Fens 3 Wisbech

We continue our Fens exploration after Fens 2.

Next morning, we drive north, past the pretty market town of March, following the River Nene up to Wisbech. The river here is straight and channelled, part of the great works that ensure continued drainage of the surrounding farmland. Coming into Wisbech there’s a pleasing arrangement of Edwardian-style buildings along by the river. 

River Nene at Wisbech

In the 18C, Wisbech was a prosperous Edwardian town, but now we get the impression of a struggling economy. There is evidently a large population of non-indigenous people, and some just hang around on benches smoking or drinking. Apparently 70% of the town voted for Brexit. This trip is not about Brexit, but this experience gives us a feel for why they might have done so.

A visit to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum gives us more insights into the history of life in the Fens over nearly 2000 years. The layout of the museum is just like the museums of my childhood 70 years ago, with a huge miscellany of historic items. We browsed for quite a while. Remarkably, this Museum claims to be the second oldest in the country.

Wisbech & Fenland Museum

Here was a real example of a 19C ‘punt gun’ – an obscenely large shotgun carried stealthily on a punt until it was close to a group of birds, before firing and killing up to 50 birds – a frighteningly efficient way of exploiting what must have seemed nature’s inexhaustible bounty.

There was also evidence of the heavy use of opium and laudanum in the 19C fens, reminding me of a story in my great grandfather’s diaries, where a child had accidentally died from laudanum poisoning. It seems that this was a common occurrence, the bottles being easiy confused with a popular childhood remedy.

Returning to our campsite via March, I recall cycling down that very road nearly 60 years ago, transistor radio dangling from the handlebars, on the way from Lincoln to Cambridge. The Beatles’ She Loves You had just come out. The headwind that day was seriously strong, it was hard work.

Back at base, we see an odd couple of a greylag with a Canada goose, with just a single chick.

The odd couple

There is a small group of modern windmills near the campsite. However, considering the reliability of wind in the Fens we saw surprisingly few such windmills. I suspect that the vested interests that control much of this land are the sort who don’t want windmills disfiguring their landscape!

To finish, yet another spectacular sky!

Marcus Aurelius on today’s affairs

On impulse this morning, I reread parts of Marcus Aurelius’ wonderful classic book Meditations, which has sat on my shelves for many years. Marcus was of course one of the few ‘good’ Roman Emperors, but also at the same time a philosopher.

He actually has lots to say about matters that disturb us today. Fortunately, Goodreads has made an excellent selection of quotes from the book, so I was able to choose from these.

Consider our distress at the apparent downturn in world events (across many countries) and our circumstances:

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

And what about our countries that appear to be descending into populism, lying politicians out on the make, even fascism.

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

Yes we need to witness what is going on, act where we can to mitigate against disturbing trends, but at the end of the day:

“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

Featured image is young Marcus Aurelius from the Musei Capitolini.

Challenging times

A recent post by Gail Tverberg explains what many of us suspect, that the world economic/resource/technology/political ‘system’ is running into the buffers. She suggests that this is a problem of the physics of the system, and not something that is easily addressed. Her conclusion makes sobering reading:

“We are dealing with a situation that economists, politicians and central banks are ill-equipped to handle. Raising interest rates may squeeze out a huge share of the economy. The economy was already ‘at the edge.’ We can’t know for certain.

Virtually no one looks at the economy from a physics point of view. For one thing, the result is too distressing to explain to citizens. For another, it is fashionable for scientists of all types to produce papers and have them peer reviewed by others within their own ivory towers. Economists, politicians and central bankers don’t care about the physics of the situation. Even those basing their analysis on Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) tend to focus on only a narrow portion of what I explained in [this post]. Once researchers have invested a huge amount of time and effort in one direction, they cannot consider the possibility that their approach may be seriously incomplete.

Unfortunately, the physics-based approach I am using indicates that the world’s economy is likely to change dramatically for the worse in the months and years ahead. Economies, in general, cannot last forever. Populations outgrow their resource bases; resources become too depleted. In physics terms, economies are dissipative structures, not unlike ecosystems, plants and animals. They can only exist for a limited time before they die or end their operation. They tend to be replaced by new, similar dissipative structures.

