I Paradigm I

It’s an odd time to be a Briton. The UK will formally start the process leaving the EU next week. About half the people of Britain and Northern Ireland will lose something they have had since birth, EU citizenship. For some this will make them feel less European as a part of their identity is stripped away. It may present a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift is a change to what is normal, a change in mode of thinking, adopting a new set of rules and identities. For example, going from being an anxious to a confident person completely changes one’s worldview. There seem to be rather a lot of these shifts occurring at the moment due to Climate Change and Brexit, to quite fundamental parts of whom we are as humans, what we eat and our identity.

Food

I have written recently about this whole debate between whether the most sustainable diet is plant-based or contain some quantity of meat. There are some visceral arguments flying around. Between the meat fraternity and vegans about which diet is more sustainable, which diet requires less land and is a sustainable management of that land. In my opinion the answer lies somewhere in the middle. However it seems that much of the argument is not based on the science, but rather the “naturalness” of the diet choice.

This “naturalness” concept is rather bizarre as there is very little that is natural about how humans produce food when you consider that humans developed as a species as hunter gatherers. However across the millenia agriculture has developed, allowing larger populations. This agriculture has undergone massive changes since the industrialisation period began some two hundred years ago. Keeping animals inside in a controlled environment feeding them a grown diet, injecting them with chemicals and an industrial process for slaughtering them, is much at odds with practices for the first few thousand years of agriculture.

It is because this form of agriculture has persisted for so long that it has been normalised. Our increasingly urbanised societies do not generally spare a thought for the lived conditions of the animals they eat every day. People who become vegans and vegetarians have thought about this and concluded that modern agriculture is very strange and not “natural” and often make a decision to either stop eating meat or change how they get their meats.

Arguably the debate between these two groups are the traditionalists (even if that tradition [intensive agriculture] is only around one hundred years old) and those that have gone through a paradigm shift in how they think about the rearing of animals for food. Hold that thought.

Identity

Brexit has divided the people of Britain quite fundamentally. Even those of us in the middle have been forced to take sides. The question was whether the UK is better of in or outside of the EU, but Brexit is something else, it is perhaps about differing views of national identity and what is a normal way of thinking about your national identity.

Generally there are those people that consider that the UK nation state is normal, to feel patriotic towards the UK and those that feel differently or are more pragmatic about it and open to different possibilities. This makes sense in the context that the Brexiteers are generally older and remember life before the EU and the Remainers aren’t.

The Brexiteers seem to regard a particular form of British Nationalism as sacrosanct, one which has parallels with the Imperialism and authoritarian nature of the British Empire period.

For example, there have been objections this week to the announcement of Gaelic becoming the default language of instruction in Schools in the Western Isles of Scotland. In Wales, Welsh medium schools have been in existence for quite some time, yet these are often objected to. I don’t get these objections as Welsh and Gaelic are native British languages, so as patriotic Britons do we not all want to maintain the tradition of these languages? It seems these Brexiteer British Nationalists do not view British culture in this way, that they only support certain facets of “Britishness” and not others. You have to be one of this sect to understand what they like and what they do not. These people seem to object to people using other languages than English in Britain, whether it’s Hindi, Polish, Welsh, Gaelic or anything else it seems. It seems to be part of this intolerance of different people.

There also those who object to people who are LGBTQ. Someone said recently that there are two sexes, men and women and this is basic biology. I am a Biologist and I said to her that that is very basic biology, the reality is a lot more complicated and indeed different sexualities exist in other mammalian species. Sex is in our genes and it’s just how biology works. Yet people seem unable to listen to expert advice nowadays. It seems feelings and identity trump science and as a scientist I find that hard to conceptualise.

I believe that the solution to the decline and malaise in the UK economy is to revitalise democracy re-building the economy with Welsh and Scottish independence, Irish re-unification and regional government within England. This just makes sense to me as the most sensible way to improve things. However there are many that object to this, yet they seem to be unable to articulate an argument for the union of the UK, beyond a denial that Wales can govern herself  and a sentimental attachment to the UK nation state. They seem to have not passed through any paradigm shifts.

