Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Laziness: An Intellectual's Apology V

'All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.'

Laziness

What I don't wish to talk about here is apathy. That's very different. And - since I'm avoiding my work in writing this - it would be somewhat hypocritical.

But our society today is intrinsically lazy. We do expect everything to be served to us. And for happiness to be the sole object. I've touched on our hedonism before, but I don't think that I need to expand on it here. I'm sure you all understand my ideas.

The problem of Laziness

What is the problem? Well, laziness has never been a good thing. Sloth is one of the Seven Capital Sins. But our self-serving sloth simply procastinates our problems. Take energy - the over-discussed topic of our age.

We could sort out the problem of our energy crisis. It wouldn't take all that much effort in the greater scheme of things. A few years of high taxes to provide capital to build vast new renewable energy sources. And the crisis would be over. And global warming would be mostly fixed as well. But why don't we do it? Because it's hard. No government could suggest such a measure. They'd lose office within a year. Simply because no-one is willing to tightne their belts. No-one takes collective responsibility. And we must; there is no-one else to do so.

Us

We too must not be lazy. But so many people do not realise this. This is where I return to my perennial theme: thought. We must think. As I wrote in one of my first posts:

'Surely, we must wake up. If we actually realised, as a whole race, that we can think, we could also achieve something useful.' (i)

I have had an interesting debate with Mr Watson recently.(ii) Some of you may have read it. Do we have an obligation to fulfil our potential? I venture to suggest that we do. This of course necessitates some form of moral law. But if we can serve humanity, we should do so. Those who can act need to do so; because otherwise, one is being exceedingly selfish. 'I will not act - I will block improvement - because it takes too much effort to act. It would detract from my happiness. Mr W - to his credit - noted this: 'Perhaps one could say that my approach is selfish in that by aiming to only be happy, I am only looking out for my own happiness and failing to make sacrifices for others.'(iii) However, I think his fundamental assumption is wrong. He claims that 'my happiness comes soully from the happiness of others, then one appreciates that my goals are not at all selfish. The only selfishness comes in deciding what I believe true happiness actually is and allowing that to override other people's ideas.'

I think that the assumption underneath this is one of relativism- that there is no absolute standard of happiness, and its causes. I suggest that there is. One is happy if one is not poor; one is happy if one is not ill. Obviosuly these are extreme examples. Happiness is not always the same for everyone. But this misses the point. I have never meant personal happiness.

Nick's point - to which we both replied - was this:

'I like to think that we are somewhat unusual; that is to say that we are thinkers. We ponder, consider and reflect on anything and everything, some of us 24/7 (I, admittedly, not being one of those). I do not think of us as some sort of intellectual elite, but rather suggest that we have, in some small way, already escaped from that dreaded mediocrity, or God forbid, mediocracy.What do you all think? - am I being snobbish? Complacent? Arrogant?......or do I just state the blindingly obvious? Please be frank and honest: as that same esteemed thinker said in his post a few weeks ago, all I ask you to is one thing: think.' (iv)

I do not quote this for self-serving purposes. Merely to give you the context of our debate. My exortation to thought was an exortation to 'help to get things going'. It was never personal happiness. It was always absolute happiness.

Happiness

Is over-rated. It's nice. But it is not the sole aim and purpose of our existence. I'll go into that if you force me. In blindly pursuing our own contentment, we stumble and fall on the narrow path, which is stony and crooked. Those who find the path are few, now that society has rejected it.

Whether or not you walk the path, act.

'Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.' [Paulus PP. VI]

P

References:
(i)http://philahlquist.blogspot.com/2007/02/stand-on-your-head-intellectuals.html
(ii)http://nickrwalters.blogspot.com/2007/02/meritocracy-mediocrity-and-mediocracy.html
(iii) Ibid.
(iv) Ibid.

Monday, 26 February 2007

An observation, per St. Augustine

'Patience is the companion of wisdom'

If you've wondered why I periodically have breaks in writing, it's to learn the art of patience. It's a long, painful task.

Incidentally, you might be intruiged to note that St. Augustine also said:

'Audi Partem Alteram'

Hear the other side.

P

Pride and Prejudice: 'An Intellectual's Apology IV'

Jane Austen

It's a good title. The two often go together. But I'm not proposing to discuss Austen's novel. There are those who are more able to do so than I. To them I leave it.

Nonetheless, pride and prejudice often go hand in hand. Thus I'll use the title. Because I would like to mention the academic versions of it. They're something that are prevalent amongst academic debate. We are not immune. I am not. But it should be noted. Especially considering my wider ponderings of intellectualism. I'll deal with them separately.

Pride

Pride is insidious. It is also one of my personal vices. I do not claim perfection. But I have observed it from a close position, as it were. And seen it in others.

