Supporting Data

All too often relationships falter at the alter of misunderstanding. People become upset by perceptions of malice. By allowing the feelings of anger and sorrow to linger, people allow themselves opinions to become bias. This is partly the problem of nature of ‘supporting data’.

When people misunderstand  one another, a misinterpretation of intention is experienced. There is often a sense of unwillingness to be open and clear up the misunderstanding, partly because this is time consuming, requires careful thought and exposes any individual to a lot of individual personality history and quirks. Until, if ever, this occurs there is a period of upset.

So, as individuals we learn to deal with this period of upset. A simple solution is sass, to disassociate the self from the incident and not allow it to affect yourself. Otherwise as the individual doesn’t have access to all the data, or the other side of the story, they may suffer from the mortification that they have done something terribly immoral and begin to overly question themselves.

The support of friends is often sought, if affected. This requires a re-telling of the story. The friend will hear an account of how their friend has been mistreated by someone. It is not the whole story as the only data available is one side of the story. Nonetheless, the story, sounds like their friend has been mistreated. In any case, the other data is unavailable, what is important is to help their friend, to support them and reassure them that there isn’t anything wrong that they have done. Often, by implication, the other party is to blame. What often happens is that people are blamed without access to all the information.

This can be a problem as it can quickly occur that peoples labels outside the group can empirically seem to belong to a ‘bad lot’. Young men and women will often blame the other gender for social problems for example.

My concern is that this process is increasingly occurring in the media and indeed social media. Every day I become more exposed to bias data and less authoritative balanced accounts. It requires effort to ensure that you keep exposing yourself to a wide range of sources of opinions, to protect yourself from adopting the biases of groups to which you belong. Social media is particularly bad for this, for example on twitter, you tend to follow people who share your interests and general opinions, reinforcing your own bias.

My uncle, took a right wing newspaper (In the UK most mass media is right wing), he did this because he wanted to know ‘what the enemy was thinking’. As a younger man, I assumed that this was why most people read the newspapers they did, rather than one which reflected more closely their own position. Perhaps because, we are all insecure, we seek reassurance that what we think is all-right by reading/hearing similar opinions reflected back to us.

This is very dangerous. For example, the great lesson of the rise of Nazism in the twentieth century. A small minority of any population, tries to buck the system and commits crimes. The criminals will come from every religious, racial or social group. However if the dominant media only report , for example, the crimes of Jews and neglect to report those of other people, then the impression created is that Jews commit most of the crimes, when this has no statistical basis. This view became pervasive in Nazi Germany and was one of the causes of the terrible rise of Naziism. So it worries me now, that Muslims are now placed in a similar position in contemporary Western Society.

It is easier for people to feel that someone else is to blame and that it isn’t their fault, really because there isn’t enough data readily available to assess whether as an individual you are part of the problem or not. not readily available as it harder to locate data sources outside of your culture/ social group. Whilst difficult and non-commercial (the data sources will not be marketed at you), it is important that everyone does this, to spend a little time thinking outside of the generalisations we require to get by and stay positive.

People are distracted by the trivial, the serious is often mentally tiring and disturbing. Art is a great stimulus to the intellect and source of positive feelings. What makes something a rewarding piece of art is interesting, so often people seek the background to the art. As a starting point, one may seek to discover the artists background or biography. Beyond that people may become interested in gossip of the artist as celebrity (here beginning to concern the trivial). The ardent fan may seek personal information beyond, that required to understand the art, to feel a sense of personal connection to the artist. The bulk of popular media responds to this  by generally providing trivial data, at the expense of balance. Again, we become accustomed to this torrent of trivia and instead of vigilently questioning it, begin to accept these trivial opinions as truths, after all they are only trivial truths.

But, it affects democracy too. The idealised British democratic system is based upon politicians taking advice and data from a range of people, generally experts in the field, academics and captains of industry. Ideally, all this data is then rigorously discussed amongst politicians of a range of types, and compromises reached and policy enacted to improve the general situation. Whether the UK ever had this ideal is a matter for debate, however it is clear that this ideal is no longer the case. Today politicians only seem to take data from favoured (and hence bias) sources, there is little scrutiny. As I’ve said before, policy occurs to placate those identified as being important to appeal to for re-election and maintain relationships with favoured sources, rather than best policy.

So, having access to all data, not just from those that support us, is necessary for getting a balanced overview of anything. It is understandable not to do this all the time, as people need to live positively. Rather than question every hiccup, be aware that it is a way of dealing with incomplete data. People should remain aware of the risks of the explosion of data the internet exposes us too and the bias implied.

Life Economics

I like economics. I am interested in theories of how parts of systems interact. I am also interested in sustainability, exploring what keeps systems continuing.  This interest has often led me to view human economics with dread, simply due to the unsustainability of the system. Economic models seem limited as individuals are not ststic and they change as they progress through life stages.

A lot of human economic theory presents individuals and entities as rational players of a game, that participants make choices. I would argue that choices are very much constrained, players are really powerless pawns within the system that imposes the solution to individuals need to survive.

The global financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated the weakness of the predominant form of capitalism. Modern society is reliant on the banking system, through which capital ends up in the hands of bankers and everyone else, citizens and government institutions end up in debt to. The system leads to a decrease in liquidity, which constrains growth.

