Fontevraud, Royal Abbey

The historic Benedictine abbey of Fontevraud lies between Chinon and Saumur, in the area just south of the River Loire. We were lucky, it was an annual French jour de patrimoine, when entry to national museums is free – a great way for a government to encourage interest in local culture and history.

The necropolis

Fontevraud is designated a royal abbey because it was here that Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of the first Plantagenet King Henry II, established in the church a necropolis containing recumbent statues of the dead Plantagenets (from bottom, left to right, then top) Henry II, Eleanor herself set higher than her then-dead husband, their first son Richard I ‘the Lionheart’, and Isabelle, wife of Richard’s brother John. This was intended as a similar idea to the necropolis of French Kings in the church of St Denis in Paris, celebrating the continuity of Plantagenet reign over England/parts of British Isles/Normandy/Aquitaine (the so-called Angevin Empire). The necropolis never really developed after John, then king, ‘lost’ most of the French possessions to the French King Philip in 1204 – an early forced ‘Brexit’ which led to decades of scheming and warfare. The Plantagenets remained kings of England until the death of King Richard III in 1485.

A major feature of this abbey was that it contained both male and female monks/nuns, and was always overseen by a woman. Close links with French royalty ensured its survival until the French Revolution, when the abbeys were dissolved and taken over by the State, and where possible sold off. This was 250 years after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in England.

The abbey at Fontevraud was founded in 1101 by Robert d’Arbrissel, 3 years after founding of the Cistercian movement. This soon developed into a similar chain of monasteries across France, with a few in Spain and England. So controversial was the involvement of women, that  Robert was never canonised by the Catholic Church.

Evraud Tower

The architecture is quite remarkable, as you can see.

After the Revolution Napoleon decreed that the buildings be converted into a prison containing prison workshops. Even the abbey church was adapted to contain first 3 then 5 storeys. The experience of this prison is well described in exhibits at the abbey. The prison was only closed in 1963.

In the meantime, restoration work was recreating the essence of the original abbey. The kitchen/ Evraud Tower was rather imaginatively restored early on. Today, most traces of the adaptation of the abbey buildings to serve as a prison have been removed.

As well as being a tourist attraction in their own right, the abbey buildings now serve as a cultural centre for Western France, with many events and exhibitions.

Today Fontevraud looks magnificent. It provides a great day out to immerse yourself in this aspect of French/English history.

Featured image shows tombs of Henry and Eleanor.

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

A question of balance?

1966

A group of us members of the university astronomical society visit Herstmonceaux Observatory in Sussex. We travel by coach from Cambridge. We have a great time, and on the way back consume significant quantities of Merrydown, which someone had the foresight to provision us with. One of the most entertaining of our party is an acquaintance, Brian Hoskins, of Trinity Hall. I will not embarrass Brian by saying what actually happened on this journey, but it was nothing disgraceful.

2014

I hear this vaguely familiar voice on BBC Radio 4’s morning Today Programme. It is distinguished Professor Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute on climate change, voicing the urgency of the action needed against global warming and climate change. Next, I am horrified to hear the old political bruiser and ex-chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson pontificating about what nonsense is all this stuff about climate change. It is not a fair contest, the experienced media brawler versus the earnest scientist. Lawson was supposedly put up by the BBC in the interests of ‘balance’ – balancing true science against bigoted opinion.

2017-18

The BBC give Lawson an opportunity to further express his views on climate without scientific challenge. The next April, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom rules that “BBC Radio 4 broke accuracy rules by failing to sufficiently challenge the climate change denier Nigel Lawson’s controversial claims in an interview“.

2021, yesterday

The Meteorological Office reports on the Today programme that recent extreme weather events were undoubtedly caused by man-made climate change. No so-called ‘balancing viewpoints’ are expressed. The evidence is now fully in.

2022?

Interestingly, the other viewpoint commonly expressed by Lawson and other right-wing zealots around the same time was the importance of Brexit to sever the UK from the European Union. We don’t yet have the full evidence, but years of ill-tempered arguing, recent UK economic performance and the intractable situation in Northern Ireland suggest that the realisation, that this too was cloud cuckoo land, is not too far away now.

