If you can’t convince, confuse.

There is a pub near where I work that puts little sayings on a board outside.  I was reminded of the title here by the action of Prime Minister Erdogan in Turkey where he has tried to re-order the legacy of Ataturk.  In making his case for this he has apparently tried to change perceptions of Ataturk allowing him to change his legacy.  This is confusion over rational argument.  By making others question a historical figure it becomes easier to then alter his legacy. 

While we all have times where we would like to re-write our own history politicians seem to have built up a whole industry in confusing the public about who they are in an attempt to drag us along with their ideas.  I’m really not too sure of David Cameron’s history and I’m sure he’d rather I didn’t know as it could allow me to form my own opinion of him rather than the manufactured one he wants to present. 

This way of presenting your self is so disingenuous it can be no wonder that the public feels detached from politics.  Think about when someone gives you a fake laugh or a smile, the majority of the time this is detectable at some level, you are aware that something is not quite right and that alters your behaviour around that person.  Modern politicians live a fake smile, a fake background, a fake life. Till they have the guts to be themselves, to be genuine to who they are and allow their arguments to persuade rather than confuse us with spin about who they are then the public may continue to be turned off by politics.

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Thatcher; a divisive figure

Worldwide today you can’t move for coverage of the death of Margaret Thatcher.  Not bad for someone who has been out of power for over two decades. Having next to no feelings about the situation (other than sympathy for her family at this time) the reaction of others has interested me.  Why are we still so bothered about Thatcher?

The key I think is in her nature.  Stubborn in her approach she showed little flexibility and empathy for other views.  She plowed her own course, one that was unpopular but given her election victories, one that was successful.  She came to power at a time where everything seemed to be in the air, people were confused.  What Thatcher offered was a parental like set of rules and structure.  In my opinion what she offered was not the harmony and hope she proclaimed but rather a certainty of direction and that appealed to a fearful electorate more than the status quo.

For this many will find her a strong figure, they will be drawn to her steel and determination, over looking the difficulties of her stubborn streak which led to policies which were not always in the best interests of the whole of the country.  Other found her position as arrogant, her inflexibility as problematic and a sign of a ‘divine right’ leader.  Thatcher indeed could revel in such a persona, even with her own party, see “the lady is not for turning” speech.

Those who are attracted to the certainty she gave in tough times will obviously still revere her, especially given that times are arguable more uncertain now.  Those who found her far to hard and inflexible, too cold and unsympathetic will see no sorrow in her passing (at least politically). However, what ever side of the divide people are on Thatcher will generate opinions from people.

My own opinion concerns what we can learn from Thatcher rather than dissecting her life further.  In uncertain times those who offer us certainty, scape goats and firm action will be very appealing (it’s a human trait).  We are entitled to go for such certainty but we should not allow it to blind us to actions that are no good for the majority of people.  We should not allow ourselves as an electorate to be so divided by one figure.  This may well make politics more boring, less about the force of personality.  I say that’s no bad thing.

A day off? It’s snow joke

Snow, shock horror, and in Winter too.  It brought travel and work chaos to the South of England in the last couple of days with people rushing home early or struggling to get to their work, cars sliding around and trains cancelled.

Getting on a bit as I am this situation seems to me in stark contrast to how it was just fifteen to twenty years ago.  People would get on with things, change the way they drove and change plans to accommodate the conditions.  Human’s are the same, nothing has changed there.  In other parts of the world people cope perfectly well with Winter conditions and I refuse to believe that people in the UK are any less ingenious or resourceful than any other countries, so what makes us panic at the smallest flurry of snow.

The answer may lie in what happens when it snows, I’m sure we can all recall days off school, sledging, snowball fights.  In part snow represents a good time.  On the other hand it’s a frustration, an inconvenience, and one that we are not used to.  Lets’s look at both of these.  In the UK we work the longest working hours in Europe, job security is a thing of the past given the economic climate, throwing a good old fashioned sickie just insn’t as attractive an option anymore.  So snow, disruption may represent a legitimate opportunity to take some needed time away from the office, delighting in the child like glee of getting one up on the boss(or teacher).

Instant, it’s a word we’ve gotten used to, we like things to be fast, we expect them to be so all the time (how frustrated do you feel when your Internet connection is slower than usual).  Snow will slow things down, you can’t drive as fast, it’s harder to get around to do things.  It appears we can’t process this fact and deal with a slower pace, it seems unacceptable to us and chaos ensues.

