The problem with Liberals

On these pages I have often described myself as a Social Democrat and not a Liberal. These two political doctrines to the outsider appear quite close, yet I feel there is fundamental difference between the two. This difference is why I have a problem with liberalism.

Social democracy and Liberalism share some common world views. Perhaps most importantly that society should work for everyone, it is worth repeating, everyone; black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. However the two doctrines differ in how this society is to be realised. Social Democracy advocates working out what the centrist position is from first principles, whereas Liberalism finds the centrist position more relatively, based on prevailing public opinion. This relativistic stance is to me the weakness of Liberalism.

However, as human beings we are relativistic creatures, how we think, how we behave and what we value is determined socially. This social determination is guided by our families, our social peers and the communities we grow up in. The views of the world we hear around us, shape us. There is natural desire to compromise with prevailing views in a society, to ‘fit in’ and find our own space. To be able to compromise, you have to be able to understand and be prepared to be persuaded by arguments if you test them and find them convincing.

In many ways Social Democracy is the tougher discipline as it prescribes picking apart all this social fabric to get to the fundamental issue. Social Democracy is thus a cold discipline, relying on logic and reason,  can seem devoid of feeling. Yet it isn’t cold as the aim is to provide something for everyone. This criticism also applies to Liberalism, whilst the Liberal will listen, they may lack empathy as they are trying to work out where the centre is, rather than understand each individual.

Both the Liberal and the Social Democrat are a little jealous of those away from the centre on the left and right wings, the Socialists and Conservatives. Jealous, because the wings don’t have to think so much. To the wings political positions come easily, certain arguments just fit naturally with how they think and the opposite arguments seem alien and incomprehensible. Centrists often run into this problem that they don’t always get a reasoned argument for something. So often an argument will rest on an appeal to a common sense that runs true with how they think. The problem with such rhetoric is that is doesn’t extend beyond like minded people, to the centre or the ‘other’ wing. There seems to be this rise in division and the recent development of Nationalism in Europe and North America that raises serious concerns. I blame the Liberals.

Partly it is because the Liberals have moved from the centre, where us Social Democrats still are, towards the right as it has appeared that society has moved to the right. Electoral success has been the reward of this drift. Tony Blair, was essentially a Liberal, as were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Here in the UK, the Liberal Democrats found themselves in a coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, for the good reason of providing stable government. However, the Liberal Democrats failed to do their job as a coalition partner and went native with the Conservatives, to the horror of Social Democrats and Socialists, the ‘Liberals’ had let us down, again. It was not unexpected, Liberals, with their mode of drifting to the centre ground, working everyday with predominantly right wing Conservatives would lead you to shift your perception of the centre quite far rightwards, which is what happened.

Liberalism may he partly the cause of the recent rise of Nationalism, of Brexit and Donald Trump. Once you start drifting in a certain direction currents often speed you on in that direction, because nationalism is very good at subverting human nature.

<Slight tangent in case anyone is getting confused, I am supporter of Welsh independence, or “Welsh Nationalism” as some like to call it. We are not “Nationalists”, it’s just not the same thing, ok? (maybe I’ll expand on this next time!)>

The problem with Nationalism is that the worldviews and opinions of the people who surround in our lives, in our communities, our desire to fit in and to work to make things better are essentially positive. For social animals everyone doing their thing and working with the people around us to improve society is simply a good thing.

However, the sly fox of Nationalism achieves it’s end of replacing the ‘good of the community’ with the ‘good of the nation’. So instead of being inspired to improve our communities, we are inspired to work to improve our nation. This is not the same thing. Nations are somewhat artificial constructs and do not seek to help people, they have a life of their own and play around with our notions of self and community. Nationalism when it arises, often has a scapegoat, a group to blame for the nation not being as mighty as it could be, be it the Jew in 1930s Germany, the Socialist, the immigrant or the Muslim in recent times. This right wing nationalism, relishes competition, which is actually bullying as it slowly works it way through society, the narrative subtly changes until you find yourself in a totalitarian state, like in George Orwell’s ‘1984’. The Liberal just adapts in this environment, the Liberal remains in the social centre, even though this social centre is now way off balance. For the Conservatives, they don’t notice the true horror as to them at last society  is  chiming with their own worldview, they feel as though they have won something and even the Socialist may be happy as it appears that society is at last demonstrably ‘improving’. But, to those able to be Social Democrats and to those on the outside, it is a nightmare.

