Democracy (Part I)

“Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”

Winston Churchill, 1947

The concept of democracy was first codified in ancient Athens, approximately 500 B.C, and since then has evolved (and been completely stamped out then risen again) throughout the history of the world. In fact, if an ancient Athenian saw elections in the modern western world he would almost certainly not call it democracy. After all, nowadays women can vote, we don’t have slavery (at least not legally) so there’s no need to make the distinction between free men and slaves, and you don’t need to be a landowner to have a vote.

On the other hand, whereas the Athenians practiced direct democracy (that is, people voted directly on issues) where it was every citizen’s duty to take part (with the given qualifiers above on what exactly constituted a citizen), we today practice a form of representative democracy which actually owes much more to the ancient Romans than to their Greek contemporaries. The Roman Republic (from the Latin ‘res publica’ – ‘thing of the people’) had an elected senate – who during their terms would tackle issues and vote among themselves rather than holding referendums for the people to vote on every issue.

Even since then, republics have changed over time – the USA and Italy (among others) may have a senate, whilst others such a the UK have a parliament which fulfills a similar role, but the roles of consuls and tribune of the plebs have long since been left behind.

With the evolution of democracy in mind, it seems like there needs to be some more thought into making a better form of governance. Western confidence in democratic institutions is ridiculously low (8% in USA, 9% in France and 16% in the UK), and as people become frustrated by the lack of change (as central parties attempt to appeal to everybody by rarely doing anything controversial; with short term, election-cycle-friendly plans that struggle to provide any meaningful action) they turn towards the extreme fringes, whose appeal is based on how extreme they can be (see the rise of Donald Trump, Front National and UKIP on the political right, and parties such as Podemos and Syriza on the left).

From my personal view, neither of these options are ideal. The choice of stagnating or imploding is not a choice I relish. So there must be a way of making a democracy that actually gets meaningful things done, engages with the people and (crucially) doesn’t rely on scapegoating a group in order to bolster popularity (again, both sides do this – the left blame the rich, the right blame the poor and often take aim at immigrants). I’m sure lots of men and women much smarter than I am have already tried to tackle this, so forgive me if I can’t find the answer, but there must be something.

I’ll get back to you.

 

 

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Climate Change

So with the COP21 summit in Paris I was thinking about climate change, and specifically climate change deniers. Now, my background is actually in engineering, and specifically sustainable energy sources, so perhaps I’m biased- but seriously, what the hell is wrong with them?

Let me be generous; I will give them a pass if the deniers think they know more than 97% of people whose entire careers have been devoted to investigating these sort of things. Let’s say that Donald Trump is right (and let’s never say it again) and that the climate is doing just fine, or if it is changing then it’s just part of the natural cycle of things (or it’s gay people’s fault, if you’re insane). Even if that’s the case (which it isn’t), why would you oppose sustainable energy development unless you’re either incredibly stupid or incredibly corrupt?

If the earth is warming just as part of it’s natural cycle, surely we should find ways to combat that? We invented central heating and air conditioning precisely because we hate the weather doing it’s thing and making us uncomfortable, so let’s stop pretending we just love nature taking its course. It’s bullshit and everybody knows it; humans fix things. So why not fix the climate if it’s just a natural cycle? We’d send Bruce Willis to destroy a meteor if it was heading towards Earth (or we’d send Robert Duvall if we wanted a much superior yet overshadowed film), so let’s rise to this challenge.

Secondly, sustainable energy sources are clearly better than unsustainable ones. Why would that even need to be a debate? Why would we want to be reliant on energy that needs to be dug from hundreds of metres below the surface (which applies to oil, natural gas and coal), especially when most of the deposits of these substances seem to be underneath countries which aren’t exactly best buddies with the west (climate change will affect everybody from every nation, but I’m less aware of the attitudes towards it outside of the west so I can’t comment on it)? And it will run out; it takes millions of years to form fossil fuels, and we could deplete the entire reserves in a few hundred years. So again, why not preemptively develop sustainable sources like wind and solar? The technology hasn’t fully matured yet, that’s true, but it can and will improve. And can you imagine a country invading another country for its wind? That just sounds silly.

And even if the above hasn’t swayed any deniers – here’s Beijing:

beijingsmog2

Does that look healthy to you? The smog is so bad at the moment that the government has shut down schools and other facilities for health reasons. Let’s find ways to prevent it in the first place.

So again, why would you oppose ways of eliminating this sort of pollution? It doesn’t make you a tree-hugging hippy just because you value your lungs.