I’d suggest instead of getting at the weather and moaning and groaning we learn to tolerate the changes in life, that we can’t always have everything now, that we have to adapt at times.  Our over value on work should end, we should allow people to work less and more flexibly, using the snow to take time off should highlight to us that perhaps what we all want is free time and enjoyment, not long hours and money.  Is it time to reconsider what we value and what we pursue in life?

Reasonable doubt?

The questions put to the judge in the Vicky Price case make interesting reading but none more so than what constitutes reasonable doubt. It’s odd that people sought definition and certainty in what is a deliberately ambiguous statement, but perhaps this tells us something of modern society.

Doubt is ever-present, no decision or action is certain yet as humans we tend to pursue maximum certainty in what we do, no one likes being wrong! Descartes was one of the first to really explore this in developing his sceptical method of doubt where he makes a strong distinction between belief and truth. He set out that the task of the sceptical method is to remove all uncertain beliefs leaving only certain beliefs – forming the truth. Such ideals underpin the legal system where cases are decided on the facts presented, what is known. These are sifted through and all possible doubt eliminated to reach a verdict (another thing the jury actually misunderstood).

This process is necessary for decisions such as deciding a legal trial but other stories this week have got me wondering if we have perhaps taken these ideas too far, we are applying stringent decision-making in more and more areas of life. It may seem strange but I’m referring to the story that single women in china over the age of 27 are being referred to as ‘leftover’. Offensive, I think we can all agree, but what are the circumstances around this happening, is it through choice (in which case fair enough) and how much is a sense of doubt? The idea that no one should settle, that someone better, that soul mate, may be around the corner. Some relationships are disasters, some do not work out but with internet dating and shows like “take me out” displaying instant rejection of individuals based on very little, specific information i wonder if we are pursuing an ideal and as soon as any doubt creeps in people jump ship. In attempting to sift through people eliminating doubt and finding the ‘correct’ person people may miss out on possibilities, new experiences and relationships growing and developing.

We seem to have set up the modern world to eliminate doubt using websites such as trip advisor to help us select restaurants and the like. We all want good experiences but in trying to eliminate doubt and disappointment we can end up all having the same experience, and where is the fun in that? Doubt and discovery are the stuff of life, the foundations of our early learning and a source of surprise and pleasure throughout life. We do our selves a disservice when we attempt to eliminate all doubt.

Indeed I fear that in trying to be so certain about things we can end up demonizing the other end of the scale, making a mistake. If decisions are to be certain, if there is to be little to no doubt then the human act of making a mistake takes on huge proportions. In such a certain world, surely mistakes should not be possible? Perhaps we need to take a little trip back in time to when in the idea of reasonable doubt was enshrined in law and apply this to ourselves, our doubts are reasonable. Embrace your mistakes, your poor choices, your doubts, as they are how you learn and they help to make you you. In fact for me that is more than reasonable, they are doubts to be celebrated.

Only the lonely

Loneliness appears to be one of the human universals, understood by all cultures, generations and genders.  Songs, often a great interpreter of human experience, have often turned to loneliness to touch the listener; “Only the lonely – Roy Orbison, Lonely teardrops – Jackie Wilson, So lonely – The Police, I’m so lonesome I could cry – Hank Williams”, and a countless list of songs that name check loneliness in the lyrics.

This cultural affinity with loneliness perhaps comes from the power of the experience.  In my personal and professional experience only fear comes close to the power of loneliness as an emotion.  All of us want to feel close to someone, feel that we exist positively in the mind of another, that we are cared for, wanted and loved, either by a lover or by friends.  This sense of closeness nurtures and sustains us, it is arguably the most vital thing we can have beyond the essentials for our physical existence.

No one would chose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world – Aristotle

We need contact so much that a lack of it will drive us to make some foolish decisions and take some bizarre actions.  Much as fear will drive people to irrational avoidance of objects and situations with minimal danger, so loneliness will drive people to engage in behaviours that can seem rash and ridiculous.

It’s this aspect of loneliness that was brought to mind by a TV show called “Bob Servant – Independent” on BBC4 (a rather good Scottish comedy, check it out if you can).  The two main characters engage in some quite ridiculous escapades and continually get themselves in trouble.  This week the episode opened with one of the main characters taking briefly to a guy he just met.  The show ended with him phoning this same guy inviting him on holiday and being agonisingly turned down.  This was real bitter sweet comedy, the man was obviously so lonely that all sense of social convention had gone, he had acted quite irrationally because of how lonely he felt.

While the comedy comes laughing at the man, we can all relate to his experience allowing us our laugh at this behaviour.  Reflecting on this show, I think such lonely tragic comic characters are becoming more common on TV such as David Brent in the Office (in fact almost any of the cast in The Office).  Such characters are fundamentally lonely, this is where the comedy flows from, the cringe factor.

