Category Archives: Ethics

If we stand by Charlie, we must end the Global War on Terror

The Worlds Reaction

The response to the recent attacks in France has been a mixed one. World leaders and media pundits have flocked to condemn the killings. Vigils have been held across France and the world, defying this apparent assault on our freedom of expression. While many Muslims have been forced to distance themselves from the attacks, due to a fear of reprisals from a growing far right.

However, my intention today is not to vindicate Muslims for the crimes of these men. Nor is to condemn the attackers, who are just one facet of a political struggle for power in the Middle East. My contention is with the conflicting values we seem to place on a human life.

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On Wednesday last week, 10 civilians and two police officers were killed by French gunmen of Algerian descent. These two men had been trained in Yemen, a country that has been targeted with US drone strikes since 2009. Within days they were made to pay for these crimes with their lives, in a dramatic hostage situation broadcast across the globe (in full HD of course).

In comparison, back in Yemen two years earlier, 12 innocent people were killed when a US airstrike hit a wedding convoy. But the US government refuses to acknowledge its role in their murder. Two years have passed and there is still no justice for these nameless people. Still no justice for the thousands of innocent Iraqis, Afghans, Yemeni’s and Pakistani’s killed during our supposed war on terror.

My question is simply, why?

Why is it that the loss of an innocent life thousands of miles away does not move us in the same way as those in Paris? Why does the death of journalists in Palestine not cause us to cry out in defence of Freedom of Speech? If every life holds the same objective value, then by standing by those killed in Paris, we must also stand by all those innocent lives lost, irrespective of who pulls the trigger.

The value of a human life

Even when confronted by truths such as these, many of us react with indifference at the loss of innocent lives in such countries. “We are good, and they are evil”, is the kind of one-dimensional thinking used to justify such murders. When Islamist militants are thwarted in distant lands, many of us commend the actions of our armed forces, rather than question the collateral damage incurred. But when a domestic attack takes place, we are moved to tears, anger and retribution. These are, ironically, the very same feelings that compel those in such war torn countries to seek out a similar kind of vengeance.

To some extent, this reaction can be explained as a biological mechanism. While philosophers are free to explore moral questions about the value of a human life, we must also look at how in practice people make this judgement. This is known as Descriptive Ethics. By doing so, we gain an insight into why foreign deaths of non-combatants, such as those killed in drone strikes, is often met with indifference in the West, whereas domestic attacks, such as those is Paris, stir up defiance and sorrow.

By combining the study of Morality with Evolutionary Biology, we start to see the emotional adaptations that influence our moral judgments and behavior. Peter Singer, a prominent ethicist, argues that “evolutionary theory can make a contribution to this debate” by offering us “reasons for believing that some of our emotional attachments are deeply rooted in our nature as intelligent, long lived primates, or even in our nature as social mammals.”

He argues that we as human beings find it easier to empathise with those who fall within certain proximity of our daily lives. As a result, we tend to place a greater value on the lives of our own kin in comparison to our neighbours. In a purely practical sense, this instinctive desire to protect our loved ones ensures the survival of our own genetic lineage. Yet despite this, our neighbours life still holds more importance than a strangers, perhaps because we consider them a friend. So here we can see a clear dichotomy begin to arise – a hierarchical manner in which we value the lives of others, based on moral intuitions acquired through evolution.

Put very simply, we tend to place a greater value on the lives of those who we see ourselves in. Yet with the Enlightenment and universalism – the idea that all sentient life has universality in experience – followed natural rights, then human rights, which bound together notions such as freedom, equality and justice, declaring them inalienable rights of all human beings. To reach such enlightenment ideals however, we had to first break ourselves from this innate way of thinking. So when we use our rational minds, we conclude that any loss of innocent life, irrespective of the context, ought to be met with the same kind of defiance that was shown in response to the Paris attacks.

Collateral Damage

When innocent people are killed in war, it is not considered murder, but callously labelled “collateral damage”.

Since 2004, an estimated 3212 people have killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. Only 2% of them killed intended targets. The rest are civilians such as women and children. What differentiates this kind of collateral damage from the 17 murders that took place in France?

Some make the distinction that a terrorist attack is a deliberate act of violence on innocent people, while collateral damage is an unintended consequence of warfare. But they are similar in that both cause needless deaths for the political interests of a minority.

