Fighting Extremism

To my eternal shame, when I was a teenager I was somewhat racist. I thought that people from different races and cultures, had different morals and because of this should not integrate into my own culture. I grew up in a community in rural Wales, which back then was exclusively white Caucasian with a Christian background, a monoculture. Racism does exist in this community, even today, because some local people think that the way things are done around here are somehow better than that which occurs in the rest of the world. The media is partly to blame for describing bad news in such a way as to lay blame on a community that locally is not fully understood.

Fortunately, Wales is a multi-cultural society, the capital city, Cardiff, historically a major world port, attracted people from all around the world. All it takes to debunk any notions of that people from other cultures are less moral, it to talk to them, and understand their culture. From this increased understanding comes the realisation that any cultures moral system is no better than any other, every culture attempts to be moral.

People fundamentally are very different, however certain traits are more common in some races and cultures than others. It is these demographic differences that leap out to outsiders. It is crazy though to then immediately judge that culture for these differences, based on only a very partial understanding of that culture.

This craziness, this leaping to generalisations does happen. For example, if say an Afro-Caribbean man comes to the culture and makes a minor social indiscretion, people often then extrapolate from this one instance to blame an entire race for this minor mistake, because they are the only Afro-Carribbean person they have interacted with, so based on their experience, 100% of that race are seen to have this negative trait. Of course, anyone should know not to form conclusions based on one experience. It is sometimes difficult to assert if people are just criticising an individual or an entire community.

This phenomena of judging without understanding happened to me recently in the wake of the Paris attacks. Certain people I know, who are Atheists expressed the opinion that it was religion that was to blame for extremism. I explored what they were saying with them, I conceded that it does happen that some religious people do become extremists, but not all. In any case extremism occurs in atheist cultures too. The point is that these people had leapt to the generalisation that religion in itself caused extremism and they didn’t really understand what faith is, what prayer is. It is people that cause extremism, not religion. Really, the concept of cultural relativism is so important.

People cause extremism by making judgements before having a good understanding of a culture. Groups of extremists then gather together who share these same naive views. Extremism exists everywhere.

The debate in the UK this week is how to tackle the extremist group ISIS. The question is portrayed as should the UK bomb Syria, where ISIS have political control, in addition to bombing ISIS in Iraq. Syria is already beign bombed by various other cultures. It seems a cosmetic change in policy and arguably a distraction from tacking extremism. However governments can’t defeat extremism, people must defeat extremism. How do people fight extremism?

Firstly, we must not be quick to judge.  Acknowledgement that our own and all other cultures are imperfect. To be wary of the easy answers peddled by politicians and the media. To commit to study the other culture in depth to see if there is any truth in these easy accusations.

Secondly, to not tolerate intolerance. To not allow extremist views to propagate, to challenge the views of people in our communities, to not allow extremist views to become acceptable. Really extremism shoudl be tackled worldwide, in every community, globally. Only then will extremism be deafeated.

The war on terror, isn’t really about bombing people or restricting peoples movements. The war on terror is in hearts and minds of those around us. Extremism has to be beaten locally before any community can genuinely help at a wider level. Already, since the Paris attacks, Muslims in the UK have been physically assaulted and abused. The focus should be on talking to these extremists attacking British Muslims. By doing this the cause of extremism can be tackled, rather than the symptom, terrorist organisations.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Fashion Attraction Preferences

Often, I have been asked ‘What kind of women are you attracted to?’ I never used to be able to give an answer. When people offer lists of ‘attractive’ women, I tend to agree with some of the selections,but don’t find the others attractive, The women I have had relationships with and those women I find attractive,  didn’t seem to fit into any general category, there are always exceptions. My basic belief is that it is individuals that are attractive, I imagine that there are a wide number of spectra of traits that i have preferences for, however that any individual person can transcend what may appear a huge incompatibility based on any individual spectra. Really, i make an effort not to judge people based on their appearance, although I do to some extent when ‘checking someone out’ to see how attractive I find them.

Nonetheless, I have found online quizzes that I found interesting, in that it enabled me to actually define the kind of women I generally find attractive, based on a number of attributes, both physical and personality traits. It’s called the ‘Beautiful faces test’ and the ‘Your kind of girl test’ on the dating website, http://www.OKCupid.com. Basically, three pictures of the same famous woman are shown, each picture features more or less of a particular trait and you choose which you find most attractive. For example, in one picture the nose is prominent, the second less so and the third where the nose appears less prominent. Your attraction based preference is indicative of whether you have a preference for prominent noses or smaller noses.

