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Why I am voting to REMAIN in the EU

On September 10 2014, I wrote a post titled “Why I am voting YES to Scottish Independence.” You can read it for yourself if you like, but I am always encouraged when I look back on it to see that I completely agree with everything I wrote back then. That vote didn’t go the way  I wanted it to go and now, 21 months or so later, I find myself much busier (my Ph.D. thesis is due in on 30 September), a paid up member of the Scottish Green Party (I joined the day after the Scottish Independence referendum, on 19 September 2014), with another referendum coming up – this time on whether the UK should remain in the European Union.In the post below, I use some of my tweets over recent months to articulate my views on the matter.

Some people might think it is an oxymoron for someone to want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, but yet want the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union. However, I think that this view comes from the stereotypical assumption that anyone who wanted Scotland to leave the UK must be in some way a nasty flag-waving bigot who loves destroying cherished institutions that have existed from centuries – if this was the case, why wouldn’t the same uncritically (and this word is important) nationalistic people want to break away from another larger body?

First off, let’s get it out there – I do not like what the UK as an institution stands for. I don’t know that I ever really have since I have been ‘politically conscious’. This is not to say  I don’t like the people who make up the UK. Or ‘other’ nations in the UK. But, as an institution, the UK is not something I am proud of. The chance to reform the UK as a whole, starting from the ground up, was a large part of my wanting to leave the UK. Similarly, the prevalent attitude in the UK towards the EU as I perceive it is not something I like.

Personally, I am of the opinion that many of the ‘problems’ that UK citizens perceive with the EU are in no small part due to the regnant exceptionalist attitude, epitomized by the EU rebate negotiated by Thatcher, and David Cameron’s recent attempts at gaining ‘concessions’. The relationship that the UK currently has with the EU is not the one I want… but it’s better than the prospect of leaving. As Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party has recently much more eloquently put it:

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, we must consider our current political context. In Scotland, and in the UK, a vote to leave will be a victory for the right. The momentum in this campaign comes from and sits with a right wing leave case that says we must shut our borders, that we must reinvigorate the Empire, that we must make Britain great again. That sends shivers down my spine.

It means going back to the days of the Raj, and a colonial project in Africa that was profoundly racist. And in the 100th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, which had everything to do with challenging imperial and anti-democratic monarchical power, we need to reclaim some of the collective solidarity of that century-old republican movement.

The right wing case to leave is the dominant narrative, presented by people who think that imperialism is the highest form of capitalism, and that that is a good thing. However much we might wish it not to be the case, siding with these people means siding with those who do not not believe that the world has changed since the 19th century. As an immigrant from post-colonial Southern Africa, that horrifies me.

On another note…

And

For me, the EU is about so much more than money. Money comes and goes, and in our post-Empire, G7, G8, G20, G-etc. privileged position, we really don’t need to worry about it. Whatever happens, the financial wizards will magic up some other money, or find someone else to exploit for it. But the EU holds us to account. We put in money – much less than we should, of course – and it comes back with progressive conditions. Protecting the environment. Protecting workers’ rights. Regenerating areas that badly need it. And so on. But even more than that, the EU is an international exercise in co-operation, flying in the face of current ideologies of ‘protecting one’s own’.

This altruism, as I see it, should extend to migrants – whether from the EU or not. And rather than picking on those who have left their homes to come to the UK to work, perhaps we should be blaming those in power – politicians, employers etc. – for the lack of jobs, the poor state of the economy, growing inequality, stresses on our welfare system etc. I’ve written before about the need to defend the ‘wrong-type of immigrant‘, so I shan’t retread things here. But, another point to make is that

Finally, I think the EU is great for Green causes…

Maggie makes the Green argument much better than I could in her post.

I’m not naive. Much as I know things might not have worked out for the better if Scotland left the UK, so too I know that remaining in the EU doesn’t automatically make things better. But the EU holds the UK to account. It holds the Tories to account. It holds London to account. It allows progressive legislation to be pushed through and then rhetorically blamed on an outside force – “Oh, we’d totally lift fishing quotas, but it’s that EU making us do it” etc.

Don’t leave the UK at the mercy of the Tories, UKIP and their ilk. Don’t turn immigrants into the bad guys. Please… if you have a vote in this referendum… vote for the UK to remain in the EU.