War is waged knowing that there will be noncombatants killed, and in that sense, there can be no accidental killing on the battlefield, but only an expectation that some innocent people will die. When noncombatants are killed in drone strikes then, it is no more an accident than an inevitable consequence of war, and therefore no less intentional than the murders committed in France earlier this week.

By allowing such military operations to continue in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, we facilitate extremism by providing a moral justification for groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIL. There is no doubt that the rise of jihadism is in part due to western influence. US backed coups and foreign control of natural resources has led to an anti-western sentiment in these countries. We can extend this thread of causality back to the conquest of Mesopotamia during the Great War, and the subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The events that followed, rightly or wrongly, have to led to the volatile situation we see in the region today. Decades of extreme poverty, political repression, and poor education have created a fertile breeding ground for violence. To some extent therefore, we are culpable in the proliferation of extremism at home and abroad.

The verdict?

Thus the lessons we ought to take from this tragic event is that when we escape the constructs of our own subconscious mind, and the biological mechanisms that underpin our thinking, the deaths in Paris only highlight the hypocrisy of our actions, given the thousands killed and injured over the past decade. Similarly, by allowing our governments to continue hostilities in these distant lands, we are partly culpable for the inception and proliferation of these extremist movements. I want to stress that this is not a justification of Islamist aggression, but a call to all who stand by Charlie and by human rights, to use this incident as a catalyst to end all the human suffering caused by our war on terror. So while arguably justice has been restored in France as of yesterday, and calmness will quickly follow, for many millions elsewhere, the nightmare still continues…

 

Why Boris Johnson is wrong about equality

Originally published on The City Scoop

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It must be tough to get to the top, and you sure as hell can’t be thoughtless buffoon to get there. Hence, you might of been surprised by our mayors now infamous comments at a speech on Wednesday, addressing the Centre for Policy Studies in London, a free-market neoliberal British policy think tank.

Boris mocked the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 and called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130. He declared that inequality was essential to foster “the spirit of envy” and hailed greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity”.

I must admit however, I was not entirely shocked by the Mayors latest bout of pleb bashing, the Eton bred, Oxford Graduate in Classics, following a similar outburst last week. The Mayor was lambasted after he defended the rich, claiming they have been unfairly ostracised by the British public. According to Boris, life sure is tough being in the top 1%.

His most recent remarks reflect a very troubling trend, a deeply concerning misconception when it comes to causal link between poverty and intelligence. Boris’  ‘interesting’ remarks about the poor in this country shows there is something inherently wrong with the Mayors conception of equality.

While it’s not particularly out of the ordinary for our bumbling mayor to talk utter shite, his recent slew of comments attacking the poor and rallying behind this nations elite has left a sickly taste in my mouth. And I would assume the five million people living below the Mayors ‘London Living Wage’ were none too pleased by the remarks either.

Boris, who is a person known for not mincing his words, said that economic inequality is something that is inescapable, in a world where there are ‘natural differences’ between peoples aptitudes.

Boris is wrong about equality. Economic inequalities will not cease to exist, not because of inherent differences in natural ability, but as long as people hold onto this unwarranted assumption that poor people are somehow inherently inferior. While I am not condoning deterministic bred apathy, for us to understand the issue of income inequalities as they stand, we must understand what the reasons for these differences in ability are. Once we understand the reasons, we can attempt to find the solution. Simply accepting that inequalities will always exist is lazy and ill-conceived means at tackling the problem.

But it is easy for people like Boris to feel morally and intellectually superior when they have been educated to such a high standard. The former journalist, and now heavy weight political figure, has had ample opportunities in life that only a very small fraction of us could ever hope for. His success, despite what he may think or believe, is not necessarily due to his aptitude, but a combination of circumstances that propelled him into the limelight.

And it is not necessarily wealth that has been the key ingredient in this recipe for success, and I say this as someone who has grown up in relative poverty. During my childhood, all around me my peers and I were subject to obstacles that Boris could hardly fathom in his sheltered upbringing.

Could a man like Boris, suckling from the teats of aristocracy and privilege, ever know the frustration of growing up in poverty? Has he ever felt the anxiety of hearing parents bicker over unpaid bills? Has he ever had to share a 80p bag of chips for dinner with his family? Has Boris ever experienced bailiffs coming to his home as a child and taking all his possessions? Can he appreciate the stigma and low self-esteem that comes with being the child of poor, working class immigrants? Can he comprehend the difficulty of growing up with parents who can barely speak English? Has he lost a parent and been brought up on meagre benefits? Has he had family members succumb to a criminal life just to survive?

