The techie problem

I was a techie once, helping to produce mainframe software – probably still am in many ways. Techies understand the intricate workings of the modern world, the technology, the apps, the website mechanics… The job of techies is to produce products that help life in the real world, that society increasingly relies upon. Even WordPress is evidently powered by techies.

The problem with techies, particularly the cleverest of them, is arrogance. I remember many of them. They know their field better than almost anyone else, and do not suffer fools gladly. They know they are right. Even when they are wrong.

And that’s the problem. Their expertise is technical, and does not necessarily relate well to real life. The early software systems learnt the hard way that so-called usability is of vital importance, and that includes carrying your customers forward with you as you develop the technology. Woe betide a mainframe supplier who did not allow for his customers’ applications to continue to work when a new release of software came out.

So techies have to be well managed, by managers who understand end users and the usability of their products. They need to be reined in to ensure the result is acceptable to users.

Now, the IT revolution has meant that it is increasingly the techies who are in a position to call the shots – they head the companies. The list is too familiar – Facebook, Google, Apple, and so many more. The results of their arrogance are plain to see in the modern world: rip-offs, tax avoidance and undermining of governments and established businesses on a grand scale, but without apparent ethical compass. Far too much to cover in a quick blog post.

Which brings me back to WordPress and the case of the block editor. This editor is clearly a wonderful techie solution for those who wish to use the WordPress platform to do really clever things. Who could argue with that? The ony problem is that the arrogant techies decided that this should be forced upon the simple wordpress.com blogger who has no interest in this advanced functionality (why make blogging more difficult?).

Simple common sense says that the blogger should continue to see the simple classic editor presentation, so long as that satisfies the functionality he needs. If something can only be done with blocks, then blocks should be switchable on. WordPress management has failed to rein in the techies, with the result that they are losing bloggers, even the dogs.

Perhaps they just don’t care, another strong techie attribute!

Politics as my Footnote

In this reblogged post, Matt Tevebaugh expresses clearly something many of us have thought. The values of what I would call the ‘celebrity culture’ are what led to the election of a president like Donald Trump, the ultimate empty ‘celebrity’.
The politicians we elect reflect our values. What does this say about the Western world, and particularly US and UK? Too many have lost or ignored their depth of soul and meaning, and settled for the surface attraction of the celebrity culture and the sports star. When we regain some depth, we will elect politicians of genuine depth and substance.
Great post by Matt:

Matt's Notes

We are in the middle of a contentious election. And that is perhaps an understatement. There’s lots of opinions flying around, and even some violent displays of opinions. So this is a serious conversation. I don’t want to come off like I am taking the reality lightly. But I am doing my best to treat politics as a footnote for myself and other people.

I realize that statement can come across as a lot of things. Blind. Ignorant. Perhaps demeaning and even racist. It’s perhaps easy to say I am going to reducing a system that is oppressing people to a footnote because I am not part of the group being oppressed. But let me explain a little further.

My hope for the future does not rest in politics. Whether he actually said it or not, Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying some version of the phrase “We can’t…

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Give us back the dark

I am about 8 years old. We are walking through the partly built-up area between North Hykeham village and the edge of Lincoln. It is pitch dark, apart from regular pools of light beneath the gas-powered street lamps. I am astounded and inspired by the beauty of the heavens, as my dad points out some of the constellations – the Plough, Orion, the Pleiades… – and the Milky Way.

This was the inspiring experience of all our ancestors, yet within a couple of generations it has become a much less common experience for today’s children, because of light pollution. You just cannot see the sky with the same intensity, if at all, from most inhabited areas. We are losing contact with the heavens, and hence the sense of our place in the universe.

Light pollution is one of the scourges of our time see eg this excellent article by National Geographic, the Wikipedia entry, and the dark sky movement. Here are just some of the ways in which increasing light pollution is detrimental to (our) life on earth:

  • harming animals whose life cycles depend on dark
  • endangering ourselves by altering the biochemical rhythms that normally ebb and flow with natural light levels
  • losing our connection to the nighttime skies, the tapestries into which our ancestors wove their stories of meaning, timed the planting and harvesting of crops, and deduced the physical laws governing the cosmos
  • thus losing our connection with the Earth itself
  • artificial lighting of buildings kills migrating birds in their thousands
  • nighttime lights suppress fertility in wild animals, affect their sense of direction, disrupt their natural rhythms, affect the ability of moths and other insects to navigate, with knock-on effects on bird populations
  • studies show that light pollution increases atmospheric pollution.