One of the most interesting preferences was for dress, again selected by showing the same woman wearing three different styles of clothing. In this case it’s wasn’t a simple spectra, rather it was based on a favoured style and least favoured style How people dress is a product of many forces, but ideally, I feel people should dress to reflect their own personality. Nonetheless dressing a particular way does have an influence on the sort of people you attract. It seems my preference is for women who wear ‘artsy’ cloths, women who strive for individual looks that they find by mixing and matching from vintage shops and charity shops, and  would agree that this is a reflection of what I like to see women wear. Whereas my least favourite style was stylish/smart/fashionable. What is perhaps interesting, is that the very clothing style that is advertised most heavily is the fashionable style. This is possibly a reflection of that this style is where the fashion industry makes the most money from, and partly that this style is generally more widely popular amongst women.

These tests are heavily based on physical attributes, though it would be interesting to consider personality traits, which dress is indicative of. For example, preferences for quiet activities, group activities, athleticism.

The other issue is dating sites themselves. Generally the only preferences they ask about are about physique or ethnic background. It seems discriminatory, focusing on attributes when they are lots of other , arguable more interesting and indicative of personality, preferences people can have.

Anyway, for the record, using the limited spectra offered by these two tests, this is the kind of woman i am generally attracted to:

I am slightly towards the cute end of the sexy- cuteness spectra, the middle of the dark – light spectra, I do have a strong preference for Artsy over stylish. I like big eyes, prominent noses and small mouths.

Actually, I don’t really think this is the sort of answer people are seeking when they ask me what kind of women i am attracted to.

Lick that Pop Lolly

For me, growing up Japanese pop music used to occasionally threw up something interesting, such as a high energy rock take on ‘Thundercats are loose’ sung in Cantonese. In seemed that Japanese pop artists seemed to simply try and emulate Western pop and rock music, and sometimes something interesting appeared as a by product.

What happened since was the explosion of J-POP. For a Westerner it is quite hard to get ones head around, to make sense of it, it seems creepy, yet kind of wonderful at the same time. Wonderful, because it has become it’s very own genre.

The definition of ‘pop music’ has always been a shifting, new pop acts often attempt to re-define pop to carve out a niche for themselves. Pop retains the ‘popular music’ idoim as it is perhaps where music meets marketing, things that sell are popular. In pop, marketing has become the increasingly dominant force.

In the west the influence of marketing and sales promotion, has traditionally been viewed as an anti-musical force. Music was what real musicians did, this was rock music,  marketing was ‘selling out’. This left those more comfortable about marketing being regarded as pop acts and not perhaps to be taken seriously. There were always interesting cross overs of rock musicians playing with the pop genre and pop acts taking elements from contemporary rock music.

The late 1980s saw the rise of the manufactured pop band, whose careers were intensely managed, though still interesting as social phenomenons nontheless. These early performers desired a ring of credibility, a creative input, for example the likes of Kylie Minogue started writing their own material. Then came the boy and girl groups, where factors such as image, dance routines became more important than the music.

Basically, my understanding is that, J-POP looked at these manufactured pop acts and ran with it, unconstrained by any notion of musical and political credibility, or the need to appeal to a specific demographic, such as teenaged girls. to this is added what i can only describe as ‘cuteness’, cuteness simply seems an aim in itself, rather than a by-product. Well, J-pop does appeal widely to teenage girls, but it has become bigger than that. Each j-pop act strives to take a new direction, strike a new image. For example, Babymetal, do j-POP to a backdrop of high energy metal chords. Or Orange Caramel, dressing up as raw fish packed as Sushi; it is hard to imagine a European pop act pulling this off!

I stated above that it seems creepy. Creepy because perhaps to a Western European, the existence of young girls on a stage playing with very sexual imagery seems wrong, the first thought who is exploiting these girls. Really, though this is pop, there are many other aspects of the modern world reflecting in these acts and young people have always played with the ideas of world they are growing into as a way to learn to understand them. The imagery is done in a cute way, it’s not blatant, it is more to do with playing with sexual imagery rather than sex itself, sexual imagery is so prevalent in modern society. In Western music, outside of pop, there is a reluctance to play with such imagery as rock music is liberal in focus, looking towards new ways of thinking. However, this liberalism is perhaps shackled by political direction, held back by the desire to get across the message of promoting gender equality. There are other issues such as open discussion of the performers weight, which make me re-coil, but Western media is equally cursed in this regard, at least the J-POP world seems more open about it.

Japanese culture has traditionally been more conservative than the liberal West. however J-POP seems to be embracing the new globalised world culture of the internet, rather than viewing the reduction in importance of native culture as being such an issue.

Pop has always been about more than just music, music often takes a back seat. Rock and other genres take on the mantle on progressing musical ideas. That isn’t to say that J-POP doesn’t take on elements found in other genres.

J-POP, K-POP [Korea] or indeed any genre has it’s merits and issues to which require mental processing for the uninitiated. In many ways it is pure pop music, in the way the music scene in the West has always kind of wanted to fully embrace in all it’s wonderful crassness. Aqua have always been one of my favourite pop acts, yet as always been regarded disdainfully in UK at least. In a multi-cultural world, it is quite possible and indeed a good thing that there is both good music and art forms that have stemmed from music, for which music is merely a part of the package. Long live J-POP!

