At the beginning of last year there was a minor kerfuffle about my favourite character in politics, Dominic Cummings. At the time, I wrote something about his project to hire a bunch of teenagers to do... something and break employment law (which ended up going about as well as you'd expect). Looking back, the piece was less about the specific events and more a chance for me to unload some of my longer-standing Cummings opinions and beefs, chiefly:
- His evil dark genius reputation rest chiefly on the facts that writes long, tedious blog posts; has taught himself some maths despite having an arts degree; and, crucially, that Channel Four film they did where he was played by the Sherlock guy, doing all the Sherlock things. When I watched it, I was surprised they didn't have the text messages popping up on-screen, or have him go into his mind palace. Do you even need to self-mythologise when you're this effectively mythologised from without? It was the most credulous depiction of someone's alleged genius since Jeffrey Epstein. However;
- he is still the most flavoursome thing in politics because, as Tom H put it a while back:
[he's] convinced the entire Tory party he's a genius because he's a) not posh, b) reads books by simon singh, c) can draw a graph, d) writes 240 page essays in his spare time, and e) calls you a fucker if you disagree
- His blogroll is hilarious: it flits between the kind of thing you'd expect him to be into—Slatestar, Less Wrong, Zero Hedge (particularly amusing)—and blogs by maths academics that are so complicated there's no way he understands it and this is because;
- he seems to have really drunk the kool-aid about the general-purpose superiority of mathematicians and physicists. I studied maths, my friend group is rammed to the gills with people who did numerate degrees, and believe me, we are not the übermenschen you seem to think we are. It doesn't make us iron-clad logic-lords, it makes us good at maths. (Or mediocre at maths in my case, which I guess means I don't count as a Real Maths Guy.)
- I worry about evolving into a crankily Dom-like figure, just obsessed with different thinkers (in my case Beer and Fuller rather than Boyd and Clausewitz) and bloggers (again, in my case Dillow and Harrowell rather than Yudkowsky and Alexander).
Since then, he had a bit of a time: he managed to draw massive attention to himself by breaking lockdown rules, alienating almost everyone in the country in the process; Johnson stuck by him against all the odds, and then dropped him a few months later, leading to some absolutely cracking pictures. Well, now he's back, and he has, as they say, the receipts. A lot of damaging leaks about government corruption and spending on the renovation of the flat at No.10 have come out. Some of my friends have been speculating whether the source of the recent leaks is Cummings, and whether or not they're true.
Reading his statement, I can certainly believe that there are particulars that aren't true—specifically regarding his own conduct; it's the most "and then everyone clapped" thing I've read in quite a while. He's definitely got form for leaking stuff to the press and I could very easily believe that he's in full revenge mode, but at this point I don't think it really matters—it seems like the guts of the leaks are basically true, and no-one bar No.10 is that bothered about their provenance. I really hope it was him, though, primarily on the basis that we finally got the payoff to that anecdote about him walking out of rooms and miming throwing a grenade in behind him.
I was shocked—shocked!—etc that the living embodiment of a Less Wrong comments section got kicked out almost instantly, but probably for what is admittedly some really heinous stuff in his Reddit profile, rather than all the openly racist/eugenicism-advocating stuff that he's been banging on about very loudly for years, one suspects because the latter is a solidly Tory penumbra belief. There was a lot of chat about cognitive diversity in Dom's job ad, and Chris D here makes several good points about the practical difficulties in fostering it and finding people who fit that bill who would want to take the job. Call me a chump, but I'll admit that I was hoping that whatever kind of freakshow Cummings intended to set up in No.10, there might have been some genuine cognitive diversity, some real oddballs who might actually challenge my beliefs, but what we get instead is the same tired old lib-triggering dressed up with a bit of Bayesianism. Tom J once said that actual, real freethinkers would probably be quite frustrating and alienating because they would actually be very strange. Lads like Sabinsky wouldn't know strange if it slapped them in the face. ↩︎
the comparison stops there: Cummings is only a Russophile. ↩︎
I'd slightly quibble with a), given he's privately educated and he's married to the daughter of a baronet, but he's Northern so hey, we'll go with it. ↩︎
no shade; I have a maths degree and I don't understand them, you'd need to have a Ph.D. in the specific subfield of maths they're talking about to get much out of it ↩︎
my hair's already going ↩︎
Incidentally, the flat renovation reportedly cost £58k. That's a lot of money to most people, but Boris was getting £275,000 a year for his Telegraph column as recently as 2019, and a whole lot more besides, on top of pre-existing wealth. British politicians seem to be very cheaply bought. [EDIT: while I stand by the cheaply bought thing, Boris in particular appears to have a lot of (primarily divorce-related) money troubles.] ↩︎