Warnings after Ched Evans

Warnings after Ched Evans

I have watched the sorry story of Ched Evans over the past years with increasing feelings of fear and anger. In 2012 he was convicted of rape following an events during an evening in Rhyl the previous year. During the trial I can recall my feelings, shared by many others, that this young man had unfortunately become a political symbol in the battle over the nature of rape and issues of consent in our society and had suffered a miscarriage of justice.

He was unfortunate because he was a high profile celebrity who was to be used in the battleground of the issue of consent. It was important to many who held partisan ideas on this issue that he was brought down so as to send a message to others. It did not matter that the grounds for his conviction were unsteady, through his trial social media clamoured for his punishment in a strident manner. After his conviction the general media also joined in with calls for further and extra-judicial punishment. Notoriously Caitlan Moran called that his life be  “reduced to ash” in a phrase that sounds reminiscent of bringing back burning at the stake. Articles in the Guardian asked that he be denied any work after he served his jail sentence and that he treated like a pariah while Jessica Ennis wanted her name removed from a stand if Sheffield Football club considered re-employing him. Petitions were organised and companies boycotted all to ensure that he suffered well after he had served his time.

This may have been understandable had the crime been at the serious or severe end of the scale but this had never been suggested as the case. This was not an anger based on hearing of hurt or damage to an unfortunate victim but rather anger based on a desire to change our attitudes to the laws surrounding rape. An anger that was taking as its focus a case which many people could see was flawed and dangerous. Our society now has much more permissive ideas regarding drunkenness and promiscuity and this change has occurred at the same time as a broadening of our views of sexual abuse. This case was where these two issues collided; having a high profile international footballer at its centre allowed the flames of this debate to blaze much more brightly.

Fortunately Ched Evans did not passively accept his role in this drama and he and his family fought for an secured an appeal following which he was acquitted. Many have commented on the financial cost that was paid to fight for this appeal and retrial and this is an important point. It is a horrible thought that, had he not been a wealthy young man with plenty of money, he would not have been able to clear his name. Had he been a joiner or nurse then he may still have the stigma and shame of a rape conviction damaging his life.

But, even after the retrial and acquittal, many on the media will not stop trying to use them in their battles. Ungracious at best, and more commonly disbelieving, in their tone the media has tried to portray his acquittal as an error. The Guardian suggesting that it has set a precedent that future rape victims will be less likely to come forward, Julie Bindell called his retrial a “Rapists Charter” and the popular midday TV programme Loose Women had to issue and apology as their presenter Gloria Hunniford expressed her opinion that the jury got it wrong.

These statements are both wrong and counterproductive. Nothing has occurred in the re-trial other than the overturning of an incorrect decision. There is no change in the law but these statements themselves, by whipping up fear and uncertainty, might deter victims of rape pursuing their case. As Francis FitzgGibbon QC, the chair of the Criminal bar Association, has said :-

“There’s been a huge over-reaction to what this case means. The answer is not very much. The thing that troubles me is people saying it sets the law back 30 years and it’s a rapists’ charter. That is what is going to make people think they daren’t report what’s happened to them. Those cries of anguish are a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

The use of information about a complainant sexual history is controlled by Section 41. This has not changed and only allows its use in specific circumstances when it may prevent a miscarriage of justice.  As Angela Rafferty QC added :-

“It is a disservice to victims of sex offenders to misinform them that the Ched Evans case has put the law back 30 years or has made it a rapists’ charter. That case has not changed the law. The law forbids questions about the previous sexual behaviour of a complainant in sexual offence cases, except in highly unusual circumstances where the trial would be unfair, and a wrongful conviction might result, if the evidence was not given.

“The court of appeal thought Evans’s was such a case. Cases like Evans’s will remain wholly exceptional. There is no relaxation of the rule against this type of questioning.”

A more worrying trend is the oft-repeated phrase, especially on social media, that he has “not been proven innocent“. This is not how our law works. One never has to prove one’s innocence, the court has to prove ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ that one is guilty. If the court does not prove this then one remains innocent. The presumption is that of innocence. This is an important foundation of our legal system and is seen as a Universal Human Right and is Article II of the UN declaration of human rights :-

Article 11

“(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

This is a vital safeguard as it defends the weak against the state. We do not have to prove our innocence our guilt must be shown beyond doubt. In the days of the inquisition or under totalitarian states  it may have been necessary to demonstrate that you were good and free from evil but, thankfully, no longer.

