Free Speech is something that is seriously misunderstood, largely I suspect, because of people who use free speech arguments to justify their abuse of free speech. Free speech is fundamental to the US constitution, and it is often attributed to Voltaire, that he had said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Throughout most of the 20th century, this was widely believed to be an accurate quote, but in what is almost an irony, the creation of the internet has led to people being better informed, and it is now widely known that this is a mis-attribution, due to carelessly used punctuation in a book called ‘The Friends of Voltaire’, written in 1906 by Evelyn Beatrice Hall. She is even recorded having written elsewhere that it was a sentence of her own creation. What Voltaire himself had said was with regard to a book by the philosopher Helvetius, ‘De L’esprit’, which was publicly incinerated following condemnation by the College of Sorbonne, and the Parliament of Paris. According to Hall, Voltaire’s actual words were,‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ This is largely well known now, and can be found, explained in fuller detail on the quote investigator website.
The phrase ‘What a fuss about an omelette!’, is certainly less evocative. Without the bit about defending to the death it doesn’t come across as such a fervently held belief that someone might include it in any kind of constitutional rule. It certainly appears from this information, that Voltaire merely considered the matter to be below the threshold at which a person can justifiably become angry about something that someone has said. The use of ‘omelette’ as a metaphor implies that there are uses of free speech that surpass ‘omelettes’. If this book burning was a fuss about an omelette, then there must be other metaphors for other uses and abuses of free speech.
‘De L’esprit’ was a book concerning the nature of mind. If that as taken as the starting point and evokes comparisons to an omelette, then presumably a less contentious issue, such as the best time to harvest crops, might be a fuss over spilt milk; and a more contentious issue, such as explicit criticism of a nation’s dictator, might be a fuss over burning an entire dinner for a large gathering. In any case, the metaphor does imply the existence of other metaphors, because Voltaire appears to have been considering the fuss on a relative basis. For a better understanding it would probably be best to go directly to Hall’s book, though given the confusion her mistake has made, perhaps that is not the best of sources on the opinions of Voltaire.
The three examples given in the last passage all share one thing in common. They are all usually based in some form of subjectivity; they are all things about which people may have varying opinions. In those sort of circumstances there is a strong value to free speech, in that people cannot be forced to hold different opinions. Even if they keep quiet about them, they are still their own opinions, a part of their own psychological make up, and something that should not be forced out by someone else’s opinion. There are many instances in which free speech is abused, not to share opinions and ideas, but in ways that are clearly abuses. The jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes is widely quoted for his example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theatre, which would clearly be an abuse of free speech with potentially harmful results. The statement was obiter dictum, meaning it creates no binding legal precedent, in the case U.S. v Schenck, which was later overturned. An excellently researched and detailed explanation is given by Trevor Timm, who works on free speech and government transparency with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The article can be read in full on The Atlantic website; I advise reading it because it gives an alternate viewpoint to my own. However I might add, that Timm’s conclusions show a poor understanding, clearly based on the ideological stance his career has developed around him.
The problem with what Timm says is that he states that the idea one shouldn’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded movie theatre, is something that people should stop spreading around, because, although it was stated in a court case, by one of America’s finest legal minds, it is not relevant because it was merely obiter dictum, and because the court case was overturned. I am in agreement with Timm that the decision in the case was a bad one, and it was correct to overturn it; I also agree that the statement was merely obiter dictum, but I do not agree that puts it in a position of irrelevance. Whilst it certainly did not create binding law in a court case, it is still clearly correct. Later in the article Timm speaks about an incident involving the free speech discussion, in which the damaging speech was caught by more informed observers, and any likely damage was prevented. This was then followed by the resignation of the original disseminator of the false information. Timm seems to be saying that because everything worked out ok in that one instance, this is evidence that speech does not need to be restricted, regardless of any sensible person having no difficulty in seeing that a great many people could crush each other in a crowded movie theatre, before anyone could discover that there was no fire in the building.
Another misunderstanding in the article is that Timm quotes Gabe Rottman’s statement regarding Wendell Holme’s assertion, that it’s “worse than useless in defining the boundaries of constitutional speech. When used metaphorically, it can be deployed against any unpopular speech.” Gabe Rottman is legislative counsel at the ACLU Washington legislative office. As such he will also have an agenda to further the protection of free speech; however, in this particular statement, he is correct. Wendell Holme’s “Fire!” example is worse that useless in defining any boundaries. Boundaries, by their very nature, must logically surround the thing for which they act as boundaries. The example of shouting ‘Fire!’ cannot do this, because it is only one example. If it defined the boundary of going beyond allowable free speech, then what relevance would it have for instances that are completely unrecognisable as having any relationship to shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theatre? What if the theatre was completely open air on a sunny afternoon where it would be obvious what the nature of the alarm was? What if the theatre was a beach theatre, where all the chairs were floating in the sea? This might be a rather silly example, but it is not beyond the bounds of reason. Though if you do decide to set up a beach cinema with floating seats, then I hope you remember where you got the idea, and hopefully offer me some free tickets.
So Rottman is correct that the example is worse than useless for defining limits to free speech; and it is a statement that has been used against unpopular speech. His entire opinion can be read on the ACLU website. Rottman explains the ruling of the currently standing rule on free speech in the American court system, Brandenburg, which is in contrast to the Schenck case. “The court held that, to be unprotected “incitement,” speech must meet three requirements. The speaker must intend to cause violence. The violence must be the likely result of the speech. And the violence must be imminent.” Helpfully he also gives a source for this sentiment in the shape of John Stuart Mill who pointed out that while it is acceptable to say that corn sellers are starving the poor, if you say it to a mob carrying pitchforks and flaming torches outside a corn seller’s home, then it is no longer acceptable. Of course there are going to be confusing distinctions that can be made here as well.
