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

Groundhog Days

Every morning seems the same here in the UK, like groundhog day. The latest on parliament, the EU and Brexit.

  • What Theresa May said
  • Theresa’s deal
  • what Junker/Barnier/Tusk said
  • what Merkel or Macron said
  • who gave her short shrift
  • which cabinet ministers said what
  • cabinet splits
  • who just resigned
  • the Northern Ireland border
  • the DUP won’t agree to anything (apparently)
  • frictionless trade
  • no deal
  • hard and soft brexit
  • managed no deal (what in God’s name is that?)
  • people’s vote
  • people didn’t know what they were voting for
  • the will of the people
  • cannot let down the people who by chance I happen to agree with
  • where Labour stands
  • the five tests
  • vote of no-confidence
  • no majority in parliament for any deal
  • bring back control
  • fishing grounds
  • THEY are not being flexible
  • and on and on.

Thank God they’re about to break up for ‘Christmas’.

And yet, it’s disgraceful that government/parliament is taking time off when this riven, blighted country is about to fall of a cliff – all of their own making.

Featured image of two groundhogs taken by Joyce Hopewell.

Brexit Angst

Sleepless periods at night seem to get more frequent as I get older. But last night was bad. Yesterday the UK government decided to put the frighteners on not only MPs but the entire population, in a probably vain attempt to get MPs to back Theresa May’s deal with the EU in January. They certainly set my angst going.

They actually appear to be taking seriously the prospect of a so-called ‘hard brexit’, otherwise known as jumping off an economic cliff and reneging on your international agreements. (Who will do a trade deal with a country like that?)

They outlined plans to increase the national debt by TWO BILLION POUNDS to spend on preparation for a hard brexit (while use of food banks is increasing in a supposedly rich economy), and are sending letters to companies to say that they need to prepare. As the CBI rapidly pointed out the whole idea is not tolerable. What small company has the spare time and effort available to prepare for such an unknown world and keep their business afloat? No wonder some are opening branches on the continent and moving some of their business there.

Of course, the two billion will temporarily improve the economic figures, so that the government can ‘claim’ their economic policies are working.

The whole idea of ‘hard brexit’ is not acceptable, not tolerable, cannot be allowed to happen. This should have been the first thing agreed with Europe, rather than the UK trying to use it as a bargaining chip.

And this form of psychological warfare on parliament and the people is not acceptable either.

And it’s all happening because of the incompetence of the incumbent prime minister and the frittering away of the time since she invoked Article 50, trying to please the far right hard brexiteers in her party.

If it will not accept her deal, parliament simply needs more time – either to arrange a new ‘people’s vote’ (in which hard brexit should not be an option) or to sort out a new deal that the majority in parliament can accept, which surely involves working across parties. Shock, horror. What a thought.

It’s time to recognise that Brexit is a process and not a one-off event achieved at a particular point in time.

The Scream by Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Winning

It’s in the nature of polarity that neither side can ‘win’. There is always a balance to be achieved in the creative interplay of opposites.

So what are we to make of the attitude of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in this context? Everywhere, it seems, we see groups fighting for their ideal and resisting ever compromising on what they see as ‘right’.

In the UK, the Brexiteers will never compromise on anything short of hard Brexit. The Remainers think a big mistake has been made, which must be reversed. The US thought it ‘won’ the cold war and sought to impose its will on the rest of the world.

Of course, you can win in sport, and you can apparently win in life. In 2000, the neoconservatives ‘won’ the direction of US policy for decades, by fair means or foul.

But you cannot cheat the polarity for ever. The chickens come home to roost if the balance gets too far out of kilter. Make inequality too great, and you get unrest, then revolution. Ignore the scientific evidence on climate and the climate comes back to bite you.

Populism thrives on simple ideas about ‘winning’. We desperately need to reach a more sophisticated level of discourse. Winning is illusory, and usually involves overriding or ignoring the necessary counterbalance.

Featured image. When England won. The queen presents 1966 World Cup to England captain Bobby Robson, via Wikimedia Commons

What was the problem?

I’ve never really understood the case for Brexit. What was wrong with over 40 years of peace and prosperity? Of course there were issues to be addressed, there always are. In a recent issue of The Times, Max Hastings neatly summarised the situation we, the UK, find ourselves in with Brexit.