The problem is growth. Most capitalist systems rely on economic growth to function. Real growth only occurs through productivity growth. Firstly through innovation and finding more efficient ways of working, this growth is achieved. Secondly it is achieved through leveraging, by specialising and economies of scale. This second type of growth is constrained by sustainability, you can only expand an industry so much before environmental constraints begin to increase, required resources become harder or more expensive to obtain at higher levels. Leveraging is also constrained by reaching saturation of the market for the product. This type of growth is a problem because when growth is continued to be sought, the market can over-leverage and be supported by capital based on credit.

We currently live in a globalised economy. Trade occurs at a global scale. This aids leveraging growth, but further constrains localised sustainability and global sustainability. It also makes it harder to see where sustainability costs are increasing as the players are not local.

What is the economic experience of individual ‘players’ in the UK. Due to globalisation, simple manufacturing production is uneconomic, the cost of living is higher than the return for such endeavours. What people in the UK can do, is provide intellectual services as parts of interlinked production webs. To do this requires a high level of education. In recent years this requires paying for, so a large proportion of young people require £60000 of credit to achieve the skills required to work.

In the UK we have high housing costs. Rents are high. So it makes sense to buy your own home, as over an individuals life time it is much cheaper to buy your own homes, even if that involves taking out a mortgage. So by taking the only sensible option, young people in the UK now have £250000 of debt before they even start doing anything. The decision to  have children must occur before awareness of ability to pay for having children, before they have made any economic ‘choice’, the only choice, being living in an area where housing costs are high because that is where the jobs are. Which means the banks make a lot of money out of everyone.

The upshot of this is bad economically. The cost of living and servicing imposed debt is proportionally high, leaving disposable incomes low. So there is little money to spend or invest in new growth. Individuals and businesses cannot take risks on new ventures because they have large debts/costs to service.

The problem the UK finds itself in is that the banking system messed up. House prices rose, individual debts rose in line with them, disposable income declined, as almost all wealth generated went to the banks in interest payments. Yet in 2008 the banking system collapsed. The UK economy is largely made up of intellectual finance services, so it could not be allowed to go bankrupt. So the government borrowed money to keep the banks afloat. Really part of the solution should be wealth redistribution from the capital hoarding rich to the public, to increase liquidity and encourage growth. The problem with a globalised world is that the rich can escape taxation/ repaying their debt to governments by moving their capital offshore.

What I and many don’t understand is why to support this system, everyone is in debt to it, now including the government. The banking system doesn’t pay compensation, just requires taxpayers to pay the interest on their own loans and the government borrowing to the banks, the latter only existing for the banks survival?!

Traditional leveraging, through taking out loans to buy equipment or training to enable a player to produce a product at the market price, works because the income gain is higher than the cost of the loan. For individuals that £250000 debt, may not be paid off though the economic life of the person, it is simply assumed that individuals will have enough income to pay off the debt, which makes the cost of labour artificially high, due to the requirement to pay off this debt of each worker.

In an economy so reliant on banking and vast amounts of credit, is also ones that undergoes economic cycles, caused by the amount of credit in the system. Over an individuals lifetimes, this creates costs, especially if you are unlucky with time on being at a certain age in a particular period in the cycle. The economic game is unfair on some of the players. Particularly the current generation in their 20s, high housing and education costs, high taxes to pay off previous debts they received no benefit in return for and to care for a large ageing population.

So, what of the future for Britain, saddled with huge debts, an infrastructure that becomes less efficient as economic growth occurs? Wealth inequality is high and increases as the bankers continue to cream off the interest from everyone else’s rising debt. This wealth is used to buy land and keep housing costs high, even during a recession, so there is no correction in prices when the economy slides from over leveraging. Growth is constrained, all organisations are not becoming more efficient as they are tightening belts (austerity) and in coping with crisis mode, which involves being less efficient than normal.

Real growth occurs outside the financial services, financial services don’t actually produce anything other than inflating the value of capital. It is an individuals ability to make market choices, which ultimately supports productivity growth, in a world where the number of true markets is decreasing. However the more debt each individual has, the fewer choices they have over where there money is spent. So where there is growth it will be less leveraged.

It’s scary, thinking about economics. Especially living in such an inter-dependent global economy, where returning to subsistence agriculture isn’t really an option should the whole system collapse. Unless you are lucky to be very rich and have large assets, there is very little an individual can do about it. I am no expert on this, but it seems we need to change the system so there is less reliance on credit, acknowledge that credit isn’t quite the same as real money, it is loaned at a risk and creditors need to perhaps be more ready to take the hit on their disposable income when the economy re-balances. After all they do very well when loans are readily re-paid in an upward leveraging cycle.

Tribes

Human beings have always been tribal by nature. People exist as part of tribes that offer support and a sense of belonging. There has always been a balance between competition and cooperation between tribes. This phenomena exists in other animals, whilst there is some aggression between tribes, there is a respect, because  those in the neighbouring tribe are often cousins. For example males who go off to mate in a nearby tribe to avoid in-breeding. In modern society, we are still tribal, the system has developed so that often we are a member of many different tribes, from the family unit to ones that cross international boundaries.

