Biking in France – Liberté, égalité, bureaucratié

bureaucratie
bureaucratie

While preparing for a biking trip to France I came across a lot of bumph specifying equipment I must carry. Two breathalysers, a high visibility jacket, spare light bulbs, reflective stickers on my crash helmet and 6 sides of A4 with detailed instructions entitled “STOP – READ THIS FIRST” for the headlight modification! It all seems very excessive and bureaucratic.

Perhaps this indicates a lack of trust between the French state and the people. In the UK the law states that you can’t drive with too much alcohol in your blood. How you achieve this is your problem. You may abstain completely from drink, you might engage in moderation or you might practice “24 hours between bottle and throttle”. The British government doesn’t care; it only cares that you don’t drink and drive.

The French though! In France you can’t drive with too much alcohol in your blood but the French government don’t trust you to figure out how to achieve this. So they have tried to plan out what you will do in relation to drink driving and decided that you need, not one, but two breathalysers! Maybe they think that if you test yourself and fail then you’ll sit there by your bike for an hour or two and need to test yourself again. Or maybe they think that if you are under the limit then you’ll carry on drinking and need to retest later on. Or maybe they are so ludicrously bureaucratic that they think that, were you to only carry one breathalyser, then you would test yourself, find that you are under the limit and drive away but then be breaking the law as you would no longer be carrying a breathalyser!

It all seems very draconian, pointless and a bit of a make work scheme. I’ve probably spent around £50 on clutter and £4 of that just for a set of helmet stickers which, by rights, are so rubbish that they should be given away with a box of cornflakes.

It’s a bit of cliché that the difference between Common Law which predominates in the British Commonwealth and Civil Law which predominates in Europe is that Common Law allows an individual the freedom to do anything unless it is specifically proscribed whereas Civil Law codifies specific freedoms and so an individual’s actions are limited to what the state allows. I don’t know how true this is but I have experience of business in the UK and France and it does seem true that the British focus on ensuring that the rules are abided by whereas the French insist on a detailed process.

I am reminded of a quotation by Sir William Harcourt which has confirms me as a liberal and informed my attitude to Europe. It is this: “Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the function of the Liberal Party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the country where people can do more what they please than in any country in the world”.

Bring back Victorian urinals the size of coffins

Derek Guyler
Derek Guyler

Rang the local bobbies yesterday. Had ideas of mature, constable at front desk in the manner of Derek Guyler. Thought I’d ask his opinion on keeping a bike on the street. After pressing 1 for this and 2 for that I reached a humanoid. Asked her my question and she told me to ring my local council parking department. She wasn’t even in Brighton. I said I was interested in the likelihood of theft and she directed me to the statistics for my area on the web.

I am starting to understand why any reasonable person is bound to eventually become a Victor Meldrew. The disparity between what we’ve got used to and what the world has become leaves us constantly dissatisfied. The only alternative is to become one of those cheerful but mad old grandpas who pick up random modern fashions like hoodies and are good with kids but wear luminous trainers. Neither result is attractive.

Later I was up The Smoke again. All this “progress” is pissing me off! Massive queue for the human ticket operatives at Brighton station. This is due to automation. Make the public sort out their own bloody tickets. Bollocks to them. So I tried to use a machine. These are positioned perfectly to catch the morning sun and at waist level to ensure wheel chair access. So I’m stooped over this damn machine as it asks me a lot of impertinent questions. I try to use my discount rail card and the price shoots up from £16 to £42. Eventually I get on the bloody train and the toilet is one of these Tardis affairs. Two button: D and L. D for door I assume and the button glows red when the door shuts behind me but the L for Lock doesn’t glow at all. Is that normal? Bollocks to them. Just write D & L on the buttons, who cares. Then the challenge of washing my hands. Should I press the soap button in hope that the water is actually working today? I never know how to get the water working so I just stamp my feet and wave my hands around and something I do makes water flow. Then at Clapham junction there are about 20 platforms and I’m not going to a terminus so I don’t know which train to catch. Is there an efficient station manager in a smart uniform waiting to answer my enquiry? There is not.