Defending the ‘wrong type of immigrant’, and looking to the future…

Those of you in the UK might have seen images like this one in your travels around the internet or around London. I don’t know much about the campaign, but you can find out more about it here. Essentially, it is has emerged in the context of a highly toxic public debate in the UK on the issue of immigration, and aims to ‘humanise’ the debate, showing that immigrants are real people who make ‘real contributions’ to the UK.

What follows is a version of some thoughts that I posted to Facebook this morning, and I feel comfortable making them publicly.

First off, this is definitely a good first step. Hurrah! Those of you who know me, and have read my previous posts (particularly on why I voted YES in the Scottish Independence referendum) will know that I am pro-immigration through and through. But two thoughts have crossed my mind upon learning of this campaign, and I say this having only been able to find images of about 2/3 of the posters.

The first is that ‘this type of immigrant’ is exactly the ‘type of immigrant’ that UKIP wants. No political party is saying it doesn’t want ‘hardworking immigrants’ with great cultural capital who will bring ‘economic’ and other benefits to the country. I really worry about turning immigrants into a ‘positive economic investment’. Even my own party, the Scottish Green Party, have had to bow somewhat to this dominant societal discourse and frame their progressive and compassionate views on immigration in their manifesto largely in terms of economic and cultural benefit:

We believe Scotland should be a welcoming country where immigrants are celebrated as an asset to our economy and enriching for our culture. Immigration is a great benefit to Scotland, just as Scots have benefited over the generations through migration to other countries. We will consistently challenge the toxic rhetoric used by too many politicians which turns people against their neighbours. We will reinstate the post-study work visa to allow students who study at UK universities to stay and use their education in Britain. We will reform the dysfunctional approach of the UK Visas and immigration agency to meet Scottish immigration needs. We will create an asylum system which treats people with dignity.

In my view, ‘we’ have so much and ‘need’ to be welcoming to many other immigrants, including those who may ultimately be a ‘drain’ on ‘our’ economy. ‘We’ have space and money. Let’s give it to those who need it, not just those who can help ‘us’ out.

Secondly… and not specifically related to this campaign…what are the thoughts of those parties who adopt a pro-‘hardworking, highly-skilled immigrant’ stance on the long-term impact of such a stance? For example, what happens in a hypothetical world, 20 years from now, when a ‘visible’ change has happened in the top jobs in UK society, when ‘indigenous’ people feel that ‘the government’ has let them down by targeting folk from overseas, rather than prioritizing training ‘people who are already here’, and when the top performers in ‘our’ schools are increasingly 1.5 and second generation immigrants, the children of these highly-successful and driven people, etc? Personally, I don’t have a problem with that admittedly hypothetical future, and I would hope that others would be able to have the historical consciousness to trace such a situation in part to early-21st century tougher ‘controls on immigration’. Another possibility, is that the current xenophobia towards those who don’t fall in to the ‘highly-skilled’ and/or ‘hardworking’ category will simply be extended or transferred to those who do.

Anyway, as I say I think this campaign is a great first step, and hope to see much more of this kind of positivity in the future. I realise that there are likely a lot of generalizations and over-simplifications in this rant. I also appreciate the need for the country to not simply open its borders, but would always urge policy makers to remember that immigrants are people and not merely a potential economic gain/drain, and that we should perhaps be a bit more generous with the resources at our disposal.

Why “culture” presents scholars with no less difficulty than “religion”

While preparing a paper for a conference next month, I have been revisiting one of my supervisor’s books. Within, I found I had highlighted a great articulation of the problem I feel with some scholars who seem to advocate throwing away the term “religion” due to its ideological baggage, whilst wishing to retain other concepts and remaining seemingly blind to their ideological baggage. I have pasted below… but haven’t included the various footnotes…

“Whilst I appreciate Fitzgerald’s analysis, I draw the same conclusion as Carrette who concludes that ‘the idea of religion needs to be challenged… but it does not necessarily have to be eradicated’. Its eradication from the disciplinary agenda might very well mask ideological forces – liberal theological – of the kind that Fitzgerald is keen to identify, as well as those inherent within the secularist discourse of cultural studies. It would certainly remove a powerful – if contested – conceptual tool from the scholarly workshop. The proposed construct ‘culture’ is itself ideological charged and presents us with no less difficulty than ‘religion’ for an examination of Western spaces. Carrette calls for the strategic operation of ‘religion’ rather than its dissolution, on the grounds that the Western conception of religion provides ‘a location for understanding a regime of knowledge-power’. This brings me directly to my preferred perspective, one that elects to focus explicitly on the tension between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’, a major ‘binary constitutive of modernity’.”