That was 2020 on this blog

It always seems a bit introspective, reflecting on your own blog. But that is one way to learn. I start with my own favourites from the 165 posts that appeared on this blog in 2020.

My favourite photo posts of 2020

My favourite wordy posts of 2020

Most viewed in 2020

WordPress stats give the top 5 most viewed posts in 2020. This appears to be a strange selection, until you realise that mostly these will be hits from search engines, of subjects not widely covered on the web.

Most liked (4 years)

The ‘most liked’ top 5 covers likes over the lifetime of this blog. What most surprised me was the top one, a recent post on psychology and astrology models – which is somewhat peripheral to the main thrusts of this blog.

I note that my preoccupation with a New Renaissance and rantings on politics/economics/science do not figure in either of these lists!

Maybe I should ask myself the question: should I have a number of different blogs, rather than this single eclectic blog?

Not the yellow headlights

The first time we took the car to France was in the early 70s. There was a bureaucratic routine you had to go through before we could cross the channel: get travel insurance, get car insurance, GB sticker and a green card for the car, pay the Automobile Association a fiver for an International Driving Permit, purchase beam benders and yellow transparent paint to be applied at the port.

Then we joined the EEC in 1973, which eventually became the EU. The French stopped insisting on yellow headlights, car insurers tended to include Europe cover, there was no need for green card or IDP. We still needed beam benders – some things never change. We got a dog and the pet passport scheme eventually made that easy. Mobile phones became ubiquitous and the EU eventually forced an end to yellow headlights and outrageous roaming charges. GB stickers bacame unnecessary.

And we never had to worry about how long our trip would be, we could stay as long as we wanted.

But today we’re finally out of the EU. All that bureaucracy is coming back, the pet passport is gone, there may be new roaming charges. We can only stay for 3 months out of six. We’re effectively excluded from free travel in ‘our’ Europe, the Europe that is our history.

These freedoms have been taken from us in the name of an abstraction called ‘sovereignty’, an anachronism in the modern interconnected world. They’re intended to ‘make Britain great again’, harking back to the days when renegade Britons roamed the world, stole land and riches from indigenous peoples, eliminating them or turning them into slaves, and made an inglorious ‘Empire’.

Fortunately, the law of unintended consequences means that unexpected benefits will turn up, and needed change may eventually be forced on the EU itself.

But at least we won’t need the yellow headlights again. Unless there is a Frexit.

Featured image shows one of the first optic headlamp lenses, the Corning Conaphore made of selective yellow “Noviol” glass (public domain via Wikipedia). So-called ‘selective yellow’ gives better visibility than white light in poor conditions and is still permitted in fog lights.

Nationalism is a psychological aberration

Nationalism is a psychological abberation, driven by insecurity. This is the message of this excellent article by Steve Taylor in Psychology Today, which I recommend reading. Nations are artificial constructs, which lead to pathological effects such as wars. The basic psychology of human beings is co-operative with their fellow human beings. The problems we now face, such as the covid19, climate breakdown, species extinction transcend national boundaries. The only future for humanity is one of global co-operation.

The impulse behind Brexit, of ‘making the UK great again’, and the similar impulse behind the Trump presidency, have been going in precisely the wrong direction, driven by the insecurity of their former working populations who have been driven to feel insecure by the economic system. The US appears to have a ‘get out of jail’ card in a Joe Biden presidency, but only if he addresses that failed economic system. The UK has got itself into a more permanent mess with Brexit, but can emerge if the co-operation engendered by a fair ‘deal’ is brought to fruition. A ‘no deal’ will be a psychological disaster for not just UK, but the whole of Europe. The insecurity generated can only lead to more problems.

Of course, nations will still need to exist in some form to organise human affairs, but only within the context of the larger groupings of which they are a part. History tells us that these are largely geographically based – China, India, various European empires, USA… or more global such as the Spanish, British and French colonial expansions. And the context of the United Nations or equivalent organisation is vital.

The charismatic and the populist leader are most suspect in this whole context. I suspect they automatically come to prominence as the collective sense of insecurity rises.

As Steve says,

Nationalism is a psychological aberration, and we owe it to our ancestors, and to our descendants — and to the other species, and to the Earth itself — to move beyond it.

