Conformity Rules

Following on from my last post. The other aspect of a socially conservative viewpoint is the value placed on conformity to social rules. Again this is a spectrum, but perhaps the issue with it is that it’s self-perpetuating as it encourages greater and greater conformity to be viewed as a valuable member of a society. This aspect is simply bad.

The ability to follow social rules is important for a society to function, to enable people to come together to do something enriching or useful. For example I went to a Christmas play for young children before Christmas, Llygoden yr Eira (The Snow Mouse) concerning the adventures of a mouse in a snowy wonderland. We probably all know the rule about theatre, musical performances or football matches, that you don’t enter the stage area unless specifically invited by the performers and even then you must do as directed by the performers. However this was a show for very young children who could not be expected to know this rule and it was very tempting to get up and touch the wonders being produced on the stage and so the children did. The company expected this and allowed it up to a point and had a number of crew at hand to herd children off the stage when necessary for safety and coherence of the show. In many ways the show was educational is showing children what was acceptable and what wasn’t. This social rule is there to ensure that everyone can enjoy the performance as intended, it makes sense.

On the other hand the example I gave earlier of homophobia. Repression of homosexuality, because it is seen as a social value of the majority as the majority are almost always heterosexuals. However homophobia is in itself socially damaging and divisive, so there it should not be valued and is unacceptable behaviour.

As I see it, there are some social situations where you need to conform and behave in a certain way and others where such restrictions are much reduced. For example expected behaviour at a Church service and that at a music festival, where social norms are expected to be flouted. Thus society has a good balance, we learn the rules and have space to relax those rules once in a while. However it seems that some  conservatives place a value on conformity above and beyond simply enabling people to enjoy themselves or work together on particular projects.

I grew up in a very conservative part of rural Wales and it was very stifling and there were very few places rules where rules were relaxed. Indeed the popularity of local taverns as the place you could relax those rules perhaps contributed to their popularity. When such a conformity starts to dictate how you dress, how you behave, what jobs are acceptable and which discouraged it becomes painful as the rules no longer make any kind of sense.

When rules don’t make sense and there seems no logic or reason for them to exist you cannot help break the rules, you just keep breaking them as you are unable to internalise their sense. All children break rules as they don’t understand them or why they exist. That is why good parents tell children why a behaviour is wrong, such as playing with electrical wires a sit’s dangerous, but it will be some years until they get taught all about electricity at school, but the rule makes sense, as children do learn what can be played with and what is to be left alone.

As adults we expect to have learnt the rules, that is the mark of being an adult. when some conformity rules get difficult and you have to twist and bend your personality so much to fit those rules, you are no longer in control, you can’t rely on reason or experience to tell you how to behave and it then follows that you cease to be useful, trying to follow the rules takes all your time and energy to the point that you can do little productive work. If you are not naturally inclined in such a way that you are a perfect match for the these conformity rules, you fail socially, you become mentally ill and suffer from anxiety.  The upshot of this is you have a society where a significant percentage of otherwise healthy individuals cannot contribute to that society and this makes no sense. Conformity to rules is there to make social functions easier, not more difficult, that is why I don’t get this obsession with extreme conformity.

Anxiety is a terrible affliction/ Being nervous before going on stage or attending a job interview, is normal anxiety. Seeming to continually break the rules you don’t understand which no-one will take the time and effort to explain to you, makes you constantly anxious and encourage you to withdraw from society and this is not a good thing to do. If you are going to have rules, they need to make sense, and not just be a privilege for those whom through sheer dumb luck are able to naturally conform with arbitrary social rules.

I think it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges of the next years. The world is facing devastating climate change. Every person and organisation will need to make big changes to how we do things. It’s going to effect what we eat, how we shop how we work and how we travel and so many of the conformity rules that exist in Wales and throughout the world are going to have to change. In particular the quantities of unsustainable meat society consumes. I was vegetarian form the age of 15 and so many people didn’t understand  my reasoning or the importance of sustainability. I think this is partly as this social custom was rigidly enforced “If you don’t eat your meat, how can you expect to have pudding!”. Getting young children to eat healthily is hard work, but there is no need to enforce rules, purely because they are the traditional conforming rules to older children who may know a lot more about nutrition than their parents.