Whether we are truly caught in the  Nationalism trap in the UK and USA, is perhaps too early to say, but all the very worrying signs are there: There is stoking of fear of ‘foreigners’, the scapegoating of  minorities in particular Muslims, There have been elections won by populist extremists and possibly more to come in France and the Netherlands. and when we are told that these people win, so we now must conform to whatever they want to do, to be good “patriots”…

It just seems like that many people have forgotten the warning from history about Nationalism, that Orwell wrote about in ‘1984’. Even in Germany, the country that most painfully learnt the lessons of the perils of Nationalism, some 80 years ago, is seeing the rise of Nationalism. Remember ‘Ignorance is Strength’ & ‘We are at war with Eastasia, we have always been at war with Eastasia’.

 

 

 

 

 

Working Relationships and Compromise

Often, when we talk about relationships we consider our interrelations with other people and perhaps we usually neglect to think about our intrarelations. Sometimes, we have easy, good relationships because the intrarelationship is almost intuitive and requires no effort, in other relationships the intrarelations are difficult and often are the real cause of a relationship to break down. People fail to recognise their need to help others and instead prioritise their personal ambitions.

So, what are intrarelations? These are the decisions we reach that occur outside of communication. Indeed in long term relationships they are discussed, but this is something we only engage with with those closest to us, or when things are not working out. A large part of these decisions are about what we do as people to achieve a balance in our lives. This balance is between our own inner lives and our social lives.

I don’t believe in altruism, the idea of acting for no personal gain. If we do something for the benefit of others we also gain, from fulfilling our needs to play a role socially and be useful, so helping others helps ourselves and our society.

There are things we really want to do and there are things people want to do with us. Sometimes we are really lucky and what we really want to do will also be what our loved ones also want to do; these are often the very best times in our lives. Often we choose something we quite like doing with a group of friends to something we want to do more by ourselves because doing things together socially has it’s own rewards and adds enjoyment. However, most of the time we have to make decisions about whether to do what we want to do or engage in a social activity. Often we prefer to do something involving other people to something by ourselves, because we are social animals and we thrive from social activities. However over time we start to get increasingly niggly about doing the thing at the top of our list that we never seem to get around to doing and start prioritising it. conversely, after some time doing what we really want we may then desire to something we are not terribly keen on, just to be with a particular person or group or to experience something different. So interrelations are perhaps all those decisions about balancing our individual priorities.

Occasionally there are conflicts, we are all different and have different needs. For example introverts tend to need more time by themselves, whilst extroverts need more social time. So, it is easy to understand how an introvert and an extrovert may have conflicts. Having said that some very strong bonds can form between these two opposites, when each party is prepared to listen and compromise and find a way for both of them to be happy.

So in a relationship there needs to be some way of ascertaining what the others persons feelings are. Usually we ask indirectly and gauge the answer, for example “Do you fancy coming to the pub with me tonight?”. Possible answers are:

1- “Yes, I would love to go out with you tonight” [Highly affirmative]

2- “Yes, why not, but I probably shouldn’t stay too long” [Affirmative, but not the others priority]

3- “No, I have other things to do tonight, do you need me to come?” [Negative, but will do so as a favour]

4- “No, I don’t fancy it tonight” [Highly negative]

Another spectrum! , the answers 2 and 3, in effect ask a further question of the other person’s priority in doing the activity and their need for social activity.

Such a system is open to abuse and manipulation and often this causes friction in a relationship. It is easy for the person wanting to go to the pub to encourage the other to join them, however repeatedly forcing the other will eventually go beyond their desire to compromise. Sometimes people will inflict their own personal priority systems on others, for example an extrovert may feel that the introvert would be better off socialising more, rather than staying at home, but this is wrong and dangerous. However there are times, when a person will be better off for doing something that are not inspired themselves to do, but you need to know each other well to do this.

Essentially, a good strong relationship, is where both parties have a healthy balance between their social and private desires.

