I often feel a sense of frustration at people’s closed mindedness when they are confronted with facts or viewpoints that do not neatly fit within their personal worldview. These people are not skeptics according to the strict definition of the word, that is: open minded people who are prepared to critically evaluate their current views in light of new evidence or facts. They are in fact closed minded dogmatists who have already made up their mind on how the world works, and are often not prepared to ever seriously question their own worldview irrespective of whatever inconvenient facts might come along and contradict their current views. And the irony is that these people invariably present themselves as being the objective ones who uniquely have the capacity to transcend subjective fanciful thinking and wishful belief systems in favour of a more scientific and rigorous framework of thought. Most commonly, from my experience, these people are militant atheists and/or materialists (although to be fair I would probably have to include some religious people as well) who are oblivious to the fact that their views actually constitute a belief system, and are not simply objective facts as they claim. And ironically it is contemporary science that proves reductive materialism to be incorrect. (I have studied modern physics, including quantum mechanics at university, so know this to be the case.) Another irony is that militant atheists often defend their strong views on the basis that religions contain an unacceptable degree of intolerance. Whilst it may be true that sectarian religious groups can be somewhat divisive and intolerant of each others views, I often feel that the best way to promote tolerance in the world is to display it yourself!
Although I would describe myself as spiritual (as opposed to religious) I am at the same time an agnostic (technically this places me in the same category as Richard Dawkins!) in that I don’t claim or believe to know anything for absolute certain. However there are a few minor caveats to this cautious disposition: Firstly I don’t extend my reservations concerning certain knowledge on everyone else, and insist that they should likewise uphold an agnostic stance. For one thing some people, having had transcendental experiences, claim they know for sure their experience was real and what they learned from their experience constituted certain knowledge. Despite being an agnostic myself I would not presume to claim that these people, who have had experiences I have not personally had or fully understand, have no right to regard their experience as being real, and their subsequent knowledge from it to constitute certain knowledge. In addition to this, there are perhaps others who may have not had spiritual experiences as such, but are able to intuitively know things for certain. In other words perhaps they are able to transcend the logical/analytical human mind and directly perceive (to some degree) a higher level of reality which we cannot readily apprehend by just using the limited five human senses. I do not have such intuitions myself but perhaps other people do.
All I am basically claiming is that intellectual reasoning alone can never lead to certain knowledge. It is always possible to be mistaken irrespective of how persuaded one is by the power of one’s own corroborative arguments and supportive chains of reasoning. And since I personally have always had to rely merely on analytical reasoning alone I do not feel I can claim to know anything for certain.
The second caveat is this: Although I believe that nothing can be known for certain by intellectual reasoning alone, I nonetheless believe it is possible to know for certain that particular viewpoints are incorrect. For example, I am absolutely certain that reductive materialism is an incorrect worldview, even though I can’t legitimately claim to have certain knowledge of the true nature of reality. If this might seem a contradictory position to take, a simple analogy might help: If you lose your car keys (like I did the other day) and look in a drawer only to discover they are not there, you can then claim to know for certain that the keys are not in that particular drawer. There is no contradiction in making this claim whilst at the same time not having certain knowledge of where the keys actually are. And the same principle applies to worldviews. I do not know the true nature of reality, but I know what it isn’t – and it is not reductive materialism! This is a paradigm which is essentially rooted in outdated 17th century Newtonian physics, and is not compatible with the more recently observed physical facts of the world.
In summary, it would be accurate to say that I categorize my thoughts and opinions in a probabilistic fashion, as opposed to a definitive black and white correct/incorrect mode of thinking. Based on my knowledge of near death experience research (primarily conducted by cardiologists and surgeons) and also my knowledge of contemporary science (primarily from studying at university) I would put my money on the following propositions being true: i) There is an afterlife. ii) There is a ‘god’ (but perhaps not in the traditional religious sense of the word, hence the inverted commas). iii) The world we experience via our physical senses is illusory.
Behind all these subjective viewpoints however, there are objective definitive answers. It is just that most of us are not in a position to assert what these answers are, even if what we believe just happens to correspond with the objective true facts of the world. Oscar Wilde once said “The truth is rarely pure and never simple” and I think this sentiment is largely applicable to most of our human based knowledge and opinions, and the multitude of lines of reasoning and philosophical arguments that are used to support them. But at the end of the day there are still objective facts of the world that ultimately have definitive yes/no answers. But most of us will have to wait until another time to know the answers for sure – that is of course assuming there is some kind of existence beyond this physical plane…..which I personally would put my money on.