Religion

I know a number of people who are deeply religious, and a number of people who are staunchly atheist (and, for that matter, a number of people who fall somewhere in between), and recently I’ve noticed something.

Both groups of people have Facebook pages which cater to them, so naturally (given the way modern life works), when I’m scrolling through Facebook I see things come up from both sides which people have liked or shared or commented on. What I’ve noticed is something oddly indicative of how religion works.

The atheist posts I’ve seen shared have just been statements – jokes, questions, viewpoints, insults, self congratulations, photos, whatever. They stated a view and that was that; people shared, liked and commented as they saw fit.

On the flip side, the religious posts (which I must admit have been almost all Christian, if just due to the demographics of my Facebook friend list) command and manipulate people into sharing. They state their view (just like the atheist posts I mentioned), but many of them have “don’t scroll without saying Amen” at the end. Or “1 like = 1 prayer”. Or “share if you think God is great”. It’s a manipulative way of generating stats; what self respecting Christian wouldn’t share that – of course they think God is great.

Does nobody else think that’s weird? I don’t want to cause an argument on Facebook about something as personal as faith, so I keep it to myself – but sometimes I just want to ask “do you not think it’s strange that they are outright telling you not to scroll without saying Amen? Literally hundreds have people have typed “Amen” because somebody told them to and that doesn’t strike you as at least slightly bizarre and kind of creepy?”

Religious pages aren’t the only ones to do this (“Share if you love your family” and other such drivel come up with annoying frequency) and I’m sure there’s religious pages that don’t (and atheistic pages that do) but I haven’t seen them in my experience.

As I said above, it’s just oddly reflective of how organised religion (and many other groups for that matter) operates; create a climate where the group thinks as one, and thinks what it’s told to think without question.

Violence

In the wake of the Paris attacks 2 weeks ago, there’s been a lot of talk of what an appropriate response to such a senseless waste of life should be. A lot of this talk has been fucking stupid (e.g rounding all up Muslims and sending them “home” – wherever the hell Daily Mail readers think that means).

Anyway, one of the phrases that I’ve heard a fair few times is that “violence is never the answer” or “violence only begets more violence”, and other things of that nature. Now, regardless of your moral stance on violence, that’s plain wrong. Human history is littered – wait, let me start again. Human history is defined by acts of violence which have shaped the course of history and made the world what it is today, for better or for worse. Here’s just a quick sample in no order:
Roman Empire
American Revolution
World War 2
British Empire
Arab invasions of North Africa
October Revolution
Mongol invasions

That’s a tiny fraction of the times violence has worked, all of which caused repercussions still felt in 2015. I’m not saying any of the above were positive outcomes, but it’s indisputable that somebody (either the instigator or a reactionary) used violence as a successful means of achieving their goal.

Hell, the Paris attacks worked didn’t they? Multiple sporting events have been cancelled, people are fearful of traveling – I can pretty much guarantee that the French (and possibly even the world’s) economy will have dipped as a direct consequence of the attack. Maybe one day people will look back at war and wonder how it ever came to that, and people will have done away with violence altogether. I hope so, but I’m not optimistic about it. The morality of violence is a different subject completely, but it’s effectiveness in certain situations is unarguable.

Mouse Mats

The other day at work I noticed something; I don’t have a mouse mat. Nobody at work does. I’ve never had one in the office. I don’t have one at home. I don’t know anybody that still uses them. And yet, less than a decade ago it seems (though I may be wrong), they were ubiquitous. Everybody had them, offices had branded ones with their logos emblazoned on them, there were ones with famous fictional characters on them (I remember having a Toy Story one as a kid), there were even ones with those little gel bubble things on one end of them to stop you from rubbing your wrist on the desk. And then bam, they were gone.

The obvious reason for their disappearance is the rise of the optical mouse and the corresponding obsolescence of mouse balls (of the electronic kind, I’m sure actual mice still value their balls). Which got me thinking; what other pieces of technology disappeared when a larger, more obvious technological (r)evolution occurred? And how much must it suck if you spent your life learning the venerable trade of mouse mat production only to have your profession cruelly consigned to history overnight?

 

My first post

So…this is my first post. Everyone has a blog now, might as well hop on the bandwagon. Maybe I’ll write something and people will be all like “whoa that dude changed my life, time to solve world hunger!”. But probably not. Let’s be honest, very few if any people will read this. This is just somewhere to throw out some of my random thoughts, the most useful of which will fall somewhere short of a screen door on a submarine.

And if anybody is wondering where the title of this blog came from, it’s from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure where they philosophize with Socrates using the wise words of Kansas.