Knott, Kim. The Location of Religion: A Spatial Analysis. London and Oakville CT: Equinox, 2005. p. 83.

Review of Les Miserables

Finally saw the film of Les Miserables. Really enjoyed it (if enjoyed is ever the right word for such a depressing show). A lot of the dull bits from the show seemed significantly less dull with the magic of cinema, and despite a Tom Hooper’s real fetish for close up shots which were quite disorienting, it looked stunning. The majority of performances were very good – Anne Hathaway in particular. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were a bit disappointing – they didn’t really add anything special to their roles – and I actually felt myself wanting to get back to the depressing main characters every moment that they were on screen. As for Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe… Jackman did VERY well, and sounded pretty good, but I don’t think he sounded as amazing as many people are saying. And to all those Russell Crowe ‘haters’ out there… I think he played the role with just the right amount of stoicism, and although his singing wasn’t up to booming bass-baritone standards, he sang all the right notes in a perfectly acceptable manner for the context. Eddie Redmayne, however… hideous. You would never get away with that amount of flappy-jawed vibrato in an amateur production – why on earth would a director obsessed with close-up shots not nip this in the bud from the word go? Anyway, a solid 8/10 film that will be added to the DVD shelf and watched for years to come.

The Place of Religion in the Public Square: Schools, Symbols and Secularists

I read the following in a mailing that I received from the AHS – The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies.

Bishops Demand “Public Faith”

This week, three bishops are leading calls for the Church of England to make a public statement which defends the right of Christians to wear a cross. They have signed a motion condemning the “silencing” of outward displays of Christianity in Britain, and a “growing trend” towards the “restriction of religious liberty” which is to be debated at the Church’s national assembly.

The motion cites “ludicrous” cases of Christian practices and symbols being forbidden, saying attempts to scrap prayers at council meetings and to ban employees from wearing the cross could ultimately lead to religion being confined to the home. Read more about this story here.

What is publicly permissable is not always professionally appropriate – this is the key point which the motion fails to recognise. Leading a communal prayer in a church is an expression of public freedom – leading a communal prayer in a council meeting, with no reason to presume that everyone present wishes to pray along with you, is professionally inappropriate. No one would give a second glance to a person wearing a cross in public – but if that person happens to be a schoolteacher, with a responsibility to provide students with an education free from personal bias, then they have no business wearing it at work.

While the necessity to restrict religious expression may vary from one profession to the next, it remains a question of professional etiquette, NOT an attack on public freedom. Discriminating the attire and behaviour of employees is an essential part of any successful workplace…

…that’s why you can’t play your tambourine in the office.

I’m afraid I have to take issue with some of this. As regards communal prayer at council meetings – spot on. Of course people who do not wish to pray should not be made to sit through this. And what business does a secular council have bringing prayer in anyway? And what is with this assumption that one person’s prayer will work for another? If people want to pray at council meetings, they are welcome to. But communal prayers seem entirely inappropriate.

What I take issue with is the stance on the wearing of religious symbols. How does wearing an item of jewellery or some specific type of clothing mean that your teaching suddenly has bias? Really… how does it? So children can look at you and assume that you might have a personal stance… it may even provoke them to ask you about it. But that doesn’t mean that they are being taught the teacher’s own personal opinions. This is just utter nonsense. Many people who wear crosses don’t wear them for religious reasons anyway… they look cool, thanks to years of vampire movies and goth culture.

Do religious symbols cause offense?

Boiling it down to basics – if you don’t believe in the efficacy of a symbol, or in the belief system which it represents, why should it offend you? Or if you are an atheist parent worried that your child might see a cross, ask about it and then be converted… would you remove all crosses from public media, buildings, etc? Maybe you would… but surely that says more about your confidence in your own ability as a parent than about people’s right to wear what they want.

I somehow feel the reaction would have been a bit different if the teachers in question were wearing those atheist “A” pin badges, or an evolution t-shirt or something. Then they would be hailed as a hero for taking a stand against the unjust system and professing the truth. But maybe that is just me being judgemental.