 

 

 

Seeking Relationships or Not

Beginning heterosexual relationships is a weird, complicated, fraught, scary process. There is perhaps only one reason for this, that there is the possibility of a romantic or sexual attachment.

I’ve always been somewhat jealous of the ease with which my gay friends establish friendships with women. I think that the reason is purely and simply that the possibility of romantic attachment isn’t there. I have many female friends, with whom there is an ease with each other, this has occurred as at some point the possibility of a romantic attachment was settled and moved on from, this settling usually happens sub-consciously, it is perhaps a product of time and getting to know the person. some women who I meet sometimes start acting dismissively as if I am seeking a relationship with them. What has disturbed me is sometimes men, even heterosexual men, start acting strangely towards me as if I am seeking a romantic relationship with them.

The thing that has troubled me about this is that it seems that everyone deals with this issue differently, and sometimes distressing situations can occur whereby individual systems clash. In Western society this is a particular problem, the society is so socially liberal that etiquette has been largely rejected, anything goes. Etiquette is a essentially a set of social rules to make social interactions easier. So, why has Western society adopted a position of making social interactions harder?

This has been an issue for me as I suffered from anxiety for so long that it has perhaps warped my own interaction system. Basically in my system I don’t seek relationships. I enjoy communicating with people, sometimes things click and there is a kind of understanding of who the other person is, sometimes there is a liking of that person,there are then three possibilities: 1/ Nothing, 2/ a friendship begins to form, 3/ a romantic relationship begins to form. For me, these things just happen.

It seems as though everyone has, perhaps it’s another personality spectrum, a degree to which interactions are monitored for the seeking of relationships, perhaps people always invest some effort in interacting in seeking a relationship. If this is the case, then perhaps I am at an extreme end of this spectrum.

What I have struggled with is that I am sensitive to people thinking that I am seeking a relationship, because it annoys me, as conversation dries up, the question you are asking is is no longer about the question but responded to as if by asking you are seeking a relationship. I feel like crying out ‘I’m not seeking a relationship, I’m just talking to you”. It seems that people once they get the idea in their head that you are seeking a relationship, normal relations are no longer possible, that can be very awkward, particularly in environments where you spend time together, such as a working environment. I find it quite ridiculous as both parties then go out of their way to avoid each other.

It is quite understandable how this situation arises. I do speak to women just because I am attracted to them. Fairly quickly one realises that they are not interested in a romantic liaison, I immediately take that on board and move on (Well I might find a corner to cry in at some juncture). However, some men, continue to seek relationships after this point, this continuing strategy does work, sometimes, as it is possible to change your mind after getting to know someone better. Such a strategy is generally acceptable, however if it continues it becomes harassment, how much to employ such a strategy varies as people are different, it is a grey area. Once members of a population use a strategy, there then arises a counter-strategy, the women develop strategies for dealing with unwanted attention, to monitor people for seeking relationships to trigger the defensive response. Really, the whole ‘game’ of finding a sexual partner is complicated and some people actively play this game.

This is perhaps why it becomes problematic for people such as myself, who are very low level relationship seekers. This group don’t seek relationships, so such people don’t really know what is going on when people are analysing a situation for relationship seeking. It is possible to think that this group are victims of being in a game they don’t know the rules of. It is tempting to join in and simply ‘play the game’, however fighting against your own personality is dangerous.

Of course, this non-relationship seeking is a strategy in itself, it is simply not purposefully used as a strategy. I have many male and female friends whom I’ve formed relationships with precisely because I wasn’t seeking a relationship. I like having relationships, I just hate all the faff involved in getting to a point of mutual trust and respect. The thing that perhaps bothers me is that social groups form due to social type, one only socialises with people like yourself. There are positives to only socialising with like minded souls, but it is also limiting, the perception is missing out on understanding other types of people.

Non-relationship seeking does tend to be the preserve of introverts. Because introverts are really happy to be alone, there is no need for social interaction to be fulfilled. Introverts simply like social interaction, but are equally happy doing things by ourselves. Then there is this low self-monitoring issue, whereby low self-monitors don’t change their behaviour to suit others.

 

Self-Monitoring

Recently, I read ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain, it isn’t the sort of book I usually read but it was recommended to me. The book is somewhat a guidebook, it gives a whistle stop tour through many of the specific issues faced by introverts and real-life examples of situations where introverts overcome the problems. I wish someone had given me such a book to read as a teenager, it would have made my life much easier!

Personally the most interesting issue is the concept of ‘self-monitoring’. Self monitoring seems to be the process by which people change their behaviour to suit the social situation and the people they meet in these situations. The book suggests that people are on a spectra for this trait, from low to high. Low self-monitors don’t adapt their behaviour very much, whereas high self-monitors can be different people in different social situations. It is suggested that introverts tend to also be low self-monitors. This seems to fit and helps explain many of the difficulties I have had.

