Monday, 19 January 2015

Why am I so poor?

Ok, so I'm not that poor. In fact I'd say I'm doing ok despite about £10k of unsecured debt I can't pay off. The question though is a more general one, especially given the suggestion that the so-called 1% will have more wealth than the rest of us in a year. 

I've always had a pretty relaxed idea about how wealthy I'd like to be. I dream of owning a little cottage in the middle of nowhere. A kind of rustic affair that is self-sufficient and, apart from an awesome internet connection and being warm & clean, is pretty basic.

As dreams go it's quite boring. It should, on the face of it, be pretty darn easy to achieve too. Of course in this particular scenario the only work I have to do involves the garden and maybe making the odd website if I want to. In fact, it's not that dissimilar to my brother's life.

The thing is though, I have some debt. I also have kids and a partner. I like to own various toys as well, which need paying for. I need to get around, which requires funds. I enjoy watching US shows, which aren't that cheap. In other words, money makes my lifestyle.

The thing is though, it isn't money that makes my lifestyle. It's actually decisions that do so. A lot of these decisions were made centuries ago, when societies were first being set up based upon a system of exchange involving coinage and bits of paper.

Unfortunately that particular system of exchange has led us to where we are now. Global inequality is falling according to some, yet figures have been published by Oxfam suggesting that 1% of people will own more than the other 99% of people by next year.

The system we live in, the global economy, requires our labour to exist. We contribute to the whole, so that wealth can be created. We pay our taxes, so that we can be supported when we need it, and so that others can be supported besides ourselves when they need it.

We may resent supporting others to the extent that we do. We may wish we had more. It may seem unfair that we work 40, 50, 60 or 100 hours a week at jobs we hate just to let someone else contribute less. But if we want the great house, or the cool toys, we do it.

But there is a big lie in all this. The system we work for only exists because we allow it to. The 1% have what they have because we let them keep it. Our focus on the everyday lets them focus on their everyday, accruing more and more wealth as we quibble over crumbs.

Well I don't want a big slice of the pie. I want a roof over my head and a few toys to relax with of an evening. Is that too much to ask? Not in my view it isn't. If money disappeared tomorrow, I reckon there would be enough resources and enough work to go round.

Maybe that's the solution, we scrap it all and start over. We put everything in a great big pile and everyone gets an equal share. Then we all keep working and keep sharing it all and see where we go from there. It's an interesting idea. For now though, I'm working for the 1%.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

I'm offended... what's new?

One aspect of the current debate around freedom of speech is totally offensive to me. For me, the debate lacks nuance and it lacks for any attempt at empathy or understanding. It feels like an all or nothing affair, where interpreting the statements of others to fit a perceived offense has become the norm, eclipsing any form of informed debate.

Stuff offends me. I'm a human being. I have beliefs and values like anyone else. They matter to me. When somebody says something that challenges these things it can make me feel pretty darn angry and hurt, as well as make me think. If I'm challenged in the right, or wrong, way it can actually cause me mental anguish and harm. That's not a good thing.

I support freedom of speech. It's a really important value in society. It gives everyone the opportunity to be heard and it helps prevent tyranny of the majority as well as tyranny of the prevailing elite. It gives oversight to the prevailing opinions of the day, challenging orthodoxy and subjecting even the most obvious seeming truisms to much deserved scrutiny.

I am allowed to have these views. They are my right. As much as it is the right of anyone else to have their own views, irrespective of what they are. I am stating that these are my views. I don't have anyone else's views, and I certainly have bugger all right to tell someone else what their views are, no matter that doing so may confirm my prejudices. 

So I say to everyone involved in debating freedom of speech, tell me your views if you feel the need to, ask me what my views are should you wish to, challenge my views as I state them if you like, denigrate my views and ridicule me if you must, but please don't tell me what my views are. Please also show the same courtesy to everyone else.

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Power of Psychology

I completed a Psychology degree almost 14 years ago now. I really enjoyed some of it, and could have happily ignored a lot of it. It taught me some things about myself, and left me woefully unprepared for some other things. I got a 2:2, which is to say I coasted through with the minimum of effort.

I am really grateful for my studies of Psychology however. It's a gratitude based upon one very simple thing though. It's a concept taught to me by accident that I often fail to apply, but that I've come to believe is the most fundamental concept of the human condition. The concept is "always be inconclusive".

It's probably not a concept actually, more a guiding principle. In fact I hesitate to suggest it should be the guiding principle taught to everyone as soon as they learn language. Why? Because I believe almost every issue in society could be solved by the clever use of inconclusive language and thought processes.

The principle itself was part of the technique for writing essays. In writing a Psychology essay, the writer is expected to only ever refer to themselves in the third person (ideally not at all), and is also expected to refer to their conclusions in a manner that cannot be interpreted as definitive.