While the current world economy cannot last indefinitely, humans have continued to exist through many bottlenecks in the past, including ice ages. It is likely that some humans, perhaps in mutated form, will make it through the current bottleneck. These humans will likely create a new economy that is better adapted to the Earth as it changes.”

We in the West have had the opportunity, since WW2, to live through the best of times, driven by plentiful energy and resources. Now we approach the times of reducing energy and resources, of climate breakdown, of conflict such as we already see today in Ukraine. Our mindsets need to change, and we need a whole new approach to organising the affairs of humankind on earth and its parts, one that is more aligned with the natural world.

The end of civilisations and empires is always a turbulent time, but also one replete with opportunity for renewal. The challenge to all countries and individuals is to ride the waves and emerge in a better place the other side…

But dare any politician say such a thing and get elected?

Featured image of storm clouds by FotoSleuth, via Wikimedia Commons

1965 Berlin

On our chess tour of Czechoslovakia and Russia we crossed the iron curtain between West and East Germany. On the way out there was minor drama, when the easy-going West German border guards had taken the original of a key document listing the 24 members of our party, leaving only a photocopy for the dour  East German guards. They were not happy, but ultimately let us through. It was all a bit of a drama for me, as a totally inexperienced tour leader. Fortunately, we were subsequently in the safe hands of the Eastern student organisation that was running the trip for us.

On the return journey, we went through then-divided Berlin. After a long rail journey across Poland, we arrived in Berlin early evening, and hastily dismounted onto the platform. We soon realised that something was wrong. The station was deserted. A couple of us went seeking help, and found ourselves emerging into totally darkened streets. The light dawned – we were in East Berlin and the train had gone! Back in the deserted station, we saw that there was another train due to go to West Berlin in a few minutes time. We embarked onto this one and soon arrived in West Berlin, without further trouble, other than checking of documents. Was it really that easy to cross the curtain?

West Berlin was a huge contrast – lively, brightly lit, people going about their business as in other European cities – a graphic illustration of the difference between lives on the two sides of the curtain. Of course, many in the East wished to escape to the West. As we saw the next day, the Berlin Wall was massive and surmounted with barbed wire, before the no man’s land where would-be escapees were regularly shot.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, manifestation of the thawing of the hearts of men and women. Thank God for that, and what joy was in our hearts at that time. This makes it all the more tragic that Vladimir Putin now appears intent on dragging us back to those days of European division.

Featured image:  Berlin Wall from Potsdamer Platz 1965.
For the rest of the trip, see 1965 Prague, 1965 Kiev, 1965 Odessa, 1965 Moscow.

1965 Prague

The first match of our chess tour of Czechoslovakia and Russia was actually in Prague. I was struck by the similarities of Prague with Vienna, which I had had the good fortune to visit on a school trip a few years earlier. The spirit of the people seemed similar, yet more depressed. Many of the magnificent buildings bequeathed by history were in much need of repair. Prague was not thriving at this time.

During our time off we explored some of the great historic sights – the powder tower, cathedral, astronomical clock, but my main memory is of doing all this sightseeing while playing blindfold chess with friend Brian Kerr. Maybe we did not adequately attend to the magnificence around us.

Little did we know at that time, but the spirit rising that we sensed was soon to be inflamed by the Prague Spring led by Alexander Dubček‘s reforming government and then crushed by the Russian invasion in August 1968. We later learned in horror and admiration that in January 1969 Jan Palach set himself on fire in protest, in the very same Wenceslas Square we had wandered through.

The parallels with the current invasion of Ukraine are all too apparent. Russia seeks to rule by fear and compel compliance, and punishes those who will not submit.

There is an echo of an earlier religious reformer, Jan Hus, who died by burning at the stake for heresy, by order of the Catholic Church in 1415, memorialised in this statue before the Tyn church.

The cycles of history go on and on.

Featured image is from cathedral door at Prague.

1965 Moscow

The final stop of our 1965 chess tour of Czechoslovakia and Russia was Moscow, then capital of world chess. Of course, we lost the matches, as we were each playing against significantly stronger players. But what stays in memory is the impressions of the then-capital of a mighty empire – the USSR.

