Unity, not division

To many of the politically engaged the fact that the Tories are getting over 40% in the opinion polls seems very strange indeed. How on earth can a government this bad be storming to victory in the UK general election? The answer is that democratic elections are never decided by the politically engaged, but by the  larger part of the electorate that isn’t interested in politics. The politicians themselves have learnt this.

So we suffer the mantra of ‘strong and stable government in the national interest’, repeated endlessly in lieu of an answer to any question. It’s seems just mad that the government can simply declare themselves to be strong and stable without any evidence to back these claims. It is repeated and repeated, it’s becomes part of the background hum of everyday life and perhaps to many not engaged with politics then take it on board like a truth.

It is so easy for those of us politically engaged to be surprised at this. It is so easy to forget that for many elections are the time to try and get a feel for which lot, which political party seem less incompetent at running a country. Largely I feel they do this by listening to the media and their own social conversations, largely to assess which political leader seems to have the edge.

In an ideal world, the politicians would present their vision and their policies and argue for them. The media then scrutinise what the politicians say and their policies and present more in depth coverage of the issues. However this happens less and less these days, as a repeated lie until becomes a truth has been found to be far more effective at ‘winning’ elections. A particular problem British democracy has is that the mass media, television and newspapers blatantly support the Tories and skew the scrutiny in their favour. For example, Mr Miliband’s [Labour] energy cap policy derided by the media in 2010 is now championed by the very same media when that policy now comes from the Tories.

I spoke to a lifelong Labour voter last week who felt she couldn’t vote for Mr Corbyn as she didn’t feel she could trust him. Yet she didn’t say the same thing about Mrs May who has no stronger grounds to claim trust. in a personality battle I would suggest Mr Corbyn shades it:

Strong

No-one has actually defined what exactly a strong leader is. I think it’s something like a determined leader, someone who will get things done whatever the opposition. Defined thus, Mrs May has this quality. However not listening is also a weakness and can mean a stubbornness to pursue bad policy. Yet Mr Corbyn also has this quality, the strength and the stubbornness,  having held firm to his beliefs over the decades and been on the right side of history, whilst Mrs May faltered. What perhaps is important is the reasons behind being stubborn, for the sake of your career or to defend a principle.  Mr Corbyn has had to deal with a media and half of his own party determined to undermine him at every opportunity, yet he has continued, that is a strength.

Stable Government

Again a very spurious word to define politicians. Stability can be defined as resistance to change, that the government will endure whatever may happen. With the likelihood of  a supportive party who falter to uphold their own principles to remain in power [I believe the Tories are ditching conservative values], as a government they may be described as stable, but not for any innate properties of themselves, merely their own circumstances. Corbyn on the other hand has been incredibly stable, in his views over the years, it is his party that has been unstable, still recovering from the machinations of Blairism. Unlike May Corbyn appears more willing to listen and find a compromise between not betraying his beliefs and getting things done, such flexibility aids stability in politicians.

In the National Interest

What? This is the Tories who’ve run this country down at every opportunity, selling off the family silver to their pals, only to loan it back at extortionate rates of interest to the people, further crippling us. The streets are full of the homeless, food banks, the NHS are barely coping, housing costs have rocketed, education in decline, a weakened economy and all thanks to thirty years of unchecked right wing government. Whereas Corbyn seems a little more concerned about the country as a whole, his gets things wrong, but the checks and balances will hold Corbyn to a stabel path, more than May and their narrow focus on people such as themselves of the Tories.

I just think that on a clinical assessment of character, Corbyn should be walking this election. Yet he isn’t. The Tories and the media make out Corbyn to be some radical communist who would plunge the UK into some kind of Soviet style planned economy. Whereas to those on the outside he is a mainstream moderate left wing politician and one who would have to dilute his moderate aims in government, to gently start the work of rebuilding this divided broken Britain, rather than continue the work of division and destruction, of us against them, of a minority hegemony always getting it’s own way and blind to the need for balance.

We have had fairly hard right wing governments for 38 years in the UK. The people of Britain have forgotten what a left wing or even centrist government is like. We have had government that have ruled for the minority of right-wing people, now any left wing government would be for the good of our society and everyone within it, a correcting government. The miners dispute which started me thinking about politics is now almost two generations ago and the sense of patriotism and community that connected us all with those communities has largely evaporated. It is the grandchildren of those who said ‘Never trust the Tories’ who are now voting who know no different Britain. The right wing minority has manipulated the people and the economy to maintain a grip on power to the great detriment of the this country and even managed to lay the blame on the EU for its own failings.  So much so have they been successful at this that people are now prepared to vote for the very people who made the mess in the first place, just to resolve the Brexit question which isn’t as important as it has been made out to be. So now we face yet another election, merely to resolve another internal issue in the Tory party. We have no balanced choices anymore, just more extremism or less and we do want less extremism don’t we?

It’s to wake up and say ‘Stop’. The British Isles now needs a radical change in how we do things. Those of you who read my pages here will know that my solution is taking back control, for genuine democracy and self-government. Somehow, we have to get this message through despite the London and Tory centric mass media, despite the Tories illegally throwing vasts amount of money (that they swindled off us in the first place) back at us to secure their continuing hegemony. Wake up Britain!