To question this principle is very dangerous and could start to undermine our fair society. I fear that this is part of a campaign to weaken this safeguard. It is related to the #Ibelieveher movement when people propose that the complainant should be considered  true before the trial has run its course and evidence been tested. This again takes away the presumption of innocence and is part of a very worrisome trend.

i_believe_her_bumper_sticker_bumper_sticker-r91f5ac78a8234bebaa4f1d038209fcb0_v9wht_8byvr_512

Though I ams ure many of the people suggesting these changes do so with the best of motives, and none of us would want a rapist to escape justice, but tampering with the fundamental safeguards of the legal system and permitting injustice and miscarriages to occur make us all less safe in the future.

 

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Volunteering : Why do we do it ?

Volunteering : Why do we do it ?

via Daily Prompt: Volunteer

When I moved to my present home, and shifted from an urban to a rural community, I became more aware of the role that volunteering played in my and my neighbours’ lives. It is not that there is any more or less volunteering in either site but rather that the structures of community organisations, and the role these play in day to day life, are much more visible in the rural setting. It is easier to see what is going on among a few people than it is amongst very large groups.

It is clear that many people volunteer regularly to provide services to our own community and for those further afield who are in need. Obviously, as this is volunteering, it is done with no thought of payment or recompense. Indeed, the cost to volunteers in terms of  time, money, and energy is often quite considerable.  For example, one neighbour drives daily to the old peoples’ home at her own expense and spends an hour talking to elderly people who might otherwise be lonely.

So why do we do this ? Some, of a religious bent, may do it as it is part of their way of practising their faith. Other may do it in recognition or thanks of previous help given. However, looking at my friends I’d suggest that most do it because they gain pleasure from helping others. In addition to pleasure it is also part of living, being a part of a community rather than a simple consumer of the benefits of society.

Every second week in our village hall committee we meet and spend hours organising events for the community and seeing to the logistics of running various societies which have their base in our society. When we meet and talk, when we interact and exchange ideas, when we choose form options for our society, we are in fact living. While we do this we are more than individual consumers, we are not solitary agents but social beings, and while we take part like this our lives become richer and fuller.

Possibly the most quoted sentence by Adam Smith  is this below :-

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

and many people think that this suggests that selfishness was the sole key to the organisation of capitalist societies. Many portray capitalism as incompatible with altruistic actions and see the  phrase “greed is good” as one which summarises a trading society.  Many libertarians do little to counter this image.

While it is true that self-interest guides the many voluntary trades that people make everyday which allow our society to develop and grow. It is these multiple interactions  which allow us to concentrate on what we are good at, to specialise and divide labour, and to create things that would otherwise be impossible. It is through all these voluntary transactions that the spontaneous order arises which makes up our society. Billions of individuals freely interacting with billions of others give rise to the order which is the society in which we live. While this requires that the individuals look after their own interests it works because we are human and there is another side to our nature.

Unfortunately the following quote, which is the first sentence of Adam Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” is much less frequently quoted :-

“No matter how selfish we suppose man to be, there is obviously something in his nature that makes him interested in the fortunes of others and makes their happiness necessary to him, even if he derives nothing from it other than the pleasure of seeing it”

Adam Smith believed that innately we wish to help our fellow man. Indeed he believed that the pinnacle of moral development would be “To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature”. He correctly recognised it was the combination of voluntary transactions, guided by self-interest, in association with an innate tendency to care for the welfare of others which allowed capitalism to thrive and develop.

It is this innate desire to help others alongside the gaining of pleasure by doing so that I see in my community here. I am aware that this is a universal aspect of human nature seen in people from all walks of life and in all areas of the globe. It doesn’t detract from the wealth creation of trading but rather augments it as it is the glue that creates the society in which we can pursue our dreams. I am sitting using a computer and social media to create this blog, this is just one example of the multitude of sites (Flickr, Youtube, Facebook,  Freecycle, Twitter, etc) where people create things (images, stories, songs, news, goods) simply to share with our fellows with no expectation of profit. It seems further evidence of our need to share and to give.