1965 GUM

The people seemed drab and depressed, compared to Western Europe, and compared to Ukraine (see previous posts 1965 Kiev and 1965 Odessa). The GUM department store had queues and empty shelves; the system did not appear to be working well for people here at the centre.

This suggested to me that the USSR was not a great success for its own peoples. It had clearly not recovered from WW2 as well as the West, and the people had not correspondingly benefited. Why would Russians wish to go back to those supposedly glorious days through the current ventures in Ukraine and other parts of the Russian border?

Paradoxically, there was also evidence of good organisation, modern technology and buildings suggesting a glorious history.

Worker and collective farmer

All this intermingled with drab buildings and worthy statues to the glory of the working man, rather strange to Western eyes. This was, after all, supposedly a communist state.

So I have very mixed impressions of Moscow at that time, a period when nuclear war between USA and USSR was only narrowly averted – times of peril that the Putin regime seems determined to go back to.

Tsar bell

My only other photograph from that visit was this one of the huge Tsar Bell, considered to be the largest bell in the world. The bell was cast in the 1700s but never struck for real, because a fire caused a bit to split off before it could be hoisted into position to ring. That somehow seems to sum up Russia.

Fleeing Ukrainians – why does it never stop?

Jane Fritz gives insight into the history behind Ukraine’s current suffering, with some superb Chagall paintings included.

Robby Robin's Journey

When we think of paintings by the famous French painter Mark Chagall (actually Russian-French), we typically think of his dreamlike themes and brilliant use of colour.  Always imaginative.  Often free-floating.

But he also painted powerful paintings that didn’t dance and weren’t dreamlike.  Powerful, yes, but free-floating, no.  One such powerful painting has been posted many times on social media recently, and appropriately so.  It’s entitled La Famille Ukrainienne.  The Ukrainian Family.

UkrainianFamily

Only, of course, Chagall didn’t paint this work of art in the past 6 weeks, since the Russians invaded Ukraine and started unleashing such devastation, brutality, and death.  He painted it sometime between 1940 and 1943, when Ukrainians were fleeing the war and destruction brought about by another Russian, Stalin’s “Great Terror”.  It is uncanny – and heartbreaking – to realize that this scene could just as easily be depicting what is going on right now, 80 years…

View original post 259 more words

Psychological disorders, power and the future of humanity

Steve Taylor has written a great post in Psychology Today on The Danger of Dark Triad Leaders: The link between psychological disorders and power. So what are dark triad leaders? Steve explains:

While some psychologists like to think in terms of specific disorders like psychopathy and narcissistic personality disorder, I prefer — like many psychologists nowadays — to think in terms of a “dark triad” of three personality traits that appear together: psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism. This makes sense because these traits almost always overlap and are difficult to distinguish from one another.

Dark triad personalities crave power and find powerful positions easy to attain, because of their ruthlessness and manipulative skills. Since they lack empathy and conscience, they have no qualms against deceiving and exploiting other people in their rise to the top. Since they are often charismatic and charming, they often gain the support of ordinary people, who are impressed by their apparent confidence and decisiveness.

Sounds familiar? This psychological abnormality attracts to itself others of similar mindset, forming a pathocracy:

Of course, such leaders don’t work alone. Once dark triad leaders gain power, moral and responsible people rapidly fall away, and other dark triad personalities collect around them. The government quickly becomes what the Polish psychologist Andrew Lobaczewski referred to as a “pathocracy” — a government made of individuals with personality disorders.

The history of the last 200 years shows too many examples of such pathocracies across the world; there are many today, with Putin’s Russia currently the most evident. There is an urgent need for the world to work out how to manage human affairs without such individuals and pathocracies gaining further hold. They bring out the worst in humanity, such as what is now happening in Ukraine. There will be little prospect for humanity for many thousands of years if one of these dysfunctonal cabals unleashes nuclear or biological terror across the world.

Photo of Himmler, Hitler et al: Newsweek

1965 Odessa

Another tragic atrocity is apparently beginning with Putin’s recent first shelling of Odesa, third city of Ukraine. I spent a couple of days there during our chess tour of Czechoslovakia and Russia in 1965, when the Russian name Odessa was used.

At the time this Black Sea resort was a playground for the upper echelons of then-communist Russian society. I’d never seen so many overfed people before we went on that beach.