I love team sports. Principally I love football and rugby. I enjoy being part of the team, when I play in a team I give everything I can to the team. I also support professional teams. Supporting professional teams provides two services to me as an individual. There is the tribal sense of belonging and desire for the team to do well. There is also the interest and awe of observing professionals demonstrate skills and tactics, beyond my own skill level.

Watching professional sport is also akin to attending music concerts. Again there is the sense of belonging to the tribe of people who venerate particular musicians and the shared joy of listening with like minded souls. The ability to be positive about a particular style without an overly critical response. Arguably this could also apply to religion, career paths or genres of books and films I particularly like.

People sometimes find it strange that I support three football clubs. I grew up in rural Wales, lacking professional football teams. There was no football tribe that I already belonged to, so I ended up supporting three different tribes. I am lucky in that all three of my teams play in blue and white. The three clubs are different sizes and play at different levels of the football pyramid, so each offers a different interest. In rugby, I am more conventional, i support my home town team and my national team. Being Welsh this is mandatory, unless you really dislike the sport. In this sense I was already part of the tribe before I understood the game of rugby.

Whilst fierce rivalries exist between my teams and others. The huge passions evoked during a match are quickly put aside to join the bigger tribe of people who appreciate rugby/ football.

What is perhaps interesting sociologically is that in football I chose the teams to support. I didn’t actively choose through some analysis of the game or the relevant merits of each team, the teams I chose happened somewhat passively, accidentally. However, I have written in this blog about my status as an outsider, yet I strongly identify with these team tribes. Perhaps because I used to have an unfulfilled need to feel a sense of belonging. It is also interesting in that the football teams I support, historically are the big underachievers, the sleeping giants, often overshadowed by bigger more successful local rivals. So, whilst I didn’t actively choose the football teams I support, something in my personality drew me to them, this sense of the outsider and the joy of being welcomed into a big tribe of outsiders.

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The Manchester City tribal home. “We all live in a sky blue stadium!”

The biggest football team I support, the one I have been the most passionate about is Manchester City. In recent years, something very odd has occurred. They became a rich and successful club, actually winning things like the FA cup and  English Premier league titles. To be honest, I find this a little strange and unworldly, yet am wonderfully pleased by the success. I remember being at a game and the bloke next to me was getting very stressed and vocal about the teams performance against a rival team for the Premier league title. A fellow fan quipped “Don’t worry mate, we’re still in the play-offs!” a reference to the clubs recent past struggling to get back into the higher divisions. To me finishing second for Manchester City still feels like a big achievement.

Supporting football and rugby teams, historically has been about community, specifically working class communities. Life was tough, though there was a sense of solidarity. The achievements of the communities representatives in the sporting arena, when the team won, would provide a sense of joy and pride that would fill the week with positivity until the next game. The success or failure of the team/tribe provides a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs quite separate from the individuals life. In everyone’s struggle to be positive and happy, it is sometimes very useful to have something outside the self to provide extended uplifts or short bursts of sorrow to help keep ones own moods in perspective.

The Belief Trap

Until recently I suffered from social anxiety. I struggled to fit in. Part of the reason for this was being an outsider, different to the mainstream. This social anxiety is a trap which self perpetuates until you really understand it and can put it behind you. The trap involved various belief structures.

A simple way of being sociable is to express what you think about any given situation and listen to others, balancing conversation between the serious and the fun. When what you think is different, many people won’t understand. This is fine, but when what an individual thinks is different most of the time, it influences behaviour, because of the way people react to the unusual. The outsider always feels part of a minority, constantly questions whether what they think is wrong and this saps confidence. Confidence is the very thing necessary to maintain being open and honest.

These negative reactions creates tension and unease. As social interactions become frequently fraught, the outsider is left feeling excluded from the group. The outsider hasn’t chosen to be excluded, they are just being honest. However the outsider may feel uncomfortable with their social position or dislike making people around them uneasy, conversations seem to cause problems . So, a strategy emerges of not being honest, to cover up the differences with humour and role play, to not be the awkward one. The difficulty then is for other people to distinguish when the person is being serious/truthful or being sarcastic/playful. I my personal experience of this, people often complained that they couldn’t tell when I was being serious or not. Really, this distancing and lack of clarity is a mask to hide behind from being feeling hurt or alone so frequently.

The outsider becomes aware and anxious socially, yet retains a desire to be open and honest with other people. The trouble with this honesty is that it is often not believed or seen as creepy disturbing behaviour. Not being believed causing one to act nervously, which compounds other peoples unease with the outsider. As this continues, the outsider may start to believe that they are actually creepy and disturbing and build up barriers between themselves and wider society. It was understanding why I was not being believed that enabled me to escape from this belief trap.

The belief trap operates such that as people begin to disbelieve the outsider, this affects their communications to the outsider. The outsider then begins to suspect that people are being dishonest with them and start not to believe what people are saying to them. This belief trap can quickly descend into a paranoid world where nothing one says is true, nothing one hears is true and the world quickly makes no sense at all.

The escape is simply not being concerned that people believe you, to ignore small group effects that separate one from the group, accept that in the wider society there are others with similar shared beliefs that validate the outsider individual. If people don’t understand then that is their problem, not the outsiders (providing that outsider is always open and willing to answer questions about their beliefs)  Why is the outsider not believed?

