The Fall and Rise of Respectability

My parents and grandparents went to some lengths to instil in me the importance of respectability. This concept was one I struggled to understand when I was young and then realised wasn’t important as I got older. What I did learn was that it was important to my older family and the older generation and discovered through my friends  that our generation didn’t give respectability any real value. So what I learned was how to play the game of respectability to not upset older people.

I think my main objection to respectability was that it was so complicated and seemed to lack a coherence or a logically related set of premises, it seemed like a fairly random set of rules and thus required commitment to learn. Really respectability had been important for generations, bound up with the issue of class that bound society together for a long time. Respectability is about showing that you have learned this very complex set of rules. Hence it is showing that you have been educated. This was an important badge of respectability during a period when a large chunk of society didn’t receive any formal education. The older generation are very impressed when our generation wave around degrees or have letters after our names, when my generation isn’t at all.

Much of these complex rules were not just about respectability and education but also about our culture and it’s traditions. I think the older generation have been fearful of the way my generation unpicked all the traditions and worked out which ones had sense or useful purpose to them and which were remnants of things that had once been useful but no more. I think they feared we would lose our culture and sense of who we were.

I kind of get that fear, but the rules are so harsh that they hold a culture bound to arbitrary rules that actually inhibit cultural growth. What I mean is that you can spend so much time and energy following the rules that you lack  the time to realise why something is valuable.

To illustrate this idea by example. As a child I was taken to a music concert, great, but this involved such things as dressing in uncomfortable clothes that I wasn’t comfortable wearing, sitting still and receiving instructions on how to appear I was appreciating the music. So, being an anxious child, I felt obliged to follow all these bizarre rules to keep my parents and grandparents happy, so much so that i didn’t get to enjoy the music! It was only later that I was able to relax and open my ears and really start to appreciate what the musicians were doing. So I now look down on anyone who suggests there should be ‘dress codes’ at musical concerts, if you like dressing up, great, if it’s not your thing, that is just as cool. I personally, make a point of not dressing up at all as all music should be accessible to everyone, whatever helps you open your ears is what is of paramount importance.

The other issue my cohort had when growing up was that we realised that we were growing up in rural Wales. We could look back on our families tilling the land for generation after generation and for me that meant I was one whole generation away from the land and that tradition.My cohort have been realising that in European terms our local culture hadn’t undergone the rapid changes experienced by those who went to the large towns and cities, that we also needed to learn the new etiquette of a more globalised world, especially those of us who had lost the farming tradition.

For my generation the world isn’t one of knowing the arcane rules of respectability. Perhaps we are more interested in what things are valuable and useful and disparage those things which aren’t. In a way all this is is just a completely new set of rules of respectability, with the difference in that the rules relate to the world we know rather than old traditions.

We live in rapidly changing times. Rural Wales was late in awakening to industrialisation, so when my parents generation realised that they weren’t to continue the agricultural tradition, Europe was beginning to struggle with post industrialisation, we had missed out perhaps almost entirely on the industrial era, apart from tractors replacing horses. Tractors replacing horses was surely progress, saving so much time and not needing to grow crops to feed the horses. However these very changes meant that fewer people were needed to work the farm. Many farms became one or two man operations and the rest of the family had to go and find work elsewhere, which almost invariably meant moving away.

Until that is, broadband came, and the transport network got so congested that staying at home for administrative jobs started to become the best option. Furthermore the beginnings of the effects of climate change are starting to have real unignorable impacts and the era of cheap oil and indeed it’s tractors is coming to an end. Perhaps I am witnessing the end of that  flight to cities to find work and all in just one generation.

Welsh farmers have largely always looked down their noses at all the city people, sitting in offices not producing very much of any real use. They are largely right of course. Whilst they have been spending all their days proudly producing food for people to eat. After all owning land was the height of respectability. European history has always been about the those at top of society who own the land.

The thing is anyone can farm. Humanity for most of history has been made up of farmers. It was only during the industrial period when modern conveniences enabled rises in living standards that land, farmland, for a time lost it’s value, enabling a generation of farmers to finally own their own land. It can be viewed that they got lucky to have ended up with the the thing that meant respectability to the very last generation that valued respectability.