Three years ago any thoughtful citizen could identify the principal problems facing Britain: productivity; Londonification; the flagging education system; a society financially skewed in favour of the old and against the young; Islamist extremism; funding of the NHS and welfare; stagnation of real earnings; job losses to technology.

None had anything to do with the European Union yet a faction of fanatics not only believed, but was successful in convincing millions of voters, that if we could only escape the thraldom of Brussels, a Heineken transformation would overtake the country, miraculously refreshing everything else.

I don’t agree with all of his list of problems, but leave that aside. Why did Britain stop worrying about the most important issues facing the country (many self-inflicted by Conservative austerity) and instead focus all its energies on the single issue of Brexit, as indeed it continues to do today?

The catalyst issue was immigration, which Brexit will probably in the end not significantly address because of sheer economic necessity. But how did the ideas become so prominent in the public domain, such that the Brexit vote was lost by the Cameron government against all expectations?

Essentially, the problems of the status quo were projected on to questions of nationhood and Europe because the political establishment and the media had not, since the New Labour years, seriously engaged with the European project. It appeared from the start that David Cameron insisted on being a right wing outsider in Europe, rather than a mainstream player, pandering to the right wing of his own party. When he needed European help with the immigration issue, the help was not there, because the bridges had not been built.

It did not help that a significant portion of the mainstream media were very anti Europe, reflecting the self-interested views of their rich owners, reinforced by the amplification of reactionary viewpoints in the ghettos of social media.

The final nail was the referendum, called to see off UKIP, in which it succeeded, but with the result no one expected.

But wasn’t the real problem more in London than in Brussels?

The case for a second poll grows by the day.

This post by Bruce Nixon repeats an article published by Peter Kellner in the New European 24 November. It is worth reading, as it articulates well an important facet of the debate about a possible second Brexit poll.

Perhaps the most important point Kellner makes is that on the age of voters.

We know that young voters are overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit, while older voters voted two-to-one to leave the EU.

He goes on to quantify:

Around 600,000 Britons die each year; a further 700,000 reach voting age. Taking account of polling data about older voters, and recent surveys of the views of new voters, and allowing for the fact that older electors are more likely to vote than younger electors, we find that…

demography alone is shrinking the Leave majority by almost 500,000 a year, or 1,350 a day. As the overall Leave majority in the referendum was 1,269,501, the effect is to cause the Leave majority to disappear on January 19, ten weeks before the scheduled Brexit day.

So, at the point of leaving, the majority for Brexit has disappeared. Now it’s a weird form of democracy that does not at least pause at this prospect, and check ‘Is this what you really want?’. Particularly when the deal on offer is manifestly worse economically than the status quo.



If Only They Didn’t Speak English

of onlyMy post on Competition and Co-operation touched on cultural differences between The UK and the US, so I was attracted to read Jon Sopel’s recent book ‘If Only They Didn’t Speak English’, which explores the differences Jon has found during his long stint as the BBC’s North America correspondent.

Jon’s book confirms that the US is a very different country, quite alien in many ways to a European perspective – resulting of course from a very different history and geography. A list of the subjects covered by chapter gives an idea of its scope:

  • the anger felt by many Americans, the ‘losers’ in the globalising project
  • the pervasive influence of race and discrimination
  • the evident patriotism
  • the system of government, and the current neglect of public infrastructure
  • the continued major influence of religion and God
  • the issue of guns and the right to bear arms
  • the easily aroused anxiety felt by many Americans
  • the ‘special’ role that Americans feel they have with the world, and the supposed ‘special’ relationship with UK
  • the increasing loss of contact with truth in the political arena
  • the descent into chaos with the Trump administration.

There is much insight here, although interestingly he does not focus on issues of competition vs co-operation. The book provides a stimulating read. And Jon warns that we should not expect major change or realignment; these are real differences. We really are confused by a common language, to suppose that the differences are not as great as they appear – they are.