It is possible to explore wider types of relationships from the standpoint of achieving this balance. When community relationships are explored, as the social net becomes wider, the intra-relationship is at risk of not being maintained by social convention.

Markets

In Wales, as in much of Europe, we used to do most of our everyday trading locally, I was lucky to grow up in such a community. We would know personally our local ‘butcher, baker and candlestick maker’, we would meet and form friendships within our communities as we wandered the market doing our shopping. Traders, would learn what our preferences were, indeed such relationships were good for trade. However this gentle manipulation was appreciated, for example often the butchers recommended cuts, would mean we enjoyed our meat more. The relationship was maintained as the trader wouldn’t want to rip-off or off load bad meat onto a customer, who they would then lose future trade with. Hence mutually supportive relations were established between customers and traders. Often people lament that such economic relationships don’t happen anymore. Indeed, so many of us no longer even have a local butcher, baker or local market. Instead we travel, often long distances,  to large multi-national supermarkets, where we have practically no relationship with the seller of our goods. The effect of this change is that shopping becomes more of a chore and we lose out on social interaction within our communities.

In place of this social interaction we have the phenomenon of marketing. Rarely nowadays, do retailers provide for the needs of their customers. Vast amounts of research and study of numbers have been done, simply to find ways of maximising profits. These ways of maximising profits have little to do with satisfying peoples needs and wants, but generally work to increase profits, essentially by manipulation and finding artificial ways of making people feel satisfied with their shopping. Having worked for a supermarket myself, I appreciate how easy it is to become institutionalised and  of serving the commercial needs at the expense of the staff and customers, it is so easy to allow the compromises of the job to become a new normal and accepted.

Romantic Relationships

A desire most people have is to find a partner, someone to share most of their life with. This usually isn’t easy, indeed we invest a lot of time in wishing for such successful fulfilling partnerships. However, like in marketing, a plethora of research has been done and people have found ways to manipulate generalities to increase their success in finding partnerships where the relationship can be exploited to maximise an individuals priorities at the expense of doing things for the other person. However where manipulation doesn’t occur and true compromises are reached is often the recipe for a successful relationship.

It isn’t hard to find people who are game players, who have worked out how to have relationships that satisfy their personal ambitions, to use general rules at the expense of establishing truly mutually beneficial relationships or fulfill their need to support someone else. It isn’t hard either to find doormats either, who only want to make their partner happy at the expense of their personal needs. True fulfilling relationships perhaps does only come from achieving a good balance.

Disc Jockeys

In this age of on demand digital media, the demise of the traditional radio Disc jockey (DJ) has been predicted. There is the idea that we don’t need someone to sit in a studio playing records for us, when we can do it ourselves and choose the music we like. Yet, arguably now is a golden era of the DJ. A good DJ will not merely play records they like, though this   is what they do, they create programmes. Radio programmes are an attempt to collate things we are interested in in interesting ways, they enhance our listening to music. A good DJ achieves this in a number of ways. Firstly curation, a good DJ will spend a lot of time discovering music for themselves and their listeners and becoming highly skilled at this. Indeed searching for music on the internet, or even developing a decent algorithm for  selecting an internet stream isn’t easy, so having a professional helps. The music is then blended together, so pieces of music flow and provide interest and a story through the order in which they are selected. Finally a good DJ will chat with the listener, creating warm feelings and making the whole process of listening a lot more personal. A good DJ does their job for other people, and may even play a piece they don’t like, but feel that their listeners will find it interesting in it’s context. A DJ listens and makes compromises with their audience. Really, the good DJ fulfills their personal needs and their social needs.

In contrast, there continues to be a plethora of commercial radio, which is truly awful. Many radio stations simply use the model of playing the most popular pieces of music of the day and the aim of the game is not to provide good programming, but manipulate their audience in to staying tuned in for the next set of advertisements. It is often so soulless.

Politics

It is perhaps in the arena of party politics, where the this disconnect demonstrating the failure of modern relationships to achieve healthy balances occurs.

The job of a politician is simply to make good decisions. In a democracy, the politicians are elected, so should demonstrate to the electorate that they are good decision makers by making it clear what they base their decision making on.