Those people who are against the Thatcher protestors and the public outcry about spending 10 million of public money on her funeral might want to consider the following points:-
The typical justification coming from the right for spending around ten million pounds of public money on Thatcher’s funeral is that whatever you think of her politics she was still a very strong leader who fought for her country, changed so many things, and had the courage and conviction to stand up for what she believed in.
Well Hitler was all those things as well. He possessed a determination for making his country great, he stood up for what he believed in, and was certainly a game changer, and in some respects even a remarkable person (I mean this in a pejorative sense of course). I am not directly comparing Margaret Thatcher to Hitler (not quite anyway) but just making the point that these qualities in themselves can’t be used to justify spending so much on Thatcher’s funeral. None of these things change the fact that she was a hugely divisive figure who caused a considerable amount of suffering in Britain during her reign as prime minister, and succeeded in destroying entire communities, many of whom have never fully recovered since. And for those who are complaining that some of the protesters are too young to remember Thatcher, so therefore are unable to form a valid opinion on the matter – well I was not even around during the period of apartheid, and Hitler died before I was even born. But my opinion of him is still valid, as is my opinion of apartheid.
It is very easy to use the above kind of reasoning if you have no problems with what she did. But if you or your family are amongst those who suffered so much at the hands of her barbaric policies, or even if you like me, simply have a strong sense of social justice, then the justification used above for spending so much on her funeral somehow falls well short of the mark.
Before I go on let me tell you a bit about myself and my family background. My father left school and went straight into an apprenticeship, thereafter securing a rewarding career in engineering up until the mid-eighties, where partly as a result of Thatcher’s policies he was made redundant from the engineering company where he then worked. After a relatively short period of time of going from one menial job to another he decided to invest most of his redundancy pay in setting up a business. This led to him establishing a successful business within a year or two of his redundancy, where he carried on working well into his sixties until he was forced to retire because of my mother’s failing health. Thankfully he fared somewhat better than some of his former colleagues at the engineering firm, some of whom ended up taking their own lives as a result of not being able to find work after being made redundant.
As for me, I have done pretty ok myself. While still being a few pounds shy of making my first million I have nonetheless managed to get by ok financially. I didn’t do so great at school, but moved to Plymouth at 18 and shortly thereafter became a student, starting off doing a National Diploma in Electrical & Electronic Engineering at the Plymouth College of Further Education and then going on to university to do a degree or two, one of which was in Computer Engineering. And I did all this concurrently with working around 30 hours a week, doing a combination of early morning cleaning, working evenings in a restaurant, and eventually building up my own window cleaning round as well (I was so knackered as a result I ended up sleeping through most of my lectures, and had a reputation for disturbing other students with my frequent snores). I now earn a living doing a combination of part time work in restaurants and software design on a freelance basis (primarily by using project4hire and similar online resources).
The point I am basically making is that I am a hard-working and reasonably ambitious individual who comes from a similarly hard working family background. But the problem is this. I do, despite all this, have a strong sense of social justice. And this is where I start to have a problem with Margaret Thatcher and her politics.
Even many people on the right concede to the fact she got some things wrong, but frankly it is hard to see what she got right. Many benefitted from her ‘right to buy policy’ where they were able to buy their own council houses. From a personal point of view the people who benefitted from this policy are perhaps justified in feeling a degree of gratitude for what Thatcher did for them. But this policy had an ideological underpinning. She did not believe in the principle of social housing. And from a long term pragmatic point of view this policy has not ended up working for the benefit of wider society. As a result of selling off council houses at knockdown prices many properties eventually ended up in the hands of private investors. Ultimately the welfare bill has gone up as a result because many poorer people have been forced into the private housing sector where they are now claim housing benefit for extortionate amounts of rent.
What else did she do? Ah yes, she privatized all the utility companies, which is why we in the UK are now being fleeced by German and French utility companies, and can no longer afford to heat our homes and eat properly as well. Many are forced between one or the other, including many elderly people!
Also don’t forget it was the politics of Reagan and Thatcher that resulted in so much deregulation of the financial institutions, something that has only recently been exposed for what it truly was – extremely misguided policy making!
