Crazy Conference

I turn my back for a moment, and the world goes crazy. All I did was watch The Ring Two for an hour or so, and three crazy events have hit the headlines at once.

First, we hear that an 82 year old man has been ejected from the Labour Party Conference for heckling Jack Straw over Iraq. Now I welcome this sort of vocal exhibition of democratic rights, prompted by the party’s failure to have a proper, cathartic debate about this problem at any point in the past two and a half years. However, I do understand the need to keep some sort of decorum: noise-mongers should be ejected.

What is totally unacceptable is the idea that terrorism laws were used to prevent the pensioner from returning to the conference! Need I ask what threat this man posed? Terrorism powers should be used sparingly, on the basis of evidence gathered carefully and methodically by the security forces. Applying them to what was obviously nothing more than a public order issue is dangerous, offensive, and bordering on the totalitarian.

Stressing Similarities

Integration won’t work, when community leaders are always stressing the differences. So says Sunny, the editor at Pickled Politics. Finding common ground, and treating each other with much more than just “toleration” is the whole point of multiculturalism. It is not simply a case of living side-by-side without interaction.

I would have thought that an artwork which emphasised the similarity between the three Abrahamic faiths would be welcomed by Britain’s top art gallery… but apparently this not so. John Latham’s God Is Great has been banned by some reactionaries at Tate Britain because it features slightly damaged Holy Books. It was anticipated that someone might complain, so I suppose it is a pre-emptive reaction against the reactionaries! If pressure groups can affect change without actually saying anything, then clearly they do have the influence that Pickled Politics ascribes to them.

Against Homogenisation

In recent days, a few media outlets have mentioned the amusing The Meaning of Tingo. It is a compendium of words from other languages that name rather specific or complicated concepts, that have no English counterpart. My favourite is Backpfeifengesicht, “A face that cries out for a fist in it.”

The preservation of languages is the first front in the battle against homogenisation. People who speak in a different way also think in a subtly different way too. For example, there is a real conceptual difference between “I had a dream” and the French “J’ai fait un reve” (which means “I made a dream”).

We need these alternative ways of thinking, in politics and art. They can remind us that things may not always be what we preceive them to be, and they can help us solve problems.

Running Amok/Ambling Along

Bridge, by Tommy Perman

I recently attended the opening of Running Amok/Ambling Along, an exhibition by a friend and colleague of mine, Tommy Perman. His work centres around the idea of urban spaces, and how mandkind interacts with these environments.

At the event I was reminded of the organic nature of cities. I am entertained the thought of one set of people building something; then some other people extending it in a different archtectural style; and yet some more people knocking half the walls to reuse the space for something else. These mutated forms are what humanity has created as a collective, over centuries. They are as much a part of our history as the perfectly preserved stately homes under the control of Historic Scotland and English Heritage.

I enjoy revelling in these thoughts when I look at the antiquated prints one finds on the walls of pubs (which are themselves buildings that have gone through many uses and users). I like picking out the landmarks which remain, and the features which have been pushed aside due to the march of progress.

I see Tommy’s drawing in this tradition. Perhaps future generations will look at them, then close their eyes, and try to imagine what life was like in the twenty-first century, “the olden days”.

TABOLID SHOCKER!!

Tabloid journalism is unhelpful. It often purports to present the bare facts, yet emotive language is often used to impose values and opinions upon the reader. An article of only a hundred or so words simply cannot provide an in depth discussion of events, as a longer article can. A reader cannot form detailed and valid opinions with the little information tabloids present. Instead, he or she is forced to take the point of view of the editors. This is a dangerous state-of-affairs.CHOICE

It is argued that tabloid newspapers are necessary because people must be free to choose how much news they read.

This is an empty and dangerous argument.

If a man chooses to live alongside others, he has a duty to be well-informed. He has a duty to form an opinion. He has no right to choose otherwise. This is a crucial aspect of democracy.

Unless a man takes himself off to subsist in a cave, he will interact with other people. He has a duty of care to his neighbours.

Anyone who has the right to vote, has a duty to seek out as much information possible on all the political issues that effect the lives of his countrymen.

He cannot get this from tabloid journalism.

PATRONISING

It is also said (in a soft and kind tone of voice) that some folk find the broadsheets too difficult to read. “They do not wish to read longer articles with longer words.”

This is highly patronising.

All men have the ability to follow a detailed, logical argument, and form an opinion on what they have read. This skill is what sets us apart from the lower mammals. They should be encouraged use that skill at every opportunity.

By ignoring these abilities, we are demeaned. By reading the over-simplified news, we surrender our humanity.

Basra, and the benefit of the doubt

I am in a dilemma, because I don’t know what to think about the happenings in Basra this week. I am also feeling quite frustrated, because I know that whatever I end up thinking, others will say that I am being woefully naive; that I have been conned by the conniving of The Other Side.

First, our attention has been drawn to some deeply suspicious activities carried out by our British forces. Questions are left unanswered: Why were the two SAS soldiers operating in plain clothes? Does that make them illegal combatants? Why did they have so much weaponry in their vehicle? And most worryingly, why did the British bulldoze a police-station in order to liberate these two men?

Despite this, and despite my distrust of the US/UK governments regarding this issue, I am not convinced that British forces are staging flase-flag operations, as some blog sites have been asserting. There are many possible reasons why these soldiers were carrying so much ordinance, other than for the purpose of executing a terrorist attack during the Karbala festival. Crucially, it is not clear to me how a false-flag operation would benefit a government which is politically committed to winning a War on Terror.