However, I do have some concerns that the last century has seen a change in how we view such activities as volunteering and charity. Alongside the growth of the welfare state it is possible that we have started to feel that we no longer need to undertake these activities.  Certainly the amount we give to charity has dropped from an average 10% of a middle class family’s income in  1895 to around 1% today. Friendly societies which used to provide much of the welfare that people received prior to the war when it was estimated that over three-quarters of the working population were registered with such a society were destroyed by the introduction of National Insurance. A model which was based on local planning, voluntary choice and democratic decisions when local people got together to form groups to look after themselves was swept away by Lloyd George’s changes. In their place, an unaccountable, impersonal and inefficient centrally organised state system took over.

The change to state organisation funded by taxation has had a further change which has an impact on charitable activities. As James Bartholomew said “People have changed from being team members in mutual support groups to being state dependants who feel no particular responsibility to act decently. “. It is important to feel that one is helping others, as said before it is an innate desire and part of what lifts us above other species of animal. When we organise our welfare services by taxation it removes us as individuals from the care of our neighbours. It becomes anonymous and faceless, it breaks the link between the two individuals helping each other. It removes our option to be compassionate and good as we can’t really think of ourselves as good when we have no choice over our actions.

We will always need to provide welfare for our societies and will always want to do so. We need to encourage voluntary arrangements which allow this to be done in a human, individual and engaged manner and we need to wrest welfare back from the state. We need to bring it back from the central state and back to local societies and the individuals amongst them

I think Dominic Frisby summarised this well in his “Life after the State” :-

“The giver goes unconsidered in the process of state care. Taxes are taken and that is it. But the giver too has needs. Sometimes the giver needs to be anonymous – sometimes he needs recognition. Sometimes he or she likes to be involved with the recipient in some way, sometimes not. The forced giving that is taxation destroys the satisfaction that altruistic people get from giving voluntarily. To share with others is part of humanity. In a world in which the government takes care of the poor and needy, compassion is removed from life. As a result, the state now has a monopoly on compassion! In fact it is even more bizarrely specific than that: the pro-welfare left wing has a monopoly on compassion. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the concept of a large, generous welfare state is deemed heartless and selfish.”


Volunteer


Wealth of Nations
Theory of Moral Sentiments
The Welfare State we are In
Life after the State
David Green, Working-class Patients and the Medical Establishment (Gower, 1985).

When I was young, millions of years ago .. ..

via Daily Prompt: Millions

I can understand nostalgia. I can understand looking back to a time when I was younger, fitter, faster, thinner, more attractive, more self assured and thinking it was better then. All those years ago I had been lied to less often, I had experienced cheating less often and had been disappointed less often, so perhaps it is not surprising these times have a rosy glow of the ‘good old days’. But although I remember those times fondly I am also aware that there were, in many significant ways worse.

As a baby boomer my early life was spend in the 60’s and 70’s and it was substantially different to that of my children’s. In those days many fewer of us went into tertiary education, foreign travel was an exotic figment of our imagination, central heating was known only to the wealthy. Television and car ownership had spread to the populace but cars were primitive compared to our current models and “one car families” were the norm as were television sets which could  provide our three, or later four, broadcast channels.  Ideas such as personal computers, digital photography, mobile phones, satellite navigation, and the internet were still science fiction. So although I may be nostalgic for my young self I am not nostalgic, in any true sense, for that period of time.

the-evil-of-capitalism-in-one-chart-foundation-for-economic-education

Individually my life was certainly less materially wealthy than my children’s and much less so than my own life now. But on a bigger scale there have been much more important changes with life changing effects.

In America last year 3,500,000 fewer Americans were in poverty according to the national census  (1). In China millions have been pulled out of poverty especially in the urban centres (2). Across the globe, with varying degrees of success, absolute poverty is declining. Between 1990 and 2010, millions of people were taken out of extreme poverty when this was halved according to the World Bank (3). These changes would seem to relate to our growing trade and, as a consequence, wealth. This growth in trade has also been associated with a reduction in deaths from violence. We are less likely to be  killed or injured by others of our own species (4). Millions more of us now live free from actual  violence, whether personal assault or as a consequence of war.  Diseases which used to kill millions are now plagues of the past and part of history. Recall that smallpox, a killer of billions,  was declared eradicated in 1980 (5).