All this is pretty well known science, and many local authorities have responded over the years. I well recall that in the 1980s there was tremendous publicity about the scattering of light around and upwards by street lights at the time. But increasing awareness and improved technology have led, over the decades, to today’s more sophisticated lighting which casts light downward, giving an effect more like the local pools of light I recall from childhood.

But recently the ubiquity of cheap lighting has led, at least in our area of UK, to a new source of this pollution: individual households putting up relatively bright lights on the walls of their houses or the end of their drives, and leaving them on all hours of the night, others leaving outside Christmas lights on for months on end.

This is totally unnecessary, as modern movement sensors ensure that lights are only on when needed – surely the only sensible approach. What is it about people who press on regardless, because they ‘like their house lit up’, or feel they need their driveway under permanent illumination? “It’s a free country, I’ll do what I like.” It seems like ignorance and lack of empathic connection with nature and other people, with perhaps an underlying fear of the dark. Could this relate to a fear of the inner darkness perceived within themselves, because the inner world is an unknown land? The outer reflects the inner.

The dark is necessary for our sanity, as well as for nature.

Featured image is from the website of Dark Sky Association.

Irredeemable?

Kerry McAvoy has written an interesting post on evil What Evil People Have Taught Me, which came to my attention because she referred to my earlier post on People of the Lie. She poses an interesting question, can evil people be ‘saved’ or redeemed, and suggests that this may not be possible.

To recap, my post 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.

an extreme narcissism, termed malignant narcissism by Erich Fromm.

a strong will to control others, leading to manipulative behaviours, demanding loyalty,…

We tend to think that all people with evil characteristics can be redeemed, a speciality of Christianity. But what if the characteristics are so strongly built in that they are effectively caught in a world of their own, surrounded by the courtiers willing to go along with them? Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Napoleon come to mind.

As Kerry suggests, we can face them with the truth:

Our defense against such people is to stand firm in our convictions. To refuse to bow and tremble in fear. Truth is our best weapon.

Reality is the other corrective. Such as when a UK cabinet minister was sent to prison for his misdeeds and emerged from the experience a changed man, redeemed. Redemption has to be a possibility, but is difficult to envisage in cases such as Hitler and Napoleon. It would seem that there are degrees of evil.

Any thoughts on redemption?

Fake. News.

Here’s an excellent post from Older Eyes on the term ‘fake news’ – ‘lazy confirmation bias’ seems about right.
There’s a lot of wisdom in old curmudgeons!

Older Eyes

Fake: [fāk] ADJECTIVE:   not genuine; counterfeit.

News: [n(y)o͞oz]  NOUN: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or                                                    important events.

Fake News: a form of news consisting of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media (print and broadcast) or online social media.

I absolutely  hate the term Fake News.   First and perhaps foremost, it reflects the dumbing down of the American language that seems to prevail right now, even in the media.   You would expect better of journalists who are presumably trained in the use of language.  Look at the first two definitions above.  Of course, you could say not genuine news or counterfeit news but it really is a poor choice of words.   Inaccurate news or incorrect news is more precise, sounds…

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Black Swan

Black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise and has a major effect, based on the observed historical fact in Europe that black swans did not exist.

I guess we could call covid-19 a black swan event, although it was actually predicted that such an event would happen at some time, which was always ‘in the future’, until it wasn’t. Of course, globalised trade made this black swan event a worldwide phenomenon pretty rapidly.

Globalisation also means we can now see black swans in Europe without travelling to Australia. This one was at WWT Martin Mere, caught in the act of biting off chunks of reed.

