The Chalice and the Blade

This Christmas I got lucky, as on my list of possible presents was the book by Riane Eisler The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. I’d seen references to this memorable title and author name in many other works. First published in 1987, this has been a hugely influential book. So what was all the fuss about?

I soon got stuck in and became entranced by a story of human development. It begins in Old Europe maybe 10000 years ago, a land of peace and plenty, well organised, with advanced technologies of the day. All people were equal, creativity and arts flourished, and peace reigned. The feminine was ‘worshipped’ as the source of new life. There was plenty for all. It was a veritable Garden of Eden, the source of the myth in the bible.

The residents were what we might call pastoralists, but around the edges of Old Europe were the nomads who move around from place to place. In hard times, perhaps climate change, they could not resist invading the land of peace. These people were shaped by hardship and became increasingly masculine and warlike. Women were secondary. When they took over an area with violence these people eventualy settled and were influenced themselves to adopt more peaceful ways.

Successive waves of invaders led, over the years to periods of war and hardship, followed by periods of peace and creativity as the invaders were absorbed. In the warlike years the masculine dominated; in the peaceful years the pendulum swang the other way and culture flourished. But the ‘equal’ civilisation of Old Europe effectively died out when Minoan Crete (‘Atlantis’) was destroyed by natural disaster (the flood) around 1400BC.

The undercurrent of the feminine always remained, underneath the masculine domination. Jesus Christ himself, and other prophets before him, came in warlike times and preached the other way. In the end, the mighty Roman Empire adopted Christianity and masculinised the religion, treating the true texts of old, such as the gnostic gospels, as heresies.

If you travel through Europe today, you see visual evidence of this process. So many towns, villages, bastides, fortresses, castles build on high land that can more easily be defended from invaders.

This lens represented by the symbols of the chalice and the blade helps us to understand our history and these two aspects of humanity. Throughout her book, Riane Eisler refers us to all the latest archeological research (at that time), giving convincing evidence.

The story is compelling, and we find ourselves still in masculine-dominated times, where the established order uses ‘culture wars’ to try to maintain this dominance, while invaders from the East again threaten a Europe that has been at peace since the last great war.

How the story will play out is anybody’s guess. But the essential challenge to each of us individually is clear – to reinstate the chalice on a par with the blade in our own lives.

The current paperback includes an epilogue where Eisler comments on developments over the last 30 years since the original publication. Eisler uses the example of the demise of the Soviet Union under Mikhael Gorbachov and the subsequent reinstatement of the old regime under Vladimir Putin to illustrate the struggle that is going on in the world. A key insight is that the various fundamentalisms at work today, both religious and political, and the related populisms, are all evidence of the dominant ‘masculine dominated’ ideology trying to maintain its control. Our desperate need today is to move from this ‘dominator’ mindset to one of ‘partnership’. If we cannot achieve this the dominator mindset appears to be impelling us to destruction.

The consonance of Eisler’s ideas with Iain McGilchrist’s much later Left Brain/Right Brain analysis in The Matter With Things is notable. The right brain of oneness and partnership has been usurped by the dominant left brain of rationality.

The Chalice and the Blade remains an important contribution to understanding where we are today. Do read it.

Featured image is of Ardagh Chalice in the National Museum of Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons

Altrincham Market and Public Toilets

During my childhood there were always public toilets available. It was part of the civilisation we inherited from Victorian times. In the two-mile walk or cycle ride from home to the centre of Lincoln, I still vividly recall the public toilets at the South Common, in the Park, at Gowt’s Bridge, in the station, the market, and by the High Bridge in town. There was always a toilet handy in case of need. Of course, there were few cafes with private facilities in those days, so public provision was essential. But it has to be saiid that, by the 1950s, the loos were often rather smelly places.

Since then it has been downhill all the way. Public provision of toilets has not been a priority, and free public loos have gradually disappeared, some replaced by limited automated paying facilities.The rise of cafes and bars mean that there are many more private facilities available to those who can pay for a drink.

How refreshing then to find these old loos still open at Altrincham Market (Altrincham was given a Royal Charter for a market by Edward 1 in 1290.) Separate Gents and Ladies facilities are down steps each side of the entryway – clean, hot water in the taps, working hand driers, all spotlessly maintained. Better than the old days!

Altrincham Market House itself is a rather fine regeneration project, repurposing the old covered market as a community facility with small retail outlets, with the still-thriving open air market alongside. As the publicity blurb says:

One beautiful listed building; part restaurant, part market, part town square. Eat, meet, drink, shop, watch, talk, listen, laugh. Come in, be yourself and if you like it bring your friends!

All very civilised!

Be The Change…

I went into Manchester the other day, on the Metrolink, while the car was being serviced. Now Manchester is certainly not the most beautiful city in the world. It was a leader in the industrial revolution, and there is an air of functionality about the place, although the Victorians did put up quite a few beautiful buildings.