I can understand an employer stepping in to tell a member of staff to take off a necklace with a severed head on it… or to stop wearing a t-shirt with swear words on when they are teaching children. But this is just a matter of common sense. A cross… that’s not offensive. A Qur’an in the classroom… that’s not offensive. A t-shirt which says ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Dharma Dude’, “Manchester United’ or ‘Vote Conservative’ isn’t offensive. One which says ‘All homosexuals burn in hell’ is. It’s all about degrees.

But bringing things back to rather bias… perhaps you think that religious issues should be kept out of the classroom? Well.. yes… except where they are taught in Religious Studies, Philosophy, History, Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology etc. Religions are social facts and should be taught as such. They are part of history, part of culture… part of many, many people’s lives and simply must be studied. Should a teacher put their own spin on it and/or tell children about their own faith/lack of faith? Well… no, not generally. However, in real life things are not that simple. But what if the children ask? Is it better that they lie? Or just keep deflecting questions? You tell me…

Sorry. Rant over.

English Universities to become a Privilege for the Rich

Having seen a report on this on BBC Breakfast this morning, I had to look up the article and share it with you. According to the BBC:

Universities in England may be permitted to make extra places available for wealthy British students, under government proposals.

They would be charged as much as those from outside the European Union (EU).

Ministers say the proposal would free up publicly subsidised university places for poorer students.

Under the current system, the government sets a quota for the number of places English universities are allowed to offer each year.

From September 2012, universities in England will be allowed to raise tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year.

It marks an increase in the cap from the current level of £3,290.

Universities wanting to charge more than £6,000 will have to undertake measures such as offering bursaries, summer schools and outreach programmes, to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to apply.

The policy was developed as the government’s response to a review of higher education funding by former BP chief Lord Browne.

Students from outside the EU pay higher fees and are not eligible for any grants or loans.

Under the latest proposals, wealthy students could pay higher fees for an extra place at the university of their choice as long as they meet entry requirements.

The move would enable the most popular universities to expand.

Universities Minister David Willetts said he wanted the government’s forthcoming white paper on university funding to liberalise the system.

BBC Education correspondent Gillian Hargreaves said the proposals “would be controversial”.

“Critics would argue the wealthiest families would be able to buy a place on a degree course,” she said.

This is absolutely disgusting. Universities are supposed to be centres for academic excellence. Whilst I definitely agree with the ‘critics’ cited at the end of this article (that these proposals will lead to the wealthy being able to buy their university degree), I also have another, much more pressing criticism.

Universities aren’t just magically going to be able to take on more students. If student places are being taken up by those who can afford to pay extortionate rates, then the number of places for ‘normal’ and ‘poorer’ people will decrease. Which people do you think universities will prefer to take on? Those who can afford to pay massive amounts’? Or those who they will have to provide bursaries and scholarships for?

I know the government will say that they will set quotas etc and ensure that this doesn’t happen… but since everything they have said so far has turned out to be so misleading – ‘we won’t raise tuition fees’… ‘okay we will, but only for a small minority of universities and courses’… ‘we’ll raise fees across the board. Hey, it’s a difficult economic time’ – this does not seem like such an unlikely scenario after all…

Rant over.

Four Months until Armageddon

Four months exactly until my thesis is due.

I now have a plan…

At least you can all hold me to it!

A plea to Northern Ireland – the fight is not ours

I don’t tend to emphasise the fact that I’m Northern Irish. I’m getting better at it… but perhaps the constant returns to utter stupidity are something to do with it. I came across this plea in a friend’s Facebook notes… and whilst I wince slightly at the hyperbolism and flowery prose (something of which I am all too frequently guilty) I thought it was most definitely worth sharing. Thanks AF.

A plea to Northern Ireland in light of the Ronan Kerr car-bomb.

The fight is not ours.

It is a historical fight derived from the cunning and deliberate divide and conquer policies of an imperial power.

The localised violence that continues to haunt parts of Northern Ireland allows the success to be theirs as we play the game set for us. We have been divided and we have been conquered and while the blame lies with our own people, the truly guilty party was an empire that is now long defunct.

Yet, despite this inalienable truth, we still fight. We still suffer car bombs, we still suffer shootings, we still suffer the threat of terror. Northern Ireland, I implore you, look at the history, take a non-compartmentalised glance and understand our past. If we continue to fight and bicker, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, Ulster will once again descend into flames. We are seen as a disgrace in modern Europe, an embarrassing backwater of tribalism, violence and depravity. But we are also seen as a vibrant, progressive and creative society that offers the world an unlimited amount of good.