Agonism

It is in the nature of humanity for there to be conflict and wars. If you doubt this, see the list of wars that have raged throughout history, or see how even now a large portion of the earth is engulfed in some form of conflict. So conflict is inevitable. Yet there is a spiritual principle, call Harmony through Conflict (also known as 4th Ray), which indicates that harmony can indeed result from conflict.

So political conflict does not necessarily result in wars. In this context, agonism is a very useful word, as you can see from its definition in Wikipedia. Agonism “emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of certain forms of political conflict [and]… seeks to show how people might accept and channel this positively”.

The recent World Goodwill Newsletter points at the deeper meaning of an agonistic approach as described by political theorist Samuel A. Chambers:

“Agonism implies a deep respect and concern for the other; indeed, the Greek agon refers most directly to an athletic contest oriented not merely toward victory or defeat, but emphasizing the importance of the struggle itself—a struggle that cannot exist without the opponent. Victory through forfeit or default, or over an unworthy opponent, comes up short compared to a defeat at the hands of a worthy opponent—a defeat that still brings honour. An agonistic discourse will therefore be one marked not merely by conflict but just as importantly, by mutual admiration…”

So agonism is the ideal in any conflict – a respect for the other side, some sort of struggle, and a result that brings honour to both sides. This is of course the original ideal behind sports, which still prevailed in the cricket of the unpaid ‘gentlemen’ in my youth, but was soon superseded by the professionalism of paid ‘players’.

The important underlying concepts are respect for the other, and dealing with honour. Are the protagonists in the current Brexit negotiations behaving with respect for the other and with honour? One suspects that the problem in reaching a final agreement lies in a certain lack of trust that they are dealing with people with these fine qualities? Which sounds like agony rather than agonism.

Featured image shows world conflict map from Statista.
The idea for this post came from World Goodwill Newsletter.
Britannica suggests that agonism is a biological term meaning ‘survivalist animal behaviour that includes aggression, defense, and avoidance’. ‘In human societies, agonistic behaviour can serve as a tool to bring about constructive activity as well as distinct antisocial, destructive acts.’

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!

Trade Deals

Trade deals are bandied around by its supporters as one of the advantages of Brexit. We will be able to do all these wonderful trade deals which will make us better off.

Let’s just take a reality check. Now I’m no expert in trade deals, in fact few people in UK are, because we were part of the EU team. That’s maybe the point.

UK is joining the big league of trade dealers. Let’s just suppose it’s a league of the 10 top world economies. All the other teams are highly skilled and proven in the world trade dealing. The UK is just putting together a team to compete with the others, all at the same time.

If it were football, where do you think UK would finish at the end of the season, with a cobbled-together team playing against the best in the world, with a highly congested fixture programme? Bottom, obviously.

History tells us that trade deals are used by rich and powerful countries to control and exploit other countries. The British Empire, for example, is replete with examples, from cotton to salt. The current trade war between US and China is part of that pattern.

But the UK is rich and powerful, you say, the 5th or 9th largest economy in the world. So we can deal on equal terms with the others. Maybe. At the end of the day, sheer numbers mean that the smaller economy will usually have more to lose by not reaching a deal.

I’m not betting that we’ll have any deals any time soon, and the prospect of a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU is as real as ever.

However, all is not necessarily negative. The impinging of reality on the Brexit project may result in Prime Minister Johnson agreeing to a deal that keeps us reasonably close to the EU. Of course, this would annoy the hard Brexiteers, just as he annoyed the DUP with the withdrawal agreement. We live in hope!

Featured image of President Trump attending agreement of beef deal with EU,
by The White House from Washington, DC via Wikimedia Commons.

The Narrative

What is Brexit but a clash of stories, or narratives. In the first, UK is a part of a collaborative European Union that arose out of the ashes of the World Wars to establish an island of peace and commerce that is a beacon to the rest of the world. In the second, UK frees itself from the tyranny of an overseeing and threatening superstate, and goes forth free again to trade on its own terms with the world, as in some mythical past times.

These two stories are so completely incompatible that the country is now riven. We are in the midst of a narrative war. Of course, we always are. The conventional left-right prism in politics is a characterisation of two stories – we are all in it together, or we are self driving and independent individuals that owe nothing to anyone.