Women leaders and coronavirus: look beyond stereotypes to find the secret of their success

This thoughtful post on women leaders and the coronavirus highlights the political systems in New Zealand, Taiwan and Germany that make it difficult for macho populists to gain control, and provide the space for empathic ‘feminine’ leaders, who have clearly made a better job of handling the coronavirus.
Then look at the macho leaders: Trump, Johnson, Putin, Bolsonaro, and what ‘success’ they have achieved…. The stats give the answer.

Bruce Nixon

I am hosting this important article written by Kate Maclean,Professor of International Development, Northumbria University, Newcastle and published by The Conversation

Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan and Angela Merkel of Germany have all been singled out for the way they have handled the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve been praised for demonstrating care, empathy and a collaborative approach. These skills – stereotypically described as “feminine” – have enabled them to listen to scientific expertise, work with local authorities and communicate effectively with the public. It has made them come across as transparent and accountable at a time of mass confusion.

In stark contrast, male leaders in some of the worst performing countries – the UK, the US and Brazil – have adopted a leadership style of belligerent rhetoric. They’ve taken guidance from entourages of confidantes, often instead of experts. Their inconsistent, unclear communications have been compared to

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Time for change, but will we?

When I was growing up in Lincoln in the 1950s, most people cycled, walked or caught the bus to work, few had cars. Cycling was safe. There was no air pollution, once the old coal-powered gasworks closed.

Even ten years later, when I visited Lincoln in the 1960s, the main route into town was beginning to be clogged with cars. Another decade and cycling was becoming a thing of the past. It was becoming dangerous, particularly as lorries got bigger and bigger.

Of course this pattern recurred in towns and cities all over the UK, and air pollution became endemic, particularly when there was the ill-advised shift to diesel fuels. The car was king and all bowed before it. Air became polluted and there was a surge in cases of asthma. Strangely, government did little about it, although some cities did a fair amount, within their allowed powers.

Then came covid-19 and lockdown. Suddenly air was clean, roads were quiet, it was safe to cycle. People were exhorted to cycle or walk and avoid cars and public transport. It was like the 1950s again.

Of course the natural reaction of government is to try to re-establish the status quo ante, because that was when the economy ‘worked’. But it didn’t – see inequality, polluted air, climate breakdown and covid.

So we really do need to take stock and set course for a more sensible world that is based on real needs of people and nature, not just on ‘the economy.’ All the ideas are there – green new deals, basic income, move to renewable energy, sovereign money,…

We just need to get on with it. But will we?

Photo of Lincoln High Street near St Peter’s from Francis Frith website – go visit.

 

VE Day

It’s VE day, marking the 75th anniversary of the ending of the Nazi regime and its attempt to take over Europe.

European countries are each celebrating in their own way. Yes, we should thank those whose sacrifice made this possible, and reflect on their achievement. It is a shame that they cannot do this together at this time.

Yet also this is a bitter-sweet moment. In our reflection, should we consider why Europe fell apart into two major wars between 1918 and 1945?

Should we consider the irony that this is happening just as Brexit and economic strains are apparently in the process of destroying that long post-war project (EU) of bringing the European nations together to end the scourge of war that had scarred the continent for centuries?

Should we consider the irony that populist leaders are again controlling many of the world’s major countries? The nazi leader was one such, who believed that he alone had the right prescriptions for his people. How wrong he was, and how wrong they all are.

Yes, a bitter-sweet moment.

 

America’s issue with socialism, so that’s what it’s all about

Jane Fritz puts her finger on why the US really is different, and why a lot of their citizens just cannot abide the idea of socialism or social democracy or free healthcare. Of course, it’s not all Americans – this is the ‘base’ that Donald Trump is always speaking to. And this shows us why we in the UK our unwise to follow the right of our Conservative Party that would like to make us more like the US.

Robby Robin's Journey

I can’t have been alone in wondering over many, many years why so many Americans have such an aversion to ‘socialism’ even in its mildest forms, like universal healthcare.   Every other ‘developed’ country embraced what’s commonly called social democracy decades ago, in the aftermath of WWII, as have other countries. But not the U.S. As far as they’re concerned, it’s socialism.