Narratives and ‘Corbynmania’

As human beings it often helps us understand new concepts via narratives we can relate to. Indeed, finding a narrative that fits as an explanation for a phenomena is insightful and helps us discover truth. However any explanation based in a specific narrative can be bias and cause misunderstandings.

For example, an issue in a relationship may make sense when explained from such a narrative as ‘all males interactions with females are influenced by sexual desire’. I would suggest that whilst this narrative does always have and influence, it is not true that is the only influence, other narratives are involved. Such a narrative is overly simplistic as everyone’s sexuality is slightly different. The narrative may coherently explain a situation in a relationship, but could still be false. Statistically, many correlations exist where there is no causal relationship. It is important to test hypothesis vigorously, especially when they concern our relationships to other people, as our data sets are often very small.

It seems to me that in the popular media, standards of journalism have declined.Often current affairs are reported in terms of a current trendy narrative, this introduces so much bias into popular understandings of world affairs. Recent examples being terrorism, immigrants and national debts, none of these narratives is sufficient for a full understanding of world phenomena.

I am somewhat surprised by the recent ‘Corbynmania’ concerning Jeremy Corbyn, one of the four candidates standing to be the next leader of the Labour party in Britain. Corbyn is being portrayed as some radical left wing figure, which actually he isn’t. Corbyn’s politics are to the left of my own, I find it refreshing to heat views from the other side of where I am. He is a moderate left person and if he were to become British Prime Minister, the political process of compromise would temper his more radical ideas. Corbyn only seems like a radical because the UK has had over 30 years of right wing governments and in more recent times the centre right faction of the Labour party has been dominant. My poijnt being that the popular media in Britain has been accustomed and grown used to a right wing narrative.

I have stated my view in earlier posts that often ideological political dogmas are often bad for the economy and that pragmatic politics generally offers the best solutions to problems. Having ideas from ideological narratives is useful, sometimes the left has good ideas and sometimes the right has good ideas. Neither narrative is in itself useful for explaining the wider political picture. Politics should be about public debate, where all feasible solutions to issues are debated and hopefully the best solution triumphs.

The problem is that this debate has been lost. No-one really tries to win arguments anymore. The political parties and the mass media control the narrative by which popular opinion is garnered. Politicians never reveal how they really think or their real motives, it all becomes spin and specific narratives.

This is why the Corbyn is a phenomenon, a politician from the old school, who says it as he sees it and makes the case for his ideas, how refreshing! I can understand his popularity. I hope that by at least having some sort of debate between more than one narrative can only lead to better decisions and improvements to the economy. It’s not as if, with 30 years of right wing government, we finally have achieved an utopia: Poverty, poor education, a housing crisis, stagnant productivity, a huge national debt and deficit. The world needs some balance back,  more objectivity and less ideological dogma.

Of course, I could be wrong, my own narratives are limited and bias themselves. However I keep trying to see things from other perspectives. So any comments are, as always welcome!

Slightly Different Worlds

It is often said that one shouldn’t discuss religion or politics in polite society. Surely openness and discussion are good things. If people discuss such a topic as whether they prefer cats or dogs, then usually people respect that other people view the world in a slightly different way. So, what makes religion and politics different?

In the week after the UK general election people have been talking about and venting their feelings about the results, there is often anger and bafflement. This anger is expressed by such sentiments as “How on Earth can people vote Conservative/Labour? what is wrong with these people?”. Upon discovering that friends and colleagues, supported the other side, there is a difficulty in accepting such a fundamentally different world view and moral stance. I used to be distraught that around a third of people vote for a government I despise, people on the other side express the same feeling. Surely such a large proportion of the population can’t be that misguided, I would argue that they are not.

I remember having a long, late night conversation with a friend who was of the right wing persuasion. We discussed what we both identified as the problems in society and the type of society we each felt that government should work towards, surprisingly they were virtually the same, we shared the same values, where we differed was in how to bring about this better society. Thus, it is perhaps not morality or principle that is the problem but the application of it.

I am in the advantageous position of having been an agnostic and then became a Christian. I can understand both positions. In religion there is a lot of misunderstanding between the theists and the non-theists. As with politics, this misunderstanding causes problems for people. There is much argument between the two positions. What I find is that the issues that Atheists and Christians squabble over not that important. The difficulties Atheists have with religions, such as the accuracy of the Creation story are, to me, rather low down the list of things that are important to me as a Christian.

Actually, the same problems exist both within the Christian community and the secular community. Both those of faith and none develop their own moral principles. Generally, both systems of acquiring moral principles are equally sound and the ethics of Christians and Atheists are similar. I acquired my moral principles before acquiring faith, those moral principles hardly changed since becoming a Christian.

Moral truths are a good thing, connecting with and understanding a moral principle is one of the great ‘yes’ moments in life that are cherished by us as individuals. I think the problem is with application. when the individual understands a moral, social, religious or political position, it does resonate deeply in our subsequent thinking. As these truths seem pure and universal, it is very tempting to apply them vigourously.  However applying any moral code to extremes, no longer is an expression of the moral principle. The principle becomes lost, fragmented and distorted through ruthless application, without resort to the original moral truth. It is this, which causes conflict and misunderstanding between religions and political creeds.