What is meant by ‘intention’ for a start? This might seem obvious to an ordinary person, but we are in the world of legal cases here, and things are not as obvious as they are in daily life, because they need to cover all eventualities. Law deals with intention, recklessness, and negligence. In real life intention is simply what a person wants, or intends to the result to be; in law it also covers whether a person makes the statement whilst not caring one way or another about the result, or makes the statement thinking that it probably will cause that result, but says it anyway, even though they are not deliberately aiming for that result. Perhaps they are just ‘intending’ to make a bit of money for a public speaking engagement outside a corn seller’s home. They walk away counting their money, while the mob is watching pop corn pouring out of the window of the burning house.
Whether the result of the free speech is ‘likely’ to be caused, is another complicated question. In whose eyes must it be likely. I might think “Well, obviously what was going to happen.” but the person expressing themselves might have no idea whatsoever. The person expressing themselves might have fully known that the result was not just likely but inevitable, while the court might not even piece together the links themselves. Or the court might think it is likely, and nobody else can fathom the depths of their thought processes. I am sure the law will have a particular subject in mind. In England, the example of the relevant observer is often the average man on the Clapham omnibus, though in some cases, such as those concerning company directors’ actions, the subject becomes the average company director in that particular industry. An interesting difference of opinion on likelihood might well arise when comparing the likelihood as considered by a shop assistant, compared to the likelihood as considered by a chess grandmaster, who is used to thinking about multiple possibilities, far in advance.
Whether the violence is imminent or not is also not that clear cut. It might have seemed obvious in the days of John Stuart Mill. It may have also seemed obvious in the days of the Brandenburg case. But both those instances predate the world wide web. If someone said something inflammatory in a newspaper, or a pub in those days, it has a different quality to someone speaking in real time on a streaming platform. In that instance a listener might even send a message to the person, and enter into a conversation with them, whilst simultaneously sharpening the prongs on his pitchfork before heading to the house of the corn seller who lives next door to him. Naturally this would not be known to the speaker, but it still muddies the waters in any philosophical consideration of the validity of rules regarding free speech.
This brings me to my main point of contention with the example of Voltaire. Even if he had made the statement attributed to him rather than fluffing some statement about omelettes, it would be impossible for him to consider the implications of untrammelled free speech in the age of the internet. If a person is going to defend anything that is done on the internet, then they are going to need to know what the internet is. To Voltaire the limits of a person’s utterances might have been a rather thinly distributed book that few people would read. I daresay a book with the title “De L’esprit” would not even be a particularly good seller nowadays, in the era when almost everyone can read, and it can easily be translated into multiple languages. Voltaire would probably never have imagined that one day almost everyone would be able to turn on their computer, and instantly be reading quotes that are misattributed as being by him.
And this brings me to my second point of contention with ideological free speech. It makes no distinction between truth and lies. This is particularly pertinent today as the political classes and businesses are putting huge amounts of effort into misleading us and lying to us. Only a few short years ago businesses and politicians were quite cautious about how they lied to us. Now though, politicians have realised that when they only need to fool enough people to stay in power, they can tell complete lies as long as they know that they can fool the ones whose votes they need. It is no longer relevant that their lies are transparent to other people. Truth is no longer absolute, truth is now democratic. Businesses do not have it as easy as the politicians do. They are still subject to rules regarding false advertising, and misleading statements in making contracts. However they are still cunning enough to get away with a lot. An example that springs to mind is the ‘unlimited data’ that was advertised on internet services. This had a number of definitions in contractual small print, but none of them correlated with the actual dictionary definition of ‘unlimited’ as understood by ordinary people. Disturbingly the skewed definitions of ‘unlimited’ all stand up when considered by the law. Though it must be remembered that false advertising, and misleading statements in contracts are still things that are legislated against, so telling people that buying a ferrari from your company will definitely mean you will pick up a hot chick tonight, should theoretically not be allowed. That is a poor example because a complaint would be defended against by pointing out that this is just the sort of thing people say in adverts, and everyone knows not to take it seriously.
The problem is that some people do take things seriously. It is not even as though them taking it seriously doesn’t have a larger social impact. When enough individuals take something seriously, when it is all a pack of lies, designed to influence them, they make political decisions based upon their newfound understanding, or belief. Thus politicians get elected on the basis of things that have clearly not been done, or are not going to be done. If a candidate took you to one side and told you that the previous incumbent had broken into your house and stolen all your spoons, and that by contrast he would not only get you a new set of spoons, but he would also do all your washing up every day while he is in office, that might incline you to vote for him if you believed it. If he convinced everyone, then he would get into power, but he couldn’t do everyone’s washing up. Note even if he had a dishwasher. Once again this is an extreme example, but this is what is now happening at elections. Politicians no longer put forward examples of their intentions during their time in office. While they purport to be doing so, it certainly seems in many instances that they are often simply saying things that no reasonable person, including themselves would ever believe, as long as that reasonable person was in possession of the facts at any rate. However, when the facts have been democratised there is no way of saying what they are. Free speech and democracy are sacrosanct, so if a vote is taken that 2+2=5 then that is it, in many people’s logical framework’s, that is now a fact. This might seem absurd, but only to someone who can do basic maths. If a person does not know how to add 2 and 2, then they do not know that the sum is 4.
This is where things currently stand. Newspapers do not make money out of telling the truth; they make money out of getting readers, which they do by any means they can, which includes telling lies. When I was a kid there was one newspaper in Britain that reported a double decker bus that had been seen on the moon. A lot of people easily saw that as a lie, but some believed it. Most newspapers aren’t as blatant as that, but they do nevertheless mislead people in order to influence their actions.
A great many people in the English speaking world will know exactly what I am talking about. In Britain in particular people should be even more aware, as it has been demonstrated that we have one of the most distorted and biased press systems in the first world. Worryingly a great many people will have no idea whatsoever what I am talking about. They will not realise that they are being lied to. A great many people might think that most of the lies are just mistakes, or that most of them are actually true. A great many of these people will be using the misattribution of Voltaire to defend their right to be lied to. They will be using it because they know that Voltaire knew exactly what he was talking about with regard to freedom of information in the internet era. The will know this, because they have been misinformed, and they have been lied to.