At the end of the day, although Britain aspires to provide a bridge between Europe and America, our culture is much more European than American. Attempts to move us in an American direction must be seen in this light. Americans think we’re socialists, and most Brits don’t really want to change the current settlement and, for example, lose our NHS. Brexit puts this all in jeopardy, engineered as it was on a misleading and false prospectus of supporting the NHS.

 

No Deal Nonsense

There’s a lot of nonsense currently being put forward about ‘no deal’ being a viable Brexit option. It is not. Chaos would clearly ensue across so many areas – products, services, health, fisheries, policing, finance, etc. The list is almost endless. Governments that created such chaos both in UK and Europe would not last long.

In any case there will still need to be a deal in each of those areas. The idea of ‘no deal’ is fanciful.

If UK just walked away from all its commitments and relationship with Europe, which country would subsequently have any confidence that UK would stick to any deal?

There’s also a lot of nonsense that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ – in an environment where there is clearly insufficient time for every detail to be resolved. Sensible politicians will make agreements of principle and resolve the detail later.

The true cost of this crazy Brexit enterprise is becoming increasingly apparent.

A three-way Brexit poll?

I found an article in the 21st July edition of The Economist quite intriguing. It analysed the results of a YouGov poll in June 2018 which actually did a 3-way poll on preferences for Remain, Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit (as suggested in June by MP Justine Greening). The intriguing part was that several voting systems were used.

First past the post: 1. Remain 40, 2. Hard 37, 3. Soft 14

Shows the country deeply divided. Few people profess to want the soft Brexit being pursued by Theresa May.

Alternative Vote: 1. Hard 47, 2. Remain 44

When the 14% soft votes are apportioned according to second preferences, the result is reversed and Hard wins. Of course, this pretty well reflects the result of the 2016 referendum.

Comparisons (Condorcet Method): Soft beats Remain, Soft beats Hard, Hard beats Remain

When people are asked to compare the options, two at a time, Soft comes out as the winner. So deep down this suggests that the soft Brexit being pursued by Mrs May is the compromise that in the end satisfies most people.

Beware voting system!

Although plausible, a three-way referendum could actually be rather problematic and totally dependent on the voting system used, let alone the interference effects of Big Money and Russian Bots!

 

Polarity

Polarities obey polar logic, which is not the same as having logical opposites. Polar opposites exist by virtue of each other – they need each other. Eg day/night, inner/outer, understanding/imagination, left/right brain, material/spiritual, masculine/feminine, magnetic poles, yin/yang.

Shifts in the relationship between the poles give rise to imbalances that inevitably need to be rebalanced. This is not a logical process but requires imagination and creativity.

If the imbalance is not corrected, stasis occurs, the polarity loses its active, creative, character – the polar system is not working. Eg if we focus entirely on the outer at the expense of the inner, life becomes shallow and without meaning, meaning coming from inner experience. One might imagine a materialist world devoid of inner/spiritual experience to be meaningless (cf Beckett, Sartre) or a surface life of triviality and entertainment (cf today’s popular culture).

Look at politics for another example. There is a clear polarity between the capitalist entrepreneur and the needs of labour – if you like, capitalism vs socialism. Since the 1970s the balance has been shifting away from socialism, a process driven by people who believe that one ‘side’ can win. They are deluded. Inequality gets ever greater. In a dysfunctional system, no one wins.

Or consider integration of UK with EU (remainers) vs UK being totally independent (brexiteers). Full independence is an illusion, just as full integration is probably not desirable. We need the benefits of both. Theresa May seems to be trying to tread that necessary balancing line between the two, as is, probably, Jeremy Corbyn. Good luck to them. A sudden ‘hard brexit’ would simply mean years of hardship, until a new balance of the inevitable relationship is achieved.

The Chinese yin/yang picture perfectly encapsulates the nature of these polarities.

Inspired by Gary Lachman’s book ‘Lost Knowledge of the Imagination’, p122. 

US Trade Deal Risks

I’ve never understood the Brexiteers’ obsession with the UK doing our own trade deals. I’m sure someone could enlighten me on areas where we can gain some advantages where our needs are different from the European average. But Brexit surely wasn’t all about trade deals?

What really scares me is the possible prospect of a trade deal being done with the US without proper democratic scrutiny, which appears to be the intention of the extreme Brexiteers. It seems we must all get to understand the risks better. The Soil Association has produced a magnificent document Top 10 Food Safety Risks Posed By A Future Transatlantic Trade Deal, which needs more widespread understanding.