The difficulty for me, as with examples in the book, is authenticity. I think it is important to be honest with myself as with other people. I do adapt my behaviour to suit social situations, to be polite and respectful of the occasion, however sometimes I seem very close to a line where I begin purely acting a character and stop being myself, this I find very uncomfortable and it just seems wrong to do in real life.

When I was a teenager, my escape was in a youth theatre group, in this group we spent a lot of time improvising. I love both acting and particularly improvisation, I have been on the stage many times, we even did a sponsored 24 hour non-stop improvisation (rolling with breaks), which was marvellous. People have often been confused by my ability to act with such energy, busy interacting with a large number of people for long periods of time, but am unable to do it in ‘real life’. Real life social situations make me much more nervous than going out to perform in front of hundreds of people, because they aren’t judging me, if they do judge it is my performance rather than my inner self that they judge. Then I am not acting for myself but for the good of the cast and theatre in general.

Confidence, plays it’s part. In social situations I know well, i have learned how to be myself in those situations, so am more confident being myself as I’ve worked out how to be myself in that situation. For example I know what kinds of music concerts it is acceptable to get and up and dance and when it isn’t, I am happy to make the compromise not to dance when others generally find it distracting, at a first concert of an unfamiliar genre I may have wanted to dance but not known if it was ‘allowed’. I’ve ‘got good’ at this, and am often the first person to start dancing at a gig.

The other correlation identified in the book is between introversion and having a preference for low levels of stimulation. It is adaptable though. I never used to like heavy metal, because perhaps I found the genre over stimulating. Then one day, i got into Heavy Metal, i had learned to focus in on the music in a similar way, learning to cut out the ‘noise’. I found a way into it, to begin by appreciating elements of the music and then work up to enjoying the whole thing. This was much the same methodology of gettign into classical music, one element sparks the interest and over time you learn about the other elements until you appreciate the whole. Really it is perhaps learning how to cut out unfocussed on elements. Perhaps introverts simply need to learn to work up to high stimulation situations, whereas perhaps extraverts learn to work down to low stimulation activities.

It is, I think, the authenticity issue. I enjoy acting, because the whole point is not to be yourself, to experiment being other people, to try and get into other ways of thinking and act accordingly, it’s very interesting to do and a lot of fun. I am happy to portray flawed characters, but I don’t wish to do this in ‘real life’. The thing is that I really don’t want to do bad things, I don’t want to be part of a problem. Of course, I know that I make mistakes and will always make mistakes, it is impossible to be perfect. The real issue is perhaps not being wrong, when you know that you are in the wrong, I don’t want to act that way in real life.

I began overcoming my real life anxiety about eight years ago. I had this irrational idea that there was something wrong with me. For example my ‘ ethically sourced’ diet was something adopted by <1% of the population, the music I like is obscure, generally, it is the case that whatever is popular or the social norm is something I will be uncomfortable with. Being a minority does predispose oneself to question you it is yourself that is wrong and not wider society, however, wider society and popular opinion is often wrong. I simply accepted that I was different, and wasn’t prepared to compromise my own lifestyle and beliefs, unless someone can make it very clear to me I’m wrong, I’m always open and listening for that, it usually never comes. I am now much happier to be myself and not be concerned about it’s affect on other people, I always thought it affected other people more than it actually does. I can now happily say to people such things as “I can’t stay as I’m going to a concert of Renaissance Polyphony, you are more than welcome to come along, but really I am more than happy to go by myself in preference to company.” I no longer feel a social pariah for doing so.

#parisattacks and Community

Once again, Paris is subject to terrorist attacks and I was affected as the news of the tragedy filtered through late last night. Earlier in the evening I also heard of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Baghdad , whilst this news saddened me, it didn’t affect me as much, so I wondered why this is. The deaths of innocent people everywhere are surely equally tragic.

I concluded that it was because it was closer to home. In the same way as when there is news of a rape or murder in Wales, it affects me more deeply than when there is news of rape or murder in, say, Australia, because it is more local. I believe that as human beings we view the whole of humanity as the targets used in archery, the rings closer to the centre have a stronger significance to us, as they are closer to us, I think everyone is at the centre of their own sphere of influence:

Zone 1 : Partners, immediate family and close friends – These are the people I care about the most and whom I am most effected if there is bad news and I am motivated to go to the ends of the earth to help.

Zone 2 : Extended family, casual friends, work colleagues, members of local social groups

Zone 3 : Local community, people I interact with more occasionally, who share the same lived in space

Zone 4 : National community, in my case Wales

Zone 5 : National neighbours, for me, Ireland, England and Scotland.

Zone 6 : Similar cultures, for me, Western society: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Northern, Western and Central Europe.

Zone 7 : The global community, the rest of the world.

To me, this hierarchical system, makes sense. Incidentally it explains why I regard myself as Welsh first and British second. Being aware of ones place in a community, enables individuals to learn that everyone elses archers target is different, that people closer to us tend to have their centre closer to our own centre. It is always interesting to be open to and learn about people in other cultures, to learn how their ‘archers target’ is different to our own.