This kind of life, while it doesn’t necessarily close doors for you, it makes it so much more difficult to succeed, and this I have experienced first-hand.  While I concede these obstacles can be overcome with hard work, with determination, and most importantly, a whole lot of luck – for a lot of people, it just doesn’t pan out like that.

I have been incredibly fortunate in my life to have the right people around me, to give me guidance and help me understand this world and my place within it. But many of my peers, my friends, and even family members, have not been so fortunate; they have not been given the same nurturing and encouragement to reach their full potential. To hear Boris say that some humans are just inferior, I find deeply insulting, and incredibly frustrating. If we don’t believe in people, if we don’t give them the means to attain success, then how can we ever expect to irradiate inequality?

Yes, the problem is a natural difference Boris, but not in intelligence, but in privilege. Because I can guarantee you, if you’d gone to my school, located in a working class constituency in East London, and not the grand halls of thorough bred Eaton, you’d not be the same person you are now. If you’d grown up in poverty, you’d most certainly not be Mayor of London. And to be quite frank, I hope you aren’t for much longer, because the last thing we need in this country is another egocentric, self-righteous prick in office.

A View from the Streets of London: Syria

Should we go to war with Assad? Or should we stay out of Syria?

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This WorldBytes production interviews people on the streets of London, to see what we the people have to say about military intervention in the sovereign state.

As the western hemisphere prepares to go to war with Assad, we at Worldbytes think the views of us, the citizens of this nation, ought to be taken into consideration. FInd out what the people we met in London had to say about military intervention in Syria.

About WorldBytes

If you live in London, please consider volunteering or donating to Worldbytes, the charity behind this production. Worldbytes provide free vocational training in producing media to anyone. Find out more, and watch the rest of their clips by heading to the website.

Peace or War?

 

Two very strange tweets I saw today. Of course separately, they’re perfectly normal. The UNDP posted an article about Indonesia, a country that was rife with sectarian violence not to long ago.

The Maluku conflict began in early 1999 and lasted three years, finally ended in February 2002, when a settlement was signed between warring parties (Malino II Accord).

According to the piece,

The fishermen in Halmahera Island’s Kao Bay are amongst thousands of people in eastern Indonesia who have benefited from a peace and conflict prevention project supported by the Government of Indonesia and UNDP.

Yes, all very good work, and I commend those persons involved in these efforts, which are reportedly the “Governments of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).”

It irks me however, to see developed nations, one’s that are part of the UNDP doing things like selling weapons to known authoritarian regimes. Read the following tweet:

So it seems, on the one hand we promote peace through organisations such as the UNDP, but on the other, we facilitate violence in other regions by selling weapons to known dictatorships.

In fact, Britain has supplied £12bn of arms to some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships, with half of its imports going to Israel alone. While I concede the latter is not an authoritarian regime, Israel’s occupations of the West Bank and Gaza have been received by widespread criticism and condemnation by the International community.

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There are a great deal many more examples I could find of this strange conception of morality we have in the developed world. We give aid and steal oil. We promote human rights then torture prisoners. We argue for fair trade but then subsidize domestic agriculture. We commend those who speak the truth, but then actively silence and imprison whistleblowers.

Am I missing something here? You can’t arm the world on the one hand, and then claim to be the bastions of peace on the other. At some point we must collectively decide what it is that is important – peace or war?

Feeding the trolls – Brendan O’Neill on Unpaid internships

Another response to Brendan O’Neill.

Masterful troll that he is, the Spiked editor has spurred me to retort once more. Seeing as this is a topical issue, one very relevant to me, I thought I’d post my response here for further discussion.

Original Article –
Why interns don’t deserve pay – by Brendan O’Niell

My response…

“Is there anything worse than when middle-class campaigners use grubby-kneed poor folk as a Trojan horse for the pursuit of their own self-enriching escapades? Resilient working-class kids have for years topped up their internships with Saturday jobs or evening work, while kipping on a friend’s couch to cut outgoings.”

Oh Brendan, how utterly contrived your argument is. As an intern who comes from a low income family, and as an aspiring journalist, I think you’re just a bit out of touch with what obstacles people like me face these days.

I intern 5 days a week, and work weekends when I can. I am on the books of three different temping agencies. I think this is neither fair nor just, namely, that people with wealthy parents have significantly easier circumstances than me. Life would be considerably easier if I was even just paid a menial sum of money for my efforts, rather than next to nothing.