A politician is also someone whom is interested in politics, so will have personal goals they wish to achieve in helping create the kind of thriving society they want to see. However, they are entering into a relationship with their electors, so compromises are required, to find solutions that work for the community.

Really it doesn’t matter if a politician is of the left or the right-wing as long as they make good decisions and achieve a good balance with their own ideals and the good of the society they serve, for then good decisions are made.

However as the political sphere becomes ever more centralised, the direct relationship with the electors is lost and the role stops being about serving the community. In consequence being a politician becomes more about personal achievements at the expense of social achievements.

Being a member of political party and having done some canvassing for elections (Plaid Cymru), I have become interested in the welfare of the party, rather than the society it aims to serve. These days, party politics is notorious for rules for saying and doing what works to help the party gain votes and win elections, often at the expense of losing sight of improving the economy and society. I was with a candidate who was asked a question on the street and they gave a very grod ‘politicians’ answer of not saying anything. I knew he had good answers, but was concerned about saying something that would be misinterpreted by a potential opponent at the end of a long tiring canvassing session (Remember you have been saying very similar things to lots of people for several hours, so your brain starts turning to cardboard by the end!).

The famous example being Tony Blair’s government, where the government became a slave to focus groups and engineering policy to win elections, rather than doing the right thing. Winning elections became more important than improving the economy. Blair was good at compromising, he was a master at it, he was a failure in my eyes because he didn’t really make any progress his own convictions to improve  society, I don’t even know if he had any, he seemed merely to want to win the game.

I recently read ‘The Greasy Poll’ by Mike Parker who stood for my party in the Ceredigion UK general election of 2015. In this diary of an election from the candidates view, a world was revealed of his words (that there are racists in Ceredigion) being taken out of context by the press (‘he said that all incomers are Nazis!’), which seemed to have led to him failing to win the seat. It seemed to him that ordinary people can’t succeed in politics because they can’t be themselves, for if they are, they are crucified. Perhaps only a slick politician who is very careful to say nothing that could be misinterpreted is successful.

However now we are in the Brexit/Trump era, where people have got fed up with politicians not being honest with their views and opinions, that mavericks such as Trump and Farage get the votes, by appealing to this discontent but just using a different set of words to do it. Instead of the glib “We are going to make things better, don’t listen to the other lot as they want to make things worse!”, this new breed say “The other politicians don’t say anything, so listen to my populist rhetoric of finding scapegoats for our problems instead” What a politician says has become far more important than what they do. It seems we live in a world where a soundbite that resonates is more important than a deed that actually helps improve something. Where are the politicians who have sound personal ambitions and the ability to make decisions that work for the whole of society?

Take the current leaders of the two largest political parties in the UK. On one side we have Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist campaigner, who has thus far failed to convince the population as a whole that he is able to listen and find a workable compromise with those who are socialists. On the other side we have Teresa May, a right-wing authoritarian, who only seems to serve her ideological ambitions and in real terms has yet to do anything to genuinely serve society. She is able to say that she cares, even when she does nothing at all to act on these cares.

It seems that you have to play the game to be proficient at succeeding in the party political game, to rise to senior position where you can actually achieve something, yet by that point they are so distorted by the game to be unable to do anything positive at all. So perhaps all politicians have a broken relationship with the the people in their society. Such politicians do not help society, nor make progress in advancing their individual cause, they only win the game of of politics. In the same way as the ladies man may rack up lots of partners, but never achieve a deep meaningful relationship. An executive business person, may achieve success for their company. career, but not any real tangible benefit to society, or any real achievement, outside of the corporate game.  A popular DJ, may rack up millions of listeners listening to them in the background, whereas the good DJ can seriously touch peoples lives and change people’s thinking with their selection of music.

I wrote last time about what is an achievement. I do just believe that making a real difference to society, or forming a mutually beneficial relationship is an achievement. Whereas winning an artificial game is much no achievement at all, in any game someone has to win and someone has to lose, the winner has not really achieved anything. Perhaps interrelationships are passing fun, but intrarelations are where true success can be achieved.

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.

Referendum

Things have progressed since my earlier post on the subject of the UK EU referendum. Out and about in the pubs and cafés people are discussing this issue, Really there is nothing like actually having a say in an issue to provoke debate. Opinions are flailing around quite madly in such a complex issue, I know people who were decided but are now not so sure.

