Category Archives: Politics

C’mon Nige. Join the Love In.

An age old message for Nige.

An age old message for Nige.

Severed Limbs & Mangled Faces: Culpability & Compassion

Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill' 1913-14 by Sir Jacob Epstein 1880-1959What does Epstein’s Rock Drill – a sculpture from the First World War – tell us about today’s problems?

Could compassion be the answer?

It may sound airy fairy – preachy – perhaps even simplistic to suggest that global issues could be solved by more understanding and kindness.

But it’s an honest question. And one that I don’t think comes with an easy answer.

The 21st century’s problems are wide-ranging. Yet, whilst varied – from uncaring NHS staff, to environmental injustices (see EJOLT for list), to gay intolerance to the global poverty that kills 18 million people every year – they seem characterised by  a  lack of compassion.

On visiting “The Great War in Portraits” exhibition at the National Portrait gallery at the weekend- visitors were exposed to visual representation of the depths of barbarism humanity can plunge to in order to kill one another. Such depths were described as a signal in a change of human nature; a loss of compassion.

Perhaps the two most striking exhibits for me were:

1) The Rock Drill, a bronze  sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein, originally created in 1913, to echo man’s increasing interest in machines and power. But in 1916, it was remodelled. Limbs were severed and the sculpture altered, thought to reflect Epstein‘s altered perception about the future of humanity – mutilated by loss and destruction. 

2) The second, of which I can’t find a picture, was the before-and-after drawings of patients undergoing re-constructive facial surgery, following extensive war injuries.

So did the “Great War” and wars since kill more than just bodies? Do we need to go looking for compassion once again?

To emphasise – I certainly don’t want to be moralistic about all this.

After all, I know that I’m more culpable in this loss of compassion compared to the vast majority of the world’s population.

To quote from Thomas Pogge (ref below):

Many more people – some 360 million – have died from hunger and remediable diseases in peacetime in the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, than perished from wars, civil wars and government repression over the entire twentieth century. And poverty continues unabated, as the official statistics confirm…[and so on]”

I know this. And as one of the richest people on earth if I gave away more of my income, I could help this. Yet I only give so much. An embarrassingly small fraction considering my culpability in not solving the problem.

So from this I take, that compassion may well be the solution.

But compassion doesn’t seem too easy.

1. Thomas Pogge – “Politics as Usual – What lies behind the pro-poor rhetoric

A blank cheque = Government failure on climate change

The conservatives “blank cheque” for dealing with the floods does not represent benevolent leadership.

It represents the unnecessary cost to tax payers, arising from bad planning and a fundamental failure from both the current and previous governments, to acknowledge the consequences of climate change.

What future costs will the Conservatives’ determined avoidance of the realities of climate change incur?

Aside

“Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality” wrote Oscar Wilde. Let’s hope we’re not stuck with gossip. NHS care abuse, MPs lobbying, MPs’ expenses, tax evasion by multinationals – all reported scandals undermining the integrity of our society; all situations … Continue reading

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Aside

I’ve recently discovered a theory of change which suggests we should appeal to human values rather than rationale – “Common Cause”. Could such a movement could take some cues from religion? Common Cause is a group of researchers who have … Continue reading

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Our Environment – Our Common Pension?

Pensions © guardian.co.uk

Pensions © guardian.co.uk

Us humans have a tendency to undervalue the future compared with our immediate needs. That’s why banks pay us interest on money we don’t spend.

Despite this, and because security is important to us all , many of us have the foresight to save, provisioning for our future old and infirm selves.

At first, we may rally and moan against the short-term sacrifice of saving for pensions, but we soon settle down. We’d rather make a sacrifice in the short-term to ensure our security in the long-term.

Yet governments around the world are unwilling to make the same sort of decision – failing to recognise the value of security in our future.

Ecuadorean Amazon (c) Guardian.co.uk

Ecuadorean Amazon (c) Guardian.co.uk

Ecuador’s announcement of their plans to auction off more than 3 million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies (as reported by Jonathan Kaiman) is understandable. As described by Ecuador’s Ambassador when addressing the Chinese delegation at talks, this would establish “a win-win relationship” between the two countries. Meeting both Ecuador’s development needs and China’s energy requirements – the arrangement is one which the West could not denigrate without being hypocritical.

Yet this decision prioritises immediate reward over the natural capital offered by forests, important for both national and international security in just decades. Our collective environment is akin to our common pension.

Governments are charged with responsibility, to lead their nation for today and tomorrow, and within that to look after the commons. So we need to let them know, we want to save some for humanity’s future.

Burden of Proof: Paterson and the Bees

honey beeUK Environment Minister Owen Paterson has defied 71% of the British public, 2.5 million petition signatures and 405,000 letters to EU Ministers – all to derail a ban  on bee-harming pesticides.

Why? Because according to Mr Paterson, there’s not enough scientific proof that neonicotinoids harm bees.  At a time when UK & US honey bee populations have declined 50% over the past 25 years, this  begs the question – why is the burden of proof with those who want to follow a precautionary principle, rather than with those who stand to make a profit from applying toxic chemicals in our collective environment.

I won’t go into the detailed story line – Damian Carrington has done a great job of reporting it all here. But in short – it seems that independent science has repeatedly shown there to be a link between neonicotinoids and a drop in honey bee numbers, a species vital to our food security, and of course, inherently valuable in its own right.

Yet despite this, the UK government wanted to carry out their own trials – and these haven’t been able to conclude before last Friday’s EU vote took place. As a result – Mr Paterson has been citing lack of conclusivity in these particular experiments as a reason not to proceed with the moratorium. It is not surprising that the pesticide manufacturers are relieved.

At first glance – it may seem to make sense that we shouldn’t proceed in making such a decision without the full gauntlet of evidence to support it. After all – this would be a momentous change for industries involved; industries providing hundreds of jobs at a time of recession. Furthermore, the decision may impact how much food we can produce in the immediate short-term.  Perhaps this was the reasoning of the nine member states who opposed the ban.

But 13 states were in favour. Why the difference of opinion?

Well – let’s conduct a thought experiment. Let’s use the metaphor of the health industry. To licence a drug, the burden of proof is with the pharmaceutical corporations to prove that the medication they wish to sell, causes no harm. This seems fair, logical and the only course of action prudent to protect our public health.

Imagine if this were in fact the other way round – that it was up to governments, independently funded science and concerned members of the public to demonstrate that a certain drug caused harm,  before it was taken off the shelves. That it was only AFTER our eyes started bleeding and our veins pulsing and our hair falling out, that civil society could begin mounting a case that such medications should be removed from the shops.

A horrific idea.Yet one we embrace willingly when the chemicals sold are affecting the health of our collective environment and food – something that influences are own health more quickly than most medicine or money.

Fortunately – we still have a chance to correct this wrong. If the European Commission (the EU’s administrative arm) decides to appeal the Member States’ Ministers’ vote – we could have a second shot at saving our bees. I urge you to write to your EU Ministers and put this and all the other arguments found across t’interweb to them .

Our environment is our collective commons. Our responsibility and power to care for it should not be undermined by our democratically elected leaders and those corporations with more resources than most citizens to protect their interests. I hope our European leaders’ are more respectful of public opinion than Mr Paterson.