To tackle climate change the world needs to become a lot more liberal in it’s worldview. However it’s then even more important to identify and protect the things we genuinely care about as positive values.

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.

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London is Ugly and Annoying, Wales is Barren and Beautiful

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Ugly London, but some cool theatres

London is an amazing wonderful city, however, it is annoying and inefficient for people who live in the rest of the UK. I lived in London for four years, both loving and hating it at different times, it’s a great place to visit,, but generally rubbish and expensive (and increasingly so) to live in it and I shall tell you why.

London has an amazing amount of wonderful theatre and music. There is an abundance of hugely talented artists, performing in London, giving audiences access to great wonders, so much so that there is almost too much choice, It’s what makes living in London worthwhile.

Take last night for example. I had planned to move my stuff back to Wales, but the van hire company messed up and didn’t have a van for me when I turned to collect the van yesterday morning, so an unexpected free day to fill. So, I decided to see what was on in London last night and I found another gem.

I love live theatre and I love opera. A company ‘Opera Up Close‘, puts on slimmed down operas in intimate theatre venues, with the result that you get opera and proper theatre [ It’s not a new idea, as Mid-Wales Opera often do this sort of thing, but I’m not usually so close to the stage]. By proper theatre I mean proper stage acting, where you can clearly see every expression of the performers body, every facial expression and the glory of neck pulsations for the vibrato, the cast were involved in the plot, everyone on stage interacting and reacting to the unfolding drama. This acting is coupled with operatic singing in true ‘surround sound’. By surround sound i mean rather than seeming to come from a fixed point. When I go to big flamboyant operas, I’m usually in the cheap seats, far away from the stage, it’s still wondrous though! It really was having two of my favourite things blended together and accompanied by a talented 4 piece chamber orchestra.On balance a couple of the cast weren’t great theatre actors, and behaved as if they were in a typical opera on a bigger less intimate stage, but if it had been perfect I might well have just died of joy! The show was Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, performed at the Soho theatre, which is incidentally a really nice friendly venue.

Yet, London is really irritating. Here was a great show, with a strong cast on a Saturday night in a small venue and it was only two thirds full, although running for a month, which is quite a long run (well for non-musicals anyway!). Annoying because If this show was put on in a theatre in Wales  the audience would have been much bigger, thus it could have reached a bigger audience. In Wales everyone interested in this sort of thing would have gone to see it, rather than a portion of the London audience, which has this vast choice of other things to attend. This begs the question, Why don’t musicians and theatre companies tour the UK away from London a lot more than they do?

The answer is simple, cost. A touring company has to pay to provide accommodation for all the performers and stage management, which is really expensive, not counting the time required to travel. So ,what happens is that people in Wales (like me when i live in Wales), save up and travel down to London to see the shows, and pay for a nights accommodation in London, I usually slum it in a hostel as the only way of making the trip affordable. So the audience travel to the venue, rather than the venue come to the audience. Maybe this is a fair way of doing things, but London keeps getting more expensive. I suppose shows such as the one I went to last night can tour, because there are fewer people and less set, so if the company read this, come to Wales and beyond!

The other question is why don’t places like Wales produce more ‘home grown’ music and theatre? Well in Wales, I would suggest there is a higher proportion of people involved in local amateur productions, people enjoy art by being participants, rather than observers, in many ways this is superior.

The other issue is that young people who seek careers in the arts move away to London to hone their craft, because it is a centre for arts minded people. Artists are readily available for performance as they live a tube rides away, no need for companies to provide accommodation.

It’s not just the arts that are London-centric. It’s the British media too, the government and the economy. It’s just really inefficient having everything in the same place ion one giant world city, making that place a really rubbish place to live. Now I’m moving,  back to Wales i will really miss the chance to pop into London on the spur of the moment to catch something brilliant. I won’t miss, the faff, the smell, the crowds and the expense of it all. I know where I’d rather be! I will soon be, so I’ll probably stop ranting about how great Wales is.

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Near where I grew up, my idea of Home.