Diversity Education

There seems to be a general trend in this division between those with a university education and those who don’t. I have even heard it said that universities encourage liberal thought to the detriment of conservatism. There is some truth in that.

A university education is essentially about challenging ideas and assumptions about how things work. It’s about learning how to build a logically sound argument and testing premises. So any traditional conservative values are tested and the only ones that survive are those that have a positive beneficial value and  reason to be conserved beyond sentimentality.

The university experience is also about exposure to diversity, where living with diversity is part of the life of people at universities. When someone goes to university for the first time, they usually live away from home in an area with a different culture. For me I went from a rural Welsh existence to living in a big city in another country; a huge culture shock! You then meet and work with people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world and you just accept things that are different to what you knew. Through an undergraduate degree course you make multiple paradigm shifts in worldview and your understanding of your subject. Paradigm shifts become second nature.

However for those who do not go to university and never live in a different country, may not get this exposure to diversity or have their ideas so rigorously challenged. It may simply be a lack of training in the skill of coping with paradigm shifting.

Brexit

This Brexit division really has torn apart the paradigm of Britain. The Britain I love and grew up in consisted of people of different backgrounds and places whom for the most part got along doing our own things. I grew up in an area that produces people who are loosely defined as Welsh-British and that chimed perfectly with my identity and as such my identity was of as much value as the identity of any other Briton. However Brexit has blown apart that tolerance of all the huge variance in the people of Britain, there now seems an increasing divide between a narrow British nationalism of arguably the largest minority ethnic group in the UK, the White English and everybody else. The White English, may in actuality be a majority of the UK population, however when you take away those that went to university, the LGBT community and those who married outside of their ethnicity for example, you do perhaps end up with a minority, yet one which has acquired power through Brexit and now seems to feel legitimised and emboldened by Brexit that they don’t need to listen to any voices of dissent and are at liberty to abuse people who are different.

This I find disturbing as Britain  seems to be have become in the control of an insular sect which ignores experts at a time when new modes of thinking and a new economic relationship are kind of required by Brexit and even more so by Climate Change. Britain leaving the EU doesn’t really bother me all that much in itself, but ceding control to people who lack experience of paradigm shifts when the nation state is going through a paradigm shift is worrying indeed.

I just feel that the direction of the UK becoming a less tolerant society is one I do not feel part of anymore. Hence I am Yes Cymru.

I Palindrome I

British Identities

I wrote in an earlier blog that I didn’t understand how people hadn’t established their national identities in the same way as I had. I think I now get it. National Identity isn’t a fixed thing, it’s fluid.

I define my national identity like this: Welsh, British, European, World Citizen in that order with being Welsh as the prime identity. I felt I had this identity because I grew up in Wales, and thus have an identification with Great Britain & Ireland as it’s nearby and influential, then European, then the rest of the world. This reasoning is based on where my cultural influences stem from.

However this is not the only way of defining nationality. An alternative view  and perhaps a more advanced one is that cultural influence is the prime factor but isn’t geographically based, it’s more based on personal association. The more you associated with a particular culture the more it forms part of your nationality.

For example, I went on a holiday to Iceland and loved being there, ever since whenever I watch an international football match featuring Iceland I now have a preference for supporting them over any other country I have less association with, (with the obvious exception of England!). This is true of other countries I have visited or spent more time in, like Madasgascar or Honduras. I don’t think this bias is all that uncommon.

I know people who have come to live in Wales and over the years they slowly become more Welsh, understand the culture better and take some ownership of it. I have done the same. I have lived for many years in England and Scotland and most of my family live in England  and identify as English and that has strengthened my British identity.

For me there is actually a case for placing world citizen ahead of European as I have spent more time when I’ve been outside Britain in the rest of the world than mainland Europe, yet common European culture is strong enough to not justify this, but I can imagine a year living outside Europe would probably tip the balance.

Everyone, in the island of Great Britain is a mixture of different nationalities as the four nations are bound together by geography, history and culture. I was born  in England, yet because I grew up in Wales, have a mainly Welsh family and have lived in Wales as an adult it has always been my prime identity.