Intellectual pride comes in three main varieties. The first is easy to define, and exceedingly hard to eradicate. Intellectual snobbery: 'I ponder; you throw food. I am better'. Obviously, all are equal. Thus to assume that we are any better than others in lower spheres is wrong. Though I know I do so.

The second variety is more perilous. It is this: that one's opinions - because one is so intelligent - must be correct. This is absurd. But we still fall into the trap. This is something I've seen on a few posts in the month or so they've been written. Only a very few. But it does exist. One of mine is equally at fault. That is why I always wish for you to argue with me.

The third (which, since this is written ex abrupto, I must now pause to recollect) is (got it!) is to parade one's qualities in another's face. Our intelligence - or our beliefs - are not a tool for 'one-up-manship'. They are a cross we have to bear (in the true sense, for those of interest). They are not - as I have seen them used - a bright yellow luminous flag to wave at others.

Prejudice

Prejudice links closely to the second and third forms of Pride. It is to dismiss alternative opinions and form judgments without hearing argument. That is why that none of this is my final opinion. It is done without hearing argument; it is done to initiate the argument. I have seen this done. Not just online. Rarely, in fact, amongst this community. But particularly, I see it in General Studies. By the teachers. And by the great unclean in the other corners. Stubbornly sticking to one's beliefs. When all around them is cut to the ground. Yet believing in one's correctness. Sometimes it disgusts me.

Linked - and more likely our problem - is the assumption that one cannot learn. We are all young. Wisdom comes with age; intelligence is a gift. Yet we, the self-appointed intelligent, must not - must never - dismiss the work and thoughts of more pedestrian beings. I'm afraid to suggest, mes amis, that this means listening to our learned teachers. they may not be as bright as some, but they do have experience. This thought came to me when I was thinking of certain subjects we do.

Conclusion

Be open to debate. Always. Even your core beliefs must be debated; if only to gather others in accordance. And remember - as Plutarch had it - a beard does not make a philosopher.

P

Friday, 23 February 2007

An Intellectual’s Apology III: Pain

And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
(i)

The problem

Don't worry. This is not going to be an adolescent rant about suffering and pain. Just a rant about suffering and pain. Because of intelligence. But you'll be glad to know that I'll deal witht he other side of the topic very soon indeed.

Fergus will be pleased. I intend to deal with this topic by using a number of quotations. I'll try to reference them all. This is because of the fact that, simply, it's been discussed before.

I shall first return to the words of 'The Preacher':

So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.

Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.


Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.(ii)

This, albeit in archaic language, is the root of the problem. Look around at the world. Look inside yourself. Look at other people. Do you see good things? Or do you see suffering, anger, pain, and injustice? I mean those words in their strongest sense. Not in our modern political language. I mean 'the evil work that is done under the sun'.

My perspective

If I may be so immodest, I would like to show you - as I can - my perspective. Remember, as always, that it is not a final voice. And do forgive me if I offend: for once, I will be more frank than usual. I'll try and keep religious ethics out of it, but such underlying principles may slip in occasionally.

Hedonism

The esteemed writer, Mr Rice, recently wrote: 'I hate to sound like a dinosaur, but it really does seem like the moral standards... of this generation are apalling. People seem to be advancing the liberal agenda and "sexual revolution" as an inherently good thing'(iii)

The comment caused a small amount of controversy amongst commentators. But I would tend to agree with him. Hedonism is our way of life. Not just now (not really 'decline'), but our 'enlightened' age is irresponsible. Our duty is to ourselves above others. We can do what we want.

The consequences

What are the consequences of this? Well, to take sexual morality alone:

  • Broken marriages
  • Suffering children
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • 'Sexualised' children at an ever-younger age, striving to be too mature

To use the example of what would have previously been called avarice:

  • World poverty
  • Local poverty
  • Pride

But when people earn money, do we object? No. And do not say that we should. Yet increasingly, money has become a means to an end. This means people become obsessed with numbers, not people. Status, not other human beings.

The point

No doubt you will have heard all of this before. But the problem is that it's always there. in everything I see, there is human fallability. We are all so flawed. And it's always there. It's rather depressing.

Now, most of the time, it can be borne. I'd always rather be intelligent and painfully aware than dim and happy. Ever wondered where the phrase 'ignorance is bliss' comes from? It's often used to suggest that there's something that someone doesn't want to know. But actually, it's not that:

'Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more, where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise' (iv)

'Thought would destroy their paradise'. That, I think, is the point. Dostoyevsky, 'Notes from the Underground':

'I want now to tell you, gentlemen, whether you care to hear it or not, why I could not even become an insect. I tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect. But I was not equal even to that. I swear, gentlemen, that to be too conscious is a disease - a real, actual disease. For man's everyday needs, it would have been quite enough to have the ordinary human consciousness, that is, half or a quarter of the amount which falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unhappy nineteenth century, especially one who has the fatal ill-luck to inhabit Petersburg, the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole terrestrial globe... (v)

That, I think, is enough of my rant. To return to Ecclesiastes:

'And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.

