Posts Tagged 'UK'

The Opposite of Faith

I hate to be bored, but there are some times when there is so much happening which provokes complex reactions that even the great garble of the English language is insufficient to separate out and label each thought and feeling, leaving me with a rather unsophisticated rage.

I am often reminded these days of the very wise philosophy of non-attachment – to wit, we can only control ourselves, therefore we can and should act in accordance with our own morals and principles, and let go entirely of the notion that the world will respond with the result for which we aim, or that individuals will have the same motivation, moral code, or priorities as ourselves.

It is, essentially, a constant acknowledgment that we are not the boss, that life is chaotic, and that negative reactions arise from our own thwarted desires and expectations.

It is a very democratic principle. It is often difficult, however, to accept and respect the decisions, actions, and comments of others when they are diametrically opposed to one’s own sense of justice, whether personal or political.


Stephen Harper has won a conservative majority in Canada. This enrages me because I do not understand how my fellow Canadians can not only accept the many questionable decisions made by his minority government, but hand him a sufficient parliamentary majority to pass more and more restrictive legislation that is actively bad for the majority of Canadian citizens.

Why does this offend me so? Because I am attached to my expectations of Canada. I go through life assuming that the Canadian electorate is somehow immune to the capitalist pseudo-logic peddled by corporate-behemoth-funded conservative parties everywhere. I assume that 30 million people have the same definition of justice that I do. My expectation is not met, and I am hurt and frustrated.

I could, and do, take solace in the fact that part of the reason for the majority is a major leap in the number of votes going to the NDP (aka socialists), which essentially split the non-conservative vote. Although they did not win, I can remind myself that the issues central to their party platform will have more regular airing, and being less of a ‘centrist’ party, they have more reason to actively oppose most of the conservative legislation. This means, essentially, there will be a more pronounced debate. Of course, this solace-taking, too, is attachment. I am again expecting a large group of people to think and act as I would.

Also fueling my un-Zen political rage is the rampant politicking over eliminating abortion rights in the US, the ongoing mockery of logic, sense, and good taste that is the tea party, and the vast, nauseating cuts to social services in the UK (made, of course, by a group of independently wealthy white males who want to remake England in their image. Like it isn’t sufficiently patriarchal, classist, and racist already).

That is one downside of living many places: I am affected by the local politics all over the place.

On top of this, there are my confused feelings about the killing of Osama bin Laden. I am a pacifist. I don’t believe that violence or war does humanity any good (which isn’t to say that there aren’t a happy few who do very well out of it – there quite clearly are, nor that some goals are not sometimes met by violent action – this is also sometimes true, just not often enough to justify the frequency with which violence is resorted to).

That said, even thinking about it now, I am hugely relieved. I get a genuine lump-in-the-throat feeling when I think about how relieved other people feel. It is like a muscle I didn’t realize was knotted suddenly relaxed. Several million people feel a little safer, and I cannot help but feel touched by that. bin Laden was a powerful symbol, which is not to deny that he was also a person, albeit a massively fucking evil one, and to have that symbol of such unadulterated hostility towards not just the ‘Western world’, or the capitalist system (that, ahem, his father did so well by), but also all of the Muslims around the world who didn’t subscribe to the hyper-orthodox -hide-the-women and kill-the-infidels school of Islam.

What do I expect now, after this symbolic event? I don’t know. I hope that things will get better.

Non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring, but it does mean not making assumptions. I can hope, without trusting something that I cannot know. It is the opposite of faith. I don’t believe that there is a master plan, I do not place childlike trust in a god/dess or the universe. I can only hope that all will be well.

“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”
Gautama Buddha
(c.566 BC – c.480 BC)
image and quote from


Politics of Attraction

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=halo&iid=264582″ src=”0261/2b8d1573-bab1-44ac-80ea-df54ff6b8f6d.jpg?adImageId=9434758&imageId=264582″ width=”234″ height=”331″ /] Studies have shown that people attribute all sorts of positive traits to people who are attractive (link includes a general definition of ‘attractiveness’ in a broad sense). Interestingly, the inverse seems to hold true – that people with good personalities are perceived as more attractive.

This is related to the Halo effect, whereby one positive trait (physical or character) suggests to the person making the observation a raft of other positive traits.

This study shows that people are more likely to trust attractive people more (and, conversely, be more disappointed if they prove unworthy of trust).

This suggests that people, in general, are more likely to consider seriously ideas presented by an attractive person that they would not otherwise. For example, if one is speaking to someone who holds a point of view with which they disagree, one would, theoretically, be more likely to consider whatever arguments they presented, whether or not they were intelligently discussed, than if they subconsciously found the person plain or were listening to them on the radio.

In contemplating this, I wondered about how much influence this has on politics. In the debate between JFK and Nixon, those who listened on the radio thought Nixon won, whereas the television audience thought JFK did, clearly affected by the discrepancy in appearance, as Nixon was recovering from illness and JFK had been campaigning in California, and had a nice tan.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=barak+obama&iid=1381539″ src=”9/f/7/2/09.jpg?adImageId=9434797&imageId=1381539″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]At present, there is the discussion of Obama’s first year in the media, and the lead up to the UK elections which will include televised debate for the first time.