All this efficiency and process re-engineering generates more profit and makes things cheaper so that more people can travel and more people can have fancy holidays and cars etc. This was true of the agricultural revolution too. In a book entitled “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” Professor Yuval Noah Harari argues that the agricultural revolution allowed production of greater  quantities of food which allowed greater numbers of people to survive but they survived in worse circumstances as the surplus was creamed off by the elite. This is happening again with the current technological/globalisation revolution. Efficiency now dictates that humans are deliberately eliminated to cut cost.

In the 80s there used to be a law, derived from the European Union I believe, which insisted that wholesalers could not also sell retail. For beer, this meant that the breweries should not own the pubs. To protect the vested interest (the breweries) a fudge was agreed in the UK where tied pubs were obliged to sell “guest” ales from other breweries. All this seems to have been swept away as independent companies now seem to own the pubs.

It’s becoming accepted wisdom that the current wave of technology is not creating jobs as the industrial revolution did. Instead even jobs like doctors and lawyers are succumbing to automation. Perhaps it would be good to have another EU directive that all this efficiency, automation and process re-engineering can be used in production & wholesale but not in retail. Use technology to make the factories and bank clearing systems and air traffic control systems work better but the (non-Internet) retail experience should be left to people?  Bring back police front desks staffed by aged constables. Bring back ticket counters staffed by people and bring back Victorian urinals the size of coffins.

Redstone
Redstone

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Barack Obama, anti-intellectualism and Tea Cozies

Anti-intelectualism?
Anti-intellectualism British style?

Barack Obama recently asked “where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from?”. Since one definition of an intellectual is “someone capable of entering a room containing a tea cozy without putting it on their head”, the answer might be the Tea Party movement. A more serious answer might be that we are not so much seeing anti-intellectualism but an antipathy to the “clever-clever” bastards who got us into our current mess.

As a Brit, I can mainly suggest issues from the UK. Firstly the obvious failure of the British intellectual leadership. Corruption and incompetence found in all areas of the British elite. Bankers, MPs, police and journalists; all have been caught out over the past decade.

Then consider that the intellectuals of the 1940s and 50s brought us the NHS, state pensions and union representation. Perhaps unions became too powerful but the intellectuals of the 1990s and 2000s set about eroding the gains of the working people while centralising power in large corporations. Alternative, and often collective organisation such as building societies and even football teams were privatised. Great wealth was created for a minority while the rest of us have the illusion of wealth generated by excessive debt, a succession of consumer gadgets and faster fashion cycles. Meanwhile factors which really affect our lives are not figured into analysis of wealth at all. Average house sizes are shrinking and commute times getting longer. Even The Economist has been running articles claiming that “Gross domestic product (GDP) is increasingly a poor measure of prosperity” yet our intelectual leadership continues to promote unfettered capitalism as the New World Order.

The new global elite want the role of the last democratic institution (the state) reduced to nothing more than ensuring laws are lax and citizens desperate in order to lure global corporations to base their activity (though not their tax payment) in the UK. The offer is sweetened with the promise of cheap labour imported from abroad, educated at the expense of somebody else and dressed up as “diversity” to keep the Left on side. In reality, the individual now stands almost alone before the power of global corporations and dare not demonstrate any more diversity than their coffee preferences.

That the elite are oblivious to the lives of ordinary people was made obvious recently when British chancelor George Osbourne warned that leaving the EU would precipitate an 18% drop in house prices. This might have appalled the global rich who have stashed there ill gotten money in London property but must apear sound economic policy to those desperate to get a foot on the housing ladder.

Meanwhile, at every turn, we are told that we need to work harder, to become even more efficient to “compete”. The UK does not have enough educated people so they must be imported from countries which have even fewer educated people. Mr. Obama speech on anti-intellectualism stressed that kindness, compassion, honesty and hard work often matter more than technical skills but this message seems lost on everyone.

losersIf we question or complain about globalisation, about immigration or about capitalism we are deemed stupid or xenophobic. A recent Facebook post chimed in with this. It read: “Totally failed at life? Then why not blame a foreigner, it’s so much easier than taking responsibility for your own choices“. The implication being that if you are poor or homeless or unemployed or suffering some physical or emotional trauma then it’s your own fault and the society in which you live does not give a shit. A similar series of comments on a newspaper site stated that if your couldn’t compete against non-English speaking, uneducated immigrants then your were  a “loser”.