Barack Obama has just praised Thatcher for being “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty.” I was somewhat shocked to hear a politician I respect so much make such a statement. Perhaps his knowledge is somewhat sketchy on the amount of suffering she caused in the UK during her reign of prime minister. I will give him the benefit of the doubt on this one since I still believe his heart is ideologically in the right place. I am not confused however as to why Thatcher is so popular in America per se, a country that is traditionally quite conservative (although thankfully that is all starting to shift now with the demographic changes that are currently taking place across America). It is interesting how American’s frequently use terms such as ‘freedom’ in such a euphemistic fashion, basically to disguise the true sponsoring thought behind this term – a ‘survival of the fittest each man for himself’ mode of politics. By extending their logic further we could conclude that if we want even more freedom then we could also do away with law and order, and hence save the taxpayer even more money. Indeed why have legislation at all? Isn’t having all those pesky laws about not being able to just do as we please at someone else’s expense encroaching on people’s personal freedom?
Margaret Thatcher was overtly bedazzled by the free market model of economics and laissez-faire politics. A staunch believer in Adam Smith’s invisible hand (invisible because it doesn’t exist) she naturally believed in the trickledown theory. And most of her policies reflected this mindset. And the trickledown theory is probably one of the most discredited theories of all time.
Margaret Thatcher basically destroyed manufacturing in this country, ruined entire communities, and inflated and deregulated the financial sector, encouraging a era of greed and an ‘every man for himself’ culture. This is the legacy of Thatcher. And we still live with it today.
At the time of me writing this post the music track ‘Ding Dong! The witch is dead!’ has just reached the midweek top ten, sparking outcries that the record should be banned on radio and music TV stations. Even more outrageous is the talk of police now potentially having the powers to pre-emptively arrest people ahead of Thatcher’s funeral for things they have not actually done! (Remind anyone of a certain Hollywood film starring Tom Cruise?)
We are about to spend in the tune of ten million pounds of tax payers money on her funeral! This for many people is just rubbing their faces in it. At the very least let these people have their protests. And at the very very least do not pre-emptively arrest these people for things they haven’t actually done yet on the basis that they might do something at some point in the future. At least give people that much respect!
Anyway I have to go now in order to download ‘Ding! Dong! The witch is Dead!”
It’s a great tune isn’t it?
I rushed out to see the premier showing of this movie as a result of being impressed with the promising looking trailers for the film. My initial fears of a somewhat hollow movie (remember Tron Legacy from the same director a few years ago) fortunately turned out to be completely unfounded.
Kosinski’s directorial debut – Tron Legacy – was somewhat of a disappointment, particularly considering the acting behemoth at his disposal by the name of Jeff Bridges, the ample budget to thrift away on visual wizardry, and the most exhilarating of musical scores by Daft Punk. But alas, it turned out to be a classic case of style and aesthetics over substance. In Kosiniski’s defence however he did not write the script for Tron Legacy, one of the key elements which let the movie down so much (along with the piss poor dialogue). He did however co-write the screenplay for this movie. And it was not found wanting by any stretch of the imagination.
Before watching this movie I checked out a few online reviews as I normally do before watching these kinds of films. The first one I stumbled across was a review written by a journalist from the Guardian broadsheet. It reads: “A bafflingly solemn, lugubrious and fantastically derivative sci-fi…..with little snippets of Top Gun.” What!!! What is this guy on? Did he actually watch the right movie? Perhaps he accidentally saw GI Joe or something by mistake. I would have expected such a comment from someone who writes for a right wing newspaper, but the Guardian is actually a left wing paper (I know – I double checked just to be sure.)
It is near impossible nowadays to make any sci-fi movie that bears absolutely zero resemblance, visually or with respect to plot references, to any sci-fi movie that went before it. However a good sci-fi movie will have enough of its own ideas and original plot line to bring genuine surprise and suspense to an audience. And this movie meets this criteria with flying colours. In addition to the suspenseful plot line, solid lead role by Tom Cruise, and incredible visuals, there is plenty of atmosphere too. And not only are the visuals very impressive but they are also very innovative, as one might expect from a former visionary architect.
And the fact that Joseph Kosinski is a former architect really shines through in the gorgeous aesthetic design of this film (as it did in some respects with Tron Legacy too). Aside from the amazing computer generated effects there is lots of stunning cinematography (I’m pretty sure of Iceland) that has clearly been computer enhanced (courtesy of Photoshop I think).
From the trailers I was already expecting the film to be quite spectacular on a visual level, and in that respect it certainly didn’t disappoint. But in terms of quality of plot this film far exceeded my expectations. In no way does this film resemble a typical summer blockbuster pop corn movie. Whilst the film admittedly does not demand huge amounts of grey matter to comprehend what is going on, it does nonetheless have a lot of soul to it. And there are some great plot twists to boot. I certainly don’t see how anyone could legitimately complain this film is too predictable.
Without question the best movie of the year so far (for what that is worth). I would have loved to see this in IMAX (or even 3-D wouldn’t have been bad). But even on a plain old fashioned 2-D screen this movie impacts hugely on a visual level.