These thoughts were provoked by Tim Jackson’s review of Robert J. Shiller’s book Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events – well worth reading (the review, that is). I quote from Tim’s review:

“Stories are more powerful than statistics… The irrationality inherent in financial exuberance (and despair) defies the neat territory of numbers and demands a deeper excursion into the decidedly unruly world of narratives”

Tim goes on to quote economic historian Deidre McCloskey in 1990:

“Economists are tellers of stories and makers of poems”

As in economics, so in politics and other areas of human affairs. Our world is really a world of meaning and story, not a world of atoms and molecules, as materialists would have us believe.

In recent years social media have clearly increased the ability for the stories accepted by large sections of a population to be manipulated by unknown actors, and beneficiary politicians appear reluctant to do anything about it. The battle of narratives is the battle of our times.

Tim’s conclusion:

“We must all choose carefully which stories we live by.”

 

“Brexit is the will of the British people” is complete nonsense

Bruce Nixon’s post summarises succinctly why the ‘will of the people’ stuff is nonsense/propaganda.

Bruce Nixon

This mantra is clever propaganda but complete nonsense. We are duped.

Boris

Getty image.

It’s a lie that needs to be contradicted firmly in Parliament and the news media including television. The facts are that of those who voted, only slightly more than half voted for leave. 51.9% voted for Brexit and 48.1% voted for Remain. However only 37% of the 46 million registered electorate voted for Brexit. Almost 13 million people did not vote at all. The UK as a whole is deeply divided: Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK being in favour of Remain. There is an age divide: the younger you are the more likely you are to want Remain; the older you are the more likely to want Leave. It is the young whose future is most at stake. Yet 16 to 17 year olds, large numbers of whom were in favour of Remain…

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Ever Flowing

I contemplate the huge flowing mass of water before me, opposite the ‘German Corner’ in Koblenz where rivers Rhine and Moselle join together, overlooked by the massive monument to Kaiser Wilhelm, first German emperor 1871-88. Here is inexorable power and movement before me, a part of the cyclic flow of the earth’s water system. Today, tomorrow, it is always there, pretty much as in Wilhelm’s day, yet always different.

As it happens, I have been reading The Shortest History of Germany, by James Hawes and A Short History of Europe by Simon Jenkins. I am struck by how the major figures in these histories have their brief flowering influence, usually driven by an overwhelming ego, often associated with some abstract concept, and without concern for the consequences on their own and other peoples: Julius Caesar, Constantine, Charlemagne, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and on and on…

Recent events suggest that this flow goes on, to new dimensions, with environmental breakdowns and resulting attempted migration of populations, and the rise of populists – more blooming egos with their destructive consequences. Yet ever new challenges require ever better solutions, not the gross over-simplifications of those who appeal to what is lowest in us. They will be seen in time for what they are.

The flow of history, and the zeitgeist, inevitably moves ever on, just as those great rivers – the same as before, yet ever different.

Maybe we should not fear too much. The flow that matters is here, now. Our fears are that the future may not be the same as the peace and plenty of our recent past (in the West). Our present is the opportunity for our own best action, guided by conscience, not by selfish ego or abstractions.

The first duty of government

alternative warBe careful what you read! A quick reading of  J.J Patrick’s book ‘Alternative War’ gives much insight into what’s going on behind the scenes of global politics. The book is not well written, but the message gets through, and it is all rather disturbing. It leads me to some reflections on the current situation in the UK, which is apparently largely oblivious to these machinations.

One of the books main themes is the ongoing Russian project to destabilise and undermine the Western powers, clearly exemplified by, for example, events in Ukraine, cyber warfare, clear influence on the US presidential election and the Brexit campaign. It would seem that one of the Russians’ prime aims is to undermine and ultimately destroy the European Union, thus leaving Russia as the dominant power on the European continent.

That this sort of thing was happening would have been apparent to Prime Minister Cameron, briefed by the intelligence community, when he called a Brexit referendum which could clearly undermine the European Union, weakening both EU and UK, in line with Moscow’s aims.

The use of social media in campaigns, and the ability and willingness of the Russians to exploit them in pursuit of their aims, would also have been familiar to a well-briefed leader. As would the fact that such use of social media and the sources of funds used are easily hidden.