White Van Man

Of course the clever and well educated can never admit their contempt for the poor and uneducated and so politician of all stripes pay lip service to defending the rights of the poor……. but only in a theoretical sense. Politicians argue that their policies will benefit the underclass in the long run ….. but in the long run we’re all dead.

It is true that education increases life chances but we can’t all be doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs.  This is the myth of American style meritocracy. A massive marketing machine indoctrinates us with the fallacy that we can all attain great wealth. We are encouraged to accept our current state of inequality or poverty believing that if we try just a bit harder then we too can be part of the top 1%. This is bollocks!

Contempt for the poor and uneducated permeates UK politics. If one of the underclass dare to stammer out their poorly articulated objections about the reality in the here and now then they are intimidated with pompous overblown rhetoric and dubious facts and figures. In 2014 I had a twitter exchange with David Aranonovich the journalist and son of communist intellectual Sam Aaronovitch. He had appeared on BBC political debate program Question Time discussing EU membership with a homeless and jobless man who had protested that the person who had interviewed him for state housing had been an immigrant.  Aranonovich insinuated that the guy was a racist and, in a later twitter exchange, said “We all face competition here & abroad. Nothing is guaranteed….” – While we might expect such a callous opinion from a Tory it is staggering that this is the opinion of a leading member of the British Left. Of course, the Tories are worse. In their pursuit of austerity they ignore the criminality of the (intellectual) bankers and target the (uneducated) poor. It has taken the threat of BREXIT for the British leadership to begrudgingly admit that, while England morphs from post war land of warm beer and Ford Cortinas to a multicultural New York style super-city, mass immigration is detrimental to the working poor.

Currently the EU and USA are negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It’s probably true that unfettered free markets in goods, services, and yes, in people (in the case of the EU) can create greater efficiency which leads to greater GDP but this no guarantee of benefits to all members of society. The recipients of efficiency gains are never the workers but the elite who own and run the corporations. The Economist has postulated the current wave of advanced technology will mean that, in the future, it will be easier to earn a living by owning capital (being rich) than by finding work.

Merely insulting and sidelining the “losers” of this questionable “progress” is bound to create an alienated underclass who look elsewhere for their leadership. In a TV program last year the Tory MP, Matthew Parris, was discussing the people of Thanet who have elected a UKIP MP. He argued in favour or EU membership and declared that the people of Thanet were “Just wrong”.

Let me explain something to Matthew Parris: Electing a government is not just about choosing clever people to grow global GDP. The key aspect of democracy, the attribute which makes it more desirable than any other system is not just the wisdom of crowds. The absolutely key aspect of democracy, the thing that makes it superior to all other systems both practically and morally is that EVERYONE gets to vote according to their own perspective. If the daily lives of a section of the electorate are in sharp contrast to the shining vision presented by eloquent politicians then it is legitimate for them to seek different leadership. UKIP may or may not deliver for the people of Thanet but they are right to vote any damn way they please.

So, to return to Obama’s question. I suspect that asking about the root of anti-intellectualism is the wrong question. Since the  affluent and well educated members of society have conspicuously betrayed the poorer, less well educated and less articulate members of society the real question is why the hell should anybody trust intellectuals ever again?

London Olympics
London Olympics

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British Life (Xbox 360)

DSCF8639Up The Smoke on Saturday. Lunch and a few beers. The area around Victoria Station is a building site and they had closed the area where the buses pull up. Tape across each entrance. To alleviate the massive disruption that this would normally cause London Transport had provided information in the form of a somnambulist attendant lying horizontal on a garden chair in a little shed. If you could be arsed you could queue up to chat with this Guru through a little hole in a window and he would tell you that all the buses were cancelled. If you persisted he would say: “oh well you could get the 24 from around the corner to the left by the glass building” and you would spend the next half hour wandering around trapped in a maze of 7 foot high metal fences looking at scores of spanking new glass buildings going up around Victoria.

After my eventual escape I made my way to Leicester Square to carry out a ritual which has emerged only after centuries of scientific innovation. My friend and I both phoned each other and when one of us finally got through we only then bothered to look around to experience the real world. Then one of us said “I can see you” and we hung up.