There is much modern development going on, so I kept losing my way as I went in search of Manchester Cathedral, although I was once quite familiar with the central area of the city. Eventually I found it. The thing is, the cathedral is usually quite easy to find in most cathedral cities, but here it is hidden away, dwarfed by its surroundings. Here is a photograph of the cathedral, with a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the foreground.

This is a bit of a cheat, as I applied perspective correction to the original wide angle shot from my phone (see featured image). With so many tall buildings around, it is difficult to get a complete framing from street level without using a wide angle lens.

The cathedral is not the grandest building in Manchester, which is probably the Town Hall, larger and more impressive. Manchester’s priorities are clear.

The Gandhi statue was put up in 2019, in memory of the 150th anniversary of the birthday of this great man of peace. A plaque includes the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

An important reminder to each of us. If we want a world of love and peace we have to create it day by day, acting ‘as if’, and it shall happen… But maybe not in our own lifetime

People of the Lie 2

“…the uncanny game of hide and seek in the obscurity of the soul, in which it, the single human soul, evades itself, avoids itself, hides from itself.”

Martin Buber

Recent direct encounter with evil has led me to republish this post, first published in 2017, with minor changes. The problem of evil and people of the lie is ever present in human societies, and we need to be aware of it. The original post was essentially a short review of psychotherapist M.Scott Peck’s book People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil, published 1983, which I read many years ago now.

Peck’s book is actually about the psychology of evil. He gives a useful definition of evil:

  • Evil is that which kills or suppresses life or the life force.
  • Goodness is its opposite – that which promotes life and liveliness.

There is an element of such evil in all of us, but what matters is how we respond and evolve. If we invoke the mask of self righteousness, a self-image of perfection, and are not open to the evil that might be within then we deceive ourselves – the biggest lie.

I picked out three major characteristics which give warning signs of evil:

  • refusal to face the evil within, denial of one’s own guilt, often means projecting onto others and scapegoating or gaslighting.
  • an extreme narcissism, termed malignant narcissism by Erich Fromm.
  • a strong will to control others, leading to manipulative behaviours, demanding loyalty,…

Remind you of anyone?

Interestingly, Peck suggests that the most evil people are not found in prisons – these are mild cases compared to the ‘professionals’ around in society itself.

The most typical victim of evil is a child, thus evil can be conditioned onto the next generation. One task of education should be to raise the level of self awareness to provide a societal counter to this. Another victim would be the relative innocent who is not sufficiently aware of their own intuition and their manipulation by others.

In other terms, evil is driven by the rational ego and lack of empathy, left brain dominating over right brain, masculine over feminine.

Evil is real and anti-life. It can be conquered by confrontation, loving compassion, acceptance and growth. Paradoxically, evil can in some cases be the spur to psychological and even spiritual growth in its victims.

In the case of apparently entirely evil persons, they need to be opposed and confronted by the good – the strong will opposed by the good will, with love at its side.

Techno-fog

The other day I spent half an hour working out how to connect my WiFi repeater into the home mesh. Why? I got an email saying that the mesh was not fully operational and had to search out the instructions on the web, after it became apparent that trial-and-error was not going to fix it. During that time I needed the password for the router, the password for the repeater and the password for my account with the provider, some of which were remembered by ‘the system,’.

Then, in a bid to save fuel, we had a British Gas Hive thermostat installed. Wonderful, we can now control the heating from a smartphone, by time, by degree, as many time slots as we want, rather than the ‘on 1, off 1, on 2, off 2’ of out previous central heating controller, which was rather venerable, it seems. Except that it stopped working after less than 24 hours, while I was fitting the thermostat to a stand. There is no manual; it’s all online or in the app. Fortunately, I find instructions on the web to reset and get it working again, and then reprogramme the heating schedule.

And the all-singing, all-dancing Norton virus checker on my laptop keeps telling me all the wonderful options it offers that I am not taking advantage of. Does it really matter? Who knows? And can I really trust Microsoft’s OneDrive to not lose a vital file or two from the cloud, when I accidentally do the ‘wrong’ thing?

All this web-connecting technology really makes a lot of things easy in modern living. Yet more and more, I find myself confronted by a mystery when something goes wrong and the answer lies beyond my limited understanding of how it all works. Because you only need to know when it goes wrong. How to fix it, where are the instructions, where are the passwords, how did you ever get it going in the first place? A search engine usually gives an answer for the technology, who knows if it is the best one?

So what happens when there’s a power cut? What happens when the web goes down? Both of which will happen sometime, especially in these uncertain times. Then it’ll be back to the temporary brain fog while I try to recall where are the instructions, how to get everything going again – assuming the power and the broadband eventually do come back. It all feels rather precarious.