The outsiders understanding or motivation is not widely understood. Often an odd behaviour will be rationalised by others according to social archetypes. For example, the man seeking to talk to woman, may be construed as seeking a sexual relationship, it is the most likely motivation. However it is not the only explanation, so why are alternative explanations not explored?

Often outsider behaviour is viewed as creepy. Creepy being defined as manipulative behaviour with a hidden motivation. The idea is that the person is seeking something through not playing by the rules of the society, hence it is then easy to ostracise that person, to punish the anti-social behaviour. The trouble is that the outsider finds conforming to these unwritten social conventions challenging and unrewarding. Especially when traditions in society are being ripped up in favour of a tyranny of an unthinking majority.

There are those who have a good understanding of the social rules. Sometimes these people know how to be deceitful and manipulate people, whilst abiding by the rules. People are aware of deceitful behaviour and know that it often isn’t easy to spot. So, when an outsider appears to be obviously deceitful they can justify shunning the outsider as there behaviour has similarities with manipulative behaviour. If the example of the man seeking to talk to a woman is considered, then the honest and open activity of the outsider are misinterpreted and lumped together with the actions of the deceiving relationship seeking male.

There is a big risk for outsiders, who find a like minded community where they feel a sense of belonging. It sometimes happens that there is a terrible flaw in any particular way of being. Mis-truths generated within the community may be viewed as true and justify actions such as terrorism. So whilst a sense of belonging is great, it remains important to seek balance and perspective from wider society.

It is also important not to vilify any particular motivations, so individuals suppress there feelings. Listening and an active exploration of someone’s view will often reveal that the difference in opinion is not so great as at first envisaged.

Arguing for Sustainable Intensification

Many arguments stem from semantic differences. Arguments often involve different interpretations of the same word, or  concept. Often there is a reluctance to shift ones own understanding of a concept, as there is an awareness that this may involve applying this shift to other arenas of thought, the fear of re-evaluation of deeply held beliefs.

So, it is important to clarify what is meant by sustainable intensification of agriculture, especially as it is a melding of two different concepts. Two different concepts that have historically be viewed as in opposition to each other.

Firstly sustainable means being able to continue a practice forever or at least for the foreseeable future. Undertaking a practice that doesn’t through it’s impacts curtail long term continuance of the practice.

Secondly, intensification means finding solutions to producing more from a limited resource. In agriculture, this has meant increasing specialisation, or increasing the inputs from other sources to increase production locally.

So, sustainable intensification means producing more from a limited resource, without in doing so affecting future use of the limited resource. however it doesn’t automatically imply that intensification can only be through increased use of external resources, it is here that issues come in interpreting what is meant by intensification. Nor does it imply simply increasing more from any one area of agriculture, a more holistic approach may be required.

Sustainable intensification has come about as a concept due to the challenge of producing enough food to feed the growing population of the world.Part of the problem is identification of what the limited resources are? The obvious answer is land, but it isn’t only land as in modern agriculture resources are used that come from outside the individual farm.  It is for this reason that traditional pre-industrial farming is often cited as being a sustainable model, because most resources used came from within the farm, so had to be sustainable. However traditional farming produces lower yields than modern farming.

Traditional farming was sustainable as local resources were used. Farms were mixed and produced food for consumption by the local community. All farms produced arable crops and animal products. what was useful was that it worked with natural biological processes, rather than seek solutions to constraints imposed by biological processes. Land was fertilised by the livestock, allowing arable crops to flourish and a portion of the arable crops sustained the animals through the winter months.

Industrialisation of agriculture, was a product of economics. The idea of producing low yields of an arable crop on land which was more suited for grazing, and conversely the idea of raising livestock on land which was capable of high yields of arable crops was dismissed on economic grounds. However the intensification enabled by this was not sustainable. It was not sustainable as the soil was drained of it’s natural resources, nature abhors mono-cultures, requiring ever more complicated artificial fertilisers and ways of combating pests/diseases. The battle of restraining nature caused ever spiralling costs.

Agriculture has become isolated from wider society. Further intensification using industrial techniques, including genetic modifications technologies, unless there is a very major breakthrough, is not going to increase yields very much. More lateral solutions are going to be required to achieve the goal of sustainable intensification.

One such solution comes through a  tweaking of the definitions, through ignoring the definition and instead dealing with the goal of feeding the world. not increasing any individual yield, but to focus on a holistic total yield. Western society has become used to consuming foods that are available all year round, from all over the world. Achieving that availability, particularly producing food out of season, invokes costs and inefficiencies. So, the solution is perhaps to ignore what the ‘market’ supposedly wants and instead concentrate on maximising production in a sustainable way. This will involve changing everyones diet. Some popular foods will become more scarce and expensive, especially out of season, other foods will become cheaper. The diets of the people of the ‘developed’ world will be changed in a similar way to agriculture, from working against the constraints of ecology to working with the ecology. Away essentially from the idea of using grain from arable land to feed livestock, to using foraging livestock to maintain arable yields for human consumption.