Look at us, look at them, look at the past, you decide.

It is time to move on, this is not our fight.

Thank you and to Northern Ireland: be proud.

I imagine this plea could be applied to many other conflict zones around the world…

Comments and thoughts appreciated.

Religion is but one factor in human ‘bad behaviour’

I haven’t had time to read the entire post, but I have just stumbled upon this blog post, (http://myclericalerrors.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-society-i-learned-how-to-be.html) and I have to say, I heartily agree with the following:

Professor A.C. Grayling is a very articulate man but a militant &, at times, rabid atheist who likes to drop the following statement into media soundbites:
“There good & evil people in the world, but only religion makes good people do & think evil things.”

Perhaps, but I can think of ten other things that make people commit evil acts:

1). Lust.
2). An abusive upbringing.
3). Anger.
4). Political beliefs.
5). Greed.
6). Envy.
7). Revenge.
8). Fear.
9). Metal Illness.
10). Group-think.( Religious beliefs often are reinforced by this.)

Apart from perhaps the use of the word ‘rabid’… but this illustrates a very important point. I am fed up with atheists who blame everything on religion… this doesn’t mean I think religion is a ‘good’ thing… but simply that it is only rational, logical and human to acknowledge that there are many, many other factors which make ‘good’ people do ‘bad’ things.

I look forward to perusing this blog more thoroughly in the future!

‘Genuine Social Relationships’ and ‘Anonymity’ Online

“Psychologist Robin Dunbar, in his book, Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, argues that the figure of 150 people in a typical group has a deeper evolutionary basis. It turns out that 150 is roughly the number of living descendents (wives, husbands, and children) a Palaeolithic couple would produce in four generations at the birthrate of hunter-gatherer peoples. […] Even modern farming communities, like the Hutterites p…] average about 150 people.

[…] Sociologists know that once groups exceed 200 people a hierarchical structure is needed to enforce the rules of cooperation and to deal with offenders, who in the smaller group could be dealt with [160] through informal personal contracts and social pressure. […] Even in the modern world with a population of six billion people crowded into dense cities, people find themselves dividing into small groups. [… It also works for the size of military ‘companies’, and] for the size of small businesses, of departments of larger businesses, of departments in large corporations, and of efficiently run factories. […] The average number of people in any given person’s address book also turns out to be about 150 people.

[…] The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuine social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.

[… This] helps explain why people in big cities can get away with being rude, inconsiderate, and uncooperative – they are anonymous and thus not subject to the normal checks and balances hat come with seeing the same people every day.”

Shermer, Michael. 1999. How we Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science. New York: W.H. Freeman, pp. 159-160.

I am sure that many people will have written on this matter since 1999… since the internet became an ever increasing ‘big deal’ for most of us living in the West. However, this did throw up a couple of interesting thoughts for me:

1) What does this say about those people who ‘collect’ friends on Facebook? I know I used to be guilty of that. In fact I really need to do another purge. Currently I am standing at 482 ‘friends’, although I imagine I ‘know’ literally half of them if not even a smaller proportion. I guess it’s most telling when you see a Facebook ‘friend’ walk past you on the street and you both make a conscious effort not to get the other’s attention so that you don’t have to have that awkward conversation where you realise neither of you actually know anything about the other. Not that I think this is always a bad thing… it has certainly been great for getting in touch with some long-lost friends from school, and family members etc. But, to use one example, I have a ‘friend’ on Facebook who currently has 1818 friends. How on earth could you actually have a relationship with any of these people? Why collect them all and why feel the need to tell them things about your life? I actually deleted this person a while back… because I don’t in any way know them… we were involved in a short-term project over three years ago. It seemed natural for us to ‘move on’. However, they then felt the need to ‘add’ me again, and ask why I had deleted them in the first place! I told them why and accepted their persistent request… maybe they are reading this? Who knows… but this must say something about our contemporary need for validation from people we normally wouldn’t care in the slightest about. It’s… sad…

2) This also says something generally about the way people treat the internet. Online you are, in many situations, anonymous. And this has led to people having a remarkable lack of respect and tact… but equally it has given people a place to voice their opinions in situations where they might not have felt able to (such as, topically, in Egypt). However, these attitudes have also started to seep into situations where people are not anonymous… Twitter and Facebook being prime examples. I imagine it will be a few years before the legal system works out how to deal with things that people say in the spur of the moment online without really thinking things through…

Think about it…

C