Understanding that our own target, our own values, whilst important to us individually, on a global level are equal. no one individual is more or less important than anyone else. As rational beings, people know that any individual ‘archers target’ is no more important than any other. What it is is that we are more affected by change to our local community than the wider community, yet, are able to realise that  local effects affect us locally, whilst a murder close to home or a long way away is equally tragic.

It is perhaps when this ‘archers target’ system is ignored, that conflict arises. It is possible, especially in a globalised world, for people to regard social groupings that they belong to, for people in outer zones to be more important than those locally. For example, as a Christian, I may feel more affected by the murder of a Christian in say, Pakistan, that the murder of a Muslim in Wales. I don’t, I am more affected by the local murder, but I know people who do feel this way. As society is more global, our social sphere becomes global and there become sections of our local communities that we don’t interact with, because we spend more social time online, then this distortion of how we care for people can become affected.

There is so much trouble, so much conflict in the world and with the internet and global news coverage, we know a little about what is going on all over the world. People do care, if there is a tragedy anywhere in the world, people want to help. Perhaps the difficulty is that in helping, people, naturally, in the first instance wish to help in a way that imposes the slightly different values of their local community, rather than listening to troubled community and responding to the needs identified locally.

For example, I worked on a camp alongside an isolated village in Madagascar, surrounded by one the last remaining areas of  primary forest. I went there with the motivation that such areas of such natural beauty and diversity should be preserved, as much of Madagascar has suffered from the loss of it’s forests. In my first few days there, I saw evidence of tree felling and clearing of areas of forest for farming by the local villagers. An initial reaction was how daft are these people for razing such an important and increasingly rare resource. After spending time there, I realised that these Malagasy villagers are not daft, but witty, friendly, cooperative people.

Slash and burn agriculture has been used for centuries throughout the world. An area of forest is cleared, the wood used for building and fuel, and the area cleared, farmed until the soil nutrients are depleted. Then another area of forest is cleared and the process repeated. This was sustainable, as over time, the forest would re-establish itself, it would be generations before that area was cleared again. The problem is population growth and finite areas of forest. To the villagers there has always been more forest to clear if need be. However the villagers learned from us that the forest wasn’t infinite and they were interested in developing ways to preserve the forest, whilst maintaining the resources needed to sustain their village. Indeed, they were wondering why the price for wood products at their local market was rising. Local solutions work, simply going in and telling people not to cut down trees, only creates conflict.

I suspect, there will be many calls in the next few days to do something to solve the problems of the broken fractured societies in the Middle East. Perhaps we should all remember, not to join in with the loudest, angriest voices, but to keep listening to all voices, maybe one day, humanity can learn to work together and respect one another, before conflicts get out of hand.

Newspeak

As a teenager I read George Orwell’s  novel ‘1984’, a polemic warning of the sort of dystopian society Britain could become in 1984 (written post-world War 2), based on the totalitarian state of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The book is such an important warning from history, made a huge impact on me and it remains a useful tool to compare where we are as a society.

The UK government have implemented some very worrying surveillance legislation and are proposing yet more in the forthcoming ‘Snooper’s charter’ whereby individuals internet browsing history is recorded and monitored by the UK state. It is possible that such information can be effective in screening to uncover terrorist plotting. However, we are led to fear terrorist atrocities, whilst in reality we are more likely to be hit by a bus. The mass media, television, newspapers, the media, focus on these awful events and the everyday preventable loss of life through avoidable poverty is somewhat brushed aside. It does seem as though we are living in an Orwellian dystopia.

There is much evidence of this, from CCTV on almost every street, monitoring of our movements online and through our mobile devices. People have got used to be monitored, whilst we may not like it, it has become part of modern life. what scares me is that all this surveillance, with this proposed legislation becomes legitimate, legal. Once data is officially held it becomes a commodity that can much more easily be used by the state or corporations to influence our lives. For example, insurance premiums may be effected by accessing this data, potential employers may screen such data so only people from a certain demographic are able to assume positions of authority. It is like how only through ‘membership of the party’ can one live a decent life. It is genuinely concerning.

One of the most interesting facets of ‘1984’ was newspeak, how the totalitarian regime managed to change language so that dissent and rational though became more difficult. In the novel such phrases as ‘War is peace’ and ‘Freedom is slavery’ exemplified doublethink. The modern political realm is full of doublethink, In Modern Britain we accept that ‘Development is making things worse’ and ‘Planning is something you do after you’ve finished’. In party politics it is even worse, or should I say more developed, policy is rarely defended from criticism, rather critiques are attacked for who says them, whether they be members of the proletariat, academics, ‘liberals’, jews or black disabled lesbians, no-one outside the inner party/establishment is really allowed a say. Indeed when anyone who speaks up, there is a fear they they may disappear without trace.