I grew up with the concept of ‘look smart and wear a collar and tie’. The dual meaning of smart of being educated and dressing well, is perhaps no accident as both meanings are really about respectability. There is some evidence of this word ‘smart’ flipping in meaning as the meaning of respectability changes. We now talk about being ‘street smart’ and making smart decisions. These newer meanings of smart are not about old respectability but more about being a useful individual and contributing to rather than exploiting society.

The great irony for me growing up of wearing of ties is that the people who wore ties all the time were and still are the big business executives and politicians who made decisions for their personal gain and failed to appreciate what the communities they effected needed. It seems to me that the wearing of a tie is a mark of the disrespectful. I grew up during the Miner’s strike, and the baddies were all wearing suits. I only wear them when etiquette and tradition demands though.

Anyone who analysis society realises that the things that respectability valued, such as land or education are largely acquired by luck or an odious obsession with garnering the facets of respectability through acting in a disrespectful way, such as the acquisition of land to be a rentier, rather than actively working the land. Somewhat paradoxically respectability regards those who are respectable by luck of being in the right family  in the right place much more highly, rather than those who have acquired respectability by behaving disrespectfully by the new generations definition. Perhaps because the mistakes of the previous generations of the powerful were more innocent and on a smaller scale than those made by those in power today.

So, whilst my generation watch as the old respectability does, we are witnessing the rise of a new one where what is regarded as respectable has flipped and  is utterly different and instead values being true to yourself and your community, rather than learning the rules to be someone different and of entering a sub-community. Where diversity and difference is at last valued and conformity isn’t. The interesting question now is whether or not respectability will flip again in a new direction with the next generation or whether we stop valuing people’s acquired traits at all. I’m sure if either of these two directions is more worthy than the other.

 

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A Sense of Achievement

Towards the end of the year, many people, like myself, reflect on the year that is drawing to it’s close. Often a question asked is what has been achieved?

Conducting this reflection myself I feel I have made substantial progress on the projects I set myself in three areas.

Firstly I had the aim to learn to speak Welsh properly. Whilst I am still a long way off fluency I have passed many milestones and have some competency of the language and feel it is a part of me now.

Secondly, I wanted to make progress in learning and practicing social skills, now that i had overcome anxiety, again i feel I have made substantial progress.

The third thing, was trying to understand why people support right-wing ideas. Whilst a somewhat vague aim, I think I have progressed here too.

I do feel a sense of achievement, a warm fuzzy glow from the realisation that I have exceeded my own expectations. Really, perhaps the main reason why as animals we do things is simply to enjoy these positive feelings.

Another thing people do at the end of the year, is travel home or spend time with their families and do different things, such as watch live TV, which I no longer normally do.

On the telly recently I watched a really interesting documentary about the Waorani tribe in Ecuador. This tribe live in the rainforests of Ecuador, living a basic existence by Western standards. One of the striking things was that the people generally seemed happier than people in Western countries. I wondered what it was that made life somehow better there. Indeed, I experienced this myself when I lived for 3 months in a camp in the forests of Madagascar, a time I was much happier than at home. I think the reason is a lot more than simply living more naturally in some wonderful forest.

It is perhaps to do with this sense of achievement. As humans we essentially do two types of thing. One type of thing is what we have to do to survive (secure food, water and shelter) and things we can do once the survival stuff is done. The non-essential things may involve home improvements, finding way of making our work easier and more efficient and other projects to feel good about being alive, to achieve this sense of achievement, sometimes this sense is heightened when what we have achieved has no effect on surviving, it is done for the pure thrill of doing it.

This men of this Woarani tribe have a ritual where they go out and catch Giant Anacondas. I can understand this, as I loved catching snakes, whilst I was in Madagascar. In the film, the men and indeed the presenter were clearly showing that they felt this sense of achievement. The question then is there a difference in the Woarani experience and Western society?

For the forest tribe, it is clear, where the lines between surviving, improving and fun are, even if many of the things they do combine these elements. It’s the same thing here in Wales, we do a similar mixture of activities, however the lines are not so clear. For example, we play computer games and gain a sense of achievement for finishing a level. Indeed games are designed to give you this sense of achievement. However, at Christmas, a family tradition is to play board games. Arguably this is more fun because it involves the social interactions with other people and in particular people you share long term relationships with.

