Friday, 22 February 2019

Hard times

Taken yesterday - a photo of an old lead mine on a hillside above Hartington. There are lots of these in Derbyshire and whenever we encounter one high up on a hillside like this it is a reminder of how valuable lead ore was. Dragging any type of equipment up here, or merely some wood to shore up the mine would have been difficult and maybe impossible for a horse and cart.

Perhaps they didn't bother, but just swung those picks and took a chance. Hard times.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

A Corbyn supporter?

An early comment on Tom Bower's Corbyn biography released today.

1.0 out of 5 starsI'm not going to read it
21 February 2019
Format: Hardcover
When a so-called ruthless plot for power is to be an unobtrusive back-bencher for decades and then accidentally get elected leader I think we can make a reasonable judgement on the reliability of the rest.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

How to pull a lion

From the Daily Mail we have a tug-of-war zoo story.

A 'moronic' zoo has been blasted for letting children as young as eight play a tug-of-war with lions and tigers in a £15-a-ticket 'human v beast challenge'.

In a tweet to Datmoor Zoo, The Born Free Foundation said: '@.DartmoorZoo to offer 'Human vs Beast Experience' this February half-term. Is a tug of war game with a lion or tiger really the way to inspire respect for these animals? RT to urge the zoo to rethink this! #Don'tBuyCaptivity #KeepWildlifeinTheWild.'

This is while other activists said: 'Is this for real? What moron thought that this was a good idea'.

One Twitter user @paulwrites said: 'Are they living in medieval times? Whoever thought of this and backed it should think very carefully about demonising animals as commodities for profit.'

Meat is attached to a rope to bait the animals and when it picks it up the participants, which are on the other side of the fence, take up the other end of rope for a tug-of-war.

Suppose the zoo had built a machine which did the same thing as this tug-of-war game, it made the lions and tigers fight for their meat in the same way. The public would not be allowed to watch the machine in operation at feeding time.

Or suppose the public are allowed to watch the machine in operation at feeding time.

Or suppose the zoo had built a similar machine but members of the public could operate it from outside the animal enclosure.  

I'm sure there was a time when such counterfactual arguments were fairly common as a way to analyse arguments, dilemmas and social problems. They require a modicum of imagination but that's all. Simple counterfactual arguments are powerful and interesting do not seem to be nearly as common in the public arena as they could be.

Of course we know this dispute has nothing to do with animal welfare in zoos, its driver is an implacable opposition to zoos. I'm not that keen on them but it is perfectly conceivable that they are more useful than their detractors claim.  

Monday, 18 February 2019

I don’t believe it

Sometimes it is useful to substitute one word for another, rather different word and see where it takes us. So here we go.

Children protest over climate change and environment

A global campaign calling for action over climate change saw thousands of British children walk out of school to take part and protest.

Politics Live heard from some of those outside Parliament on what they wanted to achieve and why they were not in school.

Putting aside the monumental silliness and cynical dishonesty behind this stunt we could ask two questions.

a) Have the children been taught to believe that their future requires climate change mitigation policies?

b) Have the children been taught to advocate climate change mitigation policies?

It’s belief versus advocacy. If we use Occam’s Razor and opt for the simpler question then that would be (b). It also makes more sense because we have a pretty good idea that those children do not understand the pros and cons behind climate science, let alone the political machinations of the UN nor the numerous and complex financial and professional imperatives which keep the whole thing alive.

We could say that they have been taught to believe but it is simpler and probably more accurate to say they have been taught to advocate. A key aspect of what we call belief is more like advocacy and it seems obvious enough that those children are advocates not believers. It just makes more sense to put it that way. People proclaim their beliefs to their family, social group or even the whole world. Even children can do it because they are taught to do it and always have been. Church choirs for example.

People also proclaim their beliefs to themselves. How widely they proclaim them to the outside world varies enormously but without some kind of advocacy the idea of having beliefs doesn’t quite make sense. Or at least belief without any form of advocacy has no impact on the outside world which for current purposes will do.