However, people move around a lot more these days, dragging their children with them. It is not uncommon now for someone to have family from one or more countries, be born in another, then spent their childhood in several other countries. Such a persons national identities would be a broad rich mixture and when asked may simply describe themselves as a World Citizen as their primary identity with some justification.

It used to be much simple as most people would have one nation where they lived there entire lives within one country where their families had been for generations uncounted. For such people nationality and ethnicity would be the same and indistinguishable.

A difficulty with this is that having this close identity with a country, of nationality and ethnicity allows some to believe that there is some kind of special relationship between ethnicity and nationality or even that they are the same thing. I was even bullied at school as I was ‘English’ because I had been born there. To those bullies my Welsh ethnicity and identity apparently meant nothing. Is it not then possible for someone to be forced the accept a nationality of a country they spend only their first weeks of life in and never visited again. Place of birth often does matter for another kind of identity, citizenship, or the nation state responsible for you and there has been a tendency in some people to identify with their citizenship, indeed many countries insist upon it in order to be granted a change in citizenship.

I think all this bullying of those who may arguably have a shallower relationship with a particular nationality as they have a broader richness in nationalities is because as human beings identity is important to us. When we are stripped down to our ineermost selves as perhaps we’ve lost relationships with loved ones, it is our prime nationality we return to with proud happy tears. Nationalities are very complicated and mixed up with all our other identities, our selves and our minds, that they are often something we as people don’t want to think about, we just want it to be a given. So whenever anyone questions our prime nationality, we feel very deeply attacked.

This happened only this week. The UK is currently preparing forms for the 2021 census; A survey of the whole population done every ten years. The controversy this time is the ethnicity question. In the current draft if you are white your ethnicity can be Welsh, Irish, English, Scottish, British or other. However if you are not white the only option is British or other. This was brought into the media spotlight by Kizzy Crawford, a wonderful Welsh singer-songwriter, who was upset that she had no access to a tick box to state Welsh ethnicity, whilst white people could. She wrote a passionate piece in a newspaper describing how she felt alone as a child as a lonely non-white child at her school and it was her Welsh identity that gave her strength. We dismiss people’s identities at our peril.

Kizzy Crawford – Adlewyrchu Arnaf I (Reflecting on Me)

Idea Loyalty

When we are young we cling to safe comforting ideas, in a favourite teddy bear perhaps, where a simple love is a soft cocoon away from the confusing ideas of the wider world. We know that teddy will always love us because we have total control over that relationship as it exists in our imaginations, created by us. That relationship progresses, it grows more complex, we deepen those ties within our own heads.

Such idea loyalty is later found in other areas of life. The things that we like, that give us comfort are found in various aspects of our lives, but unlike the teddy bear these relationships exist with entities outside of ourselves, we decide to be loyal or to trust things outside of ourselves. That we do this so readily when those things may not be so trustworthy is really quite remarkable. Yet that loyalty persists.

For example, when we hear a piece of music for the first time, we know that we like that particular piece of music, but may not be entirely sure why, yet we know we like it. It is only with subsequent listenings that we delve deeper and discover why we like that piece of music, we have a relationship with that piece of music.

It’s the same type of thing with attraction. Sometimes we meet people and just instantly like them. As we get to know them we learn why we like them and have a sense of loyalty towards them. Even if we lose contact with that person, or don’t listen to a piece of music anymore, when their name crops up we instantly have warm feelings of fondness, even to sometimes awful pieces of trashy pop music that formed part of our lives when we were young.

We develop idea loyalty. I believe it is partly that we see something of ourselves in that piece of music or that other person that resonates with how we think. Such things engage our interest because whilst they are like us they are also different. The interest is perhaps partly why they are different, what is that subtle difference in worldview.

Politics is another example of this phenomena. Those of us who go through the whole internal debate of working out what our own political philosophy and position is, often tends to resonate with that first encounter with politics. We instantly have a reaction in support of or against something which lick starts that journey. Once this process is complete, we don’t have to think about the politics anymore we know our own position. We have idea loyalty to a particular set of beliefs. It is kind of self-affirming to spend time socialising with people who think the same way, to share a common bond with, it gives us self-confidence.