Ate generic burger in Byrons and wandered down to the Mall Gallery to see the British Life Photography exhibition. A few good images ( some of Brighton ) but mostly a bit dull. Is this really British life?

The Harp provided a good pint of Guinness but on entering the Coal Hole, a wall of contorted faces staring over our heads meant just one thing: a TV set positioned over the door. And the din of over excited shouting meant Rugby.  And so it was with pub after pub; individual conversation crushed under the jackboot of collective sport until we entered the Punch and Judy with the words of Hilaire Belloc ringing in my ears “When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England”.

It was like Butlins! Stuffed with holiday makers from Hull or Harrogate or Hamburg or Hawaii or Hue or Huizhou all queuing, queuing, queuing for the dishwater which the Serbian serving operative assured us was traditional English Bitter. ‘twas ever thus in The Punch and Judy. Thence to somewhere named Henry’s which resembled the below-stairs of a cross channel ferry. The same people from the last place had got in ahead of us and taken most of the seats. A rabble of Hen Night women spilled into the gap before the bar and shouted their coctails orders over the deafening ambiance. Serves us right for choosing Covent Garden on a Saturday but I guess this too was British life.

Crocus
Crocus

This morning I see that the Crocuses are out and Brighton and Hove council have published portrayals of how the new King Alfred development will look. No surprises; it will look like everywhere else. Like Harlow only shinier. Like Gatwick Airport. Like a scene from Grand Theft Auto. I wonder if they use the same images for all developments? Probably they use the same scene rendering software for mock ups of apartment blocks as they use for Grand Theft Auto. In this instance the developers have clicked Young People=Yes,  Old People=No,  Congestion=None,  Litter =None, Weather=Fabulous. In short, they’d changed all the defaults for Hove. Hopefully the council included a general cleanup and euthanizing half of Hove’s population in the budget.

Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto

One can imagine that in 10 years time some teenager will wake from their drunken stupor and not know whether they’re in Hove or Houston, Brighton or Boston. Indeed they may wonder whether they just fell asleep with their VR goggles on. The video mock up of the King Alfred looks like an early version of Second Life and the gym resembles a scene from Black Mirror; row upon row of human/machine interfaces modules (HMIMs) allowing “customers” to have excess physical energy siphoned off while they are programmed with the current priorities of the corporations.

King Alfred Centre
King Alfred Centre

“We are all individuals” they repeat like the beach huts on Hove Prom, “we all think differently”, “we can all choose for ourselves” and then they head next door to the café for a Mocha or Latte or Americano. “I like mine with chocolate sprinkles”, “I like mine with vanilla”, “I like mine regular” while Madonna sings Express Yourself!

Hove Prom
Hove Prom

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Throwing back the pebbles

Hove Prom
Hove Prom

In 1637 René Descartes trotted out his, now famous, axiom: “Cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am). What he was on about was the fact that our perception of reality is based on interpretations of our senses and our senses can be fooled. So what can we know? What is it possible to know for certain? At the age of forty-one Mr. Descartes determined that the only thing he could know for sure was that he existed. Well done, great start even if his deliberations went down hill after that.

Still, given Mr. Descartes’ promising foundation, it is surprising that in general people now believe all sorts of bollocks.

Recently I was meandering along Hove Prom when I saw a lorry tipping its load onto the beach and I took some photos. It occurred to me that, if I were maliciously inclined, I could publish these pictures on The Internet and claim the driver was an immigrant. I could plaster a bloody great message across the top in red proclaiming that immigrant workers were dumping sewage on Brighton beach. I could attempt to deceive my audience and the idiotic thing is that some people would believe me!

It is said that in the early days of the printed book, as the idea of the novel was forming, people were taken aback that the content of the book was not true. I guess, since all previous books had claimed to be true the idea of fiction seemed deceitful. By the time I was growing up in the 70s the phrase “It must be true, I saw it on television” was something to be sneered at. Television had lost its authority.