I was in Scotland during the run up to the recent Scottish independence referendum, aside from the distortions, lies and silliness of the media campaigns, yet normal people were discussing the issue. I met a number of Scots whom whilst aware of the whole Scottish independence thing, had never given the issue any serious consideration as a possibility themselves. What was interesting, is how many people, having thought about it decided on independence. The opinion polls suggested this with the ‘YES’ percentage steadily rising up to polling day. In the end it took a dramatic last minute gesture from the UK establishment, which may have swayed a few doubters enough to give the ‘No’ vote the edge.

So, it seems this is now happening across the UK: In Wales politics is now an everyday issue: there are the Welsh government elections coming up in May, the steel crisis causing major concerns, the UK government determined to enact a range of controversial and unpopular reforms early in the UK parliamentary term, the elephant in the room  of international treaties like TTIP & CETA, not to mention continued concerns about the European migrant crisis and an increasingly unstable world. All of these things could influence the EU vote, which aren’t really about the fundamental question of whether the UK should remain a member of the EU or leave.

What many of the discussions concerning the EU, often get around to is the subject of democracy. I am an advocate of democracy. The idea of the population making collective decisions about the direction and rules of society as a whole, rather than a political elite wielding all the power, makes a lot of sense, it seems a fair system. The ancient Greeks, invented democracy, and started with citizens each having an equal vote on every issue of the day. Essentially this is what referenda are, giving everyone a choice over a single issue. I believe it would be healthy for democracy to have referenda regularly, on every major change in policy. These days, it should be fairly easy and inexpensive to enable this, through public libraries hosting the ballot.

Political establishments don’t like referenda as they involve the establishments giving up a little bit of power to the people. Even this government, in giving this referendum did so for political, rather than democratic reasons, they have refused to have referenda on other important issues. So, why do democratic political parties, when in power not really like democracy? I think the answer is partly that democracy prevents them from enacting from their own ideological agenda, whereas the people, the democratic body as a whole are not ideological and will make decisions based on more pragmatic criteria. The ‘people’ generally distrust the political class and generally view them as doing a rather poor job. Given this lack of true democracy, there is perhaps a tendency to vote for more democracy.

It may be generally true that at referenda people will vote for more democracy. The strong performance of the Scottish independence question was fundamentally about more democratic accountability. The Greek Eurozone bailout referendum was about more democracy for Greece. so, this brings me to what I find really odd about the Brexit campaign.

Often the Brexit campaigners put forward fine words about the merits of democracy. On this they are right, in principle, the UK leaving the EU should increase democratic accountability to the people, if we leave aside economic arguments and just look at democracy. My point in my previous post is that the UK isn’t very democratic either. So surely for the Brexit campaign to win, all it has to do is commit to increasing UK democracy, whether through finally implementing some proportionality into our voting system, or a genuine move to make the UK more federal. If this was promised, I would then be strongly tempted to support Brexit. However, that the Brexit campaigners are not supporting electoral reform, this causes me to doubt their intentions. It seems the question is not about democracy but increasing the power of the UK establishment, rather than the EU establishment. To the rest of us humble subjects, it makes no difference if our ruling regime is UK based or EU based.

Anyway, I still think the result will be close and too clouded by current issues to actually represent a decisive consensus. however whether yes or no ‘wins’ may make quite a lot of difference both for the countries of the UK and the countries of the EU.

It shouldn’t be allowed.

You know when you are getting old when the values of your generation are replaced by a different set of values. Over the past few years, student unions at British universities have been banning speakers from speaking. The reasoning for such bans seem to be not to give a platform to non-mainstream views and to protect students from hostile ideas.

I grew up with the highest value given to freedom of speech and protection of the environment. Perhaps the two greatest causes of the times I grew up in. Going back I remember the sheer disbelief that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated in apartheid South Africa, members of Sinn Fein were not allowed to speak on broadcast media, having to be dubbed in interviews. Their were endless debates about the rights of the  BNP (British Nationalist Party) to be heard. In can perhaps be said that my generation failed to succeed in it’s two big causes.