My brief summary:

  1. Chicken washed in chlorine to remove bacteria caused by poor animal welfare.
    (And did you know that eggs in US must be kept in fridge, as natural protection has been washed off for similar reasons.)
  2. Hormone treated beef.
  3. Ractopamine in pork, which can cause animal disability.
  4. Chicken litter used as animal feed. (Remember mad cow disease.)
  5. Common use of herbicide Atrazine, claimed to be endocrine disupter.
  6. GMOs in 88% of corn, 54% of sugar beets.
  7. Brominated vegetable oil used in citrus drinks, believed to cause health problems.
  8. Potassium bromate in baked goods, possible carcinogen.
  9. Azodicarbonamide in baking, possible carcinogen.
  10. Food colourants that are not allowed in UK.

And this list doesn’t include anything about animal welfare – see previous post.

From my own experience of periods staying in the US, I can say that much US food is excellent, but when you get to the cheap and heavily processed stuff it is quite disgusting junk. And they mostly don’t know how to bake bread.

Rather than worry, support the Soil Association to help them fight the battles, and tell your MP about your concerns.

Featured image shows a cattle feedlot in Weld County, Colorado.
Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Animal sentience

Animals clearly have an inner life, feelings, emotions, and so on. You only have to observe them. Start with a pet.

So why the great animal sentience debate? Because somewhere along the line some people started treating animals as objects whose sole purpose was to be eaten, shot at, exploited. Great factory farms became necessary to give cheap food (in the US, Soil Association estimates 99% of chickens, 90% of pigs, 78% of cows are ‘produced’ in concentrated animal feeding operations – CAFOs – animal factories). Farms in UK are gradually increasing in size to stay economically viable. Great swathes of land in the UK are managed to produce birds to be shot at, which is indeed a common sport across many countries. How long is this barbarism to continue?

Fortunately scientists have decided that animals are sentient. Thank God they’ve confirmed the bleeding obvious!

Hurrah for organisations like the Soil Association, whose ambition for animal welfare is for all farm animals to live ‘a good life’ within 10 years.

It seems that EU is moving in the right direction of recognising animal sentience, as is the UK. But this is clearly going to be a major issue in any future post-Brexit trade deal with the US, when they will want us to buy their barbarically produced cheap food as part of the deal.

The root problem is abstracting human affairs from inner values and morality, leaving the money monster in control. We really do need to reclaim our humanity, our inner compass, our conscience.

Absurd Brexit Process

I have to keep coming back to Brexit from time to time, this time inspired by ex-UK-Foreign-Secretary David Miliband on today’s now-biased BBC radio 4 programme, Today. Basically time is slipping away and negotiations within the UK cabinet have not yet concluded, let alone those with Europe. Time is running out fast.

Miliband suggested that the UK is being held hostage to the hard Brexiteers in the cabinet, who do not mind crashing out of EU, despite the untold misery that is likely to cause.

The cabinet argues over two possible ‘solutions’, neither of which EU thinks will work. The so-called max-fac ‘solution’ has a hardish border, but some magical technological fix will avoid it becoming a major bottleneck. No max-fac is going to stop border smuggling in Ireland by legions of white vans. Even minimal delays will destroy ‘just in time’ supply chains. This seems like cloud cuckoo land to me.

The other solution appears to involve UK acting as a tax collector for EU, but being otherwise disengaged. Well maybe, but that would involve a huge amount of trust, which will come under great strain when the UK starts making separate trade deals to EU’s disadvantage. (What is this big deal about trade deals? UK will clearly never get a better deal than the larger EU would.)

Basically the UK cabinet collective appears to be disconnected from the real world.

The position of the Labour Party and some moderate tories on retaining some form of customs union seems the best way forward, as does membership of the European Economic Area – if we must proceed with this absurdity of Brexit.

Oh, and it was nice to hear, in David Miliband, a politician speaking with the gravitas and understanding you might expect of a prime minister. What a shame Labour drove him away.

Anything good about Brexit?