I know from my experiences in Madagascar that a large part of my own sense of achievement sprang from living in a sealed community of a small number people, where almost all our social interactions were with each other. We were living and working together, suffering problems together, like a tropical monsoon and the river flooding and also sharing our successes. We were emotionally in the same place, most of the time. I imagine life for the Waorani is similar to this. The positivity of the shared success was bolstered because we believed that we were doing something useful. Even though some other people would argue that what we were doing wasn’t useful. The important thing is that we believed in it.

When we play a video game, or go shopping, we do enjoy some sense of achievement. However, this is often not a huge sense as we kind of know that we are not doing anything that benefits anyone else, or indeed ourselves very much. Incidentally, we perhaps enjoy Christmas shopping more as we are doing it for the people we are buying presents for. We don’t really have this big sense of having achieved anything really useful. I believe that doing something useful is a very important part of doing things in general.

I feel a sense of achievement in learning Welsh, not only as a personal accomplishment, but also because I can now contribute to the Welsh speaking community. Similarly with overcoming anxiety, I can now be more helpful to others. Also the same with understanding the right, I feel I can contribute to discussions more usefully when discussing politics. Simply having this sense of usefulness beyond a personal satisfaction is what makes  the sense of achievement feel so much bigger, so much wider.

I often write on this blog about how as a society in Britain, we are not doing well because there is a sense that all our achievements are artificial. It’s a modern curse really,there is rarely a clear link between what we do and a positive outcome. Perhaps too many of our achievements are not useful, not large, not important and this is part of the problem in our society.

The other big change that happened to me this year was taking on what people describe as my first “proper” job. It has been a really fascinating journey so far. I’ve made decisions in my role that have increased the income of the organisation that I work for. It is an organisation that I believe is doing useful things. So I should feel a big sense of achievement. However I only feel the smaller sense, like in a video game, where I receive satisfaction of getting tasks done quickly and finding more efficient ways of doing things. There is a sense that what i do isn’t real, isn’t palpable. I’m not doing my own projects, I’m doing someone elses and I am but a tiny cog in the organisation. I think this disconnect, where the good things resulting from your actions are felt distantly, elsewhere. This sense of an alienation from results affects most modern jobs, especially in offices. In contrast, when i have been doing science and solve a problem or get real results from an experiment i got the big proper sense of achievement. Whilst I am grateful to have a job and be earning a little money above basic need, I feel I should really be getting back to science as soon as I can, even if that means a smaller income.

I think we all want to have moments of feeling a real sense of achievement and it is often better to do those things within our community, with people we interrelate with and share a commonality.

So, this is what I don’t get about, the right and the whole Brexit thing. Across the spectrum of mainstream political thought, is the idea, that most of us relate to, is the idea that we should all contribute to our community, our society. In particular those with more resources should help those who are less able. Like how in the Woarani tribe, when the young men go out to hunt and the old stay in the village to look after the children, similarly we should all have roles in our communities. The right-wing idea that the market, or individual people and organisations should fulfill these roles, by creating wealth, that is then spent charitably, rather than the state is completely understandable, it is one way of getting to this good society that the Western world has struggled to achieve. However, the modern political right in the UK have abandoned the whole community idea, instead to serve a subset of society, or people like ‘us’, people who are conservatives. I just don’t get this and it makes me angry, it’s just so divisive and pits sections of our society against each other, when we should all be working for the good of our communities. I don’t understand why right wing people are not more angry with ‘their’ politicians for dividing society. How can you gain a sense of achievement from making things worse, it’s below the neutrality of a video game, it should be guilt. It is simply harder to gain a full sense of achievement when all you are doing is making a worsening situation just that little bit less bad.

I appreciate that we don’t live in local communities anymore, that we live in our various globally connected niches. However, local communities, where at least geography is shared is so important. It’s why I associate with the Welsh, simply as the people who live in Wales, rather than some weird racial/ religious identity. I think as humanity, we lose a sense of community at our peril. A sense of achievement is greater than hatred of another lot of people.