I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow'. (vi)

I should add, of course, that there are advantages. I shall turn to them next.

P

References:
(i) Ecclesiastes, Ch. I vv. 17-18
(ii) Ibid., Ch. IV vv. 1-4
(iii) http://gavinantonyrice.blogspot.com/2007/02/moral-decline.html
(iv) 'Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College', 1749, Thomas Gray.
(v) 'Notes from the Underground', Fyodor Dostoyevsky
(vi) Ecclesiastes, Ch. I vv. 13-18

Monday, 19 February 2007

Tolerance

I thought I'd give the post an obvious title. Just for once.

'Tolerance'

Tolerance is one of those 'good' words in our society. Others include democracy, multi-culturalism, diversity, equality. Some are accepted; others are condemned as 'buzz-words'. There are, of course, the opposites: intolerance, dictatorship, élitism. You know the words I refer to, I'm sure.

Such words are a little pet hate or mine. Or rather a large one. I prefer, at this stage, to express no general opinions on the topics themselves. Except tolerance, of course. That;s the point of the post. But of the others, let me say that we must be careful what we mean by the words. Consider the example of tolerance.

The rise of tolerance

Tolerance is one of the cardinal virtues of our society today. That is not a bad thing. But tolerance can go too far. That is why I hope that it is well defined when people extol its virtues.

My own example

I often wonder whether I should be more compromising. But I tend to conclude that I am in the right vein. Being self-opinionated and pompous makes that conclusion inevitable, I suppose.

What is the point of excessive tolerance? It gets close to the various forms of relativism, which are really rather absurd. Naturally, I respect other people's opinions, but I can still believe them to be entirely wrong.

To take the controversial subject of religion for a moment: I am a Christian, thus I hold firmly to Christian beliefs. Because of that, I must necessarily believe that all other religious beliefs are wrong when they conflict with mine. Is any other position truly logical?

In practice

It is the practical applications of such a position when one starts to commit social sins. Take abortion, for example. My beliefs lead me to think that it's murder. Nothing else, except in the very rarest of circumstances, when killing the child is necessary. Such as to preserve the mother's life.

So where does that leave me? In 2004, in England and Wales, 193,160 abortions took place. Of these, only 19% were for medical reasons. Thus with the most conservative estimates possible, that's 156,456 murders of unborn, defenceless children.

But I do not want to make this a discussion of the topic of abortion itself. What am I to do with this ethical dilemma I find myself in? By the rules of society, I must 'tolerate' others' beliefs. But it is not ethically justifiable to stand and do nothing at all.

Another example

So that I do not turn this into a fundamentalist Christian rant - which it might sound like at the moment - I'll observe that exactly the same problem applies on issues where a church is divided. And not just 'The Church', in that 'interesting' Protestant-Catholic debate, but when an individual church is divided.

Going to a free church, we set our own rules. Not a great idea. It means we get hugely liberal in some areas and mind-bogglingly conservative in others. For example, it's not possible to serve in a position of responsibility in the church unless one is baptised as an adult and by total immersion. Both are absolutely necessary. Which is absurd.

But more seriously, we have not objections as a church to re-marriage. That is strictly unbiblical. So what do I do? Kick up a fuss? What would my good friends - that re-married couple - say to that?

The solution

The solution must be persuasion. I must accept that other people have the right to be wrong. And try to persuade them diplomatically, rationally, and respectably, that my beliefs are right, rather than theirs. It is, after all, a denial of my own beliefs not to do so. Not to let me do that would be intolerant.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

'The Verdict'

Surprisingly, I'm rather hooked on a short Reality Television programme, braodcast on BBC2 this week. It's an analysis of legal proceedings, especially jury dynamics. It's not a perfect programme. Using a celebrity jury to try a celebrity case makes it unrepresentative. But nonetheless it's an intellectual programme.

It also brought up two more points of Jurisprudence, which I think I shall come back to when my English essay is finished. They are, briefly, the use of hearsay evidence, and the right to silence. Gavin, perceptively, has already asked about the latter. I promise an imminent answer.

As to my own silence of the last few days, I should apologise. Firstly, the programme and working have worn down my writing time. Secondly, I went on a lovely trip out to the countryside for a re-union with friends. Which was brilliant. But I've been busy!

P

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Back to Jurisprudence: The return of double jeopardy

After my forays into general comment, I thought I'd return to my proper topic. So, true to form, I shall now show you how the Government's legal reforms are again absurd.