Of course if we spend too much time on the familiar, with things that are close to who we are, we get bored. It is the things that are different than we enjoy exploring. Yet those familiar things don’t change, we always like the same music, the same people, the same ideas. I sometimes think this is strange, how I don’t come to dislike things I once liked and find that I now like completely different things. Perhaps what we seek as human beings is the right balance of centring ourselves with things that confirm ourselves as valid individuals with the desire to explore the new and unfamiliar. And of course we are all different and have different cravings for adventure into the unknown. This sense is perhaps summed up by how we yearn to go and visit new places and do new things, yet at whilst we are there we crave coming home, there is no perfect point to be at.

However, often we struggle to find this balance, the world often doesn’t allow us to make this process easy. I have suffered from anxiety and perhaps I was partly that way as I didn’t fit in, I didn’t get enough of the comfort of the familiar. Indeed it is those who are different, who don’t fit in who tend to suffer more from anxiety. Such people struggle to find enough people like them, they don’t get enough of the home time to develop confidence to go out and explore as they constantly seek the comfort blanket where none surrounds them.

When I was growing up I had this sense from being in a family and friends who had very different political ideals to my own, different tastes in music and worldview in general. I left home and found some people who were a lot more like me, yet to be with them i had to live in an unfamiliar environment of big cities outside of Wales. In such a situation I could only grasp hold of some of my roots and never all of them at the same time. I’ve also never lived long enough somewhere that felt like home long enough for those roots to deepen and grow to give me the confidence to fly further from home to satisfy my cravings to explore.

I do believe that there are higher rates of mental illness because our society fails top provide opportunities for people to find the balance they need. Most of humanity’s history was spent living in small villages. Where the diverse people of the village enabled people to find their place within that society and it’s economy. The great pushes of modern capitalism seem to force a particular way of ding things upon people, to compete to be at the centre of very large groupings of people. It seems like a society based on certain type of people who like conforming. whereas those people who are different who don’t conform struggle with the abnegation such large societies seem to demand and there seem to be fewer opportunities to find places on the fringes in a globalised world. The stress seems to be on rewarding those with the ability to be central to the one prevalent worldview and that doesn’t suit everybody, whom have idea loyalty to a different set of beliefs.

 

The Lights that Blind

Often on this blog I’ve highlighted the importance of diversity, that we as humans are all different and we have differing needs, that one size fits all approaches never work. So, I wish to discuss a very disturbing recent development with cars, that has failed to respect diversity.

In recent times there has been a trend towards ever brighter lights on cars. I used to think that it was just a few modders not considering other motorists, but they seem to have become standard on many new cars. I am talking about Xenon and LED lighting.

The idea behind these lights is that they are more energy efficient (which is great) and enable the driver to see more with there headlights (which by itself is also a good thing). However such lights dazzle other road users. Technically this is illegal:

UK Highway Code Rule 114

  • use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders

However this rule is as far as I am aware never enforced and there is no upper brightness limit in law, so dazzle is defined as being subjective. So if I experience dazzle then technically a vehicle with these lights is illegal. Yet nothing is being done about this!

It’s all of the lights on a car thus fitted, which does cause problems:

Headlights

More powerful headlights allow the driver to see more and may decrease some accidents. There has always been the problem of headlights at night causing reduced visibility to on coming drivers and drivers have developed strategies to cope with this. However when the brightness is increased the danger of decreased visibility to other drivers is increased which may increase accidents. There is a balance to be achieved here. However there is no mechanism in place to ensure the safest balance is achieved.

Day Running Lights

What is the point of these, other than to dazzle other drivers? They offer the driver no increased clarity, merely decrease other drivers vision.