While it might sound as though I am proposing something radical by speaking out against free speech, I must be clear that there are very solid limitations on the measures I think need to be taken. There are already a great many limits, when you consider that free speech is also referred to as free expression. Child pornography is banned everywhere; any pornography is banned from being shown to children. Worryingly, Timm and Rottman give the impression that there is legal precedent that shouting “Fire!” in crowded movie theatres is currently legal in America. This however, it just an impression, though I don’t know for certain that there are any explicit rules against it. Expressing yourself by shouting out that the end is nigh, at three o’clock in the morning outside your neighbour’s house is also something that is limited by the law. There are already limits. I just propose that things that are demonstrably untrue should be outlawed.
I am not talking about things like climate change. While most scientists agree that climate change is real, and most of them agree it is anthropogenic, there are still some who disagree; so climate change is something that can’t be asserted as being factual, even if it is. A great many conspiracy theories are more tricky to deal with. Most people know the Earth is not flat, but a surprisingly large number of people still think it is. The problem arises where the question is asked, whether we only think it is not flat because we have been fed misinformation. Of course that is not true; it isn’t flat, but some of the other conspiracy theories are not so easily dismissed, nor so wholly irrelevant to anything that is likely to have an impact on your life. Regardless of how easy it is to prove the Earth isn’t flat, it is not really going to affect us if a lot of people think it is; just so long as they aren’t working at NASA or somewhere like that.
As the impact on our daily lives increase, the necessity to prevent damaging beliefs also increases. In America the belief that Trump is a man of the people, who is working hard to protect ordinary working class people from the elites is something that is seriously affecting the political landscape. If it is true then that is ok. If on the other hand we have been lied to, and he is actually a corrupt and stupid billionaire who is out for his own best interests and his ego, than that would be a different matter. Likewise in England, the belief that a trio of incompetent plonkers who want to leave Europe, might have enough financial control that they can redirect billions of pounds into the health service, might lead trusting people to vote for a future that the incompetent plonkers cannot even understand themselves because they are so economically illiterate. However, if they aren’t incompetent plonkers then perhaps they have convinced the people to do the best thing for the nation (Although I did write this with a straight face, I assure you, that face was metaphorically in my palm). In Britain the major problem is that whether the plonkers are incompetent or not, their promises of money for the NHS were demonstrably lies. They had no ability to divert that money, the money probably didn’t really exist to be diverted in real terms. They don’t even particularly give the impression that they even want to keep the NHS in existence, let alone give it any money to help it. They are subject to a potential pending court case at present for their lies, but the fact is that this sort of thing should not have happened in the first place.
There are clearly balances that need to be made. There is a world of difference between some bloke down the pub saying he think that the Prime Minister is planning to give money to the health service, and the Prime Minister appearing on live television to announce her plan to give money to the health service after her re-election. Likewise there is a huge difference between some idiot writing a blog (this isn’t self referential), and a major newspaper with a circulation of millions writing a front page that tells the readership the Polish are stealing all their jobs and they should be sent back where they came from. Free speech should be something that is is free because it is valuable and respected. When it is clearly being used to lie to the public for devious and Machiavellian ends, it should not be anywhere near as free. In fact it should be incredibly costly for anyone who seeks to subvert our political institutions, our laws, and our society.
What do you think you are doing TM?
In the commons, Thatcher’s den.
That ancient seat in halls of power;
The island with its gothic tower
Where sits the bell that chimed the hour.
Now silent, its a dark omen
How long until it rings again?
So many British people cower;
Your Brexit deal’s turning sour;
Your government’s a hopeless shower.
Why did you want to be PM?
Ordering our union’s end
Do you think you’re doing well?
As this country turns to hell.
Don’t you hear the death knell
That rings out from the silent Bell?
Would you do it all again
within the silence of Big Ben?
Or can it be you do not feel,
that you are creating a deal
to impact on the common weal?
The bell above you will not peel
a joyful call to all Britain,
telling all the voting public when
we’ll tell the union goodbye.
Though most of us still can’t see why
our leader’s too weak to defy
the dwindling group who want an end
But have not planned what to do then.
They’d rather see our country die,
And gladly accept any lie,
Out of the papers that they buy.
Westminster rose out of a fen;
In spirit it sinks there again,
but this time dragging us all down;
Every county, every town,
Into the dark wet murky brown.
We, Britain, and the people drown.
Brexit, the pressing issue that is currently dividing a large amount of the British public actually has a solution available to the remain side that does not seem to have been considered by many people. A point of disclosure that you should know if you are not already aware is that I would very much prefer to remain in the EU. Having said that, this post is not intended to rehash the reasons why Brexit is a bad idea. The news does an adequate job of highlighting that every day, plus there is no shortage of academic study on the likely effects to the economy. I am even willing to concede there may be some advantages to Brexit and that Brexit could be potentially be handled in such a way that some of my chief concerns might be dealt with in a manner that will make me feel a lot better about the whole thing.
Having said that, I still remain a committed europhile and find it hard to believe that it has come to the point that the government is happily accepting a flawed referendum in order to justify continuing the Brexit process despite the serious lack of support they received in the general election.
Personally I believe there must be some machiavellian thinking within the inner depths of whitehall, and the plan is to avoid leaving the EU altogether. As it is the place of the government to protect the British public and to run the country in an effective manner, maintaining our world position it should be self evident that the government would not allow us to make such a disastrous decision to throw away our considerable influence in the EU when it gives us no advantages. Of course it is possible that the seat of power is occupied by people who do not have the wit to understand their duties, but despite the appearance that this is the case we much hold out hope that they do know what they are doing, or that they have the wisdom to realise they need to find a solution to the evident disaster that we are currently being pulled into as surely as a comet that has been caught in the gravity of a black hole.