This process, does involve a change in how markets are viewed. Farming is after all a business, farmers main concern is making a tidy profit. A current phenomena is that dairy farmers in Wales are moving back to pasture based systems away from intensive use of concentrates. The reason for doing this is that costs are drastically reduced. So whilst yields are lower, the profit is increased. This is great economically and in terms of animal welfare, however, it is unclear whether, ultimately sustainable intensification is realised, as it is unclear how much less land is utilised globally in such a production system. There are developments in this area such as intensive foraging, where cows forage on mature grasses, which have an improved nutrient and protein content, leading to higher yields.

Sustainable intensification will be about finding ways of increasing yields on individual crops. by itself it won’t feed the world. The challenge of achieving food security for this over-populated planet, will involve changing diets, attitudes and lifestyles to more sustainable ones. This isn’t an argument for everyone to be vegetarian, as livestock will play a role in recycling nutrients and foraging land poorly suited to arable production, rather people will learn to eat less, but better quality, animal products.

For example, modern dairy herds are almost exclusively Friesian /Holsteins. These breeds have been bred for highly intensive production, involving a lot of inputs, management and are susceptible to disease, to the extent that these breeds struggle on non-optimum foraging conditions. A solution is a return to smaller herds of lower milk yielding, but more rugged traditional breeds, which , whilst producing less milk per cow, will require less inputs and play a part of working with the land, as part of the cycle preparing it to be high yielding arable land. By taking a more holistic approach the total yield of produce over the cycle per acre of land will be higher, than the industrial specialised system, people will need to adapt, as well as the farming industry to more vegetables and less meat.

Sustainable intensification is actually a melting pot of different definitions and re-evaluations of the economic systems people in the developed world live by, but the world needs it. Solutions will come from a melding of the best of traditional sustainable practice, with the best of modern techniques and scientific understanding.

Depressing misunderstood music

People have often criticised sections of the music I like, because it’s ‘depressing’. There is no such thing as “depressing’ music, only music that you don’t get or don’t understand, perhaps people don’t want to say: “Turn this off because I don’t understand it”, which would be more accurate.

Generally the music referred to, lyrically, deals with sad topics, the plight of the alienated from society, with the expression of quite specific negative feelings. Such music concerns the feelings of a minority in society. This music has very positive functions. Most importantly it allows the listener to recognise and relate to an expressed emotion, from this comes a sense of validation, that those thoughts are not unique and are those of a wider community of people. This association with the negative actually helps allow the listener to escape from negative feelings as a focal point for the negativity is provided, so the feelings can be appropriately compartmentalised. it is no surprise that the purveyors of such music, never achieve super stardom, but often have large, loyal very dedicated groups of fans. for example Leonard Cohen sang “We are ugly, but we have the music”, to me this means that whilst outsiders may feel outside society, at least they/we have understanding of a great collection of music.

I stressed in a recent post, how human feelings consists of happiness, sadness and a neutrality. Art should concern all possible states of human conciousness. I don’t understand the call for more happy music. It is harder to express happiness artistically I feel. However you can’t force happiness on people (though it would be wonderful if this was actually possible!). I am a massive fan of ‘The Cure‘, In the late 1980s they suddenly started producing a string of poppy, happy songs, that gained more widespread success, ‘Lovecats’ reached the giddy heights of number 7 in the singles chart in the UK. These worked wonderfully as very rare expression and explorations of happiness. More recently with ‘Happy’ by Marina and the Diamonds

It would be wrong to suggest that this music is better or worse than other music, by which I mean music that concerns more general widely felt thoughts and feelings about the human condition. Whilst this kind of music can be amazing it will always fail to provide the keenness of resonance of a more rare or specific emotion. However, good music of this variety is harder to distinguish. Often an artist will write lyrics that are so general and lacking any real insight, that they are dull and boring.

What has always flummoxed me, is that pop music that becomes hugely successful, seems to bare little relation to it’s quality, whether lyrically or musically. I’m aware that music lovers and lovers of insightful lyrics are the minority and don’t determine popularity. I wonder whether there is something special that people who don’t feel like outsiders or a developed sense of music pick up on?

However it may be something less profound. sometimes an artist will emerge for popularising a new style of music. Usually the new style will already have developed in the underground by experimental artists. To fans of the experimental sound, the popularisation will sound dull and boring, but to the uninitiated it may present the expression of that musical idea for the masses.

I’ve mainly been discussing lyrical content in this discussion, as i hinted almost the exact same argument apples to musicality. However musicality is different. Being an outsider is something that happens to an individual. Musicality can be developed by anyone, through active listening to music. For example, the popular works of a classical composer, most people will like, you then play another less popular work by that artist, and the listener won’t get it. However if they have developed musicality, they will be able to appreciate the less popular work  just as much as the popular one. Composers, don’t know what is going to be popular. Perhaps popularity occurs when a musical idea is very simple, it is the simplicity that resonates, to the composer the simplicity may not be apparent at the time of writing.

The 50% Rule

Whilst attending a Q&A with Sir Steve Redgrave, the multiple Olympic gold medallist and thoroughly nice bloke, he discussed ‘the 50% rule’. He gave this discussion in response to the question of why put yourself through the sacrifice of training.