Double Jeopardy

Protection against double jeopardy is an ancient civil right. It was part of Roman lawIt has been part of our law for the last 800 years. It means this: if a person is aquitted of a crime, he cannot be retried. The prosectution can, of course, appeal. But that is part of the same trial.

Now, however, the government has reintroduced double jeopardy.(i) In certain cases, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) can apply to the Court of Appeal for a re-trial. There are limitations, however. It can only be done when 'new and compelling evidence', not used at the original trial, is brought to light.

To the average chappy, this may seem reasonable. But I would like to examine the development of the principles behind the issue. More frightening is the Government's new take on jurisprudence. I hope you will see the dangerous nature of the Act of 2003.

Sir William Blackstone

This is one chap to whom I will probably refer several times over the course of my writing. A Fellow of All Souls, he was elected the first Vinerian Professor of Law in 1756. As a product of twelve years' worth of lectures, we are left with his great heritage, his Commentaries on the Laws of England. In four books. It is the greatest law-book we have ever had.

[For those of you wondering what the term means, Blackstone defined Jurisprudence as 'the knowledge of things divine as well as human - the science of the just as well as the unjust'. It is modernly defined as 'the theory of law'. Technically, I hope to do a degree in Jurisprudence, not law]

So where does Blackstone come in with our present topic? In his Commentaries, he expounded the principles of protection from double jeopardy:

"First, the plea of autrefoits acquit, or a former acquittal, is grounded on this universal maxim of the common law of England, that no man is to be brought into jeopardy of his life, more than once, for the same offence. And hence it is allowed as a consequence, that when a man is once fairly found not guilty upon any indictment, or other prosecution, he may plead such acquittal in bar of any subsequent accufation for the same crime. Therefore an acquittal on an appeal is a good bar to an indictment of the same offence." (ii)

The principle

What is the reasoning for this policy? The underlying reason, firmly rooted in our system of jurisprudence, is that the State (with all its resources and power) should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offence. In doing so they would be subjecting him to embarrassment, expense and ordeal, compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.

But, you say, what if he's guilty? More of Blackstone's words have achieved axiomatic importance in the establishment of our system of common law: 'It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer'.

In such broad problems as this, legislators and judges must look at the whole issue.

In modern times

Now, however, this principle is being undermined. Our present government has long been in legal paralysis. It has aimed not to look like right-wing supporters of harsh, deterrent sentences. Yet it wants to be 'tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime'. So it has a paradox.

Their solution is absurd. Incompetant Asbos and such can be dealt with later. But their solution is far from impotent. It is lethally dangerous. Marcel Berlins wrote in the Guardian:

'The way Blair and his ministers are trying to sell the new who-cares-about-the-innocent world is by way of a deviously populist approach centred on "the victim" - and using the key, if inappropriate, word "rebalance".

'Let me translate for you the phrase that the government is so fond of bandying about: "rebalancing the criminal justice system in favour of the victim." This has very little to do with victims. Our aim, the government is really saying, is to put away as many criminals as possible and if, on our trawl, we happen to catch some people who have done nothing whatsoever wrong, well, tough. Sorry and all that, but the police have more important things to do than to gather up evidence to prove that the accused committed the crime. And as for all those rights we give an accused, why, some people actually make use of them to get themselves acquitted!' (iii)

In our society, there is very much a presumption of guilt. We should be glad that the courts hold firm as a bulwark against this tide. But Parliament has not. Democracy, being glorified mob rule, required popular policies. So the politicinas reflect the ignorant masses.

No-one cares about the accused. Unless they themselves are accused of a crime. Empathy (not sympathy) is needed. We should recognise that the state has the power to accuse a man wrongly. He is acquitted by a just trial, by a jury of his peers. That is justice. This law, which permits re-trial on very vague grounds ('new and compelling evidence': what is 'compelling'?), is thus to be deplored.

The solution

No doubt that, by now, you'll have thought 'but what about the cases where a guilty man is wrongly acquitted?'. You might think it deplorable that he should go free. there is a simple solution. The Police, and the Crown Prosecution Service, need to get their job right first time. Once they have found all of the compelling evidence, they should proceed to trial. Thus, the chances of wrongful acquittal are hugely reduced. And the few that slip through the net must be borne.

What do you say? I would be intruiged to know.

P
References:
(i) Criminal Justice Act, 2003. (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/30044--k.htm#75)
(ii) Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (IV, CAP. 26)
(iii)Marcel Berlins: Wednesday June 28, 2006, The Guardian

Good writing

The Problem

I thought I'd write about language. It irritates me. People abuse it terribly. Whilst I am far from perfect, I do think that I am far from the worst. Some may consider applying what I suggest to their 'blogs'. It could be beneficial.