I agree that an internship is an opportunity to learn; I do not contend that interns are “work” for the company “employing” them. But the fact that I can’t claim jobseekers while interning, that I am given no state support is simply ridiculous. I can’t even afford to pay my phone bill, the interest on my student account overdraft, and more and more this just makes internships very unappealing. But without doing unpaid work, the simple fact is, it would be near on impossible for me to become a successful journalist.

Oh yes, but we mustn’t forget the middle-class campaigners now, right Brendan? The people who can actually afford to finance their children’s internships. But I suppose there are plenty of middle class campaigners to argue for the importance of unpaid internships, ones such as, editors of small online magazines perhaps? The same small magazines that quite frequently use and abuse unpaid interns. Now for me at least, this is “easily the most grating argument” used by a greedy businessman such as yourself Brendan.

While I do not disagree that internships are very useful and if not more so to the intern, the fact remains, is they ultimately make the business employing them money. I can find several articles written by interns on Spiked alone that are more successful than a lot of your own articles Brendan. And a lot of your posts are simply written to irk the far left wing, and thereby garner you views and comments. I’ve been following your articles for some time now, and it is my opinion that you’re nothing more than just a glorified troll Brendan.

Interns deserve to be paid for their efforts, even if it is below minimum wage. But you ride off their success; you don’t give them the monetary value their efforts deserve, however small it may be. As someone who has worked for Living Marxism, I’m sure you must understand why this is wrong?

 

Fellow interns, what are your thoughts on unpaid internships?

WorldBytes: The Home of Citizen TV

Please take a look at these films I am very proud to have taken part in for WorldBytes as a Volunteer

The Wide Angle: Eco films & Emotionalism

Movie chat has rarely captured what’s at stake so effectively as this bar room banter. In a discussion on three well known apocalyptic eco-films, An Inconvenient truth, The Day after Tomorrow and Age of Stupid, a trio of guest experts take us beyond the usual finger pointing at doom-mongers. A palette of emotions: fear; loss and regret, are used to shortcut politics and convince us to change our behaviour or be seen as morally circumspect. Worse still, we learn, these films portray us as unable to deal with problems altogether. This is environmental determinism summed up; what matters to ecologists is what the climate or science will make us do, not what we decide we want to do about our future. Our options to think big, take control and develop what we need to manage climate change should we want to, are closed down. Given their hysterical claims of looming catastrophe, planetary extinction and ice ages it’s revealing that all we are advised to do is change a light bulb. Treating us like children consigned to the ‘naughty step’, as a scourge on the planet and ultimately ‘stupid’, these films are profoundly anti-human. While these films resemble ‘the rant you’d get from an eco-warrior in a pub’ we’re told, they nonetheless represent ‘the full download of prevailing perceptions’. These films are worth discussing because they represent a political culture that needs to be challenged if we are serious about reclaiming the idea of destiny as something we should control.

 

Alternative lectures: What is Humanism? (Part 1)

Professor of Sociology Frank Furedi answers the question ‘What is Humanism?’ in this short lecture filmed in the WORLDbytes studio. Whilst humanist ideas have been around for a long time, he observes, they have never been more weakly affirmed than at present. In ancient as well as renaissance times thinkers struggled with questions around what forces determine our destiny and began to formulate ideas that human beings themselves, rather than God or nature had a responsibility for making the world. Humanism, we learn, begins to flourish in renaissance Italy and finds more mature expression in the 17th and 18th centuries. Modern determinisms such as 19th century economic determinism or today’s eco-determinism, biological determinism or psychological determinism are all really evasions or excuses that diminish our own sense of taking responsibility for what happens. A Humanist outlook should equip us with an orientation towards reason, problem-solving and a healthy scepticism towards determinisms (or the fates) in the present day. Professor Furedi doesn’t overcomplicate the issue or use mystifying jargon in this refreshing and enlightening lecture.

The Enlightenment and Universalism

I am sure many of us have heard or read about the European Enlightenment.

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The Age of Enlightenment was a profound cultural movement of the 17th and 18th centuries. The first inklings of this revolution in thought were shown by early French philosophers around 1670. It was the well mannered Salons which were at  ‘the very heart of the philosophic community’ of France at the time. In these places of dialectical discourse a new school of thought emerged, namely, it was from these academic salons formed by the aristocratic ‘schools of civilité’ that the European Enlightenment was born.