Great
Great
White
White

The Internet has never had any claim on authority yet it encourages us to believe the most crass and groundless nonsense. Recently some “right wing” trouble maker created a video purporting to show Muslim immigrants refusing aid parcels because they were delivered by the Red Cross. Of course all the video really showed was one bunch of people and another bunch of people and some shouting and gesticulating. The “Left” are just as bad. Somone recently photoshopped a image of five women in white T-Shirts spelling out “Make America Great Again” and made it read “Make America White Again“. And don’t get me started on the the drivel I have seen posted as evidence for “Chemtrails” or that the Americans didn’t land on the moon.

Some people get it. They take Descartes’ point to some extent. They realise that much of the Internet is lying to them. They realise that our established has its own agenda and presents only a certain version of the truth and sometimes outright lies. They like to think differently. They challenge accepted explanations and the establishment line. We need these people and I am proud to consider myself one. But, sadly, the rebel, like the artist, is an attractive paradigm. It attracts imitators who reject the establishment line but then embrace the most obvious bollocks merely because it is contrary to the establishment line. I recall commenting on The Guardian web site that an article was biased and unbalanced and received a response that this was OK because the right wing press print articles biased toward the right. This is an absurd argument. Truth does not lie in a gap between opposing lies.

I had a conversation recently where a guy said that he didn’t listen to or watch established media like the BBC and preferred to find things out himself. When I mentioned Wikipedia this was treated with equal disdain. When I asked for his sources the only one mentioned was RT (formerly Russian Television).

It is good to treat all media with scepticism but to reject media based in an established liberal democracy in favour of the media from a nation ranking seventh (after Syria and Iraq etc) in a list of murdered journalists is perverse. It does not take René bloody Descartes to look over the RT web site and realise this is a blatant anti-American/anti-British propaganda tool. Look at the tabs along the top for God’s sake!. News, Business, Sport all very usual…and then USA and UK…….and no other countries! Why are UK and USA so special to RT that they need special categories? Even Russia is not listed on Russian Television only Russian Politics. I’ve sat in scores of European hotel rooms watching this guff and RT has an obvious shit stirring agenda. One moment it’s telling us that ordinary decent British citizens are now overrun by trouble making immigrants and the next it is claiming that ordinary decent immigrants are oppressed by trouble making racist British people.

The danger is that, as we come to mistrust our establishment, we are more ready to listen to the enemies of our establishment. But, in the search for truth, the enemy of our enemy is not out friend. With all their failings and their bias much of the established Western media have higher standards than most of the media based in countries where the rule of law and democracy are weak. Reading RT is OK, but valuing their reporting over the BBC is the sign of a conspiracy theorist.

One impediment to truth is the instant nature of 21st century media. The professional media “publish and be damned” and we now do the same. When we see something which fits our prejudice on Facebook we repost immediately. I remember when Facebook was full of personal posts. These days it’s full of bollocks deliberately designed by campaigning groups or attention seekers. In 2016 we don’t need The Sun or The Mirror to feed us bullshit; we feed it to each other on Facebook. Another cliché from publishing is simplify and exaggerate and we do this too. Messages become mere expressions of tribal identify. I believe in the NHS therefore I must hate the Health Secretary. I believe in an independent UK therefore I must hate Jacque Chirac. The two sides of the artificial left/ right debate pour their vitriol all over The Internet and we repost.

One tip I picked up from working for a Japanese company is Genchi Genbutsu (from the Toyota Way meaning “go and see” or “got to the source”). I try to find the original story and then check the ownership of the publication/web site. I try to discern the agenda. I see a lot of drivel posted from a professional looking web site known as Veterans Today but have been unable to trace the ownership; some say that it is linked to RT.  I treat it with a high level of scepticism.

Putting the pebbles back
Putting the pebbles back

This is not to say that alternative media is not worthwhile or truthful. Given the slavish adherence of the mainstream British media to an almost identical front page it’s great to see something different. Disinfo, Mother Jones and The Verge are a few I’ve stumbled upon.

An antidote to knee jerk comentary is to read weekly publications as the journalists have had time to calm down and consider what the fuck they’re talking about. The New Statesman, The Spectator and The Economist may be partisan but they are up front about their beliefs. The foreign press too are worth a look even if you can’t speak the language as we can at least understand the headlines. Some of the bigger names such as Der Spiegel and Le Monde Diplomatique now do English langauge editions.