In the former case, I think we can see, to some extent, the greater ‘disappointment/punishment’ factor for the trust given (excessively?) to attractive people. Not necessarily that Obama has failed, but that he is perhaps being unduly castigated by people who assumed, for example, because he is tall and well-spoken he agreed with all of their personal viewpoints and would be capable of enacting laws in accordance with them.

In the latter instance, I think the debates will provide an interesting opportunity to observe this tendency. Obviously the current Labour government is in an awkward position because of the recession, but leaving that consideration aside, the three key debaters are Gordon Brown (Labour), David Cameron (Tory), and Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat). Clegg is the most tv ready, and being from the smallest party, will probably gain the most simply from wide exposure. Cameron is prettier that Brown, certainly, although the Labour campaign is currently mocking the Tory campaign for having an airbrushed photo of Cameron staring down from billboards. Whether bringing that into the discussion negates the effect remains to be seen.

One would, of course, hope that in any election, the populace makes an effort to be informed about the various candidates and party platforms and vote for that which most closely represents what they feel is best for themselves and their community.

UK Budget Headlines

The headlines in response to the new Labour budget from Alistair Darling all seem to claim a rise in taxes – focusing largely on the increased percentage paid in the top bracket – from 45% to 50% on £150,000 and up. Also mentioned are the per unit sales tax of “2p on fuel, 1p on beer, and 7p on cigarettes”.

What confuses me is the comparative absence of attention on the decrease in income tax on the vast majority of earners. Metro has a handy “how will it affect you list”. And the increase in spending focused on getting people back to work. And the investment in green infrastructure and development. These are mentioned, of course, in a bullet-point kind of way, but the headline is about the tax that affects 1% of the population, not the massive work done on behalf of the majority of workers, newly unemployed, and the young.

Instead, people are pointing out the borrowing necessary to maintain the increase in spending (and anticipated tax hikes in coming years to pay back those international loans). Apparently, the debt will be roughly equivalent to £23,000 per person (79% of GDP), before slowing decreasing over the next ten years. Before people start passing out, I think it’s worth noting that the US debt is about $35,500 per person, or about £24,000. Not that a country should be aiming for the same deficit as the US, but it’s worth pointing out that the US has had an increasing deficit for about 9 years now, and, while the economy is in a bad situation, it wasn’t caused by government borrowing.

I understand the strain on people who are business leaders, who would perhaps be better used with tax incentives related to long-term job creation and investment, but by the same token, if you’re earning that kind of dosh, a) your accountant can probably ease the pain and b) even after tax you’re taking home more than 3 times than your average joe. How much do you really need?

Big Brother’s on Facebook

The Times reported today that social networking sites might be tracked by the police and various security forces (in the UK) as part of the ongoing attempts to keep up with potential terrorists. This comes on top of reports that existing and planned databases kept for “security purposes” are likely “insecure” by nature of their sheer volume, and have prompted protest about ever-shrinking privacy and questions of efficacy.

At the core of this debate, and many similar ones like it (as the proposed, and much-maligned, minimum price per unit of alcohol) is that the vast majority of people affected are not the ones ultimately targeted. While most people are not terrorists or teenaged alcoholics, they are dragged in as the net is cast wide.

While the alcohol price minimum likely would not have been noticed by your average drinker (because your average drinker is already shelling out a couple extra bob for a slightly nicer plonk or brew), the ‘big brother’ syndrome of law enforcement has the potentially wide-reaching side effect of catching the small fish, making for statistical improvements, while the big fish escape as they have the means and the motivation to try and outsmart the system.

Yes, it’s all well and good to say that the innocent have nothing to fear, as they have nothing to hide, but is it fair to tar all of England with the same brush, because a handful are sociopaths with a death wish?

But then again, what choice is there? How do you track and capture and prove the culpability of people who just don’t play by the same rules?

The difficulty with terrorists is, of course, that they tend not to dress in easily identifiable uniforms, and target exclusively military combatants on a chosen field of battle vying for physical space and/or resources. What they are aiming for (or what their directors are aiming for, as it’s reasonable to assume that the ones doing the damage are the pawns) is an ideological success – an influence on culture from the ground up, winning over the ever elusive “minds and hearts”, or at least sufficient power inspired by fear to establish control over general behavior and social practice.

If all this data is gathered, who looks through it? Are programs run to track suspicious characters (and how is that measured)? What counts as proof? What if someone simply used Facebook to vent some hyperbolic or sarcastic bigotry – would the legal system be able to tell the difference? What if that person was from the Middle East? Would they even have recourse to the justice system?

Privacy is a slippery thing, especially when the current zeitgeist is for perpetual oversharing and constant updates. Do we have a right to privacy? Or has technology, culture, and global politics brought us to a point where our lives must all be open books?


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