You might think that I am about to write about apostrophes, spelling, 'text-speak' and all of that form of language. I am not. I wish instead to comment upon bad writing style.

The Absolutes

At risk of permitting the return of flowery bullet points, I would like to set out the very basics of reasonable writing:
  • Originality is obvious. If you quote, reference. If you do, do not do so excessively. And always make it relevant to support the point you wish to make. Make the point in your own words, or do not write at all.
  • Accuracy is simply decent courtesy. Check for spelling. There is a checking mechanism even on blog posts. Use it. And check for grammar. Punctuation. If you cannot use an apostrophe correctly, learn. If you can, shame on you if you do not. But enough of that, lest I digress.
  • Interest is important. Write if there is something worth writing about. Naturally, not everything will be of interest to everyone. If it is of interest to you, it is legitimate. Provided that it could reasonably be of interest to others. If not, do not write.

Good style

I hope that there is no dispute on what I've written so far. They were the absolutes. What follows are suggestions for good style. They are open to dispute. That is why they are suggestions. They can be summarised in two words:

Plain English

Our language is beautiful. As Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch wrote in his preface to the Oxford Book of English Verse:

'Our fathers have, in the process of centuries, provided this realm, its colonies and wide dependencies, with a speech malleable and pliant as Attic [Greek], dignified as Latin, masculine, yet free of Teutonic guttural, capable of being precise as French, dulcet as Italian, sonorous as Spanish, and captaining all these excellencies to its service'

His point is, perhaps, exaggerated. But the essence is correct. We have a lovely language. And his use of it is inspirational.

The blunted tool

Our beautiful instrument has become blunted. What could be perfectly precise is instead crippled by misuse. The reason is the attitude of the author. The writer is too oten thinking of himself. He ought to be thinking of his readers. He uses a word in the meaning he understands it to have. But he should be using it in the meaning that his readers can be expected to put on it. He may be incorrect.

Now doubt you find this too harsh on the writer. But I do not mean you to take my point to the point of absurdity. Consider: in my house, one may well not use the phrase 'to the point of absurdity'. One could use 'ad absurdum'. The Latin phrase, used in English, is not unreasonable. In my first draft of that sentence, I used the Latin. I removed it. I could not guarantee that it would be understood.

Humpty-Dumpty

Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll, contains a delightful allegory. I would venture a little longer on your time by quoting it for you:

"'There's glory for you!', said Humpty-Dumpty.

'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ...'Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

'Would you tell me, please,' said Alice 'what that means?'

'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

'When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, `I always pay it extra.'

'Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark. "

In Summary

I have wittered on long enough about good writing. I should like to summarise it all into a brief list. And add the closing touches.

Good style

  • Don't use long words unless you are sure your reader will understand them. If a reader must look a word up to understand it, you have failed.
  • Don't use long sentences. If a reader must read your sentence twice to understand it, you have failed. It demolishes the effect of your point.
  • Split up long passages. Use bullet-points, and headings. Short paragraphs are better than long ones. Especially on computer screens.

The Absolutes

These must be remembered. Or else good style is lost.

  • Originality
  • Accuracy
  • Interest

The axiom

At all times, remember the aim of writing. It is to communicate the writer's thoughts to the reader. If your writing does not do this, it has failed.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Quick comment

Nothing from me this evening, really.

I wanted to post something entitled 'Existentialist Angst', but I've not had the time. I had to write out the same things three times for English. We all love school.

Too much to do for tomorrow. So you'll have to wait for the 'Big Question'.

It won't be as deep as it sounds. I promise.

P

(There: what a mundane, journal-esque post.)

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Up to you

The Debate

We've had a bit of a debate recently. On the purpose of blogging. Many of you who read this will have written. I should like to add my thoughts to the debate. It follows what I mentioned yesterday in passing.

You may have noticed that my list of blogs of note has lengthened. Let that show the increasing number. Not all of them are there. Only those, for some reason, noteworthy. And I was far from the first.

The 'Blogs'

Full credit must go to His Emminence, Gregory, for starting. He was - and is - inspiring. Mentor One is the person to whom he accredits his inspiration. 'Me and my Biretta' is the primogenitor.

Also of great note, however, is the writing of Fergus. His predates even Greg's. (And he is a technological genius.) He, too, wrote on the subject. With the greatest respect, I venture to quote a little of what he says:

'I fully intend not to write a journal - instead of cataloging my day I’d like to catalogue my thoughts. When reading blogs this is something that makes them stand out and, ultimately, makes them unique and interesting.' (i)

I hope that what you find here is interesting. Unfortunately, it is probably not. I hope, then, that it is unique.

My aims

I find that I cannot say much of what I think. Some is too obscure. Some too boring. But there are areas of interest to me which I'd like to share with you. They do not fit easily into conversation. If they do at all. This is what I have in mind to use this for. It may interest you. It may not. If it does not, leave it. Or suggest another topic. If I too find it interesting, I'll put that on in its place.