The harbour at Odessa is linked to the city by the Potempkin Steps, created in 1841 and made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin.

Potempkin steps

Look down the steps at the port, and you can see why this city might be regarded as strategically important.

I recall that this was an attractive city to walk around, all now at risk to Putin’s cowardly cruise missiles.

Opera House

These four photographs are the only ones I have from that trip. Such insanity that one man and his cabal could apparently be on track to destroy all this. For what? Some illusion of Russian greatness, a phantasm of Putin’s imagination? There is nothing great about destroying the work and life of millions.

Reflections on Knutsford Heath

The heavy rains of recent week gave the opportunity for unusual photographs on Knutsford Heath. Normally it’s just green grass.

In the background to the right, behind the woman in red, is the Longview Hotel, now closed down. It was in this hotel that the white-suited journalist Martin Bell initially stayed during the election campaign of 1997. Running on an anti-corruption campaign with cross-party (and my) support, Bell displaced the previous sitting MP Neil Hamilton. Hamilton famously confronted Bell on the heath at the time, in what became known as the Battle of Knutsford Heath (see video). It’s difficult to believe that was now 25 years ago.

Also relevant to the theme of this blog, the Longview was where, in 1993, we hosted Lord David Ennals, once UK Secretary of State for Social Services, when he came to give the first of the Knutsford Lecture series of ‘Visions of a New Renaissance’, under his title ‘Practical Non-violence’. The gracious elder statesman gave us insight into the the resolution of then-world conflicts, including those in former Yugoslavia and Georgia. Le plus ça change…

Megalomaniac and lost soul?

One could argue that my posts about Iain McGilchrist’s books (see eg The Matter With Things) and the problem of today’s left brain dominance are of mere academic interest, or to do with the long term environmental threat. Yet suddenly it is upon us, threatening the world we know, live and love, in the form of Vladimir Putin. Putin is one of many leaders who exhibit a pathologically extreme form of left brain domination, where left brain rationality and abstract ideas override any consideration of the people and environment involved, whether in Russia, in Ukraine, or in the rest of the world. There is a lack of connection with reality – the death, destruction and psychological trauma being inflicted on millions of people. Only a person who has lost touch with the real lived world and their own moral sense could do such a thing. Putin has literally decided that the map is more important than the territory.

I’m not sure if this recognition helps us much in dealing with the inhuman threat represented by Putin, but it is useful to see where this person is coming from. There is only abstract rationality without compassion or recognition of common humanity, let alone community with nature. It is evident from clips in the media that he rules by fear, also evident from his threats to the rest of the world.

Can we have compassion for a lost soul, when he threatens us all?

1965 Kiev

Today’s Russian assault on Ukraine and its capital Kyiv brings to mind my one experience of visiting that city, in 1965. The city was then behind the Iron Curtain, part of the USSR, and had its Russian name, Kiev. The featured image is the one photograph I took at that time in Kiev, showing the River Dnieper flowing through the city – the fourth largest river in Europe.

This visit was part of a combined Oxford/Cambridge Universities chess tour, venturing behind the Iron Curtain, because that was where the strongest chess players then were.

After interesting encounters with friendly West German and dour East German border guards, we began our tour in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and were quite surprised to find that city reasonably free and spirited, a bit like a rather subdued Vienna.

We then moved on to Ukraine, its capital Kiev and the Black Sea resort of Odessa. Differences from Western Europe were more marked. We were still clearly in Eastern Europe, but the lively spirit was a bit more subdued, and material conditions much worse. I was pursued half way across the city in an attempt to persuade me to sell my pursuer a ballpoint pen!

Finally, we arrived in Moscow, where the best chessplayers were. This no longer seemed like Europe. The people seemed drab and depressed, and there were empty shelves and queues in the shops. Despite some beautiful buildings, this seemed a more fearful place, the capital of an unhappy empire.

Just 3 years later, 1968, I was delighted to see the emergence of the Prague Spring, when Alexander Dubcek led in establishing more liberal reforms. This seemed to correspond with that feeling I’d had in Prague in 1965 – its seemed natural for Prague to be more aligned with its sister Vienna. Then I recall the Soviet tanks rolling in to Prague to crush the reform movement. How terrible to see that beautiful city of spirit crushed by the Soviets. After that, Czechoslovakia remained controlled by the Soviet Union until 1989, when the Velvet Revolution peacefully ended the communist regime, around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall – a time when anything seemed possible.