It is unusual then, in the face off all these numbers and in the face of our own personal experience we are still so pessimistic and nostalgic. All our experience is that life has got better both for ourselves and for others. We can all see that materially we are much more affluent than generations before us. Our life expectancy figures let us know that we are less plagued by illness and early death than before. We may not know it but we are freer from violence and live in a more sociable society with less crime than before and the figures are quite clear on this – despite our perception

 

But despite all of this, still only 30% of us think life has improved and 43% of us feel Britain has changed for the worse (6). While recently 44% worried for the future (7) when all our experience is that things tend to get better.

Were this nostalgia and pessimism merely a pleasant  fondness for our youth passed the there would be no problem. Unfortunately, however, we often believe life was better, rather then were better, those days ago. This leads us to make mistakes. It makes us hanker for old certainties, to look back at old ways of doing things, when what we need to do is to continue the progress we have made. It sometimes makes us fear the future and change. For example our fear of GM crops, and “golden rice” in particular, will consign 2 million children to an avoidable early death next year(8).  We have not run out of challenges facing mankind and there is no good reason to try and put the brakes on progress.

Our rose tinted spectacles can also mislead us into reactionary, or backward looking, politics; wistfully thinking back of times of national pride and fearing globalisation. The future problems we will have to overcome will require continued trade, continued free movement of people, continued intermingling of peoples and knowledge. To think otherwise will lead us to miss opportunities which will consign present generations to experience  unnecessary illness, hardship or violence. If we want a bright and optimistic future we will have to believe it possible and  work to make it. We should not give up hope or wallow in nostalgia. In the wise words of Abraham Lincoln “The best way to predict your future is to create it

 


Millions

(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/26/business/economy/millions-in-us-climb-out-of-poverty-at-long-last.html

(2) https://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2015/aug/19/china-poverty-inequality-development-goals

(3) http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview

(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature

(5)http://www.who.int/csr/disease/smallpox/en/

(6) https://yougov.co.uk/news/2012/02/07/britains-nostalgic-pessimism/

(7) http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/after-brexit-vote-44-employees-uk-are-pessimistic-about-future-cipd-survey-shows-1573215

(8) http://supportprecisionagriculture.org/nobel-laureate-gmo-letter_rjr.html

 

 

 

I used to be clumsy but I’m dyspraxic now.

via Daily Prompt: Clumsy

straightjacketOne of the trends of recent years has been the increasing medicalisation of our lives. Issues that previously were thought of as aspects of our personality or experience are viewed the rough the lens of health care. This trend has a long and venerable heritage. When Hippocrates wrote “On the Sacred Illness” and proposed fits, due to epilepsy,  were due to phlegm from the brain rather then a punishment form the Gods, this was a major scientific advance.In the middle ages the recognition of some forms of mental illness as diseases rather then proof of demonic possession save some unfortunates from the rack and the stake.  Shifting behaviours due to disease into the medical arena has been, without doubt, beneficial.

As our scientific knowledge increased  more and more conditions were recognised for what they were. Times when people might have been thought to be lazy and slothful (when they had anaemia, renal failure, and so on) are gone and it is recognised that these people in fact suffered from disease or illness. They are taken out of the social realm and placed in the medical realm and thus  excused from normal social responsibilities – we do not expect the lame or blind to work the same as others, we accept that those with schizophrenia may at times behaviour oddly or even rudely. This reduction of our responsibilities is beneficial as we are not then punished for behaviours not under our control.

However, this has not always been a change for good. In the nineteenth centuary a medical disorder of drapetomania was proposed by the American physician Samuel A. Cartwright. The essence of this condition was the desire to escape captivity and servitude; the ‘treatment’ was regular whipping to deter slaves from running away. More recently the KGB in the USSR worked with doctors, using the diagnosis of “sluggish schizophrenia” to incarcerate many dissents in mental hospitals. They used the diagnostic label to undermine the behaviours of political dissenters by making them symptoms of medical disorders there was no need to pay any heed to them – disagreement became madness.

It is with this in mind that recent changes concern me. There has been a tendency to identify difference as disorder. The socially awkward man with a liking for habit and routine becomes a man with Asberger’s Syndrome, the clumsy child becomes a patient with ‘dyspraxia’, the shy become ‘socially phobic’, the sad and disappointed become people with ‘minor depressive disorders’, and so on. There is a preoccupation with illness and an acceptance that it is almost universal we all have some disorder !