Heedless of the danger, Cameron embarked on that referendum. Cameron also knew, and weakly campaigned on, the fact that the UK would also be economically affected. As we know, the referendum was marginally won by the ‘leave’ side. This was arguably significantly helped by Russian financial and IT interference. There has never been any effective UK investigation into such interference initiated by the May government.

And our security situation became much more precarious with the election of Donald Trump, clearly assisted by Russian interference (Wikileaks), and who has many links with Russia, even if there was ‘no collusion’.

So here we are now, over three years on, still arguing with EU on the form that Brexit will take, probably about to be led by Johnson, whose effectiveness in the Brexit campaign (compared to Cameron/Osborne) and willingness to lie, was probably the other main reason for the Brexit decision.

Now we know in much more detail just how detrimental Brexit will be, both economically and security-wise. Yet, lemming-like, the Conservative Party continues to insist that the dubious Brexit result must stand. We must become poorer and less secure, the people have spoken.

Actually all it seems to be in fear of Nigel Farage, whose suggested links to Russia and sources of money (according to the book) are likely to be well known to the intelligence community.

Possible answers to the current conundrum are clear

  • a new general election,
  • getting the May deal through (or not, hence remaining) via a second referendum where the issues are made crystal clear
  • or revoking Article 50 in the national interest – which is arguably the most sensible thing to do.

But a happy ending is seeming unlikely, which will leave UK adrift from Europe, and in a period of chaos, subject to the machinations of greater powers.

Now, the first duty of government is surely to ensure the ongoing sustenance and security of the people. Has the Conservative government really served us well, in creating this precarious situation?

Featured image of Pr Punch’s history of the Great War by John Bernard Partridge via Wikimedia Commons

Trump Trade Deal: It’s Not About F*cking Chicken

In this excellent post Conor Boyle shows how the media have trivialised a rather important issue on different attitudes to government responsibility for food and health regulation in EU and US. As he says, it’s not about the chicken, it’s about the responsibilities of government, and whether people are left at the mercy of essentially unaccountable large corporations. This is one of the true costs of Brexit.

The Conversation Room

Don’t get me wrong, I like chickens. As a child I loved visiting the farm and feeding the little chicks in their pen. I just don’t think when deliberating what’s at stake for the U.K in signing a post Brexit trade deal with the United States that poultry should be the focal point of debate. 

From Jeremy Corbyn to the BBC it seems everyone has bought into the idea that  chlorinated chickens entering the U.K food chain is the number one objection to a trade deal with Donald Trump. It can be quite infuriating to see political debate on respected current affairs progammes ask “Does Britain really want chlorinated chicken?” As if the primary impact of a trade deal with with the U.S is the quality of KFC.

To clarify, in the E.U chicken producers must adhere to strict hygiene and welfare regulations throughout the process of rearing…

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Teresa May faced an Impossible Task.

In this excellent post, Bruce Nixon explains why Theresa May faced and impossible task, and why Brexit is not the answer to anything, other than a power grab by vested interests. UK democracy needs refreshing.

Bruce Nixon

Peoples Vote

Protesters carry a banner at the People’s Vote anti-Brexit march in London on March 23, 2019. Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images.                                     

She faced a deeply divided House of Commons and divided Tory and Labour parties, unwilling to agree to the Brexit proposals she negotiated with EU leaders. Almost certainly any other leader would have faced the same situation. Leaving the EU is the wrong diagnosis for a real crisis – see The dismantling of the state since the 1980s .  

 

Vote Leave was launched in October 2015 with the support of both right and left wing Eurosceptic politicians, leaders from the business world and trade unions and the European Research Group . It was arguably a campaign organised by politicians wanting more power. It was not about giving more power to the people.

The constantly repeated “Brexit is the will of the people” is propaganda.

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What causes War?

I was intrigued by Ferdinand Mount‘s article in the recent issue of London Review of Books. His basic premise is that countries go to war because of economic and related resource issues. WW1 was really about Germany’s lack of natural resources which were available in neighbouring countries. This festered on into WW2 which continued the argument. The same is true of most wars, often a reaction against ‘imperial’ exploitation by a stronger power. The EU and the supranational European Court of Justice were established to provide an arrangement whereby such conflict would not happen again in Europe.