Although a founding member of the USSR in 1922, Ukraine regained its independence in 1991 following the dissolution of the USSR. In 1995 Kyiv became an authorised spelling of the capital’s name, and was strongly adopted recently because of the associations of ‘Kiev’ with Russia. Now, it seems, that Ukraine is suffering a similar event to that crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, 54 years later. For reasons unclear to us in the West, Mr Putin seems to have decided that he will not allow Ukraine to continue its path of alignment with the more liberal Western Europe – it must again be forced under Russian control, in an apparent attempt to restore the supposed glories of that USSR.

We weep for them, and the unnecessary and untold miseries that will ensue.

Trauma and the body

In the early 1980s I read the then-popular book Bodymind by Ken Dychtwald, on how the psychological/emotional effect of events in our lives are reflected in the body, and increasing body awareness can help in addressing the residue of these. It all made sense.

Science, and particularly neuroscience, has move a long way since those days, so it was interesting to come back to this scene with Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score – the title says it all. The subtitle gives the particular focus of the book: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma.

Over the years I’ve been involved in various ways with counselling and had an interest in the talking therapies, but it has been evident that there are problems that these simply cannot reach, trauma being a major one of these. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk has specialised in helping people with trauma over a long career, and it is fascinating to see his perspective on it, and how the professional view has evolved over that time.

I do recall from my own experiences growing up, that various uncles who had served in World War II never talked about their experiences – whether in Burma, or as a prisoner of war in Germany, or in active combat. It was in the box of their past, and they just did not want to open up that box. I suspect that each had his own trauma that was just too difficult to resolve in any conscious way.

It was the traumas of war that were first recognised in USA in 1980, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. PTSD was then first described as a condition in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) of the American Psychiatric Association. Van der Kolk gives insight into the fight there has been since then to introduce into the DSM more general traumas that come out of lived experience due to domestic/child abuse, physical circumstances such as poverty, neglect, working conditions, hunger, racism, oppression by unfair policing and so on. This has proved very difficult. Might one suggest that those in power might not wish it to be recognised that the conditions they were imposing on members of society are actually causing traumatic injury to those in their ‘care’.

Even so, there has been great progress in the understanding and treatment of trauma, and the book outlines many approaches that have proved helpful, and the underpinning advances in neuroscience. It is impossible to summarise the wise words and stories emerging in these pages – engaging psyche, emotions and the body with techniques, therapies bodywork etc. Of course, drugs may help, but they are not the ultimate answer.

Van der Kolk is a great storyteller, so the material is fully engaging. We can all learn a lot, even in dealing with the minor ‘traumas’ of everyday life. Even more, we can see how the generation of trauma is built in to some of our governmental and social systems. He ends the book with this statement:

Trauma is now our most urgent public health issue, and we have the knowledge necessary to respond effectively. The choice is ours to act on what we know.

Well worth reading.

Fundamentalism

My post Modes of knowing highlighted that we have two modes of knowing: rationality, corresponding to left brain function; and intuition, corresponding to right brain function. The human being operates at best when these two modes of knowing operate in tandem, and there is great danger when the rational/left brain function takes over and ignores or denies the right brain/intuition. This is the root cause of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism appears in many guises in the modern world.

  • Religious fundamentalism. We all know about that. The word in the holy books is taken as a statement of fact, rather than as metaphor. We see these fundamentalists all over the world – Islamic Christian, Hindhu, Buddhist… The effect is to deny the basic truths that were initially espoused by the founding spiritual teachers – Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha…
  • Political fundamentalism. The dedication to a particular ideology, which is often the cover for a privileged class, even an individual, to stay in control of society.
  • Economic fundamentalism. The dedication to particular ideas about how an economy is run, such as that private is always good, public spending is always bad, of many modern right wingers – or indeed the very opposite from many modern left wingers.
  • Scientific materialist fundamentalism. The belief that objective science and the materialist paradigm can explain everything, and that subjective life – religion/spirituality, morality, values etc – are somehow unimportant as without foundation.