The question is, how could the government pull themselves away from this course of action. If the country was run by Angela Merckel then the likelihood is that she would have been advised long ago of the deleterious effects of this course of action; she would have accepted this, and she would have backed out. That does not seem to be a problem for Merckel. In Britain there is a different culture though. As we have the disadvantage of the massive direct and indirect influence of the Murdoch press, politicians are very wary of u-turns, or flip flops, or whatever term is currently being bandied about the media. In Britain realising your are wrong and changing direction is not an option. In Britain if you realise you are wrong then the main option that a politician will choose is to plough on ahead anyway and hope that something will turn up. We are governed by a bunch of optimistic political Micawbers. Clearly as nobody is always right, even myself, this attitude of ignoring the fact that as mistake has been made, will, not may, but will occasionally lead to a great deal of problems that are only justified on the childish notion of saving face.
So the solution to the entire Brexit problem is a case of saving face. At this point our government is not able to make a u-turn. This may be something that is not understood on the continent. It may be possible that the culture there does not realise there is a British tendency to continue forwards and never say die. If there is this lack of insight on the part of the EU combined with the unfortunate fallacy of British superiority then we are looking very much at a situation that appears to be an unstoppable force meeting an unmoveable barrier.
There is a way out of this though, which is why I hope that there is a machiavellian scheme being developed by the government. That should be the way in which politics is conducted so my fingers are crossed that they do realise this. In order to prevent our country from falling into the disastrous situation that appears to be ahead of us it will be necessary to win the support of those who object to remaining in the EU. There are certainly flaws with the way the EU is run and the leavers are right to realise this. Before the referendum Yannis Varoufakis made regular appearances in the media arguing that we should remain in the EU so that we could force the implementation of changes to create a better system. It is not only the British leavers who think the union has problems, it is a feeling that runs throughout the EU. If it wasn’t for the example of economic disaster and political incompetence we are displaying to the rest of the EU it is probable that political actors such as Marine le Pen might have achieved power and be moving their countries towards leaving the union as well. Our example has created a fear that has led the European leave contingent to rapidly lose the impetus they were developing.
The only way the leavers are likely to be swayed enough to give a reason for Britain to remain part of the union is if the union fixes a sufficient number of its problems that it becomes something very different to what we voted to leave. If a family voted to leave a house because it was too small, their reason would disappear if a large extension was built that expanded the size of the house. In that instance it would make sense to stay in the house, it would no longer be too small. Similarly if the EU changed so that the impression was created that we would be leaving something other than the entity we voted to leave then there would certainly be a justification to think again about whether it was what we really wanted.
Some of the problems that people worry about are easily resolved without having to make changes to the way the EU works. Immigration was a factor that bothered a lot of people. We already know that immigration can be seriously limited under the rules as they currently stand. The home office simply needs to implement those rules. Another problem that people disliked was the notion of losing control to the European Court of Justice, This was never a serious issue as the court is basically only advisory and has little more authority than it would still maintain even if we were to leave the union. A simple change in perspective will solve a lot of the problems that led to the choice of many leave voters. However aside from internally solving the problems that we are able to change there is still the issue of saving face and avoiding the accusation of having made a u-turn.
At present though, we are in a unique position that we actually have a massive amount of leverage to create positive change within the union. In the past when prime ministers have tried to negotiate to create a more favourable relationship with the EU their main motivation has been simple to get something for Britain from the EU. That would all be very well for Britain but it has quite clearly failed to impress the British voters and it has earned us a reputation throughout Europe as being quite frankly, a little annoying and entitled. Despite this the EU does actually wish to maintain our membership. The EU is weakened by the loss of a principle member state. Their loss will of course be nowhere near as disastrous as our own loss, and they also have to appear to not surrender to our demands. If they do then there are another two dozen or so nations that might also start kicking up a fuss.
Both parties recognise that they will both lose out from Brexit but on our side, we can’t back out and on their side they can’t give in. The only solution we have that is acceptable to both sides is that Britain should use its leverage to achieve change that will benefit the EU as a whole. In the past we have used less leverage and achieved small successes for selfish purposes. If we instead focus on solving European problems that are recognisable to other nations, the sort of things that are highlighted by Yannis Varoufakis then the British public will be given the impression that we have achieved a great victory. We will be part of a union that Britain has shaped to be something better than the union we voted to leave. The EU will also not have lost face because the changes that are implemented will have benefitted the union as a whole. They will probably be changes that would have been made anyway in time, so all we will have done is helped to push them through more quickly. The important things are that the EU will not have been made to look as though it has lost in front of its member nations, so there will be less likelihood of others threatening to leave in order to make selfish gains; and that Britain will have succeeded in achieving positive changes that will make the government look powerful and clever in front of the voter base. I may be a labour supporter but I must admit that such a victory by the conservatives would be a disaster for labour and would probably lead to the government actually looking like they know what they are doing, and may well secure the conservatives a second term, particularly if they are able to pull off the trick towards the end of an extended Brexit negotiation.
I am convinced that there are a number of rules that are able to be used in multiple different fields to explain things and to aid in making the right choices. I don’t plan on going into all of them now because I haven’t tried to put together an exhaustive list; I have simply noticed them coming up again and again in life. The one I have noticed is particularly relevant to current events for the last year or so is the rule that strength is found in diversity.
If you are growing a crop, or indeed any kind of garden you may not realise it but the ability of your garden to thrive will be greatly increased by diversifying the plants that you wish to grow. If you have a solid block with only one type of plant in it you will find that as soon as a pest realises how tasty that plant is there will be nothing there to distract that pest. You have made a nice big clear patch of tasty food that is going to attract creatures who will swarm across that area and finish off the whole lot unless you employ all sorts of unpleasant methods to get rid of them.
If you instead have a patch that mixes up a load of different plants then your garden becomes stronger for it. Spurges will deter things that move through the soil, lavender deters many flying pests, nettles make an attractive meal for creatures that might otherwise go for your brassicas. Simply having any plants there can act as a hiding spot for your plants so that pests don’t even realise they are there. Beyond pests bare soil allows water to evaporate off into the air while plant cover can keep the water in so that your other plants can benefit. Even amongst those farmers who do grow a single crop on a piece of land to all exclusion of other plants it is well known that over a four year period diversification in the form of a rotation system keeps the soil healthier.