But this is a dangerous path. Placing people in the role of being ‘unwell’ has a number of risks. These might be outweighed by advantages as mentioned above, such as excusing us from our normal social responsibilities, or giving an explanation of our behaviour, or offering some form of treatment to improve our lot. But recent expansions of the ‘sick role’ seem to offer none of these. Someone who is clumsy knows no more about the origins of their clumsiness after the label of ‘dyspraxic disorder’ has been applied, they knew that their brain was less good than the average in motor tasks and dexterity already. We know no more about the socially awkward obsessive after we have labelled him as having Asberger’s syndrome, we have gained no new insights about him.

None of these, and many other disorders, have, at present, any treatments available for them. The steps one might take to mitigate against their signs and “symptoms” are common sense. Importantly, the steps which might help are not known only to medical professionals  they are things we can all work out. Thinking that these disorders are some form of illness or disease limits the sources of help people may receive. People may undervalue the advice of the non-professional and miss possibly useful assistance form their friends, family or themselves.

The exclusion from social responsibility is a double edged sword. While people may feel some relief following being  labelled as having some disorder and may benefit that others expect less of them – “I have X disorder, you can’t expect me to do Y” – what if the person want to be able to “do Y” ? The urge to overcome differences, that are seen as a disadvantage, might be suppressed. The socially phobic might not press themselves to gradually expand their repertoire of social activities and thus lead a smaller, less rewarding life than they may have been able to do otherwise.

Worse that curtailing the individual’s attempts to improve their lot is the danger that, now in the arena of healthcare, physicians will try and improve them. Already millions of unnecessary  and ineffective prescriptions for medication are given to the mildly depressed or socially anxious (as well as many other dubious ‘disorders’). Each time such a pill is swallowed someone takes a risk of harm without the prospect of any benefit. It is true to say that some people die as a consequence of  saying “I have disorder X” as opposed to accepting “this is the way I am

Society as whole also looses out by this trend. Every time a deviation from the norm is categorised as a disorder we reduce what we consider the range of normal human life. We restrict the range of what is acceptable. While, in our present humane and liberal democracies, this may not be too risky there is no guarantee that this will always be the case.

Illness, ill-health and disorder are the exception we should fight to make sure that they remain so.


Written in response to the daily prompt : Clumsy


Flattery; a dangerous foe.

Flattery; a dangerous foe.

via Daily Prompt: Flattery

Flattery is an insidious and dangerous foe. It works best when it is aimed at our blind spots. We can all recognise flattery when it addressed to areas where we are relatively self-aware and know our failings.

I know that I pass as “plain” on a good day, while on a bad day people might cross the street to keep out of my way. I can even shock myself were I to  I catch an unexpected glimpse of my own reflection. I am fine when I have posed my expression and stance and readied and told myself what to expect when I look in the mirror. Using words such as mature, wise, sage and other adjectives –  words that are rarely used on dating sites. The shock comes when I don’t expect it and I catch a glance of this old dolt in the mirror. Good grief .. .. stomach in .. .. stand upright .. .. back to the sage expression .. .. that’s better .. .. shock over .. .. phew,

So, for example,  flattery over my appearance rarely works. I am wise in this area. When young attractive women passed positive comments on my appearance, or style, in the hotel bar when I was abroad at conferences I knew this was flattery. I knew they were ‘at work’ and my allure was my credit card rather than my resemblance to a young Adonis. When shopkeepers praise my fine taste and ability to be ahead of the fashion curve, I know I am being soft soaped and that my wallet is being gently opened. Similarly when the negotiator praises my acumen and perception I know I am missing something from the deal.

Flattery is dangerous, however, when it is applied to areas where one has a degree of confidence. We are more likely to believe the sycophant when we already have a high opinion of ourself. Vanity is  the obvious patsy for flattery. It is this form of flattery that is so successful in financial scams. The “I can see that you are an astute investor…” or “You are somebody that obviously likes to be ahead of the crowd” are common opening lines of financial scams. But this problem can rear its head elsewhere also.

When I was much younger and working as a doctor I would often see patients referred after failed treatment or dissatisfaction with other doctors. Sometimes this was part of a much bigger issue, when the doctor-patient relationship was, itself, part of the problem. I was often proud to be called on to give my opinion or to try and assist when others had failed.