Rear Running Lights

These are essential at night so other drivers are can be aware of other active vehicles. However, dazzling the car behind doesn’t help anyone. Most rear running lights are not too bright until brakes are applied

Rear Brake Lights

Perform the vital role of signaling following drivers of braking, that the car is slowing down and that the driver may have spotted a hazard ahead. However id they are too bright, as many of them are now, they dazzle the following drivers, causing them to be able to see less, which has no advantages.

Stationary Brake Lights

When I learnt to drive, the importance of Handbrake – Neutral was drummed into me. This action switches off the rear brake lights, mainly for safety in a collision but also to stop dazzling the driver behind.

Now, sometimes, we are lazy and we hold our cars on the foot brake. This didn’t cause dazzle problems for most people as the lights were not overly bright and on older models of cars the lights were lower down on the car body, more importantly below eye height, so the light wasn’t directly in the centre of the field of vision. This is an increasing problem as most drivers where I live have dropped the Handbrake – Neutral action when stopped temporarily and more worryingly some modern cars which switch the engine off to save fuel when stationary keep the rear brake lights burning holes in following drivers retinas, well give us sun spots anyway. The problem with this is that the following drivers eyes adjust to the bright light, so for a while afterwards their vision is dimmed, which has safety consequences.

So how did we get to a point where new cars are not designed to be safe?

Part of the issue is that we are all different and have different light sensitivity. I raised this issue with friends and colleagues and most people don’t find these brighter lights dazzling or a problem, even though their vision is still dimmed. However I realised that I am not alone, there seems to be a significant minority of people who are more light sensitive, for whom brighter lights are more dangerous.

Remember we are all different and even see the world in different ways. For example, I didn’t realise quite how prevalent various forms of colour-blindness are. So the needs of the light sensitive should be taken into account when designing and regulating cars on the roads.

There doesn’t seem to be any action on this front. I wrote to the government and they are not even looking into this issue. The difficulty is that the car manufacturers lobby governments for minimal regulations, as surely the market will regulate for safety as it is what drivers want.

However, in this case, market forces don’t work. If your car dazzles others it doesn’t affect you as driver, all you see is your slight improvement in visibility, the negative effect is suffered by other road users. But other road users have zero influence on your choice of car and it’s lighting. Having a really bright car that is more noticed may mean that there is a decreased chance of other people running into you, however when all cars are overly bright this advantage is lost and everyone is left with overly bright cars and the roads are overall less safe places.

It is simply dangerous to not consider the needs of others, especially when no wider advantage makes up for the loss of a particular minority. Everyday I witness inconsiderate driving that may cut a few seconds off someones journey only to slow down everyone else. What is more disturbing is when these issues are built into the cars themselves.

There is a potential solution. Driving spectacles have been developed to reduce light glare. Basically they have a yellow tint which filters out the UV/ blue light spectrum which reduces headlight dazzle. I’ll have to check these out!

 

 

 

Welsh Country Rap

Moving back to Wales and finally getting around to learning the Welsh language has made me look again at my native culture in a new light. As a younger man I did wonder why so many people don’t have as ‘eclectic’ or wide ranging musical tastes as I do.

I grew up in rural Wales and like many rural cultures is deeply conservative and that is part of me. The culture promotes self-reliance, because services are usually far away and difficult to access. So there is a tendency to take personal responsibility for your daily needs. For example, I have ingrained the idea of keeping enough food in my kitchen to survive a week, in case of bad weather and inability to access food shops for a period (such as heavy snow or flooding). Rural folk tend to seek support from their family and neighbours should they hit trouble and wider statewide structures are seen as unreliable as they don’t cater for the specific needs of the community.

In contrast, the urban dweller tends to rely on easily accessible services, such as using public transport and tend not to have the space to have all their needs on hand, the need to pool and share resources more widely. Large towns and cities don’t get their electricity cut off for days or the internet going down for extended periods which rural people are more used to. The town person has to be more reliant on public services and hence strangers, than the country person. There is also the issue of space, the country person has more space and in consequence can store tools and supplies to an extent that the urban dweller cannot

Music is about cultures, in particular folk music, describing the trials and tribulations of life within cultures. There is a tendency of different genres of music  to be associated with different cultures. The example that comes to mind is that of Rap music being of the city and Country of the countryside.

