Saturday, 30 May 2020
I couldn’t help thinking yesterday as I listened to him that that may be the fight the whole earth is slipping into — the type against the individual.
Hugh Walpole – Vanessa (1933)
To my mind this is the Dominic Cummings battle in a nutshell. He comes across as an individual while his remarkably virulent critics are generally types. Media types, big government types, EU types, and so on.
Types fit in and well-connected types may rise as far as the froth on top. It hardly seemed to matter who was banging the anti-Cummings drum. He isn’t a type and they hate him for it.
Their hatred of the eccentric, the queer, the abnormal made them respond ecstatically to anything that allowed them to display that hatred.
Friday, 29 May 2020
A conception not reducible to the small change of daily experience is like a currency not exchangeable for articles of consumption; it is not a symbol, but a fraud.
George Santayana - The Life of Reason (1906)
Many of us must have wondered if there is a vital aspect of the human condition we have missed. An elusive shadow flits across the musing mind and then it is gone, leaving nothing behind but a faint sense of something vastly important but forever out of reach. Suppose we call that missing something X.
What could X be? I’ve no grand solution so why not do some lateral thinking and assume X is not something missing from our way of thinking, but a thing so basic we do not pay enough attention to it. Honesty would fit that criterion, but suppose X has multiple facets and honesty is merely one of them.
X could be several things in addition to honesty, so why add experience to the mix. We are intimately familiar with experience because it is so vitally important yet we undervalue it in many situations. Suppose X includes our failure to demand experience from those who direct our lives. We already know how little relevant experience they often have in the complexities of government. Maybe this is a facet of X.
Jeremy Corbyn for example, did not appear to make any significant effort to acquire relevant government experience in any field. Although defeated in two general elections, millions voted for him in spite of his obvious and easily verified lack of experience.
Voting for Corbyn made no sense whatever – as if a weak X allowed millions of people to ignore their absolute reliance on experience. They voted for inexperience while knowing how essential it is to have experience. A willingness to acquire it would be a step in the right direction but apparently Mr Corbyn saw no pressing need to go that far. And millions voted for him - millions voted for weak X.
In which case, maybe voters and MPs need more experience to begin with. Raise the voting age to 30 and the minimum age for MPs to 40 for example. It may not solve the experience problem but it could give more weight to it and bring democratic processes slightly closer to real life. Bring in a stronger X.
Climate change is another example where those promoting the catastrophe narrative have no experience in successfully predicting long term changes in the global climate. This purely imaginary level of experience does not exist anywhere, in any science, any institution or any individual. Yet people confidently make long term climate predictions. Based on what? They know they don’t have the experience to make such predictions. If X is a blend of honesty and experience then here we have a lack of honesty allied to a lack of experience. Weak X on two counts.
Another example would be UK government policy towards the coronavirus debacle. This policy is supposedly dictated by a series of future scenarios calculated using computer models plus a general experience of other pandemics. If we take X as our guide then we should ask what experience these people have of this particular virus and this particular pandemic. The answer is obviously none – they have no direct one to one experience. So we add some caveats because maybe they do have some relevant experience.
Again, the pernicious effect of weak X may still persuade us to take experts seriously instead of clearing our minds of imaginary futures and paying attention to experience gained in the past. What have these experts achieved before in this situation? Nothing? How about similar situations? Nothing much apart from offering basic advice like hand washing and being wary of crowds. We could go further down that route but we may lose sight of all that missing experience and in so doing lose sight of what we really want – strong X.
Politically something always has to be done, so prominent people must be in conspicuous control of what is done. The UK response to the pandemic is probably as close to foolish guesswork as it seems to be because X remains in the background and remains weak.
The Wise do at once what the Fool does at last. Both do the same thing; the only difference lies in the time they do it: the one at the right time, the other at the wrong.
Baltasar Gracian - The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1647)
Nature hardly seems capable of giving us any but quite short illnesses. But medicine has annexed to itself the art of prolonging them.