All this angst, and I have always been interested in, and involved in tech. What about those who aren’t, and those whose memories are fading with age?

Are we making a world that is just too complicated and vulnerable? But maybe that’s my age speaking. It will all come naturally to the grandchildren, assisted by so-called intelligent technology!

Modern and indigenous cultures

I commend to you Andrew’s recent post on Indigenous Knowledge: A Roadmap to Belonging Again, which gives a succinct and clear message about how the modern world has departed from the wisdom of those more closely connected to the earth.

I quote two paragraphs from his post. One is about each of us being but part of a system, a greater whole:

“The core tenet of Indigenous knowledge systems is the need to cultivate a sense of kinship with others and the environment. Relationships are the core aspect of existence. We are shaped and molded through our connections to our family, friends and place. Humans are not viewed as separate or isolated individuals but intertwined in a vast array of different living systems. Thus, we are just one component of the greater whole.”

And the second is about the need for balance and harmony:

“What Indigenous cultures understood is the importance of a developing a sense of reverence for the gifts provided by nature. Indigenous Peoples aim to maintain a sense of balance and harmony with the natural world.  Natural resources and other species are not to be exploited but respected and carefully preserved… The goal is to establish a healthy and reciprocal relationship between us humans and the world around us.”

Yes, there’s a danger in viewing ‘the past’ as some sort of idyll, and by comparison denigrating modernity. Each era has its positives. And yet we have moved so far from that interconnection, way too far, and the natural world is paying back our negligence in its many ‘environmental’ crises, which are really crises of our own collective psyche.

Featured image of Amazon rainforest on the Urubu river, Amazonas State, Brazil.
By Andre Deak, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Elizabethan TV Age

My early childhood in the postwar years was in audio. We listened to the radio or read the newspapers for entertainment and news. The visual age began in 1953. I can date it precisely because that’s when, like many others in Britain, we got our first television set, to see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. To my childhood eyes, the coronation only came second for excitement to the preceding Stanley Matthews Cup Final, on 2nd May when Blackpool thrillingly came from behind to beat Bolton 4-3 thanks to Stanley’s magical dribbling and Stan Mortensen’s hattrick.

The coronation on June 2nd was the only occasion I can remember my grandma coming over to our house from the nearby village where she lived – her induction into the television age. I remember the stunning opulence of the occasion on that small black-and-white screen, and the sonorous tones of Richard Dimbleby’s commentary, which set the benchmark for the BBC forever more. After the main event we walked into the centre of Lincoln along by the River Witham. At the Brayford pool I remember all the boats bedecked with celebratory flags.

After that, the TV became the focus for national events but otherwise life continued much as before, but with the added promise of new technologies. The second Elizabethan age had begun.

Most of my experience of Queen Elizabeth II was via the TV, but I did physically see her twice, once at a Royal Tournament on a school trip, and more memorably in 1957 when she was driven round Lincoln City’s football ground at Sincil Bank, packed with all the city’s schoolchildren. I was 12. It was quite exciting seeing the queen. Perhaps it’s significant that I remember her dressed as a princess, when the reality is revealed by the website of Lincolnshire Live (featured image) – she circled the playing area in a Landrover with Prince Philip on a rainy day. Funny thing, memory. 

Now, I am naturally inclined to be republican, as opposed to royalist. Elizabeth was around for most of my life and was clearly dedicated to doing her duty, but also to retaining the privileged position of ‘the firm’. She was probably the best monarch one could have wished for, and only put a few feet wrong, many of which were related to Princess Diana. But was all that killing of dumb animals for sport really necessary, setting the aspiration for generations of well-off wannabees. And did she really need all those palaces, riches and hangers-on – setting the example for the rich and powerful all over the world.

So it’s a mixed legacy, as it is for all of us. She’s part of our mental furniture, so it is taking a while getting used to “God Save the King”.

It really is a new age, dominated by the internet, smartphones, streaming, podcasts… rather than the TV. My grandma, a life lived in a rural village, would be a fish out of water.

We just have to make the best of it, and hope that King Charles III and the current alarming Conservative government do not damage the country too much along the way.

At Mission San José

Mission San José in San Antonio was founded in 1720, one of five mission communities formed along the San Antonio River at the northern frontier of New Spain, a territory of the Spanish Empire. These Spanish colonial missions aimed to transform local ways of life by introducing Christianity, farming, and settled communities.

Living quarters for indigenous people and the odd soldier were built within the mission, against the compound walls. The church was the focal point and the missionary lived next to it. Workshops and storerooms dotted the central grounds. Outside the walls were croplands and ranches.

The land became part of Mexico in 1821 after the Mexican war of independence, then part of Texas in 1836 after the Texan war of independence, and Texas was annexed to USA in 1845.