I’m sure you could add further examples. Yes, fundamentalism abounds wherever there is human thought and endeavour – particularly, I would suggest, in these days of significant left-brain domination. The task of human development is, as ever, to tread the path between the extremes that lead to fundamentalism, to respond to life with the full subjectivity of those very subjective values that fundamentalism is inherently unable to take into consideration. To be human beings, not the machines that various fundamentalisms would seek to turn us into.

Inspired by Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter with Things.
Featured image by Stiller Beobachter from Ansbach, Germany, via Wikimedia Commons

That was 2021 on this blog

My favourite photos from posts of 2021

These were the individual posts, if you’re interested: Towards Tywyn, Sun going down at West Kirby, Sunset at Barmouth, Chinon, Black pine canopy, Common gallinule

My favourite wordy posts of 2021

Most viewed (2021)

As ever, the most viewed probably depends on the vagaries of search engines and my choice of keywords. The top two were the same as in 2020!

Most liked (5 years)

At least the top entry suggests that this exercise is worthwhile.

A happy new year to you all!

A systems problem

Global warming and climate change are symptoms of a systems problem in the organisation human affairs. At a gross level we could characterise the system as having four key elements: sovereign nation states, a fairly ineffectual United Nations, the global capitalist system, and the mass body of modern science and technology.

The scale of system change required is massive and fundamental. It is unlikely to be achieved top-down. It requires change in all these areas.

COP26 set some directions and targets, but not really adequate to address the need. But well done to those involved. What is clear is that the current rich and powerful form a huge brake that resists and will resist the changes needed.

So hang on to your seats. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. But the thing about nature is (and we are part of nature) it does evolve, in an intelligent manner, at all levels, from the smallest components of life. Some form of humanity will emerge in some form of synergistic relationship with nature.

What we don’t know is just how bumpy the ride might get, and just how long it might take. It’ll always be true that for each of us it’s the living right here, right now, that matters, and doing the right thing.

Featured image of hurricane from free photo library.

The gathering

They came together
to keep alive
the Lady One Point Five.

Predetermined positions,
little room for manoeuvre,
they did what they could.

Who called the shots –
the men at home,
for they were mostly men.

Left brain, logical arguments,
a final text, the lady betrayed
behind weasel words.

It was not time, they said.
Not an emergency.
God make us chaste, but not yet.

Back home, in the dark,
unwitnessed, they ravaged her
and her secret places.

She was there on a catafalque when
the waves washed over the island
one last time, it was no more.

She was there on a bier when
the fire destroyed a major city
and many inhabitants, it was no more.

She tended the wounded as
the Global Resource Wars raged,
a billion refugees cried in vain.

She was there and wept when
the Great Plague swept away
half the world’s population.

She flew with the last Monarch
on its long migration,
and expired with the last Orang.

And that was before
they gathered again, to keep alive
The Lady Two Point Five.

In memory of COP26, Glasgow 2021.

Featured image is a mid-19C reconstruction of Alexander the Great’s catafalque, via Wikimedia Commons.

Pathocracy, psychopathy and narcissism

In a fascinating article in Psychology Today on The problem of pathocracy, Steve Taylor reflects on the concept of pathocracy – which was defined by Andrzej Lobaczewski after observing Stalin’s government in Russia.

“pathocracy is a system of government ‘wherein a small pathological minority takes control over a society of normal people’… the transition to pathocracy begins when a disordered individual emerges as a leader figure. While some members of the ruling class are appalled by the brutality and irresponsibility of the leader and his acolytes, his disordered personality appeals to some psychologically normal individuals. They find him charismatic. His impulsiveness is mistaken for decisiveness; his narcissism for confidence; his recklessness for fearlessness.

Soon other people with psychopathic traits emerge and attach themselves to the pathocracy, sensing the opportunity to gain power and influence. At the same time, responsible and moral people gradually leave the government, either resigning or being ruthlessly ejected. In an inevitable process, soon the entire government is filled with people with a pathological lack of empathy and conscience. It has been infiltrated by members of the minority of people with personality disorders, who assume power over the majority of psychologically normal people… Soon the pathology of the government spreads amongst the general population… an epidemic of psychopathology in people who are not, essentially, psychopathic.”

