Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel ?

Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel ?

It now appears that Charlie Gard and his parents have lost their war. It seems that Charlie will die over the next few days and that his parents have decided that all hope of any improvement is lost. All they now seek is to ensure that their son dies with dignity and compassion.

They gave up their commendable battle when they realised it was now, after all the delays, too late to meaningfully help their son. They faced enormous challenges and met them with dignity and were, without any dubiety, an example to many of the power of parental love. The showed a steadfastness that was remarkable and kept on despite many difficulties.

In the last week there was a campaign mounted against them which is likely to have originated  from GOSH’s legal team. Articles appeared in the British press praising at the medical and nursing staff suggesting that they were doing their best for the child and his parents could not wish for better advocates for their baby.

It was then suggested that the staff had been intimidated by online harassment and threats. This is a common strategy by those under pressure as it has the two fold action of both stifling criticism and also suggesting that those on the other side of the debate are associated with violent thuggery. This was especially unpleasant as throughout this dreadful time Charlie’s parents remained dignified and reserved. They never called the motives of the staff caring for their child into question and said no bad things about them.

Charlie Gard will not see his first birthday. But in his short life he will hopefully have opened many peoples’ eyes to the dangers of giving away our freedoms to authorities who tell us that they will look after us. He and his parents will have achieved much more than most of us, they are modern heroes. Heroes don’t need to win their battles they just have to be heroic. Heroes are heroic not because they win but because they fought.

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Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

The Daily Prompt today was “resist”  and initially I was going to give this one a miss. However, the worry that many people have about the changes in America under President Trump is causing much discussion on issues of resistance.  However, much of this initial resistance seemed very unfocussed and, at times, even anti-democratic. It almost seemed that people wanted to oppose the democratic result itself – a wail against the result – rather then looking at specific political points that need to be addressed and, trust me, there is no shortage of these issues.

Spiked, the online magazine has been a valuable source of good critical political debate and I thought that this article by them gave a good summary of where some of this activity could be directed. There are clear good initial pointers to action. There are also some good general points about the political changes.

In particular, we need to be very careful about the direction of “anti-politics”, as the article reveals, this can be very dangerous :-

Trump … “Your pose as the anti-politician, the man who hates the political class, is getting wearisome. It has crossed the line from criticism of he establishment, which is good, into a trashing of politics itself, of the very business of people getting together and talking and voting in order to make things happen. When will your anti-politics shift into a conviction that you alone should decide how things should be run? That’s the logical conclusion to anti-politics, whether it takes the form of demagoguery (you) or technocracy (Hillary).”

Spiked also makes a direct call to Trump :-

“In short, Trump, do not interfere with individual autonomy, freedom of speech or reproductive choice; do not promote the politics of fear; do not keep fighting the disastrous ‘war on terror’; and do not expand the power of the state over people’s lives. Respect freedom and choice and trade and growth: true, good liberal ideals.”

Given, that I fear, it is likely he will reject this advice, the other pointers to practical  ways to resist him will prove invaluable.

 

via Daily Prompt: Resist

Please don’t wear your Poppy with pride

As Remembrance Day approaches in Britain red poppies have started to appear on the lapels of all those who appear on television and at the same time an argument has started with FIFA over the right of footballers to wear poppies on the outfits during international matches. _92205469_sun.pngThis is a slight change from the usual annual argument which normally occurs when someone apparently ‘fails’ to wear a poppy and is publicly berated for their lack of sensitivity. This is the usual hyperbole that we accustomed to each year – “How dare they not wear the poppy?“. This year there has been a slight twist, as the focus has been  FIFA and hyperbolic anger at its decision to classify the red poppy as a political badge (and thus not permissible on the playing field). So the call this year is  “How dare they stop them wearing their poppy ?”.

This argument has even involved the Prime Minister who insists, like the newspapers, that “people should be able to wear their poppies with pride”. There has been a tinge of  indignation that a body, as corrupt as FIFA, has dared lecture us on morality.

My concern, however, is the idea that we should wear our poppies with pride. I do not feel that this in the spirit of remembrance. The function of the poppy is twofold. Firstly to pay respects to those in British uniforms who died in war,  and secondly to collect money to help the lot of those disabled while in military service or those left bereft following the loss of their loved onbuy-your-poppy-and-wear-it-with-pridee. Both of these aims are laudable and no-one would wish to do other than promote them.