To say "the evidence proves" is essentially unforgivable in a Psychology essay. To say "the evidence appears to suggest" is the expected form. It is also, from the point of view of a personal belief system (and its application), a great way to avoid the trap of dogma. How can one ever be completely right if the evidence only suggests a thing?

For me this is the true power of Psychology. It is also where it trumps Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and all of the organised religions (as I understand/interpret them at least). They may all be looking for, or claim to have found, universal truisms, but Psychology specifically doesn't allow one to assume success in such a search.  

If you can never assume success in finding universal truisms, you can never stop questioning, and you can never close you mind to new ideas and viewpoints. You are also inherently encouraged to see the multiple interpretations available to you in every situation. In this way you can never be fooled by the emotive conclusion.

Of course I'm sure many scientists would say the same of their chosen field on the grounds of objectivity. Objectivity though isn't a guarantee against coming to false truisms because, in my view, objectivity is simply a denial of the truth of subjectivity. That is to say that Psychology is, potentially, unique in accepting the universal truism of subjectivity.

The astute will perhaps accuse me of boxing myself into hypocrisy. How can one state that it's a bad idea to assume success in finding universal truisms, and then state that subjectivity is a universal truism? That though is the wonder of being inconclusive. I believe that everything is subjective, but I don't believe I have, or ever will, prove it consclusively.

Thus through the guiding principle of being inconclusive I can come to a conclusion safe in the knowledge that it is my conclusion alone and is open to both challenge and change. In this way I can always revise my conclusions based upon whatever evidence, arguments and moral imperatives most grab me. Most importantly I can do so knowing I'm probably wrong.

So the power of Psychology is in fact... knowing that no matter how right I think I am, I'm still wrong.



Thursday, 8 January 2015

Clegg Vs Omar - A couple of thoughts

I've just read about the exchange between Nick Clegg on LBC and a caller named Omar.

It's an emotional time, and people are seeking to explain the seemingly inexplicable, with words such as evil. The individual that called into the show appeared to be taking the "straw that broke the camel's back" approach, while Nick seemed to be very much pointing to individual responsibility, alongside the right to be offended.

I happen to agree with Nick's stance on this, but in a qualified way. We can no further understand the motivations of any other individual than we can at times understand our own. Nick assumed that Omar was seeking to justify the actions of those involved, which may well have been his intent, but also may not have been.

I've not heard the entire show, so I'm not going to comment either way on that score. I do believe however that in seeking individual responsibility we must also seek understanding. No matter how unjustified the motivation for these killings was, if we don't seek to understand them at some level, we cannot prevent recurrences.

For me the tendency to use the word evil is dangerous, as is the tendency to assign blame. Blame is the lazy way to deal with crime, punishment, and security in general. It is a process that justifies prison as a punishment, yet ignores the importance of rehabilitation, as well as prevention. It sees poverty as a personal circumstance rather than a societal failure, for example.

So, whilst I agree with Nick about the right to offend, and about the fact that murder is never justified, I don't see any point in blame. If anything I see the need for a potentially much colder, and even darker, analysis. Now is a time to ask, what is society willing to do to ensure this type of act becomes completely unpalatable, no matter the potential reasoning behind it?

Such an approach to thinking about this can go two ways though. One is authoritarian, surveillance based and involves the restriction of freedom to the point that fear serves to prevent a recurrence. Another route, perhaps harder on those with the most to lose, is to put some serious effort into reforming humanity as a whole, to the point that our very humanity prevents recurrence. 

I personally hope for the latter, but I am sure plenty will be happy with the former. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Lying in a pool of blood... (metaphorically speaking)

As part of an invite by LDV Editors for comments from people not prone to commenting on their excellent blog posts, I wrote today that:

"The problem I have is that, despite some pretty significant manifesto wins in Government, the economy doesn’t feel the slightest bit stronger and society doesn’t feel in any small way fairer than in 2010 (to me). If I’m saying that as a Party member, how do we convince the public that a) I’m wrong about where we’re at now and b) we’re capable of delivering even small progress in that direction through a future coalition?

I get that things like the Pupil Premium will achieve a huge amount in the long run, as will moves on removing the stigma around mental health and improving social care, but I can’t convince myself that the balance of cuts in the public sector, as against increases in taxation of the wealthy, since 2010 has been anything but completely unfair. If I can’t convince myself of that, how do I convince anyone else to vote for us this year?"

This comment (I have a habit or re-reading my own comments on things for some bizarre reason) got me to thinking about a suitable analogy for the Coalition. Specifically one claim, which has always stuck in my proverbial craw, that we've successfully prevented the potential evils of a Conservative majority. 

So I offer up for your delectation:

"When Mike Tyson is punching you in the head, it's difficult to feel grateful that he's been forced to do so wearing a boxing glove on his weaker hand (with the other hand tied behind his back as well), as you are pummeled into the ground by an infinitely stronger opponent." 

And that, my friends is my summation of the Coalition - make of it what you will...