Does this reflect our society?  Loneliness appears to be endemic, our communication system designed to allow us to stay connected, allows us to remain faceless and hidden giving free reign to bullies.  It also lacks the subtlety and emotional energy of face to face interaction, one could questions whether it genuinely nourishes our needs. 

Our cities get larger, flats are piled on top of one another yet we do not know one another beyond a nod at the door.  When I worked in London I found the tube curious and sometime hilarious.  There we all are, thousands of people in close proximity, and people did anything to avoid acknowledging that other people existed, cocooning themselves in their i-pod bubbles.  It’s odd given the power of loneliness that we can all understand that we should opt for such isolation, and create characters where we can laugh at it.  Perhaps we should turn again to the songwriters for some guidance.,

Why when there’re so many of us, are there people still alone? – Tracey Chapman

Neigh, neigh and thrice neigh

Horse meat. An emotive subject in this horse loving country. People have been concerned (and some disgusted) that they could have been eating horse. What they don’t seem that concerned with is the cheap, poor quality nature of what is being eaten and where their food has come from. More at the heart of this recipe is the mis-representation of meat and the way in which we purchase our food.

The obsession with the testing of the foods to see what is already in them perplexed me. Surely it would be more prudent to supervise and inspect the supply chain to ensure horse meat does not enter it in the first place. Only in the last couple of days have the authorities and the press turned to the question of how the horse meat came to be presented as beef.

That is the major crime in all this, that one thing was presented as another. A state of affairs that tends to come around when it’s advantageous to one party, namely that there is money to be made out of the deception. That organised crime is alleged to be involved says something about the state of the food industry. A ‘business’ more associated with fixing contracts, extortion, drugs and theft has moved into meat packing.

Money can be made by cheapening ingredients in a race to the bottom of quality. The demand for cheap food has grown so much, particularly in these austere times, that to drive up profits the business has gone global with a complicated supply chain. This demand and resultant complexity allows the opportunity for such crimes as falsely labelling meat to take place. Such illegal practices are one (perhaps the only way) to make good money at the bottom end of the chain, and profit will drive practices.

Demand is generated from the way in which we use and consume goods and our usage of food has become incredibly inefficient. according to WRAP Britons wasted 4.4 million tons of usable food per year. Turning food, a precious essential resource, into a cheap disposable economy will have consequences. Some of these may be being visited on us with the present revelations. Some industries are perhaps more suited to global economics than others. Perhaps it is time to re-think the value we place on the food we put into our bodies.

Love and marriage, Go together like a well suited homosexual couple.

The recent vote on gay marriage in the Commons has created quite the debate in this country.  Well at least in the press, the Commons and the Church.  For many people I think the choice has been clearer, that people who love one another have equal right to express this in marriage regardless of the gender of those involved.

Of course, much of your viewpoint will depend on how you view marriage.  Marriage is not a topic touched on frequently in either philosophy or psychology despite its perceived importance to the structure of society.  In his “Philosophy of Right” Hegel outlines that marriage is an ethical contract consisting of two parties’ unity of their love, trust and existence.  This almost spiritual level of bond goes beyond the mere physical acts of love that are the stuff of procreation, and is what raises marriage above that of a mere passionate relationship (this is my understanding of what Hegel suggested).

Musonius a Roman philosopher also argued for a unique relationship of marriage

Husband and wife must… consider all things common, and nothing in private, not even the body itself. For great is the creation of a human being, which this bond achieves. But this is not yet sufficient for those who marry, for animals too can join together in this way. But in marriage there must be a completely joint life and care of husband and wife together, in health and in sickness and at all times. (taken from Cora Lutz (1942), Musonius Rufus: The Roman Socrates. New Haven: Yale University Press)

Defining marriage as a relationship in such terms yields the question why should it need to be between a man and woman.  In my opinion what both philosophers outline here are the very human qualities of being able to make life-long connections beyond the physical and biological that separate us from most (if not all) of the animal kingdom.  If marriage is based on human qualities of connection then these are surely gender neutral.

Those who argue marriage is for procreation I believe miss the point, may unhappy children are born in wedlock and many happy ones are born out of it.  Marriage never has, and never will be a guarantee of a happy and stable childhood.  Marrying for the purest intention of marriage, to be connected for life body and soul to another human being is perhaps more of a guarantee of the stability such arguments advance, regardless of the gender of the individuals involved and surely we are all entitled to such rights.