I like all genres of music, but sometimes they don’t quite fit in with our surroundings. When listening to some Rap in the countryside it doesn’t fit, the beats do not chime with the wide open spaces, whereas Country does seem to blend in more with the landscape. However even if the music doesn’t fit it can still be enjoyed and appreciated. It is possible to enjoy a song about the hot summers day in the cold and damp of winter.

It’s not merely the music, it’s the lyrics, the words. Songs from rural areas are about life in the country and songs from the urban areas are about life in the town or from the perspective of the town. So, if you listen to a song from an artist from your own culture and locality, then there is a greater likelihood that the song will resonate with your own experience, to touch your soul in a profound way. However music from other cultures and traditions can still be enjoyed, indeed some feelings, such as emotional joy or loss are universal. However, some ways of viewing the world are culturally based, so resonate more deeply.

There is a tendency for people to predominantly listen to music from their own culture, certainly in the case of my parents and grandparents generation. I could never understand why people seemed not to be open to hearing about other cultures and different ways of  being. Perhaps a certain exercise of the imagination is required, to suspend reality to temporarily immerse yourself in another culture to appreciate what they are saying. Or it may simply be that the resonance with our own perspectives of the world, our own culture is such a warm, life-affirming feeling compared to that of the relatively weaker emotions of listening to songs from other places, that many people never make the leap to being able to really appreciate the music for what it is.

Furthermore in a conservative rural culture, that is more physically separated from interactions with other cultures in daily life and one that ascribes value to its own culture, the opportunities for such immersion are rarer. This, to such an extent that a concert by a visiting artist, may simply be an enjoyable experience but not be enough for the music to resonate in daily life.

Rural Wales is still much more limited in it’s exposure to other cultures than for more urban populations. Yet in my experience the rural conservatism of Wales is much more open minded, and less judgemental of other cultures, for example in comparison with the Southern United States, the home of Country music. There is an appreciation that things are different a few miles down the road and more so further afield, that we shouldn’t expect to be able to judge other cultures without understanding them better.

Perhaps the principle reasons for this difference between Welsh rural cultures and those found in England and America, may be due to their relation with the state they are a part of. British and American culture has sprung from the imperialist expansive culture of a world power. Such cultures where preservation of native cultures are not seen as of value or important. For example the scant regard of the British for the Welsh language and culture and historically a lack of respect for Native American culture by the American state.

Whereas Wales has lived beside the giant power of England for all of modern history, yet many in Wales have passionately defended Welsh culture and our language from the ignorance of lack of regard from the centralised British elite. As such there is a tendency for the people of Wales to understand the feelings of oppressed minorities everywhere, for example the people of the deprived projects of America that gave birth to Rap music. Or it may be just that Wales is small and minority groups within our culture are less easily ignored.

As both the power of influence of Britain and America decline, there is perhaps an understandable realisation of the perils of a culture under threat, particularly if it’s built on foundations of dominance. As such we see crises in these cultures and a desire to preserve them. Associated with this is a reduction in valuing cultural diversity as this suggests itself as a way to preserve a culture. We can see evidence for this in Brexit and the language of Donald Trump. These cultures are new to feeling their culture threatened, whereas in Wales we have a very long history of feeling our way of life threatened. You don’t get anywhere by being fearful of diversity or trying to escape your own culture, the best way is to embrace both, embracing who you are as a person and embracing everyone around you.

As I keep harking on, binary choices are a false choice. You can like Country music and Rap music, You can be a conservative and a socialist. Understanding other cultures only deepens your love and connection with your own culture, in music and perhaps everything else. My perception of people ignoring diversity, wasn’t a conscious choice, but merely a example of a the false tendency to fear the unknown, rather than find more out about it. To conserve a culture by defending it through fighting against other cultures doesn’t work. Conserving a culture comes from an appreciation of other cultures and using that energy to enrich and grow our own cultures.

 

For some examples, listen to some: Welsh Rap,  Welsh Country or just revel in some strange Welshness. Mwynhewch/ Enjoy.