Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tribalism

[A]n enthusiastic Tory backbencher like me can hardly wait to switch on the Today programme every morning in order to listen to all the bad news. The health crisis has deepened, the rail network has gone pear-shaped and Tony Blair's mania for world tourism has made him a laughing stock.
- David Cameron, 2002

Via Freemania

In wake of the recent Foot and Mouth issue, both Stephan Newton and Tom Freeman have commented on the eagerness of some Conservative commentators to focus on how bad this could be for the Labour Party, as opposed to how bad it could be for the farming industry or country. As Tom notes, this tendency, by all parties, to turn important issues into political point-scoring is hardly new.

Nor is it confined to politics. Tribalism – viewing the world largely through the prism of Us and Them – is everywhere. Tribalism replaces open and honest discussion with an infantile attempt to prove that my country/political group/religious belief/football team/etc. is better than yours. It replaces the discussion of ideas and issues with simplistic point-scoring.

You can see tribalism in action across the Internet: Anytime a discussion of politics starts to revolve around whether the Nazis or BNP are left- or rightwing, or whether atheists or religious believers have killed the most people. These aren’t serious discussions, but merely attempts to prove that ‘our’ beliefs are better than ‘their’ beliefs – as though groups such as leftwing, Christian, etc. were almost completely homogenous, without important rifts and divisions. Once the discussion enters this stage, it becomes utterly pointless.

I suppose that’s why I’m attracted to explicitly non-tribalist projects such as ‘Blogpower’ and ‘In Search of High Places’, which are concerned with individuals more than ideologies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Blog Hibernation

For various reasons, though mainly the fact that I’m going to be out of the country for most it, I’m going to put this blog into hibernation until the end of July / beginning of August.

As I dread to think what I’d come back to otherwise, comment moderation will remain on. I’ll try to check in from time to time, in case any of you feel the need to comment on one of the pre-existing posts.

Hopefully I’ll be able to use this time away to come up with many exciting thoughts and comments for when I return.

Though in all likelihood it’ll probably just be a load more stuff from Youtube.

Be seeing you.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Julian Baggini - missing the point

Julian Baggini on Cif:

The only sensible basis for a case against intervention is that it is ineffective or counter-productive. Well, sometimes it is, but to say we have a duty to intervene does not mean we should always do so, without any regard for the consequences.

The odd thing about this debate is that there are two groups for whom anti-intervention is a rational, consistent stance to take. One is market fundamentalists, who believe that the only way to improve the world is through the invisible hand working through free trade. The other is narrow nationalists who believe that we only have duties to "our own". That these people should be lining up with critics of interventionism on the left is a sign that something is wrong.

The problem with this is that it’s a straw man, the only people who oppose intervention outright are “market fundamentalists” and “narrow nationalists”.

In the past I’ve found myself arguing online with left-wingers opposed to intervention in places like Iraq and the Sudan, but in every case their opposition sprang not from a rejection of the idea of intervention but from the belief that intervening would only make the matter worse – they felt that the selfish motives of the UK and US would see civilians sidelined in the pursuit of oil/influence/etc. I’ve never encountered anyone who didn’t feel that we had a “duty” to help those in need.

The actual danger is in the widespread knee-jerk cynicism that holds that the west is incapable of acting in a humanitarian fashion.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why are atheists moral?

It’s a question which gets asked with a depressing frequency on theist blogs. The following is a comment by Alex, but it expresses a worry which seems to be felt by a number of religious believers:

My natural impulses strongly urge me to do things that most any reasonable person would admit is immoral. My immoral urges are often much stronger than what I know to be the moral action. I have the ability to choose which option I go with. I use reason to play out the scenarios of both choices before I act. If I am able to reason that I could go with the "immoral" impulse (that is much stronger) and get away with it, is there anything that should stop me from pursuing this end?

I to – being human – have a number of “immoral” urges. So why don’t I act on them? Hmmm… perhaps because doing so would more than likely leave me friendless, jobless, hunted by the police and wracked by guilt at the misery I’d caused.

At what point does that become attractive?

Immoral acts – i.e. acts which cause pain and/or suffering to others – are attractive only to psychopaths. The rest of us, regardless of our metaphysical beliefs, have plenty of good reasons – internal and external – for avoiding them.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The perils of immigration

Wasn’t there some hyperbolic mush from the Conservatives about immigrants bringing in diseases a few years back? I can’t be bothered doing the three minutes of googling to find out the exact details, but I’m pretty sure I remember Michael Howard or one of the other shadow ministers arguing that we should start screening people for TB and the like…

Turns out they were right.

In a way. One of the most potentially devastating diseases in recent decades could have been brought here by a migrant according to the BBC.

A dead swan found in Fife which tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been identified by scientists as a whooper swan.

The breed originates from outside the UK but it was unclear whether the bird, which has been subjected to DNA tests, picked up the disease abroad.

Y’see! You start letting these foreigners in willy-nilly and the next thing you know we’re back to the times of the plague. It’s not really Johnny (or should that be “Swanny”) foreigners fault – its just that the countries they come from don’t have the same level of hygienic awareness that we do: no Oust to realise delicate freshness, no quilted toilet paper, no scented candles to make bathing an almost transcendental experience. It’s worse than the average Weatherspoons toilet over there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Just because you're paranoid...

I was just polishing off a rather lengthy post about the whole British spies in Russia story when my computer froze up and I lost the whole thing. Highly suspicious if you ask me!

My original post was witty, insightful and really got to the heart of the matter. The gist of it was (I can’t be bothered re-typing it) that it’s essentially a non-story. We spy on them, they spy on us, everyone spies on everyone. It’s the nature of international politics. The only reason it’s got the decent amount of press attention that it has is because it involves bugging-devices hidden inside fake rocks. Which sounds like something out of espionage movie.

The Russian government has to express indignation, but won’t make a big deal out of it, otherwise they’d jeopardise their relationship with the UK and the intelligence network they no doubt have set-up over here.

(If you ask me, my mistake was to use Google to look up MI6’s budget)