The Church fought these first revolutionary movements until they ultimately suffered a fatal blow during the French Revolution of July 1789. It was during this uprising of the French working class and left leaning intellectuals that the French Republic was formed, thanks largely in part to the aristocracies own centuries of excess and indulgence.

It was only befitting that the Enlightenment should take shape during this time, as the individual became aware of their own power and ability to shape the world. The Enlightenment was considered to be the “spiritual enrichment of Mankind by means of his own inner values and resources”. Apart from the French academic salons, the groundwork for the European Enlightenment was also laid by renowned British intellectuals and philosophers such as David Hume and Francis Bacon, who popularised inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry.  The Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza is also argued to be an important figure in the Age of Enlightenment. These along with many other proponents of empiricism and rationalism helped lay the seeds of the modern scientific method and democracy as we have come to know it.

Whilst the Enlightenment first began in Europe, it later spread to the American colonies through the writings of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, although sadly its principles did not initially extend to slaves. Yet this period of history is still so very important for it has shaped much of the political and moral foundations of the modern world.  Rather befittingly the political and moral issues over which eighteenth century thinkers debated remain so often the issues over which we continue to differ today.

As the Enlightenment spread to Britain and throughout Europe, the Scholasticism of the medieval universities that were so prevalent from the 11th century to up until then, was questioned by this new breed of thinker. Philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and Hume refuted the divine dogma of these established schools that so closely guarded knowledge. For centuries the majority of European society had been resigned to impotent ignorance. Whilst these two thinkers took different and radical approaches to human nature and the individuals place in society, it was ultimately Hume and other ‘moral sense’ philosophers who restored this notion of humans as social beings, freeing the concept from its theological moorings. These sentimentalists began a radical conception of Enlightenment principles compared to Hobbes,  arguing that it is ‘sentiment’ that invokes an innate understanding of our common humanity, and of our instinctive desire to feel empathy with fellow human beings.

No quality of human nature is more remarkable…than that propensity we have to sympathise with others, and to receive by communication their inclinations and sentiments however different from, or even contrary to, our own.

From the Enlightenment then was this sense of Universalism born. All sentient life has universality in experience – this very idea could only flourish with this notion of sympathy, which allowed philosophers to give humankind an identity independent of God. These new Universalist’s would be attracted to the logic of universally applicable principles, rather than any belief or dogma ordained by supposed divine mandate. Human unity, solidarity, and the perceived need for a sustainable and socially conscious global order, were among the tendencies of this new non-religious Universalist thought. It provided a means of

…Recognising all peoples as of equal worth, and of embracing some kind of common good, without endowing them with immortal souls.

This period in history is very important for it has lead to a huge upheaval in the manner in which we treat another and how we come to learn about and understand the world. No longer are we shackled by blind dogma, no longer a slave to the power of religious and political institutions as we once were. The Age of Reason gave birth to human rights, modern democracy and the scientific method. Many argue that the roots of this enlightenment lay in Eastern thought, and hence the importance of this period is thereby diminished. I do not disagree with this fact, for Far Eastern philosophers dealt with the questions of ethics, morality and justice far before their western counterparts. Even the rise of classic Greek philosophy is in part due to the inspiring influences of its neighbours across the Mediterranean Sea. Still I maintain this is rather besides the point however, for all new thoughts are formed by a synthesis of old. Hence, we must not concern ourselves with the originality of such ideas.

Once we realise that we are the presiding force behind all laws of society, that we give all of societies conventions their governing power, and not a divine entity, then it is important for us to be concerned by how fair and just these regulating rules are. This notion which came from the European Enlightenment, means we must now also consider how we might continue to shape these laws for the betterment of all persons.

 

Common Misconceptions in Society

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It’s not exactly news that people have blatant misconceptions about the workings of society. I was reading a New Statesman article highlighting the fallacies in the public’s beliefs on political issues. It was really quite harrowing to see the common misperceptions in our society. As Bobby Duffy and Hetan Shah report;

On average, we think 24% of the population are Muslims – when the real figure is around 5%; we think 31% are immigrants – when the official figure is 13%; and we think 36% are aged 65+ – when in fact only 16% are.

People grossly overestimate the amount that is spent on foreign aid: a quarter of us think it is one of the 2-3 things government spends the most money on, when it is actually only around 1% of expenditure.