These consultations would often start with a very flattering opening gambit …

“Oh My Dr. X, you are so much more understanding than that Dr Y I used to see !     I can see that you are much nicer and I can tell you things I never could with them.     I am sure you will be able to help me.”

I grew to be able to recognise this dangerous opening for the flattery it is though when young I sometimes missed it. When I failed to see this flattery, and I was blinded by my own vanity, I unfortunately could reply along the lines of …

Oh thank you Mr Y. You are so uncommonly perceptive

Having fallen for the flattery and, worse, having given flattery in return we were both trapped in a relationship which was never fruitful, nor helpful, for either of us. Flattery had lead us to positions which were not tenable.

Flattery, a dangerous foe, especially when you think that you are on safe ground.


Trying to follow the daily prompt : Flattery

Can we be too careful ?

Can we be too careful ?

via Daily Prompt: Careful

I imagine that everyone hopes that they are careful. They believe that they assess risks and take steps to avoid or minimise them. They castigate themselves when they make errors and chide themselves, an others, when they are careless. It is held that there is a duty as we grow up to be careful, childhood is the time when we can be carefree. But can we be too careful ?

I think we all can remember times when our caution made us miss an opportunity, when in hindsight we regretted our hesitation. Certainly we can all recall the old adage “faint heart never won fair lady” and many of us have friends or acquaintances troubled by timid, over-cautious natures who lives are stunted by the problems of excessive care and anxiety. In the world of science, however,  a preferred adage might be “better safe than sorry” where the stakes are higher than winning the hand of the damsel. But is is possible that excessive caution and being too careful can be troublesome here also ?

In the scientific world this might be the case with the “Precautionary Principle“. This was brought in as Principle 15 in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It might be well defined as follows :-

‘When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.’

Similar descriptions of the principle have been placed in regulations such as the World Charter for Nature and  E.U.’s Treaty of Maastrich.  A basic tenet of the  this principle is that the ‘duty of care’ or ‘onus of proof’ is on those who those who propose change. Further, we are advised to err on the side of caution, even when there is no scientific evidence of harm.

While appreciation of risk and assessment of risk are a basic, and advisable, scientific task this principle can cause problems.  Were the instruction ” assess and avoid risk” this would be entirely reasonable and right. But avoid risk, even is there is no evidence of risk , is a much more troublesome statement.

Obviously when change is proposed there may well be risks, but after these have been dealt with, it will always be possible to imagine or fear further risks for which there is no scientific basis. People feared train travel would be so fast that it would be damaging to the human body, people feared radio waves would affect the human mind. It would not have been possible to show at the time that these things would not occur. Presently we see the precautionary principle pulled out to protect us from all sorts of risks ; GM crops, Fracking, mobile phone masts, vaccination – “Just because they don’t know it doesn’t do any harm, doesn’t mean it wont.” they cry.

But here lies the inherent anti-scientific nature of this principle. It is not possible to prove the existence of something which doesn’t exist. If someone states that there are spirits form past lives in the ether. I can not prove that they are there. I can say that we have never seen them, I can also say that there is no known mechanism for them to be there. This is what science can do. With regard to harm scientists can say ‘we have never seen it’ and there is ‘no known mechanism’ for it to occur. This would be inadequate for the precautionary principle which would suggest caution and hesitation even though there is no scientific basis for this.

rtx12n8eAll life entails risks. Scientific progress is no different. Each step forward we take carries some risk. However, looking back at our development we live happier, healthier and longer lives now as a consequence of taking these risks and the progress of science. We would have missed major steps if we had been so risk averse. Had we fully comprehended the risks of aspirin we would never have started using it. For every risk we take we must also consider the risk we take by not moving forward. Had Jenner not taken the risks of injecting his fellow countrymen with  cowpox, then smallpox would still blight our lives and would have caused millions of deaths.  Those deaths would be the cost of not taking the risk.

Similarly, this year, two million children will die from nutritional deficiency, entirely needlessly ,because we will not allow the use of “Golden Rice”. We allow them to die because of our fear of the possible ‘risks’ . This is nearing a “crime against humanity” say over one third of all living science Nobel Laureates in their recent letter. I don’t think they are being excessive in their complaint.

