Thursday, 30 June 2011

Jingoism and Xenophobia go hand in gauntlet

Is it more acceptable now to be jingoistic?  I find it difficult to be patriotic, many would call me English – I would accept this if it was seen as a synonym for British but it is increasingly seen as the partisan group with some romantic notion of English as distinct from the other geographies that make up the British Isles.  So I am British.  If this is shorthand for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.  I say Northern Ireland but as recently as 1801-1922 this would have been shorthand for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, from the 1801 Act of Union.  In 1922, after the Irish War of Independence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the larger part of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom and British was redefined again.  Am I a patriot? I cherish what previous generations have achieved in the name of being British, I am embarrassed and apologetic for the atrocities that have been metered out in the name of being British, so I believe in that sense I am patriotic.  I have empathy with the need to belong to a society, I also realise that resources need to be protected and managed largely since humanity seems destined to ignore the benefits of enlightened self interest; but does this need to naturally progress to the extreme?  We seem to have a preponderance of patriots throughout our Union rattling their sabres in honour of disunity, of devolution.  Can they not see that jingoism will inevitably lead to xenophobia, whipped into a frenzy by the rightwing press, to the degradation of society for all. 

Its all in a name:  I suspect my desire to be seen as British, as a descendent of the occupants of the British Isles, stems from my name.

James  (in homage to James I of England and Ireland,  VI of Scotland)
Richard  (in homage to Richard I,  Cœur de Lion, King of all England [oh, and a bit of France])
McDermott (in homage to Dermot mac Tadhg Mor, King of Magh Luirg (Moylurg), progenitor of the surname McDermott in Connacht, Ireland.)

Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics

This much quoted phrase, with an inherent progression starting at a low point, developing to an even lower point and then ending with statistics, is (according to wikipedia) potentially un-attributed – or at the very least – avoided attribution.
On the today programme on radio 4 this morning, Francis Maude the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, was mauled by Evan Davis.  The opponent in the debate was Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, who was on the show defending the apparently indefensible strike – he sat back and let Evan do his work.   The weapon of choice for Evan you ask? Statistics.  Or more correctly reported facts.  Maude was quoting the Hutton Report, saying that pensions have been shown to eventually become unaffordable and that if we don’t act now with public sector pensions, future generations will have an unmanageable tax burden.  Evan, having asked him if he had read the report, asked a direct question about an apparent misquote, saying he had used <Ctrl>+F to search for the word!  He then went on to quote the actual numbers from the report that seemed to contradict the attributed “direct” quote.  A bloodbath of squirming and smirking followed, where I was left feeling let down by the government minister but thoroughly impressed with the quality of journalism on Radio 4 – top job guys.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

What's the point?

On Tuesday, 10 November 2009 I put my first post on my new blog Soliloquy.  It was called Existential Angst.  In fact I toyed with calling the entire blog Existential Angst.  This pervading theme may be a sign of my time of life or perhaps it’s the age in which we live: we are inundated with information and data streamed at us at such a pace it is virtually impossible to absorb, process and synthesise; we are destined to be standing like rabbits staring at the proverbial headlights of the information juggernaut.  I have three major themes which I cannot seem to get enough time to digest the current perceived wisdom and to formalise my own view.  The topics are quite broad (1) The nature of matter and the hypothesis of its creation, (2) The origin of human society and the resultant behaviours and (3) Exponential technological and biological evolution, the extrapolation of Moors Law and the Singularity
I feel like I am building three 10,000 piece jigsaws, each in a different room.  I am running from one to the other completing one part and then dashing back to look at the previous one – often finding that a small portion from my last attempt is in the wrong place. 
All three strands fit with the general theme and I wonder if its part of the nature of self-awareness that we must ask these questions.
On (1) I am intrigued by the celebrity presented view of Quantum Theory – packaged for the masses to consume – but feel that I have just scratched the surface and I want to know more.  I have this instinctive awareness that there are monumental and potentially portentous discoveries happening right now that I will only have a chance to marvel at in wonder but never truly understand.  I have bought a Quantum Mechanics text book but was shocked to find that I struggled to get to grips with the initial mathematics and physics – the very material I had studied and been examined on years ago.
On (2) I had completed .... you decide part 1, as an initial view of the origins of cities and city states, where apparently for the first time humanity decided to locate itself in a desired place and to defend that place and the resources it provided or represented.  I was intending to research if the first example on the planet of a city, Jericho, was still one of the global hotbeds of civil unrest and what this means for our civilisation.  If the descendents of those early inhabitants of the Levant who have migrated to Europe and the British Isles were not able to live closely together without the apparent need for demarcation lines and jingoistic sabre rattling from minority groups based around arbitrary geographic boundaries – what will our society become?  I have idealistic Start Trek notions of a United Federation of Earth – am I the only one? Or are we descending into a densely packed tribal combat zone?
and finally, on (3), The notions and postulations of Raymond Kurzweil and his disciples are intriguing.  Mathematically and logically they make sense – there is an elegant simplicity to the proposal that ensures that it seems like common sense – my cynicism alarm is still twitching.  I’m not sure I concur with the proposed endpoint of this exponentially accelerating evolution but nevertheless it provides an interesting perspective on how we will see an accelerating introduction of life-changing technology.  Critically it also provides a view of the life that our children might experience and will hopefully help us to prepare them better for their turn “holding the baton”.
And so, still no answers, only questions.  The eventual epitaph of all humanity.
I think I may immerse myself in fiction for awhile and see how things have moved on when I resurface……