Of course I’ve oversimplified, but the essence is there. Brexit will inevitably increase the probability of a future European war. If there were a no-deal Brexit, the resulting arguments about unwinding the hugely complex relationships between UK and EU will probably go on for decades, probably with ill will.

The UK will also go into negotiations with US, China, India etc, with the relatively weak negotiating position of desperation, resulting in more conflict and ill will.

Of course, in general democracies do not go to war, but with the threatening rise of populism who knows? War and conflict are historically favoured tactics of populists to get the people behind them.

Those of us who believe Brexit to be a total disaster should not cease saying so. We know that the Brexit vote was ‘won’ one lucky day three years ago. It can be changed.

Featured image of German troops entering Sudetenland 1938 from Bundesarchiv, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The glass IS half full

glass half fullIt is a well known characterisation that optimists see a glass 50% full of liquid as ‘half full’, whereas pessimist see it as ‘half empty’. Does it matter which of these attitudes we take towards life and towards its mega problems such as climate change and Brexit?

The bulk of psychological evidence suggests that it does. Optimists tend to be more realistic and thus more effective at addressing the problems. Pessimists tend to expect the worst, not look at things too closely, and hide from difficulties – hence the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Life is all about change, so an optimistic outlook is the only one that enables us to face and deal with the realities of change.

Of course, there are limitations to being positive if it is not tempered with a grounding in reality. (The Brexit campaign comes to mind!)  I’m arguing against myself, but maybe we should see optimism-pessimism as a polarity that is only resolved through the ‘third pole’ of realism.

I suggest that we will only find a way through climate change and Brexit will be with an optimistic reality-based attitude. There are so many brains on the problems we will find a way through.

The glass really is half full!

The idea for this post came while reading
Professor Tom Lombardo’s book Future Consciousness.

Image by S nova via Wikimedia Commons.

No Deal

The Brexiteers and Mrs May seem to be from the school that says you have to be willing to walk away from a negotiation to get the best deal. But surely Brexit is not a problem of this nature.

If there were a natural disaster the countries would get together and agree what to do about it. One would not say to the others, do it my way or we’ll do nothing. That’s insane.

It seems clear to me that a ‘no deal’ Brexit, maybe even the Brexit vote itself, is just such a disaster – when all sides would significantly suffer. To contemplate this, rather than negotiate a solution to the joint problem is , yes, insane.

Of course, some of the players in the Brexit game actually want this catastrophe to happen. The sane majority must not let this happen.

The comment applies to both sides, incidentally.

To those in the arena

I just came across this speech delivered by Theodore Roosevelt in Paris in 1923, and it brought to mind the trials and tribulations of our UK politicians in trying to find a path through the current Brexit situation. We all too easily see their failings and criticise their faults, yet perhaps we don’t give them enough credit for their efforts, especially when we disagree with them.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

According to Wikipedia, Theodore Roosevelt was a driving force for the Progressive Era in the United States in the early 20th century and is regarded as one of its best presidents. His passions seem far more worthy than the grubby business of Brexit, and perhaps more momentous.

Prejudiced, moi?

how to be rightJust how gullible are we human beings, and how easily do we cling on to ideas that have no true justification? This question appears increasingly relevant to those of a liberal disposition, and is indirectly the subject of James O’Brien’s book How to Be Right… in a world gone wrong.

O’Brien runs a talk show on LBC radio and has callers on many controversial subjects: Islam, Brexit, LGBT, political correctness, feminism, the nanny state, Trump… The book basically gives his own ‘take’ on the subject from a ‘reality-based’ perspective, and demonstrates how various callers from different perspectives handle explaining their views, with many entertaining dialogues.

He essentially seeks to understand the caller’s viewpoint. The striking thing is often just how shallow those viewpoints are, and what little justification is given for them when questioned. It’s as if the person has unquestioningly swallowed a viewpoint and subsequently regurgitates it, without any understanding of why it might make sense. In other words, it is blind prejudice. They have effectively been brainwashed.

O’Brien’s technique is remarkable for its persistence, sticking to the point, and not allowing the caller to get away with simply restating their prejudice in another form. As well as giving us all ideas on how to handle the prejudice we inevitably encounter, it gives some insight into the minds that are most susceptible to populism.

It is also an entertaining read.

Featured pic of James O’Brien is from LBC website