Black Sheep and Corbyn

I have written about how I believe that right wing people, conservatives, and left wing people, socialists, think differently. There is scientific evidence backing this theory both genetically and from psychological profiling. I have then argued that society in general should reflect that, economies should be more efficient if they cater for the diversity of people, so people can find their niches to survive and thrive. Yet, the political media  very rarely mention this and thus an impression is created that one ideology is simply better than the other, which I have long argued simply isn’t true. I mean if you accept this theory it becomes absurd to introduce competition or commercial strategies to public institutions like the health service, the railways or the BBC, or expect commercial organisations to fulfil social requirements. ‘Balance in everything’ should perhaps be a universal motto.

The media ignore this is the frenzy of Jeremy Corbyn, being retained as leader of the Labour party today. The left need a political leader  who is left wing. Corbyn became leader simply through being the right person at the right time. It is the weakness of the Labour party that no-one else with a broader appeal is currently available. so, the infighting and a leadership election was a complete waste of time, especially at a time, when an objective assessment of what to do about Brexit is required.

Of course social demographics plays a part, but it is perhaps worth re-considering traditional voting patterns. There used to be much more of families voting the same way and perhaps there is a genetic component to this. So many families will produce the odd person of the opposite persuasion. I grew up in a largely conservative family, however considering genetics, my grandfather, who passed away before I was born was a socialist, so I assumed I had inherited his ‘socialist genes’ rather than been an outlier. Such ‘black sheep’ often chastised for ‘rebelling’ against the family serve such an important role. The black sheep are in a position to argue for balance, to point out that the established way of doing things doesn’t work for everyone, only those who fit in with those traditions.

Broadly, socialists tend to be attracted to public service co-operative roles, whilst conservatives tend to be attracted to market trading competitive roles. I heard a right wing commentator talking about the importance of competition in schools. Yes, competition is important for children, the conservatives benefit from it and it teaches the socialists an understanding of the role of competition. so, it is equally important for children to do cooperative tasks because this benefits the socialist children and teaches the conservative children about the role of cooperation. The point is that neither is better than the other and it si wrong to have one without the other, it’s like the Yin-Yang symbol. Working in public service is as important as working at innovation and producing new products in competitive markets.

I heard on the radio today someone say that ‘Britain will never elect a true socialist’, which begs the question ‘why not?’Britain needs a socialist, a black sheep, to restore some balance to our economy. It is possible that the genetic pool of the British is predominantly right wing, after all the modern British, genetically are a mix of original settlers (which we know little about), Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans and Vikings. Added to that mix is the diversity of immigration predominantly from specific regions: Africa, the Caribbean Islands, the Indian sub-continent, Poland etc. Essentially a product of the British Empire period and European wars. This is interesting as the genetic mix still varies across Britain, the phenomena of large numbers moving vast distances is only a few generations old, and not long enough to have truly mixed the genes.

Contrast this to France, with a different history and a different Empire (so a distinctly different group of Africans), has tended to be more socialist than Britain. However it is a very interesting question whether the different gene pools do generate different mixes of left or right wing people, or do populations tend to balance out this diversity.

It’s a pertinent question as the party political landscape appears to no longer reflects the diversity of opinion and people. We no longer live in a world where politicians justify their policies in practical terms. Instead arguments centre around ideology, that one ideology is simply better. It’s like saying that blue eyed people are somehow better than brown eyed people, or that dark skinned people are better than light skinned people, it’s nonsense. Yet we live in a world where respect and tolerance of diversity appears to be in decline and there is a rise in tribalism again. Whichever pigeon hole you slot into, your historic identity, seems to have become more important, when there is perhaps little use in creating needless division. Diverse people have generally got on fine, even the black sheep in the family are usually accepted as full members of the family.

Just listen to the rhetoric of Donald Trump and other right wing leaders, look at the deeply saddening scenes in Syria, the Tory regime in Britain. There is a need for Corbyn, because people like Corbyn have been sidelined for too long. I don’t agree with everything Corbyn says, I don’t have to, I just accept the need for someone like him to drag us back to the centre ground, to create a level playing field, where whomever we are, whatever your social or indeed genetic background is, that there is the opportunity for you to find a role to contribute to the economy and society, whilst accepting that other people are different. a world where we can maximise value so we have the resources to deal with disasters and other problems.