I used to think that I understood the reason and that surely it would pass. My theory was that it was tied to the Cold War fear of communism and the thought that socialism would lead to communism. I reckoned that once enough time had passed they’d realize that wasn’t the case. However, I have now learned that this aversion to social rights has been at the core of American principles since at least the mid-1700s. That’s what individualism is all about. It explains a lot of things.

Full…

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Private gain must no longer be allowed to elbow out the public good

This excellent post by Wayne Woodman is an essay by Dick Philipsen, who summarises quite succinctly why ‘the system’ has gone too far in privileging private gain over the public good. Covid-19 has brought this crazy situation into sharp relief, where we absolutely depend on those who have been least well regarded and rewarded over recent years.

Adam Smith had an elegant idea when addressing the notorious difficulty that humans face in trying to be smart, efficient and moral. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), he maintained that the baker bakes bread not out of benevolence, but out of self-interest. No doubt, public benefits can result when people pursue what comes easiest: self-interest.

And yet: the logic of private interest – the notion that we should just ‘let the market handle it’ – has serious limitations. Particularly in the United States, the lack of an effective health and social policy in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has brought the contradictions into high relief.

Around the world, the free market rewards competing, positioning and elbowing, so these have become the most desirable qualifications people can have. Empathy, solidarity or concern for the public good are relegated to the family, houses of worship or activism. Meanwhile, the market and private gain don’t account for social stability, health or happiness. As a result, from Cape Town to Washington, the market system has depleted and ravaged the public sphere – public health, public education, public access to a healthy environment – in favour of private gain.

COVID-19 reveals a further irrational component: the people who do essential work – taking care of the sick; picking up our garbage; bringing us food; guaranteeing that we have access to water, electricity and WiFi – are often the very people who earn the least, without benefits or secure contracts. On the other hand, those who often have few identifiably useful skills – the pontificators and chief elbowing officers – continue to be the winners. Think about it: what’s the harm if the executive suites of private equity, corporate law and marketing firms closed down during quarantine? Unless your stock portfolio directly profits from their activities, the answer is likely: none. But it is those people who make millions – sometimes as much in an hour as healthcare workers or delivery personnel make in an entire year.

Simply put, a market system driven by private interests never has protected and never will protect public health, essential kinds of freedom and communal wellbeing.

See the full post here.

Featured image: Adam Smith.

Night walks in lockdown

We self isolated for two weeks after returning from Houston. Soon everyone around was in a similar boat due to the covid-19 lockdown. Walking in the late evening darkness has been very safe as there are few people around, mostly odd dog walkers, as indeed we are.

Remarkable is the silence, just the odd car or delivery van from time to time. Even the nearby M6 is mostly quiet. It seems bizarre to be able to walk along the middle of what is normally a busy main road.

Owls seem to hoot more frequently on the edges of town. Several hedgehogs have been in evidence, not normally seen. I guess the brave ones are usually soon flattened by traffic.

We have returned to the conditions of the days before mass motor traffic, maybe the 1950s or even earlier in this part of the world.

Read More »

After Covid-19 – humanity at the crossroads

Following covid-19 humanity has critical choices to make. A return to ‘business as usual’ does not seem to be a viable option to those of us who despair at the effects it was having – environmental, political and social. Matthew Wright gives here a great outline of the options facing us. Obviously, his third option is the only way to go.

Matthew Wright

One of the ironies of the past few months, for me at least, has been the way most western governments have – after two generations of hands-off, market-driven neo-liberal indifference at the plight of the people – suddenly ‘switched on’ old-style Keynesian support systems. The fiscal faucets have opened, and money is pouring into the economies of nations that, one after another, have been forced to lock down their populations against the pandemic.

I confess that after two generations of neo-liberalism, I am cynical about the motives. It is just possible that governments around the world have genuine care for the people in their policy-making. I can think of one that does. But for the rest – well, I doubt it. I suspect the main reason why one government after another has been forced to engage in support packages despite still, for the most part, having an ideological foundation in…

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Pity the Nation: the handwriting was on the wall

Thanks to Jane Fritz for blogging this beautiful retelling of Khalil Gibran’s poem. It is uncannily prescient of the situations we now find in UK, US and too many other nations across the world, as if the lessons of history are felt in need of being learned again. Pity the nation indeed.