The bedroom tax as an illustrative example:

The U.K. has a state welfare system whereby, if someone is unfortunate to not have a job, the state pays you welfare to cover the minimal cost of living,  in a post-industrial society that minimum cost is quite high, as housing and food are relatively expensive. During my lifetime the U.K. has the problem of the ‘benefits trap’, whereby if you take on part-time or low paid employment you may be worse off financially than staying on benefits, especially if you have a family to support. Adherents, such as myself, of both left and right wing persuasion have long argued that this system should be reformed and that people should always be better off working than relying on benefits in the medium to long term. The last government stated that they would tackle this issue, which was great.

However the application of the reforms were damaging. The government introduced the ‘bedroom tax’. So, if you became unemployed and happened to have a spare room, your housing benefit (to pay for your shelter) was taxed. This meant that those effected struggle to pay for essentials of food and heating and have no money to invest in seeking employment.

To those of the left this seemed cruel and heartless. Why should the unemployed bear the brunt of the failures of the wider economy? People have died because of it. Hence many on the left of politics brand the right as compassionate.

People of the right wing persuasion are not uncompassionate. The principles of the right are that to reduce the state, so people pay less taxes, that people should not be reliant on state handouts, paid for by other taxpayers. That a stick and well as a carrot are necessary to encourage people into employment and contributing to society. People of the left don’t disagree with these principles as such, they just interpret them in a slightly different way. However it seems that advocates of both the left and right are incensed when the application of  principles causes a conflict with a universal moral principle. To the critic the moral principle is more important than the ideological application. Hence, the left brand the right as cruel.

This ideological wrangling, the differing interpretation of a moral code can seem more important that the pragmatic reason which better fits the intention of the universal moral truth. The bedroom tax is immoral. The U.K. has a monetarist economy. Such an economy requires something in the region of 3-5% of the available labour force to be unemployed, because full employment  leads to excessive high wages that would damage business and cause rampant inflation. It is more economically efficient to have up to 5% unemployed, so it is important to treat those unlucky enough to be unemployed for a time with dignity and respect.

Whilst it may seem shocking and repugnant to discover people with religious. It is important to not take the result of the application of moral or political views that differ from our own as scary or fundamentally wrong. The vast majority of people have good sound moral values. It is imprtant to discuss these things openly, the narrative behind the acquiring of such standpoints. By keeping talking to focus on the truth and realise that whilst we may live in slightly different worlds, to not judge others so harshly.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in they brothers eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye” Matthew 7:1-3 (KJV)

Electronic Bias

How people perceive things, leads to bias in perception. The majority of the time i spend listening to music nowadays is in compressed formats: I use streaming services, such as Spotify, Soundcloud and LastFM. I listen to compressed music on an MP3 device, because I like a range of music to listen to an the go.

I am wondering how much this is actually leading to bias in what music i listen to. Recently I have found myself listening to a lot of electronic music, music generated on computers. Electronic music, with it’s simpler waveforms, suffers less from compression than music from analogue sources, it loses less of it’s power and nuance after compression. So, digital music is of higher quality after compression than analogue music. I do generally prefer richer higher quality music, so it makes sense that my preferences are bias by this mode of listening. It is not just me, as increasingly people listen to music in this way.  HQ (high quality) is becoming the preserve of dedicated listening, rather than the norm.

This also applies to vocals. The nuances of timbre and character of voices is lost in compression. So, people learn to listen to new music without as much focus on these qualities, other facets of the music become more important. It can be postulated that really good singers will suffer relative to good producers. Indeed production is becoming bias in favour of sounds that suffer less from compression. It means that musicianship becomes less important as artists are dismissed before listeners have the oppurtunity to listen to there skills and talents.

An increasing reliance on portable devices is a retrograde step, for the trade of of access to a wide range of music instantly via the internet.

As humans, we all suffer from bias, it takes time and energy to keep our minds open, in a world that offers us less time and energy to do it in. People are prejudiced in so many ways:

People get ideas stuck in our own heads, subjecting them to all the bias of our mental experience of life, not allowing us to objectively view ideas outside of our heads. Being able to express ourselves, to put thoughts to paper/ screens, enables us to view ideas outside of the bias of how we a re feeling at a particular moment. However, if we do this online, increasingly those thoughts come back through internet algorithms to affect us.

We are prejudiced by our families, the communities we grew up in and live in, the communities we become members of, our choices of media sources. It is so important to get away from these sources of bias and see things in a more open objective way.

We are prejudiced by the internet, of receiving more of our data about the world via a screen and headphones. Indeed this bias is getting worse as the internet and indeed society is increasingly monetarised and thus more biased. In the U.S. there is currently a debate about allowing internet providers to charge for bandwidth, slowing down access to smaller websites, decreasing choice and increasing bias . As the internet takes over more of our lives, alternative sources of data are disappearing, which decreases choice.

It seems that there are reduced opportunities to learn how to keep out minds open and be objective about our data sources.

Supporting Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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