The rule pops up again in regard to pets. If you have a pure bred dog then you can take it to dog shows and it will look beautiful, etc, but any dog breeder knows that pure breeds have disadvantages that mongrels don’t have. Any faults in a breed are accentuated by being bred into a breed over successive generations. A common complaint in a lot of dogs I have known is weak hind legs, and shortened lifespan. Dogs that have a diverse range of DNA derive greater strength from it. That is a central principle of evolution.
Greater diversity in DNA leads to all sorts of advantages as we take the strengths of both of our parents and hopefully leave the weaknesses. That is why we don’t marry our brothers and sisters. It is not because they are so annoying, it is because their genes are too similar to ours. Without diversity we risk the danger of unpleasant results in our children.
The rule is also clear in investment. If you have invested all your money in housing then a drop in house prices is an utter disaster. If instead you have invested partly in housing, partly in bonds, partly in stocks, partly in antiques, and partly in private business adventures then a loss in any of those areas, while unfortunate is not going to irreparably damage your finances. That diversity is your strength; that is what keeps you afloat in the midst of disaster.
In the running of a business there are also similar advantages of diversity. When building a team for a project you want to have all skill sets represented in order to be able to get the best results. You need people who are good at leading, but if you had nothing but leaders your team would see a lot of conflicts, you also need people who are good at following. You need people who are good at coming up with ideas, but you also need people who are good at putting those ideas into actions. You need people who can get a lot of work done quickly, but you will also need people who are good at ensuring fine details get the attention they need. All these qualities are unlikely to exist in the same person so you need the diversity offered by many different people in order to form the strongest team.
If I racked my brains I could probably come up with many examples of diversity being a form of strength in many different situations. That would detract from the central message I want to get across. The problem today is that people do not realise how important the strength of diversity is. In America over the last few days we have had neo-nazis marching against the diversity that comes from different races sharing a common land. In Britain we are living through the extended process of Brexit because people think that being part of a community of like minded nations makes us weaker instead of stronger.
Personally I support remaining in the EU, but that is because I recognise that diversity gives strength rather than weakens us. There are certainly flaws in the system but those are things to be fixed. Thanks to the diversity of the EU nations it is unlikely that issues will remain unfixed; anything that favours one nation or group above the others will find opposition from the nations it doesn’t favour. If you want to see what comes from losing that diversity then the economic losses being seen in Britain at present are a good place to start looking.
I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, but I have books on history, sociology, biology, etc, etc. I have too many books to be able to read them all to tell the truth. Those books allow me to see what has been and what currently is. From seeing how things have worked in the past it gives a reasonable impression of what is likely to happen in the future. Where we lose diversity we create gaps in our defences. We need to fill those gaps in order to strengthen ourselves; we can’t build a wall with only bricks, we need mortar as well.
Thankfully there are people fighting to create greater diversity. We have more women becoming politicians, or judges, we have young black women making strides in entering universities like Cambridge which were once homogenous groups of white males. However wherever there are people trying to increase diversity there is also opposition. People need to realise that increasing diversity doesn’t just benefit those new elements that we allow into our societies and groups; increasing diversity benefits all of us. Even when it appears to give individuals disadvantages they didn’t previously have, it also gives those individuals a stronger environment in which to live. It increases competition and makes their world a better place because of that strength.
When you think about it on a mathematical and a psychological level karma must exist. Psychologically we all maintain an approximate balance so that we cannot be too happy or too miserable in perpetuity. This can be seen in the difference between people who live in first world nations and those who live in third world nations. Those of us who are blessed to have computers and electric, houses to live in, etc have different things to feel bad about, we can have bad days, we can even feel suicidal. Those who live with none of these benefits, no house, no electric, no food, etc can have good days; they find their joy elsewhere. If someone who is in a 1st world country will kill themselves out of misery then they obviously feel worse than someone in a third world country who is not miserable enough to kill themselves. The result of this internal balance which draws our feelings and sensations back towards a central stable area will mean that anyone who takes advantage of others for their own gain will achieve nothing because their experience will always pull back towards that central average.
It is similar in action to the way a drug user will gradually feel less joy at using their drug and will always want more an more. There is never any way in which a person can have more than others on an internal experiential level on any lasting basis. In fact there is also no way that a person can maintain an average feeling of sensation unless they are mentally damaged in some way because their experience will always be fluctuating either side of the central average or else the highs will have no lows to contrast against in order to be able to recognise the difference in them.
This psychological tendency to always aim for balance works in tandem with the mathematical tendency for numbers to always balance out. If you roll a dice millions of times you will ultimately find that any particular number will have approximately the same chance as any other number coming up. Life may be more complex than a six sided die but the same principle will apply. Over time things will have a tendency to average out. You may have a number of good days but you will also have a number of bad days in how fate tends to treat you. One day you will find a penny and on another day you will lose a penny. If you work harder you will earn more but if you work less hard you will earn less.
Most of the time this principle is very easy to see in action. The outliers are the problem in this theory. Human experience could be represented on a bell curve where most experience will be in the centre of the bell curve and at the edges there will be a few who seem remarkably lucky or remarkably unlucky. I have already pointed out that these outliers will have their experience drawn to a central stable set of feelings so the appearance of good luck or bad luck is merely an appearance as it seems to those viewing their experience from outside. The homeless person has advantages in some manners and, believe it or not, the wealthy person also has disadvantages. For instance, when you can afford anything you want instantly, then where is the joy of anticipation? You move from one purchase to another experiencing a fraction of the joy any of those purchases would give one of us. Likewise, if you are cold and wet then the sheer pleasure you can feel from the occasions when you step into the warm and put on dry clothes are unimagineable to someone who has never had that experience. So once again we see the action of the psychological manifestation of karma combining with chance to always see that balance is achieved.