However, none of this necessitates feeling of pride. None of it needs to be associated with promotion of the military or the nation. Indeed, hopefully  most people during their one minute’s silence will be pondering on how to prevent future war and loss of life. Certainly not feeling any sense of military or national glory.  Pride is the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure we have about past actions or skills. There are few times we could extend this to include the death or maiming of soldiers. There has always been a sad irony that the poppy appeal has its origin with Earl Haig who was responsible for sending so many young men to their death (earning the  sobriquet “Butcher Haig” as a result.) A modern day irony is to watch politicians with their red poppied lapels promoting new fresh wars in the Middle East or seeing  British businessmen sporting their poppies as they sell new weapons to enable the ongoing slaughter in Yemen or elsewhere.

The Red Poppy appeal is limited in its concern to those in the British Military forces. It does not concern those who died wearing other countries uniforms nor those civilians who died as a consequence of war. There is no special place for some dead over the others. The German soldier did his duty equally, the  dead farmer’s family are just as bereft.

We need to remember everyone who died as a consequence of all wars and think how we can make war less likely. Therefore, if you wear your poppy wear it with sadness, wear it with regret, wear it with anger,  or wear it with hope for a better future. But please, do not wear it with pride. Pride, and national pride in particular, is often at the root of war and surely  we do not need to see any more people die before we learn our lesson.

Peace.

via Daily Prompt: Hyperbole

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).

Let’s stop genital manipulation.

Let’s stop genital manipulation.

Figure published this week (1) reveals that in the UK 2491 cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) occurred last year between April and September in the United Kingdom. This is far too many and a report which speaks to unnecessary pain, distress and possible future disability. I applaud all those who try and stop this barbarism to young girls.

This is a major moral problem as it lets us know that the rights of children are being ignored. They are being mutilated without their consent and any benefit (religious observance, cultural tradition) accrues to the person organizing it, not to the child. Indeed, for the child, it can only be anticipated to be a negative event in their life. Children are not the property of their parents, they have their inalienable rights, like all people. The only difference in the situation of a child is that, in addition to rights,  their  parents also have a duty  (which they contracted to when they decided to make the child) to take care of the child until it is emancipated.

The child’s rights are largely negative, as with all of us, and are predominately the right not to be subject to aggression or violence. It is the parent’s duty to safeguard this right. Genital mutilation, cutting the child for the benefits of the parent, breaches ths duty of care and infringes the child’s rights.

From a libertarian perspective this moral problem is easy to resolve. Genital mutilation should stop and any parent who perpetrates this on their children is not adequately fulfilling their duty of care and someone else should consider taking this role.

However, it is a moral problem, not a gender problem. This is not an issue of gender rights. To see this as a gender issue blinds us to the many young boys who suffer the same fate. In the UK about 12,200 male circumcisions are done annually. This is not a minor procedure as often portrayed. About 3% of babies have some complication following the procedure, lower rates of infection are reported in around 1 in 50 cases (2) and each year about 100 boys die in the USA following circumcision (3). The long term sequeleae are also important with significant rates of psycho-sexual dysfunction  being recorded.

People often believe that their are health benefits from circumcision in males. Research has not shown this to be the case (4)

People often think the reasons that FGM is done is particularly related to curbing female sexuality. This is wrong. Male mutilation developed from the same drives to curb sexual drive and masturbation. Dr Kellog (5), of the breakfast cereal fame, wrote

“A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment… In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement”

So lets see this as a moral question. Lets fight to push FGM into the history books where it should remain, but let us not forget our sons while we protect our daughters and let us stop male genital manipulation at the same time.

Boy or girl it is the same crime.

 

 

(1) Sky News – FGM case reported every 109 minutes in England

(2) Boyle GJ, Svoboda JS, Price CP, Turner JN. Circumcision of Healthy Boys: Criminal Assault? J Law Med. 2000;7:301–10.

(3) Bollinger, D. “Lost Boys: An Estimate of U.S. Circumcision-Related Infant Deaths,” Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies Volume 4, Number 1 (2010).

(4) Intact America

(5) Narvaez D. Circumcision: Social, Sexual, Psychological Realities. Psychology Today. 2011 September 18.