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.

 

 

 

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.

The Perils of Sociobiology

The study of community ecology and animal behaviour is a fascinating pursuit because there are myriad ways in which populations sustain themselves and adapt. It is also fascinating to apply this knowledge to the behaviour of humans. However there is the risk of false correlations, as human society is in many ways a different beast, for example describing behaviour as ‘natural’.

The question of how humans society appears similar and how it differs from the society of other primates or pack animals is interesting. Organisms that live in groups benefit from cooperation in various ways. In evolutionary terms there are mechanisms which serve to promote such behaviour, indeed behavourial traits become part of the evolutionary process. Perhaps the key difference with modern humans is that we no longer live in closely related groups, human society is now global, resources are moved around the globe via international trade.  How individuals share resources is no longer a simple transaction, for example very rarely does someone give a sack of grain in exchange for a computer program)

Whilst humans can be described as a single community, there are sub-divisions, some genetic (race) others behavioural (communities of people who think in a certain way, such as religious groups). However the distinctions are increasingly blurred. The process of evolution perhaps only occurs in interaction between behaviours.

In any cooperative action for mutual benefit there is the ‘free-rider’ problem. Any rule based exchange system can be manipulated for the gain of an individual or group of individuals within the community. In evolutionary terms, this is useful as this may result in innovative behaviours to solve problems, indeed many natural societies tolerate a certain degree of such behaviour. There are also mechanisms for controlling anti-cooperative behaviour, so these behaviours come with a cost. For example the free-rider is shunned, excluded from social benefits. In natural systems such deviant behavoiur is tolerated as the deviant is a family member and there specialised behaviour ultimately contributes to the sustainability of the group.

In a globalised human society, the free-rider will often be something outside of a communities control, an agent on the other side of the world for example. As such any social control mechanisms of anti-social behaviour are curtailed. In a glabalised market, for a consumer to detect free riders and negative market forces upon them is also difficult.

Furthermore the post-industrial economy has made transactions so complicated, that the ability to control, to reign in free-riders is curtailed. Modern capitalisms concern is maximising profit for the individual or corporation, often without making an equal contribution to the needs of the community. Essentially whole industries of free-riders have been created. It is the proponents of the free-riding mentality (a behavioural trait) that are in positions of power and control in society, whether as governments or large corporations. There is little social control of the free-riders anymore, the ‘free-riders’ are in power. The individual lacks influence, often having no choice but to work for a free-rider to be able to obtain food and shelter and often work harder than they would if they were to build their own shelter and grow their own food.

Humanity has created some useful devices for facilitating mutual cooperative behaviour in society, such as religion, nationality and democracy. However the power and influence of these agents has been in decline in the Western world. what is the consequence of this? Is humanity ceasing to be social animals or a global society, as individuals shun familial or local groupings to join wider global groups that are antagonistic to their familial and local groups?

The Tragedy of David Cameron

This week was the Conservative party conference and their leader, David Cameron’s speech. Initially I was disgusted and appalled, then today on re-reading his speech, I had this uncanny sympathy for David Cameron, I felt sorry for him, he just seemed such a tragic figure.

I should be old enough not to shocked by anything politicians say or do anymore. For Cameron to take the words of his opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, out of context and blatantly lie about his views and make accusations based on these lies, was simply disgraceful. Corbyn said that it was a tragedy that Osama bin Laden wasn’t brought to trial, Cameron spun this to say that Corbyn was a supporter of Osama bin Laden. I fully expect the media and the commentariat to misrepresent people and facts, that is the nature of modern politics, however, Cameron is someone who is a political leader of the UK, whose actions affect the reputation of the UK abroad. I am embarrassed for Britain by his ‘leadership’.

The remainder of Cameron’s speech that could have been made by any politician of the left or centre too. I understand that political parties can simply use rhetoric to appeal to the centre ground or swing voters, whilst voters should look to the politicians actions, the implemented policies, which usually tell a different story, this is why political speeches are interesting.