When it happens that someone seems to experience misery or joy for longer than seems natural then it is usually because they have imposed that upon themselves. Someone who has done something bad to another person will often feel guilty about it and that sensation of guilt will force them to judge themselves badly, while someone who has brought joy to others will go away with a warm feeling of having done the right thing. This has been proven in experiments where people were given money and told to go out and spend it. At the end of the day their feelings of happiness were compared to the beginning of the day and it was discovered that those who had helped others with the money felt far more happiness than those who had spent it on themselves. This is probably an evolutionary mechanism that is inbuilt by the mutual protection we gain from living in groups above the danger that individuals would have felt if living alone in the wild. This nature of cooperation and sharing would have greatly facilitated communal living and seen reciprocaton from others, which of course is a far more obvious manifestation of karma achieving balance between individuals.
The obvious exception to this would be sociopaths who feel little compulsion to help others due to their limited empathy. Hoever even sociopaths have been shown to have emotions, although on a greatly reduced level, so even they will be able to feel unhappiness or happiness in response to their actions. Additionally the greatly diminished state of their emotional level could be considered by those who have a typical experience of joy to be a punishment in itself. Plus the sociopath will often have had to have been through a horrific experience to damage their mind in that way so the loss of emotion is once again a way in which the psyche tries to achieve the central balance and withdraw from the extreme of the horror that they have already experienced.
In essence it ultimately becomes impossible for anyone to ever experience any joy over and above their fellow humans, no matter how much they take advantage of them, but similarly as karma dictates, noone is able to experience more misery than their fellow beings. Balance will always be achieved in the end.
However I am certain that everyone reading this will be uncertain about this conclusion. Everyone knows of somebody, or is somebody who has suffered a terrible life changing incident that has greatly reduced their overal happiness. There is certainly evidence that such circumstances can impact upon a person’s ability to feel happiness in their lives. Regardless of what conclusions you draw from this evidence there still may be a way for karma to redeem itself, but to do so the conversation must pass into areas that are somewhat more philosophical. In religion the problem is easily dealt with through reincarnation or the afterlife. There are certain harshnesses to the idea of hell and heaven but karma is more likely to be associated with reincarnation.
I am not going to step into discussion of contiuity from one life to another but I will propose that in the event of reincarnation, if it does indeed exist, we are unable to retain memories from previous lives. If we did then there would be little point in reincarnating in a form to learn the lessons of the previous life as we would simply continue where we left off. Given the lack of memory actual physical continuity is not necessary as much as a mathematical continuity. Indeed the essence of spiritual issues is their detachment from the physical. The question should therefore centre around how much spiritual existence resembles physical existence. All that would be needed for the corresponding and contrasting life to come into existence following the end of our own would be the laws of averages. To put it simplistically, if at one point a person has behaved heinously and must therefore be taught the error of his ways then a corresponding life must come into existence in which those lessons can be learnt, perhaps the life of a devout monk or the life of a beggar. As there is no memory from one life to another there is a missing continuity between the death of the one and the birth of the next. Additionally there is no physical continuity. There is a ‘spiritual’ continuity but what exactly does that mean?
Essentially, do we have individual souls? The answer according to many religious and philosophical beliefs is that ultimately we are all one. We all have god within us and we are seeking for reunification, etc, etc, etc. Unsatisfying though it might seem, the only continuity necessary appears to be that the death of one with the birth of the other must both be connected by being related by both being part of the same existence. Given the perceived nature of an all powerful god it is not even necessary that the two lives should exist consecutively. The nature of us all being one, means, that in the formless nature of a fluid universe, we can in our ‘spiritual’ aspect be experiencing two contrasting lives separately and simultaneously. Such is the nature of being part of a unified spiritual embodiment that is purported to have omnipotence. To give it any limitation in that regard or to insist it follows the laws of physics misunderstands the nature of omnipotence and the power it has to be governed by physical laws, yet simultaneously not governed. Naturally this falls a little outside the previous arguments I have made but considering karma is a theory that has always been considered to fall in line with the more esoteric ways of thinking it would probably be inappropriate not to cover some of the less conventional and scientific manners in which the concept could be described.
Naturally, if we need to rely on this final hypothesis, that can be difficult to come to terms with if we do not already believe in some kind of spiritual world already. The impossibility of seeing beyond death or before birth renders any concerns academic. The logic falls into place upon certain assumptions, but even if those assumptions prove to be false it makes little difference. Similarly to a legal fiction this is a fiction that explains an idea and process, but does so in such a way that is not verifiable by material means. Unfortunately this means that we have to rely on faith alone to accept this final argument as it is a faith based argument. The positive side is that it makes no difference whether we believe it or not, so the action of faith is to simply take it for granted in the same way as Pascal might wager.
I am sure I can’t be the only one thinking this but there seems to be little said about it online. Jeremy Corbyn needs to pledge massive support for Britain’s intelligence agencies. There are constant accusations being laid against him that he is not taking Britain’s security seriously. The controversy behind his decision not to back trident has been overblown. We do not need trident and will never use trident but that is not to say that we don’t need protection.
We are fortunate to live on an archipelago/island in Britain which gives us a moderate amount of safety against many attacks from other nations but being known as the little satan due to our special relationship with the US is evidence that there are people out there who do not particularly care for us. There are essentially two ways of ensuring our safety. One is the gung ho approach that is currently being taken by stronger military powers and the other is to know enough that we can stop trouble before it starts.
In a modern liberal society there is a certain amount of distaste felt about the idea of killing people who upset us. Even in World War I there were conscientious objectors, a trend that has increased throughout the twentieth century and will probably continue to increase as long as our own people are not trodden down completely by those who are in power. For this reason it makes sense that we should be taking the second option of combatting opposition with intelligence. The hallmark of modern society is the way in which we apply our intelligence. In something as sensitive as national security it makes sense that we should apply intelligence to an even higher degree.
In addition to this rather obvious reasoning is the continued speculation that the internal intelligence services are observing the rise of the current labour leader with some trepidation. A pledge to support the intelligence services to a far higher degree than the current government would do a lot to ensure backing from within their hidden ranks.