The basic idea is that freedom of speech trumps any other consideration. With this freedom there is then the freedom to respond to ideas that people don’t like. Debate is seen as vital to a healthy society, so without it society is unhealthy.

The other issue for my generation was privacy. What you did in your private life had no bearing in your public or working life. There was a sense that you didn’t have to say anything you didn’t want to. There was also a freedom of not to speak. I grew up in a world with grandparents who had vivid memories of the Second World War, fears of a totalitarian Nazi state and a general fear of a manipulative ‘Big Brother’ state as exemplified in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, which was made into a film in 1984!

Of course generational shifts occur. Each generation deals with what it perceives as the great failings of the previous generation. My generation threw off the shackles of appearing respectable and doing what you feel you should do, to have the freedom to be ourselves, pursue our own dreams. Really this was at a time when the establishment itself was becoming less and less respectable anyway, hence the lack of respect for respectability!

If there is any single cause of the shift from Generation X to The Millennial generation it is the internet. My generation grew up with computers evolving into ever more powerful machines, performing ever more amazingly useful functions, my generation love computers. The difference is that Millennials grew up with the internet already there, for Millennials the internet wasn’t a source for wondering what could we do in ten years time. Really computers haven’t developed all that much recently , all that has happened is that bandwidth has increased, enabling streaming video and functions available on portable devices, such as smartphones. How I remember the days of leaving the computer on overnight to download a series of pre-chosen music tracks for listening to the next day. This seems almost laughable now.

Putting these these things together, you have my generation in thrall to the internet, yet hugely paranoid about privacy. So much so that many people my age, spurned social media because of the fear that anyone could then trace our tastes, opinions, location, contacts, etc and use this information against us. So many people, myself included, just gave up on maintaining privacy to make use of new forums. Yet, my generation have this idea that snooping on peoples activities is bad and thus no ‘respectable’ person should use such information, like how you pretend not to hear and forget things you accidentally overhear. Except some unscrupulous people do, privacy is not respected, online presences are scrutinised by employers and security services. I don’t livwe in soviet russia, but I think I’m would be less surprised if at some point I am taken away at night and never heard from again.

Dealing with this creep in increased access to information, working both ways is something society has not really addressed in any meaningful way. Social media, such as Facebook, started off innocently enough. I was introduced to Facebook as a way of keeping in touch with a group of friends once we became geographically separated. Over time, as with most Facebook users, More and more ‘friends’ were added, now several hundred people from various aspects of my life. To the point where my Facebook is full of people with widely different outlooks on life, though the majority generally share my worldview. In many wasy this is bad, any prejudices I have are enforced, people and views outside my social circle are not encountered.

Prejudice is a terrible thing. Back when i was a very young man, I had prejudices, and held ill thought through beliefs. I’m  sure I still do have prejudices, but I strive not to have any. anyway, because I was comfortable to express my opinions, I was questioned and these things were discussed, I listened, reflected, discussed further with other people and eventually overcame some of my major prejudices. Arguably such prejudice removal processses are being less common for two main reasons:

Firstly, that we end up in social circles of similar people to ourselves, made up of people with similar world views, so any prejudice doesn’t seem like a problem.

Secondly, if we do venture to be open about our opinions, instead of being listened to and the ideas discussed, there seems to be a growing tendency for abuse, to be shouted down, to be ‘unfriended’. The problem with this is that if you are shouted at, seemingly unreasonably, you start ignoring what you hear and build a wall between yourself and your opinions with the wider world, it enforces the prejudice rather than dispels it.

An example of this second reason happened this week on Twitter. A man wrote “I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon and asked her to explain Brussels. She said “Nothing to do with me”  a mealy mouthed reply”.

Okay, lets pretend not to know about what happened after this tweet and give the guy the benefit of the doubt: A man  didn’t understand the Brussels terrorist atrocity of last week. He has heard countless reports from the media about this being an attack by “Islamists”. He has put these two things together simply as ‘Muslims are to blame for acts of terrorism” So, he aired this view to a Muslim woman in his community. So what should have happened is that members of his community discussed the situation with him, he would listen and reflect and modify his beliefs to reality and possibly vice versa . It may be that this man didn’t know any Muslims personally to ask. However instead of this being an episode of freedom of speech working for mutual benefit, instead the situation created increased tension, the man was subjected to endless abuse and probably feels compelled to apologise, for expressing an opinion he knows is probably shared by millions around the world. My point is that by not expressing his opinion, by there not being the freedom to air it and for his concerns to be addressed thoughtfully and sympathetically, he is instead ridiculed and ‘banned’.

