don’t want to go. And it’s not compulsory…”
“No, no, of course it’s not compulsory. But I really think you should go.”
If it’s not compulsory, it must be voluntary.
If I can’t choose not to go, then it’s not voluntary and it must be compulsory.
(I went, of course. Parts of it were OK – the rope walk was very cool – but other parts were truly, enduringly awful. I got my revenge in the whiteboard feedback session on the Sunday afternoon.)
That was a long time ago, and I’ve had a bit more experience of smudgy social reasoning since then. But sometimes even now the fit descends and I turn into LogicMan (None withstand his remorseless inferences!). Most recently in the case of that cuddly Old Labour mascot, John Prescott. Charlie has the story; Alex has the British background; and Dave has the American ditto. Me, I’ve got the logic.
You see, Prescott’s stay on the Anschutz ranch was either personal – an even lower-rent version of Blair’s hols with Berlusconi – or business. It can’t be both; it can’t be neither; it must be one or the other.
If it was personal, why wasn’t it declared in the Register of Members’ Interests at the time?
If it was personal, what were civil servants doing on the trip with Prescott? (Ugh – better rephrase that before the mental images get out of hand.) If it was personal, how does Prescott justify taking civil servants with him?
If it was personal, why was the offsetting payment to charity made out of government funds?
And if it was personal, why on earth would Prescott choose to spend his holidays with an unsavoury character like Anschutz? (See Dave’s post for details.)
On the other hand:
If it was a trip on government business, why has the trip been declared in the Register of Members’ Interests at all?
If it was business, why has a payment been made to charity?
And, if it was business, what business could Prescott possibly have to discuss, legitimately, with Anschutz?
Logically, the whole thing’s a tissue of contradictions. There are only two interpretations that make any kind of sense. Either it was a personal holiday funded by the taxpayer – including personal assistance from Prescott’s civil servants; in this case Prescott is personally corrupt on a truly Italian scale, as well as having lost any sense of political principle. Or else it was a business trip laid on to ease the path of Anschutz’s bid for the Dome Casino (si New Labour monumentum requiris…); in this case Prescott is politically corrupt, as well as having lost any sense of principle. And either way he’s a liar.
Perhaps this is LogicMan speaking, but surely there’s no way out of this one. Prescott has to resign as Deputy PM; if he’s any sense he’ll resign as an MP, too, before the Standards Committee pushes him. And then he should apologise, in person, to the people of Liverpool. (Not because he’s done anything to them, just because it was funny when Boris did it.)