Various web sites exist to check facts and debunk urban myths such as snopes.com, factcheck.org and fullfact.org but careful! While these sites claim to be non-partisan, everyone has an agenda. Who owns these sites? What is their agenda?

In the 20th century things were fairly simple. The news came from a handful of sourses. In the 21st century the sources have proliferated but their reliability, sincerity and authority are unclear and it’s worth recalling Sturgeon’s Law which states “ninety percent of everything is crap“.

On The Beach
On The Beach

And this brings us back to Mr. Descartes’ oft ignored first principle: “I think”. Everything he could know was a result of thought not of sense. Reading opinions from a multitude of sources is great but you have to think and reject 90%. With so many sources relying on obvious propaganda machines like RT isn’t the sign of a rebel. It is the sign of a sheep following a different shepherd.

And the lorry on Hove Promenade? During storms, pebbles from the beach up washed up onto the promenade and this lorry is employed by the council to collect pebbles and throw them back where they belong. The ethnicity and the residential status of the driver are unknown.

st malo beach
St Malo Beach

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God save us from more shopping centres

Brighton Station
BUY SOMETHING!

Have a look at this FT video on the new World Trade Center in Manhattan. It sounds like they are building another example of crass hyper-commercialisation. The Terminus is intended to allow passengers (not customers, PASSENGERS!) to move between the Path (subway) and the main Manhattan Subway. The bloke in the video says that it is also to serve as “A community hub full of restaurants and stores”.

I’ll say that again: “A Community hub full of restaurants and stores”. In the 21st century the definition of “Community” is “people shopping”. The other bloke bangs on about it being an “Economic engine” and that belies its real purpose: Another shopping centre to make money for big corporations. We are not able to just walk down the street without Big Corp tapping us on the shoulder and yelling BUY SOMETHING in our faces. In the UK, Kings Cross Station is now a shopping centre as is Heathrow airport. Even in Brighton, the station ticket office has been shoved to the side and the main old listed building has been converted into shops. The space where the large display board used to be is now filled with a massive video screen exhorting us to BUY MORE STUFF! In the 21st century nobody feels complete unless they’re carrying a bottle of water and I seriously doubt whether there is an Englishman left alive capable of walking the length of Oxford Street without a backpack loaded with supplies. If antarctic explorer Lawrence Oats were alive today he might still say: “I’m going outside, I may be some time” but the bastard would be back in five minutes with a tin of Coke, two Fantas, three Snickers, a cornish pasty, a packet of cheese and onion crisps and a copy of the bloody Metro!

Don’t like social engineering? Think the Left should be kept at bay to prevent them micromanaging society? Tough! It’s not the Left who are hell bent on social engineering it’s the Right and their single minded obsession with turning the urban landscape into an unadulterated retail space. And another thing…….etc…etc……

Cecil Rhodes and Year Zero thinking

19th century pinnacle of moral thinking
19th century pinnacle of moral thinking

There is a growing tendency in our society for people to protest what they see as offence. The Internet may have exacerbated this but, even in the real world, much hot air is dedicated to expressing a sense of “injury” over misplaced words or symbols. Many now believe that society owes them the right not to be offended and they become demanding and aggressive when this perceived right is denied.

The British are more tolerant that we are given credit for but we are also irreverent and this is much misunderstood by Johnny Foreigner. I prize irreverence. In Thailand people are gaoled for insulting the Royal Family. I respect the Thai tradition and I support their right to enforce their laws. But in Britain……in Britain I value the right to say that the Queen should abdicate, Prince Phillip is a racist old fool and the that royal kids are a bloody rabble. I support the right of the world and its mother to speculate over the monarchies involvement in the death of Princess Di even though I believe they are TALKING BOLLOCKS! I support the right to talk bollocks because I am tolerant and if I cannot tolerate what I do not like then my tolerance means nothing. I believe that irreverence goes hand in hand with tolerance and a free society. Other countries may choose to reject tolerance and embrace autocracy – Good luck with that and when you have achieved a more liberal society than The West, let me know.

Society does not owe anyone the right not to be offended but we seem to be gradually giving in to the hyper-sensitivities of anyone who can slip a cigarette paper between their own opinions and those of their neighbours. This is detrimental to diversity of intelligent debate and, to my mind, is starting to resemble McCarthyism.