As I mentioned recently, I have an aim in mind. I shall repeat it here. Because I like the quotation.

'Most of it is controversial - I have deliberately made it so. It is to set you thinking, talking and writing about what I have said. None of it is a final view. It is done without hearing argument. It is done without consulting others. As always, I am ready to change my mind. So agree or disagree. But do please help to get things going'. (ii)

I mentioned much of this before when I looked at a similar subject.

To return to the specific charge

The charge levelled in the debate is essentially one of 'following the crowd'. I always hate to do this. Yet I will not avoid the crowd because of its existence. Many times I've thought of writing a 'blog'. I thought it too eccentric. I regret that I did not. I am certainly loving the creativity at the moment. It gives me another medium to argue a case. Which I love.

Before beginning, I expressed my concerns about the 'trendy' nature of this activity. How I hate that word. Yet this was my advice: 'Only do so if you have something to write'. It took me nearly a week to establish that I could write a decent post. I hope you consider that I have something, however monomaniacally obscure, to write.

Conclusion

It's your call, really. Am I a sheep, following the trend for social acceptance? I hope you think not. We all have something to write. Some write about mundane events. To stay light-weight.
Some have perfected the art. Greg and Fergus seem unique. Others must humbly submit their efforts. I hope you think that they are worth listening to.

P

References:
(ii) What Next in the Law, by the Rt Hon. The Lord Denning, at p. vi.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Today

This is a slightly different post from usual. It is more mundane.

I'm not sure whether to deal with Intellectualism or Law. Both will follow, but I need time. I would not trouble you with uncooked ideas.

So I thought I'd tell you about today. About 'school'.

'One of the joys of a classical education is being able to put people in their place'. The words of a wise Chemistry teacher. Not many people know that formaldehyde is also known as methanal. It's used for preserving specimens. (And found in tobacco smoke). Yet a knowledge of latin helps here. Formica mean 'ant', in latin. Formic acid is the acid in a red ant's bite. Which happens to be methanoic acid. Methanal is the aldehyde (ignore the chemical term) derivative of methanoic acid. So formaldehyde is methanal. But 'How the hell do you know that?' is the scientist's response. Perhaps they need a broader education.

Today's example was 'vaccination'. It's from the latin 'vacca', meaning cow. The original vaccination was performed using weakened cow-pox viruses to immunise people against smallpox. Hence the name.

'One of the joys of a classical education is being able to put people in their place'. Rather good amusement. Not that I've ever been taught Latin or studies it rigorously.

So what else happened?

I sat in the common room at one point discussing why I've jumped on the e-scribbling bandwagon.

It's a craze. It will pass. Most crazes, though, leave a wake of waste in their path. Clothes fashionable for a season. Then worthless. Games, and collections, the same.

So what if this passes? What will it leave? It will leave thought. Debate. The process is worthwhile, excluding the enjoyment. When these sites become dormant, we will have discussed the topics. Others might have read, and thought.

Thus the more that do this, the better, I say. Each 'blog' will be an individual creation. Let them be unique.

[I've just read the latest rant of His Emminence, Greg. I must refer him to what I have just written. But I also admit straightaway that his blog is better than mine can be. He has the right balance. Mine is, as he says, too deep. But then I am, too.] (i)

Enough of me for tonight. At least until I've done some work. If anyone can give me any good reasons which of the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, 1884 and '85, and 1918 are most important, I'd be amused.

I do like History though. By looking backwards, we can see where we're going.

P

References:
(i) http://meandmybiretta.blogspot.com/2007/02/blog-off.html

Sunday, 4 February 2007

In Defence of Theory: An Intellectual's Apology II

I suggest that, before you read this part of the Apology, you read the comment left by an anonymous reader to my last one. It heartens me that someone I do not know has left the comment. I hope he will return to read my reply.

The accusation, distilled, is that I should be doing, not writing.

Thus, I write my Defence. I hope you will find it useful.

So what is the point of sitting talking into the ether about life? There are many. I shall list them. Then I shall address the wider issues.

Firstly, I address my particular readership. They are wonderful, kind-hearted people. They are intelligent. They will be great movers of the world in the future. I know each of them has the capability. I hope to plant in them the seed of the thoughts I have. Thus they will try to reform. As will I.

Secondly, I address the wider mass of humanity who can access the internet and speak English. That is why I have not mde this blog private. I do hope that any reader will read and comment. Perhaps they will be inspired. Perhaps they will disagree. I hope that it will cause them to think.