The thought occurred, that Cameron may actually believe his own rhetoric. He may really believe in holding the union of the United Kingdom together, to create a level playing field for people and businesses, for peace and prosperity in the world, for family, for community; these values are shared by proponents of the majority of political and religious creeds. The tragedy is that Cameron has failed to notice that the policies his government enact and those of the political right have been damaging the British economy over my lifetime.

It is concievable that that Cameron has not understood the incompatibility between his rhetoric and his policies. Cameron is a man whose life has been surrounded by people of his political persuasion and such groupings mutually enforce each others beliefs, tell each other that what they think is ok, that it is reasonable. So it is possible that Cameron really believes that Corbyn is a threat to the British society, without seeing that he himself is just as much of a threat. This explains how extremists become deluded by their groups ideas, rather than a wider picture. That such delusions occur in society, whether it’s members of a political ideology, a religious sect is the real tragedy to be guarded against. This is why i believe it’s important to keep exposing yourself to people who think differently to oneself, to avoid this tragedy.

To me, it is so ‘obvious’ that the ideas of the right are wrong. Simply examine the state of the UK housing crisis, is is good that an ever higher and higher proportions of peoples incomes be spent on housing, all this wealth ends up in the hands of the bankers and the very wealthy elite. The right wing consensus these days is that laissez-faire capitalism, the interests of big bunsiness/ corporations are the only aspect of the economy to be promoted and supported. I don’t understand how people can believe in this with a truly open mind. The entirety of the economy has value and should be supported if a healthy prosperous economy is achieved.All areas, including big business, small business, labour, education, science, health, transport, the arts, housing, all have parts to play in a healthy economy and no one sector can provide for all the others. If this plurality does not occur all the power and wealth ends up in the hands of an asset rich few, no-one invests in growing the economy or improving society, merely that one sector, in this case corporatism, continues to to raise the financial value of it’s assets to the detriment of the wider society.

As in any good tragedy, the protagonists suffers by damaging the very thing they love. The case of David Cameron seems to be a true tragedy.

Morning Mist

I love morning mists, I have missed them so much. There is no better way to start the day than awakening into a cloud, to view the gentle undulations of wisps in the treetops, the tingle of tiny water particles on your skin, to see shafts of sunlight breaking through.

I can’t believe that I’ve written umpteen blog posts without a proper rant about the weather, how very unbritish of me.

It is one of the ways I first noticed that I was an outsider, was as a young child; that I disliked being out in the sunshine, whilst everyone seemed to love it, and that others disliked rain, and I didn’t mind it at all.

To myself, I seem to be the logical one. In summer sunshine:

it’s too bright, you have to squint up your eyes, actively vary the amount of light entering your eyes, which I find a pain the backside. You have this annoying tingle on exposed skin. I sweat, constantly, which is sticky and uncomfortable. You wear light clothing, so can’t carry around equipment, without the carrying spot being a burden of a very sweaty patch. When you seek shelter in the shade or return home, it’s still too warm and sticky, sometimes I have to sleep with a ruddy noisy fan on.Everyone else expects you to feel happy and alive, when you feel the opposite.

Tommorrow, Autumn begins, my favourite season, nine whole months until wretched summer comes around again! I’m mildly claustrophobic, I hate not being able to escape. That is why I’m not a summer fan. In the winter, the wet and cold can be escaped, you can warm and dry yourself by a cosy fire in a way you can’t cool and dry yourself in those very hot summer days. The winter water runs and dances in streams, rather than lurk and stagnate.

Apparently, people’s moods are directly affected by the weather. I’m affected myself, but at different times and direction to the majority of people. I also think that people’s character and personality are influenced by the weather, not directly, but rather in two distinct ways:

1/ Individually, we have an expectation of ‘normal’ weather, the weather we grew up with, what we compare current weather with. For example: When I was in Surrey, parts of my mind kept flagging up that it hadn’t rained recently, or that the ground was always very dry. In Wales I can tell, just by being outside and feeling the atmosphere and glancing at the clouds, generally how long it will be until rain and how heavy it will be. i have learnt how Welsh weather works. Everywhere else in the world I get caught out, unprepared!