It all seems very dark, when the ‘enemy’ of ‘islamic terrorists’, was itself created by funding of Arab groups by the Western establishment and then dodgy ill-advised wars begun with the result of fostering ‘islamic terrorism’. The establishment created their own enemy, whom there own proletariat are led to live in fear of, so we allow the establishment to monitor us, to watch over us through our webcams. Economically people are thrust at the age of 18 into debt to the state and financial industries (who are largely the same people), then to achieve a decent standard of living and repay these ‘debts’ we are encouraged to take jobs that pay well, yet exploit others, rather than do anything useful. If the 14 year old me could see the world of 2015, he would be very worried indeed and I am worried. Actually we are powerless to do anything about it, instead simply resist, and try to make the most of it.

It’s the Arts

In Terry Pratchett’s discworld novel ‘Maskerade’, a man purchases the city opera house as an investment, however he quickly discovers it is losing money, because opera not a way of making money, it is what you spend money on once you have acquired it. So, why are the arts important and why do they tend not to be supported by those on the political right?

Essentially, it is art that what makes like worth living. Once the basic requirements for existence are met, such as food and shelter, humans spend their time on entertainment, entertaining each other and participating in the process, this has occurred throughout human history. Art could also be described as a way of making sense of existence, human culture is complicated and increasingly so. Art must reflect the complexity of human existence if it is to help people make sense of their existences. Artists provide the subject matter upon which humans can use as a basis for reflecting on making sense of the world, often in a highly entertaining engaging way. As a scientist, I am fully aware of the importance of art to provide the inspiration for new ways of thinking, to enable giant leaps in understanding, as sometimes in science  you can end up going around in logical circles and it is often very helpful to look at problems you are trying to solve in different ways.

All human beings simply enjoy laughing, dancing and participating together, some of the time. This is what makes life worth living, it’s what gives quality to life, it is the antidote to a hard weeks struggle through work.

As human society has developed, people have become specialised. The product of this specialism, economic efficiency, traditionally, has been increased capacity to spend time and resources on leisure. The education of the young is, giving children the ability to learn how to function in society, the skills required to work and the ability to utilise art and leisure. So, art should always play a role in education.

Something seems to be going very wrong. This week I went to see a production by the youth theatre I was a member of whilst growing up. In a rural area it is actually amazing that this group have persisted for so long with  no funding apart from local businesses and individuals who are aware of the importance of this group to the community (some of their own children are the beneficiaries after all). What struck me was the decreased size of the audience and the size of the production had fallen in comparison to my times with the troupe. The youth theatre perform in the local arts centre, twenty years ago it was thriving, with visiting companies performing regularly to good sized audiences. However central government has cut back on such art educational activities. touring theatres are much rarer and there is no longer a local professional theatre company. The idea of going to the local theatre has dropped off peoples radar. This impoverishes the community, young people don’t get the chance to see local theatre, the youth theatre itself is no longer run by professionals, but keen amateurs. This diminishes educational oppurtunites, the ability to develop skills and self-confidence and diminishes the possibilities for looking outward to the world.

If arts funding at the grass roots, local community level is cut, as it has been, it has a knock on impact on national theatre companies and indeed television output. Instead of home grown art focused on  the local community , it is instead imported as film. It is perhaps true that younf people know more about the USA than they do about their own country, because that is where most of the art they consume comes from. Post-industrial society in Britain is somehow losing it’s ability to perform it’s own vital functions and isn’t producing anything in it’s place. The church is also in decline, once a cornerstone  of community life. As art is so important why do people seem so complicit in the diminishing of quality of life?

I have since the British general election of 2015, despaired as to the decline of British society and tried to understand what has motivated people to vote for right wing governments who seem determined to allow society to decline. It seems to come down to a fundamental difference in motivation between people of the left and the right.

To someone of the left the motivation in politics is the improvement of society, of the community of people beyond immediate family members. to build things that are of use to the community, thus enriching their own community.

To someone of the right the motivation in politics is the improvement of oppurtunities for the individual. To aspiration is to acquire ever greater wealth to enable themselves to access the needs and desires of there families. it is the perhaps the perceived status of wealth that provides it’s own satisfactions, such as finer wine, ease of access to grand opera houses and other forms of leisure.

Most people don’t think as long and hard about politics as perhaps I do. The world for most people isn’t a clear distinction between left and right. Most people are in the middle and tacitly accept general slow movements of society in general to the left or to the right, the focus is on money now there is less of it moving around

The reason the conservative government gave for recent slashing of arts funding was that the UK had to go into great debt and economic recession in order to bail out and restart the banking industry. To me, a strong society and economy would cut funding for arts and education only after food supply and shelter had been achieved (oh wait adequate housing is still an issue), but instead of propping up arts (society) the banking sector was given the funding. Actually, isn’t this a little crazy? it isn’t perhaps in the right wing agenda to support the arts, as they are less interested in a strong society, what is important to them is individuals ability to acquire and preserve wealth and ‘status’.