Trident may work as a deterrent, but it might as well be a series of giant cardboard cutouts for all the likelihood of it ever being deployed, even by a gung ho prime minister. It is an expensive bluff. The intelligence services are no bluff. They are actually doing their work, unseen, in the background. There is a lot of worry about exactly what that work is but investment is not going to make that worse. Investment will enable them to use greater precision and discernment. It will increase our security and ensure that they can direct their efforts where they are really needed.
The money that is spent on Trident, if spent on MI6/GCHQ/MI5 would continue to act as a deterrent. Any foreign power that is not afraid of that much investment in intelligence needs to invest in a little more intelligence themselves. Additionally this deterrent will be operating not only as a deterrent, it will actually be doing its job as well.
Cardinal Richilieu was infamous for his network of information gatherers. That is what is needed by Corbyn. Given the number of objections by the more powerful sectors in society he needs as much help as he can get to defend against them. The dual benefit of actually supplementing Britain’s defence in a meaningful and cost effective manner is simply a bonus to the benefit that such an approach could give him. It is all very well having a great defensive power but it would be far better to have the knowledge that would enable us not to need it.
Martin Shkreli has been in the news of late due to the interesting tactic of buying a biotech company and raising a drug price by approximately 5000%. Pills which had started at $13.50 and had only risen about 5 dollars suddenly find themselves at $750 per pill. While it is certain that there will be people out there who are prepared to pay that sort of figure in order to stay alive there will be a vast majority who simply cannot afford it. If my life depended on pills that cost $750 each then I would be saying my goodbyes. The likelihood that many potential customers would simply die is not good for the bottom line of any company. First rule of business, as any insurance company will tell you, is maintain the life of your customers.
So with the likelihood that many people simply could not pay one has to wonder how profitable it could possibly be to raise prices so high, especially when it also leads to you becoming one of the most hated men in the world. It may be that the figures do balance out and that Shkreli would really be able to lose a huge number of customers if enough people can afford to pay his exorbitant prices. It may be that there are more nefarious purposes behind his actions. A look into Shkreli’s past certainly suggests that nefarious purposes are not a thing that would slip his attention.
Shkreli’s success began when he was only 17. He suggested a particularly savvy deal in biotech which turned out to be so savvy that it led to an investigation for insider trading. Although the investigation did not find anything the continuance of suspicious circumstances accumulates a sensation of caution in relation to Shkrelin’s character. He was later discovered using multiple twitter accounts to give the appearance that his investments were better value than they actually might have been. For instance Fusion.net report a tweet worded “Damn Bruh, if Cohen is buying then your boy is buying too, nahmean.”
Fusion describe this as a seeming violation of securities law as well as of good taste. They make no mention of any action being taken though.
The rest of the article makes interesting reading as it mentions Shkreli being accused by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington of making inaccurate and misleading statements about the effectiveness of drugs in order to improve his position in regard to short investments.
Additional suspicious behaviour includes a very recent case in which he was sued for 65 million dollars by one of his own companies for allegedly using their funds to pay back customer losses in another company that he had recently opened. A tactic that has a flavour of Charles Ponzi all over it.
All told there are a lot of suspicious circumstances in Shkreli’s past which certainly seem to suggest that his approach is not the most ethical, but then can you really expect ethical behaviour from someone who is prepared to hike the price of a vital life saving medicine by 5000%. There is a line between purely unethical behaviour and behaviour that can draw criminal sanctions. So far Shkreli seems to have been quite free of criminal sanction but the question has to be considered, is this because he is an innocent who has never committed a crime, or is it pure luck?
The price rise he brought about seemed to have an immediate effect on the nasdaq biotech prices which dropped 4.41% on Monday. If you were the sort of person who was in the business of short selling then you could easily see the value in being able to effect this sort of change. It may be far fetched for someone with the limited set of thinking skills Shkreli demonstrates to anticipate the likelihood of major changes being announced in response to his actions but Clinton’s tweet was not completely unforeseable. Since then Shkreli has said that he will lower the price to one that is more affordable. There are times in Shkreli’s past where he has made similar price rises to drugs; it would be interesting to see how the nasdaq was affected the last time he made a price rise of a couple of thousand percent. Previously the rise was one that was only from about $1.50 to about $30. That is an increase that could be imagined as being payable. The current increase would make a year’s treatment for toxoplasmosis rise to over half a million dollars. The benefits of selling things cheaply are obviously not easy to understand in the world of Martin Shkreli.
Certainly with the list of interesting incidents above you could imagine anyone who was deliberately trying to influence stock prices would be getting gradually bolder and bolder. There is no doubt in my mind or the mind of most people that Shkreli’s ethics are more than questionable. Could this be the time that legal action eventually succeeds against him. It is difficult to say as I am not yet aware of legal action being proposed on the grounds of market manipulation. The information available about Shkreli on the internet shows that he is often the centre of controversies and legal actions for various courses of action that have surprisingly received little legal scrutiny.
There are people out there who wish to try and pursue Shkreli on any charges whatsoever, attempted genocide is one suggestion that I have heard. It seems that the evidence for a charge on market manipulation grounds would be favourable to anyone who is pursuing Shkreli. It is true that he probably has access to some incredibly talented lawyers but in the instance of biotech stock dropping by 4.41% across the nasdaq he has had an effect on a lot of other very powerful people. Where it may be that a blind eye is turned towards a lot of white collar crime the chances of that eye being turned full on in maximum scrutiny must be far higher where there are high powered victims of your actions. It is often in reaction to the greatest rogues that major improvements to legislation and legal infrastructure are made. If it hadn’t been for world war II there may have been no Human Rights Act or EU. Perhaps Shkreli deep down inside felt that the world of copyright and patent trolls was so egregious that he needed to force the hand of politics to introduce legislation to deal with it. Perhaps, but probably not.
Syria is an issue that demands new ways of dealing with conflict. The majority of the public concede that more refugees must be accepted, a point with which the prime minister appears to also agree now. The problem with refugees is that many consider them to have a similar effect on their destination nation as economic migrants would, so much so that the distinction between migrant and refugee has been one of the points of contention during the last few weeks.