This is my favourite genre of film – a sci-fi with soul!
America has wisely delayed testing a nuclear missile in response to the growing tensions in North Korea. This has been criticized by some people who are concerned this gesture is showing ambiguity to North Korea, potentially causing confusion about how strong America’s resolve is to respond to future acts of aggression from Kim Jong-Un and his political regime. The people who criticize this attempt by America to de-escalate the growing tensions in North Korea are mostly the same people who glibly point out the dire consequences to North Korea should such an act of aggression take place, making comments such as: “If North Korea launch any attack on US bases or South Korea, within minutes there will be a massive crater where North Korea used to be.”
I seriously doubt however whether anyone, including the leadership of North Korea, is under any illusion that a pre-emptive strike against American bases or South Korea would effectively be an act of suicide. It is virtually certain that Kim Jong-Un is not genuinely trying to provoke a full blown conflict. But he might nonetheless be capable of acts of irrationality if he is backed into a corner. Or he mistakenly backs himself into a corner. If his credibility as leader of North Korea is seriously compromised in any way his own life will potentially be in jeopardy, as his generals are liable to turn against him. Also the survival of the leading political regime in North Korea depends in part on keeping up the charade of standing up to the foreign imperialist powers who want nothing more than to invade North Korea at a moment’s notice and exploit it for commercial gain.
So acts of apparent irrationality are entirely possible should the situation continue to escalate much further. With nothing left to lose their natural instinct will be to take as many people down as they possibly can before they go down themselves. And they are well capable of doing this. They do after all have weapons of mass destruction (albeit with a limited range of delivery) which would potentially inflict massive damage to South Korea, local US bases and possibly neighbouring countries.
The political regime in North Korea sustains power by perpetuating the myth that the North Korean people’s own suffering is inextricably linked to the oppressive outside imperialist powers, and these powers present an ongoing threat to North Korea as an independent state. Without doubt the North Korean government is well capable of using propaganda tactics to perpetuate the greatly exaggerated perception of an almost continually ongoing threat of invasion by foreign imperialist powers. But their job has unquestionably been made easier by the aggressive foreign policies of America. Still fresh in the mind of many is the fact that 80% of the infrastructure of their country was destroyed by American bombing during the 1950-53 Korean war. Saturation bombing flattened 18 of 22 major cities in North Korea and resulted in over one and a half million civilian casualties (something like 20% of the population of the country). The memory of this is still fresh in the minds of many North Korean people, and has the effect of adding credibility to the propaganda spouted by the North Korean political regime that imperialist powers want to invade their country, and therefore North Korea need to take steps to avert this.
They have also in recent times witnessed America invading countries such as Iraq, ostensibly to protect themselves from the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but in reality for very different reasons. After 9/11 the Bush administration began to suggest that Saddam Hussein was in leagues with al-Qaeda, and was likely to try and supply them with weapons of mass destruction to attack America with. The reality however was that Saddam was a secular Arab nationalist who dealt harshly with Islamists in Iraq. So this allegation was never particularly likely. And the intelligence supporting the claim that Saddam had WMDs was hardly worth the paper it was written on. Much of this intelligence was compiled under considerable pressure and duress from warmongering politicians who had already formed the firm intention to invade Iraq anyway, a country of considerable strategic importance to America. It may appear that the mess left behind after the war, and all the internal conflicts that ensued, were not at all anticipated by the Bush administration prior to invading the country. But upon reflection it is not altogether clear how this could have been the case. Iraq was a somewhat artificial country created by the British at the end of the Second World War out of part of the Ottoman Empire. There were Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the centre and Shiites in the south, an uneasy cohabitation Saddam held together by ruthless oppression. This of course does not justify that ruthless oppression, but it is highly implausible these facts were not factored in by the analysts who were advising the Bush administration during the period of preparation to invade Iraq. The welfare of Iraq after the conflict however was unlikely a high priority of the Bush administration.
Not only this but America propped up and supported brutal dictators in several South American countries during the years of the cold war, many of whom oppressed and tortured their own people. America also helped to displace democratically elected leaders, leading in some cases to brutal dictators taking their place. In 1950 the people of Iran elected a secular democrat as prime minister. He instantly nationalized British and American oil companies, therefore returning Iran’s oil to its people. As a direct consequence of this in 1953 the British and American governments organized a military coup which resulted in the overthrow of the democratically elected government and reinstalled a Shah (unelected dictator) as leader of Iran. This led to years of ruthless oppression, poverty and torture.