It is Remembrance weekend. A time when people in Britain reflect on the lives lost and suffering endured by those in the armed services. I particularly think of my grandfather who fought in the Second World War and the Death Penny I have inherited from an unknown great great uncle (to me anyway) who died in WW1. I was brought up to believe that such people gave up their energy and often there lives for the future of Britain, for the future of British society and British communities. This was the post war consensus, the idea of re-building a country fit for heroes.

Sadly it seems that such ideals as the value of community are being lost in the crazy world of modern capitalism. My advice is get down to your local theatre, have a great night out and thank those that gave their lives so you could enjoy your local community.

Outside ‘One size fits all’

If this blog has a theme, it concerns the issues surrounding being an outsider; being a member of a minority in society. The world seems to be bound by the idea that ‘one size fits all’ as an efficient way of running society, but, what happens when the ‘one size doesn’t fit all’, what happens to the misfits. Often misfits struggle with not fitting in and as I used to do think that the problem lies within us as an individual. However, as I have learned, misfits can resolve the problem of being a misfit by accepting who they are, be comfortable of being in a minority, that if people have a problem with them then that is an issue for the other person, not themselves, that it is an issue that doesn’t need resolving. People can ‘not fit’ in many ways such as, physically, psychological type, sexuality or cultural background.

I have suggested that everyone is in a minority in some aspect of their lives. If an individual only has a small number of things that don’t fit, this is perhaps the state of the majority. It is fairly easy to compensate for for a small number of aspects by compromising or counterbalancing for the issues economically or by lifestyle choices. Then there are extreme cases where people struggle to fit in so much they fail to live happy productive lives.

It is important to note that being an outsider isn’t a choice, it is something one finds themselves saddled with. For example, I’m 6’2″ tall, I had no choice, but I have to live in a world of chairs and tables that are too low and too small, a clear example of how ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work, perhaps it should  be ‘one size fits most people, sorry if you are in the minority who doesn’t fit’. If you are designing a bus, a train, a plane, a theatre, a workplace, then part of the brief will be to deliver to a budget, so one size of seating makes sense economically. However there should be means by which the short and the tall can resolve this. For example, one can obtain a taller bigger chair and put bricks under the desk to raise it’s height. such adaptations have a price and perhaps the misfit should shoulder the associated costs. This works and is fair if everyone else has to make similar costly adaptations elsewhere in their lives. however in a global world of increasing standardisation, more and more people are left dealing with a world that doesn’t fit for them. you can only compromise so much, until it gets to the point that the individual suffers too much and is overly burdened with the costs of fitting in.

Politically, the failure of ‘one size fits all’ can be a problem too on a much bigger scale. In the UK we have had right wing government for over 30 years. As a centrist, I have been perplexed by why people keep electing them, as the the number of people who benefit from their policies dwindles. The theory Ive adopted is that right wing and left wing people are fundamentally different types psychologically. Political parties formed to serve these two predominant types.

The right wing ideal is a state of competition, where people engage in a competition and strive to win, the rewards of winning being status and economic wealth. If someone isn’t in the top half, they should try harder and be helped to do better in the competition.

The left wing ideal is a state on cooperation, where people work together to achieve benefits for society rather than the individual, the benefits being a sense of usefulness in a  society where things improve. Those who try and take more than their share are shunned.

I have previously argued that neither of these doctrines is perfect and certainly not perfect for all. You end up with left wingers in competitions that spend all their effort helping other players and right wingers refusing to play as a team and seek individual glory; both doctrines require compromise for the good of the team. Or to put it another way lefties have improving society as their goal and if competition helps then that is fair enough, for righties competition is the goal and if society improves as a by-product then that is good.Then you have introverts and extroverts who operate in different ways and don’t understand each other. Such an analysis helps me understand why I am a left-leaning centrist or Social Democrat. Lefties, operate in a market driven world as a compromise and often work for social goals in their spare time as compensation.

Often when I consider political issues, I try and revert the situation to a pre-industrial rural village society. Genetically, this is how humans evolved and how natural communities operate. Each community has individual with a range of traits, the interaction between individuals contribute to the net benefit of the community as a whole. At such a scale being an outsider is usually less of a problem, The carpenter can make a larger or smaller chair. Individuals find their place in society and the rest of society knows that individual, their strengths and weaknesses, individual naturally drift to roles (jobs) that suit them and adapt the roles to suit there needs. There is time and space to listen and work with individual needs in close knit communities, to make things of more than one size. So, when you have a post-industrial society, the individual struggles to find their place, particularly if they are an outsider, larger societies are too big to adapt for them. Indeed how the economy works tends to suit such groups as the extroverts, the right-wingers, the urban populations, whichever groups become dominate by the artificiality of directions in human society. At such a level it is harder for the outsiders to be as economically valuable, the ‘one size’ fits fewer and fewer people and society fragments.