The biggest single error in our survey is on the scale of benefit fraud: people think that out of every £100 spend on benefits, £24 is claimed fraudulently, when the best government estimate is that it’s actually only around 70p.”

I have some further examples to add to this superb analysis. Tax avoidance and evasion costs the taxpayer almost £120 billion a year. We collectively spend over £60 billion a year waging war in distant lands. The British government spends almost £2 billion on intelligence agencies, that spy on us and the world in its entirety.

The much disputed Health Tourism issue however, only costs the taxpayer £30 million a year. The cost of granting amnesty to all undocumented immigrants would cost us £4 billion. And the despised benefit fraudsters cost us just over £1 billion a year, as mentioned, only 70p of every £100 spent on benefits.

70p – is this what the Cameron government is waging a political war against? Is this what concerns us more than the suffering of our fellow human beings?

We spend billions trying to kill and oppress. We spend billions trying to catch and deport these supposed criminals. It is estimated that it would cost £12 billion pounds to deport all undocumented workers, three times as much as granting them amnesty. Not to mention the huge benefit it provides for them and the British economy. You tell me, what would you rather spent our taxes on – creating meaningful and lasting change in this world? Or trying to oppress and silence these already marginalised groups in society?

As David North, head of SEP in America puts it:

We have at our disposal material resources of which our revolutionary ancestors could hardly even dream. Were it not for the social and political obstacles that stand in the way of its realization, the eradication of poverty, … throughout the world, would be merely a technical problem which the existing level of science and industry is fully capable of solving.

And yet, nowadays, we are offered justifications and rationalizations for the existence of poverty and even squalor that would have embarrassed and offended thinking people 200 years ago. In our present society, people are conditioned to walk down a city street and take no notice of the ubiquitous scenes of human distress and social misery.”

These misconceptions and double standards are so prevalent that we think nothing of them. For instance, on April 15th, Martin Richard, an 8-Year-Old boy was brutally killed in the Boston Bombing attack. People all over the world wept for the child, and sent their condolences to his family. Shortly after, the assailants of this horrific attack felt the full force of US justice.

Last month on June 9th, a 10 year old boy was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen. The US refuse to even accept that they’ve murdered the child. Estimates suggest that nearly a thousand civilians have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia over the past decade. Just some more “collateral damage” in our supposed war on terror.

Where are these peoples justice? Where is the equality in this world? The use of verified fact is severely lacking in the publics understanding of issues. We need to educate ourselves and then others to these facts in order to reveal an inalienable truth that is so lacking in contemporary politics. That’s the only manner in which we can quell these fallacies in the public’s beliefs, because our government seems hell bent on further dividing our society over menial issues.

The end of the 6 week summer holiday…

 

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 ‘Tis a sad day my friends, a sad day indeed. For that wonderful joyous time we have all come to know as the hallowed 6 week summer holiday, will be coming to a rather unfortunate end for children across the country. Well, perhaps not entirely, but a new piece of legislation passed last week by Michael Gove, Education Secretary, gives schools the precedent to set their own length of holidays over the summer months. He has also allowed schools to increase mandatory time spent at school to up to 4.30pm.

So what does this mean for future students? Well at first, what really caught my attention was the abolishing of summer holidays as we have come to know and love them. I suppose a strong sense of nostalgia instinctively made me despise the notion. “How dare they take these poor children’s unalienable right to do shit all for 6 weeks?” I vexed. “How could they take that precious jewel of childhood from their unsuspecting, probably sticky, little hands?” I cried in a burst of unbridled rage, and proceeded to throw my half eaten jam donut at the television screen.

Alas, perhaps I may have over reacted in hindsight.

Looking back objectively of course, was it really necessary for me to have a 6 week break? Is it necessary to have this privilege enshrined in yet another menial law? Perhaps not, but I cannot help but feel future children up and down this country are being robbed of something as sacred as their long and lustrous summer holiday. I’m sure many teachers are just as annoyed by the passing legislation. I would suspect that for quite a few of these educators, the promise of long holidays and short working hours may have enticed them into a career in education in the first place.

But all these reasons are beside’s the point, for they all pertain to some nostalgic ideal. That is, because something has been this way for all this time, it cannot possibly be wrong. Many people argued against the abolishment of the slave trade out of a similar feeling. But I concede this may be an unwarranted comparison. The moral implications of slavery I would argue far outweigh that of the case at hand. What are the more reasonable reasons to reinstate the sacred 6 week summer holiday? Or likewise, what are the reasons we ought to allow schools to set their own timetables?