Robby Robin's Journey

In 1933, writer Kahlil Gibran’s poem “Pity the Nation” was published posthumously in the book The Garden of the Prophet. In 1933. This poem has inspired several important writers over the years, including American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

In 2006 Ferlinghetti published his version of Gibran’s Pity the Nation. In 2016. Fourteen years ago. Its prescience is beyond sobering. He clearly saw what many of us were blind to.

PITY THE NATION
(After Khalil Gibran)

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerors
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture…

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So That’s It

So that’s it. The sun goes down over Knutsford 31st January 2020, heavy clouds loom. It’s the last sunset we shall see while the UK is in the EU. We are actually out. The UK flag is coming down all over Europe. Winston Churchill’s dream is over for us in the UK, for now – but it is alive and well in the rest of the EU. We wish them well, and hope to join again some day.

Reactions have been remarkably contrasting, notably in the European parliament, where the emotionally mature statements of the European politicians contrasted markedly with the infantile gestures of Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.

For another 11 months we’ll individually have the privileges of membership, such as freedom to work or retire anywhere in Europe, such as reciprocal medical care when we travel, such as minimal bureaucracy when we take the dog to Europe. Life is likely to be more inconvenient and costly from there on. But that’s nothing compared to the strain on UK people living in EU and and other countries nationals living in UK – it is a nightmare for them. Even for us, it feels that we have been severed from Europe against our will by our fellow citizens – like the branch on this tree.

31jan severed limbs on tree
Severed limb on tree, Knutsford 31 Jan 2020

We now await the Amazing Boris performing the great illusion of Having His Cake and Eating It, just as he did with the Withdrawal Agreement. This time I fear he will fail, falling between Scylla and Charybdis (EU and US). But maybe he is the master illusionist?

If only there had been an evident good reason for Brexit, it might have all seemed worthwhile, rather than being an unnecessary diversion from the real issues we (and Europe) face!

Enantiodromia

Enantiodromia is one of those words you come across in a text and scan over because you don’t have a dictionary or search engine to hand. I keep coming across this word, a synchronicity which suggests I pay a little attention to it.

Enantiodromia is actually a very useful concept and deserves to be more widely known. According to Wikipedia, enantiodromia is a principle introduced in the West by Carl Jung, probably originally from Taoism, also attributed to the ancient Greek Heraclitus.

Jung defines enantiodromia as

“the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.”

The extreme position builds up a pressure in the unconscious, which eventually actually invokes its opposite. This archetypal process is clear in the reported conversion of the Christian-persecutor Saul into the evangelist Paul. This may also explain why extremists on the ‘left’ and ‘right’ of politics actually appear to be so similar.

In accord with the principle ‘as above, so below’, enantiodromia will surely apply to nations and to the global community. By this principle, extreme free market capitalism inevitably at some point ceases to be effective (eg it destroys communities and despoils the environment that enabled its operation) and invokes its opposite (which nurtures community and the surrounding ecology). I would suggest that we are witnessing just such a process at the moment.

Never despair!

Wordsmith gives the etymology of entiodromia as
from the Greek enantio- (opposite) + dromos (running). 

A Berlin Wall Moment?

It seems that the more progressive UK media, including the BBC, have finally taken on board that global warming/climate change, pollution, species extinction, population are major issues of our time that need to be urgently addressed. Many of the issues aired at our New Renaissance Lectures in 1993 onward are becoming mainstream, covered in ‘the news’ almost every day. But they’re not yet ingrained. There are still many news media, corporates and governments in denial, actively blocking change because of their perceived self-interest.

Yet can they resist the surging tide of realism? It feels like a ‘Berlin Wall’ type of time in history. The ice floes are melting. Humanity is turning to face reality, startled at where it has come to, as it followed the materialist dream and for half a century largely ignored the problems being created. The spectre of floods, fires, wars, epidemics, on a scale hitherto unknown, haunts us all, especially the young.