I take my objectives from Lord Denning (quelle surprise, I hear you all say). But he said this, of his writing: 'Most of it is controversial - I have deliberately made it so. It is to set you thinking, talking and writing about what I have said. None of it is a final view. It is done without hearing argument. It is done without consulting others. As always, I am ready to change my mind. So agree or disagree. But do please help to get things going'. (i)

'Do please help to get things going.' The wisest words of a wise man. Will you help to get things going?

That is my defence of my activities. Now I must consider the wider concept of thought. This really returns to the main thread of the Intellectual's Apology.

Why think? Firstly, I would affirm that thought without action is not actively worthwhile. But it is like a engine, switched off. Eventually, there will come the man who will have the key. He will know that what has been written is right. Not necessarily my work. Anyone might inspire him to turn the key. Then the engine will start. And progress will come.

But without the engine, there is no movement.

Consider the great philosophies of the world. As much as I personally dislike it, Communism is a good example.

Marx was a thinker. He did nothing. Yet his thoughts spread. They created the Communist revolutions of the world, and the super-states: the USSR, and China. I do not say that Communism is the right engine for us to turn on. Humans will always turn the wrong key at times. But it is a clear example of how thinking leads to action. In this case, it lead to action decades later.

I claim no pretence to be a great philosopher. I am an intelligent person, who is concerned. Perhaps what I say will make a difference. Perhaps not.

I would add two points of minor significance. I like writing. We, all of us, have our hobbies. If I write rather than watch television, that can only be a good thing. In essence, I do act, as well as write. Secondly, it clears my thoughts. In the act of writing, my opinions are crystallised into clear ideas, rather than a jumble of concepts. This is important in facilitating all of my actions to put them into practice. I cannot act on vague ideas.

So this is the charge I will repeat to you: 'Do please help to get things going'. I was overjoyed to see that someone unknown had attacked my position. Nothing I say is final. I am ready to be swayed by cogent argument.

But do please help to get things going.

P

References

(i) What Next in the Law, by the Rt Hon. The Lord Denning, at p. vi.

Stand on your head: An Intellectual's Apology

Why do we accept everything that we're told day by day?

So many people go through life, who would rather die than think. Many fulfill this wish. I suppose this post's going to end up an a intellectual's apology. Possibly Part I.

The best way to start, I think, would be to use a quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

"I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."(i)

A very bleak outlook on life, I must grant, but I would also venture to suggest that there is a great element of accuracy to it. (Hopefully, Francis will soon post his 'Three spheres of consciousness', which is a superb analysis of life in a very mundane way. Suffice now to say that I recommend it to you and that it involves the acknowledgement that there are those who think about everything, possibly too much)

That parenthesis aside, I think. I think all of the time. Which is the reason you're not getting a blog about my lunch, or my social life. This thought is very important indeed. I live inside my head more so than outside.

And it's horrible, sometimes. It's utterly awful to contemplate. Take the news today, for example. Flooding in Indonesia; more attacks in Iraq. There are daily death tolls of hundreds there. Why?

People go through life with their brains switched off. That's fine; I wish I could too.

"So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.
Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.
Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun." (ii)

Surely, we must wake up. If we actually realised, as a whole race, that we can think, we could also achieve something useful.

I would here observe that Sir Nicholas Walters, that esteemed thinker, recently spoke out on a subject similar to this: see 'So who is Tubby Isaacs?' (iii) Per Sir Nick, what we should do is help people, and be content with our lot. In this way, he's hit the nail on the head. We should take that as our first and foremost aim. Simply, making the world a better place.

The wise know that they know nothing. But humanity, kindness and conscience are ours to use. No-one thinks enough to do so.

This is a bit of a rambling post, really. I meant it to be more directed, but at least this gives me scope to pester you with the rest of my thoughts soon enough.

So stand on your head. Turn the world upside-down. Just do something.

I'm a radical at heart, really.

P

References:
(i) Ecclesiastes Chapter I, vv.16 et seq.
(ii) Ibid, Chapter IV, vv. 1-3
(iii) http://nickrwalters.blogspot.com/2007/02/so-who-is-tubby-isaacs.html

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Flowers!

I must apologise for the flowery bullet points. I've not a clue how they got there. I shall try to work out how to remove them.

An explanation... and a rant.

Francis's perceptive comment about my last post made me consider its comprehensibility. I assumed that it would be obvious why juries don't get to know some things. This is what I shall explain in a moment, using the same example as before.

My point, summarised from previously, is this:
  1. Judges, and other lawyers, bring their legal experience to the jury-room, where it has no place.
  2. They can do so either consciously (according to Lord Phillips), or unconsciously.
  3. This is important because the jury might start to talk about and consider what they shouldn't know.
  4. Or worse, they might conjecture at it.
  5. This renders convictions unsafe.
  6. Thus it's a bad move by the Government.