Firstly we must contend this notion that teachers and students alike are lazy and inept. Darren Preece, deputy head at Swindon Village Primary School,  said that the idea that teachers spend six weeks sunning themselves was ludicrous. But he concedes, that:

With such a crammed curriculum, I can understand why the working day may need to be longer.

Yet Mr Preece argues this new legislation could cause more harm than good, suggesting that shorter holidays will lead to greater absences during normal term time. He also argues that teachers spend a great deal of time preparing during these summer weeks for the new academic year.(1)

If there was less time in the summer to prepare, that won’t go down well with teachers.

Gemma Bowes reports for The Guardian, that travel industry experts have been dismayed by the Gove’s announcement.

Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, said: “If the government wants to hurt hard-working, striving families, this is the best way, as holidays in the UK and overseas would become far more expensive in peak periods.”

However, does it not make sense that every school ought to be able to teach their students how they see fit? I think stifling a school’s ability to cater to the needs of students, parents and teachers alike is a very bad thing for everyone. Yes, while I feel the holidays are important to a child’s development, it is not for me to forcibly impose my beliefs of child rearing, education nor how to run a school upon anyone else.

“It is heads and teachers who know their parents and pupils best, not local authorities. So it is right that all schools are free to set their own term dates in the interests of parents and pupils,” a spokesman for the Department for Education said. (2)

Hence, I can only argue the merit for my case, and hope others adopt this manner of thinking. I am a firm believer in deregulation in such cases, for we cannot impose such a strict set of binding rules when it comes to raising and educating children, who come in such marvellous variety. I think what is good about this legislation, is that it provides schools with greater power to tailor their education to their students and teachers needs. But I sincerely hope that they use these new powers within reason, for all work and no play, makes Jack a very dull boy indeed.

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The change is due to take place from September 2015, affecting the 70% of state primary schools and 30% of state secondaries still under local authority control. To find out if you or your children will be affected, contact your school or the Department for Education for more information.

 

references:

(1) http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/Teachers-unhappy-Michael-Gove-s-plans-shrink/story-18754750-detail/story.html#ixzz2YBAJ1h7A

(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jul/01/michael-gove-school-summer-holiday

 

 

The concept of Moral Progress

So I saw a very interesting TED talk (thanks for that Freddie Collins), and considering ethics is the only module at university I actually enjoyed and tried to take part in, I thought I might have something to contribute to the discussion.

First off, watch the talk by Sam Morris, who is a neuroscientist and author of a New York Times best-seller:


Early in the talk Sam introduces this concept of “Moral Landscapes”. This is a frequently used term, one also used by a Peter Singer, a prominent ethicists and one of The Times 100 most influential people in the world. Here’s a video below outlining some of his views:


So now I take it you’ve watched these video’s, its time for us to begin the discussion  What do we mean by the concept of moral progress?

We live in a world of good and bad, light and dark, the enlightened and the barbaric. Or so it seems at least, we can broadly categorise moral agents and their actions within these two different groups.

Yet the world we live in also has varying definitions of what is considered good and bad. Social behaviour is something that is evolved, and hence we find across the ages and different cultures, there tends to be very differing moral premises, thereby altering the conclusions we draw from our social interactions.

Let me put it like this – morality is fickle. Like the great statues of Ozymandias, the sands of time will inevitably destroy all old ways of thinking.  Morality is ever changing in the collaborative eyes of society. Throughout history there have been both seismic “shocks” to our perceived view of what is good, and what is morally bad, influenced by exogenous as well as endogenous factors. Almost always however, progression of morality, or what we consider to be progression, has been shaped by the profound need of humanity to survive and adapt to its environment. Increasingly, reciprocity has become more prevalent in our globalised world, along with empathy and non-violence for these very reasons. It makes sense to promote nuclear disarmament for instance, when you could potentially be eradicated yourself in the event of international thermo-nuclear war.

On the topic of religion and morality – I find it no coincidence that with the birth of organized religion came an explosion in human population. While I concede that there are a great many socioeconomic factors that contributed to the relative success of the human species (including are industrialization, education, marriage, social status, family structure, health care and nutritional status), it is religion that has been integral to the progress in morality that we have today. I think for us to live in a cohesive and functioning society we required religion.  Sam states that “most moral talk is viewed through religion…[and] this is why we spend our time talking about gay marriage…and not genocide, or nuclear proliferation, or poverty or any other huge consequentialist issue.