So, for a generation Xer, like myself, the world seems to be becoming a worse, more scary place, where instead of being honest, open and ready to listen, we seem to be entering a protectionist world, where we start to hide out  personal thoughts and opinions, this is very bad. where instead of working together to resolve problems and misunderstandings, we pigeon hole the rest of society and keep our opinions to carefully selecte similar people to ourselves.

One of my early prejudices was racism. In a pre-globalised world, where people didn’t travel the globe, it seemed perfectly acceptable to laugh about funny stories about the strange people who lived on the other side of the world. Of course, once people do travel and people learn more about other people and cultures, it is no longer acceptable to ‘point and laugh’ at the different people. Because those other people become part of our communities and ourselves part of theirs. Society adapts to changes in circumstances by speaking and listening. the issues are worked through.

A concern is that this happens less. People used to socialise with all of their local community, rather than a sub -set of it. Any community anywhere in the world is made up of different types of people, with different personalities and opinions. In a local community, if someone airs a controversial opinion that offends others, it is often said that the person who said the offending remark was a decent person, meant no offence and the community would then go to work discussing the issue with the offender, working it through with them. With no such local close-knot community this fails to happen, people prejudices are not addressed.

Of course, local, isolated communities have there own issues, their own prejudices, I know I grew up in one! But at least there is some diversity, rather than the narrow social circles we can easily inhabit through work or social media. Perhaps because there isn’t the wider social support to help people overcome prejudice, that people are physically and mentally attacked fro expressing views that there is a desire to protect, to keep people free from controversial ideas, rather than confront them head on. That if you were to confront the racist, sexist, homophobes in the pub, instead of community support, you would be left to be attacked yourself by that sub-set of society that supports that prejudice, or in cruder terms to be beaten up by their mates.

In local communities humanity has developed systems to regulate these local communities. As individuals or families it is possible to regulate what information is kept private and which shared, we decide who we tell certain things to. With the internet, there has not been this evolution of social systems. We use the internet for private communication between friends and family as well as publicly and we also use it to communicate professionally. sometimes it is not clear who we are broadcasting to. The problem with this is a free open discussion within a group is fine for developing understanding of an issue, it is another thing when things are seemed to be discussed more widely. The problem is that we haven;t developed clear ways of differentiating what is more private and what is public.

Another issue is access to information. The internet is a fantastic resource, it is possible to look up information or opinion on any matter within a few clicks. From this it should not be possible to claim ignorance. However, of course it still is, there is more data available than anyone can sift through. Whilst research is seemingly ever easier, the direction of things is actually more difficult. For example a search engine should speedily take a user to the information they seek, but they don’t, they pigeon hole users, and give results based on geographical location and previous browsing history, so seeking objective information becomes harder, we are still subjected to very bias data. We still haven’t really developed ways to use the internet effectively, we rely on  curated material and the bias of our own communities. so much as this occurred, so used are we too bias data that there is a tendency to no longer look for facts, to build up a full picture of an issue. Rational argument is coming to seem less important than who is saying something, someone’s background is more important than what they actually are saying.

There seems to be a worrying trend of protecting access to opposing opinions, with so much information available, as individuals we do yearn for simplicity, to be able to see the wood for the trees. Hence the wish for protection from the wilds of extremist views as we are increasingly exposed more to extremist views and less of the reasoned consensus views of the community, because there no longer is a community in the traditional sense to buffer and question extreme opinions.

 

 

 

Science is Golden

Scientists are perhaps simply people who like to know how things work. I am a scientist and I do feel a compulsion to understand how everything works. The desire to take things apart, see how each component functions, then try to put it back together again making a single change to see what happens. Of course Scientists realise that as individuals they cannot understand everything, so scientists specialise into an areas they are interested in.