This direction of society towards conformity, to tryannies of an ever decreasing majority is arguably becoming less efficient. Biological communities survive when biodiversity is high, these enables the community to adapt, for minority traits to solve crises. A community with only one dominant trait can be wiped out, when the environment changes. In terms of human society, non-dominant solutions arising from diversity are perhaps becoming less able to implemented as dominant views become entrenched. Often instead of being listened too, minority views are considered ‘awkward squad’.

All this compromise of lifestyle by individuals makes them less efficient workers. As more people become less efficient, the whole economy becomes less efficient. This seems to be borne out by data suggesting that the productivity of UK workers is in decline. My point is that compromise is important but too much compromise causes less economic efficiency and prosperity.

Ethically Sourced Meat

I was a vegetarian for 15 years because of concerns over animal welfare and my inability to ethically source meat as a teenager. Having lost an argument over dairy products (I was being inconsistent), I decided to take up ethically sourcing meat and dairy products and became mostly vegetarian. I often explain my position to people and often people find my position appealing, they then ask ‘Is it easy?’ to which the answer is sadly ‘no’. Ethically sourced meat is basically meat from animals that have been reared in a traditional manner, where animals can express natural behaviours, generally grazing outside during the warmer months.

Ethically sourcing meat isn’t easy for two reasons. Firstly there is a lack of a clear labelling system. In the UK food labeling is a bewildering array of labels and standards, whether publically regulated (state level) or independently regulated (where you have to trust the labeling body). The second issue is a lack of direct connection between the consumer and the farmer, it is difficult as an individual consumer to monitor welfare levels at each farm, hence the need for labeling). Basically it all comes down to trusting the source

So, my solution has been to take a precautionary principle, sources of meat are investigated and then personally approved. Then the products have to pass a more important second test, this is a visual test of the meat itself, as free range meat looks and tastes differently to intensively produced meat. This second test involves identifying the quality of the meat by the presence of marbling (deposits of fat in the muscle which is indicative of an active life) and colour (active muscles are generally a darker hue), these qualities are then confirmed by the taste test.

My system is actually fairly inefficient, as I have to invest time and effort when sourcing meat products. Indeed, occasionally i consider going vegan for a simpler life! Really a proper labeling system would be more efficient, instead of every individual consumer conducting investigations, a single body can do the job for everyone, which would be much more economically efficient.

The system sometimes fails due to geography. In rural areas it works fairly easily, as relationships are built up with suppliers such as local butchers and other independent stores, who can state where and how the meat was reared and it is possible to check up on claims, so trust is established. In urban areas it gets a lot more complicated, as any followers i may have are aware, I was living recently in an urban area of Southern England, which had no local butcher shops and only supermarkets were available within convenient shopping distance for a weekly shop. what happened was that my meat consumption dropped to barely one meat containing meal a week. The issue was that the supermarkets only had a very limited range of ethically sourced meat and generally charged a very high premium for it. I could have ordered meat online, but being available for delivery of  a refrigerated product was overly burdensome.

What it is is that the British public do tend to want ethically sourced meat, but are constrained from doing so, by the post-industrial way our society is organised. Since free-range eggs have been labelled and regulated  consumption has increased from 2% to over 50%, the demand is there. Economic efficiencies of scale enable urban living and diversity of industry, yet with meat the industry has developed without popular consent for welfare standards and to have industrial efficiency in meat production and distribution requires labelling. Sadly the state, the UK and EU governments have failed to develop a comprehensive food labelling system that the consumer can trust. This lack of economies of scale hits farmers, where farmers do produce a high welfare, sustainable and tasty product, as individual small businesses, it is very difficult to get their produce to the the market for higher quality produce. Local farmers to me, sell on their high quality product in the same way as producers of low quality produce, because once the animals are sold at market, the high quality status is lost into the vast pool of meat that goes off for export to England and beyond.

Another question to address is will a comprehensive labeling system ever come about? There is a desire from politicians in both the Welsh, UK and EU government to implement a system. However, there are hurdles in place caused by international trade laws and there is potential under the proposed TTIP trade treaty for this process to become more difficult. Far from promoting free trade, these international laws stifle free trade by blocking regulatory systems, as states cannot breach these laws by implementing ‘non-tariff barriers’, by which having a local labeling system is difficult as it favours local businesses over foreign ones who can’t readily buy into the labeling system. Potentially TTIP will require a common labeling system to cover all of the EU and all of North America, it may take a very long time, if ever to reach a consensual agreement.

So, potentially, this leaves the consumer to regulate themselves, develop individual relationships with producers. This seems to be a failure of laissez-faire capitalism, where once economies of scale were thought to come from increased international trade, these economies are actually prevented by the system itself as consumers increasingly resort to local level solutions, rather than industrial solutions. It seems that no longer can individuals trust their local state democratic apparatus to regulate markets and thus free up there time to be more economically productive, there is no longer perhaps a ‘once size fits all’ approach, everyone has to do everything themselves, it does increasingly feel like it!