Any government which has a major issue to deal with must seek to find the strengths in the situation rather than simply run scared from the problems. David Cameron infamously said that the solution to the crisis was not simply to accept more refugees. In this he is correct; the solution must go further than this. Opportunities must be sought to help those refugees in regaining their lives and their self respect.
It has been suggested to me that training refugees in how to fight and wage a war might be a solution, so that they can return to their nation and reclaim it for themselves. Whilst it is certain that many of them are currently unprepared for the conflict around them it is also certain that many of them are plainly not going to fit into the mold of a soldier. If this nation were overcome by war how many of the people you know would plainly not be up to the task of fighting in the traditional position of a soldier.
Likewise, military action and airstrikes are considered to be a necessary path for foreign governments. Military action is one of the courses that people oppose on idealistic grounds. For many it is simply out of the question, like suggesting a cull of squirrels to a group of vegans, it is not going to be taken well. While I do not offer opinions on potential military action I accept that it might be the chosen method of those in power and at present it might not be the time to resist that decision.
My opinion on the path to resolving the situation lies in knowledge. Perhaps it is my past as an educator that compels me to consider knowledge to be the most important way forward, just as I would assume by brother, the military strategist, to support military action. Different people from different walks of life will have different ideas which must be respected on the strength of their experience and specialist knowledge. And there lies that world ‘knowledge’ again.
The people who are currently being forced out of their country bring with them a great deal of knowledge and they also need a great deal of knowledge. They should be trained, but the training should not be in basic fighting skills. In a nod to the military perhaps they should at least be trained in strategy and logistics, but mainly they need training in problem solving, team building, diplomacy, and other arts of gentle control. Britain or any other nation should not be considered a final destination for any refugee. These other nations should be considered places where they can regroup and discover methods and ways in which they might regain their homeland.
The communication that is allowed by the use of the internet will enable a political state to exist without geographic boundaries. It is possible for people living in Berlin or London to communicate with people living in small villages in Devon. Refugees must be aided in organising themselves as a cohesive group while also allowing them to integrate into any host societies. The inevitable result of segregating them would ultimately be resentment on the part of hosting native populations.
While integrating with host nations, the refugees would be able to create cohesive groups to try and find solutions to their own problems without the need to rely on others to take action. Offering them training in bureaucratic and diplomatic arts would give them more peaceful weapons to win back their homes. In exchange they can offer knowledge of their own. People who live in nations outside the conflict need to hear about what is happening, why it happened and what led up to it happening. The arabic language they speak is something that more of use should grow accustomed with considering the way world politics is currently shaping itself.
This exchange of information would strengthen not only them but us as well. While I am sure that military maneuvers may be inevitable just as David Cameron asserted the solution was not simply to accept more refugees, I assert the solution is also not simply to rely on further escalation of conflict.
Since writing this I have had my attention drawn to this additional content: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/14710-britains-syrian-diaspora-unites-to-build-peace-in-their-homeland . It is uncanny how closely it connects with what I have written and is probably more worthy of being read due to the information and facts contained within.
Polyglot is a word that is new to most people’s vocabularies. It describes someone who learns multiple languages. It seems kind of ironic in that learning foreign languages you become something for which you must learn a new word in English. The word was probably popularised more by Benny Lewis who has turned an inability to learn foreign languages into an ability to pick them up at a seemingly unnatural pace, claiming three months is adequate for fluency. He has now even published a book by the title ‘fluent in three months’ or ‘Fliessend in Drei Monaten’, which I presume he translated himself.
As more and more jobs are taken up by robots and finding employment becomes harder language ability becomes ever more important. There are many jobs that people believed could never be automated which are increasing danger of being handed over to machines, if they have not already been. It can be difficult to say which jobs are unlikely to be given to machines in the future. Skills and abilities that are considered to be things only humans can do are quickly being developed to a higher and higher extent in computers. Looking at how man made items are still appreciated over mass produced products it seems there is likely to always be options for craftsmen but language and translation looks like its value is disappearing. Google translate, real time voice translation and cameras that translate signs are all putting extra nails in the coffin of employability.
Language learning is in far less danger than it appears though. Direct personal interaction is one of those skills where humans are definitely recognised as an essential part of the process. Conversation is an art and a translator in an important business deal or a political exchange has a more important role to play than it first seems. A translator is able to subtly affect the meaning of phrases and terms by things as simple as tone of voice. Whether all translators realise this is uncertain. To be able to speak directly without any intervening need for a translator (human or otherwise) is a mark of respect that can win points in a deal with people from other nations. It is additionally a skill that reaps benefits in the distant future as it has been shown that an ability with multiple languages can protect against the brain disorders that become increasingly inevitable as you grow older.
Think of how much more enjoyable it is to watch a foreign movie without having to read subtitles and without having to listen to bad dubbed on sound. Not to mention the beauty of hearing interesting new words; a term I heard that I particularly liked the other day was Brannen Skadet in Norwegian, even though it means fire damaged it feels so nice coming off the tongue. If you appreciate the beauty of old literature and poetry then just imagine how it must feel to read old literature and poetry in Dutch, a language that has some fantastic 18th century words.
If anything the wealth of computer translation software is most likely to increase our natural capacity to speak other languages. The fact that you are reading this in English probably means you are likely to know fewer languages than the people of most nations of the world simply because they often have to learn English on top of their native language. This puts an advantage in their direction as they prove that in addition to anything you can do they can also speak their own language natively. Sites like duolingo and memrise seem to be appearing all the time; apps on the smartphones offer multiple ways to learn multiple languages. It becomes easier all the time to learn new languages. If you don’t want to make an extra effort then it is still easy to simply turn on subtitles in DVDs to expose yourself to different languages.
As far as my usual blogs go this one is a bit self indulgent, but if it can encourage a single person to enrich their life with a new language then I am glad to have written it. It can be very important to dismiss language skills now that it is so easy to get good translations but there are so many reasons aside from the desire to obtain a translation that mean language learning will remain of importance to us far into the future, if not forever.