It has for some time been suggested to me that I should write a post on what is good about Brexit. I’ve struggled with this, as there appear to be few advantages compared to the enormous disadvantages. Yes Brussels is a large bureaucracy, with all the disadvantages that entails, but getting out of the club never seemed a sensible option to me, rather than working to reform it from within.

Most important is the reason that the EU was invented – to bring together the European countries and avert for future generations the possibility of further wars such as those that disfigured preceding centuries right up to the World War. The worst conservative government in my memory has, by their own incompetence, put all this in jeopardy, dividing the country in the process and endangering the European enterprise.

In today’s speech former UK Prime Minister John Major has expressed it all very well. His speech is well worth reading, and a salutary reminder of what is at stake and the importance of the UK government taking parliament and the people along in this supremely hazardous enterprise. Major is certainly an elder statesman worth listening to.

There are no positives that counterbalance this monumental mess.

 

Vision

“Without Vision the People Perish…”

Proverbs 29:18 King James Version

The above quote was one of the inspirations behind our original lectures on Visions of a New Renaissance, and it remains just as important today.

It strikes a particular chord with me having just watched the gripping film Darkest Hour, which portrays Winston Churchill working his way towards the vision that he ultimately expressed to parliament and the British people, inspiring them to resist the Nazi tyranny.

Cassandra Vieten of IONS has published an excellent post Creating an Inspiring Vision for Our Future, which indicates the importance of a vision that will inspire people on the way forward to a better world. She refers to the example of Dr Martin Luther King, whose inspiration continues to motivate people today. Vieten says

In his book “Stride Toward Freedom,” King noted that the outcome of nonviolent resistance was the Beloved Community – not an idealistic utopia free from conflict, but a community ruled by agape which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” or an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative.” He said

“It is this type of spirit, and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

In these divided Brexit / Trump times, how the UK and US need to transform the current deep gloom of the divisive old age into the ‘exuberant gladness of a new age’. How could it be other than a vision based on agape?

Geography and Stupidity

The breakout of WW1 is a haunting occurrence for those of us born in the dying days of WW2, which finally brought an end to the European conflict begun in 1914, leading to the peace of the European Union since then.

How did that prosperous and confident Europe of the late 19C descend to such a self-defeating process?

It seems the answer lies in geography and stupidity. Read More »

A Brexit citizenship story

The following quote is from the Facebook page of a French person living in the UK and trying to obtain UK citizenship, because of Brexit. Why does the UK Home Office and the Post Office, and their operatives, feel it necessary to be so obstructive, awkward and unhelpful? It is not necessary and not in the traditional British spirit of tolerance.

I am very, very angry.

In the process of my citizenship, once I have received the letter requiring me to do so, I have 15 working day to go to the Post Office and register my biometrics. If not, my application can, and will, be rejected. I have received the letter on the 4th, and duly went to Cambridge Central Post Office today, to register.

The biometrics system is broken.
No, they don’t know why, it just does not work.
No, they don’t know when it is going to work, if ever.
No, there is no other place in Cambridge or Cambridgeshire where you can have your biometrics taken.
You have to go to either Norwich or Colchester.
No, you can’t check with Colchester or Norwich that this is in fact the case, or that their own systems work, because Post Offices don’t have phone numbers.
No, they can’t do any kind of attestation or certificate stating that there was a delay because of their lack of required facility.
No they don’t care.

I will therefore have to go to either Norwich or Colchester this Saturday (probably dragging my children along), in the hope that an hypothetical biometrics system hypothetically works there. I am lucky to be in a position to do so. What if I did not have the money? What if I did not have the time?

I usually try not to post anything either political or critical of the country where I have, after all, chosen to live. But the whole residency and citizenship applications process, the shambolic state of the whole system and of various administrations, the complete lack of care, empathy and knowledge of a great number (not all, of course) of public agents are really trying. Really, really trying.

Heaven forbid that a major international centre like Cambridge should have a working biometrics system. Heaven forbid that, in case it fails, something should be done to replace or substitute it. Heaven forbid that Post Offices should start thinking that they are, I don’t know, centres of communications and be contacted from other cities.

End of rant. Still angry.

Who wouldn’t be?

Yet another Brexit related disaster.