Sam, along with Peter and other prominent ethicists of the 20th century, have shied away from religion. It seems we now live in a secular society, particularly more so in the west, which separates the laws of the state from the religious duties of church. However, as Sam notes, many still view moral questions through the perspective of religion. Is this a hindrance to moral progress? Does this cause backwardness?





So these are two images that stuck with me after Sam’s TED talk. The second in particular, is quite a poignant image in itself. The disparity in our ways of thinking are quite shocking when juxtaposed like this. On the one hand, in the west where we are free, where we have the utmost liberties and freedom, unburdened by the shackles of religious obligation to bronze age texts – we still have the “wrong” answers to questions of morality. Is this the kind of world we want our children growing up in? Not only that, but if you watch TV, read the news, media, film – anything these days that is produced for mass consumption, you get a sense that humanity has really taken a turn for the worse even in the supposed civilised world. Greed, self interest, lust – these qualities that were once considered morally “bad”, are now virtuous, are now necessary for a person to succeed in life. Yet Singer believes we ought to think differently, we ought to

In a society like America… bring up our children, both for their own good and for those of others, to know that others are in much greater need, and to be aware of the possibility of helping them, if unnecessary spending is reduced. They should also learn to think critically about the forces that lead to high levels of consumption, and to be aware of the environmental costs of this way of living.

However, despite this we can still rest easy knowing life in the west is comparatively easy when compared to that in Islamic or more conservative nation. Here the welfare of the individual is also dramatically compromised by adhering to a strict ideology, maintaining past beliefs and customs that we can consider to be outdated. We do not need to worry about eating pork any more because of religious duty or infectious disease. But we should still refrain from eating pork (and meat in general), because the resources that are used to produce it are unjustifiable with such rampant world poverty. The individual does not have the liberty to conceive and reason their own consequentialist conclusions like this however. They are not given the freedoms in which to figure out what is good, and what is bad given their moral premises. Does this mean that morality is subjective? Sam believes there can be moral truth. He gives the example of how in Chess, sometimes sacrificing the Queen is good a move, but generally speaking, it is always best to keep the Queen alive. Hence, it is always wrong to lie, but sometimes there can be exceptions to this rule. 

But as stated before, without religion of course, we would not have the moral progress that we have now. Reciprocal relations are integral to any civilised society, and religion provided stepping stones upon which our current moral topography is based. Through a slow process of miniscule changes, almost like the movement of tectonic plates, coupled with these tremendous “seismic” shocks in our concepts of basic human rights and individual liberties, we now have a very different moral landscape to lets say, 2000 years ago, and the birth of christianity. One that has a great deal many less peaks and troughs – we are more equal than ever it seems.

We can also use another Singer example to illustrate how our thinking has evolved, with the following moral premises;

If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.
Suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad.

It was religion that originally taught us the virtues of altruism, and promised us intangible rewards upon death, or even during life for exhibiting such qualities. However, with Singers reasoning, any individual can conclude that we are obliged to help those suffering,   for we can do so without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant. Yet religion also teaches us things that are just no longer applicable. The “moral exception” becomes the new rule of law, with enough time and frequency. We know that this is the nature of good and bad. What is good today, is bad tomorrow, and vice versa. Several hundred years ago to defame the king would be blasphemy, and your head would be chopped off as punishment. Nowadays we consider it good to question those in power. This change accrued out of necessity. Time and pressure have a way of changing even the most seemingly unwavering beliefs and customs. (Hence why I find this topography analogy to be very befitting when talking about changes in moral thinking.)

Similarly religion also changes, it adapts with morality as well. Sam’s example of demi-gods – new popes have saw fit to progress the Catholic religion as its code of ethics became less popular and applicable to people. 


And while we frequently see on the news, the hate filled and backward few spewing their (subjectively at least) ignorant views – there is still progression. Even in religion – the moderate majorities views coincide with the secularist progressive. It seems while some of us may be inherently good at “moral thinking”, on the whole, moral progress is a collective movement of societies views, of our movement along these moral topographies. 

What are my views then? A quote from Einstein below sums it up quite nicely I think –

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us “universe,” limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons close to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from our prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all humanity and the whole of nature in its beauty.”


I think, put very simply, what the world needs is love, love sweet love – and a damn lot of it.