Scientists go out into the world like everyone else and are often somewhat startled to realise that not everyone is a scientist. Other people often become another subject themselves to try and work out how they work, usually is some empirical way. however as human society is too big and too complex a challenge, scientists realise that society is something they can only make some progress in understanding and never fully understand.

Generally, scientists are profoundly appreciative of artists and have a huge respect for people who can transcend the compulsion to understand how things work and simply create things based on partial understandings. To the scientist this seems to be how other people function. Instead of seeking the most accurate, rational explanation possible, most people seem to be more comfortable with things that are probably true, or simply use systems that work most of the time and seem to ignore the rare situations where the frailty of that system is exposed, or explore how that is interesting, rather than how it works.

The image of scientists as the geeky obsessive with poor social skills is actually fairly accurate in many cases. This is exemplified by such popular culture television series as ‘The Big Bang Theory’, where a group of scientists struggle to interact with the real world. The problem is that scientists use scientific methodologies to learn social skills, in a social world where there is such a diversity of people and changing social values that such any understanding of social rules ends up being based on very rough, but workable approximations. Actually to develop social skills more efficiently a non-scientific approach is required, which is what most scientists try to do.

This issue has been brought to my attention through learning a second language. It is possible to learn a language in a way familiar to academics; to study the workings of the grammar, learn vocabulary, make sentences with the system, then experiment. However, to actually use the language to speak with people, to read and listen, requires understanding of how the language works in context. Often language is illogical, in any language you can construct a sentence in a sensible way, only to find that such a structure is not used by speakers. I have found a more rapid language acquisition method is to learn through how words are used and build up from an evidence base, with repetition. What this means, practically is letting go of the desire to focus on the mechanics of the language and simply use sentences that are probably correct, then correct when their failure rate is high. It’s a shockingly bad use os statistical method, but it works practically as language isn’t really trying to mislead. It is important not to try too hard to make sense of the second language in terms of the first language. I can construct sentences in Welsh from English sentences, that are grammatically correct, but are not how the language really works. it’s the need as an adult learner, to through off the shackles of the English way of expressing things that is deeply ingrained.

I am spending a lot of time listening to Welsh language radio and television. It is frustrating not being able to completely understand what people are saying. when I switch off this rational scientific desire and just listen to what I can, I can pick up the gist of what is said, expand the process of fitting in new words from context and understand more each time, without spending too much time thinking about why it works that way.

Using a non-scientific method as a tool for acquiring the ability to speak a new language is justifiable, because it is known that there is a rational structure underneath, which can be explored later, once the new language is fully bedded into the memory. However, the world of human beings seems a world where so many things happen that are not based on how things really work, decisions are not made from a scientific enquiry. Often decisions are made on the idea of systems that work most of the time, being applied to all systems. the scientific mind screams about how wrong this is.

We live in a world where the media reports such things as ‘Science say this’, or ‘Scientists say that’. Science does no such thing, the media seem to ignore the fact that all science does is attempt to answer questions to the most rigorous way possible. The answers that science provides can only be understood in the specific context of the question asked, you cannot leap from a specific case to a universal rule.

The worst example of this is the political world. Now, to the scientist, politics presents an interesting realm, politics asks questions like ‘what is the best way of running an economy?’. So the scientist then begins to think about all the various factors and competing forces, it is a very big, complex and interesting question. However the politicians of today, don’t base their decisions on the results of such enquiries. Today the political world involves the spinning of media stories, appealing to particular emotions, crass universal applying of a specific principle to the whole economy. Rarely do politicians actually make rational reasoned decisions based on evidence to increase the efficiency of an economy. This causes scientists and other rational thinkers to despair and become angry, how can people be this,well, stupid. It is tempting to withdraw back to a world where discussions lead to evidence based conclusions, where things get settled.

It is one thing to ignore how things work to to achieve a goal, such as learning to drive a car without also learning how the engine works, or indeed learning a language, it’s another thing to ignore evidence and rational enquiry and base decisions on things that seem to work well in a specific context to the huge complex system of a global economy.

 

 

 

 

 

#parisattacks and Community

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

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

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

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

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

Zone 4 : National community, in my case Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Arts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside ‘One size fits all’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?