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

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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, not this way

homo deusWith my interest in ideas of a New Renaissance, I could not resist reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book that is clearly widely read judging by its prominence in the local Waterstones.

Harari is an entertaining and informative writer, and I enjoyed reading his description of the emergence of the anthropocene era, and particularly his story following Western culture from the Renaissance, and the subsequent emergence of three interrelated themes of humanism, liberalism and democracy, along with modern science/technology and capitalism.

Harari suggests that liberalism is running into the buffers, pointing at some of the current symptoms that suggest that all is not well with the world. Well we could all make our own lists of those – like increasing inequality, global warming, species extinction, pollution,… The current paradigm or ‘web of meaning’ is no longer effective in addressing the situation we’re in. I cannot but agree with him this far.

But then his analysis suddenly seems to go awry. He suggests that contemporary science contradicts free will and the possible existence of a soul or inner self, that the mind is essentially algorithmic and subject to external control. “… biologists concluded that organisms are algorithms.” Of course, if you set out with a ‘clockwork universe’ materialistic mentality, this is the sort of world view you might come up with.

Then we get to the suggestion that organisations are just algorithms, and you could eventually replace the whole structure of an organisation with algorithms, no jobs for humans. Of course, were all this the case it undermines humanism, liberalism and the whole human project. But, come on…

And then there is the suggestion that in the era of ‘big data’ being gathered by such a Facebook and Google, these algorithms will get to know us ‘better than we know ourselves’. The dangers of ‘big data’ are clear enough, in that they may have played a role in the Brexit and Trump phenomena, but what on earth can it mean to know us better than we know ourselves?

Inequality is a big phantom in this context, as an increasingly a rich elite will have no interest in providing for the mass of humanity, as they the elite will no longer be dependent on the labours of so many others – leading eventually to a new caste system. The elite become like gods (hence homo deus), and the rest, and liberal ideals, go hang.

And if you don’t like that scenario, Harari offers an even more disturbing possibility: the religion of Dataism. “The universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.” This is a world where computers have taken over and the ‘world’ is run totally by algorithms. Insane.

So basically Harari is giving a couple of horror scenarios, nightmares outlining where we don’t want to go. The thing about human beings is that we have the capability to change direction, change the paradigm, change the ‘web of meaning’, change what is considered acceptable and what not.

What he doesn’t offer is any clue to a New Renaissance.

 

 

 

Just before the Dawn

I was struck by this observation by Steve Taylor in his February newsletter:

“The cultural conflict taking place now is between the old values and traits associated with the human race’s old state of ‘sleep’, and the new values and traits associated with a wakeful state. The old traits are threatened, and so are trying to assert themselves more strongly. It’s almost as if, within our collective psyche, the state of sleep senses that it is being superseded, and is trying to tighten its grip. So that’s why, in spite of all the madness in the world at the moment, I still remain optimistic.”

No doubt Steve is referring to the chaos of Brexit, the Trump presidency and the resurgence of values of discrimination against minorities, racism, misogyny, nationalism, separation, beggar-thy-neighbour…

It can seem disheartening that the progress made over the 70 years since the second world war is under threat and apparently in retreat.

I do feel that it helps in this situation to see the wider context, as Steve suggests. Humanity is undergoing a great developmental change, and it is inevitable that the ‘old’ values will from time to time reassert themselves with renewed vigour. It is our job to weather the storm and forge the path forward to the new world that we would wish to bequeath to our children and grandchildren.

As the saying goes, it is always darkest just before the dawn.

Featured image One Minute Before Sunrise by Jessie Eastland, via Wikimedia Commons

Fearful times

We have nothing to fear but fear itself

FDR expressed it well.

Fear is of the ego and is concerned with separation from the other. 

Love is of the soul or higher self and is concerned with coming together. 

In the process of growth we grow from fear to love, from ego to soul, from competition to cooperation. 

The Brexit and Trump phenomena are both based on fear, separation, ego. This is the problem of current times – a resurgence of fear based politics. 

Only through love and raising our level of being can this be transcended. 

Thanks for the inspiration from Richard Barrett’s recent article in SciMed Network Review. 

Truth

It is only when we are true to ourselves that we can understand and grow. It is only when we are true in relationship that the relationship can flourish. It is only when we are true in politics that we can make real choices, that democracy can flourish.

When was it so-called democratic politicians stopped telling us the truth? Maybe it was around the 1970s, as suggested in the interesting BBC documentary hypernormalisation. But it seems to have got worse e.g. reality of what happened in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel; Iraq war buildup; the so-called axis of evil; inequality and its causes; so-called trickle down economics and reality of increasing inequality; house and debt bubbles; causes of 2008 financial crash; not addressing the causes of that crash; blaming other politicians through untrue stories; tax avoidance and promises to do something that never materialise; targets for immigration that have no means of achievement; the idea that there is no alternative to austerity; blaming the EU rather than solving problems with them; gesture politics rather than really addressing problems; dropping campaign promises as soon as elected; funding fossil fuels known to be a danger to us all, and on and on and on.

So it is no surprise that people have today little faith in politicians and have in large numbers rejected the current set in the UK Brexit and US Trump votes – even though the campaigns were even more based on lies. What was the difference, people may well have thought. At least let’s try something different.

Now, I know it’s easy to call for truth, yet we know that as parents we sometimes tell varying degrees of lies to protect or entertain our children. We lie to other adults, perhaps where we would cause unnecessary offence or unpleasant consequences. So it’s no surprise that governments lie in a similar way.

What’s so different today? Maybe it’s just that the edifice of lies, ‘the narrative’ that is defended at all costs, has grown so large and is just so far separated from reality. The point is that people live in reality, so they become increasingly dissatisfied with the gap between that and the narrative. So they vote for change. They’ll probably not get the change they wanted, just a different narrative.

But maybe one day we’ll get the politicians and governments we actually crave – those that actually tell us most of the truth most of the time, and actually address the real issues facing us.

Trouble is, it’s so hard today with all the media and vested interests. At the tail end of his role as US Secretary of State, John Kerry actually for once speaks out the truth of the situation in Israel. He is immediately shouted down by all the vested interests and their narratives.

Truth is one of Plato’s three primary qualities: goodness, truth and beauty. The journey can be hard, but may this always be our direction of travel, as individuals and as collectives.

Hair of the Dog

Or should it be ‘Out of the Frying Pan…’.

Forty years of the great neoliberal globalisation project has taken its toll in terms of destroying jobs and communities across the West. Of course there have been winners and losers, and as ever the super winners are the rich and super rich.

As many commentators have observed, the resulting discontent has been a major cause of the phenomena of ‘Brexit’ in the UK and ‘Trump’ in the US.

Europe has been protected from some of the extremes of neoliberalism by its tradition of social democracy and looking after the people. The European Commission, for all its faults, has been a bulwark against some of the forces of free trade, not afraid to take on the biggest corporations.

What a paradox then, that Brexit appears to be leading the UK into the hands of a free market right wing. The UK parliament, lacking even any safeguarding constitution, will be the only defence against global forces driven by the rich and powerful. Trade will appear to be all that matters in the global race to the bottom – surely creating more of the problems that are so concerning to people who wish to rip up the European project.

More paradox in the US, where electors appear to have chosen a leader from that very super rich class that has caused the problems they are concerned about – moved jobs to China, kept their money out of the country rather than invest, fought against social and environmental changes, demanded tax reduction or simply avoided paying taxes… Of course, his chosen team is mostly also from that class.

Paradoxically, it is just possible that reality and the occasional influx of common sense will ensure that it turns out all right. Let’s hope so.

Featured image ‘Killer chihuahua’ by David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons