Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Global Pact

Via my recently invented time machine, here is an extract from a short essay written a thousand years hence by an anonymous scribe of the Second Enlightenment. Titled The Rise and Fall of The Global Pact , it is dated September 3014.

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As most of us know, the Global Pact was founded in the late twentieth century although its roots had been growing for decades, possibly as far back as the late nineteenth century.

However, what many people do not realise is that in those far off days it was not known as the Global Pact. The name did not become common until about 2100 when the United Nations formally announced that nations no longer existed and changed its name to The Global Pact.

So what exactly was The Global Pact, why did it arise and why did it collapse with such devastating consequences?

Firstly it is important to recognise that The Global Pact was a technical religion, truly global and designed for everyone but the administrative elite. It was many things to many people, but primarily it was a system of belief supported by incredibly detailed doctrines, laws, regulations and ultimately enforcement.

PactPol was the global policy function, the key top level directorate.
PactBank was the global bank. There were no others.
PactTech provided global technical support.
PactFarm grew the food.
PactTruth provided publicity, languages and iKid - or infant induction.
PactHealth looked after euthanasia and abortion.
PactGuide was the global paramilitary police force.
PactFun provided all global entertainment.
PactRole slotted everyone into a suitable career.

And so on.

There were many other directorates and sub-directorates, but these main directorates give a flavour of the overall picture.

During the preceding century leading up to The Global Pact, many changes took place. Too many to list in this brief review. For example, science disappeared into PactTech. Religion was absorbed into an advisory sub-directorate of PactTruth although it took another two centuries for things to settle down here. PactTruth and the formidable might of PactGuide were tested to the full.

By the early twenty-first century the trend towards The Global Pact had become obvious. A large number of mostly middle class people saw the advantages of discarding their opinions in favour of a host of official doctrines. Almost as if they knew The Global Pact was coming, even if not in their lifetime.

In those days there were early Pact-type doctrines with a variety of names such as political correctness, environmentalism, equality, science and so on. They encapsulated not ideas, but doctrines to which one might safely and even stridently adhere. Many adherents seem to have known, or rather sensed that The Global Pact would one day demonstrate their sagacity in dumping their individuality with such abandon.

Eventually, about five centuries ago, The Global Pact embraced everything. Every person on the planet knew nothing, did nothing and said nothing which did not conform to The Global Pact. Generations lived and died within the same Pact as moving from one Pact to another was discouraged unless demographic change had made it necessary.

For example many generations of the same family might live their entire lived within PactFarm or PactFun. They never knew anything else and thanks to PactTruth and the iKid infant induction scheme they never wanted anything else.

In 2120 the achievement of a permanent global utopia was officially declared by PactPol. An entire year of celebrations was organised by PactFun with mandatory attendance enforced by PactGuide.

So why did such a comprehensive and benign system fail so suddenly and so drastically? Why did PactPol not foresee the problems? Why did PactGuide fail to keep order as cities ground to a halt and endless warfare and riots sent us back to the Dark Ages?

There have been many theories and no doubt there will be many more. My inclination is to go for the simplest. I think the fundamental problem lay in PactTruth.

Nobody actually knew what was going on.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The two black wings of self

I wished to believe myself angry, but really I was afraid; fear and anger in me are very much the same. A friend of mine, a bit of a poet, sir, once called them ‘the two black wings of self.’ And so they are, so they are...!
 John Galsworthy – A knight (1900)

Crude it may be, but to my mind the Scottish referendum is well summed up as a battle between fear and anger - the two black wings of self. The Yes camp was angry with Westminster and the No camp fearful of change. Both strove mightily to stoke their emotional engines but fear always had the edge. We live in a fearful age.

The AV vote referendum was much the same and there is no reason to suppose an EU referendum would be any different. The establishment knows how to use the endless subtle pressures of fear, knows too well how potent they are.

In any event it isn’t easy to whip up anger over abstractions such as democracy, accountability or even lying and corruption. For one think, angry criticism is being choked off by the pervasive pressures of political correctness. An intemperate outburst could have the police knocking on your door, an association of ideas which is surely deliberate. Expect more of the same.

So angry words are being squeezed from our language. Not primarily because they offend, although that is the official narrative, but because anger has far too many political hazards for a morally corrupt establishment. Anger rocks the boat - fear doesn't.

To a large degree I think we have the BBC to thank for this deplorable state of affairs. That and our collective laziness. Fear of change saturates BBC output. Not overtly, but covertly in an endless unwillingness to engage with anything genuinely radical.

Comedy and satire are fine as long as they don't quite hit the target, but any serious challenge to the status quo is always beyond the BBC pale. The abode of extremists. A fearful place where decent folk never go. Room 101.