But there is an aspect of those lectures that is less mentioned, less easy to popularise – that of inner spiritual renewal. The outer is a reflection of the inner. Until our compassion for others and for the natural world rises to meet the occasion, and our conscience is heard and acted upon, we may alleviate but not resolve the problems we have created.

Featured image: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989 (at the Brandenberg Gate).
By Lear 21 via Wikimedia Commons.

Stakeholders and Davos

It was around 1985/6 that I became aware of shareholder capitalism. Up to that time, our company had been a business that designed, produced and sold computers, and was proud of its contribution to the local economy. Then along came these ideas of shareholder value, and suddenly the accounts became oriented to optimising the share price. My area, software, became ‘capitalized’ and included in the sums.

It was not evident to me at the time where this was headed, and indeed in the early years of the Blair government (late 1990s) I remember quite an excitement at the idea of stakeholder capitalism, whereby the purpose of a company was not just to make money but to be concerned with all its stakeholders – customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and the surrounding society. Unfortunately, this idea gradually seemed to disappear and full-blooded shareholder capitalism resumed – all that mattered was to make money for shareholders.

Since then, the dysfunction of this system has become apparent, in that companies have become global, relocate operations at will, produce obscene inequality, and avoid paying local taxes that enable governments to adequately function in their sphere. And the corporate world does not appear to accept responsibility for addressing the social and climate breakdown they have caused, indeed some actively try to avert action.

Now, the World Economic Forum and the annual Davos gatherings do not have the greatest of reputations, but their founding ethos is undeniably good – seeking to provide a forum where corporations and governments can discuss key issues and the way ahead.

The Davos Manifesto 2020 outlines what I’m sure most of us would like today’s corporations to be like. If only they were, we could all have more confidence that humanity was at last headed in the right direction.

The companion page why we need the Davos manifesto articulates well why such stakeholder capitalism is desirable and why it is better suited to addressing today’s challenges than is either current shareholder capitalism in the West or state capitalism in the East. The thing is, it allows its management to act as moral agents, rather than as self-interested accountants.

It will take a long time to convert all the diehards, but all power to Davos for its annual meeting 21-24 January.

It might help if we each hold them in mind, send positive thoughts, or pray for them!

Antibacterial soaps

I’ve always been very suspicious of products labelled ‘antibacterial’, in a way that makes you think they might be in some way better. So I’ve always avoided them. Bacteria are ‘generally’ good, and certainly should not be over-destroyed. Mother always said a bit of dirt never did you any harm!

The simple truth is that plain soap is just as effective. The products added to give the ‘antibacterial’ label are pesticides which are potentially dangerous to the environment, our water systems and our health. See this US FDA post. or this comprehensive item from EcoWatch.

Although some such products are banned by the US FDA, I can still find them on the shelves in my local supermarkets, even the more upmarket Waitrose.

It seems we must always be on our guard against supposedly ‘new’ and more beneficial products that can actually put us in jeopardy. One could argue that this is because we do not correctly apply the ‘precautionary principle’ to the introduction of new technologies.

Thanks to this Magical Elements post on water for bringing this to my attention.

Wrapping up a tumultuous year

Matthew Wright’s posts from New Zealand and others across the world show that there are a lot of people who are disturbed about the direction humanity is going, and the apparent regression to the mentality of the 1930s (and we all know where that finished up). Yet his call for optimism and hope is surely the only sensible response for us.

Matthew Wright

It’s almost the end of 2019, and I am wrapping up my blog for the year with a few thoughts; some joyous, some sombre.

The joy is that, for some, Christmas is upon is, as is the New Year. It is a time for family, and to enjoy a brief respite from the labours of the world. As has been earned, and as we should.

But for me this year is also set against a sombre darkness. When I look around at what is happening globally; at the ugly end-game of greed and entitlement into which the neo-liberal revolution of the 1980s has fallen; at the way certain social media platforms amplify polemic and reduce reason to asserted slogans – a litmus test, perhaps, for human nature; and when I look at the way national sentiments around the globe are becoming polarised for deeper-running socio-economic reasons, I have to wonder…

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