Look at countries around the world and we see many plausible examples. Steve goes on

“there is a good deal of evidence that people with psychopathic and narcissistic traits (or people who are just ruthless and lacking in empathy and conscience)… are attracted to high status positions… ‘like moths to a flame’.”

Steve quotes evidence that suggests around 1% of the population have these traits, whereas 12% of corporate senior managers have them. My own personal observations during a period working in a large company would seem to confirm this. Interestingly, Machiavellian has been observed by psychologists as the third of a ‘dark triad’ of traits which are closely associated.

The real question Steve raises is how do societies and organisations protect themselves against these people, indeed how do democracies prevent themselves from being undermined by them. Lacking empathy, these people do not see the point of democracy; life is seen as a power struggle. This is of course reflected in the current dominant trends of thought in modern right wing Republicanism in US and Conservatism in UK.

There are no easy answers, and psychological vetting of candidates for power is unlikely to become ubiquitous. But, if we observe and ask the questions, that is progress in itself. The majority must protect itself against these pathologies. The quote attributed to Edmund Burke comes to mind:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”

Picture of Mao, Bulganin, Stalin, Ulbricht etc Moscow 1949, via Wikimedia Commons.

Covid-19 in England and France

Having recently spent a few weeks in France, I can confidently say that the experience of life is currently very different from that in England. This is simply because the way that the covid-19 pandemic is being managed differently in the two countries.

France was easy to visit in September, all that was required was to demonstrate double-vaccinated status using the NHS app. To return to England we had to take two covid tests, one in France and one in England (now it is just the one in England) – despite the fact that the French covid statistics were much lower than the UK rate. So English measures are apparently more strict, but actually less effective.

While in France we never felt in great danger from covid-19, simply because mask wearing is widespread, and public spaces such as restaurants require either proof of double vaccination (the NHS app is accepted) or proof of a recent covid test. It became apparent that this is policed by the restaurants themselves, as we witnessed the exclusion of someone whose test had expired just a couple of hours before.

Returning to England, we were shocked by the low level of mask wearing and lack of social distancing in public after ‘freedom day’, particularly at large social events where no vaccine passport is required. For the clinically vulnerable and the elderly, this has now created a two-tier society where these groups are effectively excluded from many forms of social discourse. 

The current daily rate of new cases is now below 5000 in France and over 40000 in England, which does suggest that the French ‘control’ approach is keeping the virus under much better control than the English ‘hands off’ approach.

Of course, the French approach is not universally approved of in France, particularly by the large population of French anti-vaxxers – but it works. The English approach is or course applauded by that constitutuency that objects to receiving any instruction from the state, even if it is for the general good – but it seems not to be working.

I know which approach I prefer.

Incredulous, amused, bonkers, sad, insecure

We finally made it to France, for the first time in 2 years because of covid. When talking to our European friends, their view of Brexit is pretty well unanimous, as indeed it was two years ago. They cannot understand why UK chose to leave the EU, why we would choose to erect borders, checks and tariffs, when previously there was free flow of trade with our main trading partner, why we would choose to make it difficult to take our pets on holiday, why we would choose to lose freedom of movement across the whole continent, why we would choose to make it difficult for Europeans, even spouses of Brits, to come to UK, why we would choose to risk a resurgence of the troubles in Northern Ireland by leaving the customs union. Why did you do this self harm?

This incredulity is supplemented by amusement at the antics of the Johnson government in trying to justify its extreme interpretation of the Brexit vote, which did not itself mandate all these unfortunate results.

Personally I have seen just one possible benefit of Brexit – leaving the Common Agricultural Policy, which has over decades decimated European wildlife, as we have observed on our travels. That policy is in great need of reform. Other than that, all we Brits have ‘gained’ is a lot more bureaucracy, expense and restrictions on our lives, compounded of course by an insistently different approach to covid.

Basically, our European friends think that Little England has gone bonkers and is taking the UK Union with it. It is difficult to disagree.

They are also sad that we, who they regard as friends, have left. We and they feel a little more insecure in these troubled global times, when we Europeans need to stick together.

Featured image is based on that at forexop.com