One example was the shameful way that Nobel laureate Tim Hunt was forced to resign after ignorant, intolerant and mean spirited reports of what appears to have been an ironic and humorous speech in support of women in science which was understood as such by his audience. Another is the idiotic way that the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch was pilloried for standing up for black actors but using the term “coloured”. A word not on the 2015 list of acceptable words as accepted by supporters of the American National Association of Coloured People. More recently there is a campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford and Oriel College appear to be caving in.

It’s generally accepted that many, if not all figures from British imperial history, had racist opinions. They were part of a society which ran a global empire – of course they were racists. What is not recognised is that racist views were held by the majority of the population of the planet up until The Holocaust. Do we believe the Romans or the Mughals or the Aztecs were not racist? Of course not and in many parts of the world, racism is more or less the de facto norm even today. Check out Saudi treatment of immigrant labour or Racism in South Korea.

Removing statues and other artefacts from previous generations would be pandering to an arrogant and self righteous attitude that WE (the people of today) have reached the pinnacle of moral thinking. That this generation alone is the moral arbiter and may stand in judgement over all previous generations. It is akin to the beliefs of Rhodes himself who is quoted as saying: “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”. The bigots of today aren’t so interested in spreading Liberalism to the rest of the world but do want to push their values back in time.

We are no more at a moral peak than Cecil Rhodes. Today in the West we obsess over equality and identity but previous generations had other priorities. One reason we are able to consider the finer points of the nomenclature of ethnic groups is because our basic needs are met but even today in Iraq, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere many might consider equality and democracy as secondary to strong leadership, security and feeding their kids. Are we to condemn them for this?

Some consider that Mahatma Gandhi’s religious zeal alienated Muslims leading to Indian partition. Should statues of Gandhi be removed? Martin Luther King is idolised by millions for his fight against racism but he had less than modern opinions regarding women. By today’s standards he would be considered not only a sexist but, probably, a misogynist. Should his memorial be torn down?

A recent article in The Economist postulated something I have long believed; that animal minds are basically similar to human minds and that the difference in consciousness is more a level of degree. Add to this the widely held belief that feeding increased human population levels will require more effiicient farming which necessitate more agriculture and less livestock and it is at least possible that the world of the 22nd century might imbue animals with similar rights to humans. Should young students of the 22nd century poor shit over statues of Barak Obama for eating meat?

It is usually the Left who support criticism of past generations because the Left believe that only they are motivated by morality. The Left cannot conceive that others may have alternative yet legitimate opinions and so they are driven to purging the world of symbols which they consider fallible by the standards of the day but this is a formula for ongoing soviet style revisionism and authoritarianism. Removing evidence that Rhodes was part of the story of how our society evolved is akin to totalitarian “Year Zero” thinking. It is immature, ignorant and intolerant and based on an unfounded and bigoted sense of one’s own absolute riotousness. It also neglects the unpalatable truth that our liberal democracy was established, not in one big bang of enlightenment, but by a gradual evolution building on foundations laid down by ancestors for whom racism was an everyday reality.

As a prestigious college Oriel should champion rationalism. As a British university it should also champion diversity of opinion and irreverence. It should not rearrange its architecture and traditions to please the current intake of students. Monuments which are allowed to gradually become part of the physical and cultural background allow us to recognise the flawed nature of past heroes and kerb misplaced adoration of current heroes.  It would be facinating to know how many of those calling for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes were singing Things Can Only Get Better when he was elected.

Symbols such as Rhodes’ statue and King’s memorial teaches us humility by allowing us to learn from past deeds while recognising that we are all fallible by dint of our common humanity.

Finally, British education institutions today rely less on government funding and more on fees. Universities now assiduously court foreign students and the decision of Oriel college may be motivated partly by a desire to please a foreign, and sometimes anti-British, audience. While educating the world is a noble goal and a useful revenue stream, if Oriel do not have the balls to stand up for democratic and rational values then they may as well sell themselves to a Chinese sovereign wealth fund and start flogging doctorates in the sayings of Chairman Mao or Papa Xi loves Mommy Peng.

Redstone
Redstone

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