Marcel Proust - À la recherche du temps perdu
Thursday, 28 May 2020
But now we are to be branded with the hot iron of politics; we are going to enter the convict’s prison and to drop our illusions.
Honoré de Balzac - La Peau de chagrin (1831)
Has the coronavirus stripped life of a few more illusions? The obvious answer to this question is of course yes.
The entire lockdown mess based on flaky scientific guesswork about a new but moderate pandemic. A mess because we should have had the collective courage to shrug off the consequences as inevitable because the lockdown cost would be far too high. We lost an illusion there - the illusion of our collective courage. It has been a reminder of what our ancestors meant by courage too.
We have the prospect of creeping corruption and decay if democracies don’t have the courage or even the will to be democratic. Forcing people into lockdown was casually undemocratic when millions were under virtually no risk of serious health consequences. We knew it too - we knew it from the early Chinese data and it became increasingly obvious from our own data. We lost another illusion there, the illusion that a police state couldn’t happen here. We made the mistake of thinking in terms of jackboots and uniforms instead of quiet grey fascists sitting around a table.
What are we to make of a government which turns the entire country into a police state on dubious and easily contested scientific advice? Because whatever happens we shall never be able to demonstrate how many lives were saved. Or indeed how many lives were sacrificed to diverted medical resources because we can’t run the whole thing again and find out. That’s another couple of illusions gone – the illusion of scientific integrity and the illusion that anything political could ever be evidence-based.
Finally we have the illusion of responsible adulthood – we’ve lost that too. Contact tracing nonsense rushed in to keep the police state going in case it becomes too obvious that the virus is disappearing. Hence the need to bring in something new to hammer home the message that we shall never be treated as adults because we don’t vote as adults.
Illusions eh? Maybe we’ll find some more. Maybe we already have.
Wednesday, 27 May 2020
Gordon Meyrick seems to have had an interesting if rather short life. Born in 1909 he wrote four crime novels during World War II but in 1943 he died after falling out of an upper floor window in somewhat mysterious circumstances.
I read one of his novels during lockdown. Danger at my Heels is a fast-moving adventure in the style of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps. Short but readable with some interesting descriptions of London during the Blitz. For example Meyrick has this conversation between his two main characters. It could perhaps seem trite until we recall when and where it was written and what has happened since.
“Don’t you think,” I said, “that everyone has worries, and if they haven’t they invent them. And then something really big like the war comes along, and we realize how petty all our little fears and squabbles are?”
“Yes, I expect the war has pulled a lot of us out of that sort of thing. It must bring tremendous spiritual help to people. That sounds rather silly and pretentious, but I expect you know what I mean. Though, of course, we’re all such frightful little egoists, that when it’s all over we’ll run round looking for our silly little values again.”
Or take these two quotes which must reflect what Meyrick saw during those times.
I strolled up a hill past the tower of a waterworks, guarded by what looked like a machine-gun post.
On a very dark night there is a technique for black-out walking. If you look up you can see the glow of the sky and the outline of buildings, this enables you to steer a course.
The Passing Tramp has two interesting posts on Meyrick’s family here and the man himself here. Well worth reading.
Tuesday, 26 May 2020
Monday, 25 May 2020
by Chris Wevers - licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Wrentham, with the promise of a try-out later, rode with Travers and saw the countryside through the screen and along the sinister radiator of the long Isotta.
“The fact of the matter is,” said Travers, “you want to drive the Isotta. You’ve been itching to break your neck ever since you clapped eyes on the damn thing.”
Christopher Bush - Murder at Fenwold (1930)
“What’s an Isotta?” I asked myself while reading this Golden Age detective story. Not being a car buff I didn’t know and initially a picture of the Isetta popped into my mind. Nope - wrong era but a quick web search brought up a more appropriate image.
Blimey - what a car. Makes the story far more interesting if I imagine myself zooming along country lanes in one of those, puffing casually on my pipe while solving the mystery with careless aplomb.