Two million children dead while we follow the precautionary principle. Yes, it is possible to be too careful.

Careful

Arguments, I’ve had a few.

Arguments, I’ve had a few.

via Daily Prompt: Argument

This is a topic with which I have become increasingly familiar in the last few years. Arguments; I seem to have more and more of them. I argue over more, and more diverse, topics with a larger number of people from a wider range of walks of life. Why has this happened ?

I don’t fit the stereotype that people seem keen to apply to me. As I am affluent,  middle-class and well educated to post-doctorate level I am presumed to be a “EU remainer“. With a hostiry of  more than 30 years working as a doctor in the NHS it is presumed that I will idolise the “NHS as the best in the world“. Since people know I am concerned about the threat of global warming I am presumed to be “anti-nuclear power and fracking.” Being strongly opposed to racism and bigotry I’m presumed to agree with other peoples’ plans to “no platform” people who preach hate and division. As a celt, a Scot living in Wales, it’s anticipated that I will hold anti-imperialist “anti-English” feelings. As a smallholder, keen on animal welfare and food quality people will start discussions with the presumption that I will be “opposed to GM crops” and keen on “organic farming“.

As I no longer hold with these positions there are often grounds for discussion. For example, friends know I used to hold that the NHS was the best way possible to deliver healthcare and are surprised, and disappointed, that I no longer do. Arguments arise as they try to return me to the fold. In many of these topics I used to hold the clichéd position but with age and wisdom I have changed. When I was younger there was a great efficiency, and security, in toeing the party line.

As a boy and a young man I needed a substitute for maturity and experience and I borrowed the wisdom of others. If Marx, Trotsky or their subsequent disciples  had said something, that was good enough for me. There were papers each week to ensure I knew what ‘the position‘ was on all areas. Socialist Worker made sure I knew what to think on matters domestic and foreign. Life was easy, I knew what was right and what was wrong. I needed to do little thinking as other had done all the hard work for me. It was largely the case that all I needed to do was to check what the ‘line’ was on the issue and off I went.

I had very few arguments and most of these were unimportant. If people held a contrary opinion to ours then they were wrong. They had not developed the appropriate consciousness to realise the correct position thus they failed to see the truth of our statements. It meant it mattered little if I lost an argument as the other position had obviously been held by a class enemy or someone duped by one. It also meant I never learnt from arguments as I didn’t try to understand the other position I simply tried to counter it, to prove it wrong and to reassure myself that my beliefs were correct and intact.

As we are the sum of our thoughts, ideas, passions and feelings, as an adolescent there is an allure of an off the shelf identity. Not only did this substitute for a lack of knowledge and experience it also gave a sense of belonging. In early adulthood, having left one family and not yet started another, political groups can be an important source of society and support. The political tribes probably perform the same function to many as the music tribes (are you a goth, a punk, emo, or indie ?) or gangs (which team do you support ?) at that time. Unfortunately though, it is worse than that. With musical tribes, for example, one only has to wear foolish clothes and profess a liking for the occasional mediocre track by your hero. In political tribes your entire world view is bend into shape.

Just like off the shelf clothing, after a while I realized my off the shelf character didn’t fit.As I amassed knowledge I started to realise that certain belief that I thought were based on fact were, in fact, based on error (or occasionally worse – falsehood).As I became more experienced I became aware that my personal experience did not accord with what I had professed to believe; life was much more complex than the black and white pictures I had been shown. As a doctor working in the NHS it was hard to square the idea of mediocre service I saw with the “envy of the world” I professed it to be.

As I grew older I became more confident and able to trust my own feelings and opinions and able to question my own beliefs. This led me to having more arguments not only with others but with myself also. What happened in these debates also mattered now, as it they werea  way to become clear on what my true beliefs and opinions actually are. Arguments became a source of learning not simply an opportunity to proselytise. They became a way to examine my life and live it rather then borrowing the character of others and acting out their lives.

Many of the ideas I had as a young man stay with me. I still hold basic principles such as freedom of speech and association. I still passionately reject unfair discrimination, such as racism or bigotry. I still oppose war and fear for our planet’s future. But these ideas and all others are up for argument. Hopefully as I continue to grow I’ll continue to change and I anticipate arguments will be the best tool to ensure this. I wish I’d started earlier but better late than never.

 

 

 

Argument