Today the mission is much restored and provides a historic and photogenic visitor attraction. Here’s a small selection from our visit. Click to see slideshow.

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.

All neat and tidy

During the 39–45 war the houses on our road near the southern edge of Lincoln were fortunate to have a long allotment appended to the end of the back garden. In childhood I loved this shaggy space, rows of vegetables and rhubarb, fruit bushes, a deep hedge where redcurrants and brambles grew, patches of weedy long grass, waggly old apple tree to swing on, and a chicken coop, until the fox got in.

After the war the allotments continued for maybe 10 years. Then the land was sold by the Council for house building. Our outdoor space was reduced to the back garden, with lawn, fruit trees and flower garden plus surrounding privet hedge, and the front garden with rose bushes and more privet.

As I got to help out, I soon realised that the purpose of gardening was to keep these spaces neat and tidy. The privet needed regular trimming, any ‘weeds’ appearing among the flowers were hoed away, imperfect leaves were removed, lawns were regularly mowed and plantains removed.

That was until my brother and I grew older and destroyed the lawn by continually playing soccer, or football as we called it. But that’s another story.

I’m led to reflect on this as I look at today’s English suburban gardens. Sadly, the modern trend has been to destroy many front gardens to create car parking, or simply to create low-maintenance areas of gravel or tarmac, even weirdly coloured synthetic grass. All neat and tidy. And lifeless.

Back gardens have also suffered to a lesser extent. Expanses of decking or stone patios create more lifeless, tidy spaces. Weeds and insects are destroyed with toxic chemicals from the Garden Centre. All this part of man’s apparent continued assault on nature. But all neat and tidy.

Thankfully there is increasing awareness of the devastation of insect and bird populations caused by this domestic obsession, and the equal dedication to low cost neat and tidy farming, with its sterile monocultures, hedges shaved to minimal depth, lack of field margins and spaces for field-nesting birds, no wildlife corridors.

It is clear that in this respect the trend of modern life is a sustained attack on nature. Nature is not neat and tidy with sharp edges. It’s alive and messy, with shaggy edges. Biodiversity needs to be encouraged everywhere. Gardens, fields and parks must include wild space for nature. Weeds are actually plants well suited to their environment. Within limits they can be tolerated, providing a variety of sustenance for nature. Crops will not thrive on denatured monocultures for centuries. This neat and tidy obsession needs to end. Now.

Featured image is Eden Park Recreational Area, London, via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Muck or nettles

My dad often said ‘muck or nettles’, usually when he was embarked on some diy project, although the term diy did not exist in 1950s Lincoln – people just did things and couldn’t afford to get others to do it for them. I took it to mean that after this stage of the project he was committed, and could not go back. On the web you’ll find the definition ‘all or nothing’.

I can’t find a derivation, but you can imagine that for country people to get anywhere two of the most daunting obstacles might be having to wade through acres of mud or having to push your way through large banks of stinging nettles.

I had a ‘muck or nettles’ moment the other day. I’d had a large desk for many years, but was becoming frustrated by the amount of space it used up in my study, so I bought a new, smaller one. In truth I was seduced by technology (and techno son) yet again, as the new desk can be elevated and used standing.

So the desk arrives and has to be constructed in situ, but first the old desk must be removed and I don’t yet know if the new desk will construct or operate correctly – although most of the review are fine some are not. The muck or nettles moment arrives as I tip the old desk on its side and begin to unscrew the bolts holding it together. Who know if I’d be able to put it together again – the odd creak of separating pieces and apparent cracks suggests this may well prove difficult. Ah well, muck or nettles, ever onward!

It works. First, the old desktop is dragged, half carried downstairs, helped by gravity and long-suffering she who helps when he can’t do it all himself. The new desk is constructed over a couple of hours, according to complicated instructions, and works first time. All thanks to muck or nettles!

Featured image adapted from Nettles, Belfast by Albert Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

Obstacles

A great reminder from Walden on seeing obstacles in the right way. It’s so easy to see them negatively and become stressed or discouraged. Yes we do have a choice in how we frame them. Thanks, Hdavey Thoreau.

Words from Walden

O is for Obstacles

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal” -Henry Ford-

If everyone is overcoming obstacles, the question becomes, what kind of obstacles do you want to overcome?

Obstacles that are put in our path to make us stronger. They are a whisper from the versions of ourselves saying – ‘hey, over here, keep going,this way’

Obstacles are the Universe asking ‘how bad do you want it.’

Then, purposefully setting up obstacles designed to male us stretch and grow.

Obstacles allow us to fail forward so we can determine what we want and what we don’t.

If we run into an obstacle and we decide to quit the thing we’re chasing because of the obstacles; the truth is that we didn’t really want it in the first place. Which is a great awareness to have because we can move on…

View original post 71 more words

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!

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.