To my mind the important message is one we knew already. It is better to vote against the big three parties than to expect Cameron to deliver a fairly contested referendum. He knows the value of fear and probably knew he was unlikely to lose Scotland. He also knows he is unlikely to lose the EU if voters are foolish enough to trust him. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The limbo of forgotten races


I tell you what it is, the place is a sink, and if God Almighty doesn’t wipe all this sort of person off the face of England, it’s because He means the poor old country to go right down into the limbo of forgotten races!

Ford Madox Ford - The Simple Life Limited (1911)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A joke memory

Three of us, all blokes, were tootling down the M1 in heavy traffic. For some reason we began a brief conversation about jokes. Did we know any? Well we didn't because we aren't the kind of people who remember jokes so that conversation didn't last long.

I started me off on a train of thought though - how many people do remember jokes and why do some of us forget them so easily? I must have heard thousands of jokes but in the car couldn't recall a single one. None of us could.

Maybe jokes lack hooks which attach them to our longer term memories. Maybe they aren't socially useful, or at least many of us don't find them socially useful because we don't want to be labelled as a joker. Such people aren't taken seriously and most of us don't want that.

Is that anywhere near right? I don't know, but it's interesting. I'll mull it over before looking up some internet opinions.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

After a Yes vote



The very conditions on which he had held power: the necessity of having behind him a crowd of greedy appetites whose longings he must satisfy, of maintaining himself in his position by dint of abusing his credit, had made his fall merely a question of time. 

And he now recalled the slow efforts of his band, whose sharp teeth had day by day nibbled away some of his authority. They had thronged around him, hung on to his knees, then to his breast, then to his throat, and finally they had choked him. They had availed themselves of him in every way. 

They had used his feet to climb with, his hands to plunder with, his jaws to devour with. They had, so to say, used his body as their own, used it for their personal gratification, indulging in every fancy without a thought of the morrow. And now, having drained his body, and hearing its frame-work crack, they abandoned him like rats, whom instinct warns of the approaching collapse of a house, the foundations of which they have undermined. 

They were all sleek and flourishing, and they were already battening upon someone else.

Émile Zola - Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876)

Monday, 15 September 2014

Rubber robot



I usually enjoy robot stories but find this beast a little creepy.

Imagine three chaps

From Wikipedia

 ...called Amy, Baz and Cy – okay Amy is a chap of the female persuasion but this is an equal opportunities post so Cy is of the unpersuaded gender.

Now suppose there are only three phenomena in the known universe and Amy, Baz and Cy understand one each. They sound like politicians already, but let’s move on and call these three phenomena Earth, Wind and Fire.

Amy understands Earth.
Baz understands Wind.
Cy understands Fire.

They all know something about the other phenomena, but can’t be said to understand them because in their universe understanding more than one phenomenon takes a lifetime of study. Sounds like politics again, but still we move on.

So Amy, Baz and Cy have some knowledge of all the phenomena in their universe, but two thirds of their knowledge is mainly hearsay plus a little bit of direct observation.

One day a chap called Daz pops up.

Daz not only upsets the gender balance of the whole universe but also understands Water. So once Daz has explained a little bit about Water, Amy, Baz, Cy and Daz still have some knowledge of all the phenomena in their universe, but now three quarters of their knowledge is mainly hearsay with a little bit of direct observational knowledge.

It’s easy enough to see where this is going. The world beyond our personal understanding and direct observation is complex, uncertain and almost entirely composed of hearsay.

We understand far less than we assume because we expand our range by masses and masses of hearsay. The media transmit hearsay as news to such an extent that we can’t tell if it is second hand, third hand or merely a rumour laced with urban myths. Or just made up as usual.

What to do?

Well the crudely obvious lesson is surely a lesson about human behaviour. Most of our knowledge has its roots in human behaviour, both ours and the behaviour of other people such as those who write books, newspaper articles or blogs. Unfortunately we also need to add academic output to this list too.

Unless we choose to be naive of course. Well it’s an option and quite a popular one as far as I can see.

Mountains of guff have been written about epistemology, but it is behaviour we should keep an eye on. Data and logic are all very well, but human behaviour can destroy the significance of both and frequently does.

So apart from personal experience, the logic of human behaviour comes first. There is no other way to cope with our pervasive need to rely on hearsay. 

Not that this is news to anyone, but it struck me quite forcibly at a recent agricultural show. A chap was judging sheep and I'd no idea what he was doing, what he was looking for in awarding the red rosette. To find out I'd have to rely on hearsay or buy some sheep and set about learning the ins and outs of the sheep business. 

So hearsay it is.