The answer is simple. He kept doing it because he enjoyed it at least 50% of the time and stated that he would give up rowing if he ever dipped below this level. Really any successful sportsperson or artist doesn’t undergo some huge personal sacrifice in order to achieve success, they do it because they enjoy the training 50% of the time. Of course he forced himself through many gruelling ERG session which he hated, nothing can be enjoyed everytime, but less than half of sessions were like this.

Really, the 50% rule can be applied to everything that we choose to get ourselves involved with as humans. It can also be applied to understand the difference between happy and unhappy people. Simply, unhappy people either persist in doing things they don’t enjoy, haven’t yet found something they really enjoy or are suffering some form of depression which prevents them enjoying life. Why 50%? why not 10% or 30%?

No-one is happy or sad most of the time, generally most people spend most of their lives in a state of neutrality, neither being happy or sad. People have moments of being happy or sad, also these states can linger for a while. A healthy person will allow feelings of happiness to persist and unhappy thought to be forgotten quickly.

So, if the peturbations away from neutrality are mainly happy, then the memory of happiness will pervade the neutral state and the person can generally be described as happy and content with themselves. Even if the majority of peturbations are sad ones, this can be outweighed by the lingering happiness increasing the influence of happy. Conversely the unhappy person will have their neutrality burdened by the memory of sadness.

I think that this is particularly hard on the depressed person, who has insufficient experience of happy to understand what it is. To the depressed person, the moments of happiness are so rare, they seem artificial and instead of enjoying them they agonise over how this came about and whether it would be possible to find this state again soon. Of course the agonising only serves to dispel the happiness, it is lingering in sadness, which only makes things worse.

For example I like to read about the news, I like to know what is going on in the world, however most of this news tends to be very sad and often this sadness effects me after I have stopped reading. Really by the logic of this, I should stop reading the news! so sometimes I do stop. Stopping allows me to be free of cynicism with the world, I’ll be aware it’s there but have actively chosen to be free of it, at least for a short while. so to be happy,one has to break your own rules, some of the time, to be happy.

I would say, being someone who only discovered happiness relatively recently is that understanding happiness is important as you only truly experience happiness when you know what it is and how you got there, an analogy is knowing where the state of happines is on a map. Humans naturally, know what happiness is, but long periods of depression serve to make people forget where happiness is. It also required lateral thinking. One cannot simply arrive at happiness in a linear logical way, it has to be felt rather than thought.

Conservative trains

Politically, I should be a conservative. I grew up in a traditional middle class nuclear family. I was brought up to value and respect people and tradition. I have a sentimental attachment to a paternalistic society, whereby you learn about, then adopt the system you grow up with, following a broadly linear path. To work hard and be rewarded with a comfortable existence and a modicum of quality leisure time where people are free to do what they want, earning responsibility by conforming to a set of principles, then adapting those principles to the needs of the time and ones generation. This is essentially what is described as one-nation conservatism. That everyone lives in a society and everyone who is able to, should pull their weight and look after the rest of society, each individual has a responsibility to society in general. an analogy for this system is that of a train, everyone travels on the same train, as you mature you gain responsibility leading towards driving the train and ultimately managing the direction of the train.

When I was very little I enjoyed reading the Railway Series books of the Rev. W.V. Awdry, now popularly known as the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ books. The tales are essentially a classical analog of the idealised traditional one nation conservative British class system, the world of the author. The  ‘troublesome’ trucks represent the working classes or proletariat. The passenger carriages represent middle class women, who are demure and subservient to the engines, the male middle classes, All paternalistically managed by the Fat Controller, representing the ruling class. The stories centre on the characters of the engines, each engine learning to control their personalities, with often strict control by the fat controller, to achieve the aim of becoming ‘really useful engines’, or conformed contributing members of society.

The thing is, I didn’t fit in, despite being male and middle class, I was an outsider. I tried to conform and do what I felt was expected of me, but I couldn’t force myself to be something that I wasn’t, I wasted so much time trying, feeling plastic and fake, so ‘failing’ to commit to the system as it wasn’t rewarding me and putting up barriers to the world, which made the attempt harder and harder to be happy, until I eventually stopped trying being this way, I decided to be me and do what I wanted to do, to trust myself and not be what ‘society’ wanted me to be. The system had failed me.

Except, really, the system hadn’t failed me, it had changed, radically. Conservatism changed and politically hasn’t been properly challenged, and I vehemently opposed this change from a young teenager. One nation conservatism dissappeared with the adoption by the Conservative party of monetarist capitalism by the Thatcher government at the time when I was becoming aware politically. I objected to it because it rejected the concept of society that I had grown up to believe in and one which continued to exist in Wales. Instead of working towards a fair egalitarian society, the concept of society was ditched in favour of a more individualistic model where each individual aims should be to maximise their individual wealth at the expense of the rest of society. An anathema to a close knit rural community, where people were always ready to muck in and help out those in need for nothing in return.