2/ Culturally, our root culture is shaped by the prevailing weather. For example: I was working in a small village in Indonesia, everyday was hot and sweaty for all of the people from temperate climes, it started raining, we just carried on working as we would at home, refreshed by the cooling water on our already damp clothes. The local villagers laughed at us! When the rain started, the locals all ran to the nearest rain shelter, every collection of houses had a rain shelter where they would gather and socialise for the twenty minutes or so of rain, then when it stopped, go back to work. Their culture had developed an effective way of dealing with how rain worked there, i.e. usually in short 10-20 minute bursts. In Wales, nothing would ever get done if we stopped doing things when it started raining!

People ask me sometimes: If I hate hot and sunny conditions so much, why it is I absolutely love spending time in the tropics? Partly it’s the sheer wonder of a completely different natural and social environment to explore. Partly it’s the normal state of things and behavior adapts to the sunny state and the monsoon rainy state. It’s actually really refreshing not to have the constant undulations and changes in the weather conditions, a state of constancy which changes the way your mind works, fixing you in place,  a new freedom rather than flecked with concern for  the self-questioning of stuff that may need doing before it gets too wet.

I am different, in terms of the weather at least, I have learnt to live with the differences between myself and my own culture, and enjoy the sense of sharing things with my own culture that I am not different with, I particularly love finding shared things in different cultures.  I am shaped by the world and the weather, yet feel free to be different and able to feel the opposite of the weathers mood direction, which is a good place to be, whatever the weather

The Civilised Game

I have been back home in civilisation in Wales for a week or so. I am so pleased to be home and am a lot more happy and relaxed. I think the reason I was unhappy in Surrey, England as it lost the cilvilised game on almost every count, apart from access to cultural events in London.

So, what is the civilised game? It is a game I’ve often played with friends living in different regions of the UK and the rest of the world. The aim of the game is to establish which of two areas is more ‘civilised’ than the other. Points are scored for a region through the identification of aspects of the society that are more ‘civilised’, or represent things that are relatively better in one place compared to another. When playing the civilised game with friends, the shouting out of the phrase “uncivilised country” has become ensconced when a identifying a facet of lack of civilisation.

The game does become rather silly at times, only wierdos like me want good ice cream in the winter, but as a means of a comparative study of cultures, it is useful. It is also a means of measuring how far a society is from achieving it’s own cultural ideals. The game is also an interesting is  interplay between the two protagonists own cultural ideals and how and where they differ from the other ‘player’.

The basis of playing the civilised game is simply identifying things that you find annoying or positive about another culture. For example, I shall compare two English cities I have lived in, if you are from either city, please don’t take offense, I love both cities!

Bristol versus Manchester (B=Bristol is better, M= Manchester is better)

Access to decent bread B
Relative price and quality of beer M
Percentage of income spent on accommodation M
Liklihood of having a nice chat with a random stranger M
Availability of civilised nightlife B
Quality of food M
Ease of being vegetarian B
General prettiness of local ladies [ahem] =
Quality of local music scene M
Quality of local scenery M
Climate =

In this limited example, Manchester is more civilised than Bristol. Sorry Bristol, you do have rubbish chippies though!  It’s kind of like the game ‘Top Trumps’, each place will have a score for each criteria, civilised places will generally win. Uncivilized places will usually have some aspect of quality of life living there that will trump somewhere else. This is what i personally didn’t get about Surrey, it’s the top trump card you don’t want to have. It is subjective, some people love living in Surrey, this is probably largely determined by your upbringing and what the culture you grew up with values highly.

Obviously, Wales scores fairly highly on most of these example criteria. As i get older it seems that civilisation globally is in decline, even in Wales (the local bread shop sells rather poor bread for example). This seems to be a consequence of laissez-faire economics or globalisation. It is the powers of marketing seeking to homogenise the cultures of the world and increase demand for products that can easily be reproduced globally, rather than allowing established local solutions to continue and develop. it seems that the goal of utility, of seeking ways of making life easier for everyone takes a subsidiary role to the market. It is now the big producers powering demand, rather than the local consumer, the multi-national chain displacing the family run business, even when there is no economic efficiency gain from such a change.

Anyway, I’m at home and spared from playing the civilised game with myself.