An attraction of shifting from an idea of belief to the idea of advocacy is that advocacy feels shallower and closer to what we are. It feels more improvised, more like a repertoire of flexible responses linked only by the advocacy driving those responses. With advocacy we may begin to cut away those deep but unrealistic notions of mental structures which belief seems to assume. Shallow belief may be no more satisfactory than shallow advocacy, yet beliefs we seem to encounter in the real world frequently are shallow. So often they seem to be based on little more than the acceptance of some consensus. In other words - advocacy.

Advocacy seems to bring out common features of belief, its shallowness, its links with a wider social standpoint and the way supporting arguments often seem to come after the belief rather than being reasons for it. Those climate kids are doing the advocacy first – as their teachers probably did. The justifications and arguments may come later. Or one hopes - not at all.

Political life provides numerous examples where belief is clearly no more than advocacy. As advocacy it may be very deeply ingrained. Within a wider social and political standpoint it may be impossible to change, but deeply ingrained does not necessarily imply deeply analysed. It does not necessarily imply deeply understood either. With advocacy only the brief has to be understood, or at least memorised. Or at least the bullet points have to be memorised. Or at least some of them have to be memorised.

Sticking with climate change for a moment, most politicians obviously have almost no understanding of the science supposedly supporting the mainstream climate change narrative. How can they be said to believe it? The simple answer is that they don’t believe it. They advocate it because their political and social networks compel them to advocate it. There is no depth because depth isn’t required. At best, depth is limited to a few special interests.

Yet the temptation here is to assume that politicians are not like ordinary people even though those climate kids are ordinary people. It is suggested that politicians are particularly cynical and prepared to advocate ideas they do not actually believe. Yet a simpler approach is to assume that politicians are much the same as ordinary people in this respect. Ordinary people also advocate ideas they do not believe in much the same sense. They advocate ideas under social and political influences just as politicians and those climate kids do.

As with the political classes, ordinary people do not need to understand the ideas they advocate. Advocacy is frequently shallow because it has to be. If it wasn’t shallow hardly anyone would ever advocate anything because they would be forever analysing. Or in more conventional terms, hardly anyone would ever believe anything.

To take another example – how many voters understand the issues surrounding Brexit? How many understood those issues when they supposedly expressed their beliefs in the EU Referendum? Did they need to understand the issues before voting?

No - because that would render the whole referendum impossibly complex. Voters were required to advocate a course of action, a much shallower but far more pragmatic requirement. If we are honest, advocacy is all we expect of most MPs so why would we expect anything more of voters?

This is why the May government made a mess of its Brexit negotiations. Belief is advocacy and Team May effectively pretended that it could put its pro-EU beliefs to one side and advocate an orderly withdrawal from the EU. Unfortunately that never made sense. Belief as advocacy is woven into the fabric of what we are, what our social obligations and standing are.

Advocacy may be shallow but we are shallow, too shallow to put aside what we are without becoming in a very real sense someone else. This is also why interesting people are often those who analyse and criticise but tend not to advocate. Because advocacy is shallow and shallow is uninteresting.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

A missed opportunity?

The other day we were out walking and on two different occasions we passed a chap who looked very much like Jeremy Corbyn. Not the same chap but two presumed lookalikes on two different occasions.

Here’s the dilemma.

The precautionary principle suggests that I should have shoved both chaps into the river just in case either of them actually was Mr Corbyn. However I didn’t and now I’m left wondering if I don’t pay enough attention to the precautionary principle. A missed opportunity to try it out perhaps?

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Paint it valdez

It’s house decorating time again so we are immersed in the vexed problem of choosing paint colours. Usually B&Q paints will do but shock horror – the B&Q own brand paint range has been changed.

Tackle any decorating project on a budget with new own brand paint range

If you’re looking to refresh your living space with new season shades, on a budget, the new B&Q GoodHome paint range is an ideal place to start.

The extensive range offers 80 shades to choose from, for general walls and ceilings. Additional specialist kitchen, bathrooms and furniture paints are available in an edited colour palette of 25 shades.

Now the colours have names such as toulon, cleveland, santo domingo and valdez. Place names which may or may not suggest a colour which may or may not be the colour B&Q has chosen to go with the name. What the blue menton blazes they were thinking of I don’t know.

A hint of cosmopolitan sophistication? No – in that case people would surely go for paint produced by an outfit with a double-barrelled name so they could leave the colour charts lying around.

I wonder if there is a colour called Jaywick?