Of course the ruling classes required the support of the middle classes to make such changes. The middle classes were kept on board by the lie of expanding the middle class, the lie of ever increasing house prices so people felt that things were getting better (they weren’t as the cost of a home went up from three times average earnings in my parents time to ten times average earnings now), merely the market was distorted by restricting supply. By selling off the assets of the nation on the cheap, the nationalised monopoly industries, to the middle classes who could afford to buy the shares who could sell them for a tidy unearnt profit. Growing up in Wales, it was obvious that wealth and power were being drawn to the South East of England. Wales saw rising unemployment and social deprivation as my country went from being a net contributor to the UK economy, to a net beneficiary, requiring ‘handouts’ from central government to keep services running and benefits to the unemployed. I find this so sickening, It amazes me that people don’t see through the Tory party and still vote for them!

To me it seems that capitalism has failed. True markets, are a lot less common nowadays. By true markets I mean an industry growing through innovation and efficiency. New technologies enable things to be produced more efficiently and the work is organised better so each worker is more productive, an ‘organic’ natural system. Due to this growth less people are needed for production in any specific area and are thus freed to develop new arenas or work in the arts. Real world markets no longer function through real growth, they develop through exploitation, by making people pay more for the same product or a worsening service and this is achieved by the lie of selling the products as a lifestyle choice. Instead of making new products or improving old ones, Britain has become a nation of getting better at financial services, or getting better at selling rubbish. People in such a system no longer feel a sense of pride in their work in doing a good job. Such a system is surely doomed to collapse at some point. The costs of maintaining a high standard of living in Britain now require ever longer working hours to pay off ever more imposed debt. I object to it because it is anti-social. I don’t get a ‘thrill’ out of selling something to people that they don’t really want, and I have met many people in my generation who seem to enjoy this, because they are not selling to ‘people like them’. This is such a divisive force and against every principle I grew up with, I didn’t want to compromise.

Anyway, I have found myself and a way to be me and exist in such a society without ripping anyone off. i no longer am constrained by any perception of what I ‘should’ do. Doing this involved, ‘getting off the train’ (which was changing from ‘caring’ steam trains to modern ‘abominations’ of diesel and electric, or from traditional conservatism to neo-conservatism) and finding my own path. The freedom to do this is, for each individual to discover themselves is itself inefficient, but the only way for true individualism to continue and not be forced from the path by the corporate lie is to do this, but it is inefficient. This inefficiency in an overcrowded world of climate change challenges will not continue. We face growing older in a world where the quality of life is in decline. I wish I knew the solution, but I am working on it!

Generally Separate

When people get into a fight, there is often a cry to separate, to step back, provide both parties to stop and reflect upon their actions. Many arguments and conflicts are caused by misunderstandings. Many misunderstandings arise from a tendency to generalise. People generalise to make help make sense of the world, to simplify.

In my recent conversations with people about the murder of journalists in Paris this week, I have often found myself as the standard barer of the idea of separating and not generalising. It is wrong to cast aspersions on an entire group of people, or people who identify with a particular belief. It is also wrong to suggest that all ‘members’ of a group are responsible for the actions of individuals with whom they share some label. For example if a murder occurs in Wales, as a Welshman I am not to blame for the murder, nor should I apologise to the world on behalf of Welsh people. Whilst all Welsh people are Welsh, as individuals we all define that sense of identity in a different way.

People often get upset or angry by events. When  we become upset, there is a tendency to blame others, there is often no immediately apparent cause of the problem so people look for generalisations, and the labels generated from generalisations come to the for. One might, for example blame all women for a relationship floundering. However, it is perhaps neglected that when there is a misunderstanding it is due to the failure of the generalisation, than some more rare personality trait is not understood.

There is a sense of the tyranny of the perceived majority, which is often heightened by the media. For example that men are only after sex and not committed relationships. Sometimes, people take comfort from the logic of using generalisations to form conclusions for a communication breakdown, it gives a sense of a matter being settled. i would argue that often misunderstandings arise from people making generalisations and a disregard for the separateness of individuals, for ‘exceptions to the rule’. Really because as humans we generalise, we often fail to be aware that we are dealing with an individual who is different and not all generalisations apply to any individual.As a society we are not less homogenised, we live in a multi-cultural society, yet still retain the trappings of class, the traditional form of difference in a society.

This loss of social rules and social conformity is a triumph. It has freed individuals from feeling that they should act or think in a particular way. It also places a burden on the individual to assess the morality of their thoughts and actions individually and often there isn’t the time and space to do this thoroughly. Often a solution is to adopt or buy into a particular philosophy as a general way to simply exist and get on with things, whilst recognising that every system has it’s flaws and weaknesses as well. However following the dictates of any particular creed or rule system, will inevitable cause the followers of another system harm, inadvertently at some point.

For example, wearing of the burka. To me, as a western feminist, women should be free to wear what they want and not have their choice of clothes  dictated by any particular greed or gender group. Men should respect women by not harassing them for any choice of clothing they may make. So, if I were to completely adopt this creed I would be disapproving of women wearing the burka, advocating that the burka has no place in society. This is wrong, as I would be applying my creed to someone else. Women have the right to wear the burka if they wish to. in any case, the feminist creed has not fully succeeded in removing the harassment of women in the street in society, no creed can claim any superiority over the other.