On the other hand, I recall just how frustrating it is when people dismiss a suggestion of underhand dealings. Many people simply did not believe that the great British Government would exaggerate or fabricate the reasons for going to war in Iraq. That they are still credulous allows Tony Blair’s misjudgment to go unpunished.

My only offering is one on political discourse. We have to recognise that there are good people in the world who simply give the benefit of the doubt where we do not; and vice-versa. I rarely grant George W Bush this benefit, even when he appears to be up against an Act of God such as Hurricane Katrina. But people with a more conservative outlook will do so. Conversely, I do tend to give George Galloway MP, the benefit of the doubt where others will call him a Ba’athist apologist.

So it is with the Daily Mirror hoax, and the recent events in Basra. Whether you side with the British forces or the citizens of Basra depends not on your analysis of the facts, which are scarce, but on how your political opinions have shaped your world view. Thus we have the camp of people who condemn the Iraqi police-force as an insurgent-riddled lost cause; and the group on the other side who claim that it is the British forces who have been provoking all the troubles.

When commenting on any political issue, the real challenge is to present evidence that convinces people who are not already predisposed to your point of view. You must think like your opponents, and present arguments that will convince them, even if your own threshold has long been surpassed. Shouting “it is a conspiracy by the oil-mongers” does nothing to convince those who genuinely believe that the Iraqi occupation is morally right. By contrast, the Abu Ghraib scandal was one issue that transcended the political divide, and caused journalists like Johann Hari to change their position on the war. The photographs of two sullen SAS soldiers are not such evidence. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing does, I suppose, depend on your point of view.

Bland Christian Pop makes me cringe

As a non-practicing atheist, its not really my place to give advice to the purveyors of Christianity. However, the pathetically earnest efforts of some Anglicans to spread their Word demands a comment.

I caught the latest edition of the BBC’s Song’s of Praise last Sunday. The programme featured a number of Christian rock bands and church groups, singing with guitars and drums that I assume are intended to present a modern facade to potential recruits.

Tragically, the songs weren’t great. Of all the possible music genres that could have been employed to spread the concept of Jesus, these people had chosen bland, bland pop. Accomplished musicians and singers they certainly were, but inspired the music was not. If you are singing about someone who you claim to be The Son of God, your music needs to be… well, heavenly. Mimicking the power ballads churned out by Pop Idol wannabes simply will not do, and the cause for which they were singing was critically undermined by each cringe-worthy note.

What was also missing was any substance to the lyrics. Saying Jesus’ name over and over again is no doubt an uplifting experience for people who already believe, but will convert no-one (except possibly some Westlife fans, who seem to respond to tiresome repetition in a way that the average person finds baffling).

Jesus was a radical politician who spoke for the powerless. This matters more than divinity, and it is this aspect of his life which can save mankind, not his alleged resurrection. Christian bands should be writing political songs, like Johnny Cash’s Man In Black:

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

Could that song be more relevant to current affairs? I’ve also been listening to For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield today, which I think could fall into the same category.

To be fair, it seems that Churches Advertising Network (CAN) have cottoned onto the key meaning of their faith. Their Christmas 2005 campaign features images of Jesus which parody other famous revolutionaries, Che Guevara and Chairman Mao. I hope the irony of referencing two famously atheist men to advertise the Anglican Church is not lost on church-goers.

Philosophy of the Internet reading list

The concept of Open Source computer code (such as the WordPress blog engine which powers this site) is both fascinating and fantastic. It is the first thing I cite when having arguments with pessimists who say that the human race is inherently slefish and motivated by profit. That fully working computer programmes are available free leave most people incredulous. That I would donate money anyway baffles them too!

On my reading list are two papers from the think-tank Demos: Wide Open and Open Source Democracy. Both concern the idea of open Source development, and what implications it has for government, democracy, and how we will conduct our politics (and, I suppose, our lives) in the future.

Excerpts and commentary will be posted on this site when I have read them!

The Cost of War

Since the The Independent newspaper today asks what happened to the $1bn Iraqi defence budget, it seems a good time to mention some research by an old lecturer of mine, Professor Keith Hartley.

Professor Hartley estimates that the total cost of the war in Iraq will be US$1.25 trillion. This bill will be picked up by the US and UK taxpayers, and the new Iraqi state.

“If, at the outset, the Americans anticipated the Iraq operation would cost $100 billion, they could have given Saddam Hussein and his family $20 billion to go, $50 billion to Iraq and still have had $30 billion left over. The UK would not have been involved, no-one would have died and no buildings would have been destroyed. (PDF)

Internet Philosophy

When the aliens come to visit me, the first thing I will do is show them the Internet. I think it is fascinating that I can surf from cross-stitch to cross-dressing in a single click. The Internet proves how diverse the human species can be, with little cliques and groups each posting their messages about those activities which take up their time.

I enjoyed Jeanette Winterson’s article in The Times, discussing the internet as an innovation and a medium. Part of the reason for this site’s existence is my plan to discuss the philosophy of the Internet: How its uses are evolving; how design, and coding innovations allow easy access to information; the future of the medium. I believe that the Internet will have a seismic effect on society, in the UK and beyond. The ability to “communicate and connect” (as Winterson suggests) may cause a paradigm shift for the way we live, especially politics and the media. The Internet is about globalisation…. it will be at the heart of multiculturalism.

This post inaugurates a new category on this website. I will call it Internet Philosophy for now, but I may change it to something less (or more) grandiose, depending on the feedback.