So why shouldn't juries know all the facts? I'll give you an example.

One of our principles of justice is that the crime must be proved, not just likely. This is called the 'burden of proof'. It is very important. Fundamental.

Let me tell you a story. I'll do so using the vivid words of Lord Denning, one of the greatest legal writers of the modern age. And a graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford.

He describes the court-room when the jury return, agreed upon their verdict:

'Everyone waits expectantly. You could hear a pin drop. The foreman stands up. The clerk of the court asks them:

"Are you all agreed upon your verdict?"

Answer: "We are"

"Do you find the accused 'Guilty', or 'Not Guilty'?"

Answer: "Guilty"

...Before the sentence was passed, a police officer would come into the court to give the prisoner's record. Often enough he would give a list of previous convictions. The jury look at one another well satisfied. Their decision has been right.'

This response from the members of the jury is perfectly understandable. Those who have broken the law are likely to do so again; why should we not be pleased to have caught a hardened criminal for yet another crime?

But such sentiment has no place in determining whether the accused is guilty or not.

You see, if it does, the logic must follow this route:

  • The man is a ciminal: he has committed a crime before
  • Therefore, he is likely to do so again

This has two consequences:

  • Firstly, the jury will look at all evidence to support the prosecution favourably. 'It is likely that that's true', the juryman will say, 'because he's committed a crime before. Why should he behave differently now?'
  • Secondly, that the jury will disbelieve the defence. 'A criminal is not trustworthy', they say, 'so how can you expect us to trust him instead of what a policeman says'?

Why is this important? Well, the policeman may have made a mistake. He may have made the same assumption that the burglar just released back into the community is responsible for the new outbreak. He might not look for the young, white, middle-class family that's just moved into the village with two teenage boys.

And isn't prison supposed to reform people, anyway? I know it doesn't often happen, but it does occasionally.

Now that I've told you that, you might find it interesting to know that the government's recent reforms allow previous convictions to be put before the jury, who use them in their considerations.

That enough is delporable.

But to return to the start:

Legal proffessionals can cause the jury to conjecture. Imagine that they're sent out of the court-room for part of the prosecution case. There's a solicitor in the jury. He mentions that it could be because they're discussing previous convictions. Actually, they're discussing an obscure point of law. The jury are then wrongly influenced, both in fact and in how they apply the 'fact'.

Any clearer now? Probably not.

P

Ranting about stupidity

I should warn you: you'll often get rants appearing on here, probably against the Government's legal reforms as much as anything else. Since I've never claimed to be normal, I won't object if you call me a freak. (Others post about theology; give me some credit for contemporary relevance).

Anyway, rant number 1 coming up.......


'You will be aware that section 321 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 came into force on 5 April 2004. The effect of section 321 is to bring into effect schedule 33 which removes the entitlement to be excused from jury service, as of right, for a number of people. Judges are amongst the categories of people who are no longer entitled to be excused from jury service, as of right.'

'So what's the relevance of that?' you ask. If you understood.

The problem is this. Juries are vitally important to the role of our legal system. They determine guilt. They are the keystone of our legal system, since Magna Carta was signed in 1215. (No doubt I'll soon rant about its pending abolition, but that's altogether another story). Consider the words of Blackstone, as early as the 1765:

'Trial by jury has been, and I trust ever will be, looked upon as the glory of English law... it is the most transcendent privilege which any subject can enjoy, or wish for, that he cannot be affected either in his property, his liberty, or his person, but by the unanimous consent of twelve of his neighbours and equals' [Commentaries, III, 397]

Sometimes, juries are excluded from parts of the trial. A judge, for example, could be called to rule upon whether evidence can be put before a jury, such as a defendent's past convictions. For the jury to be privy to the whole of a trial would prejudice their verdict. They are protected, being laymen, from the things that they're not able to rule on.

Again, you might not see the importance of this. But juries do not know what's going on in their absence. Judges, or barristers (now sitting in juries) would be able to guess. This could affect their judgment.

The point was so important that The Rt. Hon. The Lord Phillips C.J. had to issue guidance to members of the Judiciary about it. The intreoductary quotation is his. He also said this:

'Nothing in this guidance detracts from the ability of judges sitting as jurors to bring their general knowledge of life to bear on the deliberations of the jury.'

Given that the government have now allowed previous convictions to be put to the jury (another rant there, I think), if the judge allows, we have clear reason to mourn the loss of legal exemption from jury service.


That was rant number 1. Do comment, 'so I feel loved', and that my argument can be attacked. That would be good fun. And I might have made an error of spelling somewhere.....

P

If everyone else is...

They say you'll get lost if you follow the crowd. But if everyone else has created these things to moan and rant and babble with, I want to too. It might save you actually listening to me at other times. I'll try not to make it too eccentric.