I was once involved in a rather farcical clash of cultures once on a London bus. I got onto the bus, there was only one spare seat, next to a woman, which I sat in. The woman got up from her seat, presumably as her creed was that she shouldn’t sit next to strange men. My creed dictated that I should give up my seat for a woman, so I got up and indicated that the lady should resume her seat, which she did. On my last visit to London, on the tube (underground railway), the lady opposite who was nursing a young child, gave up her seat to an elderly lady who had just got on the train. I then gave up my seat to the lady with the child!

I am British, the British are often criticised for apologising whenever things go awry. Actually this is healthy thing to do, it is a correct admission that no-one is perfect, that this lack of perfection has caused some trouble to someone else. That the reasons or a difficulty is that we are all different and working out the exact thing we are apologising for is most of the time not worth trying to work out, or at least should be remembered for when the person has to time to stop and reflect.

My own problem was that I would overly worry and assess my own failings, rather than admit to never being perfect and get on with living, to accept that people are always going to misunderstand me and I others, with no intended malice. I didn’t do this partly as I allowed the differences and misunderstanding to effect me, when it is something that just happens. Learning to tolerate the differences in others is something i could always do, what i lacked was freeing myself of the fear of my own status as someone separate of inadvertently offending others.

People should be less hasty to judge both other individuals and labelable groups, not try and dictate how others from different backgrounds should behave (all our backgrounds are different), but rather accept the separateness of us all as individuals and do our best to get along with one another.

#JesuisCharlie and Freedom of Speech

I was taken aback yesterday by the sheer volume of postings about the tragic murder of twelve journalists and policemen in France this week. Often things that become big in the media and social media bemuse me. What struck me is the prevalence of the idea that what happened represents an attack on ‘freedom of speech’, it doesn’t and is actually an unhelpful interpretation of the events.

The facts are that these journalists were murdered by a bunch of sick individuals. That is it, it is terrible and awful, but apart from pray for their families and loved ones there is nothing people can do about it.

Why the huge reaction? innocent people are murdered by messed up people and fascists everyday, particularly so in Syria and Iraq in recent times, so this week is just like any other. These murders are just as terrible and tragic as those in France this week and just as deserving of moral outrage.

It seems likely that the perpetrators of this crime are misguided Islamic extremists, so it can be argued that this was a terrorist act. It seems as though society at large has forgotten how it should deal with terrorism as we learnt to do in Britain when subject to IRA terrorism. You ignore it, you don’t let it effect your life, you carry on as normal, you don’t change laws. You continue to work for social justice, unity and a fairer society, you keep talking until issues are resolved and  tackle the issues that lead people to adopt the crazy belief that killing innocent people is going to solve anything. Everyone is at risk of being killed by extremists, so modification of behaviour is pointless.

Having said this, why is there a perception that this was an attack on freedom of speech. The actions of our own government represent a much larger attack on individual liberty that this one incident. The satirical magazine used images of the prophet Mohammed, which is known to be offensive to Muslims. Yes, people have the right to say and draw whatever they wish, that is to be defended. However it is also important to respect people from other cultures, to respect the majority of peace loving Muslims, when attacking the unislamic beliefs of the extremists. These crazed, gun wielding, murderers exist, so it is wise to not provoke them. I’m not saying that the journalists shouldn’t have published cartoons if it was important to them, and everyone else has the right to criticise them for bullying a minority group, but going around being offensive to a minority group (Muslims in France in this case) is going to cause problems with the irrational extremists. The effect is not promoting harmony but may cause further division and mistrust. They have the right to do it, but  shouldn’t have targeted Islam in the way they did. What the cartoons lacked is a separation of the extremists, from the majority of real peace loving Muslims. Our society is not ideal, prejudice and oppression exist, rather than perpetuating such myths, people should work towards unity and inclusion. By doing so, the nutcases are exposed and can be dealt with through the justice system.

It’s perfectly possible to criticise Islam or aspects of Muslim culture without causing offense to the group of believers. It is sad that we live in a world where there are oppressed groups and most of us are aware of this and careful not to attack the groups label in our humour, but instead target the behaviour we disagree with. Generally, in the West, I appreciate the unnecessary privileges, white males such as myself have and take issue with anyone who cracks jokes about groups such as: black people, women, homosexuals and the disabled. As a Welshman, I am not very much oppressed, so the tirades of sheep jokes I suffer, are not a furtherance of oppression and I am free to hit back with my arsenal of jokes about the larger group, the English.

Having said all this, I like the ‘JesuisCharlie’ sentiment. It is true that we are all ‘Charlie’, we are all oppressed and sickened by the actions of extremists who take the name of God in vain, or whatever misguided creed they subscribe to support murder, who want to kill everyone in the world that doesn’t subscribe to their twisted corrupt perversion of Religion. We are all oppressed by those in power who fail to deliver the fair, just world the majority of people want and often perpetuate the divisions in our world.

I identify myself as a Christian, and as such I perhaps should take issue with the extremists who purport to be Christians. The thing is you can’t force people to listen, to understand and open their hearts and minds, sometimes all you can do is lead by example and hope that the light of truth will enter these people lives and keep the doors open. It is important to remember, whether you are a Christian or not, that Jesus was nailed to a cross, for saying that we should strive to be better people and to be kind to others especially the less fortunate and not to go around kiling people because they offended you, ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone’.

What the world needs is peace, love and a good laugh at ourselves.