But why does this division of the Korean peninsula exist in the first place? When the Second World War ended the Russians occupied the North and Americans the South. It was essentially like the history of Germany all over again. And of course the same situation occurred in Vietnam. The Russians set up a Communist government in their zone and in the South the Americans set up an anti-communist government. Then both the Russians and Americans cleared out and left them to it. What happened next? Each government naturally had the instinct of reuniting the country under their own political systems, constantly regarding the other side with great suspicion. When the North eventually invaded the South in June 1950 there was a general perception by Washington policy makers that this represented a much wider threat. They completely failed to see it for what it was. The reality was that this was a localized civil war created from the divisions caused by the allied countries occupying the Korean peninsula at the end of the Second World War. Washington policy makers however interpreted this event as communist expansion directed by the Kremlin, so embarked on a long term policy of ‘containment’ (a somewhat euphemistic term). It is this very thinking that also caused the Americans to intervene in Vietnam about ten years on from this, with correspondingly horrific consequences.
It is perhaps unfair to categorize America as being an aggressive imperialist power in the same sense that historically world powers have tended to be imperialist. This is undoubtedly an exaggerated view. But nonetheless there has unquestionably been imperialist elements to American foreign policy from time to time. The current policy of trying to diffuse the North Korean crisis by postponing nuclear missile tests is refreshing to see, and indicates that Washington policy makers may have cottoned on to the fact that sending nuclear capable stealth and B2 bombers to take part in South Korean training exercises has made the situation worse and resulted in increased tensions in North Korea.
It may be true that if North Korea launched a pre-emptive strike against South Korea and US bases there will be “a massive crater where North Korea used to be”, but this is not an outcome that anyone wants. The North Korean people are innocent victims in this crisis as well. They do not deserve to be vaporized simply because they believe the propaganda being fed to them by their ruling elite. And it should be remembered the colossal damage North Korea would likely inflict before they are themselves destroyed.
Some people feel that appeasing North Korea will not produce a desirable outcome. However backing North Korea into a corner will not produce a desirable outcome either. Let’s hope Washington policy makers continue their current trend of trying to diffuse the situation. And let us all be thankful the Bush administration is no longer in power in America!
We should not make rash judgements and legislation based on a few bad cases.
The reality – this was not simply a case of a few bad apples within the media corporations. The problems were systemic and widespread, and often included the complicity of the people at the top of the news organizations, such as the chief editors for instance.
Introducing regulation would be a slippery slope to government controlled press.
The reality – the slippery slope argument could be applied to pretty much anything, including legislation itself. It could have been historically argued that introducing the law of the land was a slippery slope to the loss of individual freedom and human rights. The point of legislation in the first place is to balance the rights and freedoms of particular groups of individuals to the rights and freedoms of other groups of individuals. At the moment, with regards to the British media, that balance is missing.
The prevalence of social networking makes legislation pointless. It will not stop people tweeting their personal views.
The reality – there is perhaps an argument for introducing more regulation into social media. But the lack of current regulation should not be used as an excuse for not bothering to regulate the press. And it is highly questionable that a few tweets carry the same kind of authority as the British media.
People never believe what they read in the papers anyway.
The reality – despite the common argument that people do not believe what they read in the press, the reality is that the British media do have considerable gravitas and authority. I think it is difficult to maintain the argument that the British media do not influence peoples thinking. If this were not the case why did so many British politicians crawl over broken glass to ingratiate themselves with Rupert Murdoch?
It was legalities rather than ethics that were at the heart of the indiscretions of the media.
The reality – I think it was actually both.
Legislation which enforces press regulation equates to the loss of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are vital to a well run democracy.
The reality – Absolute load of bollocks. Statutory regulation is not the loss of freedom of speech. Everyone agrees that self-regulation does not work, and that it needs to be replaced by independent regulation. However, regulation without enforcement is a pointless exercise. And the only way to enforce regulation is through legislation.
It will be just the same as the introduction of super-injunctions. It will simply be used by the wealthy.
The reality – this is an absolutely bonkers argument. Statutory regulation is nothing like super-injunctions.
Newspapers are in decline, so it is a problem that will go away on its own in time.
The reality – maybe, but it hasn’t gone away yet.
Celebrities who seek notoriety should accept this as one of the consequences of being famous.
The reality – not quite sure this ‘take the rough with the smooth’ kind of argument is really fair. But apart from directly affecting the celebrities it also affects the innocent families of the celebrities, including their children. And what about Milly Dowler, Christopher Jefferies, Kate and Gerry McCann etc. None of these people were celebrities.